"Want to know how it works, do you?" a sepulchral voice said. The kids all turned to watch as the skull with burning eyes floated through the wall into the room. It drew closer to Jim. "Perhaps I'll give you a personal demonstration."
Adelaide brought down the fireplace tongs and grabbed the skull with it, bringing the skull to the ground. Bobby yelled "BAD SKULL!" and stomped on it with all the might of one small shinguard-clad leg. It was a very solid stomp, grinding the skull against the floor. Even so, the skull was unharmed, laughing hollowly and not even trying to get out of the grip of the tongs. Bobby drew his foot back, and Jim drew out the ceremonial knife to impale the skull.
The knife thrust didn't seem to hurt it either, but the skull stopped laughing. "So that's how you're going to be, is it?" It flew to the ceiling and disappeared through it.
Mark stared at the spot where it had gone. "We have to go up there, don't we?"
"Yeah," Matt said. Wayne was already starting up the final stairwell. The other kids followed suit. Tears of stark terror poured down Mark's cheeks, but he went with the rest into the attic. Watching him, Kristi thought she had never seen anything so brave.
The attic was dominated by five giant bell jars of green glass, each one holding a pitiful human figure curled up and suspended in liquid inside of it, the people varying in size from a tiny baby to an adult woman. A massive antique machine beside the jars connected to them via hoses and wires. The jars were lit from within by tortured spirits, their faces locked in expressions of horror. The adult spirit's expression changed from agonized to fearful as she saw the children entering. "Get out, children," she said, urgently. "You have to leave. He'll get you too. Run!"
"We can't leave you," Matt said, the kids staring at the jars and trying to figure out what to do.
"You must!" the mother's spirit urged.
The skull rematerialized in the attic then, now larger than a grown man, pits of fire in its eyes. "You cannot take them from me! They are MINE!" it screamed. "Get out! You can leave now!" The bars melted away from the attic windows. Far below, they heard the bang of the front door flying open.
For the last hour, Kristi had wanted nothing more than to leave, but neither she nor any of the kids moved to depart now. Even if it's not just another trick, we can't leave those poor souls like this. I'm in a ghost story. If I were writing this, how would we stop him?
Bobby stared at the sinister horror and the family it had been torturing for over a century. His young mind came to a quick decision. "NattiecanIattackthemonster?okaythanksby
"The machine!" Kristi yelled with sudden insight. "Jim, if you can figure out how to make the machine let them go, his family can stop the skull!"
Jim ran to the machine, Kristi and Mark with him, helping him trace the connections, while Natalie, Matt and Bobby worked to attack and distract the gigantic skull, which was diving down to engulf Wayne. In a moment, Jim shouted, "That lever!" He pointed to a switch in a central pipe between the machine and the bell jars, some eight feet above the floor. "Pull it and it'll release all of them!" Jim scooped up Wayne with the intent of holding him up to the lever. Instead, Jim was just in time to keep the skull from catching the toddler up in its now-massive jaws. Matt knocked both of them further out of range of the undead creature, while Bobby's headlong charge passed right through the skull.
Adelaide scrambled up the machine with the same ease that she climbed trees, and yanked the lever down. There was a mechanical a hiss and a ka-clunk, then the liquid filling the bell jars began to bubble and the souls bound inside rushed out through the glass walls. The five previously-bound ghosts fell upon the giant skull in a phosphorescent swirl of soul-stuff, crying out for vengeance. All six forms fell screaming through the attic floor.
The kids seized this opportunity to flee, pelting out of the attic and back to the third floor. The house seemed more unstable than ever, walls and floorboards shuddering from the struggle of supernatural forces. Matt and Mark picked up Scotty and carried him with them, while Bobby scouted the second floor for hostiles. The toy soldiers had vanished, so the kids continued their headlong flight, skirting around a hole in the floor from part of the ceiling falling through it.
When they'd escaped to the yard, they saw that part of the attic had collapsed inwards too. Mark and Matt lay Scotty down as gently as they could on the unkempt grass.
"Now can we call 911?" Kristi asked.
Jim checked his phone. It had signal now, so he punched the buttons. "What am I going to tell them?"
"We are going to be in such trouble," Natalie lamented.
Wayne got onto this pedalcar and took off for home.
Kristi held out her hand for the phone. "Here, let me do the talking." After the 911 dispatcher got the details of the emergency and their location, the inevitable questions of 'why are you out by an abandoned house in the middle of the night in the first place?' began to arise. Kristi explained that they'd been having a sleepover, and Bobby had thought that he'd seen Wayne outside and headed this way, so the kids had gone to investigate. Of course, they'd been mistaken -- Wayne was home safe in bed -- but Scotty had gotten hurt searching the mansion with them.
While Kristi was on the phone, Natalie scolded Bobby for breaking away from her in the attic and going after the monster. Bobby looked at her with big mournful eyes. "But I asked Nattie sorry."
"You didn't wait for an answer!"
"You din't say I had to wait for an answer!"
During a pause while the dispatcher handled something on the other end, Kristi put the phone on mute and suggested Adelaide and Mark go home: "The adults already know about everyone else, but there's no need for any more of us to get in trouble."
In the end, though, Kristi was able to convince the grown-ups that they'd had good reason for worrying and being out there, and no one got very much trouble from their parents as they came out to pick up the kids.
It was very late when Natalie and Matt got home and crawled into their respective beds. As Natalie dropped off to sleep, little blue hands drew the covers up over her and tucked her into bed, before the beersoul slipped back downstairs to his newly-adopted cellar.