No one recognized the dark-eyed older woman sitting in the waiting room today. Her black lace veils, her slouching posture – they were indistinct and vague, the clothing of an observer versus an actor. Her spirit form positioned with its back to the wall as the world swung around her – none of these were magnetic, intriguing gestures.
Her life had been a happy one. Happy and surprisingly quiet, for one who had drawn comfort in the darkness for so long. She had gone out and found a girl who had loved bats, and had opened a photography studio recording the lives of the unusual, people on the fringes, the folks society would dismiss erroneously as ‘freaks’. They had raised an extensive and gently quarrelsome family together, and then a generation of grandchildren. Her partner was still alive; she’d see her sometime. All of this was null and void history. As she had in life, for most of her life, she went ignored until somebody finally paid her heed. So many unusual creatures passed through this weigh station for the dead, and so many of them were far more fascinating than she, all of them with stories more dark, more wild, more intriguing that what she could offer – a heart attack at the age of ninety.
Time had changed her slightly. She was certainly a bit less mournful than she had been in her youth. She had lived a photographer’s life, had lived and experienced as much as she could with her camera in her hand. Her fingers itched against the hand rest of the chair she’d selected. She just wished she’d brought her camera with her, somehow.
She wondered how long she’d have to wait for her turn. The book had never been specific on the subject, and Barbara thought discussing the afterlife made her too morbid, so they’d stopped talking of it long ago, preferring joy over sorrow, as any mortal should. And, she supposed, as any immortal would.
She finally noticed him out of the corner of her eye. Of course he was there. It wouldn’t be right without him sitting a few feet away in his black and white striped suit at the opposite end of the row, his green hair teased to the sky thanks to a recent electrocution.
“Hey Lyds. Got a light?”
“For you? Never,” she scoffed and turned away.
“Awww come on, just for old time’s sake?” She said nothing. “Y’look great for a bag of bones,” he added. “I mean, for a really old chick you’ve still got hot knockers, dig?”
She pulled up her veil and sniffed disdainfully. “You’re still so gross,” she declared.
“Gross is my business, babe,” he said. “And business is picking up.”
She rolled her eyes. Tried to be classy and tried to say nothing, give him no fuel. But he was the one who spoke up again.
“So, d’you have a good life? Pork any hot babes? Smoke any good shit?”
“’Course that’s all you’d care about,” she muttered. But he kept grinning at her in that insidious way of his, and she turned on him. “Maybe I did. Or maybe I went to France and listened to Edith Piaf and cut my throat in a hot bath!”
“Man, you were always with the drama, Lyds,” he snorted. “Good thing you croaked when you did, your face was starting to do that dried apple thing and it looks SICK.”
That was when she reached over and whapped him with her Handbook for the Recently Deceased. Though on later analysis she’d realize she didn’t hit him quite as hard as she might have. It took Lydia a good minute to realize the vague ringing sound she heard wasn’t a product of her anger and was in fact the sound of somebody at the desk ringing a bell again and again to get her attention.
“No fighting in the waiting room, please,” said the green-faced receptionist, sitting back in her chair. “We’ve got a policy – no ghost on ghost violence.” Her expression turned wise, Socratic. “I wish I’d learned that years ago. Do you know it took me forever to realize the undead don’t bleed?”
Beetlejuice sat back in his chair, huffing, yanking his coat back into place and trying to project an aura of respect. Lydia didn’t care how she looked; she wasn’t here for his crap, hadn’t tolerated it in life and wouldn’t tolerate it now. “I’m going to find some corner in this place and I’m going to spend the rest of my afterlife avoiding you.”
“Cool with me,” he growled. “But you’re gonna be begging for a lil’ of the old Beetz mojo after a while, y’hear me?!”
Lydia snarled at him, and he actually backed away an inch or two. At that point the secretary came out to separate them, sending Beetlejuice off to his meeting. She apologized for his behavior she told Lydia that she, too, was ready to meet with her guide.
She had been well-prepared, thanks to the handbook, for the long hallways and the offices. But she had been completely unprepared for the sight that greeted her when she entered the appointed office; a woman settled behind a desk, dressed in a familiar flowered dress.
Her face, warmer and open (not literally to her relief) retained its familiar expression of fondness. And of all of the spirits she might encounter, no face was more beloved to Lydia, even her own mother’s.
The spirit gasped. “Lydia!” Barbara Maitland cried. Then she was around the desk, both arms around Lydia, forever as fresh and lovely as the first day Lydia had seen her. “Oh, I knew they wouldn’t let me go back to the house for a reason! Are you all right? You didn’t see anything horrible, did you?”
“No, I’m fine – can you really be fine when you’re dead? But I do – I feel fine. And I’m here,” Lydia said. “And I can’t wait to get started.”
Barbara hugged her tighter. “Come on, Adam’s waiting. I’ll teach you everything we know!”
Lydia felt a thousand years younger, a thousand pounds lighter. Her afterlife would start here, and she couldn’t wait for it to really and truly begin.