The Ghost in the Third Row (9 page)

Chris looked back and saw me with my head against the floor.

“What are you doing?” she hissed, grabbing me by the arm and trying to drag me to my feet.

“I'll tell you later,” I said. I was busy trying to figure out why a ghost would bother to move her feet when she walked. I thought it must be memory, or habit, or something like that. I couldn't believe they
had to
, especially after we got to the door leading out to the lobby and she walked right through without bothering to open it.

I don't know why it was such a shock to see her do that. I mean, you figure that's the kind of thing a ghost can do. But when I saw her head for the door, walk right up to it, and then
fade through it
, I almost flipped out. I think maybe that was the first time it really sank in that what we were dealing with was an honest-to-goodness ghost. I don't know what I was thinking before that, but suddenly she seemed a lot more real—or unreal. It was freaky.

Chris and I pushed our way through the door. The Woman in White was already halfway across the lobby. She must have figured we were following her because she didn't even look back. Or maybe she had eyes in the back of her head. Who knows what ghosts can do?

She led us up the stairs to the mezzanine area, then through a door that took us into a hallway. After a few minutes I realized she was using a roundabout way to take us to the back of the theater. Before long we were standing at the stairway that led down to the prop and scenery storage area where we had gotten in so much trouble earlier in the day.

I hesitated, but the ghost kept on going, gliding down the stairway like mist along a hillside. Chris grabbed my arm, and down we went.

I figured that the eerie storage room would be less frightening since I already knew what was in it. I was wrong. Somehow knowing that it was nighttime outside made it even worse than it had been before. Or maybe it was the fact that we were sharing the room with a ghost.

The Woman in White led us past the clown face and Dracula's coffin, right to Pop's office. Again, I hung back. I didn't want to get caught snooping around in there!

But she was standing inside waiting for us. In fact, she had an impatient look on her face.

“It's not smart to keep a ghost waiting,” Chris said. Grabbing my arm again, she stepped into the office. You may have noticed that Chris was pretty brave—she was always the one to take the first step. But did you also notice that she usually grabbed my arm before she did it?

The ghost was standing beside Pop's desk. The scrapbook we had seen earlier in the day was missing.

She pointed to the middle drawer. I opened it. The scrapbook lay inside.

“I guess she wants us to read it,” said Chris.

That made sense to me. I was worried about snooping around in Pop's stuff. But if the ghost wanted us to, it seemed as if it must be all right. I reached into the desk and took out the book.

Setting it between us on the desk, I lifted the cover. I turned to see if the Woman in White was going to look over my shoulder or if she wanted us to make room between us, or what. It's very hard to know what you should do about manners when you're dealing with a ghost!

But before I could say anything, she faded out of sight.

“Well, I like that!” said Chris. “You'd think she—”

“Shhh!” I hissed. “She might still be here.”

Chris looked around nervously. “I guess we'd better look this thing over and get out of here,” she said.

I nodded my head and opened the book.

It was like taking a cushion off the couch and finding half a dozen pieces for the jigsaw puzzle you're working on. It didn't answer all our questions, but it sure gave us a lot more to work with.

“Well, you were right about one thing,” said Chris when we had finished going through the book. “I thought it was going to be a scrapbook full of stuff about Pop. But it looks like it might be more about the theater itself.”

I knew why that was bothering her. She was secretly convinced Pop was the one causing all the trouble. If the scrapbook had been all about him, it would have meant the ghost wanted us to know he was somehow connected to the mystery. But if it was just about the theater, then maybe there was something else in it the ghost wanted us to see. I had no idea which it was.

I turned back to the most important section, the pages filled with clippings about the tragedy that had taken place fifty years ago.

Because I had read the play so many times, it was interesting to read the newspaper accounts of what had
actually
happened on that terrible night—and in the days that followed, which the play didn't cover.

One of the articles had a picture of Lily in costume for the show. I think seeing it was one of the spookiest things that happened to me during this whole experience. I mean there was this woman looking out at me from the page of a fifty-year-old newspaper—the same woman I had seen just minutes before when she had led me to this room. She was even wearing the same dress!

But it was the pictures of the men that really bothered me. Both of them looked familiar for some reason. Several articles talked about how the men had been friends until they both fell in love with Lily.

“Did they get the wrong man?” Chris asked. “Maybe that's why the ghost is still here—she's waiting for justice to be done. She can't rest in peace until the man who killed her is hunted down.”

“That was fifty years ago!” I said. “They could both be dead by now.”

“Sure, but they could be alive, too. If they were twenty-five when it happened, they'd be seventy-five now. Lots of people make it that long. My grandfather's seventy-five, and he still runs his own business.”

I looked at the pictures in the scrapbook—two handsome men and one beautiful woman. I wondered what had really happened between them.

“Yikes!” said Chris, glancing up at the clock over Pop's desk. “Look how late it is! We'd better get upstairs. They're probably wondering what happened to us.”

“Or Pop might be on his way down here again,” I said nervously. “You're right. Let's get going.”

I put the scrapbook back in the desk, and we headed for the stairs.

We didn't get very far. We were a few steps into the storage room when we heard footsteps coming down the stairs toward us.

“It's Pop!” hissed Chris. “Go the other way! He'll kill us if he finds us down here.”

I didn't have to be told twice. We turned and bolted in the opposite direction, past Pop's office and into the maze of tunnels that ran beneath the theater.

I wasn't sure if Chris meant Pop would really yell at us if he caught us down there—or if she really thought he'd kill us to keep us from telling what we had seen.

At the moment it didn't make that much difference. I just wanted to get away from him. I followed Chris into a dark corridor and bumped into her when she stopped short in front of me. “We should be safe now,” she whispered.

I held my breath and listened, just in case. The footsteps were still coming! “Let's get out of here!” I hissed urgently.

Chris took my hand and began inching her way forward. I kept my other hand against the wall, so I could feel my way along. Chris was doing the same thing. Suddenly I heard her gasp.

A second later I, too, felt what had startled her. We had come to a slab of smooth metal that jutted out about six inches from the right-hand wall. As I ran my fingers over it, I felt crossbars and the heads of bolts. It was a large door.

About the time I figured out what it was, Chris pulled me through the opening.

“We should be safe in here,” she whispered in my ear.

I didn't even answer. We huddled together, straining our ears to catch the sound of approaching footsteps.

For a moment there was nothing to be heard. But just as I was beginning to relax, I heard them again. They were still coming in our direction. I tightened my grip on Chris's arm, but didn't make a sound. It seemed entirely possible my life might depend on it.

“Oh, no!” hissed Chris. “He's got a flashlight!”

It was true. I could see the beam of light as it swept down the hallway in an arc, passing for a moment into our little room.

Trying desperately not to make a sound, we slid back against the wall as the footsteps drew nearer.

I wanted to scream and get it over with. I still don't know how I managed to keep quiet.

The footsteps stopped beside the doorway. I was shaking all over, waiting for the person to step through.

What happened next was even worse. No one stepped into the room. Instead the door slowly rolled shut. By the light of the flashlight, I could see that it was a huge slab, suspended by rollers from a bar above the doorway—like a sliding closet door, except about a hundred times as heavy.

I didn't know what to do. If I yelled to stop the door from closing, it might cost us our lives. If I kept my mouth shut, we would be sealed in, possibly for days. Possibly longer than we could last without food or water.

The choice was taken out of my hands. In less time than it takes to tell about it, the door slid into place with a thud. The footsteps went back down the hallway.

Chris and I were alone in the dark.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The Trap

We stood there for a few minutes, not moving, barely even breathing. I didn't know if it was because we were afraid Pop—or whoever it was out there—would come back, or because we were just so stunned at what had happened.

“Well,” said Chris finally, “I guess we'd better see what we can do about getting out of here.”

That sounded like a good idea to me, and I said so. However, it was one of those things that was easier said than done. We made three tries to open the door. As you might have suspected, it wouldn't budge.

“I was afraid of that,” panted Chris, leaning against the door and gasping after our last effort.

I didn't even answer her. I was too tired, and too scared.

“Well, let's look the rest of this place over,” she said.

I pointed out that it wasn't going to do much good to look anything over when it was totally dark. Chris responded that being picky wasn't going to get us anywhere. Actually, that was the
meaning
of what she said. Her actual words would probably burn this page.

We were both a little on edge. We apologized to each other and decided to stick together as we made our way around the room looking for another way out. The reason for staying together was simple. We had no idea how big the room was, or if there might be other rooms opening off it. I had a terrible vision of our getting separated and bouncing from wall to wall as we tried to find each other again.

As it turned out, the room wasn't all that big. In fact, it was small, which wouldn't have been so bad—if it hadn't been getting smaller!

I was the first one to notice it because I was standing, while Chris was slumped against the wall. I don't know what made me look up—a slight whirring sound, maybe. It didn't do me any good, of course. I couldn't see a thing. Acting on instinct, I reached up—and felt the ceiling coming down to meet me!

Well, enough is enough. I broke down and screamed. I mean, can you imagine it? I couldn't figure out what was going on. It was one thing to be trapped in that room. But we were in a theater, for heaven's sake, not in some old castle with secret rooms and traps for the enemies of the king.

Chris jumped up and clamped a hand over my mouth. “What do you think you're doing?” she hissed in my ear.

“Mmphepphmm,” I said, which was the best I could manage with her hand over my mouth.

I was trying to figure out how to explain what was happening when the ceiling ran into us.

Chris screamed and dove to the floor, taking me with her. We rolled off to the side.

I started to laugh when I realized it wasn't the ceiling at all. It was a small wooden platform, part of a crude elevator of some sort.

How did I know, when it was pitch black?

Simple. It wasn't pitch black anymore. The Woman in White was standing on the platform. She had an aura of light around her. It wasn't bright; it was just a soft, gentle glow that let me make out what was happening.

The platform came to rest on the floor beside us. The ghost stepped off. She smiled at us, and I smiled back.

She made a gesture, indicating she wanted us to step onto the platform. We did.

She stood next to us, but not on the platform, and pointed to a switch. It had three positions: Up, Off, and Down. Right then it was pointing at Down.

Chris looked at me and raised an eyebrow. I shrugged. She reached out and flipped the switch to Up.

We took off as if we were on a rocket and hurtled toward the top of the shaft. When we looked up we both began to scream. We were approaching the ceiling of the shaft so fast that it didn't seem possible we could stop in time.

We didn't. But we didn't get squashed, either.

The shaft led to a trap door in the stage. An automatic device popped the trap, and we went shooting up through it like bread from a toaster, right into the middle of the rehearsal.

If I hadn't been so scared, it would have been one of the funniest moments of my life. As it was, it was still pretty funny. Melissa happened to be standing right in front of the spot where we came flying up through the floor. She let out a scream, jumped backward, landed in the middle of a group of singers, and sent them all tumbling to the floor.

It took about five minutes for the confusion to settle down and the yelling and screaming to begin. Edgar was as mad as anyone I'd ever seen. I think it was partly because he wasn't even sure what he wanted to be mad about. He was furious because we had disrupted rehearsal. But he was just as mad, he said, because we could have been killed, we could have hurt someone else, we had violated his trust, we were abusing equipment, and we were behaving like little savages. He kept jumping from point to point and getting madder as he did.

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