"Yup. We're officially snowed in."
Charles Deetz beamed as he turned from the living room window. "Looks like you got home just in time, pumpkin."
Lydia was looking out the window as well. She'd driven in around one a.m., and the snow was already four inches deep. Despite the all-wheel drive of the new car her parents bought her for traveling to and from Sarah Lawrence, Lydia had fish-tailed at the start of their long driveway, and had barely enough momentum to get up the hill.
Now the snow outside the garage was –-Lydia eyeballed it to estimate depth—approximately four feet deep. So deep that it was level with the porch which wrapped around the renovated Victorian mansion.
"Yes indeedy." Charles Deetz rubbed his hands together, as close to glee as Lydia had ever seen. "We're stuck having a quiet meal at home, with hot cider and donuts –which I had the sense to get from the bakery yesterday—and watching old movies on DVD, and—"
"Shut up, will you shut up?"
"Mother," said Lydia, watching her stepmother, in her plaster-stained artist's smock, pace from the living room, to the parlor, to the hall, and back, "you can still work on your sculptures."
"Lydia, dear," said Delia, smiling in that wide, disturbing way she had, "you may be a budding young photojournalist, but you are not—"
"Here it comes," Lydia mumbled to herself.
"—an artiste. Artistes need freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of philosophy, freedom of movement." Delia halted at the window, pointed accusingly, and said, on the rim of hysteria, "Does that look like freedom to you, hm?"
"I'll heat the cider." Charles escaped into the kitchen.
"I am working on a very expressive piece. A piece which speaks of light, and air, and transcendence."
"Kind of hard to do," said Lydia, "using rocks, concrete, and rebar."
"That's the ironic impetus!" snapped Delia. "Light and air, represented with big, heavy, massive things! You and your father! You just don't understand my work!"
"Neither do most of the art galleries in New York," Lydia muttered.
"So if I look out my big studio window, and see what the Donner party saw, I am not going to be able to channel light and air and freedom!" Delia stuck her head around the corner and yelled toward the kitchen. "And you know how I am when my work is interrupted!"
God, thought Lydia, with a deep and sincere sigh, where's Beetlejuice?
She'd been too exhausted to call for him when she got home. The stress of a long drive, topped with a snowstorm, had drained her. As much as she wanted to sleep with those arms around her, she also knew to value her private time.
Lydia had called Beetlejuice's name the moment she woke. There had been a clap of thunder, and a flash in the sky ("Th' hell's that?" Charles had asked groggily, waiting for the espresso machine to finish), but the ghost hadn't appeared.
I hope nothing's wrong. Lydia debated calling again. With all the family here, she didn't think she could disappear to the Roadhouse without being missed. With no way to leave the house, how would she explain vanishing? The house was huge, but not so big that a young woman of eighteen could manage not being seen by doing anything less than locking herself in a closet, in the basement, or the attic.
Lydia was missing Beetlejuice horribly, when she heard a shuffle outside the front door. The doorbell rang.
"What on earth?" Delia hurried to the door and peered out.
A huge brown down coat stood as if of its own accord outside the door. The hood was up, its fur lining and trim obscuring the face of whoever was inside.
A hand in a thick mitten waved.
"Charles!" yelled Delia. "Where's the gun?"
"What?" Charles came out. "Delia, you think a mass murderer is going to knock? This isn't New York, for crying out loud."
"No, Charles, it's a small New England village. The kind Stephen King writes about." Delia yelled at the coat. "WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?"
Lydia grinned before the hood was pulled off.
Beetlejuice, his Handyman cap askew, waved again.
"Mr. Beetleman?" said Charles and Delia, disbelieving.
Lydia hurried to the door and pulled it open.
"Whoa. It'll freeze th' family jewels out there, know whut I mean?" Beetlejuice grinned and saluted. "How ya doin', Mr. Deetz, Mrs. Deetz? Saw yer kinda trapped, thought ya might like t' get dug out."
Charles and Delia stared at each other, as if needing confirmation that they were seeing the same thing. Beetlejuice surreptitiously winked at Lydia. She covered her smile with her hand.
"Don't you think you should let him in?" said Lydia.
"But…how did you get here?" said Delia. "I don't see a car, you couldn't get a car up here."
Delia stuck her head out the door. "I don't see any tracks."
"You must be really desperate to earn a buck."
"Naw, not at all. Strictly out of th' goodness of my heart, y'know, I'm like that. Looked up at yer big ol' house on the hill an' thought, 'Better get up there before they start gnawin' each other.' "
"Well, come in before all the heat escapes!" said Charles, pulling Delia back from the door.
"May I take your coat, Mr. Beetleman?" Lydia held out her hands.
"Sure, sure." He unzipped, revealing his striped Handyman overalls. As he yanked off the coat, he said, "Hey, you're Gloria."
Lydia stifled a laugh. "Lydia."
"Right, right. You're goin' to Sara Lee College? Hear it's a great place. Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee."
"Sarah Lawrence." Delia's tone was of darkest contempt behind a false smile of welcome. "I don't imagine a man with your level of ambition has ever heard of it."
Beetlejuice's expression said Bite me, but it quickly transformed to a smile of expert fakeness before Delia could register his true feelings. He turned to Lydia as she took his coat. His hand grabbed hers, hidden beneath, and squeezed it fiercely, then ran his finger along her wrist. "Yeah, so, Sarah Lawrence. Whatcha studyin'?"
Tingling, but knowing she had to maintain the pretense, Lydia reluctantly took the coat from Beetlejuice. "The basics, mostly, right now. But my goal is to be a Photojournalist."
"Wow, that's fantastic. An' you're back fer a visit, huh?" Beetlejuice slapped his palms together eagerly. "Just gimme th' keys, Mr. D., an' I'll haul out yer industrial strength turbo snow blower, an' have ya out in a jiffy."
"Oh, we don't have that thing anymore," said Delia.
"No." Charles sighed. "We don't."
"You don't?" said Beetlejuice.
"'Green' is now the thing to be," said Delia, proudly.
"And Mother must always be whatever the thing to be is," muttered Lydia to Beetlejuice.
"So, along with installing solar panels on the roof this spring," said Delia, "we've gotten rid of that monstrous, loud, gas-guzzling snow blower, and replaced it with a nice, big, new, tungsten-carbide, ergonomic snow shovel."
Charles, looking pained, pointed at Delia, to indicate who was to take full credit for that idea.
"Ergonomic?" said Beetlejuice.
"Its handle is curved," sighed Charles, "to take the strain off your back. Theoretically."
"It'll save money, it's quiet," said Delia, "and it doesn't pollute."
Beetlejuice paused. He turned and looked out the window of the front door. He turned back. "Yer drive's fifty yards long."
"Probably longer," said Charles.
"It's great exercise." Delia looked pointedly at Beetlejuice's gut.
Beetlejuice turned, looked out the window again, and turned back. "It's minus three out there."
"But you won't feel it," said Delia, taking the coat from Lydia and handing it back to Beetlejuice, "what with the sweat you'll work up. Better get started!"
"But, first!" Lydia interrupted, grabbing the coat back, "Mr. Beetleman, I've got this loose, um…something, in my room. Could you look at it?"
"Loose what, dear?" said Delia.
"Cover," said Lydia, improvising fast. "Of the electric outlet. Near my bed."
"Well for heaven's sake, you could fix that. Or your father could."
"But the wires underneath look…dangerously not attached. I think an expert should examine it. And what a coincidence that Mr. Beetleman's here! Do you mind?"
"No problem! Let's go!" Beetlejuice headed for the staircase.
"Um, Mr. Beetleman," said Lydia, "let me show you where my room is."
The ghost halted abruptly on the first step. "Oh, yeah. 'Cuz I've never been to yer room. I have no idea where yer room is."
Lydia went around the ghost and headed up the stairs, with him following.
"There's something about that man…" Delia shook her head, and then tossed the down coat on the couch.
Charles Deetz watched the two go up the stairs. He wasn't smiling.
"Here we are," said Lydia, loud enough for her parents to hear. She opened the door to her room and let in Beetlejuice. She looked to see if her parents were following, then stepped inside.
Beetlejuice slammed the door closed and locked it. Lydia turned, her back against the door. The "man" in the striped overalls leaned over her, his eyes-half lidded and glowing. A huge, hungry smile snaked across his face.
"Mr. Beetleman," said Lydia in a breathy voice, controlling a smile of her own, "what's wrong?"
"Nothin' at all, beautiful." Beetlejuice's red-tipped forefinger slowly stroked her jaw line, then up her hairline. "I heard ya need somethin' fixed. I'm at yer service." His face bent closer. His voice became husky as his finger moved, gently, over the young woman's brow and cheeks. "Anythin' ya want, anythin' ya need, yer th' Master, an' I'm yer genie. All ya gotta do is rub my lamp."
"I do have a problem." Lydia put a fingertip to her lips. "These have been pretty cold and lonely for the past three months."
"I do say."
"What a coincidence. So have mine. I think I've got a solution, fer both of us. We'll just have to find out if th' parts fit."
The door thumped as their mouths grabbed each other. Lydia's fingers hooked into his hair as his arms clamped around her waist. She gasped as he mouthed her neck. His hands moved to her hips, gripping them.
"I missed ya, god I missed ya," he panted.
"I noticed," breathed Lydia, feeling what he was pressing against her thigh. "Either that, or you've got a hammer in your overalls."
"Why didn't ya try callin' me at college?" he said, his left hand fighting to find the bottom edge of her sweater.
"We agreed," Lydia's eyes closed as his hand slipped inside, "I need to concentrate on my classes. Besides," she confessed, having not wanted to say this, but unable not to, "you might see that the college is full of sexy, young women."
"Whut?" Beetlejuice pulled back and stared at Lydia's blushing face. "Are ya kiddin'?"
"It is," said Lydia, in a small voice. "Full of them."
"Baby, baby." The ghost's hands held her face. "You're th' only one fer me."
"You're the guy who told me that men say that all the time, and lie."
"It's true fer me."
"You said that they say that, too."
Beetlejuice looked truly concerned. "Ask Jacques, ask Ginger, ask th' Monster Across the Street. If ya ever doubt me, Lyds, I'll do whatever ya want, whatever ya need, t' prove—"
Lydia flushed with embarrassment. She turned her face from his. "That is so needy, so clingy of me. I swore I'd never—"
"Lyds, it's cool, it's okay." Beetlejuice cupped her face in his right hand, while his left stroked her hair. "Yeah, I've been a letch my whole life, an' after. You got reason t' doubt. Look, you're gonna hear a lot of smooth jerks say th' following to ya, 'cause they want to get into yer pants, but I mean it. I mean it not just 'cause I wanna get into yer pants, or yer skirt, or whatever ya happen t' be wearin', but because I mean it, if ya know whut I mean. You're th' best thing that ever happened t' me. Dead or alive. An' I don't want to screw it up. So to speak. I'm a lyin', connivin', schemin', bad-tempered, immature, gross, occasionally evil S.O.B. But I'm your lyin', connivin', schemin', bad-tempered, immature, gross, occasionally evil S.O.B."
"I wouldn't have it any other way." Lydia kissed the pointed tip of his nose. "I'm sorry. I'm just feeling…that I'm a misfit again. I was used to being the odd girl out in high school. But college, it's...it's culture shock. I've lost my confidence."
"Lemme give it back to ya,” he whispered.
Lydia felt weightless. With her back against the door, she floated upward four inches, until her face was level with Beetlejuice's. It was wonderful sensation, which the ghost had granted her many times in their friendship. He knew how much she loved it. She automatically wrapped her legs around him.
"I love sweepin' ya off yer feet," he breathed. Lydia kissed inside his collar. "Ooh, baby, ya know what I like…. Crap, beautiful, we better stop, or I'm not gonna be able to stop."
"I don't want to," Lydia whispered in his ear. "So deal."
"Yer wish, my command." His hand was inside her jeans, doing what she loved so well, while her fingers were struggling with the zipper of his overalls.
The doorknob rattled loudly. Beetlejuice and Lydia jumped.
"Why is your door locked?" said Delia.
"eek," said Beetlejuice, and immediately reached for his open zipper.
"Mistake, Mother!" Lydia tried to sound as normal as possible. Her feet back on earth, Lydia pulled up her zipper, pulled down her sweater, and brushed back her hair to make it look untouched. "Sorry!"
"Open the door!"
Lydia flicked the lock. The door popped open, just as Beetlejuice grabbed his cap and held it over his crotch.
"Well?" Delia looked Beetlejuice up and down. "Are you finished?"
"I was just about to start hammering," he said, with a huge, fake grin. "But I can get back t' that later."
"Hammering? For the cover of an outlet?"
"More to it than that. Had some sparks flyin' like crazy. Was gonna connect some wires, fit the plug into th' socket. Electrical stuff, y'know."
"I think you should start on the driveway," said Delia.
"Sure, sure, right away!"
"And Lydia, don't bother Mr. Beetleman," said Delia, turning away.
"Too late," whispered Beetlejuice, and pinched Lydia's rear. She swatted at his hand.
"Mother," said Lydia, as they came to the stairs, "you could be more friendly. He's doing us a favor. You could at least say thank you, or pay him."
Beetlejuice, feeling it was safe enough to return his cap to his head, followed, when a door at the end of the hall opened. Charles Deetz said, "May I speak with you for a second, Mr. Beetleman?"
"Sure thing, Mr. D."
The room, Charles' office and retreat, was done in a country inn fashion, popular in the 1980s. It seemed a time capsule inside the ultra-postmodern décor of the rest of the house. Beetlejuice pretended to admire the stuffed birds on the shelves as if he'd never seen them before. He had. In fact, in his haunting, he'd made a few screech and fly at Charles. He chuckled at the memory.
"You seem in good spirits," said Charles.
Beetlejuice smiled at him. "You have no idea, Mr. Deetz."
The ghost noticed that Charles didn't sit down. Nor did he offer Beetlejuice a seat.
Lydia paused on the stairs, looking back at the closed door of her father's office. "Mother, what's Dad want with Mr. Beetleman?"
"How would I know?"
Charles tapped a pen in his palm. Beetlejuice saw the man's smartphone on his desk. Notes and numbers were scribbled on a yellow legal pad.
"Mr. Beetleman." Charles' voice was steadier than the ghost had ever heard before. "You've been a handyman since, what, the first year we moved here? That's six years."
"That long? My, time flies."
"It sure does. You also do catering, and extermination, on the side?"
Beetlejuice's memory strained through all the roles, and lies, he'd played. "Um, yup."
"You make a living doing this?"
A tiny red dot of warning winked in Beetlejuice's awareness. "The cost of living here isn't very high."
"Actually, it is." Charles walked behind his desk. He looked down at the legal pad. "The village is out of the way of major trucking and shipping routes, so getting things here costs more. Food, supplies, basic necessities like toilet paper. I'm sure you've noticed toilet paper is more expensive here than in a city like Hartford."
"Can't say as I have. Since I buy it here, an' not in Hartford, no reason fer me t' know that it's more expensive, here."
"I guess you're right." Charles went over to the window. He picked up his binoculars and looked out.
"If that's all," said Beetlejuice, "I'd better get to—"
"For a man who does business as a handyman," said Charles, "it seems strange that you're not listed online anywhere."
Beetlejuice swallowed. "I'm kinda a Internet dunce. Besides, word of mouth's enough."
"So how do people contact you for those odd jobs?"
A single drop of sweat traveled down the ghost's temple. “Mostly they yell at me from across th' street. 'Hey, Beetleman, I got a clogged sink!' 'Sure, I'll be right over!' Y'know, th' kinda heart-warmin' communication small towns have. Cheaper than havin' a phone.”
"As for word of mouth," Charles continued, looking through his binoculars towards the village, "I've called around, to the fire department, the library, the grocer. Nobody's heard of Mr. Beetleman, the Handyman. Funny, isn't it?"
His con-man instincts whirring, Beetlejuice blurted, "I got references."
Charles lowered his binoculars and looked at Beetlejuice. "Really? Who?"
Crap, 'juice. You know better than to ever say something without thinking it through first. You're rusty. Mistakes like an amateur! "The Maitlands."
"The Maitlands?" Charles squinted at Beetlejuice. "The people who owned the hardware store? The couple who owned this house?"
"Uh, yeah." Double crap with nuts.
"The dead Maitlands?"
"Yeeaah…that'd be them."
"Golly. I'd sure like to see that reference."
"Well, obviously it's an old one. Written from before they, uh…" Beetlejuice moved his flat hand through the air like a car. "Vroom, vroom, CRASH, plummet, splash, blub, blub."
"Can I see it? Your reference from the Maitlands?"
"Sure thing. Not this minute, of course. It's in my files. In my office. At home."
"Ah. Coincidentally, that's another thing I was wondering." Charles placed both his palms on the desk, and leaned in Beetlejuice's direction. "Where do you live?"
Beetlejuice smothered the urge to say I don't.
The living man picked up the binoculars and looked out the window again. "I can see better than half the village from here. But I've never seen you around. Where's your house?"
A whiff of smoke exhaled from Beetlejuice's nostrils. You have no idea who, and what, you're dealing with, Deetz. I've made you scream, and I can really have some fun, if you get in my way.
Charles lowered his binoculars. "Mr. Beetleman?" he said, expectantly.
With my luck, he'd croak from a heart attack, and end up haunting this house, and I'd never be alone with Lyds. She'd never forgive me, anyway. Beetlejuice remembered the day during the first year of his friendship with Lydia, when she was just a kid. She'd demanded that he promise to stop frightening her father. He broke the promise, and she was furious. It's been a miserable time for both of them, until he apologized…or came as close to apologizing as his nature allowed. He didn't want to think how bad it would be, if he went Medieval on Charles Deetz.
"By the cemetery," Beetlejuice directed. "See that little stone building?"
Charles looked. "The cemetery caretaker's building?"
"As it happens, I'm—"
"—the cemetery caretaker."
Beetlejuice touched his forefinger to the tip of his nose, then pointed it at Charles. "Bingo."
The tall live man set the binoculars down on the desk, looking somewhat defeated, or at least not sure what his next move was.
Taking the opportunity, the ghost said, as he jerked his thumb toward the door, "I better get t' work on that shovelin', or your wife's gonna have a hissy fit, an' I don't think either one of us or yer daughter want that t' happen."
"I've noticed," said Charles, halting Beetlejuice's escape with a surprisingly calm tone, "that you've noticed my daughter."
"Kinda hard not to, Mr. Deetz. She's beautiful."
"You think so?"
"Sorta can't miss it."
"Most of her schoolmates thought she was weird looking."
Scowling, and not knowing that he was scowling, Beetlejuice said, "Most of her schoolmates were vain, spoiled, snotty sheep, who'll be vain, spoiled, snotty sheep after they die."
"You don't see Lydia that way?"
"Hey, she does great photographs, she knows history, she's funny, she's way more intelligent than I ever was…than I am. She doesn't put up with bull. She's kind an' compassionate." Forgetting himself, and who he was talking to, Beetlejuice added, "Plus, well, speakin' man to man, she's got fantastic black hair, gorgeous big, black eyes, alabaster skin, naturally red lips. An' her bod'. "Beetlejuice whistled. "Nothin' wrong there!"
"Lydia's a credit to you an' Mrs. Deetz."
Charles Deetz slowly came around the desk. Beetlejuice found himself taking a step back, toward the bookcase.
Charles' voice was like that of a man trying to gentle a nervous animal. "Yes, she is. She's also the most precious thing in my life."
Beetlejuice bumped into the bookcase. With his back to it, he said, as cheerfully as he could muster, "Good fer you. A lotta fathers don't give a damn about their kids."
"I'll do anything and everything to protect my pumpkin." When Charles Deetz's blue eyes fixed on Beetlejuice's, they were as hard and sharp as ice. "Especially from lecherous middle-aged handymen."
This was no longer a game. This was to be taken very, very seriously. Beetlejuice said, "Hey, Mr. Deetz, I—"
As Charles Deetz stood over him, it was very clear that he was several inches taller than the ghost. His voice frosted. "People mistake my quietness for reticence. For timidity. But I'm from New York City. I deal with real estate in New York City. Do you know what it means to deal with real estate in New York City?"
"Sure," Beetlejuice lied.
"Measure the value of gold," said Charles, lifting his right hand, palm upward, "against the value of prime, commercial and residential real estate in New York City," he lifted his left hand, palm up, and held them level, as if they were two pans of a scale. "And gold loses." His right hand fell. "To successfully deal with anything that valuable, a person has to be ruthless. To do it in New York, a person has to have the talent, and the nerve, to associate with certain business people, who are a little unorthodox."
"Unorthodox," echoed Beetlejuice, not liking where this was going.
"Yes. As in, they don't teach how to smash kneecaps at Harvard Business School." Charles took one step forward. Beetlejuice flattened himself against the bookcase. "Now, I came here for rest and relaxation. Thanks to technology, I can do business away from New York. But I still have my contacts."
Beetlejuice said, sincerely, "Charles, I would never hurt yer daughter."
"Don't call me 'Charles.' And it's interesting, that you didn't say, 'I would never touch your daughter.' Only that you'd never hurt her."
"C'mon," said Beetlejuice, trying to chuckle, "Look at me! I'm dea—I'm thirty-seven! OK, I'll be honest, I'm not th' best-looking guy around. She's goin' to college, with handsome guys her age, who have money an' class. Why would she even think of me?"
"Young women are strange." Charles reached up and took something from off the shelf behind the ghost. "It's the Bad Boy Syndrome. Sometimes, they find themselves attracted to scummy older men. You might not know it, until it's too late. Then you have a broken-hearted, traumatized daughter, and the bastard is long gone."
"That's not me!" Beetlejuice's fervor was fueled by honesty, and indignation. "Goddammit, Deetz, I'm not—"
"You are absolutely right, you're not." Charles was holding something.
Beetlejuice looked down. He snorted. "Don't point that warbler at me. It might be loaded."
Charles looked down. He'd grabbed one of the stuffed birds, and had its beak aimed at Beetlejuice.
"You think this is funny?" With intensity the ghost would never have suspected him capable of, Charles threw aside the bird and snatched something else from the shelf.
Beetlejuice's smirk evaporated.
The very sharp tip of a long, brass letter opener jabbed into his overalls.
A shudder ran through the ghost. NO. Look away! He can't hurt you! It's not then, it's now, look away—
"I see I have your full attention." Charles' voice was as heavy and flat as the marble that comprised his kitchen counters. "I'm not a man for dramatic gestures. But if I even think you've touched Lydia, I can call experts. And oh, they are expert. No one would find anything to bury. You'd disappear off the planet and be forgotten, for the worthless nobody you are."
Beetlejuice's shaking made the stuffed birds on the shelf behind him wobble. His eyes were locked on the brass tip, glinting at him. A voice, not his, whispered up through his consciousness, as if through graveyard dirt. You think this is a joke? How's this, funnyman?
Beetlejuice jerked violently.
"Good. Good." Swallowing drily, Charles whispered, "I think you've got my point. Don't make me drive it home." He stepped backward, supporting himself with a hand on his desk. "I suggest you get out."
As if his feet no longer operated correctly, Beetlejuice staggered for the door.
In her room, Lydia glanced at the clock. What on earth did her father have to talk to Beetlejuice about that would take so long? Delia, who was fretting in the kitchen, needing something to occupy herself, hadn't thought anything of it. But this wasn't like her dad.
Lydia heard the office door bang open, and ran to the hall.
Beetlejuice was there. Or, at least, the shape of him was. He was faded, like the stereotype of a translucent ghost. He tripped over his own boots, and fell against the railing. He sank into it, as if he were only semi-solid.
Quickly, before her father came out, Lydia ran and grabbed Beetlejuice's shoulders. Her hands sank in, as if he were made of snow. He was as cold as snow as well.
She managed enough of a grip to pull him to his feet. She urgently guided him into her room and locked the door.
"What's wrong?" Lydia held his shoulders, or tried to. His eyes weren't focused. He didn't seem to see her, or hear her. His toothy mouth opened, then shut, then opened, as if he were gasping for air.
He violently wrenched himself from her hands, holding his own up as if he were trying to ward off an attacker. He stumbled and fell.
"Beetlejuice!" Lydia cried.
Kicking his feet against the floor, he shoved himself into the corner. His left arm was up, as if trying to reach, to grab. His right was clutching at his gut, his fingers opening and closing convulsively.
"What's happening?" Lydia dropped on her knees in front of him. She touched his face.
Her fingers went into him. The sensation was like reaching into ice cold water with a hand in a plastic glove. He was the consistency of watery Jell-O.
Beetlejuice's entire body, and his clothes, faded. He looked as if he were made of clear, molten glass, all of a piece. In him, as if watching a film projected through a thick, glass figure, Lydia saw shapes, swirling, smoky.
"Can you hear me?" Fighting for emotional control, Lydia tried holding his hands, but it was like trying to hold water.
The white wisps projected in the ghost's body slowly formed into identifiable objects.
Lydia saw a room. It might have been a living room, or a motel room. Everything in the projection was white against deep blue, so there was no telling if it was night or day. She saw, as if through another's eyes, a woman. Her hair was blond, and in an old style, rolled up around her face. She wore a short-sleeved blouse, a skirt, and high-heels. Her mouth looked as if she wore a lot of dark lipstick.
The woman was going to a door. A female voice swam up through Beetlejuice, and seemed to seep from his ears.
I didn't tell him where I was!
Another voice, like Beetlejuice's, but somehow more alive, replied, just as faintly, Then how'd he know?
In the images, made of smoke in liquid glass, a man in a uniform burst through the door. He wasn't police. Lydia had seen that kind of uniform, on old men who marched in Peaceful Pines' Veterans Day parade.
You bastard! The man-image said, glaring at whoever was watching the scene.
C'mon, Henry, said the woman, let's just grab the stuff an' go!
You let him touch you, you deceitful bitch! The man back-handed the woman across the mouth.
Hey! A hand, apparently belonging to the person through whose eyes Lydia was seeing, gripped the collar of the man in uniform. You're a Big Man, aren't you, hitting a woman!
You wanna see a Big Man, huh?
Pal, I'm not lookin' fer trouble. I was set up, fair an' square. Take th' stuff. But leave her alone.
You're smirking? You're smirking at me ? You think this is a joke ?
The smoky uniformed man pulled something from his back pocket and flipped it. With a snap, it opened into a long, thin blade.
Henry! Are you crazy?
Oh god, no, thought Lydia. I know what I'm watching. I don't want to see it! "Beetlejuice! Stop it!"
The uniformed man held the blade to the stomach of the man who was seeing this. Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice, alive.
Henry, pal, calm down—
How's this , funnyman?
Lydia couldn't look away. In transfixed horror, she saw the blade stab through the shirt. The uniformed man left it there. The other man, Beeltejuice, alive, made a horrible noise. He hands grappled with the blade handle, gripped it, and, with terrible slowness, pulled it out. Dark liquid erupted, soaking the shirt.
"Oh god," panted Lydia, feeling hysterical for the first time in her life.
The uniformed man wrenched the woman toward the door by her wrist. She was shrieking. The shrieks were unnaturally sharp. What did you do? We can't leave him here!
Shut the hell up.
They'll find him, an' they'll figure out we—
Nobody'll find him for days, maybe weeks. The rats'll eat his face off by then. They'll find him with the stuff, an' figure he messed with the wrong people. And who cares about him , anyway?
No. The voice, the whispery voice of Beetlejuice, a live man, gasped, You can't…Call a doctor, for chrissake… The dark liquid was pulsing down his trousers.
The man and the woman ran out the door, leaving it open.
You can't leave me like…oh christ…
Lydia's hands clenched over her mouth, tears running down her face. "Beetlejuice, stop remembering! Listen to me! Why can't you hear me?"
The sight through memory's eyes was dimming. Lydia saw hands groping on a small end table. Fingers clutched around an old fashioned rotary phone. But when he lifted the receiver, he saw that the thick chord had been cut.
Set up… The man fell onto his back on the floor with a jolt.
"Get up!" Lydia screamed.
Through his eyes, she saw a milk glass ceiling lamp. She saw shaking hands try to press on his blood soaked stomach. Cold. I'm going cold. Will somebody…there's gotta be…oh god, I'm dying…
Lydia yelled, "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"
There was no thunder, no flash of lightning. The eyesight of memory was blurring. The figure of the ghost, crouched in the corner of her room, was rippling, like the surface of water in a winter wind.
Lydia realized she was feeling an icy breeze. Her head jerked up.
The closest window was open two inches; the inside window, the storm window, and the outside window. She hadn't done it. Through the gap, she heard a chorus of faint moans, cries, and sobs. A tiny tendril, like frosted air, wafted towards the shape of Beetlejuice. As if in response, his hair seemed to bend toward it, and connect. It looked as if he were being siphoned out the window.
"NO!" Lydia slammed the windows shut.
The shape of Beetlejuice began to thin. The voice was gasping. I can't move my legs. I can't feel.
"What can I do?" Lydia jumped to her feet, almost senseless with panic.
She spotted the Door. The Door always appeared when she called for the ghost, enabling her to enter the Neitherworld.
"If there's a way to stop this," said Lydia, "it's there." She reached her hand where Beetlejuice's face had been. "Hang on! Just hang on!"
She was through the Door, and running through the Neitherworld.
"Heya, lil' lady!" The Monster Across the Street looked up from scooping Poopsie's poo and waved at Lydia as she dashed by. "C'mon over fer some—"
Lydia ran to the Roadhouse. She clanged the skull-shaped doorbell; she pounded on the door.
"Zut alors!" The door opened, and Jacques LaLean peered out. "Lydia! Mon petite! You have mislaid your key, I am thinking?"
"Jacques! Please!" Lydia sobbed.
"Qu'est-ce que c'est? Enter, enter!" Jacques took Lydia by the elbow, gently for a person who was nothing but bone, and led her into the Roadhouse's Common Room. "What is this?"
Lydia willed herself to be rational. "Something's happened to Beetlejuice."
Jacques went pfft! "Something is always happening with Beetlejuice."
"No! He's…I don't know what caused it, but he's remembering his death!"
For a person with no facial features, except eyebrows and a thin mustache, which he'd somehow retained, Jacques took on an expression of horror. "How is this you say?"
"He's translucent, like a ghost in a movie. He doesn't have substance anymore! I can see images in him, as if he's glass, and I know they're memories!" Tearfully, Lydia clutched Jacques' shirt. "I saw him stabbed."
"Sacre Madonna." Jacques held Lydia's forearms, firmly. "He is still where you left him?"
"I think so, but he's fading…something came through the window, as if for him. It's like he's melting, and that coldness is taking him with it. What is it?"
As if trying to explain the unexplainable to someone who could not possibly understand, Jacques said, "She is a Flashback. This is why we the Dead do not talk of Before, Lydia. Because to remember life before, it may lead to remembering how it ended. Some, they relive the end. Relive it as if it is happening once again."
"He's dying again?"
"We do not know. Those who escape the Flashback, the few, never speak of it. The one's who do not escape the Flashback, they do not come back." His bones rattled. "Quelle horreur!"
"How do I stop it?"
"I do not know! This, she is never spoken of!"
"Someone must know!"Lydia demanded. "All these hundreds of thousands of years in the Neitherworld, someone must have written a book! Is there a library? I'll go to the library!"
"Oui, there is the library, but this it is too far! You must be quick! Tell me, tell me; he is dying from a stab?"
"He's bleeding to death!"
"Then we have ten minutes, maybe!" He tapped a finger bone on his jaw. Jacques placed a hand on Lydia's shaking shoulder. "How did you call him, the first time?"
"I..," Lydia fought through her fear to remember. "I had clues there was a ghost, he left hints, I was interested in…I read books about… I made up a chant. My own chant. Legends said you could call demons and ghosts by saying their names three times. It worked. But, I tried calling him now! Nothing happened, except the Door appeared!"
"Because," said Jacques, "Beetlejuice is not his name."
"But he comes to it."
"As a ghost, yes, he comes. But. There is older magic. A name, she is the most important thing. To be Named is to be. You are calling a play name, a nickname. To bring back from such a terrible thing, you must call his real name."
"Do you know what it is?" Lydia begged.
"Non. This the Dead do not speak. To Name is to control. Why do you think we all have such fool's names here? To Name is also to remember life, which we dare not do. But there is a way." Jacques spoke as if mentioning the utterly sacred and terrible. "If you know where his body lays, the gravestone, it will tell."
"He's never said! It could be anywhere!" Lydia paused, and blurted, "Maybe he kept something! From when he was alive, that has his name on it!"
"Ah, non, as they say, you cannot take it with you. Even if buried with him, he could not bring. But!" Jacques snapped his finger bones, a disturbing sound. "If there is something he prizes greatly, that he holds dear enough, this he may have inscribed his name on!"
Lydia ran to Beetlejuice's room. She knew it well; they'd spent many days, and, recently, nights, there. She dug through Beetlejuice's drawers. She lifted his mattress, shook out his clothes. "There's nothing special!" Lydia cried. "Nothing a person would put their real, hidden name on!"
"Non, mon petite. There is one thing precious to him." Jacques stood in the doorway. He pointed.
Framed on the wall above Beetlejuice's bed was a photograph of Lydia.
"But, I'm not special—"
"Look on the back, tout de suite!"
Lydia flipped over the frame. In black ink, small, in the bottom left hand corner, was scrawled, b.j.'s.
"B.J.," whispered Lydia. "Hidden in plain sight. I thought that was his nickname.'"
"Mot juste! Now, you must use it, three times, in the incantation!"
"The same chant?"
"Non, non, the other one, it is to call the dead! This one, a new one you must make, is to call from death! And you must mean it, you must be force majeure, a cri de coeur, because Morte, it is greedy. It does not release that it has a grip on, not without a fight!"
"Jacques, thank you!" Lydia hugged the skeleton. She had a sudden thought. "Come with me! You can help—"
Lydia immediately regretted saying it. Jacques looked a thousand years old, and a thousand years sad. "I am Crossed Over. I have never haunted. The live world, non, there I cannot go." With some irritation, he shouted, "You go! Go!"
What Lydia found as she scrambled through the Door and into her room was a shape where Beetlejuice had been. It was wholly black, blacker than any midnight, blacker than the depths of the universe seen with the most powerful telescope. The only exception was a small, red light where his forehead might have been.
"Beetlejuice! I'm here!" she cried.
There was no response. The air around the shape was freezing cold. Frost was forming on the wood of the floor beneath him and the wall around him.
Lydia touched the shape. She felt emotions, faint, threads of consciousness as thin and fragile as a spider web.
No feeling. No smell, no sight, no hearing. His body is dead. The awareness, the hideous awareness, that his mind is the last thing to die.
….please…don't let this happen…somebody save me…
He knew it was too late. Even if an ambulance had rushed to the scene, even if he were in a hospital, he couldn't have been revived. He is utterly alone, lying in his own blood on the floor of some room, in some place, where no one would find him for a long time. The door to the room was open, and the wind was blowing in.
…god, I don't want to go like this…..
"Hang on!" Lydia yelled. She slapped her forehead. "Think, girl! Think!"
She couldn't use the same chant. Jacques had said to follow her instincts; if she thought too hard, she'd block ideas.
"Okay…he's reliving his death. He needs to relive life. What's life, what's life?" Lydia looked around, and in doing so, felt her hair brush her face. She grabbed it. "My hair! If I put a lock of hair in him… No, no, hair's dead material, the moment it grows out of your scalp, it's dead."
The tiny red light was pulsating, slower.
"Red!" cried Lydia. "Blood! He's dying from losing too much blood, blood is life!"
Lydia stumbled desperately to her dresser and heaved open the top drawer. Grabbing the spider brooch, she ran back to the black shape of Beetlejuice. The shape was beginning to lose mass.
Behind her, at the window, which was opaque with hoar frost, Lydia heard moans, whimpers, and the lowing of grief.
"He's not going with you, damn you!" Lydia snarled. "Think!"
Closing her eyes, clutching the brooch with both hands, Lydia threw aside hesitation and perfectionism, and let loose her imagination.
"The past is gone, the past is dead.
Do not succumb to memory's dread.
What was is over; your joy is here.
Return to those who hold you dear.
Life is a shadow, but not yet.
The pain of ending you must forget…"
Lydia jabbed the spider brooch's sharp pin into her thumb. She squeezed it, until blood threaded from the wound.
"Turn from the darkness and decay
In death you've life, and here you'll stay.
Come back, come back, without delay—"
Lydia thrust her bleeding thumb into the icy black forehead, touching the flickering red light the size of a seed.
"B.J.! B.J.! B.J.!"
The window shattered.
The light pulsed. Lydia felt warmth, and solidity, forming around her hand. Gasping, she pulled it from the shape.
The red light flooded the blackness. The vague mass shifted, reforming into the shapes of hands, head, legs. Lydia held her hands to her mouth as details appeared; hair, boots, overalls.
The fingers grew nails, and trembled. His facial features were the last to come. As if he were a life-sized coloring book, the red light turned to the natural colors of the body, and clothes, of Beetlejuice.
He gasped air.
Lydia grabbed him, fiercely. His arms, shaking, clenched around her as he buried his face in her hair.
The frost on the floor and wall evaporated.
Beetlejuice coughed. "Broke yer window."
"Shut up." Lydia pressed her cheek to his.
"I…don't really know whut happened." Beetlejuice's voice was gravelly. "It was all gone, I was all gone. Except…a drop of warmth." Beetlejuice gently pulled back and looked at Lydia with exhausted, frightened, wet eyes. "Whatever ya did…thank you, baby." He shoved his face into her hair again. His hug was so tight it was almost painful. "Thank you."
"I only did it because I'm selfish," said Lydia, her tears wetting both their faces. "My life would so absolutely suck without you."
"Lydia!" The knocks on the door signified irritation. "What is it with you locking your door? I'd expect this if you were twelve, but really!"
"I like a little privacy, Mother!" yelled Lydia, as Beetlejuice dried their faces with the cuff of his sleeve.
"Privacy? You've got a roommate, in a college stuffed with people, you don't have privacy anymore!"
"Which is all the more reason I want it here!"
"Oh, whatever. Have you seen Mr. Beetleman?"
Beetlejuice shook his head.
"Hmph. Always knew he was a flake. OK, dear. Continue with your privacy."
Waiting until she couldn't hear Delia's footsteps anymore, Lydia asked, "What happened with you and Dad?"
Beetlejuice looked uncomfortable. His eyes bore a sadness Lydia had never seen in them before. For a second, she was afraid he was remembering his death again.
"Lyds. Yer Dad loves ya very much."
"Well, I know that."
"Naw, I don't think ya know how much." Beetlejuice took a deep breath. "There's a lotta parents that don't give a damn about their kids. That never gave up on them 'cuz they never gave them a chance in the first place. Or a decent name, 'cuz they couldn't be bothered to think of one better. There're folks who…" He frowned sourly, and looked at the curtains moving in the cold breeze from the shattered window. He shrugged. "Who wouldn't cough up th' price of a decent headstone, would get a cheap-ass one, an' still say it was more than their kid deserved."
"Don't go there!" Lydia pressed her fingertips on his lips.
He smiled, grimly, and softly took her fingers away. "It's okay." Beetlejuice asked, "When I was… Did you see anything? Hear anything?"
"I don't think we should talk about this, it's too soon after—"
Lydia frowned. Her voice was very small. "I know how it happened."
Beetlejuice's face fell. "Oh. "
"I saw as far back as…" She paused, and proceeded cautiously. "A woman, going to the door."
"Oh. An' th' rest?"
Beetlejuice tried to chuckle, but it came out shaky and morose. "Guess you've never noticed, when we've been, y'know, hot an' heavy…ya didn't see th' thing…" He laid a finger on his stomach, near where his belly button was.
Lydia's hands and mouth had been in that area several times. But, in the midst of passion, her eyes were usually closed, or she was focused on the ecstasy of what she and Beetlejuice were experiencing. She shook her head.
"It's not very big. Heh. Big enough." Suddenly, Beetlejuice got to his feet. He reached down, took Lydia's hands, and helped her up. He stuck his head out the open window, into the cold wind. "It came for me from here, didn't it?"
"Yes," said Lydia, still afraid to speak on the subject.
"Uh huh." Beetlejuice thrust his middle finger at the sky. "Nyah, nyah! Ya missed me! Someday, goddammit, but not today! Lydia Deetz kicked yer ass!"
The truck plowing the street below stopped. The driver stared up at the window. Beetlejuice saluted and popped back into the room.
"Don't tell it, whatever it is, my name!" said Lydia, giggling in spite of herself.
"Oh, it knows yer name already. You can't hide anything from it. But, unlike moi, as Jacques would say, it plays by the rules. Hell, it is th' Rule." Beetlejuice paused. He looked startled. "You know 'bout names?"
"Thanks to Jacques, yes."
"I'll fill you in, later. If you want."
Lydia and Beetlejuice removed a storm pane from another window, and inserted it into the open one. It worked as a temporary solution, but Lydia knew her room would be freezing until the window was replaced. While Beetlejuice could shape-shift, he couldn't create objects out of thin air, including new window panes. He could only manipulate material that already existed.
"How're ya gonna explain th' window?" asked Beetlejuice.
"I'll think of something."
"Lyds." Beetlejuice sat on the edge of the bed. "Don't think worse of me."
"What? Why would I?"
"Cuz of what ya saw."
"I don't want to talk about that! You're here! Now!"
"Yeah. But…ya won't forget. I know ya gotta wonder."
"Stop it!" She sat down next to him. "It's none of my business, anyway!"
"Lydia!" Charles Deetzs' voice. "Hot cider and donuts!"
"Look." Beetlejuice took Lydia's hand, and squeezed it. "Yer Dad loves ya. I'm not even gonna tell ya how much. He wants what's best fer ya. Mr. Beetleman isn't it."
"What are you saying?"
"That maybe th' dead should stay with their own. What's that line, Sheriff Tate says? 'Let the dead bury the dead, Mr. Finch.' Heh. I'd never have read that book, if not for you. Though I'm still pissed that Boo Radley wasn't a real ghost. Though he did haunt Macomb, I guess, in his own way."
"After all that, you are not going to stay away from me, B.J.!"
He flinched, but with a smile. "Ah, god, yer smart. No, baby, I think…maybe ya need more time around flesh an' blood, an' not a dead guy who just gives ya grief. I should stay Over There."
"You do not give me grief!"
"I can't be here as Mr. Beetleman any more, anyway. Yer Dad's figured out I'm a fraud. He's a very thorough guy; I'm fmeekin' impressed. He's not gonna rest until he finds out who Mr. Beetleman is, an' we know he can't do that."
"Baby," Beetlejuice stood up. "You're young, gorgeous, an' alive. You need to enjoy that. I'll just get ya into trouble."
"You've always gotten me into trouble, and for some stupid reason, I like it! You make me more alive! You're assigned to haunt Peaceful Pines; you've got every right to be around the living! B.J., Beetlejuice, you are not going to disappear on me!"
"I'll be in the Neitherworld. We got to give yer Dad time t' give up on findin' out who Mr. Beetleman is. I…I don't want y' t' get hurt."
He headed for the Door. It was still there, for she hadn't called "Beetlejuice" three times again. As he ducked into it, Lydia yelled, "I'm not going to get hurt! What happened with Dad?"
The Door shut.
"Oooooo! It's just like him! Confident and bragging one second, insecure and self-pitying the next! Why why WHY do I put up with him?"
"Lydia! Before they get cold!" Delia shouted.
Her mouth set with determination, Lydia went downstairs.
This chapter is dedicated to the late Hugo Stanger (1901-1990), who played Old Bill, the barber, in the movie Beetlejuice.
The lyrics to "I'm On Fire" are © Bruce Springsteen.
"Father." In the kitchen, Lydia took the cup of hot, spiced cider her father offered her. She tried to remain calm, and not let on to the urgency she felt. "What did you talk to Mr. Beetleman about?"
Charles looked surprised, then disturbed. "Talk?"
Charles set down his mug on the counter. "Sweetheart, you're old enough to know that some people aren't what they seem to be. There is no 'Mr. Beetleman' "
"We've know him for years!"
"Nobody else in this town has! He said he's the cemetery caretaker, and lives in the cemetery, of all places! Honey, the man's a vagrant, and a con man. Tomorrow, I'm calling the police and filing a report. I think he's a predator, casing people's houses, and…paying attention to people he shouldn't. And I've a strong suspicion that he's somehow responsible for the," Charles' eyes darted around nervously, "unexplainable things that go on around here."
"Dad, he's not! He's never been anything but nice to me, to our whole family!"
"Aha! That's what his kind does, in order to gain trust. Then he waits till your guard is down."
"He's waited six years for us to lower our guard?"
"Take it from me, pumpkin, he's a weirdo and a liar. He even said he had a reference from the Maitlands!"
Lydia blinked. "He did?"
"Yes!" Charles moved his flat hand through the air like a car, as Beetlejuice had done. "The vroom, vroom, EEK, CRASH, splash, blub, blub Maitlands."
"Well, maybe he does have a reference from them!"
"Honey, it's not like I can call them and ask." Charles chuckled grimly. He patted Lydia's hand holding her cup. "Let's sit down and watch a movie."
An idea flickered into Lydia's mind. "I've got something I have to do."
For a reason no one dead or alive knew, mirrors were portals. But not just any mirror. It had to be a mirror in a haunted space, and someone living had to have called the ghost doing the haunting through it.
"Two mirrors can connect, like phone lines," Lydia muttered to herself, as she unlocked the door to the long disused third floor attic, "if the ghosts have a mirror where they are, and the living person has another." She closed the door, and coughed from the cloud of dust falling around her. "Here's hoping the Maitlands have a mirror."
Lydia had met Barbara and Adam Maitland, deceased, at their hardware store. They'd been so traumatized by what the Deetzs -Delia – had done to their house, that their Afterlife Caseworker had reassigned them to haunt their big, three-story hardware store in the village. Beetlejuice, who'd been sniffing around for a semi-permanent haunt, snatched the opportunity to move into the house, and immediately began tormenting Charles and Delia Deetz.
Beetlejuice, who had freedom within the village limits, had reluctantly introduced Lydia to the Maitlands. He didn't like having other ghosts around, especially ones who had no interest in scaring the living. The Maitlands couldn't stand Beetlejuice, and Barbara had expressed her concern for Lydia's hanging around with him. Lydia knew they'd never have given Beetlejuice a reference as a fake handyman, or anything else. But, as ghosts will, they left Beetlejuice to his own devices, and kept to theirs. Unlike him, they couldn't roam further than the front porch of the store.
Having no children (they'd dearly wished they had), the Maitlands left their store and everything in it to Bill Stanger, the barber next door. He'd watched over Maitland Hardware many times when they were alive and out of town. The townspeople knew and loved Old Bill, as they called him, but found him a little disturbing. While Bill didn't have dementia, or Alzheimer's, and his mind was sharp and clear, if a bit rambling, he believed the Maitlands were still alive.
"'Course they are. See them every day I come to the store. Adam tells me what to stock, Barbara helps organize the place. Couldn't do a thing without 'em. We sit around upstairs, talking, made a nice little place for them up there, they don't like to be away much. Dead? Nonsense. Though I do think they should get out more. You've seen that model of the town Adam made? He donated it to the library, you need to visit it, he did it in scale, you know, amazing detail, I remember when he started it…"
Listeners would shake their heads.
Lydia pulled dust-coated sheets from furniture, pawed through boxes, and unwrapped their contents. Frustrated, she sat down on an old loveseat and concentrated on every item she could see.
The model. Adam Maitland had used mirrors to create Winter River in the model.
Yanking away a sheet, Lydia found the old dresser where Adam had kept materials for making his model. She looked in three drawers before she felt something hard, thin and flat, wrapped in protective green felt.
It was a rectangular mirror, a few inches long and wide.
"Here's hoping." Lydia took a breath, held the small mirror close, and called, "Hello! Mr. and Mrs. Maitland! Adam! Barbara! Hello!"
All she saw was her own reflection.
"Barbara! Adam! It's Lydia Deetz! I'm in your old attic!"
Her reflection melted and reconfigured. Lydia saw a wall across a room. It had beige wallpaper with tiny pink stripes running down it, and an old fashioned wall lamp.
Slowly, two faces peeked in from opposite sides of the scene.
"Lydia?" Barbara and Adam said simultaneously.
"What on earth ... Are you okay?" asked Adam.
Barbara frowned. "Is he giving you problems?"
"Not at all. But, I've got a favor to ask you."
"Well, sure," said Adam. "If we can help."
"Does Mr. Stanger still believe you're alive?"
They looked at each other. They nodded. "He's just very old," said Barbara, "he's not senile."
"So he listens to what you tell him?"
"All the time."
"Then please, please, would you do this for me?"
Charles, Lydia and Delia were sitting in the living room with the fireplace crackling, watching The Big Sleep on their huge television, when Charles' phone on the side table buzzed.
Delia, who obviously welcomed an interruption, grabbed the phone. "Yes? Mr. Stanger? What a surprise! Uh, Charles, Mr. Stanger wants to talk with you."
"Who?" Charles took the phone. "This is Charles Deetz… Oh, Mr. Stanger, from Maitland Hardware, of course! How can I help you?"
Lydia pretended to focus on her hot cider and not her father's side of the phone conversation.
"Mr…who?" Charles looked at Delia, who was staring at him. "Mr. Beetleman told you he was coming here to clear our drive? Did he get here? He, uh, I, well…"
Charles clumsily went to the living room window. His eyes bugged. "Yes. Yes, he did it." Charles looked over his shoulder at his wife and daughter and mouthed, The hell?
Lydia and her mother came to the window.
The driveway was completely shoveled, all the way down to the plowed street.
He only pretended to go to the Neitherworld. He did this first. For me. Lydia smiled and breathed deeply, controlling herself.
"And a fine job he did, too." Charles looked as if the synapses of his brain weren't connecting. "Does all kinds of odd jobs for you?... Maitlands had said he was a reliable, trustworthy guy?... Yes, a nice man. Very weird, but nice." Charles shook his head rapidly, as if trying to fit a new reality into his mind. "Well, I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear it, Mr. Stanger… Yes…. Yes…. We'll stop by sometime, after the weather's better…. Bye bye….Oh. You want to talk to Lydia? Sure, just a second." Charles held the phone out to his daughter.
Surprised, she took it. "Hello, Mr. Stanger."
The voice sounded as old, creaky, dry, and comfortable as the rocking chair where Old Bill held forth on the hardware store's porch. "That okay? Adam and Barbara said your father needed to hear that."
"Yes, sir," said Lydia, taking the phone with her into the kitchen, so her parents couldn't overhear, "thank you, and them, so much."
"This Beetleman guy, I don't remember him as a handyman."
"Well, we all forget things, sir."
"Strange thing is," said the elderly man, "the way Barbara and Adam described him…brought back some memories."
"Really?" Lydia couldn't imagine what they were. Beetlejuice had never haunted the man; the Maitlands wouldn't have allowed it.
"Back when I was in the military, during World War II. Where was it…was it here? I can't remember, but there was this bartender. He did a lot of things, but for a while he was bartender at a juke joint officers went to for booze."
Lydia's voice was tissue thin. "What?"
"He was a selfish, egotistical jerk. Hated authority, as I recall. Wore a ridiculous striped Zoot Suit." The man laughed. "That's right, kids your age have no idea what that is. Google it, as they say. Got him into trouble wearing that, because only African-Americans and jazz cats wore those things. Officers hated it. Well, he didn't care, he went across the tracks and danced with people other people said he wasn't supposed to, said we're all gonna die someday, so we're all the same, and the hell with anyone who believed differently. His grammar wasn't very good, thinking back. I don't believe he had much of an education. Oh, but he was far smarter than he let on. And cunning. And canny! Do kids today know that word?"
"Who was this man?"
"Considered himself quite the ladies' man, too. Oh, the ladies liked him well enough, though they wouldn't admit it. He was a hound, but he treated them with respect, which is more than I can say for most of the Stripes. Married bastards, with two or three on the side. Pardon my language. Women were lonely back then, you see, with so many husbands and honeys off fighting the war."
Lydia sat down on a stool at the kitchen's island, her hand covering her mouth.
"I liked the guy all right, but I never would've wanted to get on his bad side. There was something of the snake about him, if you got him rattled. There was all kinds of talk about him operating with the Black Market, with a very tough crowd. People said he could con his way into anything, and he could sweet-talk you into buying your own hair."
"Do you know his name?" Lydia whispered.
"Hm? No, gosh, that was so long ago. I was shipped out. He was gonna enlist, but he had flat feet, and he was in his thirties then, I think. When I got back, heard he may have tried to pull a con on the wrong people. Or maybe they did it to him. Either way, he was six feet under. I heard they never caught who did it."
"Oh," said Lydia. "Oh."
"Dunno if he was from around here, or what. Thing is…" The old man's voice hesitated.
"Seems if anybody needed condensed milk for a baby, or a canned ham for Christmas, or wool socks, but didn't have the money…the things would show up. You have to understand, during the War, these were precious. The Black Marketers would cost you an arm and a leg for that kind of stuff, and if you didn't pay, some of them could get violent. But, if you needed something important, it'd appear in your mailbox, or in the garage, or on the back porch. Why, I just remembered, my sister wanted silk stockings for her wedding, and was complaining at the bar that there weren't any to be found for love nor money. My sister was a good kid, sweet, and never would've thought of getting them illegally. Well, miss, the day before the wedding, she came out of that bar –only drank Coca-Cola, mind you- opened her pocketbook to get change at the grocers, and what did she find but two pairs of brand new stockings. Never found out who put them in there, or how. But, some of us, we looked at that bartender, cleaning the beer mugs and whistling."
"Oh," said Lydia.
"Sorry to ramble on, honey. The past's a nice place to visit, but always move on! Remember that. 'Bye, now. Come see us."
"I will. And you weren't rambling! Thank you for telling me! Goodbye."
Lydia came into the living room and replaced the phone in its charger. Charles Deetz was sitting in his large, overstuffed, wingback armchair, staring at the paused image on the screen.
"Charles!" demanded Delia. "What did he say?"
"Mr. Beetleman has worked as a handyman for Maitland Hardware for years." A dumfounded expression came over Charles Deetz. "Before we even moved here, he worked for the Maitlands."
"Really?" Delia sounded incredulous.
"And he shoveled the drive. The whole thing. How the hell did he do it?" muttered Charles. "I didn't see him do it."
"I think you underestimate him." Lydia tried not to smirk triumphantly. "Maybe you should thank him."
"And apologize," Charles mumbled, "before he files a lawsuit against me, for assault—" He bit his words. "Well! Too bad he didn't stay for cider and donuts."
"I'll put up with the man as a handyman," said Delia, going to their bar and taking out some rum, "but I'm not interested in socializing with him. He's still creepy." More to herself than anyone else, she said, "Can you imagine kissing him? eeeew."
"Mom, Dad," said Lydia, "I've got a lot of studying to do before I have to go back."
"Aw, sweetheart, the movie's only just started. You've been by yourself too much since you got home."
"Tomorrow. I promise, tomorrow I'll put the books away." Lydia kissed her father on the forehead. "I love you, Dad."
Surprised, Charles said, "Love you."
"Love you, Mom." After giving puzzled Delia a quick hug, Lydia hurried upstairs.
The Monster Across the Street gestured to Lydia. She came over.
"Whut in tarnation's wrong wit' 'Juice?" Even though he was whispering, his voice was loud up close. "He floated by, didn't even try ta pester Poopsie. He looked like he seen a ghost, an' fer a ghost, that's sayin' sumthin'."
"I think I know what's bothering him." Lydia petted Poopsie.
"If'n anybody cun make him better, it's you."
This time, Lydia had her skeleton key. The Roadhouse's Common Room was empty.
Evidently having heard her open the door, Jacques looked in. "Lydia!" He hurried to her and gripped her hands in his. He said, in a hushed voice, "Brava! Magnifique! Someday you must tell to me how you did it!"
"He is here?" whispered Lydia.
"Oui, in his rooms. Lydia, I have the confession to make." He placed a bony hand on her shoulder. "I do not comprehend what you see in him. I do not believe he is worthy of you. But, that is not for me to say. Le Coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait pas."
The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing of, Lydia mentally translated, roughly. "Don't think I haven't thought that, a million times."
"But…I can see the depth of feeling, it is not one-sided. If it were, I should, how you say, play football with his behind."
"Jacques, he wouldn't be here, if it wasn't for your help. I'll tell him, too."
"Non, not for a while. Go on."
The door to Beetlejuice's apartment wasn't locked. Lydia opened it quietly and went down the hall to his bedroom.
Beetlejuice stood in bare feet, his back to the open door, dressed in his red flannel pajamas with a beetle pattern. He was looking at the piles of clothes and belongings on the floor, and strewn across his dresser and his bed. In his right hand, he held the framed photo of Lydia.
"Knock, knock," she said, softly.
Beetlejuice started. He turned around. Surprise, delight, confusion, embarrassment, raced across his face.
"Lyds." As if unable to register that she was really there, and trying to hide what he was feeling, he snapped, "Look at this! Somebody trashed my room! I mean, yeah, it's usually a wreck, but it's a wreck I made. Whut th' hell?"
Lydia closed the door, came over, and got on the bed with the rumpled sheet and blankets.
"They even took yer picture off the wall." Beetlejuice examined it closely. "No cracks or anythin'."
"I'll explain," Lydia said, "later. I've got news."
"Yeah?" Beetlejuice wiped his sleeve over the photo's glass, and hung it up on the wall, feigning concentration as he straightened it.
"Dad says Mr. Beetleman is a nice man. A very weird man, but nice."
The ghost stared at her. He blinked. "Whut?"
"Old Bill called, and said that Mr. Beetleman was a reliable, trustworthy guy, who'd worked for Maitland Hardware for years."
Beetlejuice shook his head. He placed both palms on the bed and leaned toward Lydia, his left eyebrow raised. "What?"
"I'll explain, later. But…you owe Barbara and Adam a favor."
"Wha—" He stopped himself. The gloom in his face warmed into cunning curiosity. "You finagled this?"
"I guess you're a bad influence, after all."
Lydia thought about asking whether Beetlejuice had ever worked as a bartender, whether he was alive during the War, whether he had honed his con man skills by doing his own finagling with the Black Market. But it was quite possible that the bartender and Beetlejuice weren't the same person.
The memory of the smoky man in uniform prevented her from speaking. Somewhere, an Army Officer named Henry had gotten away with murder. Lydia wondered if he were dead now. And if Beetlejuice had ever encountered him, After. It wasn't her business to ask. Let the dead bury the dead, Sheriff Tate had advised Atticus Finch.
"You," said Beetlejuice, climbing onto the mattress until Lydia was on her back. He loomed over her on his hands and knees, "have got a lot of explainin' t' do."
"Later." Lydia slid her arms around Beetlejuice's neck. "Thank you. For the driveway."
Beetlejuice snorted. "It doesn't take anything to 'juice a shovel into digging on its own."
"But you did it. For me."
"Naw. Fer me. Y'think I want yer Dad huntin' me down? He'd figure out I'm a ghost, have me exorcised. No, no, no. I'm not goin' anywhere in this millennium." His eyes half-lidded. "I got a woman worth dyin', an' comin' back, for."
"You are so sweet," whispered Lydia.
Beetlejuice grimaced, as if the most horrible, disgusting realization had stabbed his brain. "Oh crap! I am!" He jumped to his feet.
"What?" said Lydia.
"This is not me! This is not me! I'm turnin' into a soppy, sentimental…romantic! ACK!" Beetlejuice stuck his forefinger into his mouth and gagged.
"Well, excuse me," said Lydia sardonically, propping herself up on her elbows. "Maybe I should leave, so you won't catch any more Soppy Cooties."
"No, no, you stay!" Beetlejuice pointed at her commandingly. "Th' Door's still open, right?"
"Riiiight." Lydia's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"
Beetlejuice snapped his fingers. Immediately his clothes changed into his signature striped suit and magenta shirt. "There's a loose end I gotta tie up. Squeeze ya later." He popped in a burst of smoke.
"Oh, no you don't!" Getting up, Lydia shouted, "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"
No reaction. Lydia slapped her forehead. "No, I closed the Door when I came! He tricked me into reopening it! And I can't call him from the Neitherworld, once he's through! Oooo! I'll murder that creep! Again!"
In the twilight, black and white stripes snaked up the wide front steps of the Victorian mansion's porch.
It's cool that you want to protect your daughter. But you don't mess with the 'Juice and get away with it.
The stripes slid up the door and to the doorbell. It rang.
"Who could that be?" Charles Deetz put down The New York Times (which was damp from the paperboy, who was very late on his delivery, tossing it into the snow).
When he opened the front door, Charles didn't see the black and white stripes slithering up the support post and to the roof. He saw instead the brown down coat, lying on the top step.
"Isn't that Beetleman's?" Huffing in the cold air, Charles walked over and picked up the coat. "What's it doing here?"
He heard, above and behind him, a deep, hissing voice. "psst. Hey."
Puzzled, Charles turned and looked up.
Icicles along the porch's eave formed a row of long, sharp teeth in a nefarious, leering smirk. The thick blanket of snow covering it creepily shifted and formed two glaring, yellow, slit-pupiled eyes.
"Happy New Year, Chuck."
Charles eyes bulged as, with maniacal laughter, the avalanche slid.
"Charles? Was that your girlie scream? Why on earth didn't you shut the door?" Delia stuck her head out into the cold. She saw two long legs jutting from a mountain of snow, windmilling hysterically, brown loafers bouncing onto the porch.
"AA!" Delia grabbed the legs and pulled. Coated in snow, Charles surfaced, teeth chattering. Icicles were stuck in his hair.
"I-it laughed a-at m-m-me!"
"One Hot Rum Toddy, and you're staggering drunkenly outdoors and seeing things again. You're not the man you were in New York, Charles. Get in here before you embarrass both of us."
Lydia heard the cackling before Beetlejuice burst with a cloud of smoke into the Roadhouse Common Room. She, Ginger and Jacques glared from the couch.
Lydia covered her face with her hands. "I don't want to know."
Beetlejuice was on the floor, holding his gut, kicking his boots against the coffin table with glee, making the three glasses of Choka-Cola on it shake.
"You are revolting," snapped Jacques.
"I know, I know!" Beetlejuice lay on the floor, arms wide, boots on the table. "Back t' my old self again!"
"So where does that leave me?" Lydia stood up, her fists on her hips. "If you're back to age five, I guess I'm the grown-up!"
"Jeez, Lydia," said Ginger, "you always have been. Didn'tcha know it?"
"Well, I don't want to contaminate you with Smootchie Germs. Smell you later. Or not." Lydia marched for the door.
"Oh, no ya don't." In a literal flash, the ghost appeared with his back to the door, his arms across it. His glinting eyes looked especially evil. He started singing, which wasn't the most pleasant sound in the world. "Hey, little girl, is your daddy home?"
"You are not singing Bruce Springsteen to me!"
Beetlejuice advanced a foot toward her. "Did he go and leave you all alone? mmm mmm. I got a bad desire…"
Lydia struggled against her grin as she backed away. "You are truly sick and twisted, you know that don't you?"
His tongue ran across his teeth wolfishly. "…ooh, ooh, ooh, I'm on fire...”
Beetlejuice pounced at Lydia. She shrieked. They dashed down the hall, him cackling lustfully and her giggle-shrieking. The door to Beetlejuice's apartment slammed shut.
Ginger and Jacques stared at the TV.
"If Beetlejuice doesn't soundproof his room," snapped Ginger, "I'm movin' out."
"Oh, I rather like it." Realizing what he'd just said aloud, Jacques coughed.
"Humans." Ginger shook her head and sniffed with distaste. "It'd be so much easier if they jus' did what spiders do."
"Mate an' then chew the guy's head off."