There were many hands upon him. Cruel, sadistic hands that delighted in all manner of torture. They ripped and tore at his flesh with their nails. They choked him. No matter how he fought back, he could do little to nothing against their powers. He was falling, sinking deeper and deeper into the anguish and torment.
He never could hear what they were saying, but he sensed their words. And there were far too many of them.
This would never end. Never, until he was one of them. Until he took the same pleasure in torture and murder that they did.
Some of them had been sacrifices too. They hadn't always been willing. But some of them had been. Some of them had wanted to save their friends, just as he had. But they had been forgotten, so they had forgot all that they had once stood for.
So would he.
"No," he rasped. "No, I won't. I'll never . . ."
But he was not allowed to say more. His breath was cut off the rest of the way. He fell into their waiting hands and arms.
Only he didn't fall. The light was there, shining, sending all of them back. He crashed to the floor, gasping and choking for dear life.
The light descended around him, embracing him, healing his wounds. "Go back," came the soft little voice all around him. "You're free."
He could only manage to get out one word. One word, to ask so many questions. "Why?"
There was no answer. The light was gone, and the carpet, replaced by cold, hard wood.
And the others. They were all rushing to him with one accord, shouting, exclaiming, unable to believe.
"Sergeant!" Tragg cried, bending over him first. "Are you alright?! We thought you were . . ."
"I'm okay, Lieutenant," Brice rasped with a smile. "I'm okay."
As he reached to lay a weak hand on Tragg's wrist, the coolness of what felt like a locket was now in his palm. He blinked in surprise. He was too drained right now to examine it, but later on he would have to. The being in the light must have given it to him.
Maybe it was the answer to at least one of his many questions.
Tragg leaned back, hanging up his handset with a look of disbelief. He had just called in to say that they were out of the house, and to try to figure out how to explain what had happened to Martin Rand, but he had been saved the trouble of the latter.
Brice looked over from where he was resting in the back of the car. "What is it, Lieutenant?" he mumbled.
Tragg shook his head. "I don't believe it," he uttered. "It's impossible; there's no way to believe it.
"Martin Rand was picked up by the police an hour ago, running down a street near Amory Fallon's home. They had him in custody right then, right as I was talking to Sergeant MacDonald. I could hear him in the background, still upset about being caught. It's impossible."
"Another illusion, Tragg," Perry said from where he was leaning against his own car. Relief flickered in his eyes at the news. "It would have to be. We thought Rand had been hanged in that third floor room. It had to have been someone else. Rand couldn't have ever been in this house."
"But he was!" Tragg insisted. "I even found his identification card. Look!" He reached into his pocket for the card, but then stiffened. Nothing was there.
"What card, Lieutenant?" Perry did not seem surprised. "It must have been an illusion too."
"It doesn't make sense," Tragg retorted. "Those spirits, or whatever they were, wouldn't even know what Rand looked like to make such an illusion. And they wouldn't know what was on his I.D. card. And if they were going to make Della see someone hanged, why Rand? Why not one of us? Why not you?"
Perry shook his head. "I don't know. I can't explain it. I can't explain much of anything that's happened here tonight. And I'm not sure I want to try. It would be better all around if this house was officially condemned and the ghosts were left to their own devices for however long they want."
"I agree with you, Perry," Tragg nodded. "And I'll see what I can do about it. The last thing any of us want is for someone else to wind up trapped as we were trapped."
Della and Andy exchanged a silent look. They had both felt the young girl's spirit in her bedroom. It still troubled them. And somehow, they still wanted to find a way to help her find whatever it was that she was seeking. They just did not know how.
Della turned and walked over to the car, peering in the open back window. "Sergeant Brice, are you feeling any better?" she asked in concern.
He looked up at her. "Oh. Yes, Miss Street. I'll be alright. I just need to rest some more. Whatever happened in there . . . well, it took a lot out of me."
Della nodded in relief. "I can imagine. I'm just glad it wasn't worse than it was. It could have been, so easily."
"I know." Brice stared into the distance. "I still wonder who saved me."
Della was about to reply when the glow from the car's inside light reflected off of something Brice was holding. "Sergeant Brice? What's that?" she asked.
"This?" Brice held it up to her. "I don't know. I found it in my hand after that other ghost, or whatever it was, let me go."
Della took it and clicked it open. Upon seeing the picture inside, she gasped.
Brice blinked at her. "What is it?"
"This picture," Della said. "It's a little girl with Anabeth Frasier. It must be her daughter." She lowered her voice. "Anabeth had a girl, but she died when she was only six."
Perry came over to look, followed closely by Paul and Andy. "Hey, that's right," Paul remembered. "You don't think the kid in that house is . . ."
Della shook her head. "I don't know. I can't imagine why she'd stay there instead of with her mother."
She could not help remembering her plea to the child's ghost when they had still been inside. She had said that they could not help her if she did not let all of them go. Could she have sent Sergeant Brice back with the locket for that reason, because she wanted to be helped and the locket was a clue?
Della let Andy take the locket as he arrived at her side. He held it to the light, stunned as he stared at the old photograph. But try as he might, he could not determine if this girl's spirit was the one he had felt. After a moment he returned the locket to her and she gave it back to Brice.
"For that matter, maybe her mother is there too," Tragg grunted. "She fled the house, it's true, but if her daughter liked it there, maybe she'd go back after her own death."
"We'll probably never know," Perry said, even as he eyed Della and Andy's actions with the jewelry.
"And that is perfectly alright with me," Paul declared. "I never want to so much as hear about this place again. But I do want to see what this movie is like." He drew out the DVD case from his jacket.
Della stared. "And just where did you get that?!" she demanded.
"From the entertainment room the ghosts wouldn't go in," Paul retorted.
"You're actually taking it home with you?!" Della cried.
"Well, why not?" Paul retorted. "Since there weren't any ghosts in the room, it should be fine. And anyway, if they didn't want me to have it, wouldn't they have taken it away from me when they booted us out?"
Della sighed in exasperation. "I suppose," she admitted, grudgingly. "But still. Paul Drake! After all we've just come through, you're bringing back a souvenir!"
Perry regarded them in amusement. Everything was getting back to normal already. And that, as far as he was concerned, was a very good sign.
He looked to Hamilton and Steve, who were making their way over now. "Well, I'd say we now have the green light," Perry smiled. "Hamilton, shall we leave?"
"I'd love to," Hamilton declared.
"And so would I," Steve added.
"Do you know it's long after midnight?" Andy shook his head. "It's officially Halloween now. And after the matinee those ghosts put on for us on the eve of All Hallow's Eve, I don't want to know what they might have in store for the main performance!"
Perry chuckled. "Well said. I don't know about you, Andy, but I'm looking forward to an evening of ghosts, goblins, and ghouls on my doorstep instead of me being on theirs. Let's go."
And so, one by one the cars pulled away from the Twilight House, heading back in gratitude to civilization. And as dawn's light slowly began to creep over the horizon, the lights inside the mansion quietly and unobtrusively flipped off.
Final Notes: I decided it was better, and creepier, for the house to keep most of its mysteries. Some things just lose their creepiness if you know it all. But other things have been deliberately left open, because there will be further adventures with this house in the future. Della and Andy may be able to get at least some of the answers they seek. Thanks to everyone who's been reading! Happy Halloween!