The second section of the book opens on a very different world. Twenty years after Arthur's death, a traveling band of actors called “The Symphony” rehearse for a production of King Lear. Kirsten, who had been the little girl in the Toronto production, remembers her experience with Arthur Leander in the last production of the play before the collapse as she participates in the rehearsal. They are traveling during a heat wave alongside Lake Michigan, headed towards a settlement called St. Deborah. The performers in the Symphony mostly come from Chicago, where they combined their operations and began traveling three years after the collapse. While they have experimented with different theatre, they primarily perform Shakespeare, in addition to playing classical, jazz, and pop music from before the collapse. They travel armed, and danger always seems to be present.
The societal organization of the post-collapse world is very different. There are no longer cities, merely collections of people living primarily in vacant fast-food restaurants and gas stations. Phones, the internet, even electricity are all things of the past. These collections of people, these “towns” are generally friendly to the Symphony. Kirsten and August, another Symphony member, enjoy scavenging through old homes to find relics of the past. August looks for TV guides and poetry, Kirsten looks for celebrity gossip magazines as she tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle of Arthur Leander’s life.
She remembers Arthur markedly better than other aspects of her pre-collapse life, but especially remembers the graphic novels he gave to her before he died. These comics, called Station Eleven, depict the now uncannily recognizable struggles of a physicist, Dr. Eleven, who lives in a space station meant to simulate life on earth, which has become uninhabitable. Dr. Eleven and his dog Luli preside over this world, which is not the world they knew. One illustration is presciently captioned “I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.”
As they draw nearer to St. Deborah, rehearsals are filled with tension; Kirsten’s ex-boyfriend Sayid tends to play opposite of her, and when they switch plays to rehearse Midsummer Night’s Dream and play sparring former lovers, the Symphony points out the irony. The company arrives in St. Deborah, only to find it has changed since their last visit. Kirsten’s friend Charlie and her husband Jeremy had stayed behind the last time they had come, and Kirsten goes looking for them. She talks to the local midwife Maria, only to find that Charlie and Jeremy had a baby girl but had to leave town, because she “rejected the Prophet’s advances.” The midwife then warns them to leave town as soon as they can.
Kirsten notices that she is being followed by a little girl as she continues the search for clues about Charlie’s whereabouts. Dieter takes Kirsten to the St. Deborah graveyard. In the graveyard there are three markers with Charlie, Jeremy, and their daughter Annabel’s name. Kirsten is horrified at first, until she realizes that there are no bodies buried there. She and Dieter try to convince the rest of the Symphony to leave town, but they refuse and decide to perform anyway. After the performance, the man called The Prophet gets up and makes a speech laced with threats, and they realize he runs a doomsday cult based on the idea that survivors of the flu were chosen by God. The Symphony leaves the town that night and are told by a young boy patrolling the edges of the town that they can’t leave without permission. They get past him, though when the boy asks if he can leave with them, they refuse. The Symphony plans to head south to Severn City, where they think Charlie and Jeremy could potentially be living now. Kirsten looks through her possessions: she has the Station Eleven comic, magazines with pictures of Arthur and his wives, and the paperweight that was given to her by Tanya, but she does not remember who gave it to her.
In this section of the book, we see how the world has deteriorated. Population has decreased drastically. Societies are smaller and center around abandoned fast food restaurants. There is constant fear of danger and shifts to keep watch. Scavenging is a part of life, and Kirsten participates happily, searching for relics of the old world.
An important way to learn more about how characters value the old world is to see what they keep. Kirsten does not remember her mother’s voice, yet she remembers Arthur Leander’s face and seeks to learn whatever she can about a man who touched her life so briefly. August, on the other hand, looks for copies of TV guide to recapture the wonder of TV that he remembers from childhood. Some choose to ignore the past altogether, and some are simply too young to remember.
We see that a source of conflict for Kirsten is her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, Sayid. She is having trouble adjusting to the passive-aggressive and awkward situations that develop from the entire company having knowledge of their relationship. The Symphony offers safety and community, but it also generates conflicts and a sense of claustrophobia. In an allusion to Sartre, Sayid writes the quote “Hell is other people” inside of one of the wagons, but "other people" is humorously crossed out and replaced by “flutes” by one of the other company members.
The mystery of where Charlie and Jeremy have gone adds a quest and a mystery to the Symphony's otherwise rudderless journey. Expecting to find the couple in St. Deborah, Kristen and the Symphony more generally are unnerved by their disappearance, and this ultimately leads to their desire to find answers in addition to performing. Finding her friends becomes Kirsten’s ultimate quest.
This section also introduces the main antagonist: The Prophet. Little is known about the origin of the prophet; all the reader knows is he has risen to power quickly, takes multiple wives, and has a devoted band of followers. The reader is given a sense that this town’s overthrown authority center and theocracy is far the from the norm. The Prophet seems dangerous, and the central question at the end of the section is if this is the last the Symphony will see of the man.