Opening lines

Station Eleven opens with a scene from Shakespeare’s King Lear: “The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.”

How would your apocalyptic novel open? Submit the first lines at here, or Tweet #UOCommonReading. Hook us or haunt us. What is the style, perspective, and setting of your end-of-days story? Does your opening hint at key themes you’ll explore? Prizes for the best openings: tickets to special event with the author, lunch with new UO President Michael Schill, or beautiful editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Also: last chance to vote for Week of Welcome apocalyptic film—Interstellar is in the lead!

9 comments on “Opening lines

  1. ” Hey, kid, you okay?” a tall, rough-looking man asks loudly from across the street. I open my eyes, rubbing them before the pain starts up in my chest again, intensifying with each small movement. “Kid?”

    “Hnng,” I groan, closing my eyes again. Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away.

    “Seriously, kid, if you don’t give me a real answer, I’m going to have to put a bullet in your head,” the stranger says, his voice steady. “And I don’t want to do that if I’m not really, really sure you’re one of them.”

    ^Actually something I wrote like three years ago but never quite left my brain. I’ve always had this thought of the apocalypse being a bittersweet combination of doing things because you have to and doing things because you want to. Like, the strange man mentioned above doesn’t want to shoot the narrator. The narrator is young, and even though the world has fallen apart he still has his whole life ahead of him. BUT the stranger also knows that if he has turned into a zombie (or whatever. Undead. Sick past the point of return. Not a person anymore. You get it.), he’ll have no choice but to do it anyway.
    It’s kind of the same thing as Station Eleven, where the symphony does certain things because they HAVE to (i.e. leaving people when they go missing, etc), but they also get to do things they want to by putting on plays and performing for people. I dunno. The idea of the dissonance between wants and obligations and how trivial our pressing issues of today could become really resonates with me.
    Also the idea of how everyone has a “before” life and how that can echo itself in apocalypse life. I dunno. I like apocalypse stories haha

  2. Stranded in a sea of decaying waste and breathing, choking machines, the skeletal house stood alone, an island of light. Skeletal, for it was growing like a biomechanical sea creature itself; strangers hammering down plastic walls and hoisting scrap metal to build planks that raised the house a little further above the ever-rising ocean.
    This was the day that my world ended.

  3. Have you ever wanted the ability to fly?
    Maybe you’d like to become invisible at will?
    Or perhaps heal rapidly from any wound?
    Well now you can!*

    *The Dorian Gray Pill has a 50% successful mutation rate, and a 50% mortality rate.

  4. Where was I? That’s right, I was lost. Lost like the rest of our civilization. Or so I thought. This was our new normal and you either cope with the feeling or die with the others.

  5. As the sun lay abreast the horizon and began dipping into another timezone, the world was tinged red. The color oozed into every crevice, staining the soil an unearthly hue. As we watched the sun sink deeper, the countryside held its breath in anticipation. I could hear my heartbeat gallop like a stallion knowing tonight could be our last night. What would dusk bring us this time? I silently hoped it wouldn’t be the same as every other night, but it has not changed since they opened the gate. My feet still ache from running.

    The little hand gripping mine tightened. Squeezing back, I held my breath. Wishing I was anywhere but here with this tiny hand in mine, I squeezed my eyes shut and prayed they would come for us. My whole body clenched at the realization that help may never come. My toes sunk into the earth and mixed with the sweat between them. My elbows were drawn to my hips, my chin to my chest. My free hand clenched so tight I felt my fingers would break, but the hand with the little one ticked inside stayed gentle. I could not let her know how much the night frightened me.

    In another part of the world, the dawn broke and the air was bright. As for here, with the sun left our salvation.

  6. Well, the religious nuts actually got something right. Unbelievable. The apocalypse is here, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. You see, when the end of the world actually became a possibility, everyone pointed their fingers outward. “It was the Communists all along!” “Of course it’s the Nazis, they tried this once already!” “Именно эти капиталистические свиньи на Западе !” Who would of thought that the end of our very existence was crawling around on the floor in diapers?

    No, no I’m not talking about infants mobilizing and taking hostage their adult guardians, that would be absurd! I’m talking about the very fabric of the newborn’s DNA, on a very specific chromosome that controls how and when the brain develops. This “outbreak” caused long dormant mutations to spring into action, severely affecting the development and maturity of the prefrontal cortex, Limbic System, and cerebellum in the new generation of kids. The first two parts responsible for rational thought and emotions were nearly completely turned off, and were found to severely affect their emotional behavior and social skills. The cerebellum however, was left to enlarge and develop FURTHUR; granting the seemingly normal children athletic talents never seen before.

    As you can see, this was truly a recipe for disaster.

  7. It never quite occurred to me exactly what the end of humanity would be like, what would cause it, who would cause it. Until that fateful day when the button was pushed that would send humanity into a downward spiral ultimately leading to the destruction of everything we held dear.

  8. I remember the kitchen. The walls covered in a once buttery yellow paint had been eaten to a water laden brown by age and neglect, the outdated linoleum tiles cracked and fragmented as thick brown bugs scurried around my wriggling toes to hide behind the rusted oven. My mother would fuss about as the teakettle took to whistling impatiently beneath the pressing heat of the stove, her lithe feet stepping cautiously over me. “Kaj,” she would laugh, the bell chimes of her tired voice filling the kitchen with a warmth that outmatched the glittering rays filtering in through the cracked widow caked with years of filth. “Must you sit there? The other children are outside, go and play with them.” I could hear their laughter from behind the decrepit walls, the sounds of the neighbor girl with silk dresses shrieking as the neighbor boys with matching haircuts and orange freckles chased her with worms and other such crawly things. “You spend too much time alone, darling.” My mother was at the stove now, the white surface ruined beneath layers of sharp rust, removing the kettle from the heat.

    “I’m not alone,” I would reply with a defensive autonomy, staring at my toes. “I’m with you.” Without even looking at her, I could feel her gaze on my ruddy cheeks, her impossibly blue eyes aglow with love. She would sigh, say nothing more, and hum a delicate tune that danced through my ears and tickled my brain. I would sit on that jagged floor, watching bugs scurry and dust motes perform intricate ballets in the bright midday sun, and relish the simplicity of my mother’s wordless company.

    I remember the kitchen, and all the fond memories it held. I never hated the dirty widow, or the stained paint, or even the cracked floor tiles. I loved my mother, her company and her songs, and I loved growing up with skittish brown bugs and playful dust motes. But for all I loved, for all that I wanted for nothing, it mattered little in the end.

    There are no more brown bugs or dancing dust motes. There are no more crackled floor tiles, or old walls with stained paint, or dirty windows with cracks. And I no longer have my mother’s company, or her songs. I sit not on the kitchen floor, but on cold concrete scented with years of vomit and urine and stained with thick patches of intimidating crimson that once belonged inside the body of a prior occupant. The buttery yellow is gone, and instead, I stare blankly at looming grey bricks that glare back if I look too long. And for as much as I argued with my mother, she, even in her death, is right.

    I spend too much time alone.

  9. The afternoon rays of the sun illuminated the crisp pages of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’. Rambo, my cat, was stretched across all of the once unoccupied space of the couch, his black fur shimmering under those delightfully golden rays.
    Suddenly, my book was smoking, my cat was yowling, his coat smelling of burnt rubber. I dropped the book in shock, the window curtains responded by disappearing into ash. I sprinted outside.

    My house blew away in the smoke. My eyes stung as everything collapsed and filled the air, as if zapped by a magic ray. My clothes fell through my fingers. And in the short time, the world disappeared and I was the only one standing.

    The afternoon sun illuminated the floating ash.

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