The Phantomime
Chapter Nine
Things hadn’t been perfect in the good old days (seventy-two hours ago) but they had at least followed the laws of cause and effect—or my understanding of it. We learned about it in physics and physics is close to math, so my theory probably had some holes.
The way I saw it, I got an F, and because of the F, I tried to jump off a bridge. See? Cause. Effect. Things got a bit fuzzy when I tried to fit the past few days into my theory. For instance, I had developed a sudden fear of of women with cameras. Effect—no real cause.
That lens pointing at the windows freaked me out in exactly the way that ghosts did not.
Keeping low so she wouldn’t see us, we hurried across the lobby. Will’s mood improved by the time we stepped through the swinging doors into the theater. Or, actually, I stepped through the doors and he stepped through the doors. He ran all the way to the stage on the back of the seats and jumped onto the top of the piano.
“Watch this.” He turned sideways and did a neat cartwheel along the piano top.
“I could do that,” I said. Will looked disappointed, so I added, “but I’m not that stupid.”
He grinned. “Yeah, you are.”
My cheeks got a bit warmer. “Yeah. I am.”
“You’d make an ace ghost.”
A shiver wriggled over my body so fast, my tongue rattled in my mouth. “Not for at least a hundred-and-fifty-years, I won’t.”
“It’s not that bad. I can do this.” Will held his nose and dove off the front of the stage. I jumped a little because that’s what you do when someone falls head-first from a great height.
With an odd sucking sound, he reappeared on top of the piano. “Ha. You freaked out because I fell. You don’t want me to get hurt.”
“Shut up. I do not. I mean, I don’t want you to get hurt, but I don’t care if you do.” Ugh. That made less sense than my physics theories.
Will sat on the piano, swinging his feet. “I don’t want you to get hurt or care if you do either.”
Barry stomped onto the stage from the wings with a just-sucked-a-lemon look on his face. “Cresswell says to tell you that you’re late, and they’re ready to start the play. Again,” he grumbled as he scuffed off to exit, stage-right. “And again.”
I sat in the middle of the front row, and Will—who wouldn’t sit on something as ordinary as a chair—sat cross-legged on the back of a seat. It didn’t look very comfortable, but then, he didn’t have an actual butt to feel it.
“Why doesn’t Barry go somewhere else in the theater, away from Cresswell?” I asked.
Will pointed over his shoulder in the general direction of the gods. “Because of him up there. I’m the only one he lets move around. If any of the others try—” he drew his finger across his throat and made a gagging sound.
I hoped I never ran into the Ghost in the Gods.
Megan glided out onto the stage. Will evaporated from beside me to take his place in the wings.
A few minutes into the play, I realized this performance would be identical to the first. As beautiful and sad as that was, I doubted I could sit through the same play many more times without feeling like this was my afterlife. Something had to be done.
When the show finished, I jumped up and applauded with even more enthusiasm than the day before, and hoped they believed it. Cresswell’s chest puffed out. Will did a low-sweeping bow and blew a few kisses to the imaginary audience—aiming well away from me.
The others disappeared without a word, except for Megan. She stayed in the middle of the stage. When she looked at me, I smiled an uncertain smile back, hoping she wouldn’t talk to me. Not today, on the anniversary, when I’d say something dumb. Guaranteed.
Then I remembered she couldn’t speak.
Will wandered out from the wings and dropped off the front of the stage. Megan followed. When he took up his perch on the back of the seat beside me, she sat by his feet.
She had a face that could win auditions without having to recite anything. Smiling at me, she pulled Will down to whisper into his ear. His eyebrows shot up and he blinked at her. “What, seriously?” he asked.
She nodded and disappeared with a sound like the wind chime outside my bedroom window.
“What was that about?” I asked, glancing around to see where she’d gone.
“She said there are ways we can be seen.” He sent a frustrated glare in the direction of the backstage area. “Which she could have mentioned, you know, years ago!”
A very delicate hand reached out from behind the backstage curtains, made a rude gesture, and then retreated.
Will muttered on about girls and how unreliable they were, but I’d stopped listening.
“Shush.” I tried shoving Will’s shoulder, but my hand froze in his icy vapor. I was too excited to freak out about paranormal frostbite, so I shoved my fingers into my armpit and carried on. “How do we make you visible? Do you need special supplies? We could put on the play.”
A production put on by ghosts would make headlines in more places than Riverton. It could make the Troupe rich enough to buy the theater from Archibald Holdings.
I’d be properly famous.
I would have grabbed Will and hugged him if he were real, or less likely to freeze me solid. Okay, no I wouldn’t. If he was a real, flesh-and-blood boy the chances of me even talking to him were slim-to-none.
“Hang on a minute,” Will said, hopping down from his perch to stand in front of me. “There’s no point getting excited. It can’t happen.”
I’d heard—and ignored—that kind of argument before. “I’ll make it happen.”
He put his knuckled hands on his hips. “How?”
I didn’t have a good answer for that. “However Megan says to do it.”
“Except she doesn’t know. She said the only one who does is the Ghost in the Gods.”
At least the ghosts were always exactly where I left them. I couldn’t say that about my own mother. She went to work before I got up and, on a good night, came home in time to say goodnight. The indoor camp-out that had been such a blast when Grandpa died lost its shine after a week of chicken nuggets.
“If I have to keep eating Dad’s cooking my bones will get so brittle, I’ll shatter,” I told her.
Her lack of sympathy almost made me lose faith in motherly love.
Without Mom to insist we ate at the table together, Andy had nothing to keep him home. Most nights Dad and me ate together, while Mom and Andy had theirs later on the kitchen counter. I’d become an only child in a single-parent family. Or, close enough.
Two things didn’t change: the ghosts and the mysterious black van. It parked somewhere on Maple Lane most days, tucked away like it didn’t want to be seen, which made me more determined to find it.
Sometimes, I’d spot a bit of its fender or tail light poking out from behind one of the buildings in the street. After a week of sightings, I spotted it one afternoon, parked in the alley that ran behind the drugstore and Mini’s on Main Street. Looking both ways for watching eyes, I crept up to it and pressed my face against the windscreen. I wanted some proof that the lady in the black slicker and the van belonged together, but the whole point of tinted windows is that they keep people on the outside from seeing in. Including me.
My skin prickled like eyes were watching me.
I couldn’t see anyone, but it occurred to me that someone hidden behind those black windows could see me.
Heart pounding, I pulled my coat hood over my head and scurried across the road to the theater.

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