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George Salis


by George Salis

This planet’s surface is a churning ocean of lava, with tsunamis of melted iron, nickel, and other heavy elements orchestrated by a metallic moon. Scans reveal the ocean floor to be a mantle of silicate stone overlaying a metamorphic and sedimentary crust. Deeper still is a troposphere, ending in the center as an exosphere, a core of light gases that include hydrogen and helium. You determine that this earth is inside-out, with unknowing anthropoids living on the inner surface.

Before the Great Evaporation, in which the oceanic core of the earth was absorbed through the crust as a fine mist, the inhabitants were a subaqueous species, half fish and half human. With the waters reduced to lakes and rivers streaming across the inner surface, millions of the merhumans drowned in air, clutching their throats and puckering their cerulean lips, while the fortunate ones remained submerged in the residual H2O. With the passage of evolutionary time, the aquatic creatures gained terrestrial abilities, discovering a new version of the world formerly lost to them. The nonexistence of light made this self-enclosed system an earth in negative. Thus the inner surface was a fertile soil devoid of flora and explored by eyeless anthropoids. Sensitive hairs as translucent as glass enveloped their bodies and gave them the ability to see by physical sensation. A mere breeze would cause meteorological images to bloom in the brain, a simple touch would manifest an object as three-dimensional in the mind’s eye, and so they were able to charter the whole of their internal domain.

For nearly five thousand years they persisted by consuming protein mud that lined the lakes and rivers, until the first flora appeared, plants and algae that grew through scotosynthesis. The anthropoids then developed agriculture, fertilizing their crops with a potent distillation of darkness, which stimulated development to the point where plump stalks became entangled in the sky with those cultivated on the opposite sides of the earth. Planet tendons capable of feeding hundreds or more, a necessity in a prospering population.

The advent of science in their civilization coincided with the propagation of a plague that wilted most of their crops to ashen husks, the gray flakes swirling in the wind like snow in a globe. Experts of physics, botany, and other fields collaborated in response to the emergency and concluded that the plague must be starved, which would mean the destruction of the anthropoids’ primary food source. Therefore, they invented a plant that, although it would die in the dark, could feed on an eccentric electromagnetic radiation. Theoretical physicists called it “light.” To banish the plague without a doubt, and to ensure worldwide growth of the new plants, they enacted an ambitious plan. Just as their ancestors had forged the foundations of air-breathing through sacrifice and mutation, so would they begin the arduous process of light-seeing. This time, they possessed the aid of science and foresight. They edited DNA so that above the nostril, which was a crescent hole in the hirsute skin, they generated a concave patch of photosensitive cells that took up half of the face and all of the forehead. Furthermore, they deleted the genes that gave rise to the glassy hairs of the body in order to prevent stimuli from competing. When they had bred two generations of smooth anthropoids with nascent eyes, they performed the next step of their plan. The invention of the sun. And so the inner exosphere was set afire and with a radius of ten miles it illuminated all.

The presence of the sun catalyzed the evolution of their sight to where the sensitive patch morphed into a compound eye, glistening with necro-greens and plasmid purples. The synthetically-enhanced beings became the sacred caretakers of the blind, for it was discovered that the transparent hairs of their ancestors were inexplicably linked to the former darkness, and no amount of artificial shade was enough for them to salvage their sight-by-feel. To remedy this injustice, a system of feeding or famishing the fire was developed, so that they could turn the sun on and off at will. After a vote, it was determined that the sun would be on for ten hours then turned off for another ten, ad infinitum. On some occasions, the sun would be off for a week or more, as during the six-month mourning of the assassination of their leader. But this tradition was halted when the elderly eyeless anthropoids failed to return home amid dawn and were later seen scrounging in groups of three or four. Some claimed the more feral traits of the old ones’ personalities, traits still biding in the brains of the eyeful, had usurped control, while others said that a collective degeneration of the brain, due to age or a new disease, had stripped them of their higher faculties. The truth was revealed when a wandering group of seniors was found in a forsaken temple and captured. Between grunts they condemned in shrieking voices the world of unseeable light and used primordial purrs to express their longing for absolute darkness. It was decided that a system of underground homes and tunnels would be dug. Afterward, a farewell parade was held, wherein thousands cheered or wailed with grief as their great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents descended into a new realm of soil and perpetual night.

Thereafter, the progress of inner-surface civilization was embodied in the system of communication and transportation connecting ground and sky. Although careful to avoid the sun’s fire, they had installed thick, knotted ropes that muscled messengers climbed to deliver packages and letters to the other sides, flipping at the halfway mark due to the major switch in gravity. Spacious baskets had been tied to the crisscrossing ropes at various intervals for resting or sleeping. Many citizens trained themselves to climb, too, for it was a cheaper way to travel, although dangerous, and usually resulted in fifty or so deaths a year, with some falls suspected to be suicides. Later, the Pigeon Express was established, in which birds were bred for their size until large enough to be mounted. Riders of the Pigeon Express could be seen diving and rising through the air in all directions. Eventually the climbing ropes rotted but were replaced by steel cables as support for a new innovation of travel. That is, massive elevators capable of containing a few hundred people. In these elevators the poor were amassed in claustrophobic seclusion from the rich, who relished in the pleasures of a movable mansion. Except for the near sideswipe of two elevators, the only tragedy that occurred was when an elevator rose to the halfway point and then fell up, brakes broken, crashing into the terrestrial sky of their destination, killing everyone on impact. Shortly after they invented a network of pneumatic tubes that could deliver people back and forth in a matter of seconds, a universal debate began to take shape, concerning, not the center of their world, but the outside of it, the beyond.

Due to their location, they knew nothing of outer space. The earth was their sky, trees and lakes and rivers their constellations. Geologists were the equivalent of astronomers. But when a study of seismic waves revealed an odd hollowness of indeterminable size beyond the density of the ground around them, theories arose. Most thought the universe was made of dirt, the omnipresent terra, and that the emptiness was due to the existence of other worlds, other spheres, possibly much larger or smaller than theirs, perhaps harboring alien life. The alternative claim was that the hollowness was a deceptive echo from the orbicular walls of an impervious crust, a cosmic depth limit calculated at 299,792,458 meters. Only a few scientists conjectured that the universe was mostly empty space, with soil as the exception.

In response to a proposed drilling project that would answer their insatiable questions, an old man and his disciples began to build a gargantuan ark in preparation for what he called the Great Inundation. He professed that to puncture so deeply into the skin of the great god Lutum would send forth floods of His bleeding wrath. Overall, opposition was in the minority and the drilling began, implementing a colossal vehicle with a bulky corkscrew mouth that was capable of ingesting dirt in great quantities and expelling it as an ultra-fine powder from a hole in the rear. It took only a couple miles for the drill to open up a subterranean metropolis populated by a humanoid species with centipede legs, thousands of them crawling across pillared buildings. Nothing of them was familiar but their eyeless heads, which reminded the inner surface population of tall tales their great-grandparents told them regarding relatives that lived underground and masticated clumps of darkness. Scientists began to study them but their underground realm was not the source of the detected cavity, the mysterious emptiness, and so they continued to drill much deeper. Increasing heat registered by instruments installed within the drill was interpreted differently: as the theorized spheres of other civilizations, glowing with the energies of industry; as globular crucibles of perpetual light, suns for the taking; or as an overheating of the drill itself, a misleading malfunction. Thus they drilled deeper and deeper until they fissured the surface of their inside-out earth, draining the lava ocean. “It’s the destined hemorrhage of the great god Lutum, His livid blood,” cried the old man as he stood on the deck of his ark and embraced the viscous rush of the blinding red ichor.

With time, the molten center of this earth will be pressurized into solid nickel and iron, preceded by a liquid outer core and a mantle, while the drained surface will flourish with flora and fauna in the presence of atmosphere-accumulated water, until an inversion of gravity will cause the boundaries between layers to become porous – and the process repeats.



George Salis is the author of the novel Sea Above, Sun Below. After almost a decade, he has nearly finished his second novel, Morpholocal Echoes. He’s the winner of the Tom La Farge Award for Innovative Writing. He’s also the editor of The Collidescope, an online publication that celebrates innovative and neglected literature. His website is


by George Salis

This earth seems like a place you would call home, until you see a cluster of scintillating hooks descending through the sky and disappearing into a cityscape. Minutes later, hundreds of humans, pierced through the cheek, the hand, or even the genitalia, are pulled upward between the buildings and over the skyscrapers, through the atmosphere and into the frigidity of outer space. The source of the hooks is indiscernible, but you get the feeling that this is less an earth than a farm, ripe for the picking. The harvesters, smoke-obscured, are meticulous and methodical. But miscalculations happen, and humans that are pulled up too slowly become bloated and frostbitten, while those pulled up too quickly experience a barotrauma that explodes their eyeballs, prolapses their cochleas, and, on occasion, spontaneously ejects their brains, the parietal bone popping open like a missile hatch. These spoiled humans are thrown back as is, stuck in orbit among satellites and other debris or burnt to a crisp by atmospheric friction. Whether the harvesters discard them because they are inedible or unsellable or unable to be experimented upon is unknown, though it is believed that nutrition, economy, and science all play a role in the harvest. Fluxes of radiation borne of solar flares or other cosmic phenomena sometimes cook the humans as they are being reeled in through space. Yet this product is not thrown back. At such times, humans down on earth can just barely hear a celestial crunching, similar to the crackling of an aurora overhead, but combined with the harshness of something like deep-fried crickets. In response to this din, the humans stopper their ears with the palms of their hands and squeeze their eyelids together, attempting to unsee the imagined rows of serrated teeth, the miasmal burps of pleasure, the unidentifiable remains floating within cauldron stomachs, the defecation of pyramidal pellets containing shards of bone, broken jewelry, tufts of hair, semi-dissolved leather belts, shreds of cloth, and occasionally ellipsoid pairs of silicone.

         Over time, the harvesters will become more accurate in their reaping, and so fewer humans will be thrown back, but presently the earth seems to rain ravaged humans as much as they are ‘evaporated,’ which is one of the euphemisms used by the fearful. To address that issue, humans invent a global fleet of mobile nylon nets used to catch the discarded humans over land or sea. Thus it is discovered that some humans, although not frosted by space or sickened through decompression, are still deemed subpar by the harvesters. Likewise, children below the age of twelve are invariably released, probably in compliance with some intergalactic regulation. The latter are the most resilient, but many ‘recycled’ humans, as they are dubbed, are caught dead, with their brains lobotomized or decorticated by the hooks, their bodies charred from the fall. Yet there is still an abundance of survivors whose stories become a source of terror, wonder, and inspiration.

         A six-year-old boy is caught safely over the Atlantic, but found to have been skinned by the time he passed through the stratosphere, with a part of the adamantoid hook still jutting from his temple like an antenna. His corneas vaporized by ultraviolet radiation, he claims to have seen, up there, ancient astronauts in an inverted nimbus. He saw how their forms dissipate and coagulate at will, becoming tools, symbols, and what might have been their bodies, amorphous structures which echo the pillars of Greek antiquity. These beings are the Cosmic Parents of humans, the Creators and Liberators. “The journey of the hook,” the boy professes, “tests our purity and weighs our sin, for the abacuses of their consciousness can only bear so much darkness.” How can a child know these things? Some think that he is a kind of spy, yet another way to lure them, while others develop a faith in his messages, selling all their material belongings and cutting off every relationship before impaling themselves on the nearest hook, usually through the temple, in the way of the child mystic, the stabbing motion itself as innocent and alleviating as putting one’s head upon a pillow at night.

         When a middle-aged woman is caught in a net at the edge of the Sahara Desert, the velocity causes her epidermis to roll into itself like a sleeping bag, her head at the claustrophobic center. Members of the rescue team carefully unroll her and determine that she was filleted of every bone, but her skin was left intact, except for a hole in her cheek from which globules of saliva dribble. What alarms them is the fact that her left eye gazes out of her right ear canal and her other eye is fixed on what appears to her as an ocean trench (later discovered in the sphincter). More than this, her heart fell to the heel of her left foot, her lungs expand and contract within her right thigh, her bowels are where her brain should be, and all the rest is equally jumbled for lack of a skeletal system. They temporarily patch the cheek-hole with gauze, which helps her say, “I heard them speaking, but not, I heard their actual thoughts, the layers and layers, the calculations. Numbers. That’s what we are to them, numbers in the mind. And me, I was an outlier. An outcast.” She only survives for a few seconds after her enigmatic comment, loose parts of her flipping and flopping from occasional wind, until a simoom nearly blows her away. Caught by her kidney-bulging wrist, a man leads her whipping body through the sandy gusts and folds her neatly in an SUV’s trunk. By being an organ donor, she is able to save other Recycles. At her funeral, she is lowered into the earth inside a matchbox for a coffin. Because of her, the term ‘spineless’ is now synonymous with bravery and resilience.

         These tales of survival fuel a kind of arms race between the harvesters and the harvested. First, a brain trust is assembled by almost every government to determine what exactly attracts humans to the hooks, but this proves futile, for it is a mystery shrouded by amnesia and mythology. Some say you hear a soothing muzak, with coveted items of masscult, like smart phones or sex toys, glistening on the tips of the hooks. Others believe you are pulled in by the sobbing voices of deceased loved ones, finding them spiked through the chest and begging to be saved. A few conjecture there is a sibilant snake coiled around each hook like a worm, entreating you as if you were Eve, offering apples of knowledge, figs of immortality, a feast of the sensorium and the soul. Regardless of whatever temptation, the governments agree on a global law that forbids anyone to be within five miles of a hook and, like a total eclipse, to never look at one directly.

         In the event of a hook cluster, cities are made to evacuate. Strategically placed megaphones rattle buildings’ windows with monotone messages: “The hooks do not have your best interests in mind. Do not approach the hooks.” Families sardined in cars drive past digital billboards that read: Stay Happy & Hookless, with a vintage vista of undisturbed family life in the background. Hazmat teams, with tinted visors that only allow them to perceive the lines of the hooks, sever those ominous parallels using saw-toothed scissors attached to long poles. The grounded hooks are then treated like irradiated bear traps, and so other hazmat team members drive over them in a tank-like vehicle, finding the hooks via GPS and sucking them into a vat of acid. With time, the harvesters reinforce their lines with a plasmid aura that liquefies the scissors. They also infect the billboards and announcements with subliminal messages that equate the hooks with a shortcut to paradise. The humans soon develop meteorology that forecasts the when and where of a hook cluster. Less winds, more lubricating moisture in the air, the presence of fog to hide the hooks, all and more help to determine where they will descend next. This makes evacuation more effective and less haphazard. In response to this, the harvesters eventually deploy decoy clusters of hooks, catching the populations mid-exodus. So continues this game of cat and mouse, until you see a cluster of hooks descending, not upon a city, but a country, then a continent. Across the globe, hooked humans are being pulled through the clouds, the spheres, looking down on a world shadowed by themselves, by an entire species. The few million or so humans who are not caught immediately begin their immigration to an unfinished project, evading falling shoes, hats, glasses, and bodily fluids along the way. At the center of each continent is an incomplete underground metropolis. This will be the final step in the arms race, claimed the world leaders, who are now being reeled in by the harvesters, inhaling between screams the metallic stench of outer space. Here we will live and flourish in peace.

         Due to their intercontinental reaping, the harvesters are forced to incubate and breed humans, then throw them back down in a newly developed shrink-wrap that dissolves by the time they alight on the ground. But in the midst of desolate cities, the test tube humans become savage cannibals, reminding the harvesters of the tainted meat of millennia past. Yet the harvesters are not unwise to the layer of prime crop hidden beneath the surface, and after a century passes, they release a moon-sized chum bucket into orbit that slowly tips over and pours allamones over the earth. Golden spheres resembling dandelion seed heads swirl through the stratosphere and troposphere, the beginning of a nuclear summer. The nostrils of humans twitch amid the balm, the aroma, the perfume, the bouquet, the incense. They emerge from their subterranean safety to witness what appears to be a shattered sun as sparkling sky. Many stick out their dry tongues to let stray flecks settle on their taste buds and melt into a sexual urgency, others take deeper breaths and experience a desperate depression. Some pick up handfuls of the accumulated allamones and grind them into their eyes then use their stained fingers to brush their gums, quivering with euphoric revelation. The final goal of these states of mind are the same: every human skewers themselves on the nearest hook with divine gratification.

         Not many years after, the harvesters net the entirety of the earth and begin to haul it away. The few thousand humans that survived the maelstrom of allamones catapult into the net by the interruption of the planet’s rotation, then press back down to earth’s surface as the net tightens. Eventually the lack of sunlight causes a worldwide ice age, which has the benefit of keeping the meat preserved. If the humans could open their frozen eyes, they would see other netted planets being pulled next to theirs like the trophy heads of colossi.



George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThree Crows MagazineMad Scientist Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook and Instagram (@george.salis). He is the editor of The Collidescope.