As part of this year’s One Read program and taking inspiration from “Station Eleven,” we invited you to tell a story about a world’s end, and what came after. The world could be small and personal, like one’s family or home, or more literal, like a country or planet.
We received thrilling tales about the collapse of human civilization and quiet stories of people soldiering on after the loss of a spouse or a close friend. Some characters adapted to the loss of technology, others to an empty nest – and they did so in no more than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared the worlds of your imagination with us.
Our two winners are Janese Silvey and Amie Burling. Writer Ann Youmans received Honorable Mention.
We are pleased to share with you the winning stories.
After by Janese Silvey
A Boston fern in the corner of the living room was turning brown, a tawny brown not unlike the color of the piano now hidden by a layer of dust.
He knew the world would continue to deteriorate. Slow but deliberate. He could water the plant; he chose not to, sitting on the corner of the burgundy couch she’d picked out years ago. The silence wasn’t terrible; they’d always been quiet-natured. He missed the smells. The aroma of chili powder, minced garlic and diced onion, a trinity she used to cook their favorite evening meals.
He wouldn’t die from the loneliness, although he considered it. Mostly, he was angry. Angry at the doctors who couldn’t save her. Angry that he didn’t take her dancing the last time she’d wanted to go. Angry at the houseplant for changing colors. This was a “new normal,” they said, going about their business as though his world hadn’t shattered into 10,000 pieces.
She would be forgotten; he knew this. There would be no one after him, save, perhaps, a few friends and relatives. (They hadn’t considered the practicality of having children of their own.)
There was a stone marker, of course, at the gravesite he’d visit until he joined her. An obituary in a paper no one would read twice. Josephine (Wilson) Albert, 82, had lived and died, becoming his universe along the way.
The old man lit a cigarette and went to the garage to find the watering can.
Apocalypse Hounds by Amie Burling
An animal shelter is an ironic place to spend the end of the world. With no exaggeration, that could describe even a good day around here. Chaos, emotion, the stark realities of mortality—those are old news to those of us in the trenches. I definitely know I’ve been working at this place a decade too long when the first thought through my head at news of the impending doom is, “People are going to leave their pets behind so fast they might bury us before the actual event.” Hah. That’s what compassion fatigue will do to you. I look at Mabel, our longest stay dog, and she warns against fatalism. Hope springs eternal in the canine heart.
Well, there are a lot of drop-offs. We’re working so hard we can’t even think. One hundred fifty dogs don’t know the end is nigh. They just know they’re hungry, and they need a walk, and it’s time for a peanut-butter-filled-kong. Pretty soon, it’s just me and Kal left for humans. In a moment of desperation and heroic insanity, Kal loads up dogs and drives around town, knocking on doors, asking people if they want “Apocalypse Hounds.” A friend for the end. And they do! I can’t believe it. Then it’s just me and Kal and Mabel. And I think, what better way to find your companions for the next chapter than the last three souls left in an animal shelter at the end of the world as we know it?
Redecorating the Nest by Ann Youmans (Honorable Mention)
In the end, he decided to send the sweaters back with her. He’d get them at Thanksgiving break, which at least meant he’d be coming home for Thanksgiving. She suspected that the climate had factored into his college choice.
She’d have to look into a snow removal service.
The drive back in the not-quite-empty car—the rejected sweaters, orientation pamphlets, pizza and bookstore receipts—she turned the radio up and made lists. Snow removal and a lawn care service. They’d cleaned the gutters before summer welcome, the garage after, after the first round of packing. She put shelves where the bikes used to be and organized a closet.
The bedroom, now devoid of soccer posters and stereo equipment, would be a guest room. The spare winter clothes in two of the drawers, a throw blanket with the college logo draped over a new armchair. She wrestled the chair into the house by herself, tilting it through the door one leg at a time and then dragging it to his—the guest—bedroom on a piece of old carpet.
The mornings were quiet. Without school bus bustle, she had an extra twenty minutes to sit with her coffee and watch the rest of the street get ready. She could put in a bay window. She subscribed to the paper. They were putting a walking trail in at the end of the street; it would get her almost all the way to her office.
Seventy-six days until Thanksgiving.