Officer Baines cautiously approached the house.
It was really more of a mansion, surrounded by a stone wall. From the other side of that wall came the sounds of gunfire and people screaming – the radio crackled constantly with other officers’ warnings of ambush. What am I walking into? Baines wondered. He walked up to a small gate at the back of the house, and pulled up the latch with a trembling hand. Do I even want to go in here?
The gunfire had become more sporadic, and the screams had changed to shouts of anger and urgency. It sounded like the other officers were possibly taking control of the situation – whatever the situation turned out to be.
Baines crept through the gate and into the back yard. All around were people lying unconscious on the lawn. The smell of burning barbecue filled the air. What the hell? Baines thought, staring in disbelief at the scene in the yard. Are these people dead?
A patio door burst open, and Baines leveled his gun at the person who emerged – it was a young woman, her face and clothes spattered with blood. She was crying and running with her attention behind her, as though she feared being followed. If she saw Baines, she gave no sign, but instead ran past him and out the back gate. Baines let her go; she had no weapon that he could see, and she seemed to be more of a victim than an attacker. He could be wrong, of course, but he decided it was wiser to keep his gun trained on the open patio door.
He walked slowly but steadily toward the door. “Police!” he barked when he was nearly in the doorway. “Put down any weapons, and raise your hands!” He stepped over the threshold, finding himself in a huge kitchen where more people had fallen unconscious, scattered over the floor or draped over chairs and counters. Another officer entered the kitchen from a hallway on the far side, and for a brief second she and Baines aimed their weapons at each other.
“Baines!” she said, lowering her gun. “Have you found anyone?” she asked, her eyes darting around. “Anyone awake?”
“One girl,” Baines answered. “She ran out the back gate.” He glanced down the hall where the other officer had just been. “What’s in there? What happened?”
“Everybody’s out cold,” the other officer said. She knelt down and touched one of the people on the floor. “He’s alive,” she said in relief, then went on, “Three officers were hit. I think they’re all dead.” She shook her head, and stood back up. “It looks like someone fled out the north side of the house; we heard at least one vehicle leaving down the alley.” She sighed. “Maybe we can catch up with the girl. Maybe she can tell us what happened here.”
Baines was confused, and angry. “What the hell is all this? What the hell?” The radio chatter had changed from incoherent cries to frantic calls for ambulances and back-up; someone was being sent in pursuit of the apparent get-away car. Baines moved toward the front of the house, while the other officer investigated the pantry and laundry room that branched off of the kitchen.
“Baines!” she shouted suddenly, and he spun around and rushed to the laundry room door.
“What? What is it?” He stopped abruptly in the doorway.
On the floor of the laundry room, crouching between the wall and the dryer, a girl was curled up in a quivering ball. Her body shook with silent sobs, and at first she seemed not to hear the officers calling to her. Eventually, though, her eyes turned toward them, and she spoke to them in a small, terrified whisper.
“Don’t eat the candy,” she said. “Don’t eat it.”
“What happened here?” Baines asked her, kneeling down and leaning toward her. “Who did this?”
“Neil,” the girl said. Her trembling was so severe that Baines thought she might shudder apart. “It’s his house.” She stared up at the officers. “Is he still here?” The idea that “Neil” might be in the house seemed to frighten her inordinately.
“I don’t think so,” Baines told her. “You’re safe.” He reached out and touched her shoulder. “You’re safe,” he repeated. “What’s your name?”
“D-Dana,” the girl answered, still whispering. “He said I could be part of the new army.”
“Who did?” Baines asked. “Neil? What new army?”
Dana shook her head. “I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t know. He said that the ones who stayed awake could be part of the new army. He said I was ‘special’.” She began sobbing then, loud wrenching sobs filled with pain and fear. “I don’t want to,” she wailed. “I don’t want to. I don’t want to.”
The other officer looked at Baines. “What new army?” she asked him. “What the hell’s in that candy?”
Baines shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said finally. He gently tugged on Dana’s arm, helping her up from behind the dryer. “Come on, Dana,” he coaxed her. “Let’s get out of here.” When she hesitated, he reminded her, “Before Neil comes back.” These words convinced Dana to climb to her feet, and to be led out of the laundry room.
As the trio walked across the kitchen to the patio door, Baines looked out across the back yard. He thought he saw someone staring at them from just beyond the back gate, but when he stopped and squinted, trying to make out details in the evening shadows, the face he had seen was no longer there.
“What?” the other officer asked, looking from him to the back gate and back. “What is it?”
Baines shook his head. “Nothing,” he decided. “Nobody’s there.” He had been sure that he saw a man’s face – a young man with blond hair – but when they escorted Dana through the gate, no one was anywhere near. “Nobody,” Baines said again.
They made their way to the street, to the rows of police cars and ambulances lined up there. It was too dark now to see with any certainty at all, but Baines glanced once more at the back gate. He didn’t see anyone, but somehow the gate had closed behind them.