Work Header

In the Spectre's Shadow

Chapter Text

When he had been spawned into the world of darkness, his mother had been a kind if not flawed soul. At least, that was how he remembered it. She’d fallen in love, and made mistakes. Everyone did. He found it odd she could have given birth, but demons could be both dead and fertile apparently. He never knew his father. For reasons his mother had said were beyond control or explanation, but that there were big plans which involved his existence.

He had repressed the truth. Because his very existence had slowly begun to curdle that soul which had bourne him. The sweetness once so genuine turned feigned and eventually to adamantine; hard, cold, and unyielding. When he would ask her questions -why he was so different from the other ghouls, why he had grown so fast, what in fact he was- he received censure and chastising. Where once the answer would have been, “Because you are different, you are meant for more.” so it had turned to, “The worst decision I have ever made, living or dead.”

He hadn’t spent too much time with his mother. Just enough to remember that, and repress it, repress much that he didn't even recall repressing. He’d never known there existed rules in the land of the dead. Or that his very existence was an affront to them. Whatever he was, he wasn’t allowed. Not allowed to exist, not allowed to roam free, and certainly not allowed to stay in the hands of his parent. The universe itself had seemed to decree that one. So he was taken in, shown to a new woman. A prim and proper and no nonsense woman. Juno they called her. A caseworker. And she’d taken one look at him and turned to her superiors, asking,

“What am I supposed to do with him?”

With? No. Without. Always without. Without place, without name, without answers, without home. One of those things they gave him. A name they said, he needs a name. A name to know, a name to bind, a name to curse. Betelgeuse, Beetlejuice, Beteljuice. Names, spellings, letters all jumbled in his head. Named after a star, they said. One of the brightest stars in the sky, they told him. Destined for greatness, just like his mother had said. Juno, his mother, somewhere along the line they got tangled in his brain. One sweet and worthy of love turned cold and indifferent and cruel, the other sharp-tongued, sharply dressed, no-nonsense, but ultimately trying to do her best by him. That best just included repressing just about everything that made him, him.

“You need to get a job,” Juno had said, “Do some honest work,”

“Why is your hair purple?” the voices began to meld, one of them curious, the other angry. He’d forgotten what emotion purple evoked back then. He only knew what one it incited.

“I should have left like your Father!” his mother screamed, throwing a bottle of Netherworld booze at him. Though he’d grown quickly, his powers hadn’t been quite as controlled. And he’d lashed out, slamming her against the wall. She’d done nothing but laugh maniacally at him, drunk off her ass and just as bitter and angry.

“That’s right,” she’d sneered, “Just like your father, smack me around some more why don’t you? Prove you’re just as lowly a piece of filth as the rest of us. Promises, promises, you’re nothing but the culmination of empty promises and every bad decision I ever made! Go on you little shit! Hit me harder! C'mon, C'mon..." and then she'd scoff when he'd hesitate, binding him with nothing more than her will and a click of her fingers, "You don’t even have the guts to be a proper demon do you? All that power and you're such a fucking waste!”

He’d done as she asked, only because he didn’t know the difference. He didn’t know, he didn’t know. He didn’t know what mothers were supposed to be like, but he’d been frightened all the same. And the laughter continued. He didn’t know kindness, he didn’t know love, he didn’t even know his own strength, but Beetlejuice had learned. And that had been the night the rest of the Netherworld learned of him

It had taken Juno one evaluation to find the problem, that he had been stunted. Born dead, immensely powerful, but untrained and over disciplined. It really wasn’t that difficult to figure out, he couldn’t spell, couldn’t read, and didn’t even have control over basic supernatural abilities even most recently deceased could figure out on their own. So her solution had been to send him off to school. Where once again, he was faced with questions and no answers. Questions without answers led to the derision of his peers. Some of them dead before their time, others attempting rehabilitation by starting over as children. All of their words, vain, and mocking and cruel. His appearance, his uselessness with most things academic, his struggle to perform basic spectral tasks without needing to have a section of the school rebuilt at the slightest criticism. Beetlejuice was the biggest kid at that school, in terms of both weight and height. Numbers were powerful as they circled around him, chanting and jeering. But instead of fear as he remained rooted in the center of that crowd, he’d felt anger, and a sort of dark glee. He was bigger than them, he’d realized. For once, he was bigger, which meant they couldn’t hurt him. But he could hurt them.

It had taken some very powerful forces, forces far older than he was, combining their powers in order to restrain him. And all of that had certainly taken its toll on them as well. The carnage, however, was already done. Scattered limbs and bones and piles of undead flesh lying in heaps across the schoolyard. And in the middle of it all had been Beetlejuice with a bright red complexion, from head to clothes to foot. Since he had been assigned to Juno she had to take responsibility for him. And the punishment? Banishment, for the equivalent of a hundred human years. Along with the curse fully enacted upon his name. Three times, they had said, three times must it be spoken in unbroken succession. Elsewise he would remain in the human world, but apart from it. Able to observe, but not affect. Alone, and invisible.

Beetlejuice had never left the realm of Hell before then. Was only familiar with the vast emptiness that was the Netherworld and the subsequent city the denizens of the dead had built and dubbed the Neitherworld. And the dead, while they tried to act as though they were still alive, it was all a facsimile. At least, to him it was; human interaction, real living human interaction. It was different. The warmth of people that could be felt even as he passed through them like a winter breeze. He watched the humans grow. Watched the ancient cities rise and fall as he bounced back and forth between Hell and Earth. Breathers were interesting, creative, inspiring. And the more he watched, the more he longed to be a part of them. But without help, none of them could see him.

Though it had never been his intention, he’d become a sort of psycho pomp in a way. The Egyptians called him Anubis, the Greeks called him Hermes, the Romans called him Mercury. And countless other peoples gave him other designations. Shinigami, the Grim Reaper. The list went on. He would guide helpless souls to the afterlife, gifting them their handbooks and sending them on their way. Once or twice, he’d had to convince someone that they were in fact, recently deceased, and practically force them through the door. Man, humans were stubborn. Why he continued to do it when what he truly longed for was to cross that barrier and join them in life was something even he didn’t quite understand. But all the while, he watched, and he waited, and he began to plot. Eventually, a plan formed. He had the information, he knew it could be done. Three times they’d said. Spoken unbroken. Beetlejuice could gain his freedom, all he needed was the right pair of suckers to help him do it.

As the centuries passed he traveled all over the world. America, however, was one of the places he liked best. Big, and ancient, and yet new all at the same time. The older parts were the places he liked best. For whatever reason, he’d taken to haunting the streets of New York as of late. He liked that city perhaps the best, it never died. Someone was always going somewhere, always doing something. The constant noise was a comfort to someone who was all too used to silence. Made him feel like for once he was actually a part of something. Like he belonged. But, as Beetlejuice wandered the streets he saw a funeral procession cutting through the traffic. Strange, but potentially interesting. He always found funerals a good time. The sadness and mourning a missing of someone gone. It was in a way, cathartic. A nice acknowledgement that it was death that turned people callous and cold, and that life was its exact opposite in so many ways.

Beetlejuice floated after the line of cars. Watching the mourners as they donned their finest blacks and biggest hats, clutching tightly at umbrellas as dark clouds passed through the night sky. The moon hung high in the sky overhead, casting a soft glow. Funny, he remembered the moon’s light being more silver and blue, but tonight it shone yellow. Almost like the sun. A fool’s sun, much like fool’s gold. Just as pretty as the real thing, but signifying nothing but lies and falsehood. Voices were hushed and muted as he wandered through the crowd. And then he saw it, the casket laying in the ground. The words of the reverend saying his eulogy as people came and silently cast flowers into the pit. He knew some of those flowers, calla lilies, for mourning, morning glories, for mortality, forget-me-nots, self-explanatory, white camellias, and two singular roses. Both of them blood red. They stood out amongst the other flowers piled atop the casket. But Beetlejuice’s eye was drawn to one of the mourners, a young woman who looked especially sad. Strange, must have been related. She began to slowly wander away, amongst the headstones. Beetlejuice followed after her, listening to her wax on about how sadness made one invisible. Funny, he was sad precisely because he was invisible, but he could still relate. Especially since, even if one was invisible, nothing stopped, the world carried on without you, regardless of if you were there or not.

For the first time in forever, Beetlejuice wished he could be seen. If for no other reason than so that he could tell the girl he saw her. That she wasn’t invisible. That her wish, for someone to say her name could come true. But she wouldn’t see him, so he said nothing. She turned and returned to her father’s side, they shared a hug, and accepted the token pittances from the other mourners. He watched the girl’s face from behind the veil, a morbidly pretty little thing, even with the hair that looked like she’d taken scissors to it in a haphazard manner. But it was more the expression that she was somehow aware this was all shallow pageantry of some kind. That none of these people would really be here for her in her time of need. Something made abundantly clear with the hugs accompanying a parting remark. Another meaningless platitude like, “Call us if you need anything,”

Watching breathers say their goodbyes was boring. So he turned his attention to the tombstone. It was a relatively simple one, but clearly someone had dropped some money on this slab of granite. And the name on it read Emily. And that was it. Strange… he thought to himself. Normally breathers who had lost someone put more than just a name. Some type of epitaph, some well wishes, letting people know who she was. Hell, even some damn dates should have been there but there was absolutely nothing. Nothing but a name. A name of a dead woman, who must have meant something to the people who were here at the grave, but nothing they thought important enough to put on her headstone? Those words were often the only thing that could save a person in their appeals. How those they left behind saw them. So why was there nothing there?

Before he could think too hard on it Beetlejuice saw the father and daughter heading to a car. Call it boredom, or idle curiosity, or even a self-indulgent whim, but he followed them. Back to a rather impressive single home considering they lived in one of the most crowded and expensive cities in the world. He watched the girl doff her veiled hat and run up the stairs to her room. Her father only barely having gotten the first syllable of what was likely her name out of his mouth. Clearly, the chick wasn’t in the mood for talking. The man sighed and went into another room. Tempting as the girl might have been something was telling him to look more closely at the dad. Or maybe it was his own lack of a paternal figure that caused the desire to observe. Who knew.

The office was very much what he might have expected it to be based solely on the living man’s appearance. Dark heavy woods, leather wingback chairs, books that had almost certainly never been disturbed from the shelves. Beetlejuice scoffed, what a yuppie. But still, he interestedly observed as the man went to check his answering machine. More of the same spiels heard at the funeral. And then, a pause, as the man came across a voicemail he seemed to actually want to listen to,

“Hi Mr. Deetz, this is Jane Butterfield. I know it’s still a little soon, but I think I know of the perfect house for you and your family. There’s a slight complication with the house being currently occupied, but I’m sure we can negotiate a price and get you settled in within the year. Give me a call back if you’re interested, alright? Okay, bye,”

And that was when he felt it. The slight tug. A tug that only grew more insistent as he watched this Deetz man pick up the phone and dial a number. He could only hear half of the conversation, the one on this end, but that tug became stronger and stronger with each passing sentence,

“Yes Miss Butterfield? Yes it’s Charles. Listen I’m sorry to call so late but we just got home and I wanted to return your call as soon as possible. You said something about a house? Where is it again?” he paused, “Winter River Connecticut? Sounds a little out of the way… is it the sort of place where you could settle down?” another pause, “Not very urbanized you say… but it has… potential?” his brow raised, “Yes, well, see what sort of offer you can get out of the couple currently living there, and then we’ll talk. Alright, alright goodnight.”

Winter River. Winter River. The name resounded in his head like a death knell. And it probably was. Years of carting souls off to the Netherworld had given him an almost preternatural ability to sense when death was coming. And death was coming to that couple in Winter River. He knew it. He could feel it in his bones. Those poor saps were on the end of someone’s hitlist. Maybe the little real estate lady. Whatever the cause, whatever the case, they were already as good as dead, dead, deadski. But perhaps… Beetlejuice thought to himself as he considered the possibilities… he could use these deaths to his advantage. He already knew the Deetz family was planning a move, and if they were already dead there was nothing to stop the family, a family of living people, from encroaching on the couple’s turf. It sure would be a shame if something were to keep the couple from finding their handbook, and finding out where they needed to go… now wouldn’t it?

Oh yes, Beetlejuice rubbed his hands together with sadistic glee. It was all coming together. Once those two bit the big one, all he’d have to do would be to stop them from leaving for the Netherworld. And even so, he had enough scary stories about Juno to keep them at bay. All he needed to do was get them to stay in their house with him, long enough to get one of the breathers to say his name three times, and then he’d be as good as gold. He’d be out, unshackled, and free to really raise some hell. With barely another glance at the man Beetlejuice disappeared, following that pull to a large lonely house on a hill in the middle of Nowheresville, Connecticut. Population, one couple, and an invisible demon. But with a little luck and some good old fashioned conning, that would all be changing very, very soon.