The Phantomime
Chapter Seventeen
“But why?” Will whined as he slumped up the balcony stairs beside me.
“I said no, that’s why,” I said. “You should stay downstairs, so you don’t get hurt.”
Will’s mouth opened and closed, then he gave up. “Goodbye, lovely TV.” He bent over and kissed the screen. “I’ll miss you.”
“You are such a child.” I snatched the TV away and ran off up the stairs with it. Let him go kiss a door handle, or something.
“I am a child. And children need televisions. It’s a proven fact.” Will yelled after me.
He disappeared after that. I guess he thought The Ghost in the Gods wouldn’t like all the yelling. It turned out he needn’t have worried. Mr. The Third—or the him-shaped puff of smoke—stretched out on a balcony seat making a noise that sounded a lot like a snore. I found an outlet at the back of the balcony and set up the TV while he stretched and yawned his way over to me.
“What on earth is that monstrosity?” he moaned, before flopping in a chair behind me.
“It’s a television.” I twitched the long antenna around to find a decent image on the screen. “Art and culture happen on TV, these days.”
He sniffed. “It would have to be miniature art to fit on there.”
“Not on it, in it,” I said, pointing to the static lines on the screen.
“That’s obscure, even for art. A child could draw those lines.” Groaning from the effort, he tried to pull himself together, but he gave up when only his head had gone solid. “It looks ridiculous.”
“You should talk,” I said, staring at the head floating above a body made of smoke. “If you don’t want the TV, then I’ll take it back downstairs. Will loves it. I could bring you arts magazines instead.”
Mr. The Third leaned forward in his seat to get a better view of the screen. “Oh, look. There are little people on there. What a thing.”
And so, another TV addict was born.
A pained whine that sounded a bit like, “They’re Ninja Turtles, not people...” came from somewhere downstairs.
With one eye on my watch, I paced in front of the theater. There were a million ways this could end badly. Marissa never asked me to do much for her—the occasional cat-walk show in her living room, or standing on a chair in one of her dresses while she hemmed it, stuff like that. She had to do way worse for me, and asking her to believe in ghosts would be the worst thing of all.
At last, she hurried around the corner, wearing her favorite puffy pink jacket with her fluffy white boots and bobble hat. It hadn’t snowed yet but Marissa had dressed for the European ski slopes. Grinning, she lifted a pink-mittened hand and ran faster—woolly boots scuffing the pavement.
“Poppy, you’re here. I thought you might bail on me.” She pulled off her mittens and stuffed them into her jacket.
“Pft. As if.” I waved my hand dismissively.
“No offense, but I haven’t seen much of you lately.”
My nose wrinkled. “I’m sorry. But you’ll see why.”
When she pulled off her bobble-hat, her hair went with it and stood on end like she’d already met the ghosts. Marissa’s hair used to be the same dirty-blonde as mine, but since her twelfth birthday, it was all blonde highlights. She would dye away her freckles too, if she could.
Clapping her hands together, she let out a squee sound. “The boy. I finally get to meet the boy.”
It took a lot of convincing for Marissa to sit on the lobby stairs instead of going straight into the theater. I figured she might need a nearby escape route once the truth came out. There were a few times during the telling of my story, explaining about the ghosts and about The Paranormal Bounty Hunters, when she looked at the door like she wanted to run through it, but she didn’t. Her eyes just got bulgier until I thought they might pop.
I took a deep breath. “So. What do you think?”
“Think?” Marissa muttered.
“You broke her brain.” I hadn’t noticed Will until he spoke. He sat cross-legged at the top of the stairs looking down on us, chin resting on one hand. Marissa’s eyes were focused right on mine. She couldn’t see him and I wasn’t about to tell her he was there before she’d decided if I was crazy or not. So I couldn’t even glare at him.
I asked her the question I’d been dreading. “Do you believe me?”
She thought about that for a whole minute. I know because I counted every second, adding the “one-thousand” in between each number for accuracy.
“I want to. But ghosts who want to put on a play?” Marissa shook her head and stood up.
“I’ll prove it.” I took her arm to lead her up the stairs.
“Whoa, I’m not sure I want to go in there. What if you’re right?” Marissa’s heart sped up so much I could feel it through her wrist.
“If I’m wrong, then there aren’t any ghosts. If I’m right, there are ghosts and they’re the same as regular people—if you don’t count Will or Cresswell. Either way there’s nothing to be scared of.”
“Hey, what do you mean, ‘If you don’t count Will or Cresswell’? I’m regular people.” Will jumped in front of us with his hands on his hips and an insulted look on his face.
“Shut up, Will.” I muttered.
“Will? What?” Marissa tugged her hand away from me and stared bug-eyed at the front doors.
“Will’s a ghost. He’s—complicated.” I glared at Will, who winked back at me.
“A ghost is here?” Marissa pulled her bobble hat back on to cover her ears, maybe for camouflage—although she’d only blend in someplace very pink—and scanned every shadow for signs of a spook. “Is he that boy?”
“What boy?” Will gave me a shifty look.
The words tumbled out of me in a muddle. “No. I mean, yes, he is the boy, but not that sort of boy. It’s not like—”
“What sort of boy am I?” Will’s face lit up with the intrigue of it all.
I could feel the heat surge into my cheeks. “Go away, Will. Missa, shut up.”
Marissa giggled and rocked back on her heels, enjoying herself way too much to be afraid. “Hi, Will, wherever you are. I’ve heard so much about you.”
Desperate to change the subject, I waved my hands in front of her face. “Concentrate.”
“I think we should keep talking about this.” Will came closer, where he could get a good view of both of our faces.
Marissa let out a satisfied breath. “It’s worth the craziness if it means the boy is real.”
“He is. Do something, Will. Show her.” I gave him a pleading look, but he tilted his head to the side and frowned as if he simply couldn’t imagine what I meant.
“W-ill,” I hissed.
He did a cartwheel and landed on his feet with a bow.
“Come on, Will. Show me,” Marissa said. She managed to sound serious, but I couldn’t help thinking she was making fun of me.
“Can’t you just believe me? You know I don’t lie.” I stamped my foot before I could stop myself, and a dust cloud swallowed me up.
Marissa waved at the dust and coughed. “You don’t lie well. That’s not the same thing as not lying at all.”
Like she could talk. Her stories about my stunts were more popular than the stunts. She told a juicier version—usually one that included her doing something heroic. But then, who am I to judge? I tried to jump off a bridge.
Will leaned over Marissa until the tip of his nose almost touched hers.
“Quit it,” I muttered.
“Is he going to do something or not?” Marissa asked, peering into nothingness.
“Forget him. Russell will help. He opened the latch on an old trunk.” I linked my arm through Marissa’s and we headed for the theater doors. At least she had decided to play along. Now I had to keep her there long enough to prove the ghosts were real.
“Hey.” Will ran backward in front of me, waving his hands in front of my face. “I helped turn the lights on that day. And don’t forget the leaf I picked up for you.”
That might have stopped me, if he hadn’t kissed the stupid TV earlier. He deserved to be teased more than anyone I knew—living or dead. “Will says he turned on a switch once,” I told Marissa. “But, it could have been anyone.”
“Watch this, then.” He ran over to the slightly open theater door and shoved his shoulder against it. The door didn’t move, and he fell right through. “Wait,” he yelled from the other side and bounced back through to us. “I can do this.”
This time, he got a running start and tried to hit the door head on with outstretched arms. Same thing. He flew straight through the without a wobble.
“Is something happening?” Marissa whispered.
“Not really, no,” I said.
“I’m okay, don’t worry.” Will burst back through, and this time, the door wobbled a tiny bit. Not enough to convince the most willing believer, much less Marissa.
“That could have been the wind,” she said.
“You guys are hard to impress,” Will said. “This time for the money.”
He placed his hands on the door about shoulder width apart, legs spread, and head bowed in concentration.
I chuckled to myself. “This ought to be good.”
“Be quiet, I’m concentrating.” he took deep breaths and let out this chant that sounded a bit like, “Omm.”
“What’s he doing?” Marissa whispered.
“Yoga, I think.”
“Omm—be quiet—omm—or you will—omm—ruin it,” Will chanted.
Then he leaned into the door a tiny bit. To my surprise—and his too—it moved inward, an inch at a time.
“Oh, sugar,” Marissa said.
Then, she fainted.

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