The Phantomime
Chapter Ten
Every day, I used lunch hour to search the school library and my computer time to search the internet—anything rather than visit the Ghost in the Gods. Despite all that voluntary learning, I had no more idea of how to make ghosts visible than when I began. On top of that, my research gave me nightmares. Ghosts sounded terrifying.
“What have you learned, Miss Malone?” asked Cresswell, when I arrived on Friday afternoon. He’d asked me the same thing every time he’d seen me for the past week. The thought of a real audience had given the ghosts one-track minds.
“You are a ghost. If anyone could figure it out, it’d be you. I already found out ghosts are real, that’s a pretty big discovery for a human.”
He puffed out his chest and his mustache stood to attention, signaling the beginning of a lecture. “I am in no position to access research materials. As you are an honorary member of this troupe, it is your responsibility to act as one of us, and—”
I’d been flattered by the ‘honorary member’ bit the first six times he used it. But, now the lecture that went with it twanged my nerves like a string on a badly tuned banjo.
“Cresswell.” I had to shout to hear myself over his monologue.
“—that means that you must put the troupe first—”
“Cresswell,” I repeated, when he failed to notice me.
“—an ambassador of sorts. We—”
I channeled Mom for my final try. “Cress-WELL.”
Like a miracle, his mouth paused mid-word. He looked down at me from the stage. “Yes?”
“Macbeth,” I said.
Cresswell’s mustache unfurled and his eyes widened until I thought they might fall out and roll across the stage. You never quite knew with him.
Will clamped his hand over a giggle. Megan and the only other girl in the troupe, Janette, peeked out from backstage. Their expressions swung between delight and fear for my life.
“You—what—what did you say?” Cresswell demanded. Every part of his body froze, except his mouth and his mustache—the hardest parts of him to silence.
“She named the Scottish Play,” shouted Barry, from the wings. Then he poked his head out to add, “Sorry Poppy.”
“It’s okay, Barry. I understand. I said Macbeth, Cresswell.”
“Ouuuuuuuuuuut.” He actually sounded like a freaky ghost for once, instead of an actor in an old movie. He stamped his foot so hard that the whole stage shuddered under him. “Out, and repent.”
A fine mist of ghost spit sprayed over me as he yelled. I wiped my face, because for all I knew, ghost spit might carry ghost amoebas.
By now, Will had his arms wrapped around his middle, roaring with laughter. “I wish I’d thought to try that.”
Cresswell pointed at the door, as if I might have forgotten where it was. I waved cheerily and hurried out before he changed his mind. Spinning in circles and chanting were better than a Cresswell rant, any day.
Outside, the sun shone like freedom, even though the wind blew cold. Proud of my clever escape, I sucked in a lungful of fresh, fall air.
“You need to do the incantation,” Will said.
I hadn’t heard him arrive, of course, but it didn’t surprise me that he’d followed.
“Nah. It’s a glorious day and Cresswell needs time to forget what he was saying.”
Will watched as a gust of wind swirled past the box office and tightened the pile of leaves and trash. “Cresswell doesn’t forget lines. If you stay away for a month, he’ll just restart where he left off.”
“Ugh.” I let my shoulders slump.
Will sat back on his heels and looked up at me. “I’ve been working on something for you.”
“You have?” I felt my cheeks get redder. These blushes were out of control, I couldn’t stop them no matter how hard I tried.
“Yep.” For at least a minute that my impatient internal clock read as more like an hour, he stared at the pile of leaves in front of him.
“You learned how to stare at leaves?”
“I’m looking for something.”
I scanned the area for something interesting to look at while I waited. There wasn’t much. No one had bothered to graffiti the place, even the boards on the box office windows were bare.
“Is this going to take much longer?” I asked.
“I’d like to say no . . .”
I groaned and crouched down beside him. “If you tell me what you’re looking for I could help.”
He sighed and kept his eyes on leaf pile. “It wouldn’t kill you to meditate and learn some patience.”
Sitting still? Thinking about nothing? No chance. “Hurry up.”
“Fine.” Will leaned forward and scooped his cupped hands into the paved ground like it was water. They came back up under a leaf, one of the few with any green left. Screwing up his face from the effort, he slowly lifted his hands and somehow, the leaf came with them.
“Whoa,” I gasped, “that is—”
“Shh, concentrating.”
Staring at the leaf like he didn’t want to frighten it, Will got to his feet. He turned toward me with his prize balanced in his palms.
“Cool, huh?” That lop-sided grin of his spread across his face—half of it, anyway—and he glanced up at me. “Hold out your hands.”
I reached out, palms up.
“Don’t move.” Biting his lip, he lowered his hands over mine until I could feel the chill of them on my skin. Then, so quick I didn’t have time to flinch, he dropped his hands through mine. It felt like he’d poured ice water over them.
The leaf trembled in my frozen palm.
“I needed a greenish one,” he said, “so it wouldn’t crumble in your pocket. You know, if you keep it.”
Staring at it, I said, “It’s only a leaf.”
He was a boy, and a ghost, and leaves are close to flowers, and—well—even I knew it was a lot more complicated than just a leaf. I wanted to tell him it was a very fine leaf, but I couldn’t seem to.
He shrugged and scuffed his way out to the sidewalk.
As soon as he looked away, I grabbed my notebook from my pocket, hid the leaf between the pages, and slipped it back into my coat.
“Spin three times clockwise, right?” I asked, as I spat over my shoulder and did the turns.
Helpful as ever, Will didn’t answer. When I turned around, he was leaning out past the box office, staring at something.
“Hey, I turn three times, right?”
Will spun around to face me. “That woman with the camera, she’s coming.”
“Oh, poop.” I yanked at the door, but it wouldn’t open.
“Quick. You have to say the words.” Will ran back to check on the woman’s progress. “Hurry.”
“I forgot. What are they?” He didn’t answer. “Will!”
“Thrice around the circle bound, evil sink into the ground. She’s almost here.” Will hopped around as if his pants were on fire. I sure felt as if mine were.
“Thricearoundthecirclebound,evilsinkintotheground.” I grabbed the brass door handle and tugged. It was stuck fast. “Help.” I whimpered.
“You have to ask to get in. Don’t you remember anything?” Now Will ran in small circles, clutching at his pits like he’d frozen his own fingers for once.
The handle vibrated urgently in my hands—even the door was freaking out. I closed my eyes and begged for all I was worth. “Please, oh, please, please let me in.”
The door gave way. I slipped inside. It skidded closed and locked itself behind me, just as I could hear the click of the woman’s heels on the pavement. Even though she couldn’t see me through the newspaper, I pressed my back into the wall.
“Theater, if you don’t want to end up as a pile of rubble, be more helpful next time.”
The theater didn’t answer, luckily. Doors that only opened for me were weird enough.
Will poked his head through the glass. “What did you mean, ‘end up as a pile of rubble’?”
I screwed up my face and waved him back out. “Go see what she’s up to.”
“I’ll be back. And I have a long memory.” Will wagged his finger at me and disappeared.
After a while, I heard her snippy footsteps again, but Will didn’t reappear. I nibbled at my fingernails, despite the nasty flavored nail polish Marissa painted on them. They were stubs by the time Will finally strolled through the glass doors.
“Has she gone?” I whispered.
“Ages ago.”
“What took you so long?” I hurried up the stairs so I could see through the windows above the doors. Nothing moved out there except for the odd leaf tumbling past.
“It’s a long story.” Will hopped up the stairs beside me. “I followed her, but I couldn’t get any further than the garage next door. Turns out there’s a ghost that lives there too. Did you know that?”
“Yes, I know. Get on with the story.”
“Keep your knickers knotted. Then I came back here.” He thought about it for a second, and added, “Actually, that wasn’t a very long story.”
My nails were wasted for nothing. “What did she do out there, anyway?”
“Held the camera up to try and get some pictures from inside here. Then she walked off.” Will shrugged. Obviously she didn’t worry him like she worried me.
Exasperated, I gnawed at the side of my thumb. “Anything else?”
“Yes, act—ually.” Will grinned and bounded ahead of me up the stairs. “Do you wanna know?”
“Yes, that’s why I asked.” Right then, I would have happily given up learning how to make the ghosts visible and settled for making them solid instead, because I wanted to smack him so bad.
“That depends on what you meant when you said about the theater being turned into rubble.” He crossed his arms over his chest like he meant business.
“You can’t tell anyone, especially not Cresswell,” I said.
“I can keep a secret like you would not believe,” Will assured me.
I wished someone else could tell him the bad news. Being the only one who could see the ghosts seriously limited my ability to delegate.
I told him all about Archibald Holdings and the letter taped to the doors. “They’ve bought lots of places around town, and so far, all of those places got demolished.”
Wills eyes grew into giant O-shapes and so did his mouth. “They’re going to demo the theater?”
I scrunched up my face.
“Holy—that is—” He spun around. Before I could say a word, he ran toward the theater shouting for Cresswell.
“You said you wouldn’t tell,” I shouted, just as he disappeared through the door.
His head and shoulders popped back out. “Sorry. Had my fingers crossed.” He held his hands through the wall to show me the offending fingers. Sure enough, they were crossed. “By the way, the woman drives a shiny black van.”
I gave away my biggest bit of news for that?
Author’s note: _Huge apologies for the lateness of this chapter! My dog had puppies yesterday (10 baby German Shepherds) and I got all distracted! So sorry!

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