The Phantomime
Chapter Twenty-Four
The basement windows were covered in weeds and thick, iron bars. No one answered when I reached through to pound on the glass. All the other windows were too high to reach, and I couldn’t find anything in the overgrown lot to climb on.
Around the back, I ran into Marissa who had found the rear entrance. It had brand new metal braces holding the door closed with three padlocks reinforcing it.
“Will always comes when I call him,” I panted. He often turned up when I didn’t call him, too.
Marissa rubbed her hands over her face and groaned. “How are we going to explain this to everyone who bought tickets?”
I gaped at her. “Tickets? Marissa, that horrible woman might have exorcised them. The stupid tickets don’t matter.”
“They do so matter. I worked hard on those. And I sold most of them, too. People will say I conned them out of their money.” She slammed the lock against the door and pursed her lips so tight the skin around them went white.
I slumped down onto the bottom step and covered my face with my hands. “I’ll wait here and give all the stinking money back, and tell them it’s my fault the ghosts got killed.”
The idea of my friends being dragged away into the darkness, terrified, helpless . . . Poor Megan, she couldn’t even scream. And Mr. The Third, even Cresswell. And Will. Oh,Will.
Raindrops made icy trails down my cheeks. I pushed the wetness off my face and vowed that I’d make someone sorry over this.
Marissa sat on the soaked step and draped her arm over my shoulders. “I’m such a pig.”
“No, I should’ve known that horrible woman wouldn’t wait one more day.”
The rain had us both drenched, and the cold started to bite. We got to our feet and wandered back to the front of the theater. Marissa bent to pick up our bags from where we’d left them by the doors, and passed me mine.
“There must be something we can do?” I shivered, wiping the raindrops, and some drops that were warmer and saltier, from my face.
“Do about what?” asked Will’s voice.
I screamed, and Marissa threw her bag up in the air so it landed with a clatter and thud on the pavement.
“Will,” I shrieked, and ran at him. I tried to fling my arms around him but instead grabbed great icy armfuls of empty air.
He giggled and swiped at me. “Quit that, it tickles.”
“You’re alive!”
Frowning, he tilted his head to the side. “I’m what? Is that a Halloween joke?” He poked at himself and tried to catch his reflection in the glass doors. “Nope. Still dead.”
Since I couldn’t hug Will, I turned and grabbed Marissa instead. “He’s alive—dead—you know what I mean.”
“I guessed.” She leaned up against the doors and let out a long breath.
Now that I’d gotten over the shock of finding Will, I got on with being ticked at him. “Where were you? Why didn’t you come when I called?”
Will sighed and shook his head. “You girls can’t make up your mind if you’re happy or sad or what. I came, as soon as there was a commercial break.”
“That does it. I’m trashing that television,” I said.
“You can’t because you promised and a promise is a promise.” Now Will was the one with a panicked expression on his face. I had no idea that ghosts could get addicted to anything, much less to something as boring as a TV.
“It can stay if you find us a way inside,” I said.
Will stared at the lock. “I’m a ghost. Not a magician.”
“You told me you were a magician, remember? First time I met you.” I glared at him.
He threw his hands in the air. “Sorry to break it to you, but I told a lie. I do that, sometimes. Anyway, if you can’t get in there, you can’t take the TV back. Neener. Neener.”
I didn’t have time to argue. I had bigger things to worry about. Like, how to put on a play when we couldn’t get into the theater. After half-an-hour spent shivering while Will tried to figure out how to pick a lock—and failing—we had to give up.
“I say we go home and meet back here tomorrow,” Marissa said.
“What good will that do if we can’t get in?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Something could happen.”
“She’s right, Poppy.” He grinned at me. “Watch this. Getting in is easy. You humans just make it look hard.” He ran through the door, then in and out a few times, just to show me how simple it was.
I groaned. “And what if the ghost hunters come back and kill the ghosts?”
Everything went quiet then. Even Will paused halfway through the glass doors.
Marissa shrugged. “Maybe she won’t be able to get in. Those locks look pretty sturdy.”
“Not sturdy at all, if you have a key,” I said.
I expected Mom to cook, she usually did on Friday nights and weekends, but I hadn’t thought she’d turn our kitchen into a bakery. Trays of cupcakes covered every bit of counter space, and most of the dining table. Times like that made me wish I had a sense of smell.
“Surprise, it’s for the play. I’m going to use orange frosting and pipe scary faces on them.” She slid a cookie sheet of ghost-shaped gingerbread onto a tray to cool.
“Mom, this is amazing.” Then, I remembered the heavy chains keeping us out of the theater and my bubble of excitement burst. “Oh,” I said, and plunked myself down at the kitchen table.
“Oh?” Mom asked.
I looked at all the baked goods my mother had already made and told her about the chains. She slid fresh-baked cookies onto a cooling tray while she listened.
“You girls did get permission to use the theater didn’t you?”
The owners gave Barbara Basch and her team access to the place, which made them the enemy. Besides, to me, the theater belonged to the ghosts. “Um, not exactly.”
Mom picked up a dish towel and wiped her hands on it. “Oh, Poppy. I’ll get Dad to call them and see if they’ll hire us the theater tomorrow night. I wouldn’t blame them if they said no.”
She hurried out to find Dad while I hid a cookie under the table so I could break bits off and nibble them without being caught. If the play didn’t happen, the trick or treaters were going to score big time at my house.
Mom was back within a few minutes. “Dad’s calling them now.”
Talking didn’t seem like a good idea, so I joined Mom in the kitchen and spread frosting on the cupcakes while she piped on their faces.
Dad appeared in the doorway with his hand over his phone. “Do you have the ticket money?”
I nodded. “Almost two-thousand-dollars.” Which should have been in Dad’s safe by now. Yet another thing I forgot to cross off the to-do list.
Dad wandered off, talking seriously into his phone.
My hand shook as I spread frosting over a cupcake. “Honestly. You would not believe how stressful it is being a business woman,” I said.
My mother laughed. “Imagine that.”
Dad got back before another dozen cookies were frosted. “Good news. They’re happy to let you use the theater tomorrow night for eight-hundred-dollars. You can pick up the key when you pay the cash.”
“Yes,” I bounced up and down. “I have to tell Missa.”
On my way to the computer, I stopped in the mudroom to grab my backpack so I could count out the money for Dad while we talked. I sat down at the desk and opened up the IM.
Even though I couldn’t hear her voice, Marissa seemed tired. “Tell me some good news.”
“My dad talked to the theater owners and we’re hiring us the theater tomorrow for eight-hundred-bucks. The chains will be off in the morning.”
I reached into my backpack for the old lunch box Marissa had used to store the money. It rattled and had a satisfying sort of weight about it. Inside were so many coins that I couldn’t see the bills. When I moved them out of the way, I still couldn’t see the bills. In fact, no matter how much I tossed the coins around inside the container, there were no bills. A little balloon of panic burst in my chest as I tipped the coins out onto the desk. Nothing but a pile of heavy coins.
Biting my lip so hard I thought it might bleed, I typed a message to Marissa. “Are you sure the bills were in with the coins?”
Her reply was almost instant. “Yes. Why?”
I spread the coins over the desk and pulled everything out of my bag. The bills must have fallen out. But they hadn’t. I’d tidied my bag a week or so ago and hadn’t made much of a mess yet. If the bills were in there, I would have found them.
“Because they’re gone,” I typed.
I leaned forward until my forehead connected with the desktop.

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