The Phantomime
Chapter Nineteen
Silence filled the theater so tight, my ears wanted to pop. Every footstep and creaking board echoed like we were only feet from it. I wrapped my arms around myself to hold in my shivers.
With a sucking pop of a sound, Will arrived beside us. “It’s that Paranormal Bounty Hunter and her crew—cameras and everything. I thought she wasn’t coming until Halloween?”
I whispered to him as quietly as I could. “Go tell the Ghost in the Gods to do his worst.”
“Do what?” Marissa whispered, thinking I meant her.
“Missa, sneak out to the middle of the stage with your hair over your face and your head down. Don’t move or speak. Just stand there,” I whispered into her ear.
“They’ll see me, though,” she hissed.
“That’s the point. Once they see you, go to the back of the stage and disappear behind the backdrop.” I gave her a little shove.
The good thing about Marissa is she never thinks of a reason to protest about a plan until it’s too late. She padded out in her sock feet and swishy dress just as the lobby doors opened.
I figured that if the ghost hunters saw Marissa, they’d be too busy running away or trying to exorcise her to bother the real ghosts. Maybe they’d decide there was nothing for them in the Majestic but a whole lot of trouble.
The TV people spoke in whispers as they walked into the theater. Since I wasn’t in the trunk this time, I heard most of it for myself.
The first voice belonged to Barbara Basch. “Keep the cameras on me unless you see something unusual. We need a bit more promotional material, maybe a scream or two.”
“They’re right down the front by the piano,” Barry reported.
I could hear Marissa’s heavy, nervous breathing. The TV crew would too, as soon as Barbara quieted down enough.
“Infrared camera ready?” Barbara asked.
“Ready in 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .” a man replied.
“We’re here today in the Majestic Theater, scene of this week’s special live broadcast at midnight, Halloween. This theater is widely believed to be haunted by the ghosts of six people who died in a fire over twenty-years ago. Some also believe the ghost of the nineteenth century philanthropist who built the theater is still here, inside the theater he built and died in.” Barbara Basch sounded very different when she put on her TV voice.
“Twenty years?” Will asked in a surprised voice. “That long?”
I winced. “Yeah.”
“The youngest to die in the fire was eleven-year-old William Peterson.”
“Eleven? I’m thirteen! It’s true, you can’t trust the media.” Will stamped his foot so hard the floor vibrated.
“Did you hear that?” Barbara Basch asked, her voice going high-pitched and shrieky. “Quick, point the camera at the stage, it came from up there.”
As soon as the cameraman spotted Marissa, he yelled, “Ghost!”
Things got a bit hectic after that.
Barbara Basch screamed, of course, and they all shuffled about in the pitch darkness. “Film it, don’t run,” she shouted at one of her minions.
I fumbled my way to the back of the stage and found Marissa just as the smell hit. I could tell because she buried her face in my arm while the TV crew gagged and coughed.
“Wallace, do something. Get it. Exorcise it,” Barbara Basch shouted. “Keep the cameras running.” She had more nerve than I thought she did.
A deep, rumbling male voice began to drone in Latin. I nudged Marissa and chuckled. We were about to make major fools out of that horrible woman.
Except, we didn’t.
The ghosts all let out a sharp gasp like someone pounded them in the guts.
I whispered. “Will, where are you?”
There wasn’t an answer, only pained whimpers and moans.
With Marissa in tow, I hurried as fast as I could back through the wings, not caring what noise I made. I felt all over the wall for the main electrical switch and flicked it. The bulb above the stage blinded us after the complete darkness. Upstairs, the TV flickered back to life, but no sound from the ghost. The exorcist chanted on.
Around me, the ghosts stood frozen while black, mini-tornadoes rose up from the ground around their feet, shrieking and moaning. I could feel the ugliness, the blackness and desperate sadness that wanted to eat my friends whole.
“No.” I ran out onto the stage. “Stop it!”
At the sight of me, breathless and furious, the exorcist closed his mouth. The whirlwinds sank back into the ground until the floorboards ate up their screams. Gasping, the ghosts collapsed onto the floor.
Camera’s still rolling, the TV crew turned on me.
“Get this on your stupid camera,” I said, and waved for Marissa. “We’re human, and we’re here practicing a play. For the last time, there are no ghosts in the Majestic.”
Barbara Basch’s face went a livid shade of red. “Poppy Malone. You caused all this?”
“Yes. There’s nothing to see here except me and Marissa.”
She pushed down the TV camera. “Turn it off. You girls don’t have permission to be here.”
“Neither do you,” I said.
“Actually, I do. Show her the key.” She nudged the cameraman. He shoved his hand into his pocket and came back with nothing but an empty key ring.
“I swear it was on this key ring,” he said.
Will, still breathless from his near-miss-exorcism, appeared beside me and pressed a frosty brass key into my palm. I slipped it into my pocket.
“It doesn’t matter. We have permission and they don’t,” Barbara said.
From up in the spotlight rigging above the piano came a loud cry in the Ghost in the God’s voice. “Ladies, hold on to your garters. Gentlemen, step aside. Here is the Ghost of the Gods with his Big Elbow of Disarray!”
The most solid cloud of smoke I’d ever seen plummeted from the rigging to land on top of the cameraman. He didn’t flinch, but the camera flew off his shoulder and smacked onto the floor with the sound of very expensive parts smashing.
Barbara Basch screamed, pointing at me. “You said there were no ghosts?”
“Looked like a clumsy cameraman to me. Do you think a pair of kids would be here if it was scary?” I asked. Marissa, helpful as ever, added, “You’re Barbara Basch. You’re famous.”
“I can’t film with a smashed up camera. If I’m going to get another in time for the Halloween broadcast, we better go,” said the cameraman, who had the sense to look scared.
“It’s just as well I stopped the exorcism,” Barbara Basch said, sticking her nose in the air. “We wouldn’t have had a show for Halloween if we’d gotten rid of them now. You saved our show, Poppy Malone.” She spun on her expensive high heels and stalked off out of the theater, her broken entourage limping along behind her.
Once the front doors locked behind them, Marissa let out a long breath. “I forgot to get her autograph.”
“Is everyone okay?” I called. “You should have seen it, Missa. Some horrible black tornado things tried to eat them.”
Marissa shook some sense back into her head. “Her exorcist works? I always thought he was a total fake.”
Slow and wary, the ghosts slipped onto the stage. They shook and stuck close together, Megan sobbing into Janette’s chest while the others comforted her. Even Will hugged himself tight.
“I couldn’t—move.” Barry sank to one knee to catch his breath.
“That must never happen again,” Cresswell said. For once, everyone agreed with him.
“We need to get out of here.” Janette gasped over Megan’s shaking shoulder. “Please, we have 
to move on. Now.”
“We’ll put on the play and it’ll happen,” I said, with a lot more confidence than I felt.
“But, that’s a week away.” Janette’s lip trembled. “A lot can happen in a week.”

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