‘Third Planet Problems’ by Todd Mercer


I had great ideas at the inception, but they were perversely tangled up. My people like procreating new people barely better than they enjoy killing each other. I make cool gifts, they destroy the gifts rather than thank me. This quirky bunch knows how to piss me off. Sometimes I leave them be a few years, turn a deaf ear to their constant appeals.

Yesterday I was minding my business, having cold ones at The Cosmos. Me-damn-it, it happened again. Two of my peers at the next table didn’t realize I was there. It’s a sad day when a man can’t set his worries aside.

“You hear the latest about Virgil’s bunch?”

“Those head-cases are always worth a laugh. What have they messed up now?”

“Yeah, this is rich. They’re creating their own storms, raining and snowing on themselves constantly, wreaking havoc. They write him millions of complaint letters about bad weather.”

“Impressive. My people thank me for offering them peaceful lives. At day-break they sing to my image, planet-wide, then they pledge mutual loving-kindness. They sleep soundly. They concentrate together to move things with the group mind. They dislike trouble.”

“Powerful stuff. If I were Virgil, I’d be ashamed. How hard is it to set up a basic garden planet and then maintain it?”

“It’s a breeze. I put in an hour a day tending mine. Nobody gripes over conditions or asks to live forever or any of that.”

“Right, an hour a day’s sufficient after the initial stages. Virgil sure drew a gaggle of losers.”

“They don’t actually call him Virgil, you know. They call him ‘God’.”

“Priceless. Next time I see Virgil I’m going to be all like, ‘What’s up, God?’ Complete disaster, that guy. Hey, are you eating those pretzels?


“Pass ‘em over.”

I cut out of there, walked to the house. A spiral of negative thinking wanted to take me for a spin. “Me-damn-it,” I said aloud. I’ve got to break out of this funk. “Me bless it,” I said, a bit calmer.

Believe me, I’ve carefully considered a factory reset of my planet. It can be as simple as lobbing an over-sized comet at it. The comet would have to be fast, or the people could blow it up with missiles or build a blast shield to preserve. Then, boom—clean planet, fresh beginning. No more whining, no more passive-aggressive guff. My dirty work done.

But in the crevasses of my heart, I wish I could forgive them. I wish they’d stop stepping on metaphorical shovel-heads and hitting themselves in their allegorical faces. Once I spent a month telling them to improve. Ordering them, begging. No net effect. Can’t bear the thought of my peers saying, “There goes Virgil, the guy who flubbed creation and gave up.”

I call my friend, Kali. Way back Kali had her own world, but she rolled it up and started visiting mine when not here at the main place. Her and her husband the Death Lord (aka The Destroyer, aka The Shiv) keep a bunch of the Indian folks distracted for me. She plans their every move, runs the household, he gets most of the public credit. I like Kali a lot. She’s always good for a free opinion.

She wishes she hadn’t pulverized every iota of her planet, but she was enraged. She could do it, she did it, and that decision is permanent. We live and learn.

“The way I see it Virg, you’ll have to go down there, in person.”

I don’t like when people shorten my name to Virg. Too country.

“Again?? I tried that before, you know.”

“You’re right,” she says, “They’re hopeless. May as well lower the boom.”

“You go there pretty quick.”

“What can I tell you? You know how I am by now: high volatility, low bullshit tolerance. No dithering from this chick. It’s better than being a pushover. Like some.”

“Me-damn-it, Kali!”

“Sorry, fella. ‘Pushover’ is a mean, hurt-y word to you? Is ‘enabler’ more your style?”

Kali has a knack for making a person spitting mad but helping them at the same time. That’s why I hang out with her ever so occasionally. It’s on the up and up. She’s blunt, but she has terrific hair.

“Look, I’ll go with you,” she said. “Shiva can eat from the fridge this week. Let him watch his shows. He’ll be fine. You and I go dazzle them, show some magic, pyrotechnics they’ll remember.”

“I’m listening.”

“Oh, thanks for that. I’m honored. When we get there, I’ll set a cataclysm in motion. Shake them out of apathy. That’s when you rush in and, you know, spare them all. Well, not all of them. We have to kill some, but in the end you save the day. Maybe half? Then the people have a new Good and Evil legend to keep them stoked another thousand years. But while you’re popular—seriously, this time, Virg—lay down the law. Get stern.”

It had been a couple eons since the last extended field trip to the surface. I’m not so energetic now, but with Kali along, it would be a crazy trip.

“Not floods,” she said, “Re-runs are pathetic.”

“Pestilence is disgusting,” I said. “I’m into hurricanes.”

“Ring of fire,” Kali said, as I began packing a bag. “It’s going to be a ring of fire this time. Linked volcanoes!”

I’d ask Jesus if he wants to tag along, but that guy’s never home.

TODD MERCER was nominated for Best of the Net in 2018. His digital chapbook, Life-wish Maintenance, appeared at Right Hand Pointing. Mercer’s recent work appears in The Lake, Leaves of Ink, Literary Orphans, Praxis and Scarlet Leaf Review.

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