• HOW Blog

1st Place Short Story Winner: 100 Acre Escape - Veronica Brown

Penny sat on the lavender L-shaped couch, trapped by the piles and piles of brown boxes at her feet. Her shoes sat comfortably on her feet, no laces or dirt in sight. Ever since He had outlawed shoelaces, she tripped over herself less often. She tugged one of the boxes closer to her, and something rustled.


“Hey, Julia? Do you know what these are?” Penny asked. Her best friend, Julia, was sitting on the beige carpet and was surrounded by her belongings all neatly packed away. At least her friend was organized; unpacking could have been a lot, lot worse.


Julia grabbed the box ungracefully and sifted through the contents. “Oh wow, I haven’t seen these in forever.”


“What are they?” Penny said as she was handed a thin, gray rectangle. It was flexible and crumpled around her grip.


“It’s a newspaper.”


“A newspaper?”


“It’s how people used to transfer information, back before LifeLookers. Back when…” Julia lowered her voice before continuing. “…when everyone could read.”


Penny was appalled at the thought. Everyone being able to read? It meant she wouldn’t have to wait for her husband to read the instructions on the back of her vitamin bottle. She wouldn’t need to rely on Michael for cooking recipes or menus. She’d lose the valuable time they spent reading, him sitting on the bed with a novel slotted between his fingers and her on the floor, hanging onto his every word. Even if they were just children’s stories, she still enjoyed them. She had practically memorized Winnie the Pooh.


And as she looked at the newspaper, she couldn’t read a thing.



New York Times. January 22, 2023.


Supreme Court Officially Overturns Roe v. Wade


In an unsurprising turn of events, the United States Supreme Court has voted 6-3 to overturn Roe v. Wade, a landmark Supreme Court case that has protected the abortions rights of women for 50 years. Many states are expected to adopt a no-exceptions policy with a 6-week gestation period. A Republican senator from Texas has taken to Twitter, suggesting a “complete and total ban of abortion in Texas.” He is not the only one; in fact, thousands of onlookers, bystanders, and victims have logged onto their social media accounts in both rage and panic.


Americans around the country are terrified of what this means for the next generation. Is the conservative dystopia finally reaching its climax, or is this just the beginning? Historians estimate…



“English is so infuriating to look at! It’s like a bunch of lines got thrown into a blender.”


“Yeah, language is an interesting thing,” Julia said wistfully.


“Wait…why do you have this? You can’t read either.”


“It’s probably one of Harold’s boxes, but it’s from 2023, so maybe not.”


“2023?” Penny quirked an eyebrow.


Julia paused, her face going white. “Uh- I- Harold! He, uh, he read it to me! Yep, that's how I know that.”


“Alright! Could you hand me the next box? Words make me feel useless.”



The sharp tick of the wall-mounted clock turning to nine interrupted Penny’s thoughts. She sat on the exam table in the doctor’s office. The thin, cheap gown crinkled as she breathed, and her bare toes swayed above the ground. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders in fluffy blonde waves. Michael sat in an adjacent chair, tapping his foot rapidly. Nervous energy rolled off him in waves. He saw Penny staring, and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled back.


After what felt like five years, but was really only half an hour, a man in a pristine white lab coat stepped into the room. There was nothing particularly special about him, save for the clipboard he held close to his chest. He shook Michael’s hand tightly. After a few pleasantries, the doctor took a seat in the low rolling chair and clasped his palms together.


“So far, your pregnancy is coming along well. The fetus is about the size of a bean now. You’re having an ectopic pregnancy.”


“An ecto- huh?” Penny interjected. The doctor dismissed her question by waving his hand.


“It’s just a medical term we use to describe pregnancies,” the doctor hesitated, before handing Michael a small file. He looked over the paperwork from his seat, slowly nodding and mumbling to himself. Penny observed him pull out a small document, look it over, and his eyes went wide.


She thanked the doctor for his time, and started to get changed back into her pale pink dress. “Honey, did you hear him? I’m having an ectopic pregnancy!” she said, trying to distract him from whatever had happened earlier. He smiled warmly at her, and any fears of something going on behind the scenes quickly evaporated away.


Michael’s jaw clenched. “Congratulations, my love! I can’t believe we’re going to be parents so soon. I know you’ll take great care of our baby.” Michael hugged Penny, the straps of her dress still hanging around her chest. She squeezed him tightly, barely able to contain her excitement. She was going to be a mother! It was one of the most respectable things for a woman to be in the year 2122. Penny had heard that a century ago, women used to hold jobs. But she just couldn’t picture it. Women required men to live, to survive. How could anyone want something different?


Michael broke the embrace, planting a swift kiss on her cheek. “Are you still going over to Julia’s later?” he asked. Penny nodded.


“You can’t tell her about the pregnancy.”


“But she’s my best friend-” Penny started.


“I know she is. But if you tell her you’re having an ectopic pregnancy, she might get jealous.”


“Jealous? Julia’s never jealous.”


“Penny,” Michael commanded, brushing her hair off her shoulders and putting his big hands on them with an iron grip. “You can’t tell her.”


“Okay! I won’t tell her! I don’t get why you’re so worried, but I trust you.”



Penny didn’t usually lie. It was against the law to, after all. Women were not allowed to engage in morally corrupt behaviors, which included the small, white lies she sometimes told her husband. Obviously, her fibs had never been life-altering before. She never expected that to change so quickly.


When Penny sat down on the same lavender couch where she had discovered the existence of newspapers all those years ago, ready for a night of rewatching the small selection of movies that the government still allowed, she felt like she could trust her only friend in the whole world.


“Hey, Julia? Michael was acting a bit weird today.”


“He’s been eating and exercising, right? No excessive drinking?”


“I guess that depends on what you consider excessive? But weird in a totally different sense.” Penny said unsurely. Julia set down her strawberry-mint flavored water.


“Elaborate.”


“So, we went to the doctor for my pregnancy checkup, right? And everything was fine until the doctor said I was going to have an ectopic pregnancy. He said it was a good term, but Michael was chatting away with himself in his chair. And he told me not to tell you any of this, so you best swear that none of this reaches your husband’s ears!” Penny blurted.


Julia looked at her quizzically. “What type of pregnancy?”


“Ectopic.”


Penny barely had a chance to switch topics before Julia stood abruptly, grabbing her purse. “We need to go shopping.”


“Shopping? Now?”


“Yeah. We need to pick up some stuff for dinner.”



Penny followed closely behind Julia as the latter pushed a grocery cart. They had spent half an hour trying to find all the items on Julia’s list:


Army Knife, Band aids, Organic baby formula, Radio, Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Omelet mix, Noodle cups


Julia had told Penny the list was written by her husband, but Penny had her doubts. If it wasn’t written by Julia, why did she keep looking at it every few minutes?


“This doesn’t look like dinner,” Penny observed, staring at the weird assortment of products in the cart. Julia didn’t respond, only pushing the cart forward. After weaving through all the different aisles, they approached the cash register.


The cashier grabbed each item and swiped them quickly. “Will that be all for today, ma’am?” he asked politely.


“Do you have a copy of Hundred Acre Woods?” Julia asked firmly.


Penny blinked twice. Didn’t she own that book? Why did Julia need it, if she couldn’t read? And why would a grocery store, of all places, have a children’s book? Not to mention it was illegal for a woman to own a book. “Julia!” she exclaimed.


Julia gave her a sharp look that silenced Penny. The cashier placed the items in plastic and handed the bags to Julia. “We might have a copy in the back. There’s a door in the milk aisle, if you could wait there.”


Julia nodded, holding the bags and Penny’s wrist in a vice-like grip. She ignored Penny’s protests and pulled her into the milk aisle.


“Julia, what is going on?!” Penny demanded. Julia wedged her fingers behind the back of the wall-mounted freezer, which swung open to reveal a waiting room. Hard, plastic chairs decorated a white room that smelled of chemical cleaners. There were a few other women sitting in the chairs. One had a significant baby bump, and was eating a handful of thin crackers. Another sat in disheveled clothes, her dress torn and shoes missing.


“Take these bags, and keep them visible. When they ask for your name, you are Winnie. I have to go cover for you. Stay safe, ok?” Julia wrapped Penny into a hug, and they stood there for a moment.


“Julia, I don’t understand-”


“Please trust me. Your life depends on it. And mine.”


“Michael said I shouldn’t have told you. What’s going on?”


“Look, this pregnancy is-” Julia started.


A door violently opened, banging on the wall with squeaking hinges. A woman in a brown dress stood there. “Piglet, you need to get out. You know that He is coming.”


Penny realized everyone was using codenames. She was Winnie, Julia was Piglet, and this new woman probably had a codename too. Julia declared, “I’m going, I’m going. Winnie, this is Kanga.”


“Howdy,” said Kanga, stepping out from behind the door with a wave.


“She’ll take care of you. She’ll explain. I love you. Goodbye,” Julia said, making a quick exit. Penny wiped her eyes quickly.


“What’s your name?”


“Pen…Winnie. Could you explain to me what all of this is?” Penny said nervously.


Kanga took the plastic bags from her, and briefly looked at the contents. “A, B, O, R…well, damn. You sure got screwed over.” Before Penny had time to question what that meant, a heavy backpack was thrust at her.


“Pull out the honey pot plush, and make sure it’s visible. Follow me.” Kanga directed. Penny picked up the backpack and walked closely behind the other woman.


Penny was so, so confused. Clearly, she was going somewhere, but where? Who were these people? Her stomach tightened when she thought about how Michael was going to find out. She was having his kid! And now she was being held hostage by a ton of women in a grocery store. He would probably lose his mind.


A new woman in a blue dress handed a small yellow bundle to Penny. Kanga mumbled a goodbye to Penny, and walked off in the other direction.


“Hi! I’m Roo. You can change into that on the train,” the woman said with a sweet smile.


“Train? I’m going on a train?!” Penny said in a panic.


Roo patted her shoulder. “And a car first! Your ride is waiting outside that door.” Roo swiped a card in front of the door, and pulled it open for Penny to step through. A woman in a lemon dress was sitting in the driver’s seat. Penny rushed into the passenger seat and locked the door behind her. She quickly stuffed the yellow bundle, which turned out to be a dress, into the backpack. Remembering Kanga’s words, she pulled the honey pot plush towards her, making sure it was visible.


“Name’s Rabbit. The journey’s not too long, don’t worry.”


“Okay, can you tell me what is happening?! I thought I was just going shopping!”


Rabbit glanced at the plushie that Penny was holding, and looked back with fear. “What type of pregnancy are you having?”


“How did you know I was-”


“That’s not important. Answer the question,” Rabbit snapped.


“Ectopic, but the doctor said-”


“Yeah yeah. That doctor lied. All the men in your life have lied to you.”


Penny scrunched her nose in disbelief. “That’s ridiculous.”


“Do you know how to read? No, you don’t. How do you know they’re telling you the right information?” Rabbit hissed, her knuckles going white on the wheel.


“Because they’re good people!”


“An ectopic pregnancy means the egg is in the wrong place. The fetus will never survive, and will kill you unless you have an abortion. They would have rather let you die than allow this medical procedure. Your husband is already picking out his new wife at the Department of Family and Wellness.”


Penny stared at her white sneakers. Could it be possible that Rabbit was right? She had never read a word in her life. How would she know the truth?


Rabbit interrupted her thoughts. “The backpack should have a train ticket, some money, and enough food for a week. Change into that dress on the train. Never use your real name. And you cannot lose that toy; it’s your keycard.”


Penny unzipped the bag, finding all of the mentioned items inside. “Who are all of you people?”


Rabbit met her eyes momentarily. “Welcome to the underground, traveler.”

 

Veronica Brown (she/her) is an upcoming author and playwright who lives in the extremely warm central Florida. She recently had her one-act Call Me on the Line published in the online magazine Confetti, developed by members of the Westchester Writers Workshop. In her spare time, she writes obsessively between her 9th grade schoolwork and making obscure references. An avid reader, enjoying authors like Rainbow Rowell and Casey McQuiston, she strives to write the type of stories, books, and plays that she would want to read herself. Outside interests include drawing, watching movies with her family, and debate competitions.


100 Acre Woods is a 2287 word dystopian short story, imagining what would happen if reproductive and women's rights were removed in the near future - and how women would organize an underground to protect each other.

36 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All