The Phantomime
Chapter Sixteen
By the time I made it half way to the theater, I’d started to regret borrowing Dad’s old TV to keep Mr. The Third up with the American arts scene. The thing about fourteen-inch televisions is that even if they are tiny compared to other TVs, they’re still very heavy compared to walking with nothing.
I sat on a low brick fence to rest until my arms stopped shaking, and a vehicle pulled up. The black van. Barbara Basch sat in the front seat with one of her cameramen riding shotgun.
The passenger window wound down with a whir and she leaned over the guy toward me. “Good morning. Poppy isn’t it? Would you like a ride to the Majestic?”
I wrinkled my nose at her. How did she know my name, or where I was going? “My parents told me not to take rides from strangers.”
Barbara threw her head back into an exaggerated laugh. “I’m a television personality, so I’m not officially a stranger, am I?”
My arms could ache a thousand times worse and I wouldn’t ride with that woman. I picked up the TV by its handle and began to walk. The van chuffed alongside me while Barbara’s sickly-sweet voice chattered on. “I could meet you at the Majestic and talk there instead?”
“I’m not meant to talk to strangers, either,” I said, through gritted teeth.
“Andy thought you might have seen something in the theater. I’d like to hear about it. We’d pay you of course.” I didn’t need to look, I could imagine the slimy smile on her face.
“I said no.”
Barbara’s tone changed. “You don’t understand.”
I stopped walking to look at her. “Understand what?”
She glanced up and down the road. “I’m certain there are ghosts in that theater, real ones. I’ve seen you there. I think you know something.”
I put the TV down so I could plant my hands on my hips. “Ghosts don’t exist.”
“Neither of us believe that, now, do we? Ghosts are dangerous, Poppy. They kill people.”
My jaw just about hit my chest, it dropped so hard. “They do not.”
Her smiled widened. “Then you do know something about them.”
If my arms weren’t so tired, I’d have slapped my forehead. “I said that I didn’t. If you’re scared, then you should just stay away.” I picked up the TV, juggled it into a comfortable position, and walked on.
“You don’t have to appear on TV. I want to know what you know, that’s all. We have to get rid of the ghosts for the sake of this town.”
Arguing would only make her more certain she was right. “I think I’ll call the police.” I balanced the TV on one hip and shoved my free hand into my coat pocket for the good old I-have-a-fake-cell-phone trick.
“Suit yourself.” All the sweetness had gone from Ms. Basch’s voice. “I don’t need you.”
The van took off in a cloud of dust. I shrugged my shoulders over my ears to block out the tire screeching hissy-fit.
When the van had gone, I hugged the TV to my chest and hurried on to the Majestic. Hopefully it wouldn’t be an omen for the rest of the day, Marissa would be there soon.
I pushed the glass door open with my back and reversed into the theater. I’d almost reached the top of the stairs, grunting under the weight of the TV, when I heard the first scream.
Right after that came the second. Then came the sound of slamming doors, pounding feet, and shouting. The feet were headed my way, so I pressed my back against the handrail and waited for the drama to come to me.
The thing about hearing other people scream is that it makes you wonder if you should be screaming too—like being in the last car of a roller coaster, wondering what the people up front just saw to make them holler that way.
I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The first face to appear at the top of the stairs belonged to Daniel, one of Andy’s friends. He paused for a second to get his bearings, then pelted downstairs as if the devil was on his tail. Next came another of Andy’s friends whose name I didn’t know. I recognised him from the greasy flop of black hair that covered his nose. He lifted it up to run down the stairs and yelled back at me from outside the door. “Run away! Are you nuts?”
Unless some new supernatural monster had arrived, I felt sure I’d be fine.
Then, with another boy in a battered woolen coat, came Andy. His friend ran right past me, but Andy stopped on my stair. “Come on,” He could barely catch his breath—Andy never did any exercise other than holding a game controller. “You have to get out.”
He grabbed my arm so hard I nearly dropped the TV. I yanked it back. “I’m fine.”
“Mom and Dad will kill me if you end up dead.” His voice was a strangled whimper now. He stared up in the direction he’d just come. “Please, Poppy. Come on.”
I almost liked this side of Andy—the one that worried about me.
“I’m fine. Save yourself.” I did my best not to laugh, and I nearly made it, too.
“Whatever. Get yourself killed. I tried.” With that, he ran for the door and was gone.
I adjusted the TV in my arms and trudged up the stairs. Seeing four boys run by screaming like toddlers did give me a small case of the heebs. Andy might have been running from a serial killer, for all I knew, not the ghosts. I put the TV down in the middle of the lobby floor and glanced around.
“Will?” I only whispered, but I knew he’d hear me if he wanted.
“Hi, Poppy.”
I squealed and spun around to face him. “Could you appear in front of me sometimes?”
“I could, but it would be a lot less fun.” He pointed at the small, square television on the floor. “That’s a TV.”
He clapped his hands and bent forward to leave a frosted kiss on my check. I pressed my hand to the spot, not sure if I was warming away the cold, or holding it there. He kissed me. Sort of.
Then, he bent and kissed the TV.
So much for feeling special.
“It’s not for you.” I bent to pick it up so that Will couldn’t grab it, then changed my mind. If the ghosts had trouble with chests and light switches, I doubted Will could fly off with a TV set.
“Come on, Poppy, please? I haven’t watched any TV in years. Please. Please. Please.” Will bounced around the TV, pretending to stroke it like a fluffy bunny.
“First, tell me what those boys were doing?” I asked.
Will’s face went blank for a moment, then his eyebrows shot up. “Oh. Them. They were in the bathrooms spray painting the walls, so I ran into the theater and told everyone.”
I could imagine that. He’d have told them at full volume too.
“Then the Ghost in the Gods fixed them.” Will grinned a wide, clever sort of grin. While he talked, one of his hands stayed on the TV, petting it.
“How did he fix them?” The very small part of me that was a loyal sister felt a bit sorry for Andy.
“He locked the doors and turned off all the lights. Lucky they were in a bathroom, because I’m pretty sure they peed their shorts.” Will chuckled to himself and kissed the TV. “Just five minutes?”
I groaned. “Okay, but that’s all.”
I picked the TV up with my aching arms and carried it over to an outlet in the corner. The first outlet didn’t work. Will insisted I try another and lucky for him, it did. The antennae had to be adjusted, and the TV hand-tuned, which I did while Will leaned over my shoulder. When a picture finally appeared, he sat down, cross-legged, to stare at the screen. After that, an exorcist could have appeared behind him and he wouldn’t notice.
I went to check out my brother’s mess. The walls in the men’s room were clear of spray paint. I guessed the boys hadn’t gotten that far. The ladies, however, hadn’t been so lucky. A huge, ghost shape had been sprayed onto the mirror, and they had tagged their names all over the dusty, but still almost white, tiles.
“Ugh, those pigs.”
Right in the middle was Andy’s tag: I-AMALONE—proof of his misery or something. Only my brother would be stupid enough to use his actual initials to tag someone else’s property. They’d all used the same can of red paint and it dripped down the tiles like blood—which gave me an idea.
Instead of cleaning the entire theater before the play, which I didn’t want to do anyway, I would leave it exactly as it was. It came came pre-decorated for a Halloween performance.
With any luck, my parents and most of Riverton would be there. Mom had a microscopic bladder, and she’d recognize Andy’s tag the same way I did—he’d tagged the walls of his bedroom when she let him decorate it.
He’d get his.
Take that, I-AMALONE.
From out in the lobby came Will’s loud, almost hysterical giggle. Time to save the TV.

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