We can think of no better way to end our week on strange stories than with a contribution from the incomparable Thomas Pierce. In his debut collection, Hall of Small Mammals, woolly mammoths are cloned, and a woman has a husband who resides only in her dreams. In this story, “A Rogue Planet,” a planet with a face has appeared in our solar system. The piece is composed entirely of questions. As the narrator goes on and on about this so-called planet, he begins to poke holes in our assumptions about human knowledge and relationships. This pithy and masterful tale shows us that, though we may think we’re sure of the workings of our world and our minds—we actually have no idea.
Are you watching this too? Do you see the face? How come we’ve never even heard of this planet until now? Can you believe this is really happening? When you first heard the news of a planet that’s come creeping into our solar system, a planet with a face, did you assume they meant that figuratively? Does it scare you that they most definitely do not mean that figuratively? Are you still in bed? Are you under the covers with the phone to your ear? Is your husband at work right now? If he was home would he be holding you in his arms or in the kitchen preparing himself a breakfast burrito?
Which channel are you on now? Why must video feeds from space always be so grainy? Did I ever tell you that my Uncle Roscoe—whom you met once at my father’s house after his back surgery—is among those internet-message-board commenters who believe the moon landing was filmed on a studio lot and that it was him who inspired the idea for my lecture on the impossibilities of romantic love post-JFK-assassination? Didn’t you take that class?
How much do you understand about adaptive optics, about super-mirrors, about space and time, the origins of the universe? The observatory that discovered the planet—is it even reputable? Are we right to trust them? From where do they receive the bulk of their funding? If the government—which government? Ours? The Venezuelan? The Iranian? Mightn’t that be useful information? To what degree is solving this mystery an international effort? What do the French think? Are the Chinese mobilizing? How long have the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, and the FBI known about this, and if they’ve known for long, why would they have kept it a secret? Has the president been briefed? What does he think about a planet with an actual face? Does it scare him? Shouldn’t it? Has he paced a path into the Oval Office rug? Could this explain why he went gray so fast? What does the First Lady think, and what is she telling their kids? What will you tell Lucy? Are they letting schools out early today?
Have you been staring at a screen all morning too? Do your eyes ache? Does your heart? Have you paused the DVR and traced the image of the face with your finger? Are you looking at it now? Are you seriously freaking out right now? Do you still keep a few clonazepams in your sock drawer just in case? What’s this planet made of? Like ours, does it have a crust and mantle and core? Is there an atmosphere? Blue skies, red skies, purple skies? Milky seas or frozen seas or no seas at all? Endless deserts?
How long since you went to church? Are you still Unitarian? What would Buddha or Jesus or Gandhi have to say about this? Have you studied the enhanced image? Have you watched them digitally outline its nose, mouth, and eyes, bringing each feature into such stark relief? How much do these on-screen scratch marks remind you of football commentary? What does all this mean? How did the face get there? Could it be a naturally occurring geologic feature? Could it somehow be superimposed upon the surface? Or maybe it’s a physical structure—like the pyramids or Stonehenge but much more massive?