The following story -- "Residue" -- will be the sixth, and final, story to be posted here from my co-edited anthology (with Nick Gevers) Is Anybody Out There? recently published by Daw Books. I hope these stories have intrigued you enough to purchase a copy of the book -- either the mass market paperback edition or the Kindle ebook edition, or both! The anthology contains an additional 9 original stories, by (in order of appearance) Alex Irvine, Yves Meynard, Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, Paul Di Filippo, Ray Vukcevich, Matthew Hughes, Ian Watson, Felicity Shoulders and Leslie What, and James Morrow (a nearly 9,000-word story), plus an introduction by Paul McAuley. So there is a lot more reading to be had in the book, and I believe you'll find the quality of these stories easily warrant multiple readings. But enough of the promotion....
In 2002, while working on the Witpunk anthology, co-editor Claude Lalumière sent me a story entitled "A Halloween Like Any Other," written by Michael Arsenault, an author with whom I had no familiarity, or even knowledge of, at the time. Claude asked that I consider the story for our anthology, which I did, and the story was accepted. I learned much later that Claude had attended a party at which Michael had "performed" (Michael's word) the story; that's how Claude came by the story initially.
So, if not for Claude, Michael and I would never have met -- virtually speaking, that is -- and I wouldn't have invited him to contribute a story to the anthology Is Anybody Out There? and Nick and I would not have seen this wonderful little gem of a story -- "Residue."1
About "Residue," Michael writes: "While on a camping trip, I decided to take a late-night canoe ride. I paddled out to the middle of the lake and then looked up at the sky. It was hard not to notice the difference between this view and the one I had back in the city. Out here I could actually see the stars. Back at home, even on a cloudless night, I'd be hard pressed to spot more than a dozen, but that night, on that lake, I could see thousands twinkling up there. In order to take it all in, I lay down on the bottom of the boat and looked up. Positioned like that I had an unobstructed view, and this, coupled with the gentle rocking of the canoe in the water, began to make me feel weightless. As if gravity had let go of its hold on me and I might start floating up at any moment -- an entirely new sensation for me. One I didn't care for even a little. My stomach churned and my sense of balance abandoned me completely. Frankly, it was a miracle I managed to hang on to my dinner. In the end, at least one good thing came of that experience: it inspired the mood and setting of my story 'Residue.' Not the lake part, nor so much the feeling ill part, but the general sense of wonder and awe that comes with proper stargazing. So maybe, hopefully, all that queasiness was worth it in the end."
by Michael Arsenault
by Michael Arsenault
They went outside, lay down on the grass, and looked up at the stars.
Everything was quiet for about a minute, and then:
"So what are we doing out here?"
"We're… Nothing. We're just out here."
"I don't know. If you really need a reason I guess we could say we're communing with nature. Or something."
"Since when do we do that?"
"Since…tonight. Since right now."
"This doesn't sound like you. Why are you being weird?"
"I just want to be outside for a little while, okay? Out of the house and away from distractions."
"Lots of things. Television, for instance."
"What's wrong with TV?"
"Nothing, just God forbid it should ever be turned off while we're conscious."
"You're touchy all of a sudden."
"Look, I just want to lie here, have a moment of peace, and see if I can connect with something. Stare up into the sky, and, I don't know…ponder the meaning of the universe. What's so weird about that?"
"It's not like you."
"Fine. It's not like me. I'm different now."
"I think I feel bugs crawling up my legs."
"Maybe you should just go back inside."
"Don't be so --"
"No one's forcing you to stay out here."
"You're not what?"
"I'm doing my best, okay? I'm trying."
"Do I what?"
"Don't bite my head off. I was just going to ask if you know any of their names."
"The stars. The planets. The…whatever those patterns are called."
"No. Don't really know their names. I mean, of course I know some of them, but I don't know which is which."
"Me neither. I never really thought much about it before, but now that we're here looking up I feel kind of ignorant."
"You're not ignorant."
"I feel that way. Ignorant. Not to mention insignificant."
"Looking up at the sky can do that to a person."
"It also makes me feel a little weightless. Like gravity doesn't exist and I could just start floating up. Is there such a thing as reverse vertigo? I think I've got that. The fear of being sucked up into the sky at a moment's notice."
"I don't know if that's a real fear."
"It is, I can promise you. I've got it. It may not have a name, but I'm feeling it right now."
"You're not going to be sick, are you?"
"I don't think so, but it might be time for me to turn my eyes away."
"Here. Hold my hand. Is that better?"
"Makes me feel a little more…rooted, I guess. You make a decent anchor."
"No, really. That wasn't sarcastic. You really do sort of anchor me. In the good way. Not the 'holding me down' way. And you know what? I hate to admit it, but this actually is kind of…okay. The view, the company, this whole thing. Everything considered, maybe it's not so…"
"Not so what?"
"Maybe it's not so terrible that you forced me to come out here."
"Well, listen to you. Almost sounds like you're happy."
"Shut up. Don't ruin it."
"You don't actually have to apologize. I'm not being serious."
"You ever wonder…?"
"Oh, never mind. Just a fleeting thought. And an obvious one."
"It's just one of those standard thoughts that goes through your mind while you're looking up at the sky."
"And that is…?
"Do you think there's anyone out there?"
"Out there…you mean like 'other planets' out there? As in 'aliens'?"
"I don't know."
"Is that your best educated guess?"
"It's my most honest one."
"So don't be honest. Speculate."
"Speculate… Speculate. Um, okay. Yes. There are aliens out there."
"It does seem likely, doesn't it? I've heard people say that the odds are good that there's something out there, somewhere."
"It's pretty vast all right. There's certainly room."
"So somewhere, somehow, there's probably life on other planets."
"You ever wonder if we'll see it within our lifetimes?"
"Contact with beings from another world? Once in a while. Mostly I wonder why we haven't seen it already. It gets me thinking…"
"You really want to hear some speculation?"
"Sure. You got a theory?"
"Maybe. One or two. You want to hear them?"
"I'm lying here, aren't I?"
"Well how about this…maybe they are out there. And not too far away, either. Invisible to detection, of course, but not too far."
"And they visit all the time."
"Oh, do they?"
"Yes, but here's how it works: they need to feel a connection in order to come down. They need to home in on a signal."
"What kind of signal?"
"I don't know. Maybe not a technological one. Maybe more of a personal one. A quiet one. Maybe just a person, all by himself. Maybe just the energy a human gives off. Someone who's looking up, just like we are. An individual mind or a force of will, that's what draws them, what they home in on. Maybe to them, a person all alone in the forest looking up is kind of like a beacon. This wouldn't work in the city, where there's so much light and noise, with a dense population, but out there in the quieter parts of the world… Who knows?"
"So this would explain why all those stories about abductions are always coming from rural areas?"
"Exactly. They don't dare venture into the highly populated places, but one lone human out there all by himself…it would be hard to pass up on."
"You do realize what you're saying, right? You and I live in a pretty secluded area ourselves. It's hardly like this is the middle of the city."
"Which means you never know. So if you don't see me for a few days…"
"I'll just assume you're off sightseeing somewhere outside the Milky Way."
"It could happen."
"Oh sure. I won't even go looking for you."
"Suits me fine."
"Well, at least one good thing comes out of this. Now I know what to get you for your birthday."
"Oh, you do? What?"
"A pair of titanium reinforced britches. With a padlock. So you can avoid any of that unpleasant probing business."
"Why don't you just get me a chastity belt and be done with it?"
"Don't think I haven't thought about it."
"There you go again. Always trying to stop me from broadening my horizons…"
"You think you're funny, don't you?"
"You're more silly than funny."
"But I'm a little funny?"
"You know, coming from you that's a huge compliment. I think I'll take it."
"Let's just lie here and enjoy the view."
"Suits me fine."
"Hmmm…you know, I may be mistaken, but I don't think there's a single cloud up there."
"Just a perfect clear sky. Filled with a billion tiny shiny things."
"I like to think of it as the greatest show on Earth."
"Sure. All right, it's the… Wait."
"What is it?"
"Wait, if I'm hearing you right, then…according to you, the greatest show on Earth…isn't actually even on Earth?"
"Well, no, technically, I suppose. But it can be seen from Earth. That's what counts, right?"
"I don't know. You're working with some pretty skewed logic there."
"Can't we just enjoy it and not pick it apart?"
"I'll just stare at the moon and let it distract me from all the odd things that keep coming out of your mouth."
"Wow, it sure is huge tonight. The moon. And then there's also the -- Hey…"
"I think I see a comet."
"Straight up. Just a little to the left. See it? That dot moving across the sky."
"No, I don't see it. Anyway, it's probably not a comet."
"It's not? Then what is it?"
"A satellite, most likely."
"Well, isn't that just as good?"
"Why would you say that?"
"It's just as much of a miracle, isn't it?"
"It's an extremely complex man-made machine that gets shot into space and somehow goes into orbit around our world. I'm sure that involves at least one miracle somewhere along the line. Either that or a ton of headache-inducing math."
"Don't ask me. I don't really know how satellites work. I just know they spew out thousands upon thousands of annoying TV channels."
"Not all satellites are for broadcasting sitcoms. You're really down on the whole TV thing tonight, aren't you?"
"It's not like I'm trying to be down on TV. Not really. I'm just trying to be up on life. The real world. Sometimes I don't think we spend enough time out in it. So I hope you'll forgive me if I don't see a satellite as being much of a miracle."
"Seems like more of a miracle than just a chunk of rock whizzing through space. At least to me."
"Do you think you can put aside your disgust with entertainment technology? For a minute? Long enough to tell me another one?"
"Another one of your theories. On why we haven't seen signs of intelligent life outside our planet. You said you had a few."
"Well, there's always the 'They're already here' theory."
"What, like they've integrated into our society and we don't even know it?"
"That's certainly one idea, but I had a somewhat different thought."
"More of a 'side by side' thing."
"Not sure I follow."
"Imagine this: There's a planet somewhere out there with a very advanced civilization on it. Scientifically advanced. Now, they may look like us or they may not, but --"
"Let's say they don't. Let's say they're like giant bug people."
"Okay, fine, they're giant bug people."
"With six arms."
"Who's telling this story?"
"I'm helping make it more interesting."
"If you say so. Anyway, this scientifically advanced society has gone and perfected space travel."
"And all they want to do now is get out there, go exploring and meet some…well, aliens, for lack of a better word."
"So in this story, we would be the aliens."
"Yes. Good to know you're keeping up."
"I'm quick that way."
"Now, these bug people are on a totally peaceful mission. There's nothing bad here at all. They just want to find some other forms of intelligent life, exchange ideas, and, you know…"
"Make friends across the galaxy."
"Yes. Pretty much that kind of thing. Now let's say these six-armed folks have been on this mission -- on this ship -- for years, maybe decades, searching and searching, coming up with nothing, and they're just about to give up and turn back around… When something happens."
"They find Earth."
"They find Earth. Right. Exactly. Our little planet. And it's celebration time. Finally, finally, they've found something -- someone -- they might actually be able to communicate with. There's a banquet on the ship, a great big party, with hats and noise makers, everybody gets drunk, and things couldn't be better. The next day preparations are made for their grand entrance or unveiling or whatever you want to call it. Protocols are followed. They break out their official 'meet new species' uniforms -- which are essentially the same as their regular outfits only with multicolored gloves, because of all the extra hands, you know -- and then --"
"Get to the point, please."
"I get it, okay? They're happy they found us. Then what happens?"
"I'm just trying to set up how big a deal this is for them. How motivated they are for things to go well."
"You've done that. Move on. What happens next?"
"Well, next they fly down, land, exit the ship to come meet us, and things are looking pretty darn good…right up until they realize there's this one little wrinkle."
"We can't see them."
"Or hear them. To us, it's like they're not even here."
"We don't even see their ship?"
"Sucky. So why is that happening?"
"Because we're out of phase."
"We're out of what now?"
"It's like this: we're here, and they're here, but all of us are slightly removed from each other. Like two different dimensions partially co-existing at the same time. Overlapping, sort of."
"So what does something like that mean?"
"It means that these bug people are walking around, looking at us, trying to talk to us, but we're just not registering them."
"So why is it they can see us while we can't see them?"
"I don't know. Maybe they're just more advanced. Maybe they have different kinds of eyes than we do, or see different spectrums of light. There's endless possibilities."
"But you're saying they could be right here? Standing next to us now?"
"For all I know, they landed ten minutes ago, just behind the house. There could be one of them leaning over you right this second saying, "Hello. Helloooo…"
"Not in English, though."
"No, probably not in English. Anyway, after you don't respond, or even blink at him, the first buggy humanoid turns to his buddy and says something like, 'Can you believe this? What the hell? It's like we're invisible to these idiots.' And his buddy just shrugs his many shoulders and says, 'I don't know what to tell you, man.'"
"I bet they're getting exasperated."
"I think they might be. And then the first one says, 'Watch this. I'm going to wave my hand right in front of one of their faces,' and his buddy says, 'Go for it.' And he does, and then, when the human -- that's you -- doesn't react at all, he says, 'Still nothing. Nothing. This is so frustrating,' and then his buddy says, 'I agree. Hey, I think I saw a farm down the road. Let's go mutilate some cows.' And the first one says, 'Awesome idea.'"
"Don't tell me you doubt my theory."
"No, of course not. But let me see if I understand you correctly. These visitors -- these humanoid buggy people -- they're not in phase enough for us to see them or hear them, but they're solid enough to go on a cattle mutilation spree?"
"I know. Hard to believe, but that's exactly what happens."
"You're such a goon."
"I can't be held responsible for how this whole dimension overlapping thing works."
"Talk about the dumbest… The most absolutely absurd and stupid…"
"What? Come on, you said you wanted to hear a theory. You wanted me to speculate. Well, there you go. That's some speculation for you."
"It certainly is."
"And they're not done, either. Once they've finished up at the farm, they're still pretty angry."
"Slicing up Bessie didn't quite do it for them?"
"Nope, still peeved. So all of them, they hop back in their ship, and fly out over a nearby cornfield."
"Don't say it."
"That's right, they set their ship to spinning round and round and then they grind the hull down into the earth. Because when you're angry and you don't have a proper outlet to express yourself, making crop circles is the alien equivalent of doing donuts in a parking lot."
"I don't believe you just went there."
"You can see it now, can't you? 'Arrrh! God damn humans!' Screech! Crunch! Crrrunnch!!! 'Kill the corn! That'll show 'em!'"
"Oh, you're terrible."
"Made you laugh, though, didn't I?"
"A little. A tiny little bit."
"Then that's enough."
"Ahem. So… According to you, we now have theories which explain -- and let's see if I remember them correctly -- rural abductions, then cattle mutilations, and finally, crop circles."
"And I'm sure they're all spot on."
"Of course you are."
"I am. I'd stake my world-renowned scientific reputation on it."
"You're not looking, but if you were, you'd see I'm rolling my eyes right now."
"They're lovely eyes."
"They are. Even if they're right at this moment expressing doubt about my very concrete theories. Still lovely."
"Is this going to become a habit with you?"
"This whole 'watching the skies' thing."
"Maybe. What do you think about that?"
"I think I might be okay with it. I might."
"You know, it's only going to be warm enough to keep doing this for about another month. What then?"
"I don't know. I guess we could build a skylight in the bedroom."
"How about if we just stick a bunch of those glow-in-the-dark stars up on the ceiling instead?"
"Not quite the same effect."
"We can afford it."
"I suppose. Though in all honesty, I was sort of -- Oh, hey."
"What is it?"
"There's that comet again -- excuse me -- satellite. You know, the one that's definitely not a miracle."
"Right. That one."
"See it? There. Up around…"
"No, I -- Ahh yeah. I see it now. There it is."
"You know… Maybe it's not a satellite. Or even a comet."
"Maybe it's some…visitors."
"You mean… Other-worldly visitors?"
"I kinda doubt it."
"Because of my final theory."
"Oh good. You've got one more?"
"Yes, I do."
"Lay it on me."
"This is the 'Came, saw, tried to conquer, got headed off at the pass' theory."
"You mean the one that's so popular with the kids these days?"
"That's the one."
"I'm all ears."
"Okay, this theory assumes, first of all, that there are tons of aliens out there, on a multitude of worlds, and that all of them are of a certain type. The truly evil, war mongering, planet conquering, humanity enslaving variety."
"So, a bad bunch of eggs."
"One and all. Now, back some time ago -- let's say the late 1940s -- the first batch of aliens came to Earth and immediately declared war. There was no 'Take me to your leader,' no 'We come in peace,' they just went straight to trying to blow us up, steal our resources, and generally cause a bunch of mayhem. And after --"
"Sorry, I really don't mean to interrupt, but did you just say the late 1940s?"
"There was an alien attack here in the late '40s?"
"Was this all over the world, or just in one super secret place?"
"All over the world."
"Funny, I don't remember reading about that in history class. Must have been quite the cover-up."
"Shush, I'm explaining. Anyway, like I said, these aliens showed up and suddenly we were at war. Big time. There was a hell of a battle, and it lasted for months. In the end, we managed to fight them off -- barely -- but we did it. And then, six weeks later, when it finally seemed like everything was getting back to normal…the whole thing happened again. A second attack. This time from a completely different race of aliens. And even though it was unconnected to the first invasion, these new aliens had all the same goals: enslave mankind, conquer, pillage, etcetera. Again, we fought them off. It was an even rougher battle, took about a year, but somehow we came out on top. Now…as you can imagine, by this point humanity was starting to get pretty wary of visitors from other worlds."
"We began to assemble an army. A really big army. A military initiative like nothing ever dreamed of before. Everyone over a certain age was conscripted. Everyone on Earth."
"You said everyone over a certain age got conscripted. What age?"
"I don't know... Twelve."
"That's right. Pretty scary, but there you go. Everyone over the age of twelve was now part of the largest military campaign ever devised: Operation Protect the Planet."
"That sounds…sorta green."
"Like the name could be a slogan for an environmental movement."
"Sadly, it was anything but that. The O.P.T.P initiative required us to ravage our own world for resources. Everything we had, every industry, every occupation became twisted around defense and tactical planning."
"That can't be all there was."
"Well, a small division was put in charge of farming. We had to eat, of course, but other than --"
"So it was all…what? Guns and food? That's all anybody did anymore?"
"Humanity struggled for a while to try to hold on to even a scrap of its culture, but eventually everything got erased. Art, music, diversity of language -- all gone. Everything became homogenized. We became a people obsessed with a single goal: survival."
"Again, that's just…horrible. Were there more attacks?"
"There were lots and lots of attacks. They kept coming in waves, year after year. These alien species would show up one after another, decide they wanted what we had, and try to take it from us by force."
"That is so sucky."
"I know. But it kept happening. By the year 2200, things were pretty grim. The battles had been so constant -- so ceaseless -- that humanity had known nothing but warfare for generations. Many generations. Even the memory that we had ever lived any other kind of existence was fading. The ironic thing, of course, is that we were slowly turning into the same kind of creatures who kept invading our planet. We started to thrive on war. Hunger for it ourselves."
"This doesn't sound like it's going anywhere happy. I don't know if I want to hear any more."
"You trust me, right?"
"Of course I trust you."
"Then just listen for a teensy bit longer, okay?"
"All right, so humanity was in a bad place. Little by little they were transforming into one of the same kind of bloodthirsty races they'd been fighting against for so long. And they'd learned quite a bit in the two hundred and fifty-plus years they'd been battling through this new way of life. And so, using captured and co-opted alien technologies, they'd just finished developing their own interstellar warships. They had built an entire fleet. Sadly, this was no longer just for defense, but to begin launching their own attacks on other worlds. Things were looking dark, very dark indeed. Everything was coming to a head, and it was on the eve of the big launch when it happened."
"When what happened?"
"Someone invented time travel."
"It was an accident, of course. They'd been trying to design a new weapon, hurrying to get it ready before the launch. It was a heavy-duty plasma cannon, something like that. But in the rush to get it finished, some slight miscalculations were made and the first time the weapon was test fired, it ripped a small hole in the fabric of time."
"They sent some probes through the rip and learned that this was indeed a doorway to the past. And after conducting a variety of experiments, it was discovered that with slight adjustments, they could use the device to pick exact points in time and space to travel to. This led to a great deal of debate. What should they use this for? Should they use it at all? And why were they even bothering to discuss it when there was war to be fought somewhere? And then, from somewhere in the back of the room, this one guy spoke up. He wasn't too high in the chain of command, just a sergeant, but he had this bright idea…"
"Instead of sending their brand-spanking new fleet out to other worlds to wage war, why not send them back in time instead? Back to the very first alien attack against Earth."
"You mean…a preemptive strike?"
"They promoted that sergeant to general, and he led the fleet through the rip and thwarted the aliens just before they were about to attack. It was easy enough to do. Their technology was two-hundred and fifty years ahead of the enemy's. Taking them down was child's play."
"Good for them."
"Emboldened by their victory, they went on, continuing to travel through time and fought off every alien invasion that was ever to be. They cleared the path, allowing human history to progress without any outside interruptions."
"That's kind of…cool."
"I think so."
"One thing though…"
"Well, if they changed the past, wouldn't that affect them? They were from the future. Wouldn't they cease to exist?"
"Time travel is a lot more complicated than that. And by traveling through it themselves, the fleet came to exist outside of time. This freed them up to continue protecting the Earth. To act as unseen guardians."
"And so…that's it? That's the reason why we've never had contact with aliens?"
"And why we never will."
"It was all just…erased."
"Yes -- Well, yes and no."
"Yes and no?"
"Nothing can ever be completely erased. You see, time traveling prevented the invasions, but those events did happen. And it left something hanging over us. Like a faint echo in our shared consciousness. A kind of residue."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, in the 1950s there was suddenly this huge glut of science fiction movies that started to pop up one after another. This was followed by comics, television shows, and more. There'd long been stories written about visitors from other worlds, but the '50s saw such an explosion of that kind of material that it makes one wonder if there wasn't something more at work here than just a trend. Maybe those stories needed to be told. Maybe there was an underlying urge to get them out there."
"Do you have a comment?"
"That's a… That's a pretty complex theory. Did you just come up with that?"
"Really? The whole thing? Just now?"
"Yeah, it kinda popped into my head."
"That's a little hard to believe."
"Not if it's true."
"If it's true, then I didn't make it up. I remembered it."
"That's a little eerie."
"Also, if everything I said was right, then that dot you saw moving in the sky might not be a satellite after all. Or a comet, or even some aliens."
"You're saying it might be the fleet."
"What was it you called them again? The O.P.T.P.?"
"I believe so."
"It's a funny name."
"I'm definitely okay with it."
"This. Doing this regularly from now on. Looking up at the sky, holding your hand. It feels good to me. Does it feel good to you, spending time this way?"
"I think so. I just know you're the one I want to spend that time with."
"Will you look at me when you say that?"
"You're looking up. Look at me when you say that."
"You're the one I want to spend that time with."
"Yes. It's all in the eyes you know."
They stared at each other in silence for a little while, then stood together and went back inside.
1 Spoiler alert: please read the story first, before reading this footnote. You've been warned...
If you've read the prior stories posted here from anthology Is Anybody Out There? then you have undoubtedly noticed a different format used for "Residue." The author Michael Arsenault made two requests of me prior to the posting of the story. He asked that it be presented in its entirety in one post (since the story takes place in a single evening), and, if possible, that I not use a blank line to separate paragraphs (which in most instances in this story are only a few words long, because this is an all-dialogue story). So instead of flush-left paragraphs, each separated by a blank line, this story has consecutive, indented paragraphs. (I hope!) Cheers, Michael!
"Residue," reprinted here with the kind permission of the author, is one of fifteen original stories included in the anthology Is Anybody Out There? edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern, and published by Daw Books on June 1. For more information on this anthology, start here.
Michael Arsenault has been writing screenplays, almost exclusively, for the past three years. Two of them, Twist of the Wrist and It Won't Bring Her Back, placed quite high in Hollywood's prestigious Nicholl Fellowship screenplay competition. Since 1996 he has been writing and illustrating pieces for What the F***? 'zine (Chompers Comics). He is also one of the 'zine's co-editors. From 2007 to 2008 he wrote and drew "Untitled Conversations," a monthly comic strip for MensuHell Magazine (Francis Hervieux Productions). In addition to his current comics work, Michael has a story in forthcoming anthology Frankenstein Réassemblé, edited by Eric Theriault, to be published by Rotor/400 Coups. Michael Arsenault has no website, no blog, no Facebook page. However, if a reader wishes to contact him, he can be reached via gmail.com: use the name michael.b.arsenault. He guarantees a personal response. Michael is currently working on six novels; it just depends upon which one he falls the most in love with and decides to finish first.
In addition to "Residue," five other stories have previously been posted in their entirety from Is Anybody Out There? -- Pat Cadigan's "The Taste of Night," Jay Lake's "Permanent Fatal Errors," David Langford's "Graffiti in the Library of Babel," Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "The Dark Man," and Sheila Finch's "Where Two or Three."