The Phantomime
Chapter Five
Because I preferred not to make the same mistake twice, I propped the theater door open this time. I stood with my butt jammed up against the door while I scanned the area for something heavy enough to keep it from closing.
I spotted a square, metal trash can and shoved that between the doors. It didn’t help much, light-wise, but it did give me a handy escape route.
“What you doin’?”
Will’s voice came from nowhere and surprised me so much that I banged my knee, hard, against the trash can’s pointy corner. I yelped, “Ow,” before yelling some other things I don’t know how to spell. When I spun—or hobbled—around, Will sat with his rear-end perched on the back of one of the theater seats, his feet on the arm-rests.
I rubbed at my stinging knee, trying not to look like he’d freaked me out. “Where did you come from?”
“Over there.” He pointed at the stage. “Then over there.” He pointed at the aisle halfway across the seating. “And now, here.” He pointed at the seat.
My eyes narrowed until I saw him through a pair of slits. “I didn’t hear you coming.”
Will leaned forward and said in a conspiratorial whisper. “That’s because I’m very quiet.”
Limping a little, I picked a seat close to the door and whacked at the dust on it. A smoke signal of particles billowed up to choke me. I moved a few rows down, leaving the dirt where it was.
“You can’t sit there,” said Will.
“Sure I can. It’s very comfortable.” I folded my arms and leaned back in my seat.
“That’s only because spider’s nests are soft.”
I probably broke several records getting out of that chair and up to the front of the theater. On the way, I invented a new dance I called “the Arachnophobe.” It involved flailing arms, stripping off my coat, slapping at my body, and shaking out my hair. Will cackled in a way that made me wish I still had my arm-rest weapon from my last visit.
As I leaned against the piano, I did my best to look casual, even though that ship had sailed. I glanced around, not keen on the distance between me and the door. “My mom knows I’m here. She’ll know where to look if I turn up missing.”
“Are you planning on going missing?” Will asked.
“I don’t know, am I?” This wasn’t getting us very far.
Will sidled up and leaned on the piano next to me, copying me. This close, his skin was the sort of pale Andy couldn’t get with layers of SPF 5000 on his face all summer.
“I think,” Will said, loud enough for the whole theater to hear, “that Poppy should meet everyone before we get started.”
The disembodied voice of Cresswell answered, and it sounded nervous. “I prefer to let my art speak for me.”
“Everyone? There’s more than two of you?” I asked.
Will nodded. “There’s more than four of us, even.”
A whispered argument started up in the wings. None of the words were repeatable. Theater people had quite a wide vocabulary.
“Fine,” said Cresswell. “But after this, we must get on with rehearsal.”
Apparently everyone arrived on stage with a shove in the Majestic.
I’m not sure what I expected. Some proper looking guy with a stiff upper lip and a megaphone, at least. That’s not what appeared from the wings. The man who stumbled out wasn’t any taller than me. Instead of a costume, he wore a pair of jeans that rode way too low on his hips and a look of utter panic. He glanced backstage, then at Will, and finally, at me.
“Uh. Hi,” he said. “I’m Barry.” That voice did not belong to Cresswell.
“He’s the lighting tech,” said Will.
I glanced up at the metal rigging above the stage and couldn’t see much in the way of lights, other than the one bulb. “That must be an easy job,” I said.
Barry’s eyes shot open wide. “Not if you’re working for him.” He jerked his head in the direction he’d arrived from.
Will leaned over to whisper. “Barry started the fire.”
“I did not.” Barry stamped his foot and fluffed himself up until he looked like an offended chicken.
“Barry worked here when the fire happened?” He didn’t look old enough. My dad was a kid when the Majestic burned.
“That will do.” The Voice arrived on stage first, closely followed by the person it belonged to—Cresswell. At last, I had a face to go with the shouted orders. I’d never met anyone who fitted their voice as well as he did. His mustache was as stiff as his back. He kept his chin so high that the only way he could see people at all was to look down on them.
“Apparently, I need to do the introductions myself. I am Lawrence Cresswell. Director and Founder of the Riverton Player’s Troupe. I am, most assuredly, the man in charge.”
Will whispered again. “Cresswell and Barry don’t get on because Barry said the name of The Scottish Play before dress rehearsal, and half-an-hour later the theater burned down. One of Barry’s lighting cans caught on fire.”
Barry moved carefully away from Cresswell.
“Silence, William,” Cresswell boomed. I bet if you got right up into the balcony seats you could still hear every word he said.
“What’s the Scottish Play?” I asked.
“Do not answer that.” Cresswell strode over to the edge of the stage, but stopped, as if he didn’t want to get too close to me.
“Shakespeare. It’s a tradition, I—” Will stopped mid-sentence when Cresswell exploded into a tirade of shushes and arm waving.
Any future actress worth her salt knew about Shakespeare. His best lines took up the space in my head that should have held algebra. Which play was Scottish? I ran through the titles I knew, ignoring the arguing going on around me.
Witches. Cauldrons. “Macbeth,” I announced.
My words had a similar effect to the final bell at school: jostling, shouting, and me dodging out of the way. I backed up to the first row of seats and watched as Cresswell dropped to his knees in a dramatic interpretation of “all is lost.” Just as a laugh threatened to burst out of me, another three people hurried out from backstage, trying to calm Cresswell.
He shook his fist. “Get her outside.”
Apparently theater and me went as well as me and drama club. “You can’t just kick me out.”
“I certainly can. This is my theater.”
“Fine.” I sent my filthiest glare in Cresswell’s direction. “I will see myself out.”
I clenched my fists against my sides and stomped through the propped-open door, down the stairs, and outside. The main door skittered closed and locked itself behind me. I couldn’t believe I got myself kicked out after five minutes. It usually took me twice that long to irritate someone that much.
I stopped to kick at the leafy piles outside the doors. When I turned toward the street, Will stood between me and the pavement, hands on hips, legs apart like Peter Pan about to fly off with Tinkerbell. Where on earth did he come from?
“You better hurry up or Cresswell will have a full scale meltdown,” he said.
“How much further out can I get?” I was in no mood for dealing with an irritating boy. I strutted past him into the middle of the Lane. “Is this far enough? Or should I start running?”
“Stop being a drama queen. He only kicked you out ‘til you do the ritual.”
Oh, terrific. They were witches or something.
“It’s a theatrical superstition,” he said. “Every actor in the world knows it.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I never heard of it.”
“You’re not an actor.”
My eyebrows shot up into my hair. “I am so. If anyone would ever give me a part.”
“Then hurry up and do the ritual so you can come back inside and maybe audition.” As usual, Will was trying so hard not to smile that it must have hurt. “The ritual must be done whenever someone names the Scottish play inside a theater or there will be bad luck. Go on.”
“I don’t know how.” After my day so far, it wouldn’t have surprised me if he told me to stand on my head and sprout antlers.
“Spit over your left shoulder, spin around three times, and say ‘thrice around the circle bound, evil sink into the ground.’”
That was worse than sprouting antlers. “Anyone who laughs at me regrets it,” I informed him.
“That, I do believe.” Will shook his head so his hair flopped around his face like those long, dangly bits in a car wash.
My mood was perfect for spitting. I spat a big, fat gob and turned in a circle.
“Wrong way, you have to turn clockwise. Three times.” Will swirled his finger in the air, stirring an imaginary cup.
I did as he told me, waiting for him to laugh. “What do I say?”
“Thrice around the circle bound, evil sink into the ground.”
I repeated the words.
“Now you have to knock on the door and ask politely to be allowed back.” A little smile made the corners of Will’s mouth twitch. He was enjoying himself way too much.
Grumbling under my breath, I knocked. “Please, oh please, may I come back inside?”
Things got a bit confusing after that. From the other side of the newspapered door, Will’s voice answered. “Sure, come on in.”
I spun around in a quick circle, looking for him. Aside from me and bits of trash blown into the corners, the pavement was empty. He couldn’t have gotten inside without me seeing or hearing. The doors made a worse noise than Officer Bugden’s siren.
“I said, ‘come in’,” he called in a sing-song voice from the other side of the doors.
I stared at the tarnished brass fixtures on the doors and seriously considered running home. But, the whole thing felt too much like a dare for me to leave.
Slowly, I pushed the door open.

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