The next day, Douglas, Tom, and Charlie discuss the events of the night before. Lavinia Nebbs stabbed and killed the Lonely One with a pair of sewing scissors. Douglas is shocked at how close he was to all of the death. Meanwhile, Charlie is angry because without the Lonely One there is nothing to fear. Tom points out that the man who Lavinia Nebbs killed did not look like the Lonely One. He looked like a man, whereas the Lonely One should be tall and pale with bulging eyes. Tom convinces Charlie that the Lonely One is still alive and that Lavinia killed someone else.
The entire family has gathered around Great-grandma Spaulding, who at ninety years old has decided that her life is coming to an end. As she lies in bed, Tom goes up to speak to her. She tells him that there is a time in everyone's life when they know that it is time to go away. Her time has come. Next Douglas goes to speak to her and she tells him that she will never be gone—that she lives on in her family and that is what is important. After saying her goodbye to the family and insisting that she is not afraid but curious as to what will happen next, Great-grandma settles back to sleep. As she dies of old age, she recalls the beautiful dream that she was awakened from many years ago on the day that she was born.
Douglas collects fireflies so that he and Tom can stay up late at night reading and writing. They used flashlights before but got caught, and Douglas thinks that no one will suspect the fireflies. He writes solemnly why one cannot depend on either machines or people. The machines will eventually fall apart or reach the end of their use. People can leave or be killed, and no one is immune from death. Therefore, he realizes, he himself someday must die, but Douglas decides he cannot write anymore. He lets the fireflies out the window, watching them escape into the darkness.
For Douglas, Tom, and Charlie, the death of the Lonely One was not a happy event. They want to believe in the fantastical, and the Lonely One was the evil force that would always be out there. The possibility that the Lonely One could be gone would be admitting that he could be killed, that he was just a man. This is not something that the boys want to believe, because they want things to go on the way they have been. It is for this reason that Tom's reasoning that the Lonely One is still alive comes as such a relief to the boys. For Douglas, however, that is not enough. He saw Elizabeth Ramsell's dead body and was close to the murders that occurred the night before. Whether the Lonely One is still alive, Douglas is struggling to come to terms with the concept of death.
Great-grandma's death brings Douglas's problem much closer. Difficult as it has been for him to understand death at all, he is now faced with the death of a family member. This seems to set him on the path to realizing his own mortality, and he is on the verge of doing so when he stops writing late at night. Douglas knows the discovery that he has made, but he is unwilling just yet to face it, for it is difficult. Some understanding of death may have been inevitable from the time he first thought that he was truly alive, but it also threatens to take away the magic of life. The fireflies can escape out into the night and continue their lives, but Douglas will not be able to do so. He has come to the point of grasping his own mortality, and after that point he is not able to just forget what he has learned. He will have to figure out some way to deal with his new knowledge.
Great-grandma Spaulding offers Douglas an answer to this dilemma, and it is a good one, although she has ninety years with which to reflect upon her situation. She points out that if you have a family then when you die you are not gone. You live in, both in the actions of your children and in their thoughts. It is a pleasant view of death that she offers, and she dies very peacefully. However, Douglas is not old enough to be able to face death well. His great-grandma's answer to her own death cannot help Douglas when entertaining the possibility of his own. At his age death is a threat, and Douglas is on the verge of admitting to himself that the threat is out there, that it is real, and that it is inevitable.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!