The Phantomime
Chapter Fifteen
I paused on the bottom stair to arrange my face to look like I’d barely escaped with my life. The easiest of Mr. The Third’s conditions had been that I made sure everyone still feared the Ghost in the Gods. I had no idea how I’d give him the last thing he wanted, though—a way to stay informed about the state of the arts in America.
The ghosts waited in a silent line as I climbed onto the stage—a vision of tortured anguish. Megan broke away from the others and hovered beside me, hands reaching out like she wanted to pat my arm.
“You’re alive,” Will said.
I nodded, slowly, and let my head hang. At last, I had a chance to act on a stage—sort of.
“Are you hurt?” Cresswell asked.
I shook my head, lowered myself to the floor, and concentrated very hard on my hands.
“She’s in shock,” Barry whispered.
Will bent over in front of me, twisting himself into knots to get a better view. “Did he break your brain?” He snapped his fingers in front of my eyes. “Are you in a coma?”
“Of course she’s not in a coma, you fool. She’s awake.” Cresswell cuffed Will around the ear, and I had to fight to keep from smiling.
In my smallest voice, I said, “I’d rather not talk about it.”
Cresswell frowned, his mustache drooping. “Are you able to tell us if you learned anything?”
I paused and concentrated on smoothing my pants. “He’ll help us. For a price. One I must pay.” I made eye contact with each of them in turn. “For all of you.”
Megan’s fingers went to her lips and her lashes fluttered.
“Dear Lord.” Cresswell sat carefully on his wooden crate throne.
“I do have answers, though.” I sucked in an agonized breath and sat up taller, composing myself. “The two best times for ghosts to be visible are on Halloween or a full moon. My science teacher said this year is the first time in decades that both things will happen on the same day. The ghost told me it happened before, not long after he died and he believes it worked then. We’ll hold the play just before midnight on Halloween.”
Janette let out a little squeal of delight. “People will see us?”
“Yes. The play can go ahead.” I couldn’t help but smile at that.
Janette grabbed Megan’s hands to twirl across the stage.
“Isn’t that the night that the ghost hunter is coming to ex—er—kill us?” Will asked.
The dancing stopped.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Russell. He talked so rarely that everyone stopped to listen. “By the time the TV crew arrives, our play will be underway. She will have to film us with the audience and after we take our bows, we will move on.”
Party time. The dancing started again.
At first, I joined in. But then a thought struck me that stopped me cold. If everything went well on Halloween, they would be gone. All of them. I’d never see them again.
Cresswell made a half-bow in my direction. “Well done, Miss Poppy. We appreciate your efforts and commend your sacrifice.”
“Whatever your sacrifice was, which we don’t know, since you won’t tell us,” said Will.
I couldn’t help myself. “You’d know if you hadn’t left me.”
Will stood with his head tilted to the side while he considered this. He looked like a cross between a chimney sweep and an excited puppy. “True,” he admitted. “But then I would have been tortured too.”
Hateful little spook.
Andy made it home for dinner that night, probably because Mom cooked. What’s more, he had a smile on his face—an awkward sort of one, like he needed more practice. Mom put his dinner down and gave him a quick hug. He didn’t flinch or make gagging sounds. Perhaps a little bit of human lived on inside him after all.
“You’re in a wonderful mood,” Mom said.
“I am.” He gave me a hideous grin, all teeth and half-chewed spinach. “It’s almost Halloween. I’m going to be a star.”
Thank goodness I didn’t have anything in my mouth because I would have choked.
Dad chuckled. “You’re not getting enough screen time to be a star.”
“More than Poppy’s getting.” Andy was too pleased with himself for Dad to annoy him.
Even though I knew he wanted me to react, I couldn’t stop myself. “That show is terrible. What they do—it’s immoral.”
Andy sat back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest. “Immoral? They banish ghosts, what’s immoral about that? Mom and Dad gave their permission.”
“Wait.” Dad laid his fork down on his plate. “Where exactly are they filming?”
I glared at my parents. “Do you people ever read permission slips? At the Majestic. It’s that stupid Paranormal Bounty Hunter show. They banish ghosts.”
Mom shook her head. “That’s not even possible.”
“Yes, it is,” Andy and me yelled in unison. “They exorcise them,” I added.
“Wait,” said Dad. “You think there are ghosts in the Majestic?”
“Yes,” shouted Andy, while I shouted, “No,” at exactly the same time.
Dad shook his head, confused as ever.
“It’s not stupid. It’s science,” Andy said. “Barbara Basch has a college degree.”
I hissed through my teeth. “Degree in what? Running away from shadows? It’s stupid and she’s stupid and there’s no point because there are no ghosts in the Majestic.”
“Oh, really?” Andy asked. “How would you know?”
“I don’t know.” I wanted to throw my plate full of food at Andy for forcing me to lie. Instead, I gripped my knife and fork and banged them on the table.
“Poppy, that is enough.” Mom waved a finger at me.
A sly grin spread over my brother’s face. “Funny, for someone who doesn’t think there are ghosts in the theater, you seem to care a lot about them.”
Before I could stop myself, my foot hit his shin under the table. “You’re a jerk, Andy.”
He grinned as he picked up his fork. “It’s Andrew, not Andy, and I haven’t done anything wrong. Jealousy is an ugly emotion, little sister.”
I watched my brother’s mouth move as he talked and chewed at the same time. Half of the black lipstick had rubbed off on his food and all the makeup was giving him zits. Nasty boy. How did we come from the same parents?
“I hate you,” I said.
“That’s enough. Andy, you won’t be going on TV if you’re going to use it to torture your sister,” Mom said. I could have hugged her. By the look on Andy’s face, he could have sworn at her. Unfortunately—since he’d have been grounded forever—he didn’t.
“It’s TV. Tee. Vee. How many chances am I ever going to have to do this?”
“I guess you’ll have to leave your sister alone, then. And have some respect for that theater. People lost their lives there. That’s still a raw thing in this town. Now, both of you be quiet and eat,” said Dad.
I gave up. I couldn’t win the battle without giving away the war’s secrets. I would tell Mr. The Third there was one human he could throw off the balcony—Andy would make an interesting sort of squelch when he landed, I bet. The argument did give me an idea, though. TV caused half of my problems, but it could also solve one of them.

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