The Phantomime
Chapter Three
Minutes passed and no one tried to kill me, or shove a camera in my face. Maybe this wasn’t a reality show after all. My heart got tired of panicking and slowly returned to its normal thump-thump. If Mom had grounded me for the bridge stunt instead of taking away my phone, then I’d be home right now. Or, at least I could call for help.
“In case you’re wondering,” I said, at last, “I’m still here.”
Shuffling. A soft bang from something being knocked to the floor. More cursing.
“We’re trying—to work—the light switch.”
It didn’t surprise me the switch would be complicated, goodness knows the doors were tricky enough. Besides, Andy’s friends weren’t that bright.
At last, a weak bulb flickered into life above the middle of the stage followed by a chorus of cheers. A few dusty old props lay around and a faded backdrop hung against the back wall, but there weren’t any people.
“Did you see that? Did you see that?” a boy’s voice said from somewhere backstage. “We are awesome at this stuff. We flicked that switch like—”
The big voice hushed him and cleared its throat. “Miss Malone. As you can see, there is nothing here to harm you, nor any television cameras.”
“The whole point is that the cameras are hidden,” I said, although, my confidence in that explanation had slipped. A prank show would have revealed themselves by now. There wouldn’t be much point in continuing once I figured things out.
That left two options: a) Andy’s friends, or b) we were back to ax-murderers. I glanced over at the door. There weren’t any handles, just a handrail like the one that ran the length of the room.
“We have nothing to do with television, although we are actors. We rehearse our play here every day at this time,” said the older voice with pride. “We are the Riverton Player’s Troupe.”
If there had been an organization like that in town, I’d have known about it and stalked it until they let me join. Then again, I hadn’t noticed our Chemistry teacher change from a Ms. to a Mr. mid-year, until Marissa pointed it out.
“Come out so I can see you,” I said, trying not to sound too excited. You didn’t need good grades for community theater.
There were more hushed whispers and a muffled cry. A boy flew out from behind the side curtains as if he’d been thrown. He looked back the way he came, made a rude gesture, then turned to me. Riverton was small enough that most of its faces were familiar, but I hadn’t seen this one before—certainly not hanging around with my brother. He was more my age.
He waved at me. Not just a little wave, either. He bounced up and down with his arms swinging over his head like he was signaling a passing ship. Lifting the side of my mouth in a confused smile, I waved in return.
He let out a whoop and looked back toward the curtains. “It’s true!”
“If you don’t tell me who you are, I’m going to call the cops.” I put my hand into my pocket and grabbed my rabbit’s foot to use as a pretend cell phone.
The boy grinned at me. “We’re not the ones who broke in.”
My cheeks got very hot. “I didn’t break in. You left the front door open.”
“No, we didn’t.” Then, after a few whispered words from backstage, he added, “Oh, that door. It’s got a mind of its own.”
The boy didn’t look like a murderer, his arms were too spindly, but something sure made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. “Look. I came here on a dare. All I want is to go.”
“I’ll show you how to get out, then.” The boy stepped onto the old piano in front of the stage and slid down it to the floor. I pointed the flashlight straight at his face as he walked toward me.
My fingers tightened around my arm-rest weapon. “What’s your name.”
“I’m Will.” He dipped into a low bow, then came a few rows closer. By now, I could see each strand of his ash-brown hair and the grin in his eyes, even when he didn’t smile.
He nodded at the lump of wood in my hand. “You gonna stake me with that?”
I still held it out in front of me. “No. But, I’ll whack you over the head if you try anything.”
He climbed onto one of the chairs and sat on it’s back, looking very pleased with himself.
“You said you’d tell me how to get out.”
“How did you get in?” he asked.
“Through the door, obviously.”
Will made the same cheerful chuckle I’d heard when I first arrived. “I’d try the door then, if I were you.” He grabbed his knees and rocked back and forth, as if he was trying to contain himself. When I looked even more confused, he said. “Fine. The hand-rail. Try the hand-rail.”
“You’re so funny. Ha. Ha. It’s a hand-rail, not a handle” To show him how wrong he was, I grabbed the rail and yanked. It clicked and the door opened inward.
Oh. Oops.
With one eye on Will, I went to leave.
“Wait,” he said. “Are you going to come back?”
“Maybe. In a hundred-million-years,” I said.
His face looked serious for the first time since I’d met him. With the extra light from the lobby, I could see he was about my age, thirteen, but dressed in the sort of thing you’d expect a Victorian chimney sweep to wear—complete with tweed cap tilted to the side.
“What are you wearing?” I asked.
He looked down at his clothes. “A costume.”
That made sense, if they were actors. Maybe this really was a play, and I’d messed up the one acting opportunity I’d get for the whole rest of my life.
With a quick glance back at the stage, Will slid off the chair and hurried closer. “You could come back and watch us rehearse.”
“No, she cannot,” yelled the voice from the stage.
“Yes, she can,” Will yelled back.
“Uh, it doesn’t sound like I’d be very welcome.”
Will shrugged. “Don’t worry about Cresswell. He’s got his cranky pants on. It’s the same time, every day. Come alone.”
I slipped backward through the door. “Maybe.” Then I mimicked his ominous last sentence. “I’ll come alooooone.”
Dares can be won or lost on a technicality. I’d learned that the hard—and often painful—way. Even though I couldn’t see Andy near the entrance doors at the bottom of the stairs, I counted off the last two minutes of the dare on my watch. No way was I living through the world-of-weird I’d just experienced without getting full credit.
Outside, the Lane was as empty as ever—no Andy. I felt a bit smug about that. I’d managed to stay inside the theater and complete the dare, while Andy ran off at the first scream. A little voice in the back of my head reminded me that I’d have run too if I hadn’t been trapped in the theater, but no one else needed to know that.
As I walked off toward home, the strangled wheeze of Officer Bugden’s siren gurgled in the distance. It broke when he ran into the back of some old guy’s truck a few years back and the Riverton police department must have been too broke to get its only car fixed. Now he only used the siren if shouting out his driver’s side window didn’t work.
Uh-oh. Maybe Andy called 911 when I screamed.
I picked up the pace. Far better that my parents get a cop’s visit because Andy caused a false alarm than because I’d been arrested for breaking and entering. I doubted they’d care that I was only guilty—technically—of the entering part.
I passed the waist-high weeds that hid most of the concrete in the Majestic’s parking lot and had almost reached the corner, when . . .
Andy jumped out from behind a battered sheet of iron.
I smacked him in the shoulder with the arm-rest I still had clutched in my hands. “You almighty turkey!”
“Ow. Hey, quit that.” He ducked and dodged and let out a yelp when I clocked him hard, right on the collarbone.
My burst of adrenaline-fueled energy ran out. I used the last of it throwing the arm rest into the weeds. At least I now knew I could defend myself if I needed to, despite ditching every single self-defense class Mom sent me to.
Once I caught my breath, I stalked off at my fastest walk for the corner and as far away from Andy as possible.

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