The Phantomime
Chapter Twenty-Five
Officer Bugden promised he’d look for the money, but I could tell he wondered the same thing my parents did. Why on earth did I carry two-thousand dollars around in my backpack?
I knew the answer to that. I did it because I had a big ol’ head full of stupid where my brain should be, that’s why. I’d meant to give the money to Mom after she visited the theater, but forgot when the whole I-can-see-ghosts thing happened.
What sort of lousy jerk steals money out of someone’s backpack?
Stupid question. Anyone could. Maybe anyone would, if they knew it was there.
The front door slammed and Andy stomped past me into the kitchen and searched the oven for leftovers. Mom hadn’t kept him anything, so he grabbed a handful of gingerbread ghosts and stuffed them into his pocket.
“Aw, why the long face? Something go wrong with your play?” He grinned at me around a mouthful of stolen cookies. Not that we’d need them now, anyway. “I heard you got locked out.”
“I thought you were supposed to be grounded,” I muttered.
“I’m home now, aren’t I?” He leaned forward and poked out his lip. “There, there. I’m sure you’ll find some other creepy place to hang out.”
I glared at him. “I’ll hang out there. The play will happen.”
“Not without a theater, it won’t.” Andy laughed, filled his mouth with cookie, and patted me on the head with his sweaty, meaty hand, before stomping off upstairs.
That’s when I knew. Andy stole our money.
Next morning was Saturday, and it felt like all my dares had come at once.
With a zing of nervous excitement, I was out of bed, into my clothes, then into different clothes because I’d put on the dirty ones, and I was ready. I thumped my way downstairs—to a chorus of protests from my parents—and made myself breakfast. When I sat at the table to eat my bowl of cereal, I found a note on the table.
‘I know I’m grounded, but this is TV!!! Andy.’
Holy skunk stink, he’d gotten up first. That had to be a sign of the apocalypse.
It also meant he wasn’t in his room, and I had money to find. Like all my best (and coincidentally worst) plans, I came up with this one on the spot. I tiptoed up the stairs and down the hall to Andy’s door.
He’d posted a notice on it that read: Trespassers will be guttered!
Guttered? Seriously? He couldn’t even spell gutted right. Some people deserved to have their privacy invaded.
One rule my parents were strict about was that you didn’t go into someone else’s room without permission. But since my brother took two-thousand-bucks from my bag, I figured he didn’t count.
As I turned the handle and slipped into his room, I remembered the other reason I never went in there—the boy never showered. That’s the only way I could explain how thick and sweaty the air tasted. I considered crawling like you would in fire, but the air could be worse down there, and I’d be closer to the piles of dirty clothes.
I pulled my t-shirt over my mouth and began to search. Nightstand—empty. Nothing under the mattress. Closet—oh, boy, let’s forget that ever happened. Desk—nothing but a collection of the most depressing poetry ever written.
Pretty soon, I’d searched everything that didn’t look like it might walk away on its own, and there wasn’t any sign of our cash. The only thing left to search was a pair of pants that lay in a puddle of black fabric and boy-amoebas at the foot of the bed. Piled on top were not one, but many, crusty black socks.
“Those ghosts owe me, big time,” I muttered, using an equally smelly shoe to flick the socks away from the pants. He must have had a lot of faith in his stink-based security system, because inside the first pocket I checked, I found a very thick, rolled up wad of money.
“You thieving little creep,” I muttered, staring at the cash. Furious, I jumped to my feet and spun round to run to my parents.
Right in my way, filling most of his doorway, was Andy.
I filled my lungs with probably toxic air and opened my mouth to scream.
He had his hand over my face before I could get any sound out.
“If you make one sound, I’ll hang you out the window by your ankles.” Little drops of sweat formed on his top lip. “I didn’t steal it, I borrowed it, and I would’ve given it back once the TV show had done filming. It’s no big deal. Now, will you be quiet?”
I held up my fingers in the OK sign.
“I’ll let you go in three . . . two . . . one. . .” His sweaty palm peeled away from my face.
Because I’m not stupid, I kept my mouth shut.
“Clear off. Remember, keep quiet or I’ll make you sorry.”
I left the room, crossed the hall to our parents’ room, and shouted as loud as I could.
Mom helped me fill every airtight container we owned with freshly frosted cupcakes and cookies. For drinks, we had two-hundred Dixie cups and gallons of soda that used to belong to Andy—part of my compensation package. Dad had to stay home on Andy-watching duty, so Mom drove me to pick up the keys and drop me at the theater.
She pulled the car over right outside the Majestic. “I’m sorry about your brother.”
“So am I.” Her face went all crumpled up, so I added, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’m his sister. He’s supposed to be a jerk to me. It’s practically the law.”
“Not any more, it isn’t.” She fiddled with the tacky, red racecar steering-wheel cover Dad had bought. “Why didn’t you mention the ghosts to me earlier?”
“I could ask you the same thing. You can see them too. Thanks for mentioning that.”
Mom laughed.
Once the talking started, we couldn’t stop. Turns out that seeing ghosts was something lots of people from her side of the family shared. She thought I’d missed out on it.
“Have you ever seen a ghost before these ones?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I assumed everyone I saw was alive. I’m guess I’m just normal that way,” I said.
“Not everyone adapts as well as you. Some people find it hard to accept. Like your brother, for instance.” She slipped that last bit in so quickly, I almost missed it.
“Wait, what? Andy can see them?”
Mom nodded. “What do you think this whole Goth thing is about? I think that’s why he tagged the theater, to show the ghosts he wasn’t scared.”
That plan sure misfired. I’d never seen anyone so close to wetting their pants.
Mom leaned over and kissed my forehead. “We better get all of this food inside.”
We loaded ourselves up with boxes and staggered up to the theater doors. I unlocked the chains and held the swinging door open with my butt, while Mom carried through an armful of cookie boxes. In the lobby, we pulled several of the small tables that lined the walls together and stacked the food on them. When we were done, it looked like we’d have enough for everyone to get something to eat and a cup of cola or lemonade.
“When will you be onstage tonight?” Mom asked.
“I’m up first to introduce the play. Then I’ve got a special speech I wrote, but I’m saving that until . . .” My sentence just hung there because I couldn’t say, the end.
Mom smiled and gave me a little hug. “It’ll be sad when it’s all over, huh?”
I swallowed hard. She had no idea. The ghosts had been nothing but trouble. They’d also been the best sort of fun. No dares, no ghosts, no Will—my days would be so lame.
“I have to get going, but I’ll be back tonight. Break a leg,” Mom said.
I watched her go, and then poked my head inside the theater, just to reassure myself that they were still there. The television hummed away up in the gods and onstage, Cresswell led the ghosts in yet another rehearsal.
I let the door swing closed.

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