The Phantomime
CHAPTER
7
Chapter Seven
I stared at Will, who sat beside me looking as real as I did—now he was out of the sun.
“I’m going to have to rethink my stance on Bigfoot now,” I said.
“And the Loch Ness Monster,” Will said, with a wide grin.
“No. That’s fake. My stance remains unchanged.”
“I think you might be related.”
I followed my instinct to punch him. My hand passed right through his shoulder in a shock of icy air. Snatching my hand to my chest, I stared at him.
“Not that face again,” he said. “I’m a ghost, you’re not, that had to happen some time.”
I rubbed my fingers to get some blood back into them. “You guys better be the only ones here, then.”
Will turned his head in my direction. “There is one more, that I know of. He lives up in the gods.”
“The gods?”
“The seats way up in the balcony at the very back. He threw me off the balcony once.” Will sniffed at the memory.
The thought that ghosts lurked in places I didn’t know about intrigued me. Every weird noise I ever heard in our house took on whole new possibilities.
I climbed to my feet. “I should go face Cresswell.”
“Finally.” Will jumped up and brushed the imaginary dust of his imaginary pants.
Now that his secret was out, he walked straight through the doors without opening them. Knowing what he was and seeing it in action were two different things. I prodded at the wood where he’d passed through. His hand appeared there again, held out like he wanted me to walk through the solid door too. The fingers wiggled, beckoning me.
“Quit that,” I yelled, and the hand sucked back into the door.
I shoved the door open and hurried through. Will stood balancing on the back of a theater seat, as easily as if he stood on the ground.
“Watch this.” Glancing over his shoulder to make sure I kept watching, he hopped lightly from one row of seats to the next. Tricks like that made my dares look pretty lame, but I wasn’t about to become a ghost just to make my dares more impressive.
I applauded.
He let himself drop to the ground and hurried back to me, straight through the seats as if they were no more solid than him. “What did you think of that?”
“I think you’re an insufferable show-off.”
“Jealous?”
“Horribly.”
“Excellent. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” He climbed up on the stage to meet the other actors who were gathered under the single light bulb. They looked very human.
In my world, adventures began for a reason. Someone dared you, or you had an excellent idea. No way would I become a ghost and assume that’s all there was to it. I’d have to know why.
Cresswell strutted onto the stage. “Come on,” he bellowed. “We have wasted too much time.”
I hurried up to the front row, checked a seat for unwanted wildlife, and sat down. I wanted to run home and tell Marissa the amazing things I’d learned, but I couldn’t tell her, or anyone else. Not now or ever. They’d send me to live out my days in a home for the terminally artistic.
I squirmed in my front row seat, waiting for rehearsal to begin. What if it sucked? The ghosts had already been through a gruesome death and decades spent rehearsing this play. A bad review might be all it took to send them completely poltergeist.
Cresswell arrived on stage, his body as stiff as his mustache. “Places, everybody.”
The ghosts filed into the wings. Except for Barry, who slouched beside me wearing an expression of equal parts boredom and extreme annoyance.
Raising his arms from his sides—palms turned toward the audience—Cresswell cleared his throat. “The Riverton Player’s Troupe would like to present a work that has taken us these many years to perfect. For your enjoyment, The Phantomime.” He bowed deeply and backed off the stage with his hands clasped behind his back.
“At least he’s not taking himself too seriously,” I whispered into Barry’s not-even-slightly-solid ear. He snorted and covered his smirk with his hand.
With that out of my system, I felt much better. “Aren’t you joining in, Barry?”
His face made it pretty clear that wasn’t a welcome question. “Let’s just say, if you name the Scottish Play, refuse to make a fool of yourself by dancing in circles, and then the theater burns down and kills half the troupe—you might as well tear up your social calendar as far as Cresswell is concerned.”
To think, I’d never thought a dead person would need a social calendar before today.
One of the actors I hadn’t met stepped out onto the stage. Her hair sat on her shoulders in dark golden waves. She looked about Andy’s age and dressed like she belonged in another century. All the ghosts did, except Barry. It was one more way he stood out.
“That’s Megan. She doesn’t speak,” Barry explained.
With Cresswell and Will around, I doubted she got much chance.
The bulb above the stage flickered out and other lights replaced it—strange ghost lights that glowed blue and silver and colors in between that I didn’t have a name for. The beams danced together to create a set filled with props so fine they could have been made from tissue and lace.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Barry sniffed. “I could do the same with a few lighting cans and a decent cyclorama.”
I didn’t know what a cyclorama was, but I doubted he could make anything that came close to what the ghosts created on the stage.
Music made of nothing but air began to play, soft and hollow. It came from the piano, but there wasn’t anyone playing it. The keys bobbed up and down all on their own. I squinted, looking for a ghostly shape sitting on the stool.
Barry must have noticed, because he whispered, “It’s a player piano, a pianola.”
“A what?”
He groaned. “A pianola. It plays itself from these reels you put in it. It’s a bit cliché to have one in a haunted theater, but it was here before we were.”
A fine explanation, except no one started it playing. It did that all by itself.
With the set built around her, Megan told the story of their last days, their deaths, and everything since with movement rather than words. When the others joined her on stage, they didn’t speak either, but I could feel the story like it happened to me. In a way, Marissa had been right, it was a play about mimes.
I wanted to process what I saw in a beautiful way, which was how the play deserved to be remembered, but I wasn’t a poetic person. It was a ballet without dancing, only way less boring. Something like that.
The sets changed as the story went along, as realistic as a movie, and all of it in silver and blue. When the fire burned, lavender flames roared to life all around the actors. I sat forward in my seat, reminding myself that the fire wasn’t real. The actors floated out of the flames and reappeared in a new set that remade the outdoors onstage. They stood by the gutted theater, staring at wisps of smoke.
When it ended, I knew I’d seen something no one else had—or would. I couldn’t decide which tragedy was worst—their deaths, their afterlives, their play, or the fact I couldn’t tell anyone about any of it.
They stood very still in the weird, bluish light of the ghost footlights, waiting.
I’d forgotten the most important part.
I jumped to my feet, shoved my pinky fingers into my mouth for a shrieking whistle, and applauded until my palms stung.
I left the theater late that afternoon. The glass door closed behind me with a slight click as it locked itself. A few days ago, I’d have been freaked out by a door with a mind of its own. Now, it was the least weird thing I’d seen recently.
On my way past the box office, I spied something new. Taped to the wood nailed over the box office windows was a piece of pink printed paper that read: Notice to the public, re: The Majestic Theater. Archibald Holdings have purchased this building, effective November 1st.
I read it twice, hoping to find evidence it might be a fake—made by someone’s brother wanting revenge for a recent beating with a lump of wood, for instance—but it looked genuine. I’d seen plenty of those slips on other buildings around town, right before the wrecking ball arrived. I didn’t know the ghosts well, but I doubted they’d want to live—or sort-of-live-but-mostly-be-dead—in a pile of rubble.
Icy sweat prickled all over my skin and froze in the cold air.
Someone would have to do something to stop this demolition, or the only ghosts I knew would end up homeless. Since no one else could see them, that someone would have to be me.

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