It all began with a few missing pets, outside cats mostly. Then all the pets were gone, even the ones that lived in tiny cages. We weren't called in until the first child disappeared from their bed in the middle of the night. There were no signs of a break-in, or even of a struggle. The boy's bed looked slept in but the blankets were still pulled up the way the mother insisted she had left them when she put him in it. Our forensics guys couldn't find one hint of an intruder, which of course brought the parents to the light as suspects. I mean, it was only natural after all. Let me stop there before I get ahead of myself.

I was leaning back at my desk reading the various reports from the scene when I heard my phone vibrate on my desk. I dropped my feet to the floor and swept it up in the same motion as I put the papers down.

"Detective Grace," I spat out in my 'all business' voice, it was a habit I'd picked up after eight years in homicide. Most phone calls I got during work hours never had any real good news to deliver.

"Milly, it's Gil," said the voice on the other end, as if I could ever mistake the wavering, nervous pitch of our director of forensics. "I-,"

I sat up in my chair fully now, on high alert. "You found something with the Larson case?" My heart felt light in my chest, excitement already building-slowly, but surely.

There was silence, then, "Ahm…yes, and no. We have a problem out here on site." I could hear several other voices furtively whispering. "We moved to the basement and - will you two shut up?!- And found some foreign substances oozing up from some cracks in the concrete floor near the southwest corner." I was about to ask him what he meant by 'foreign' and 'oozing' but he continued after clearings his throat with one of his patented dry coughs. "We went upstairs after bagging some samples and the house was empty."

Any positive feelings I had been having at that point were washed away in an instant. "What…what do you mean empty?"

"I mean Mr. and Mrs. Larson were gone, and so was Big Boy."

Big Boy was Sergeant Louis Phillips, my senior in the department. The nickname wasn't some cute thing, Louis was a 6'10" black man made out of 300 pounds of muscle. He moved, and hit, like a freight train. There was no way two middle-aged officer workers could overpower him. No way in hell.

"Milly? Mildred?" Gil's use of my full name pulled me back into reality.

"Stay there," I said stiffly, "I'm calling in the cavalry. Don't touch anything else." I hung up and got to work.

The good folks of Washington Street were out on their lawns in force on that dreary Saturday afternoon as flashing lights flooded their neighborhood, focused all around the Larson house. K9 units combed the area for signs of our missing parents and beloved sergeant, but I had the uneasy feeling in the back of my head that they weren't having any luck. Chief Albrecht had even contacted the county sheriff and highway patrol to get in on the action.

The whole thing was on a level of chaos I hadn't ever experienced before. A knot had wormed its way into my guts and I felt myself teetering on a precipice between anger and panic. Gil stood next to me with a couple of his techs blabbering about something, but it was all just a low drone in my ears. My focus was out on the gathering crowd, a few of which I recognized as neighbors of the Larsons that we'd interviewed barely twenty-four hours ago. I took in the staring faces carefully, trying to see if any looked strange or out of place.

The knot in my stomach quivered. I stepped away from Gil and moved to find Alphonse Ruiz, another homicide detective. I found him inside the house, standing in the kitchen at the top of the basement stairs, looking down into the brightly lit area as folks worked at breaking apart the concrete flooring.

"Yo," he said, turning fully to greet me with one hand raised.

"The family across the street, the ones you interviewed yesterday, have you seen them wandering around gawking with the rest of the civilians?" The back of my head itched, I had to force myself to ignore it. It was my tell.

Al blinked at me, and it made me want to hit him. "Er, the O'Neils? No, seen just about everyone else though."

"Right, that's what's bugging me. This place is a goddamn circus, and they aren't out here with the rest of 'em. And all the lights in their nice little two-story are all black." There was a subtle panic growing in my gut, the kind I had learned long ago not to ignore. I lead Al back outside and pointed across the street. "Cars are still out in the driveway too."

Al had his phone out, he swiped his finger across the screen and after a few taps brought it up to his ear. I heard it ring twice before going to voicemail. He hung up, and tried again, with the same result. "Hrm, phone must be off. I told them not to go anywhere without leaving a contact number. Just in case."

We headed across the street, many eyes following us, and stepped onto the O'Neil's porch. I rang the doorbell, and heard its low, musical chime go off inside. Nothing. No movement inside. I pressed the button again, this time calling out my name and affiliation with the police homicide squad.

Al, who was standing shoulder to shoulder with me, knocked hard on the door. On his second strike, the door jiggled just enough to open slightly. We exchanged glances and he pushed ahead of me, calling out to anyone who might be in the house. I had my hand on my gun as we entered the dark place.

Immediately I felt something bad in the air that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. Al couldn't hide his unease either, crouching slightly as we inched into the completely silent O'Neil house. We passed through a small hallway lined with family photos-Mr. and Mrs. O'Neil looked to be around the same age as the Larsons, with two almost-grown kids and one that I would guess was a surprise. There had to have been at least a ten year difference between the middle and the youngest. The place must have been like a zoo in even its calmest moments.

We stopped when two paths opened to us, one to the left and right. Al signaled he would go right, I nodded, and we separated. I ended up in the den. Next to the large bay window that looked out over the street was an equally big flat-screen plasma television sitting on a cabinet filled with open shelves and at least a dozen different kind of electronics. A cushy looking couch and leather recliner looked undisturbed, the pillows and blankets on them still neatly piled, and the TV remote on the recliner's left armrest. I saw a half-finished glass of tea sitting on a small end table next to the chair. No ice, if there had been it was long melted.

A single sharp whistle snapped my attention from the glass back to where Al had gone. I rushed to him to find him standing in a doorway between the dining room and kitchen, a determined look on his face. He had his gun drawn in his right hand and waved for me to come next to him with his left. I undid the bindings on my holster and slid up next to him.

Sitting in the middle of the tiled kitchen floor was an upturned tray of uneaten biscuits and a shattered porcelain bowl stuck in a mess of half-dry gravy. The fridge was wide open and near the bottom was a dropped quart sized container of orange juice. Al and I exchanged glances. He stepped back around the corner and brought his radio up to his mouth and I heard him mumble into it as I stepped into the kitchen.

Around the corner where the oven was stood an open door that without a doubt lead into some kind of basement. All the houses in the neighborhood had a similar design, being built all around the same time back in the late 80s. Having been down in the Larson basement, I could picture what this one looked like.

Out came my pocket flashlight, I shook it and clicked it on. A golden beam of light pierced the pitch blackness of the basement and illuminated a long, wooden staircase. Upon the staircase, from the next-to top stair all the way to the bottom was a trail of thick, gooey black ichor. Eerily similar to the kind Gil had shown me in the evidence bag not ten minutes ago.