MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
MAGGIE ANDERSON SHIVERED in the December wind and looked up at the broken lights of the Twilight Theater’s faded marquee. “I heard that the reason this place has been closed so long is because it brought bad luck to anyone who ever performed here. Do you think it could really be cursed?”
Rebecca Chin grimaced. “I sure hope not.” She pulled up the hood of her puffy down jacket and tightened the drawstring. “Because if we find one more supernatural thing in this town, I’m going to lose it. Seriously.” She looked down at the chipped blue-and-gold mosaic tiles beneath her feet as if they were going to jump up and attack her.
Tanya Martinez pulled a gray beanie down over her short hair and flipped up her coat collar to protect her neck from the wind’s bite. She huddled closer to the empty ticket booth and peeked inside its cracked window. “Relax. There’s no such thing as a curse. Just ask science.”
Clio Carter-Peterson’s hazel eyes sparkled. “No such thing, huh? Now, when have I heard you say that before?” She gave Tanya a friendly bump with her shoulder.
A sheepish smile spread across Tanya’s face. “Fine. Let’s just say I’ve never seen any evidence that would make me believe in curses.”
Maggie reached into the pockets of her furry pink coat and pulled out a pair of fluffy white mittens. “Really? What about the Hope Diamond? Horrible things happened to anyone who ever owned it.”
“Not exactly. Journalists in the 1800s made up the whole Hope Diamond curse story just to sell newspapers.”
“Ugh. Fine. Then what about King Tut?”
“King Tutankhamun, you mean? Half the people who supposedly died from his ‘curse’ after they found his tomb didn’t croak until about sixty years after they opened his tomb.”
Maggie screwed up her face, thinking. “Anybody know any other famous curses?”
Clio rubbed her hands briskly up and down the arms of her navy peacoat, trying to warm up. “No, but I’m about to put one on my auntie in a minute if she doesn’t get here soon!” She pulled out her phone. “She told us to meet her here at three thirty, and she’s already fifteen minutes late.”
Just then the girls saw Kawanna’s familiar turquoise Scout pull up and park in front of the old theater. Clio’s aunt hopped out of the car and adjusted her burgundy wool shawl, a heavy ring of jangling keys in her hand. “Sorry, girls! I got hung up at the shop and I couldn’t get away.” Clio’s aunt Kawanna ran Creature Features, a costume and curio shop where customers could find everything from antique jewelry to plastic vampire fangs. She also had the best collection of old books in town, and the girls had found a need to delve into her unusual library on more than one occasion.
Kawanna held up the key ring. “So, who’s ready to see the inside of one of the grandest theaters ever built?” The girls followed her to a set of inlaid wooden doors whose carved brass handles were chained together with a heavy padlock. Kawanna put the key in the lock, but before she opened it she stopped and turned to the girls. “The Twilight Theater was built in 1929. Graham Reynard Faust, the man who built it, dreamed of bringing our little town of Piper, Oregon, into the limelight. He wanted to make the Twilight the crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest theaters, rivaling anything in Portland, or even Seattle. And in a minute you’ll see why.”
Kawanna pulled open the door, and the girls followed her into a cavernous lobby. A breath of stale air wafted across Maggie’s face, carrying with it a hint of popcorn and old perfume. Kawanna turned on the lights, and all the girls caught their breath.
Maggie marveled at the peeling, vaulted ceiling that stretched three stories above her head. The faded red carpet beneath her feet led to a sweeping grand staircase and a multitiered fountain, dry now, dripping instead with cobwebs over layers of crystal. At the fountain’s landing the staircase split, leading to long balconies with delicate curved railings that looked down over the lobby’s floor.
“Theaters like this didn’t just show movies; they were also designed for concerts, shows, and plays. The Twilight wanted to open with something really spectacular, so they chose one of the greatest plays of all time. The advertisement for it is still there.” Kawanna pointed to a faded poster in a gilded frame near the front door. It featured a red sword and crown on a black background, and the opening date, October 24, 1929, was printed in white across the bottom.
“Whoa,” Maggie whispered.
“Pretty incredible, isn’t it?” Kawanna asked.
“And this is just the lobby?” Clio asked, her voice hushed with awe.
Kawanna nodded. “If you think this is something, Li’l Bit, just wait until you see the rest. Can you believe the town was planning to tear this place down? I’ve been fighting to save it since I moved here, and we finally convinced the council that renovating the theater could revitalize the whole downtown area. It’s not certain yet, but if we can raise the funds we need to bring it back to its former glory, then the mayor will agree to let it stay.” She led them across the lobby to a set of cracked, red leather doors and pulled them open, flipping on the other lights as she went.
As they walked down the main aisle toward the stage Maggie ran her hand over the red velvet seats, some of which had tufts of stuffing spilling out. She gazed at the moth-eaten, starry-blue curtain that was drawn across the shadowy stage and the orchestra pit. Her eyes glowed as she drank in the carved balconies and columns that lined the high walls. Even the most dilapidated details gleamed with the decaying splendor of a lost era. “This looks more like a palace than a movie theater.”
Kawanna nodded. “That was the whole idea. Back then these were called movie palaces. They were designed to sweep guests away from their ordinary lives and make them feel as if they’d been transported into another world. Hollywood magic in your own backyard! And believe it or not, it only cost a nickel.”
Rebecca’s jaw dropped. “A nickel?!”
Kawanna smiled sadly. “It was all part of the magic. And part of the reason that so many places like this disappeared. They’re remnants of another time, and not everyone thinks they’re worth saving.” She brightened. “That’s why we’re so excited about our new partnership. The newly formed Piper Playhouse Theater Company wants to make the Twilight its home base, and they’ve agreed to make their first show a fund-raiser for preserving the theater! I’ve already signed on to be in charge of costumes and props, of course. And in the spirit of honoring the history of this beautiful place, we’re doing the same production that opened the theater. I’m even planning to use the original costume designs! Isn’t that wonderful?”
Maggie’s heart raced. “They’re starting a theater company right here in Piper?!”
Rebecca grinned and threw her arm around Maggie’s shoulder. “Uh-oh, Kawanna. Don’t say the T word. You know how she gets!”
Maggie tossed her auburn curls behind her shoulder. “Can I help it that I was destined to be a star, and our stupid school doesn’t even have a drama club? What’s a diva supposed to do?” She climbed onto the stage and stepped around a glowing bare light bulb that stood on a stand in the center. She stretched out her arms and struck a dramatic pose. “See? I’m a natural.” The others laughed, but Maggie’s face grew earnest. “You guys! We should totally all audition!”
“Not me,” Tanya said. “I’d much rather be in there.” She pointed above the balconies to a dark glass booth. “The old tech equipment must be so cool! Do they still have the original spotlights?”
Kawanna nodded. “And the old film projector, too.”
“Why would you want to hide away in some dark little booth,” Maggie asked, “when all the best stuff happens on the stage?”
“Speak for yourself,” Tanya said. Her fingers twitched, and Maggie could tell she was imagining taking apart the old machines and figuring out how they worked.
Maggie turned to the other two girls. “What about you guys? Wanna audition with me?”
Both girls looked at each other and shook their heads. “Theater’s not really our thing, Mags,” Rebecca said.
“Really?” Maggie gazed out onto the sea of empty seats, and when she spoke again her voice was wistful. “But just imagine what it would feel like to stand up here and see everyone applauding for you. Wouldn’t you love that?”
“Not really,” Clio said.
“How can anyone not want to be famous?” Maggie asked. “I want the whole world to know who I am.” She stood up straighter and put her hands on her hips. “And it’s all going to start right here on this stage!”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I don’t think the play has any roles for young people,” Kawanna answered.
“Oh,” Maggie said, climbing down from the stage. “What play is it?”
“It’s … the Scottish play.”
Maggie turned pale. “Oh.”
“What’s the Scottish play?” Rebecca asked.
“The one by Shakespeare. About the Scottish king,” Kawanna said carefully.
“Oh! You mean Macbeth?”
Kawanna stiffened, and Maggie sucked in a breath with a sharp hiss. “Don’t say that!”
“Don’t say what?” Rebecca asked. “Macbeth?”
Maggie flinched, and Kawanna looked over her shoulder and made a brisk gesture with her hand, as if warding off evil.
“Why are you guys acting so weird? What’s wrong with Mac—?”
Maggie clapped her hand over Rebecca’s mouth. “Don’t say the M word in here. It’s bad luck!”
Rebecca’s brow furrowed. She pushed Maggie’s hand down. “The M word?”
Clio’s face brightened. “Oh, I remember this, Auntie! It’s actors’ superstition, right? The play was supposedly cursed or something, and it’s bad luck to say that play’s name inside a theater, unless you’re performing it.”
Text copyright © 2019 by Katrina Knudson
Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Rayanne Vieira