The Phantomime
Chapter Six
The door shuddered out of my way. I stepped into the lobby and let it close itself behind me. As my gaze drifted up the stairs, I noticed something I should have seen earlier. In the dusty red carpet that covered each step were footprints. Two sets going up and two sets going down. All of them, mine.
Will stood with one foot on the top stair, the other two steps lower.
“Your face has gone all white,” he said. I’d never seen anyone look guiltier than Will, except this one time when Mom worked out the Band-Aid on Andy’s nose hid a brand-new piercing.
I shoved my hand into my pocket and wrapped it around my rabbits foot. The claws dug into my skin, but I didn’t care. I scrambled up the stairs, two at a time, until I stood on the same one as him. A haze of dust filled the air behind me, but there wasn’t any around him. No footprints either, in any direction. Even my brain began to make the obvious connections.
“How did you get downstairs and back up again without leaving prints?” It came out too squeaky to be much of a demand.
Will’s brow crumpled up. “I slid down the stair rails?”
“Are you asking me or telling me?”
“Uuuuuummmm . . .”
“Okay, then did you slide up them too?” One glance at the busted railings covered in dust and splinters showed how unlikely that was. “Fine. If you’re not going to be honest . . .”
I hurried down the rest of the stairs, but when I grabbed the door, it wouldn’t open. As I gave it a good kick, I couldn’t help thinking the theater doors had it in for me.
“You might as well come back up. The door could be jammed for hours.” Will sat down on the top stair and crossed his legs.
“That’s kidnapping. I’m going to call the police.” I shoved my hand into my pocket, but left it inside. From this distance, it’d be pretty obvious I held a mummified rodent paw instead of a phone.
“I’ll just wait ‘til you’re done.” Will stretched his arms over his head and yawned.
My heart did a squeeze-thump of fury. I tried the door and gave it another good kick.
“Please, please, can you please let me out?” I whispered at the door.
Nada and zilch.
I walked back and forth along the glass wall of entrance doors and tried all four of them several times. No luck.
“It’s a bit like watching a tiger in a zoo. If the tiger were stubborn and a bit slow to catch on,” Will said. “Bored yet?”
I hated to admit defeat so easily. Eventually, I crept slowly back up to the lobby.
He’d stretched out on the carpet, snoring softly like a cat napping in the sunshine. I wasn’t sure if I wished I’d never come, or that I’d bought a weapon. Not that I was afraid. Whatever else Will was—and I had a number of theories forming on that—I didn’t think he’d hurt me.
He yawned. “If you must know, I got through the door so fast because I’m a magician. There you go. I hope you’re satisfied.”
I have this practically patented glare that turns my eyeballs into laser beams. Even Andy has a bit of respect for it. I glared it at Will with all my might. “You’ve had all this time to come up with an excuse and that’s the best you have?”
He picked at his jacket while he waited for me to turn off the doom stare. When I didn’t, he gave in. “What do you want me to say?”
As I stood there, about ready to a) scream or b) strangle him, something happened. The clouds above the theater moved away in the wind and the fall sun broke through. It flooded the skylight and lit up the lobby, shining straight into my eyes. I lifted my hand to shade them so I could see Will to snarl at him some more. But, I could only stare—the words jammed tight in my throat.
The same bright beam of light that blinded me shone right through Will, cutting a big chunk diagonally through his body from the tip of one shoulder to his hip.
“Oh, boy,” I said. “Oh, boy. Oh, boy.”
Will looked up at me. “Oh, girl?”
“You are a vampire.” I slapped my palms to my forehead and held them there like my brain might fall out. No matter how much breath I sucked in, I couldn’t get enough. I got thirstier and thirstier for air until I had to sit down.
“Seriously?” He shook his head and got to his feet in front of me. Now the sunbeam cut through part of his neck so that he looked half-decapitated. “I get through a door quickly and the first place your mind goes is vampire?”
I held out a shaking finger and pointed at him. “Youhavebitsmissing!” I couldn’t seem to fit any gaps between the words, or any more air into me. My head spun and the palms of my hands tingled as Will glanced down at himself.
“Oh,” said Will. “Oops.”
I was dangerously close to becoming one of those girls who fainted. Fainting to avoid a nasty situation was one thing. Doing it when your good sense had finally told you to escape was another.
Will waited for me to remember how to breathe.
I pointed a shaky finger at him, repeating the word, “You!” over and over.
He came to the end of his patience and waved his hand in front of my face. “You still in there?”
“You—” I gasped “—ghost.”
“I know. It’s a bit unexpected,” he said.
“A bit? A bit!” I threw my head back and cackled the way bad guys in movies do right before they chuck the good guy off a cliff.
“How do you think we felt? One minute, we’re in the theater with smoke everywhere. Next thing I knew, we were outside, staring at the burned-out building, which seemed a bit strange because we didn’t have bodies anymore.” He raised his arms from his sides and blew out a cheek-full of air. “Now that is a proper surprise.”
That knocked the shock out of me, and without the shock I had nothing left to stop me from shaking. It started in my hands, spread to my knees, and soon, I sat on the floor with my legs spread out like an old rag doll. “I didn’t know anyone died here. It’s—you look so real.”
“I am real.” Will shrugged and sat down beside me, so near that the hairs stood up on my arm. Being close to Will felt like sitting beside a balloon that had been rubbed on a sweater until it buzzed with static. I wondered if I’d feel a zap if he touched me.
“My Auntie Mary is a bit—artistic,” I said. “Mom says creative brains are dangerous, and I should be glad I’m an adrenaline junkie. What if I am creative, and just don’t know it?”
Will opened and closed his mouth a few times, caught in an impression of a netted fish.
I stared him in the eyes. “Do you think I’m artistic?”
He blinked, hard. “No—I think you’re odd.”
We sat there for a while, glancing suspiciously at each other through the corners of our eyes.
Eventually, curiosity got the better of me. “What’s the point in practicing a play when you’re—you know—not exactly alive?”
“Because—” he paused for a second. “—we just do. If we didn’t, things would get dead boring. Get it? Dead? Ha!” Will flopped back onto the dusty carpet to chortle at his own joke.
“Funny.” I let myself grin on the inside, where he couldn’t see it.
Once he’d finished chuckling, Will propped himself up on his elbows. “Rehearsing the play makes Cresswell happy, and trust me, everything’s easier when Cresswell is happy.”
I’d done some weird stuff in my life. But, telling the nurse I had “werewolfism” on a dare, or riding a skateboard down the halls at school, was nothing compared to this.
“I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“Me neither,” Will said, with a grin. “We’re a load of old hooey.”
I only knew one person who died, and I’d been young enough to think Grandpa would be back for Christmas. I remembered Dad had to cook and do the housework for an entire week because Mom was too sad. We’d never eaten so much pizza or worn the same clothes for three days in a row before. It had been like a mini-vacation as far as Andy and me were concerned.
I even asked my other grandpa when he planned on dying. The adults all made “aw” noises and thought I was worried, but I just wanted to know when we’d have the next indoor camp-out.
The worry didn’t set in until Marissa told me what being dead actually meant—that you came back as a ghost to holler at everyone while they slept.
Dad tucked me in the night she explained it all to me.
“Mom’s sad ‘cos Grandpa died, right?” I asked.
“Yes.” Dad petted my head. “The thing is, Grandpa was stubborn, angry, and hated a lot of things—like me and small animals.”
I might have only been six-years-old, but I already knew that about Grandpa.
Dad took my hand and looked at me with serious eyes. “But he’s de—passed away now, so we have to be nice when we talk about him. Mommy is upset and we have to be very kind to her.”
It seemed to me that if Mom loved Grandpa, then she probably liked his mean bits too, but I didn’t say so. I had much bigger things on my mind.
I couldn’t let my dad’s hand go, even when he tried to prise my fingers free. The more he tried, the more I panicked. My night-light needed to be turned on. I wanted to sleep with Mommy and Daddy. Actually, I wanted them to sleep in my bed because it had all my stuffed toys in it.
He patted my tight knuckles and smiled in a patient-but-not-for-much-longer way. “What’s the matter, Pop-goes-the-weasel? Are you sad?”
I nodded my head.
“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t think you were that close to Grandpa.”
“No, I’m sad he’s going to be a ghost.” I swallowed past the lump of terror. “I think he’ll be the bossiest ghost ever.”
Of course, I hadn’t met Cresswell back then.
Dad laughed at that, which wasn’t very nice, and scooped me up for a hug. “Don’t worry. Grandpa has gone where all grouchy old coots go—to Heaven, to wait for me, so he can tell me how his daughter could have done so much better. There is absolutely no such thing as ghosts.”
He’d sounded so sure about that last point that I believed him. There had never been much reason to doubt him on his word—until now. If ghosts were real, I’d have to find a place in my brain to file that bit of information, which meant chucking out a bunch of the stuff I already had in there, and I couldn’t afford to lose anything that might earn me another F.

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