The New Theia Event
I wrote the original draft of this piece for an exercise in a creative writing seminar my senior year of college. The exercise was to take an outrageous tabloid article (in my case, “Super Earths Found!”) and weave the concept of the article into a fictional short story. After receiving feedback from my peers and working on the piece for a few months, I entered the story into a writing contest with a small publishing house in Wisconsin. The story was chosen by the editors, and was included in a state-by-state published anthology of emerging American authors.
The New Theia Event
I was thirteen when they found the first planet.
Everyday, upon my arrival home from school, my mom would meet me at the van to drive me to soccer practice at the rec center. That day, when I got home neither my mother nor father were outside. I entered the house to find my parents planted firmly in front of the television, something they never did. They didn’t turn to greet me as I entered the house, didn’t even acknowledge I was there. They just stared at the screen blankly, slack-jawed.
The TV was on a news channel, and displayed pictures of what appeared to be a planet in the sky.
“...scientists found this ‘new planet’ only hours ago, when it first became visible in the sky over Johannesburg, South Africa. NASA has yet to name this strange planet, but have categorized it as a ‘super Earth’, in that it is a planetary body one to ten times Earth’s mass. Oddly enough, while NASA’s astrophysicists can typically see planets hundreds of millions of miles away, this planet did not make itself known until it was closer to us than our own moon. While other super Earths that have been discovered, none have been within our solar system, and it seems to be growing only closer to us. Even stranger, the planet’s velocity seems to be decreasing the closer it gets to Earth...”
My dad, perched on the edge of the recliner, rubbed a hand over his stubbly beard, like he always does when we’re talking about something serious.
“What the hell is this?” he asked my mom.
“I don’t know, Jonathan.”
I stared at the TV with them, wondering what could possibly be on that planet.
People panicked. Many said it was the end of the world, that this new planet was going to crash into Earth and everything would go extinct. I didn’t believe the planet was real until I saw it with my own eyes.
The new planet wasn’t visible from my house until two months after I first learned of it. Once it became visible from my neighborhood, the panic around me set in immediately. People boarded up their windows, brought their pets inside, and some even evacuated. To where, I don’t know. It wouldn’t make a difference. No matter where you went, the other planet was always there.
I was eighteen when they found the second planet.
I was laying in the bed of Josh Keller’s pickup truck, staring blankly up at the evening sky as he lay on top of me and kissed my neck. It was chilly, and through amber leaves I could see the new planet, hovering above me like an overprotective parent. However, near it, I could see something else I had never seen before: a faint curve, an outline of something new. It held my attention much more captively than the boy on top of me, and Josh asked what my deal was. I told him to take me home.
When I got home, my parents were in the same spots they had been five years earlier: right in front of the TV, watching the same anchorwoman break us the news: Another super Earth was found, just a short distance away from the first one.
A lot of people said that, not only were there random planets appearing, but that even then something was off. If these planets were so much larger than Earth, they would be affecting our Earth’s gravity. We would be pulled less toward our Earth’s core and more toward the cores of the other planets. The tides would be drastically altered. Volcanoes would erupt so violently that the sky would go dark with ash, and Earth’s temperature would cool tremendously.
But nothing was happening.
I watched dozens of TV specials on which astronomers and astrophysicists fiercely debated the physical makeup of these planets. Maybe they were gaseous planets, whose lesser density would yield a smaller gravitational pull. After all, Saturn has such a low density that it would float in a body of water. Maybe they weren’t actually planets, and were instead images of our Earth reflecting off of the greenhouse gases that were quickly accumulating. Other doctors, such as psychologists and neuroscientists, suggested that there were neither planets nor images in the sky, but rather it was an extreme form of mass hysteria--someone suggested it, and we all began to see it.
I didn’t know what I was seeing.
I was twenty-three when they found the third planet.
I was drunk off my ass on liquor and sorority girls, walking from a club to my apartment when I bumped into a homeless man wearing a cardboard sign the size of his torso around his neck.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, trying not to tumble to the sidewalk or gag on the pungent odor of urine pouring off of him. Once I was successfully upright I rearranged my glasses where they were perched on my nose, allowing myself to read the sign.
Three days the cock crowed, then Jesus returned from the dead. What do you think will happen with three planets?
I laughed aloud.
“You do know there’s only two, right?”
The man shook his head. When he spoke, his voice was solemn. “There’s a third.”
“A third?” I asked. “Buddy, you see those right?” I shoved a finger toward the sky, pointing at each heavenly body individually. They were blurry. “One, two. Two planets, not three.”
“The third will be revealed to us,” he said. “And then they will destroy us.”
“They who? You think these planets will kill us?” I slurred with amusement. “If they haven’t yet, they never will.”
Without hesitation, the man looked me in the eyes and said: “They will.”
I stumbled back a few steps and he advanced toward me. I blinked and tried to gather my thoughts, then began walking toward my apartment.
When I got home my roommate was asleep on the couch, and the TV was on a news station, where that same newscaster from eight years ago was still telling us the breaking news.
“...Yes, a third planet has just been discovered. In the case of the first two planets, their velocity decreased as they approached Earth, but in the case of this third one its velocity is increasing…”
I stood gaping in the living room, the TV flashing bright colors into my eyes.
“Shit,” I whispered, not bothering to wake Kara.
“...It seems that all three planets, including the ones that had been previously hovering in our orbit, are now headed toward Earth, with, um, accelerating rapidity…”
The anchorwoman stammered, looking down at her notes and gulping. She paused for a moment, taking a breath.
At that moment a tremendous rumbling reached my ears, and suddenly a bright heat pierced through me. I struggled to breathe, feeling as though my insides were boiling. I tried to shout Kara’s name, but the air had been sucked out of my lungs. Out of the corner of my eye I saw light dancing, and I turned my head to see my neighborhood bathed in a more brilliant white light than I had ever seen.
I looked back to the television and just as the anchorwoman raised her head to make eye contact with her audience, she announced her sign-off as she too gasped for breath:
“God help us all.”