The Phantomime
Chapter Twenty-Three
Years of acting must have prepared the ghosts for handling unexpected situations. Something sure helped them deal with the shock of my mother looking them right in the eyes. I, however, had no words, which was probably for the best.
Cresswell tipped his imaginary hat. “Mrs. Malone. Allow me to introduce my company, since your daughter has been uncharacteristically struck dumb.” He tapped the brass top of his cane at each actor in turn and gave them a completely made up name. Quick thinking, since Mom might have recognized their real names.
“Pleased to meet you. I didn’t expect to meet anyone today.” Mom held out her hand, waiting for him to offer his, but he tucked it behind his back.
Cresswell laughed a deep belly laugh, while the rest of us broke into nervous giggles.
“We are also surprised, but pleased, of course. Now, would you like to watch a small portion of our rehearsal? Perhaps see a sample of Poppy’s narration? She’s coming on rather nicely, with some intense coaching from myself.” He put way more emphasis on “intense” than was necessary. I shot a glare at him, but it bounced right off his magical shield of pompousness.
“I’d love to, but I should get home. There’s a discussion I need to have with Poppy’s brother.” Mom turned to look specifically at Megan and Janette. “I’m very sorry for the mess my son made of the ladies’ room.”
Megan smiled shyly, while Janette said in a croaky voice, “Boys will be boys.”
Mom smiled at everyone like she’d never been happier to meet any group of people. “It was lovely to meet all of you. I’m looking forward to the performance on Saturday. Poppy’s dad and I will be front row center.”
With a cheerful wave, Mom headed offstage and back out into the lobby. I had so many questions. Did she know she could see them? Were we close enough to the full moon and Halloween for it have an effect? No, if that were it, Marissa would see them too.
I was so busy processing that I didn’t notice Mom talking as we walked. “Sorry, Mom. What did you say?”
“I said that they seem like nice people. Looks like the only rough-types around here are your brother and his friends.” Mom trotted down the stairs and stopped at the bottom to give me a big hug. “I’m proud of you.”
“You are? For what?”
“For working so hard.” She patted my cheek. “Go back to your friends. I’m sure you have a lot to get done. I’ll see you at home.” She reached for the door. “By the way,” she leaned in close, “you do know they’re ghosts, right?”
I must have looked like a fish drowning in air. All I could manage was a nod.
“And they know they’re dead?”
“Good. That makes it easier. The play is their unfinished business, am I right?”
I blinked, and frankly, that was a miracle.
Judging by the look on her face, Mom enjoyed every second of my confused reaction. “Surprise.” She gave my shoulder a playful shove. “You didn’t think you were the only one, did you?”
Will didn’t appear until Mom’s car drove off down the road.
“Your mother can see us too!” he said. Then, not giving me a chance to reply, he carried on. “It must be a family thing, you know, like blue eyes or really big noses. It was dimples in my family.”
I had too much on my mind to tell him to shut up, so Will carried on talking all the way into the theater. “You should have told her about this ages ago. It’s not a good idea to keep secrets from your parents, you know, in general.” He stopped for a second. “Is my mom coming to the play?”
I paused right in the middle of the aisle on my way up to the stage. “Oh. I don’t know.”
Will shrugged his shoulders and kept walking. Of course he’d want his mother to be there.
“Hey, you guys, Poppy’s mom can see us,” he announced as we arrived on the stage. He grinned so hard his dimples were all squished.
“Yes, William. We worked that one out for ourselves,” Cresswell said.
“Guess what else?” Will didn’t give them long to answer. “She knows we’re ghosts. Ha.”
Cresswell’s eyebrows shot up into his carefully combed hair. “She knew? Miss Poppy, honestly. You allowed me to make a fool of myself. I introduced us all with fake names. Oh, I do feel silly now.” He sat on the edge of his wooden crate in the corner of the stage.
“I didn’t even know I could see ghosts until I met all of you. Mom never told me she could. It’s not like she could bring it up at the dinner table, or anything.”
I sat on a wooden crate that turned out to be a ghost prop, and landed with a thump on the stage floor. Will sniggered at me from behind his hand, and Megan bent down to see if I needed any help—not that she could give any.
Marissa clapped her hands. “Let’s get to work. Enough chatter. We’re running out of time.”
The President couldn’t beat Marissa when it came to rallying the troops.
Everyone in town knew about the play. I knew that because I talked to most of them that week. When they weren’t talking to us, they were talking about us. If that’s what it meant to be famous, I could see the shine wearing off real fast. One thing was obvious, Marissa and I were about to make Riverton’s history books, even if it was for producing the town’s most spectacular flop.
Friday after school, we hurried to the theater together. It would be our last rehearsal—the last day for everything. As we passed the overgrown parking lot, Marissa said, “Nothing can possibly go wrong now. We’ve thought of everything.”
I knew then she’d jinxed us, but it took another few seconds to find out how.
The theater doors were held closed by thick, heavy chains and padlocks the size of my fists.
“Oh,” said Marissa. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
I lifted one of the padlocks and gave it a pointless tug.
Marissa pushed her hair back from her face and held it there. “Let’s think about this. The doors are never locked to you. Why would these locks be any different?”
I gave the padlock on our usual door a good solid pull, but it held tight. “I don’t think these locks and the doors are on the same team.” I cupped my hands against the window and shouted into them. “Will. Help!”
I’d expected Will’s face toappear through the fog my breath left on the glass. When it didn’t, I glanced up and down the street, looking for a sign of the black van.
“Missa, what if the ghost hunters are inside?”
Her eyes widened until they were more white than color. “We have to get in there.”
We hammered on the doors, screaming, “Will. Cresswell. Anyone!”
I pointed to my left. “You go that way around, I’ll go this way. See if we can find another way in.” I took off around the right side of the building, yelling the whole way and not caring who might hear. All I could think of was the screaming black tornadoes and how we might already be too late.

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