The Phantomime
Chapter Twenty-Two
My dad’s “talks” were the stuff of legend—because they were rare, left no evidence they existed, and afterward, no one could agree on what really happened. Or is that “myth” rather than legend? Anyway, I got pretty worried that night when Dad told me he’d be in soon for ‘a talk’.
While I waited for him, I searched the ghosts’ names on the computer, hoping to find more about them to fill out my speech. It was almost bedtime before Dad came in and sat beside me at the computer. Trying not to look guilty, I closed the browser and turned to face him.
“Andy says that he saw you at the Majestic, Poppy.”
Poppy? This was serious, he used my real name. If he mentioned my middle name, then I might not get out of my room in time to meet my grandchildren. “I meant to talk to you about that—”
“He said you’re involved in this Phantomime play everyone’s talking about, and that there are some rough kids hanging out there.”
What? That I did not expect, even from Andy.
“Yes, we’re putting on a play. Marissa is there. Ma-riss-a, best behaved kid on the planet. The only other living souls there have been that horrible TV woman and—” Even after he’d lied about me and the Majestic, I didn’t feel right about snitching on my brother. That didn’t stop me, though. “—Andy and his friends. They broke in.”
“Andy broke in to the Majestic?” Dad leaned toward me. “Are you sure?”
Nothing had been broken or forced. Either someone let them in or they had a key. If they had a key then they had more right to be there than I did—technically.
“Poppy?” Real name. Twice in one day.
“Maybe someone let them in,” I admitted. “Not bad people, though. That’s a total lie.”
Dad’s face never looked natural when it was this serious. It creased in all the wrong places for frowns. “To be on the safe side, Mom will drop you at the theater tomorrow and go in for a look.”
“Oh, good,” I said, with a ridiculous I’m-not-worried smile all over my face. Uh-oh.
Dad looked as uncomfortable as a sugar-addict in a dentist’s waiting room, twirling his watch and avoiding my eyes. “I was wondering, have you seen anything odd in the Majestic?”
“Dad, I already told you I saw Andy there. It doesn’t get much odder.”
He managed a half-hearted laugh. “I mean like cold spots. Weird feelings. If you saw anything strange, would you tell me? Honestly?” He only glanced at me for a second, but I could see he was worried.
Without time to waste on thinking, I had to go for the truth. “Probably not.”
He stood up and tousled my hair. “I figured.”
I waited until he almost reached the door before I stopped him. I wanted to tell him, because I knew I should, because it seemed to matter to him. But if I came right out with it, he might freak and stop me from going back to the theater.
He turned back, a hopeful look on his face. “Yeah, Popsicle?”
“If—and this is hypothetical, right? If I knew something like that, I think I would tell you to make sure you see the play on Halloween.”
If I’d been a morning person, I could have stopped by the theater on the way to school to warn the ghosts to behave for my mother. But, I’m barely an afternoon person, so I slept in and had to run the whole way to school. Unless Marissa could sprint to the theater in her floppy boots faster than Mom could drive, there wouldn’t be another chance to warn them.
“This could be a disaster,” I moaned to Marissa after we met at our lockers, first thing.
“Quit being such a downer. They’ll behave. I wouldn’t have known they were there if Will hadn’t done that creepy stunt with the doors. Now let me give you my news already.” Marissa bounced up and down, ugg boots making squishy rubber sounds on the polished linoleum floor.
A few kids trickled in through the doors and made their sleepy way to their lockers. No one stopped anywhere near us, though.
“What’s your big news?” I asked.
She brought her two fists together in front of her mouth to stifle a squeal. “We’ve sold out. Every seat is full. We can sell a few more standing-room-only seats, but that’s it. Two days and every ticket has gone. I dropped the very last ticket-book at Mr. Kinski’s bookstore this morning on the way here. He’d pre-sold all of them.” Biting her lip, she glanced up and down the corridor to make sure no one could hear us, then leaned right up to my ear. “I have nearly two-thousand-dollars in my backpack.”
My head flew back so hard it crashed against the lockers. Rubbing the sore spot, I said. “No. Way. Where can we keep that?”
“We have the perfect bodyguards for it, at the theater.”
“Will and The Ghost in the Gods will use it to get cable installed. I’ll give it to Mom to put in Dad’s safe at home when she picks me up.”
Glancing up and down the halls to make sure no one could see, Marissa pulled the old plastic lunch box from her backpack and passed it to me.
Two-thousand-dollars? I’d never seen that much money in my life, much less been responsible for it. It proved Marissa was right, though. Even if that was the most money we could have hoped to get for the play, no way would two-thousand-dollars be enough to save the theater.
By the time Mom picked me up from school, fog clung to the ground like it was afraid of heights. Not the sort of weather for convincing a worried mother that a haunted theater is a safe hangout for her daughter.
Mom pulled her car into a space down a bit from the theater. Much like everyone else in Riverton, she avoided parking too close. “Look at that parking lot. Weeds up to your elbows.”
“It’s abandoned, Mom. No one’s taking care of it.” I waved in the building’s general direction, “But look at the theater. What’s not to like? It’s got—well—it has . . .”
I should have picked a better tactic.
Mom pulled a face as she took her keys out of the ignition. She had more freckles than I did. They all bunched together into a tan when she screwed up her nose that way. “Let’s get this over with,” she said.
I hadn’t eaten any lunch thanks to worrying that Sebastian might use his big elbow on my mother. My stomach snarled as I pushed open the door and held it while Mom stepped inside.
“I hope no one has allergies,” she muttered as she climbed the stairs.
“It’s part of the Halloween-type ambivalence,” I said.
“Ambiance,” Mom corrected.
We made it all the way to the lobby doors without any sign of Will. That television had been worth every aching muscle it took to drag it to the theater.
“Take me to the bathrooms first, that’s where you find trouble,” Mom said.
I showed her the men’s room. Its walls were free of tags and graffiti, but dust clung to the spaces between the tiles and piled up like tiny, gray snow drifts. Someone must have left enough toilet cleaner in the bowls to keep them from going too nasty, but you wouldn’t want to sit on the seats any time soon.
Mom glanced into every stall. “No one’s been in here—probably for years. Let’s check the ladies’.”
She was back out in the hallway before I could touch her arm to slow her down. “Mom, there’s something you should know about in there . . .”
I wanted to warn her about her son’s artwork, but she figured I had something to hide and got more determined. She crossed the hall in two strides and burst inside, flicking the light switch as she passed. There, covering the walls in bright, blood-red paint, were all the tags and drawings my brother and his friends had done.
“Oh, that’s shameful,” Mom sighed, staring at the ghost drawing on the mirror. She scratched at it with her thumbnail. “I guess you’re planning on leaving this here, too? For the ambiance?”
I nodded. Even if I’d wanted to get all that paint off the walls, I had no idea how. I was all for cleanliness, but not if it took that much elbow grease. “Yes. But, there’s—”
She saw it before I could explain. I-AMALONE.
I expected her to make some excuse for Andy, but she stared at it, took her phone out of her pocket, and snapped a few pictures of the damage.
“I’ll share these photos with those boys’ mothers. As soon as your play is over, Andrew and his friends will be cleaning until this bathroom sparkles. Meanwhile, I’ll show him what ‘alone’ means.” She gave me a quick hug. “Let’s go check out the theater. I’ve never seen it before. I’m curious.”
She held my hand and we walked through the lobby doors, into the theater.
“Oh, it’s beautiful.” She gazed around, taking in as much of the carved, wooden details as she could see in the small amount of light. “I can’t believe this has been wasted all these years. The architecture and details are stunning.”
Up the front of the theater, Marissa stood center stage, with the others gathered around her except for Will. She must have sprinted here as soon as the bell rang to warn the ghosts. I wished I’d seen that—Marissa giving instructions to a room full of people she couldn’t see.
Mom smiled and waved at the stage. “Hi, Marissa.”
“Hi, Mrs. Malone.” Marissa waved back.
Mom hurried ahead of me and through the backstage door—which apparently everyone noticed except for me. I followed her up the steps, through the wings, and on to the stage itself.
Mom smiled, put her hands on her hips and looked at all the faces, living and not-so-living. “So, girls, are you going to introduce me to your friends?”

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