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There was something oddly endearing about the little scene playing out in the window taking up most of Lydia’s computer screen.  Emphasis on ‘scene’.  Everywhere Delia went, she had to be center stage, but Lydia had ceased resenting it sometime during high school.  It was just a part of who Delia was.

Right now, her step-mother was in grand form, brandishing a rolled up flyer as if it were a royal scepter or some sort of magic wand.  “Lydia, you can’t seriously be considering moving into this… this dump.  It looks like it was last painted in the late 1800s, and is probably home to cockroaches and other scuttling horrors.”

Lydia rolled her eyes.  “Delia -”

“No, I’m not being a wet blanket.  This is hardly the sort of place a promising young - It looks like a health hazard in the worst way and - it’s not even in the city and she’ll be isolated from - it is not a suitable place to - you know what?  This conversation is over.”

Lydia watched with resigned amusement as Delia carried on a three way argument all by herself.  “You know, these conversations would go so much more smoothly if I could hear the entire thing.”

“Well, you’ll have to call me on my cell then, as Skype is obviously not cutting it.  Do as you like, Lydia, you always do.”  Waving a distracted good-bye, Delia rose and quit the room, still muttering beneath her breath.

“I’m not hanging up,” Lydia said - and waited.  

A moment or two later, a sheet of paper was dangled before the camera, where she could see the message scribbled on it.

It looks spooky.  I think it suits you.

“I think so too - and it won’t be for more than a year or so.  After all, I’m just going to be looking after it while the owner is away.  She’s off to visit relatives somewhere.  The agent didn’t have very many details.”  Lydia spun slowly in her office chair, found cheap on kijiji, ignoring the squeaks as it protested.  “It’s got a family graveyard, and quite a bit of land.”

The paper vanished as she spoke, reappearing once she was again facing the camera.

How much land?  I thought it was supposed to be ‘right outside the city’ and ‘convenient to shopping’?  

“At least a few acres.  They sent me some new pictures today - everything’s built up all around the property, but it’s got a tiny forest and what looks like a swamp as well as the graveyard.  I think I’m going to love it.”  Lydia spun again, stretching happily as the chair squeaked its displeasure.  “It’ll be a nice change from struggling to make the rent.  Being paid to live in the place and feed a few pets, water a few plants?”

House-keeping?

“They have a service, I guess.  I get the impression they just don’t want the place to be empty while they’re away.”  She glanced at the tiny clock on the edge of her desk.  “I have to get to packing.  I need to be there by tomorrow afternoon.  The owner wants to have a look at me before she leaves, which is reasonable, I guess.  I don’t want to make a bad impression by being late.”

Do you think it might be haunted?

“I could only be so lucky.”

Have fun, Lydia.  Remember we love you.  Even Delia.

Lydian made a face at the screen.  “Oh please.”

She does.

She probably did, something the teenaged Lydia had serious problems believing.  Delia had the weirdest way of showing affection, when it slipped out at all.  “I’ll take your word for it.  Give my love to dad.”

We will.

Lydia was smiling, if reluctantly, as she shut down the webcam.  It wouldn’t take long to pack.  She’d never been much of a one for possessions and being a ‘starving bourgeoisie hack’, as Delia loved to put it, didn’t exactly encourage spending a lot of money on things.   She glanced around her tiny apartment, taking in the sparse furnishings.  All of her spending money went toward her photography - and if she could spend a few glorious months not having to take pictures at one more pink and white and sparkle-filled wedding, it would be just what she needed.

That’s really what this would be, time to spend on her own photography - and this place had everything she’d need to take some really wonderful pictures.

**

The taxi driver gave her a funny look when he pulled up at the train station.  Lydia had been expecting it.  She had a pile of old-fashioned trunks (three), two smaller rolling suitcases, a laptop bag, four camera bags, three crates of books, and a compartmental terrarium in its various pieces containing a spectacularly unimpressed looking tortoise.

Luckily, she’d asked for a minivan, and one had been provided.  They loaded her belongings into the taxi with a minimum of fuss, and set out to her new, temporary home.

The drive itself was pleasant, if somewhat dull.  It was full of rolling hills, gently embraced by curving streets, each lined by pleasant, identical homes with pleasant, identical lawns.   Everything was pretty and beige, with the occasional hint of pastel or slightly bolder accent.   Lydia unfolded the small flyer that had originally attracted her attention and held it up against the passing scenery.

‘Wanted: Responsible, sober-minded individual to look after house and grounds while owner is away.’  The card of the agent was paper-clipped to it, with the scribbled notation of ‘0001 Cemetery Lane’.  The house itself was… imposing.  

Of course, Delia’s criticisms were valid enough in terms of paint.  Over time, the original colour had faded and weathered to a gentle grey, with the roof a darker, slate colour.  It did look somewhat abandoned.  Spooky had been a well-chosen word.  What had drawn Lydia to answer the ad, however, had been the architecture.  The house was Victorian, tall and in very good repair, despite the weathering.  It stood just a little removed from the street, with a spiked fence and a gated drive.  Private was another good word.  Despite the proximity to the street, there was a sense of distance.

It called to her, not least because if you imagined a white coat of paint and squinted, it didn’t look so different from the house where she’d first met her favourite ghosts.  Well, before Delia had gotten at it, anyway.

She was smiling as she took in the contrast between the house and the neighborhoods they were passing through.  Perhaps the house was haunted?  Maybe she’d find another Barbara and Adam, living in the attic -

Maybe she’d find another another Beetlejuice?

That wiped the smile from her face, and she had a more pensive expression as she lowered the flyer.  She liked ghosts… but she had more caution now than she’d had as an unhappy teen.

“D’you have a key for the gate?”  The first words actually spoken in almost half an hour, and Lydia jumped at the reminder that she wasn’t alone.  

“I - no.  Not yet.  They’re expecting me.”   The agent had promised to meet her at the gate and introduce her to the owner.  

“Well, it’s just up the street, and I ain’t seein’ nobody waitin’.”  

Lydia glanced at her watch.  “We’re - I’m early.  We can unload and I’ll wait.”

“You sure?  It’s lookin’ like weather out there.”

Lydia had been too wrapped up in her own thoughts to notice the gathering clouds and general grim look to the skies.  “Oh.  Hmm.”

As they pulled up to the curb beside the gates, however, she noticed a white car by the curb - one with the words ‘Make Your House a Home’ emblazoned on the side, surrounded by nodding yellow daisies.  “The agent must be here already.”

“The gate may be open, then,” the cabbie pointed out helpfully.  “Be nice if we could take all your things to the door.”

Lydia smiled at his reflection in the mirror.  “I’ll check it out.”

She let herself out of the cab and paused to look, first at the gate, and then at the house looming against the darkening sky.

The photograph did not do it justice.  The house itself was in good repair, if very grey, and the high spikes on the gate and the fence looked to have been actually sharpened.  Walking slowly toward the gate, she took a closer look at the house itself, which was very close to the street.  Most of the windows had actual shutters, with the ones on the upper floors tightly closed.  There appeared to be a semi-detached greenhouse or something similar just barely visible around the back, and she could glimpse an antique car parked beneath a porte-cochère.  The thin swathe of neatly trimmed lawn was obviously an anomaly, because the greenery up on one of the thin terraces and around the house was wild and untrimmed, not that it detracted from the overall impression.  Vines and bushes had grown up around and through the fence, though not a flower in sight.

It was beautiful, and she was smiling as she reached for the latch of the gate.

“Uh, you know what?  I don’t normally offer advice to people, not without money up front anyway because, hey, my advice is worth its weight in gold but, seriously Toots, I wouldn’t do that.”

Lydia froze.   

“I mean, not that you don’t obviously know what you’re doing and all, but that place?  That place is bad news.  It’s legendary, and I don’t mean in the traditional ‘happy ever after’ kind of way, I mean the sort of legend where the hero gets his eyeballs eaten.”  The words were accompanied by a grotesque popping sound.  “Mmmm.  Eyeballs.  You know, when eaten fresh - ?”

“Beetlejuice,” Lydia stated the word slowly and firmly, while turning carefully and scanning her surroundings.

“That’s me!  Black and white and dead all over.  Hey, didja miss me?  ‘Cause I missed you.  You’re a pretty girl, Toots, and I - “

“How did you get here?  And why?”

“Welp, after that debacle with your roommate’s flashcards, and I think you were way harsh about that by the way, I discovered that loopholes are a thing.  It’s pretty easy to just hang around the local university astronomy classes and just wait for my name to come up.  I’m amazed it took me this long!  But back to the subject at hand.”

Beetlejuice,” even more firmly, as she finally spotted him, tiny and sitting on the rim of one of the wheels of the agent’s car.

“Oh no.  Nononono.  You’re not sending me away. I came all this way just to give you a warning!  From the bottom of my heart,” with a really disgusting leer that managed to be obvious despite his current, tiny size, “You need me.  You can’t possibly be planning on walking in there and just - “

“If you think it’s a bad idea, it’s probably absolutely for the best,” Lydia told him, narrowing her eyes.  “Beetlejuice!”

“Noooooooo!”  He vanished, in a tiny puff of green smoke, leaving Lydia to scowl darkly at the agent’s car.  

Without any further hesitation, she turned and snatched at the gate, giving it a good yank.  As it was hinged to open inward, it refused to budge.  Giving a frustrated groan, she pulled herself together and gave it a gentle push.  It opened obligingly, albeit with a lingering screech.

She glanced back at the taxi, where the driver was giving her the sort of look normally reserved for people clutching bladed weapons and cackling.  She schooled her features into a polite smile and waved at him before starting determinedly up the short drive to the house.

She was reaching for the little bell-pull when the door was flung open and a petite blonde woman with a bright smile plastered on her face bounced through the doorway and pulled the door shut firmly behind her.  

“Oh, you must be Lydia Deetz.  I’m Marilyn Amstock, the housing agent!”  She grasped Lydia’s still out-stretched hand and pumped it furiously.  “I’m so very glad you’re here.  Miss Addams is just about to leave and are those your things?”

Lydia blinked at her, surprised, before realizing that the taxi had pulled up behind her, and the driver was already unloading her belongings.  “I - yes?”

“Oh, how wonderful!  You’ll be staying in the guest room, of course, but you’ll have access to the entire house and grounds.  There’s a conservatory, and a really delightful… dining room.”  Marilyn’s smile seemed somewhat fixed.

“Are you all right?”  Lydia retrieved her hand, feeling the shaking had gone on quite long enough.  “I mean, is there something wrong?”

“Wrong?  Heavens no!”  Marilyn was staring at Lydia’s tortoise.  “I think you’ll really - love it here!”

Lydia gave her a suspicious look as Marilyn glanced at her watchless wrist and exclaimed, “Oh, is that the time?  Come along, and I’ll introduce you to Miss Addams.”

Instead of turning around and opening the door, Marilyn hurried down the short steps, past Lydia’s growing pile of possessions and toward the antique car on the far side of the taxi.  Lydia had been so distracted by the house that she hadn’t really paid very much attention to the car.  It, much like the house, was obviously both elderly and in excellent shape for its age.  It was also, very obviously, a limousine of some sort.  Cars had never ranked highly amongst Lydia’s interests, although this one would probably make for a stunning photograph.   The top was down, and some equally antique luggage could be seen in the rearmost seat.  Who travelled with iron bound trunks these days?

“Is this Miss Deetz?”

Lydia hadn’t heard anyone come up behind them, and the soft voice made her jump.  She whirled, finding herself face to veil with a woman about her own height.  “I… yes?”

“You seem unsettled.”  The veiled woman moved away, circling Lydia thoughtfully.  “You’re not of a nervous disposition are you?”

The circling allowed Lydia to take in a few more details, including the fact that the woman had long dark hair, a long dark gown (who wore gowns in the early afternoon?), and very pale hands.

“Nervous?  No.  You startled me.”

“Did I?  I do apologize.”  The woman came to a halt before her.  “Miss Amstock spoke very highly of you, but the last three candidates she brought decided not to stay, and I cannot delay my trip any longer.”

“Decided not to stay?  Is it haunted?”

“Of course.”  Miss Addams sounded surprised.  Behind her, Marilyn gave voice to a strangled mutter, but she was ignored.  “Now, the hemlock in the conservatory is doing poorly, and needs special attention.  Slow watering once a week and please speak to it when you water it.  I had hoped to introduce you to Cleopatra, but I’m afraid there isn’t time.  There is a complete set of directions on the table just outside the conservatory, and please remember not to let her eat anything that isn’t on the list.”

“Cleopatra?”

“She’s a dear, really.  But always use a fork.  She does nip sometimes.”  Despite her long, fairly form fitting gown, Miss Addams seated herself elegantly in the back seat of the car.  As Lydia watched, eyes wide, a truly imposing man in a full chauffeur's uniform seated himself in the driver’s seat.  “Good-bye, Miss Deetz.  I hope you enjoy your stay.”

“Now, if you’ll just sign here, here and initial here…?”

Watching the limousine and it’s veiled occupant be driven away, Lydia signed the papers on the clipboard that Marilyn hastily shoved into her hands without really looking at them.

“Just remember, I need two weeks notice if you have to leave before Miss Addams returns.  Here’s my card again, and here’s the phone number of the house.  I have your banking information, and your wages will be deposited on the first and fifteenth of every month.  Miss Addams did have an internet connection put in for your stay, and here’s the router information and password.  There’s a list of emergency numbers by the phone, a map to the nearest bus stop and a set of bus routes with the numbers, and a map of the house and grounds.”  Marilyn was talking faster and faster as she clutched the clipboard to her chest, backing away.  “Here are the keys.  Have a lovely night, good-bye now!”

With that, she was down the short drive, whisking herself into her car and away, leaving Lydia with several hundred unanswered questions, a handful of paperwork, an enormous ring of keys, and a taxi-driver waiting patiently for payment.

Lyida paid him, adding a somewhat generous tip.  He drove away, leaving her staring, again, at the house.

“Haunted.”  It might be true.  The owner had certainly struck her as eccentric enough to be unfazed by ghosts.  Who, or what, was Cleopatra?  One of the pets?  She looked after the vanished Marilyn, surprised to find the gate neatly closed.  As she frowned at the gate, a rumble of thunder broke.  Thankful for the roof of the porte-cochère, she picked up the section of the terrarium containing her tortoise and headed for the door.

Which opened as she approached.  

Lydia stopped dead and eyed it suspiciously.  It remained helpfully open.  Clutching her tortoise, she put her chin up and marched through the open door only to stop dead once she she was just a few steps inside the foyer.

“Oh.  Oh my.”  It took her several minutes to work up her courage to enter the house proper, edging down the shallow steps past the enormous bearskin that took up most of the very brief flight.

The large room hailed straight out of her more morbid teenaged imaginings, right down to the taxidermy she’d had an absolute horror of and still found somewhat off-putting.  She could possibly put down the very large tortoise with the two heads as some sort of ‘died of natural causes’, but she very much doubted the same could be said of the swordfish - and was that someone’s leg?

As she stared, the door closed quite firmly behind her.  She jumped, whirling and nearly losing her grip on her tortoise.  Stacked neatly, just inside the door, was all of her luggage.

“So.  Haunted.”  She looked around carefully.    Maybe someday she’d get out of the habit of talking to the air as if it would talk back.  It was difficult, sometimes, because she’d learned first-hand that sometimes it would “At least you’re friendly?”

Nothing else happened, so she gingerly set the terrarium section on the floor.  Marilyn had said something about information being by the phone…?  The phone was eventually located, placed beside a wicker chair that was almost a throne, next to a bowl of some sort of succulent and an unadorned wooden box.  Somewhat unsurprisingly, the keys were large, heavy, and attached to a giant metal ring.  The promised information was presented in a neat folder, stamped with a rosette of tiny skulls, wound about with ivy.  There appeared to be a great deal more to the contents than a few simple maps.

“I’m sensing,” with another glance around the room, taking in the huge, stuffed bear and the cage of what appeared to be ravens, “a theme.”  With the right exposures and some black and white film, it would be a very dramatic theme, and Lydia could appreciate it artistically.  Still, it was a somewhat eccentric decorating choice, to say the least.

Not that life with Delia hadn’t inured her to eccentric decorating choices, to some degree.

Inside the folder was a neat map of the house, drawn by hand, showing such locations as ‘The Conservatory’, ‘The Office’, ‘The Playroom’, and ‘The Dungeon’.  Lydia squinted at that last one, frowning slightly.  “A very definite theme.”

Her name had been written very neatly beneath the aptly named ‘Guestroom’, and after checking on her tortoise, she closed the folder and started out in search of her new bedroom.

For all the grey of the outside, there was quite a bit of colour here and there within the house, and it stood out all the more against the wooden floors and the silence.  “Your interior decorator is quite obviously working a few things out,” she muttered, examining the map in her hands.  Despite the size of the house, there seemed to be quite a few more rooms in there than she thought actually possible.  She did not want to get lost.

The guestroom had a heavy wooden door (why mess with a theme) and once opened left Lydia staring thoughtfully, the folder forgotten in her hands.  Heavy curtains had been hung all around the windowless room.  They were a recent addition, given the bright, almost glowing blue of the fabric.  Between them could be glimpsed a great deal of dull brick where antlered lamps were mounted on the wall.  A modern looking bed was obviously another recent purchase, with luxurious bedding that matched the curtains.

The giant iron maiden that stood across the room was something that meshed rather better with the decor in the rest of the house - and the odd, devilish statue directly opposite leaned slightly more toward eccentric than threatening.  Possibly due to the fact that it was distinctly battered and its once lascivious expression now leaned far more toward rueful.  The suit of armour and the battered stocks lovingly labelled ‘Hers’ were practically normal after the somewhat jarring first impression.

“So I’ll fit in?  Thanks, Marilyn.”  There was a tall wardrobe that didn’t match the bed, and Lydia investigated, finding it roomy and completely empty.  Most of her possessions would fit fairly easily and while she adjusted to her surroundings, unpacking would probably be a good idea.

Placing the folder on the bed, she turned - to discover her luggage stacked neatly just outside the door of the room.

“It’d be nice if you were, I don’t know… louder,” she addressed the air.  “That’s kind of creepy.”

Silence was her answer, and she frowned.  “Ground rules.  Bathing and anything that goes on in the bathroom is alone time.  And no one watches me sleep.  That’s very creepy.  Do we understand each other?”

More silence, and she sighed.  Unpacking first - and then finding the bathroom, probably bathrooms, given the size of this place, and then the kitchen.

Despite the somewhat morbid decor, invisible luggage porters, and occasional implement of torture, Lydia couldn’t find it within herself to be nervous.  There was a warmth to the guest room, despite the calm, somewhat ghoulish smile worn by the iron maiden.  The terrarium ended up on the floor, directly beneath the wooden devil, with the tortoise (which she’d never gotten around to naming) quietly chewing on the single strawberry in its leafy green salad, without a care in a world.

The room still looked decidedly odd, but it didn’t bother her.  After all, it was a guest room - so the iron maiden would most likely be intended for her to use on other people, right?

Gathering up the folder, she set out to explore once more.

The house was, despite all appearances, very well lit.  There were a great many windows, most of them unshuttered, and the rooms were spacious, with high ceilings.  It felt less like the typical haunted house, and more like a museum - if people were encouraged to play with the exhibits.  

The kitchen was surprisingly modern.  Well lit, it was lined with tall, glass-fronted cupboards displaying matching china - and a fairly complete set of chemistry laboratory glassware.  Raising an eyebrow, Lydia headed for the fridge.  

It was empty, save for a few containers labelled as food for the pets.  “Well, she is leaving for a year.  Guess she didn’t want me rummaging through her leftovers.”  She opened the freezer.  After a very long pause, she reached for the first of a number of packages neatly wrapped in freezer paper.

Frogs , was the legend, in a very neat hand.  The next one said Eyeballs, with no indication of whose.  Mice was written on several of the packages near the front.  One labelled Eggs was very heavy, lumpy, and very definitely the wrong size and shape to have come from any chicken Lydia had ever seen.  Plus, frozen eggs?

“ - I’ll just be heading to the grocery store, then.”

With skies still grey, Lydia helped herself to an umbrella, though it took her three tries to find one that didn’t have bits of animals or interestingly shaped bones as a handle, and one last try to find one that actually had fabric stretched across its metal frame.

Lydia found a grocery store only six blocks away from the Addams home.  The prices were a little higher than Lydia liked, but the produce section was large and the food was good.  A small deli and bakery were tucked in the back, and she found herself laden down with bags as she headed back to the house.

She had to set everything down in order to unlock the gate.  As she sorted through the keys, someone slapped her on the ass.  She whirled, keys suddenly more of a weapon than something with which to open doors.

“Whoa there, Princess.  Just admiring the goo- I mean, just a friendly hello!”

“Beetle-”

“Nope!”  A heavy striped scarf with improbably long and trailing ends was suddenly wrapped firmly around Lydia’s head.  “I mean, well, yes - it is me.  Although I’ve sometimes been mistaken for Batman.”  Beetlejuice flexed unconvincingly.  “But no, you don’t get to send me away.  You didn’t even summon me this time, and might I add that my feelings are terribly hurt by that, but I’m big enough to look past it.”

Lydia struggled with the scarf, glaring at Beetlejuice as he made a none too subtle grab for the keys.  Giving up on the scarf, at least temporarily, she yanked them out of his reach.  There ensued an awkward little dance as he kept snatching for them and she pulled them away.

The game ended when Beetlejuice tripped over the end of the conjured scarf and fell into Lydia, knocking her off her feet.  The keys went flying - over the top of the gate.  

“Damn it!”

As Beetlejuice made futile, belated gestures as if he’d be able to catch the vanished keys, Lydia managed to free herself from the scarf and toss it away.  “Thanks a lot.  What is your problem?”

“My problem is that the keys are now in there!”

“You’re a ghost.  Go in and get them.”

“Are you crazy?  In there?”

Lydia scowled at him.  “Beetlejuice!”

“No!  Stop.  Fine.  No, I’m not going in there.  It’s not… safe.”

“Really?”  She folded her arms.  “What about out here?  I seem to recall something about sandworms?”

Beetlejuice burst into laughter.  “Around here?  Are you kidding me?  You won’t find sandworms within a country mile of - you know what, I suddenly remember that I’ve got an appointment.  I’ll smell ya later, gorgeous.”

“Beetle-!” Lydia found herself shouting at no one at all, suddenly and painfully aware of the fact that the entire business had probably been visible from the windows of any number of her new neighbors.  Naturally, the grey skies chose that moment to finally release slow, fat raindrops to splatter against the sidewalk.  Grinding her teeth, she moved to peer through the gate.  “I can’t wait to call Marilyn and let her know I’ve locked myself out on the first day.  ‘Oh, just an every day mishap, I was arguing with a discorporal being, and one thing just… led to another!  Would you be a dear and drive all the way back here to let me in?’  Preferably before I’m soaked to the skin.”

The keys could be seen lying on the edge of the drive, but as Lydia reached for her phone, the gate swung obligingly open for her.

“And where were you when I was being mugged by undesirables in the street?”  Lydia sighed and moved to retrieve her shopping.  “Well, at least I won’t have to worry about being locked out.”

The gate swung closed behind her as she retrieved the keys, awkwardly juggling her shopping and the umbrella as she made her way toward the house.   “What is he after?”

There was no answer forthcoming.

Groceries put away, a sandwich made and eaten, tortoise fed, Lydia took herself off to bed.

Thanks to the windowless guest room, Lydia overslept.

“It’s not as if I have anywhere to be,” she remarked groggily, staring at the contents of the bathroom cabinet as she put toothpaste on her toothbrush.  “But there are pets to feed and plants to water… and is there anything in here that doesn’t have a skull and crossbones on it?”

Apparently not.  She stared suspiciously at her own toothpaste before returning to her oral hygiene.

Breakfast was a bowl of cereal and some sliced fruit as she spread open her folder and looked for instructions on the pets and the plants.

Everything was very neatly laid out - days, times, where the food was kept, the amounts to be fed -

“The rug.”  Lydia stared at the neatly scripted entry.  “I’m to feed frozen mice to the rug.”  Perhaps it was all an elaborate practical joke and she was being filmed for some bizarre reality television show.  Maybe she should’ve checked all that paperwork for release forms.

Then again, the rug was rather alarmingly life-like.  

“Fine then.  Pets first - then houseplants.”  Which would be easy enough, as apparently the nippy Cleopatra lived in the conservatory.  

The huge bear-rug on the entry stairs cheerfully gulped the mice, after an appropriate amount of thawing time, which left Lydia, after a few cautious pats of one huge, flat paw, twice as determined never, ever to actually step on it.  There were bats in the attic, the birds in the living room, and directions to leave a dish of tiny cucumber sandwiches on the table in the foyer.

“If we don’t have live mice already, that’ll change.”  Lydia frowned as she set the dish on the table.  What sort of pet ate cucumber sandwiches, and apparently roamed freely through the house?  “I’ll probably sleep better if I don’t think about it.”

Last on the list was Cleopatra, who ate yak meatballs, apparently.  Remembering the warning, Lydia found a long handled-fork, and made her way cautiously toward the conservatory.  There was indeed a separate folder on the table outside the glass doors with a folder labelled ‘Cleopatra’, as well as a mister, several bags of fertilizer, and various other gardening tools.

The African Strangler,  the first page read, is a long-lived plant.  Hailing from Nairobi, it -

Lydia placed the folder on the table and moved to peer through the glass doors.  “African strangler.  And it’s carnivorous, apparently.  That bodes well.”

The conservatory was full of lush greenery, with a hit of statuary glimpsed here and there, and a pretty bench set amidst the leaves and bushes.  Even with the still overcast sky, it looked welcoming.  Lydia regarded the tranquil scene with some suspicion before turning back to the folder.  A few scientific diagrams accompanied the brief description of a plant that came across less National Geographic and more National Enquirer.  The last few pages were neat notes, in several different sets of handwriting.

Enjoys singing.

Biddable after feeding.

Very affectionate.

Zebra burgers are her favorite.

“I just fed mice to a rug.”  She closed the folder and picked up the dish of meatballs.  “Giant strangling plants that like to be sung to are practically normal.”

The inside of the conservatory smelled good, despite a lack of flowers.  Faint music played somewhere, and Lydia eventually located an antique radio nearly covered in vines.   She reached to move some of the vines in order to see it more clearly when something tugged on her elbow.

Glancing down, she watched as a heavy vine wound around her upper arm, and a familiar looking plant nodded it’s heavy… pod at her.  Armed with knowledge and a long fork, Lydia quickly offered one of the meatballs toward the pod-like shape.  It rapidly folded open to show some remarkably pretty colour, and a lovely flower that had a definite mouth.  Lydia aimed a meatball at it, and hoped.  

Cleopatra, for all that she appeared to be mostly a vine with a hungry, if attractive, mouth attached, could  move very quickly.  It was alarmingly easy to imagine losing a finger or more to that snapping head.  “Hello, Cleopatra.  She wasn’t kidding when she said you nipped.”  At least Cleopatra appeared willing to wait for Lydia to spear each meatball, as opposed to retrieving them from the dish herself.

It didn’t take long for Cleopatra to finish her meal, and she coiled around Lydia’s body as she tended to the other plants.  So bedecked, Lydia decided she really didn’t feel quite so silly at carrying on a one-sided conversation with the sickly hemlock plant.  “I also don’t feel so silly at holding back some of those meatballs.”

Each meatball was dangled temptingly in order to coax Cleopatra to unwind her coiling embrace so that Lydia could actually leave the conservatory.  She ended up leaning against the door, her back against the glass.  “ - and it’s not even noon.”

As if in answer to her words, a gong sounded.  It was loud enough that she could feel it through her feet, and the glass in the conservatory rattled sympathetically.  When Lydia could again hear herself think, she glanced down at her watch.  “Either my watch is slow, or… I have no idea what that was.  Maybe it’s the doorbell?”

The gong did not sound again, and Lydia made her way back to the foyer.  Opening the front door revealed a postal truck just vanishing around the corner.  An investigation of the mailbox, however, revealed that it was empty.  

“So I suppose it wasn’t the doorbell.”  She let herself back through the gate, frowning.  “So what was all the noise about?”

“There was noise?  What did I miss?  Did something explode?  I hear that stuff explodes around here sometimes.  Was that the mail?”

Lydia whirled to scowl through the gate at Beetlejuice, who had conjured himself a hat, and a striped suit to go with the stereotypical comedy British explorer hat.  “What are you doing here?”

“I was just passing by.  Investigating little mysteries, lowering property values.  You know, a gracious hostess would invite an old friend in.  You know, to reminisce?  Share some laughs?”

“Gracious hostess?  Don’t make me laugh.”  Lydia took a deep breath.  “Beetlejuice.”

“Oh come on.  You’re not even going to give me a chance?  It’s been ages!  I might’ve changed!”

“Might’ve?”

Beetlejuice fiddled with his hat.  “Might’ve.  Didn’t.  What can I say? I’ve gotta be me.”

“You should try being someone else.  Beetlejuice.”

“Fine!  I know when I’m not wanted.  I can take a hint.  I can -”

“Give me a straight answer?”  

“Well… no.”

“Bettlejuice!”

“You’re going to regret thissssss!”

Lydia scowled through the gate at the slowly dissipating puff of green smoke.  “What is he after?  And why can’t he invite himself in?  I thought that only worked in bad vampire movies.”

Once again, there was no response.  

With a sigh, she returned to the house.

Lydia spent the afternoon wandering the house, camera in hand.  Every corner showed a new detail, and she entertained herself by finding as many interesting images as she could.  It wasn’t difficult, thanks to the eclectic and somewhat morbid interior design.  

After a refreshing bath in a tub with disturbingly realistic claws, Lydia wished her tortoise good night and set an alarm before crawling into bed.

Morning brought another bowl of cereal, and Lydia’s morning round of feeding and watering brought her to the foyer - where the cucumber sandwiches had vanished, and a small pile of mail was sitting neatly on the table.

She flipped through the mail, noting such interesting addresses as Timbuktu, Singapore, Cincinnati, and Moose Jaw.  It was all addressed to ‘Miss W. Addams’ or, more interestingly, ‘Mssr Lurch’.

It all went neatly into a large envelope, which she was to drop off once a week at a forwarding service.  Still, it had been a long time since she’d seen such a variety of shapes and sizes of actual mail - and not a single piece of junk mail.

She refilled the bowl, this time with little cucumber discs, stuffed with olives and cheese.

Once Cleopatra was convinced to take a postprandial snooze wrapped around her favorite bit of statuary, Lydia set out for more photographs - this time outside.  The overcast had finally lifted, the occasional bit of rain had turned everything a glorious, damp green, and the rest of the property beckoned.

She pulled on a battered pair of boots, grabbed her favorite camera and the map of the grounds, and set out.

Two hours later, Lydia sat herself down on a hillock just above the swamp and attempted to empty tadpoles out of her boots.  “For such a tiny swamp, you sure have an attitude,” she told it.  She had mud up to her thighs and up past her elbows from several incidents where she’d found herself stuck very firmly in the swamp. It had been far easier to wander into the swamp than to wander back out, but she’d managed a few really beautiful pictures and was feeling well pleased with herself.

Once her boots were properly emptied, she stretched out on the grass and stared up at the sky.  Yesterday’s explorations had taken her to the play room, and the contents had given her food for thought.  Strangely, the antique and obviously well-used rack hadn’t thrown her particularly, nor had the his and hers beds of nails.  This was possibly because the iron maiden in her own room had somewhat inured her to such things, but also because the house itself, however invisibly haunted, however odd and strange, seemed a warm and welcoming place.  The dichotomy was severe, but Lydia was very much enjoying her surroundings - living taxidermy aside.  She would never get used to the foyer rug.

As she stared upward, idly wondering, the distant sound of the gong jolted her upright.

“What is that sound for?”

As usual, there was no answer.  With an irritated huff, she squelched her way back to the house, where she found a boot cleaner, a set of damp towels, a robe, and a laundry bag waiting just inside the door.

Leaving the mud and wet clothing at the door, Lydia wandered barefoot through the house, camera still in hand.  She was starting to get the hang of the place, or at least remember some of the landmarks.  The house wasn’t huge, but she’d never lived anywhere quite so large before, and it was definitely taking some getting used to.  That and it felt slightly like intruding, to wander in and out of the private rooms in someone else’s home while they were away.

She peered through a door and found her breath catching.  Intrusion or no, this was a room she would definitely have to explore.  It was the study.  She didn’t need the map to tell her that, and there were books, antique-looking books, interesting looking books, books in every language she could think of….

Lydia drifted into the room, eyes fixed on the books.  She ran her fingers across the edges of the shelves, unwilling to touch some of the older looking volumes with her bare hands, as she just took in the sight and the smell of the books -

And stopped.

Handbook for the Recently Deceased .  Right beside Handbook for the Recently Deceased - 15th Ed.  It was beside All New Handbook for the Recently Deceased!  There were almost twenty of them, each showing a very different edition, in terms of colour and design.  Lydia caught herself reaching for the familiar volume before stopping herself.  Narrowing her eyes, she reached for one entitled ‘Being Dead is Not the End’.

After she’d had a hot bath to get the last of the lingering mud off her skin, she was going to settle down for a nice, long read.

… one hundred years.  Of course, this does not apply to the dispossessed.

Well, that answered one lingering questions.  The edition of the Handbook that Lydia had first read so many years ago had only addressed those who were in possession of a home when they’d died.  

“So people without a home have a different timeline?”  She stretched out on her bed and flipped through the book.  There wasn't much to find.

The dispossessed must find other means.

The dispossessed do not often so linger.

“Same old maddeningly unspecific Handbook.”  Lydia rolled over, frowning up at the ceiling.  “So… Beetlejuice is one of the dispossessed - and I’m betting they don’t linger because sandworms.”

She pulled herself out of the bed and ventured back out to the study.  Choosing three other versions of the handbook at random, she carried them back to her room.

Lydia slept right through her alarm the next morning.  It took the sound of eldritch screams to wake her, and even then she sat bolt upright and blinking, unable to figure out what had woken her until the sound had faded away.

She nearly brushed her teeth with something from a tube bearing the label ‘New, Refreshing, Cyanide Taste’.   By the time she wandered downstairs, a notebook and all four versions of the Handbook clutched to her chest, she was almost awake.

She didn’t actually tread on the rug, though she tried to feed it one of the mice through it’s large nose.  The bowl of tiny quiches nearly slid off the table as she tried to retrieve the mail at the same time.  She did drop it when the gong went off and an ornamental box on the table popped open, and a man’s hand deposited the mail on the table before vanishing back inside.

Lydia, now wide awake, spent almost an hour figuring out how a man’s hand had popped out of that small box, which was attached to the table… but had absolutely no ingress or egress save the lid.  Eventually, she retrieved the quiches and left them beside the box, gathering the mail and retreating warily to feed Cleopatra.

Now that she was aware of them, there were quite a few of those boxes, scattered here and there throughout the house.  They tended to be tucked beside ornamental plants, or beside other items.  They fit in so well with the rest of the decor that she really hadn’t noticed them at all.  There was one in the kitchen, one beside the phone in the family room, one in the study….

She gathered up the original folder and flipped through it.

Thing will take care of the mail.  You have only to place it in the correct envelope and drop it off once a week at the forwarding service.

“Thing.  Really?”

A tapping alerted her to the presence of a nearby box, and large fingers curved over the edge.

“Thing?”

It drummed its fingers again.

“Um.  I’m Lydia.  Hello?”

The fingers waved at her, and the box snapped shut with a decided ‘click’.

“... well, now I’ve officially seen everything.”

As evening fell, Lydia returned the various handbooks to the study and began searching again.  “So Beetle- he isn’t tethered to a place, but he’s not unique.  There are ghosts here, but I can’t think they’d be interested in a bio-exorcist, as they appear quite friendly… so why is he  interested in coming in, and why can’t he just appear here?”

She considered placing a Skype call, but the thought of her family’s collective reaction to the very word Beetlejuice, kept her from following through.  She did continue her train of thought, however.  “He said something about this place.  This family… so perhaps there’s a connection there.”

It felt more like an intrusion than ever, but Lydia had decided that keeping undesirables out of the house was definitely a part of her job description.  There were histories on the shelves of the study, but there were a great many of them.

“It’s a good thing that I like to read.”

It took Lydia almost a week and a half to discover what she was after.  It had taken her less time to win Cleopatra’s affections, or at least break the plant of the habit of attempting to cheerfully tie her to the underbrush in the conservatory while Lydia was attempting to feed the other plants.

The book in question wasn’t quite a diary, more of an annotated scrapbook, and she’d found a reference to Beetlejuice and worked her way back to ‘the incident’ as the author referred to it.  She’d grown quite fond of the author, one Vendetta Addams, in great part because the lady appeared to possess a very active sense of humour.

He was introduced as LaBorgia’s plus one, which caused some comment on her sanity, and no little judgement on her taste.  He made over familiar advances to everyone with a generous bosom, ate all of the boiled sheep’s eyes, stepped on little Itt, and attempted to stuff the entire contents of my father’s humidor into the front of his dreadful suit.  He then picked a somewhat inebriated fight with the coat rack and insulted poor LaBorgia to the point where father declared him persona non grata.

“I get the feeling that means a little more than just tossing him out into the street.”  Not that being cut socially dead by the Addams was a small thing, at least within the supernatural community.  No wonder Beetlejuice didn’t think there were any sandworms around.  They probably wouldn’t dare.  Her reading had introduced her to all sorts of things she would’ve scoffed at just a week ago, but between the rug and Thing, she was having a hard time working up a good scoff.  “I bet he was hexed.”

That made all of this about petty revenge of some sort, and it would have to be petty.  Over the years, Lydia’s terror at her experiences during that dreadful dinner party had faded to wary annoyance.  A very good therapist had helped her with that, but still.  She’d seen Beetlejuice on several occasions since then, and he tended to outsmart himself, or overreach himself, more often than he needed to be defeated.

Lydia glanced at the clock, frowning.   She’d planned to run to the store today, but she’d gotten rather absorbed in Vendetta Addams’ extremely arch and highly entertaining social commentary and time had gotten away from her.

She’d have to go out early tomorrow - and see if she could run into Beetlejuice.

“I’ll leave the keys here, however.  I’ll just have to trust you guys to let me back in.”

Lydia’s journey to the store was uninterrupted by anyone stripey and possessing a dubious grasp of morality.  She spent the afternoon taking pictures in the graveyard (with a mental note to ask Miss Addams’ permission before using any of them).  When Lydia returned to the house, she found the usual stack of mail, with a picture postcard from somewhere in Germany from Miss Addams.

Miss Deetz,

I hope that you are enjoying your stay.

Lurch will be returning home shortly to tend to the housekeeping.

Give my love to Cleopatra.

  1. W. Addams

“Lurch?”  Lydia retrieved her folder and flipped through it.  Lurch must be the ‘Mssr Lurch’ some of the mail had been addressed to.  A little searching revealed that Lurch was the butler, and wasn’t that food for thought?  She’d never lived anywhere with a butler before… and that must be the very, very large man who’d driven Miss Addams away.

That was mildly intimidating.

There was another note, this one from Delia.  It was all loops and swirls and wild green ink.

Darling Lydia,

I hope you’re not dead.  Your father is driving me crazy with his fretting.  Call him.

D

P.S.  Please send pictures of the house so the haunts will stop bugging me.

Lydia found herself smiling, slightly unwillingly.  She’d have to remember to send an email tonight, and attach some of the slightly less unnerving pictures.  Maybe she’d include the one of the rack.  Driving Delia up the wall was always fun.

Upon feeding the pets the next morning, Lydia scowled at the tiny tray of meats, cheeses and crackers, and realized who they were for. "Thing eats better than I do," she declared, setting the tray beside the box in the foyer.

She paused, that thought leading to another, and then to another. How on earth did a disembodied hand eat? Then again, she hadn't seen more of Thing than the the hand - maybe the tiny boxes were all connected to some huge, multi-dimensional space, and Thing was an enormous creature with fifteen hands

Deciding very firmly that she didn't want to know, and resolving to be very, very polite, Lydia set out on her errands.

It was late afternoon, after a lengthy trek to the local library, before Lydia ran into Beetlejuice again.

More or less literally.  Her collection of local history books went flying, Beetlejuice caught a particularly weighty tome in the jaw, and Lydia skinned her knee as they both crashed to the sidewalk.

“Oh, so now it’s assault!  I see how it is.  Here I am, minding my own business -”

“Liar.”  Lydia began collecting her books.  “What do you want with the Addams Family?"

“Why, I resent the implication, my delicate blossom.  I’m here to see you!  How could you imagine that I -”

“Beetlejuice,” with warning in her tone as she leveled that same, heavy book at him.  “I know what happened at Vendetta Addams’ birthday party.  You’re lurking here for a reason, and no, I’m not going to help you with whatever you’re planning, so you might as well come clean.”

“Oh come on.  How can you take their side?”  He waved his arms at her, seeming to grow in size and bulk as he loomed over her.  “The minute people start living in a mansion they forget their friends and - “

“Beetlejuice!  You are not my friend.  You are a horrible, horrible, person.  Child brides are not supposed to be a thing.”  Lydia glared at him.  “I know that you’re up to something, and you can either tell me what it is, or I will let Miss Addams know that you’re in the neighborhood.”

Beetlejuice shrank back to more or less his normal size and cast a hunted look over his shoulder.  “Shhhhh.  You do not want to do that.  Damn it, Toots.  Throw me a bone here.”

“Only if it’ll connect.”  She continued to glare.  “Confess.”

“Not in a million years.  See you later, sweet cheeks.”

“Damn it!”  She batted at the rapidly dissipating green smoke.  

Curled up in the wicker throne, skimming her way through local history, Lydia was caught by surprise when the phone rang. She didn't manage to answer it, however, before Thing popped out of its box and politely offered her the antique receiver.

"Thank you," she managed, somewhat startled. "Hello?"

Thing vanished, closing its box with a decided 'click' as a familiar voice said, "Lydia, it's your father."

"Dad!" She paused. "How did you get this number?"

"I looked it up. Addams, W. Some people do still list their numbers, you know. How are you, kitten? Your mother tells me that you're living in an antiquated death trap."

Lydia smiled. "Step-mother, Dad, but yes. That's what she said. It's a really lovely old house. I promised to send some pictures - I just haven't gotten around to it."

"Old houses can be fascinating. Comfortable too," there was a wistful note to his voice. He'd never really gotten over Delia's decorating phase. In all fairness, neither had Delia and Adam's study and the attic were still the only two places in the house left more or less untouched. Not that it didn't stop Delia from trying.

"Maybe you could convince Delia to redecorate." Lydia had to hold back a snort of laughter as her father made an anguished sound. "Sorry, dad."

"I'll let it slide. This time. I think Adam is bored. He wanted to know if you had any floor plans, which argues for another model in the attic."

Lydia looked down at the book in her lap, a dry tome notable mostly for its documentation of a feud between the local planning board and a long ago Addams. "I could probably track some down. I'll send them along with the photos."

"Pick some nice ones. We could use something a little less... geometric in the stairwell."

"I will."

"And it wouldn't kill you to call once in a while."

"Yes, Dad. I will."

"Stay sane, kid."

"I'll try."

Lydia was still smiling as she put the phone back on the receiver. Charles Deetz wasn't the most attentive of fathers, but he did try to be involved in her life. Often unsuccessfully, but it was the trying that counted.

It took almost another week of continually peering out of the conservatory windows or between the slats of the shutters before Lydia actually caught Beetlejuice in the act.  Sort of.

If there was one thing Beetlejuice wasn’t very good at, it was being subtle.  Watching him attempt to sneak up to the mailbox reminded her of a very old Buster Keaton movie.  He peered around corners, attempted to sidle up to the mailbox, and stuffed his arm inside right up to the shoulder.

Over the course of three mornings he attempted to replace the mailbox with a dummy - but was chased away by something Lydia couldn’t quite make out through the growth on the fence.  He dressed up (badly) as the postman, but was interrupted by the actual postman before he could actually do anything.  He attempted to stuff a suspicious looking package into the mailbox, but hadn’t gotten more than ten feet before it came sailing out and conked him on the back of the head.

Thoughtfully, Lydia headed downstairs.  She knocked on the box in the foyer and waited until Thing popped it open.

“Thing, is Beetlej- sorry.  Is he attempting to - to catch you?”

Thing’s fingers beat a cheerful tattoo against the tabletop before it flipped over and made what could probably be construed as an impolite gesture.

“I’ll take that as a yes.  Is there… are you in any danger?”

Another gesture, this one emphatic, and the box banged shut.

“And that’s probably a no.”  Lydia tapped her own fingers on the top of the table.  “Hmm.  I’m not sure I trust that.  He’s a slippery customer, you know.”

There was no response from Thing, and Lydia retreated to the study.

Magic and the supernatural were not something for the novice, a lesson which Lydia had learned first hand those many years ago.  On the other hand, whatever terrible idea Beetlejuice had come up with really needed to be stopped.  Lydia liked the ghosts in the Addams home.  She’d even become warily fond of the rug.  Thing was disquieting, but friendly in its way.  The Addams home and the creatures and plants within it were her responsibility.

She named the tortoise 'Vendetta'.

Lydia found books on magic, or what the Addams family apparently considered to be everyday activities, in some of the oddest places.  One was found tucked in amongst the very… individual  cookbooks in the kitchen.  One was holding up the edge of a small table in one of the attic bedrooms.  One was amidst the botany books by the conservatory.  One was locked in a cage hanging in one of the bedrooms.  Lydia left that one strictly alone.

Lydia poured over the others, taking the occasional note and trying to figure out if she’d be able to keep Beetlejuice from tampering with the mail (and with Thing) and if so, how.

She accomplished the first by simply calling the post office and informing them that she’d be coming in to collect the mail as she’d seen someone tampering with the mailbox.  Some time having been bought, she turned back to her studies.

Cleopatra, it was discovered, found flipping pages to be fun.  Particularly if Lydia wasn’t quite finished with the page, but reading aloud in the conservatory seemed to encourage the hemlock, so Lydia put up with it.

Lydia had quite the collection of notes by the end of another week, and was spending a disproportionate amount of time pouring over them, attempting to make sense of them. Most of them were written much like the recipes of someone who cooks often - which is to say there were things missing, just because the author thought they were too obvious to include.

 "Magic is not for amateurs," was her somewhat disgruntled observation to the world at large as she sat on the steps beneath the porte-cochère, listening to a gentle rain patter against the roof. "I've learned a lot, but none of it is useful! Well, not useful for preventing pesky poltergeists."

It had taken some digging, but amidst the collected correspondence of Vendetta Addams, she'd discovered a few interesting things. Whatever Vendetta's father had done, it had effectively barred Beetlejuice from entering the property unless he were given a key (which his attempts at theft argued was a fairly loose interpretation of 'given') or was invited in.

"Fat chance," Lydia muttered. Beetlejuice might've lowered himself from 'terrifying' to 'mind-bogglingly annoying' in her estimation over the years, but she wasn't about to forget how resourceful he could be.

The incident with her roommate's flashcards proved that tellingly enough.

According to Vendetta's letters, the consequences, should he attempt entry any other way, were vague. The Addams didn't strike her as anyone who'd go for something beyond a punishment befitting the crime, but the consequences would probably not result in good time for Beetlejuice.

For someone so immense, Lurch could apparently move with the stealth of the Addams Family ghosts. When Lydia glanced up from her notes to behold his somewhat damp form standing before her, she actually shrieked. Just a little.

Luckily for her dignity, he seemed to take it in stride. She scrambled to her feet, noting the heavy bags he had in each hand. "Oh, er. Welcome home? I mean - it's good that you're back? You should... probably go inside and... dry off."

He gave her a solemn nod and disappeared into the house, leaving her clutching her notes and trying to regain her equilibrium.

"Well, it'll be nice to have someone else... around the house?"

That morning found Lydia standing in the kitchen feeling slightly bewildered. Her breakfast was all laid out, with toast and cereal and fresh fruit. Her laundry, which had been sitting in a basket atop the washing machine, had been cleaned, ironed, folded, and laid on one of the chairs in her bedroom. Everything sparkled somehow. Not that she hadn't been picking up after herself, but....

"Lurch, you're amazing.

He nodded solemnly to her and took himself silently away.

Lydia wasn't going to lie, especially to herself. With Lurch around, Beetlejuice suddenly seemed much less of a problem.

Which, in turn, gave her an idea.

It was another two days before she encountered Beetlejuice again, this time on her way back from dropping off Miss Addams' accumulated mail.

Lydia surprised him, this time, finding him attempting to peel back enough shrubbery to peer through the fence. The vines and other growth appeared to be actively resisting his efforts.

"What are you doing?"

Beetlejuice shrieked, leaping away from the fence and shoving both hands behind his back. "Who me what? I wasn't doing anything!"

"Sure you weren't." Lydia regarded him skeptically. "Why don't you just apologize? Then you can get on with your life and stop lurking around here.

Beetlejuice drew himself up majestically, or gave it a good try. "Me? Apologize? What sort of host has a fit over a few cigars and an innocent comment on the attractiveness of his daughters?"

Lydia rolled her eyes. "So, what, instead of apologizing you're trying to kidnap their Thing? That... doesn't really argue for any sort of actual logic, does it?"

"It's the principle of the thing!"

"You have no principles. Give it up, Beetlejuice. You're just going to end up getting yourself exploded, or fed to the plants."

He glared at her. "Heartless. You've grown up to be utterly heartless, Lydia Deetz. Out of the goodness of my heart, I've attempted to enliven your dull, grey existence, and this is the thanks I get?"

At the look on her face, he wisely and immediately disappeared.

.

"I'll enliven you you," she threatened, somewhat anticlimactically. "What on earth is he so determined for? And why now?"

Another few days passed before Lydia decided to put her idea into action. She just couldn't let Beetlejuice continue to haunt the street. She'd seen a few things which argued that, when not attempting to assault the Addams house, Beetlejuice was entertaining himself with the neighbors, much to their displeasure.

Lydia chose her moment carefully, hiding behind the growth that wound around and through the fence. When Beetlejuice arrived to make yet another attempt on the mailbox, she was ready.

The ring of keys dropped out of the mailbox and landed with a jangle on the sidewalk at Beetlejuice's feet. He jumped, startled, glancing left and write before scooping up the ring and clutching it gleefully to his chest.

He didn't waste any time, hurrying to the gate and cautiously unlocking it. Lydia barely beat him back to the front door, slipping back inside and waiting. It took Beetlejuice a few tries to realize that he didn't actually have the key to the front door on the ring. As he shook the ring and muttered, trying again and again, Lydia threw open the door.

As Beetlejuice stepped back, startled, Lurch appeared behind him and, grasping him by the scruff of the neck, firmly tossed him over the threshold.

There was a gasp, a sharp 'pop' of sound - and a small black and white striped creature went head over heels across the foyer. Lydia was ready, heavy gloves on and a good-sized cage in her hands, and before Beetlejuice knew which was was up, had scooped him inside and locked it firmly.

Once she was certain he was unable to escape, Lydia rocked back on her heels with a wide smile on her face. "The Addams' certainly know how to throw a curse. If you stepped across that lintel without an apology and a direct invitation, or a set of keys - that would be it for you!"

The fact that Vendetta Addams had always been passionate about small furry creatures had argued that this would be the result, although Lydia would've appeared somewhat foolish with her gloves and cage if anything else had happened.

The ring-tailed lemur inside the cage hissed at her. He worked his tiny hands outside the bars and wrestled with the lock.

Lydia handed the cage to Lurch. "I don't think so. And now you have a suitable amount of time to think up a proper apology before Miss Addams returns from her travels." She regarded him solemnly as he hissed, doing an angry little dance inside his cage. "I'll have to figure out what ring-tailed lemurs eat, I suppose."

Lydia watched, smiling brightly, as Lurch took Beetlejuice away to his new home in the conservatory, where his cage would be hung well out of Cleopatra's reach. From the notes she'd deciphered, he'd be stuck that way until someone else chose to release him - and it was practically an act of heroism to remove him from wider circulation for a year or so.

Of course, the spell wasn't meant to hold someone no longer living, so it'd start to wear thin around the edges after a while. Lurch had found her a few references, so in a few months she'd have a small, irate, possibly still-tailed Beetlejuice to deal with.

"Maybe I should look into a television for the conservatory. Cleopatra strikes me as the sort to enjoy telenovellas." Lydia would deal with Beetlejuice when he regained the ability to speak, and not before. "Maybe some tiny, lurid novels...."

Still smiling, Lydia took herself upstairs to the guest room, for a long delayed conversation with her father, with the Maitlands, and possibly with Delia. Even that wasn't enough to wipe the smile off her face.