October was a weird time of year for Lydia. On one hand, she absolutely couldn’t deny that watching her adopted family go all out for the Halloween spirit and completely re-decorate the house to match her spooky aesthetic was deeply amusing, touching and more than a little embarrassing. The latter especially after Adam’s 50th “Halloween spirit” joke. Despite that, Lydia couldn’t deny spending whole afternoons draping fake cobwebs over stairwells, carving pumpkins, and perfecting Barbara’s primal screaming in preparation for trick-or-treaters was a lot of fun.
However, Halloween was always dead moms thing. Sure, the whole year was Halloween in Emily’s eyes, but October was something special between them. Lydia couldn’t help but still feel a pang of grief in her chest every time she thought about it. Especially at times like this, when she was alone with her thoughts, getting ready to sleep.
A tapping on her window made Lydia pause as she was climbing into bed. She grit her teeth, glancing over at her drawn curtains, unsure of what she was hoping would be behind them. Whether she was hoping to find anything. Lydia considered just flicking off the light, putting some headphones in and going straight to sleep. A second, more insistent tapping changed her mind. She dropped the duvet cover she was holding and dragged herself over to the window, took a breath and flung the curtains open in one go.
In her head, Lydia had pictured different ways in which Beetlejuice may come barrelling into her life again. She had imagined scenarios involving fireworks, screaming, maybe even some begging to be let back into their lives. Mostly, she had concluded, he would be too occupied with his return to the Netherworld to come back to them anyway, wasn’t that what he wanted?
What Lydia hadn’t imagined, however, was him hovering outside her third-floor window, a fanged smile plastered on his face and a present in his hands, wrapped in black and white wrapping with a green bow on top. It looked like it had been wrapped by a five-year-old. Lydia opened the window.
“HAPPY BIR- mmph,” Lydia slapped a hand over Beetlejuice’s mouth.
The last thing she wanted was the rest of the household to find out that a demon was outside her window. Beetlejuice licked her hand, making her pull it away in disgust. She wiped the saliva on her pyjama bottoms, making a mental note to burn them later.
“What are you doing here?” Lydia asked, because it was a valid question, and not just because she couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“I got you a birthday present” Beetlejuice said, like it was obvious. To emphasise his point, he shook the box a little. Lydia swore she heard hissing coming from inside it.
“My birthdays in January” Lydia said.
“I… Really? I would’ve had you down as a Scorpio for sure,” Beetlejuice knitted his eyebrows together.
A third arm appeared at his side, holding what looked like one of Delia’s birth charts. He seemed to be genuinely studying the thing. However, before either of them could ponder astrology further, Lydia heard a knock at her door.
“Lydia, are you alright in there?” Delia’s voice rang out from behind the door, “Charles said he heard a shout. Are you practicing for tomorrow or is this regular teenage angst? Should we be concerned?”
Lydia turned back to Beetlejuice, whispering, “Meet you on the roof when everyone’s asleep?”
He winked conspiratorially at her, his lips moving into a crooked smile that showed all his teeth, and floated up and out of Lydia’s view.
It took over two hours for Lydia to be confident she could get up and out onto the rooftop to talk to Beetlejuice without anyone noticing. Some of that time, of course, including convincing Delia that she was actually just shouting to clear her minds seventh eye, or some other crap she had heard her stepmom say before. Considering Lydia’s teen angst bullshit had a body count, she didn’t really blame Delia for being concerned.
Once Delia was out of the way, there was only waiting. The Maitlands, she knew, still went to bed at exactly 11pm every night, despite not actually having to sleep. She would have to pray that tonight wasn’t the night they chose to break routine. Her dad and Delia were a little easier to predict. Most nights, Lydia would sleep with headphones on to prevent herself from having to listen to their… Night-time activities. Luckily, however, her dad snored like a chainsaw, and as soon as Lydia heard the predictable dulcet tones of her father deep in sleep, she began to move.
She made sure she was wrapped up in a comfortable hoodie, some gloves Barbara had knitted for her, and her boots to protect her from the frigid October air. The Maitlands would be proud. She also grabbed a hand-made bracelet that was sitting on her side table and stuffed it in her hoodies front pocket. She slid open her window for the second time that night, and clambered through it to access the roof.
“Took you long enough,” Beetlejuice was where she had found him the first night they had met, on a raised bit of roof near the large chimney that fed all the way down to the living room. He was surrounded by broken bits of pumpkin, having evidently eaten some of Lydia’s Halloween decorations. At his feet lay the box he had brought to the roof with him, although the wrapping paper had been torn off. The demon held up a small bag of white powder, “Hope you don’t mind I helped myself to some of your present while I was waiting.”
Well, that explained why his eyes looked even more bloodshot than usual. Lydia wrinkled her nose in disgust, “You came here just to give me drugs? That’s your idea of a present?”
She had half a mind to just turn around and go back to bed. This was a mistake, after all. She knew it was. Beetlejuice was unstable, and dangerous. He had literally put her through hell and back. But the way he was looking at her gave her pause. He looked like he knew he had made a mistake but couldn’t figure out what, with his head tilted the way it always was when he was trying to understand something difficult.
“I, uh, no. There’s other stuff too,” He stood up, then seemed to think better of it and sat back down, pushing the box towards Lydia with his foot, his leg extending until the present was close enough for her to touch, “Here.”
Lydia crouched over the box, feeling a little nervous. She wouldn’t put it past him to make a box full of cockroaches as a prank. However, a quick glance up at him told her it probably wasn’t a joke. He was nervously fidgeting, which might just be the coke, of course, but Lydia steeled herself and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Well, here goes nothing, she thought, as she took off the lid of the box. What greeted her was four pairs of hungry looking eyes, a striped tongue, and two rows of teeth. The sandworm reared up and out of the box, and Lydia flinched away, waiting for a bite. Instead, she felt a soft tongue lap against her cheek, and she opened her eyes to see a tiny monster nuzzling itself into her shoulder.
“Pretty cute, right?” Beetlejuice had managed to move to her side without her notice. He poked the sandworm with a finger, and it curled around his arm, “Cost me an arm and a leg, literally.”
Now that he was close enough, she could smell the scent of rot and decay that followed him, Lydia’s heart began to beat faster, and bile rose in her throat. Images flashed through her mind. Barbara, suspended in the air, screaming. The emptiness of the Netherworld. A red wedding dress. All the anger and resentment she had initially pushed down seemed to be rising.
“Beetlejuice,” She said, trying to keep her voice level.
However, the demon didn’t seem to be paying attention, “It’s a construct, see, so you wont have to feed it or anything-“
“Beetlejuice” She tried again, more anger bubbling up in her as he continued to ignore her.
“-unless, of course, you want to feed it baby ghosts, which could be a lot of fun actually-“
“BEE-“ Lydia managed to stop herself, mid word. There was silence as the two of them realised what she had nearly done. She grit her teeth and looked at him.
Lydia hated how he kept staring at her. She hated more, how he decided to punctuate the silence with a laugh.
“It’s not funny,” She said, before he could cut in with a stupid remark.
The smile slid from his face, the same nervousness from earlier returning, finally breaking eye contact with her and looking down at the sandworm still coiled around his arm. It appeared to be asleep, “Do you not like it? Or… Oh, are you still mad about the drugs thing? I thought teenagers loved drugs.”
Lydia sighed, she knew it wasn’t an act, he really was this dense, “No it’s not the drugs. Listen you… You can’t just show up here like everything’s fine. It’s not fine. I’m still angry. You never actually apologised.”
To her surprise, it was his turn to look angry. Her heart jolted in her chest, “Woah, woah, what? This is about the green card thing? I thought we were cool, we’re even. You stabbed me, remember?”
As if she needed reminding, his hand moved to his chest and pulled at the buttons on his shirt. Lydia felt like she was going to throw up as he revealed the stab wound, still looking as fresh as the day she had given it to him. Lydia remembered how difficult it’d been to shove the pole into him, the squelching noise and the way his bones had cracked underneath her. Lydia sat back on the roof and pulled her knees up to her chest, which felt so tight she thought she was going to stop breathing altogether. Tears stung at her eyes. She looked out onto the garden so she wouldn’t have to look at him.
She heard Beetlejuice make a frustrated growl, deep in his throat, “Fine. Fine. I’m sorry. Are we friends now?”
“I’m still allowed to be mad at you, and I don’t have to forgive you,” Lydia said, her voice shakier than she wanted it to be, “That’s not how people work.”
More silence. If it wasn’t for the steady, heavy breathing coming from behind her, Lydia would almost wonder if he left. It wasn’t like him to be quiet for this long. She closed her eyes and tried to calm herself down, the way Delia had taught her. Deep breath in, deep breath out. It felt like it was working.
Eventually, Beetlejuice spoke behind her. His voice was quieter than usual, softer, “I’m not a person, Lyds.”
That prompted Lydia to turn around and look at him again. Thankfully, he had the presence of mind to button his shirt back up, covering up the hole in his chest. His hair had turned from its usual green to a dark violet, the way it was when she first met him. His hands were ringing themselves together, and he was looking at his lap. He looked like he was struggling to come up with something to say, so Lydia decided to stay silent.
Eventually he continued, “I’m not… I’m a demon. I… I don’t know how it works. I just want…” Another frustrated noise, and he screwed his eyes shut, “I’m not good at words. I just want to be frien- to be okay again, even if we aren’t BFFFFs anymore. Because you’re… Still mad.”
Lydia felt another pang in her chest, even as her gut still churned. He sounded earnest, and it reminded her of how he was when they first hung out together, before everything went wrong. He had told her about how lonely he felt, how nobody had taken him seriously for centuries until Lydia came along. She knew how much it had meant to him, to be seen, so why did he throw it all away?
She knew the answer of course. He was greedy, he wanted her undivided attention. And when he couldn’t have that, he wanted more people to see him, one teenage goth girl was no longer enough. And now he was back to square one. Presumably, Lydia thought, he wasn’t having much fun in the Netherworld if he had come crawling back to her. A horrible, spiteful part of her wanted to make him say it.
“Shouldn’t you be having fun in the Netherworld right now, anyway? What happened to finding your dad?” Lydia asked.
The questions seemed to throw Beetlejuice, and he opened his eyes to look at her, then moved them to look up at the sky, instead.
“Uh, yeah, I’m here for your birthday. Not-birthday, whatever. Then it’s back to partying and other really fun things that you aren’t invited to because you’re a breather,” he said, fingers knotting together.
It was an obvious lie. In the brief time they had been friends, Beetlejuice spent a lot of time talking about how much he missed being in the Netherworld, how he couldn’t wait to be allowed to go back and have day-long orgies and a bunch of other graphic descriptions of things she was definitely too young to be hearing about. There’s no way he would be back here, once again begging a teenager to be his friend if he was truly having a great time down below. Lydia waited for him to look back at her, then raised her eyebrows in disbelief.
It didn’t take long for him to crack, “Okay fine, Nancy Drew. Turns out sandworms can’t fully digest demons. Now everyone knows I tried to kill my own mom. I got a court date and everything.”
He snapped his fingers and a very official letter appeared from thin air. Lydia skimmed over it, “You’re not due in court for another three hundred years?”
“Oh yeah, things move really slow in the Netherworld. You should see the lines at the DMV. That’s the Department for Murder Victims. Let me tell you now, kid, do not get murdered. The paperwork is a nightmare,” The nervous edge to his voice was retreating, he was clearly glad she was talking to him, “But I thought I’d get the jump on them and just hide out somewhere they couldn’t get to me. Especially ‘cause my mom keeps gloating that I’ve run out of chances, and they’ll probably just excorcise me for good this time.”
So that’s the real reason he was here, then. He was running away. Lydia sighed. She didn’t want him to be killed, or double-killed. Nobody deserved that. But she wasn’t sure if she was ready to give him a second chance, either. Like what, she thought, I just invite him back into my life, and expect everyone to want to play happy families with him?
In lieu of having to actually do the difficult, adult thing of making a decision on what to do with the demon on her roof, Lydia poked the miniscule sandworm, still wrapped around Beetlejuice’s left arm. It uncurled itself and floated around her head, making happy chirping noises.
“This is a pretty cool gift,” She admitted, reaching up to scratch the sandworms belly, which was surprisingly covered in soft hairs. It clicked it’s second set of teeth together in appreciation.
A smile lit up Beetlejuice’s face, and he pushed the giftbox towards her again, excitement back in his voice, “There’s, uh, one more thing.”
Lydia stopped what she was doing and glanced into the box again, feeling the sandworm settle over her shoulders as she ceased giving it attention. Inside is what looked like a newspaper, ‘The Netherworld Times’, visible in a black, gothic font. She carefully pulled it out to look at the front page. The headline was about how the rate of excorcisms in the living world was on the rise. She looked back at Beetlejuice, visibly confused at how this could be considered a gift.
“Uh, page 12,” He said.
Lydia flicked through the newspaper until she got to the page she was looking for. At the top of the page read ‘Bio-ituaries’. Her heart raced. She felt Beetlejuice shuffle up behind her.
“Sometimes dead people like to write to their living relatives,” He said, and she could feel his cold breath on the top of her head, “I never really got it, because it’s not like they’re gonna read it until they’re dead too, but I thought-“
She didn’t hear what else he was saying, her ears seemingly stuffed with cotton as her eyes tracked down the page and landed on one entry.
To my darling daughter, Lydia Deetz…
She screwed her eyes shut, the tears that had been threatening to spill all month finally welling up and dripping down her face. She closed the newspaper, wanting to protect her moms entry. Everything was suddenly too overwhelming. Her left hand flew to her hair and tugged.
She heard Beetlejuice mumble a Shit behind her, reminding her of his presence. She didn’t want to do this in front of him. Lydia carefully folded the newspaper up and put it inside of the big pocket on the front of her hoodie. She sniffed and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
“Did I… Uh, do the wrong thing again?” Beetlejuice asked, that nervous edge back in his voice.
Lydia didn’t answer him. Instead, she shuffled her legs around so she was facing him, and flung her arms around him, burying her head into his cold chest. She felt him flinch when she did so, taking almost a full minute before he reciprocated, placing his hands on her own back.
It was awkward, and uncomfortable, and he still smelled terrible, but they stayed like that for a while, as they waited for the wave of tears and emotions that had hit Lydia to pass. The only sound was the occasional sniffling from the teenager, and the chattering of the sandworm as it snaked its way around them. Lydia was acutely aware that she was getting the front of Beetlejuice’s shirt wet, but if he minded, he didn’t say anything.
Eventually, she pushed herself off him, and wiped down her face with the baggy sleeves of her hoodie, “Thanks, Beetlejuice. I… This means a lot. Thanks.”
He tilted his head to get a better look at her, his hands moving to smooth down the lapels on his jacket. For a moment, he looked like he wanted to say something, but then thought better of it. Lydia almost laughed at the level of self-control he seemed to be exhibiting tonight. Maybe he had actually learned something from everything that had happened.
Remembering the friendship bracelet in her front pocket she pulled it out. It was black and white and braided, kind of shoddily, since Lydia was never the crafty type. She hadn’t made it with him in mind, originally, Barbara just had a lot of spare craft materials and she was bored one day. Beetlejuice didn’t need to know that, though.
“I got you something too. I made it myself. Happy not-birthday.” She said, holding it up to show him.
“Demons don’t have birthdays, kid, that’s a lame breather thing,” Beetlejuice said, but he couldn’t hide the excitement in his voice, or the way his eyes lit up as he looked at the bracelet.
“Well maybe we could give you one, Halloween is fitting, after all,” Lydia couldn’t help but smile, “Hold out your arm.”
Beetlejuice stuck his left arm out at her enthusiastically, wiggling his fingers as he waited for Lydia to put it on him. She had to hold his arm still before tying it neatly around his wrist, making sure it was strong enough of a knot that he wouldn’t lose it. When she let go of him, he held his wrist up to his eyes to inspect the bracelet.
“I’m a Scorpio now,” he whispered, eyes large.
That made Lydia snort, and he smiled warmly at her. It was like the spell that had hung over them all night had broken, and she finally felt comfortable enough to laugh in his presence. He wasn’t an evil demon, he was her goofy friend who had saved her from her darkest moments. And she didn’t want him to leave.
He couldn’t stay here though, Lydia knew. Nobody else would see him the way she did, and she didn’t want to try to make them.
She sighed, “You can’t stay.”
“I know,” Beetlejuice said. He didn’t look upset or angry, he had probably sensed this was coming.
“I mean, we can still hang out. Like now.”
“Secret rendezvous under the cover of darkness? I like it,” He pulled a fedora and a pair of sunglasses seemingly out of nowhere, put them on and turned up the collar of his jacket so it covered his neck. Lydia mostly wondered how he knew the word rendezvous.
She checked her watch. It was almost 3 am, and she had to get up early the next day. She stood up, stretching. The sandworm floated up to her, matching her height. She wasn’t sure how she was going to explain it, yet. But that was a problem for tomorrow.
“Not on school nights though, I actually want to do well this year,” She warned.
“Ugh, school. You don’t need that stuff Lyds. I never went to school and I turned out perfectly fine, didn’t I?” A beat, “Don’t answer that, actually.”
Lydia laughed, “I’ll see you Saturday, then. Don’t be late. And…” Her hands moved to her hoodie pocket and she thumbed the edge of the newspaper tucked away in there, “Thanks, Beetlejuice.”
He did a sort of salute, snapped his fingers, and was gone.
Lydia hurried back into the warmth of her bedroom, glad to be out of the cold October air, and closed the window behind her. She pulled the copy of The Netherworld Times out of her pocket, debating whether she wanted to read it tonight.
Tomorrow, she decided, with Dad, he deserves to see it too.
With that, she placed the newspaper carefully on her bedside table, clambered into bed, and flicked off the light. She felt the soft sandworm curl up besides her. And with that, Lydia fell asleep, feeling lighter than she had in months.