• tab Daniel McClellan stood by the passenger door of his patrol car. A thin line of smoke, disappearing quickly against the twilit sky, rose from the dim, diminishing end of a cigarette held between his lips. He shifted uncomfortably, getting stiff from waiting. He had arrived early, but the fact that the forensics team rep was late was definitely not helping. A few yards away, another policeman stood at the side of the winding suburban street. A bored expression showed above his new uniform as he made sure nobody entered the taped-off house behind him. Daniel turned his attention from the other cop to the house. A small, single-story, off-white painted house with green shutters in one of the quietest neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of the city - how anything happened here, Daniel had no clue.

    tab The word at the station was that someone went crazy and killed five others in ... "creative" ways. Only a few officers had been to the scene, and none seemed willing to describe it beyond "creative." Every time someone asked about the investigation, a shadow seemed to pass behind the eyes of the questioned officer, as if a panel of film, darker and more mortally stained that the rest, passed before the lantern of the mind. Two months out of the academy, thought Daniel, and here I am stuck with something like this. As he mused at the house's clean facade, a dark blue sedan came around the street corner and parked behind his patrol car. With mixed unease and excitement, he dropped the glowing cigarette butt, ground it out with his foot, and ran his hand through his dark brown hair, muttering, "Creative...creative...wonderful."

    tab A middle-aged, Asian-looking man in the sterile outfit of forensics workers stepped out of the sedan, locking the car behind him. As he strode toward the house, McClellan fell into step beside him. The representative said simply, "Jackson Chang. I guess you are supposed to...accompany me?" Daniel responded, "Yeah, that's what they tell me. Daniel McClellan." They ducked under the tight-drawn yellow tape at the doorway and entered the white house.

    tab The first thing the two noticed was the smell. A miasma hung heavy on the air, making the two visitors gag before breathing through parted lips and clenched teeth. "Where the **** is that coming from?!" said Daniel, his voice nearing a yell. "It's like we're standing right on-" Looking at the floor at his feet, he saw rusty brown stains trailing away from the doorway, showing the scrabble of hands clawing at the threshold. Bringing his gaze up again, he saw other subtle stains all over the short hall by the door: on the corners of the table, on the doorknobs, in small streaks on the walls like the strokes of a macabre painter's brush. Daniel realized that Jackson was already proceeding through the hall, largely unperterbed, and quickly followed.

    tab Daniel peeked into the rooms of the hall. In each on that he passed, more and more blood-red stains seemed to coat every surface; fabrics were crusted and discolored. In one, six white tarps, the kind used to cover corpses, were spread over the entire floor of the room, with small bumps showing under it like radar blips on a radar leading to treasure that nobody wanted to find. "Jeez," remarked Daniel, "are you sure there were only five people killed?" "Yes, there were," responded Jackson. "That is one of them."

    tab Gazing only a moment longer at the mystery of the tarp-covered room, Daniel shook himself and hurriedly followed Jackson. The forensics team representative stood at another open door, looking slightly down. As Daniel came beside him, Jackson remarked, "I hope you wore boots. This is where most of it happened." Looking over the white-coated man's shoulder, Daniel stared down into a black corridor, a stench wafting up strong enough to sting his squinted eyes - the basement.