Chapter 1: Chapter One: Movin' On, Movin' In.
The store was cute. From certain angles. With its quaint little Victorian style siding and awnings. It had a small town charm, which Elizabeth Cornin could appreciate, even if she couldn’t outright say she loved it. She just couldn’t say she ever saw herself running a Hardware store in the middle of nowhere, Connecticut.
It hadn’t been her idea. But, as she strongly reminded herself on a near daily basis, it had been her choice . Janie had chosen to make the very bold decision to use some of the house-boat insurance money to invest in property. And on the suggestion of her pushy “Artist” sister, had brought the Maitland Hardware Store, up in the village of Winter River, in the county of Peaceful Pines, Connecticut.
“Why on earth did your sister move to Connecticut anyhow?”
Janie had shrugged and blew a cloud of smoke out the side of her mouth. “Her husband needed a ‘relaxing and calming’ relocation from New York.” She’d laughed sharply at that. “The only way that man is getting any peace is if he dumps Delia Dearest in the forest.”
Elizabeth had nodded, not really getting it, but because that’s what you did when your friend is complaining about family and you don’t know what to say.
“Anyhow, I thought, and my ideas are always legendary-”
“I think you lost the right to call your ideas legendary when you brought the house boat in the first place.”
“- I want you to go up there and run the store for me.”
Feeling her mouth hanging open, Elizabeth hurriedly snapped it shut. “You want me to...what?”
“Look, you aren’t working, you’ve run though your savings, your divorce is finally final-” Janie mimed spitting over her shoulder at the mere mention of Liz’s ex husband. “You can’t keep babysitting Mickey’s kid and calling it a career. You need to get out there and make. Something. Happen.” She’d punctuated this with steady claps of her hands.
Elizabeth had called her crazy and left.
But the idea bumped around in her head for weeks. A change of scenery. A fresh start. It wasn’t as if anything was holding her back anymore. No more Mother.
No more Fred.
She couldn’t pretend that the reason she’d started babysitting Natalie was in the hopes she might see her lost friend one more time. And she had started to realise just how nuts that was. She’d started convincing herself she saw shadows on the walls with no owners. That she could smell that faint smell of earth and chemicals and the acidic tang of lemon zest when there’d be no reason to.
Elizabeth was 28 years old and holding out hope to see her imaginary friend by babysitting.
She decided to take Janie up on the Hardware Store. At the very least she might work out just what she wanted out of life before she wasted it.
Mickey had hugged her fiercely and gave her the keys to his truck. Liz felt a little bad for having never really returned his interest, but she felt better when she’d seen that Natalie had made her a card.
“WE’LL MISS YOU, SNOTFACE.”
“Fred helped me make it!” Natalie scuffed her shoe against the pavement, avoiding Liz’s eyes “He says Daddy was actin’ like a big old girl when you told him that you were leavin’.”
It’d taken a great deal of strength not to just unload the paltry amount of boxes she’d managed to pack with her belongings, right then and there. But she swallowed the tears that’d threatened to fall and grinned at Natalie, even if it didn’t meet her eyes.
“I’ll be sure to send you and Fred something from Hardware Store once I get all settled into Connecticut, ok Nat?”
The blonde girl’s eyes had lit up and bounced eagerly.
“A hammer?! Please!”
“We’ll see.” She lowered her voice so Mickey couldn’t hear. “Your Daddy doesn’t really like the breaky noises.” She smiled and nudged the small girl’s shoulder. “Even if they are smashing .”
They’d sat there giggling over the terrible pun until it was time for Liz to leave. She saw Natalie waving at her in the rear view mirror until she’d turned out of the street.
One long roadtrip later, and Elizabeth found herself gratefully taking the keys from the prim, over-eager little real-estate agent, and her identically dressed daughter.
Poor Kid. Elizabeth smiled at the girl, knowing first hand how embarrassing it must be to be forced into that charade. The girl didn’t show any reaction. Liz’s smile faltered.
“Must have been quite the drive from Minnesota!” The little woman, Jane, trilled, following Elizabeth into the store. A thick layer of dust trailed up from under foot. Little Jane sneezed.
“It wasn’t too bad.” Elizabeth batted a cobweb away from her face, forcing down a giggle. “Plenty of gas station food and musty motel sheets. What more could a girl ask for?”
The sarcasm went over Jane’s head. “A lovely way to see the countryside. I must say though, a woman travelling alone these days… your mother wasn’t worried?”
I’m sure she’d be scandalised I’d even left the county, let alone drove 21 hours to start my life over. “I made sure to call in.” To Janie. As she actually cares about me.
“Well anyhow, you just let me know if you need anything dear. This used to belong to my dear cousin. There’s a nice little apartment above the store, and plenty of old furniture up there. Just a little spring cleaning and I’m sure you’ll be all set.”
“What happened to your cousin?” Elizabeth had started milling around the shelves, wondering what she could use to make the apartment more livable. If it was in the same state as the store, it’d clearly need a lot of love.
“He drowned.” The little girl piped up, opening her mouth for the first time since the interaction had begun.
Elizabeth’s eyes widened in question at Jane, who had the decency to look a little wistful, even if it seemed to smack of insincerity. Obviously as she had made quite the tidy profit on her cousin’s death.
“Oh yes, it was quite the tragedy. He and his wife crashed on the Winter River bridge, which leads out of town and up to the Deetz’s house. Such a pity. They were the previous owners of the Deetz place too. Brought it only two years prior. They had wanted to start a family, but…” Jane paused dramatically with a sigh. “It just wasn’t to be.”
Give the woman an Oscar already. Liz fought to keep a straight face.
“S’cause Auntie Barbra was barren, right mama?” The creepy girl piped up again.
“Hush now, Janet.” Jane smiled sweetly to cover up the horribly inappropriate comment her daughter had made. “I do apologize. Well! We’d best be on our way. The Real Estate Office is just a few doors down if you have any more questions!”
Elizabeth watched them from the window as they marched back down to the Office, distinctly hearing the wretched little girl whine “But you told me she was barren, Mama!”
Liz spent the better part of three months working to make the apartment her own. She’d salvaged a lot of the furniture that’d been haphazardly been dumped there. Janie mentioned that her sister had removed a lot of the furniture from the big house on the hill when they’d moved in. A great deal were antiques, lovingly restored by a practised hand.
But as lovely as they were, they were one more reminder that it wasn’t really her home. She’d called Janie and asked what she’d wanted to do with the furniture and been given the oral version of a shrug. “Go ask my Sister what she wants to do with them.”
Which had led to her trailing up the hill to the Deetz’s place. She’d avoided driving.
The creepy little girl’s face swam in front of her face when she’d gone for her keys. “They drooooowwwwnnnneeeed”.
She’d dropped her keys back into her purse as if she’d been burned. Not risking it.
The closer she got, the more confusing the house became. From a distance it’d seemed a perfect picture of Victorian architecture, matching the quaint little down below. But strange geometric shapes rose up as she got closer. Delia’s influence, she mentally noticed. It rather ruined the house, if she was honest.
She panted a little at the top of the hill, craning her head up to take the entirety of the house in. With a jolt, she saw two faces staring back at her from the attic window.
“Must be the Deetz.” She rose a hand to wave at them but they disappeared before she got the chance. “Guess they’re coming down to meet me.” Shrugging she walked up the steps to the front door, and knocked.
A slight wind picked up as she waited, threatening to lift her simple summer dress. Elizabeth didn’t notice the swirling yellow sand that drifted past her feet.
When the door finally opened, a teenager stood on the other side. A pale face, with two startlingly brown doe eyes peeked up at Elizabeth from beneath spiked bangs. A heavy camera hung around her neck.
“Hello, I was wondering if I could speak to Mrs Deetz? I’m Elizabeth Cronin and I just moved into the Hardware Store in the village.”
The teen smiled. It was a nervous one, as if she wasn’t used to the action. “You brought the Maitland’s Hardware Store?”
“Well. My friend Janie did. I’m running it for her.”
The teen nodded and opened the door a little wider to let Liz in. “Ah. I didn’t think you could be related to Delia. I’m Lydia. Her step-daughter.”
“Nice to meet you, Lydia.” Elizabeth trailed after the teenager, taking in the interior. “I uh...I didn’t think it’d look like this in here.” Tasteful, if a little quaint, the house seemed to have the same patient hand applied to it as the furniture back in her apartment.
“Well, it’s...the reason I came actually. The apartment above the store is filled with antiques and furniture. I assumed your step mother had wanted a fresh start when she moved in. Like...how the outside of the house is.”
Lydia let out a short sharp laugh at that and turned with her arms held wide. “The contrast is just wonderful isn’t it? Post modern exterior, turn of the century maudlin interior. Delia hated it at first too, but she likes it now.” Lydia lifted her eyes to the floor above. “Her expertise has been relegated to the second floor.”
Elizabeth found herself smiling. Lydia’s mannerisms were endearing. Dramatic but the sarcasm was a welcome change of pace from the small town sincerity she’d been trying to get accustomed to in the village. “I bet it’s jarring going to bed.”
“No more jarring than coming back from school.” Lydia found herself smiling back, still a little shyly. “My father and Step Mother are actually in New York for the weekend, sorry. But I can go give them a call, ask them what they want to do with the furniture.”
“Oh I don’t mean to impose--”
“It’s no problem.” Lydia had already raced up the stairs, before sticking her head back down. “Just--wait there. Don’t go anywhere.”
Elizabeth would wonder, on her trip back down the hill, why she’d heard two other voices from the upstairs room.
Probably just speaker phone. Her mind soothed.
And how on earth she’d managed to acquire three beetles in her dress pocket.
Just the price of living in the country. Her mind provided, as she let them gently onto the grass outside the Deetz’s house.
And how she’d sworn she’d seen a distinct shadow moving on the wall of the living room as she’d waited.
My eyes playing tricks. I really should have gotten glasses before moving out here. Her mind tried to rationalise.
The longer she lived in Winter River, the more she found herself rationalising when it came to her friendship with the darkly dressed teen from up the hill.
Chapter 2: Chapter Two: Purple Bruises
Elizabeth spends the morning in a daze, Lydia gets an idea.
Making anything was a lot harder than Elizabeth ever thought it’d be. She squinted down at the row of stitches she’d just done with a critical eye. Once she’d managed to send much of the furniture back up the hill to the Deetz (who’d strangely wanted a lot more of their stuff back than she’d anticipated), she’d set about cleaning and painting until she felt like she finally had something close to her own home. She’d painted the walls a dark brown, she’d dusted and swept the decay of the last 3 years away, and hung purple drapes up.
“It does rather look like a bruise doesn’t it.” She’d winced when her own voice mockingly imitated her former imaginary friend’s nasal voice. But it looked nice to her. And for the first time she felt like she could breathe.
Maybe she didn’t own it, but it was for all intents and purposes hers. Not the minimal masculine look her ex-husband Charles had surrounded her with during their marriage. Not the ghastly floral pink and porcelain her mother had shoved down her throat. It was all hers.
Hence the choice to try and make things to put around her little haven that she’d literally made herself. She brought a couple of yards of fabric and sewing kit and resolved to try and teach herself to sew. After all, she’d realised soon after opening the store for the first time, that things moved a glacial pace in Winter River. It’d give her something to do.
Unfortunately, as the little voice in her head reminded her, she was much better at making messes, and breaking things. Like my life. She huffed, unpicking the stitches she’d spent the last hour idly making.
She was distracted.
The last week or so, her dreams had been interrupted by a very specific memory. One she was rather hoping to have gotten over by now. But every night she’d close her eyes, and just as she was drifting off into REM sleep, she’d be back in the void, a spot light overhead, and her best friend staring miserably back at her, as he asked her to kiss him.
Only, the dream never ended at the memory. She found that it was fairly lucid, and that she could change what had happened. Sometimes she pushed away and shouted and shouted, crying that it was his choice to leave. Sometimes she pulled him closer, holding him so tight he’d complain about her obsession with purple things was going to turn HIM purple that time. Sometimes they talked, about everything and nothing, their pinky fingers linked together, feet hanging off the edge of the void.
Sometimes she wouldn’t let him pull away from the kiss. Sometimes she swore the way he whimpered against her mouth was all too real. Sometimes the feeling of him nervously clutching her hips left her skin still tingling when she work with a start, breathing heavily.
In the shower the next morning, she swore she saw finger marks on her hips, but as soon as the water stopped running, they were gone.
The little bell above the door jerked her out of her daze, swearing as her finger was jabbed with a errant needle.
“And hello to you too, Liz.”
Lydia grinned as she lent against the glass counter. Several months of first negotiating over furniture (“Delia sent me to deal with it. Apparently the Art world is in the midst of a crisis and she can’t bear to tear herself away from the phone”) then ordering photography equipment through the various catalogues the store had (“I’m so glad I don’t have to go two towns over like I used to before you got here, Liz”) and finally picking up modelling supplies (“It’s for...father. One of his little relaxation hobbies.”), Lydia had become a surprisingly good friend despite their age difference.
She was refreshing. Elizabeth mused if she hadn’t been so downtrodden by her own mother, would she had been like Lydia herself? They had a shared love of movies, bonding over Phantom of the Paradise and the Rocky Horror Picture Show (“The first time Janie took me, I was the one thrown in a cage! Loved it ever since” “I only just got to go last year. A...friend from out of town took me. The soundtrack is simply deadly-voo!”) and books. Lydia’s taste in music was even similar to her own, however she was decidedly more interested in music that had a punk edge to it, much to Lydia’s amusement.
“You just don’t look like the type!”
Elizabeth had rolled her eyes, and gone back to stocking the shelves behind her. “Looks aren’t everything. My father was British. He used to send me care packages when I was younger, with lots of different tapes of whatever was in the charts.”
Lydia found excuses to come see Elizabeth, usually on the way home from school, and the older woman found she didn’t mind. It...had been lonely since she’d moved. She welcomed the company.
Today however, as she nursed her bleeding pointer finger, she raised an eyebrow at the teen. “I thought today was the day you’d earmarked for exam prep?”
“That was last week, Liz, come on. I’ve come for the Developing Liquid. Did my order come through?”
“Oh! Yes, sorry.” She hurriedly pushed the fabric off her lap, letting it pool onto the floor beneath the counter. “It’s in the back.”
Lydia watched as the older woman headed towards the store room, then picked up the purple cushion cover on the counter. Not bad considering Liz had only really started stitching the month before. Glancing up she sighed and whispered harshly at two spools of thread as they danced in the air, tangling together.
“Don’t BJ. She’s worked hard on that.”
A grainy, disembodied male voice back at her. “Aw babes, I just wanna mess with her a bit.”
“Knock. It. Off.”
There was a huff of disappointment and the spools dropped back onto the glass counter top with a clink.
Elizabeth came back just in time to see a dark shadow hovering above the register and her thread dropping back onto the counter top.
Trick of the light. Her mind automatically rationalised for her. She took a steadying breath and continued back to her original spot, sliding the large bottle of developer to Lydia. “Did you want anything else, Lydia?”
“Apart from teach you how to sew properly, no, this is it for me today.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sass your elders like that?” Liz eyed her stitches anxiously. “They aren’t that bad, are they?”
“Miss Shannon would have you pluck them all out and start again from scratch.” Lydia shook her head. “I, however, am much more lenient. Did you get distracted by a customer?”
With a put upon sigh, Liz rang the teenager up. “No, more like distracted by a memory.”
“What kind of memory?”
“Just an...old friend. I...lost him shortly before moving here.” Liz shrugged uneasily. “He’s playing on my mind a lot lately.”
“A boyfriend?” Lydia’s nose crinkled in distaste. Liz suspected she wasn’t quite ready to step into dating just yet. Good. So she won’t jump into a relationship before she knows who she is, like I did.
“No..no. Not like that. Just a friend. Well. My best friend. He used to make me laugh so goddamn much...but he was irritating and the most annoying...anyway.” Liz shrugged and picked up her stitching again, humorlessly thumbing the imperfect lines of thread.
Lydia considered the older woman for a moment. “You said you lost him?” Her voice was uncharacteristically soft, sympathy seeping into her words.
“Yes. I...I miss him everyday.”
Lydia swallowed, her eyes darting to her left momentarily “I’m sorry.”
There was an uneasy pause. Then Liz smiled sadly and shrugged. “Is your step-mother still throwing that Halloween party tomorrow? My costume is all ready to go.”
Noticing the swift and not at all awkward change in subject, Lydia carefully packed the developing mixture into her bag. Assuring Elizabeth that the party was indeed still on, a thought occurred to the goth girl. She looked to her left again, her eyes twinkling with inspiration.
Elizabeth turned back to her sewing as soon as the little bell above the door rang again, signalling Lydia’s departure.
She didn’t miss the shadow leaving however. Liz stared long and hard at the shadow until it too left her shop.
She did miss the teenager heading in the opposite direction to the Winter River Bridge, her bike speeding to the library instead.
Lydia had research to do.
Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Research Rattlin'
Lydia and Beetlejuice plan a (exorcism-free!) seance. Liz dreams.
“What’s all that for, babes?”
Lydia had just unloaded her satchel onto her bed. Sorting through various books, she held the cover up for him to inspect on his side of the mirror.
“Seances for the intermediate?” The ghost snorted. “You don’t need that Lyds, all ya gotta do is say the B-word three times and you’ll have the ghost with the most at your service!”
The seventeen year old rolled her eyes and turned her back to him, sorting through the pile again. “It’s not for you. It’s for a friend.”
“What friend?” She smiled to herself as she heard the note of jealousy in his rough voice. “Ya got me! And tha’ Maitlands- Ya don’t need another freeloader hangin’ around this dump. It’s already crowded enough, ya know what I mean?”
“A living friend. You were there when we went to the Hardware store today. When Elizabeth was talking about her friend? The one that moved on?”
The ghost shrugged nonchalantly. “Ta be honest with ya Lyds, I wasn’t payin’ attention. Liz is more boring than dish soap.”
That made the living girl pause, raising a dark eyebrow at the ghost behind the mirror. “You think she’s boring? She’s easily one of the nicest, most interesting people in town.”
“Ya answered yer own question there babes. ‘Nice’. I mean, I get why you like her. She’s a medium, like you, but she’s not exactly doin’ anything fun with her life. Lady is in a serious rut.”
“Wait. She’s a medium? You can sense that?”
“Don’t need to, she looks right at me sometimes. But like. I don’t let her see my form.”
“Oh yeah, sure, and what’s she gonna think? I’m some perv who hangs out with little girls? Pfft, nah I don’t need that headache.”
Lydia huffed, and moved to the dresser, looking through the drawers, until she found a notepad and a pen. “I think she’d be understanding. Her friend sounded a lot like you.”
Letting out a raucous crow of laughter, the ghost tilted back on nothing on his side of the mirror. “No-one’s like ME, babes, you should know that by now.”
The teenager, grabbing a few of the books, dumped them on the dresser. “You have my copied version of the handbook don’t you?” She held out her palm and pressed it against the mirror. “I’ll have it back now, thanks.”
“Aw babes, do I really gotta give it back?”
“Thanks.” She hadn’t looked up from her notepad where she was furiously beginning to make notes. “You shouldn’t even have it, you know it back to front.”
When the Maitlands had learnt they’d lose access to their copy of the Handbook for the Recently Deceased after their first year, they’d began to panic. They’d never made much of a dent in the tome, and as much as they hated to think about it, they knew Lydia would one day go off to College or move away. So she’d made a perfect, handwritten copy of the book. Her hand had ached for weeks after, but she’d known it had been worth it when Adam had swiped at his eyes under his glasses, and Barbra had swept the girl up into a bear hug.
The Handwritten copy of the book managed to avoid the “unable to open once you’ve been dead longer than a year” rule. But Lydia had then paid a hefty sum to carefully photocopy the copy. Which had been Beetlejuice’s inspired idea.
“Ya worked real hard on it. Be a real shame if ya didn’t get to keep it.”
Of course his reasons for keeping it had been selfish, but she’d grown to accept that about him by that point.
Several hours later, and Lydia was fairly certain of her plan. Having lived through the disastrous ordeal of the seance Otho had tried to stage, she knew she had to be careful. The last thing she wanted was the guilt of having an exorcism on her hands.
“You’ll need something of his, Babes.” She’d called Beetlejuice through the mirror once he’d started taking her project seriously. He’d hovered over her bed, mostly throwing out suggestions every so often. She’d triple checked everything he’d said, and he seemed to be on the level.
She was mildly impressed with just how much he was hiding behind a veil of grossness. He’d managed to correct her mistakes easily enough, and created loopholes through the legal jargon of the Handbook.
Beetlejuice had scoffed at this. “I’m not just a pretty face Lydz. You learn this bullshit on week one of the job.”
He’d refused to answer that. Whenever Lydia got close to asking about his life - or afterlife for that matter- he’d shrug it off, change the subject. Adam had once let it slip that Beetlejuice had once been the Maitland’s caseworker’s assistant. Once Lydia had read the Handbook cover to cover, she had realised what that must mean.
Civil Servant. A Suicide.
Or a murderer. Her brain liked to remind her of that little fact whenever she and the ghost got up to anything mildly dangerous. She trusted him.
No-wonder everyone in town thought she was crazy.
Well. Except Liz.
Lydia was by now laying on the floor, books and paper everywhere as she finalised the incantation for for the seance. Drumming her pen idly against the pile of research, she mused aloud. “We may have to ask her.”
“Nah, not a great idea. People get kinda protective of that kinda bullshit. Heirlooms, mementos. Feelin’s give items power. Tokens that connect souls across planes. You ask for it, she’ll say no.”
“Then what do you suggest we do?”
The ghost shrugged, a slow smile spreading across moss covered lips. “Wwwweeeellll. You already let me out.”
The high ponytail atop the teen’s head whipped around as she glared at the ghost currently hovering over her spider patterned bedspread. “Oh no, don’t you dare- You are not breaking into her ho-”
He’d disappeared in a crack of brimstone, beetles falling onto the mattress below.
“-use. DAMN IT.”
When the ghost appeared it was at the back door of Elizabeth’s apartment above the hardware store. Beetlejuice traced a red tipped claw against the seam of the door and waited. The shadows around the door frame shone white for a moment and then dulled.
So no temporal limitations...good to know. He grinned to himself before casually floating through the door to the cramped kitchenette slash living room.
It was incredibly dismally dull, the little home Lizzie had made for herself, the ghost thought to himself as he silently explored. Hardly anything that sprung out had Elizabeth’s essence about it. Furniture that had once belonged to the Maitlands that still had their spiritual signature decorated the place, and suffocated anything that Liz might have brought to make the apartment her own. Beetlejuice scoffed and concentrated, closing his eyes.
Detecting this bullshit had become easier since he’d died.
Elizabeth’s essence swirled around a few small touches. Purple curtains. A few little ornaments on the sideboard. The three photos that hung on the wall. Her energy swirled across the frames...but…
Beetlejuice opened his eyes and the energy signatures still lingered, but one frame stood out. Floating closer, he saw tiny flickering blobs of green streaked in through the purple of Liz’s energy.
Huh. The ghost’s lips twisted as he thoughtfully considered the photo.
A small girl with long brown hair grinned at the camera, clearly caught mid laughter. The way she was contorted it looked a lot like she was being tickled, but there was no-one else in the photo with her.
A dull alarm bell sounded in the back of Beetlejuice's mind, but the pieces didn’t quite connect. He frowned at the energy. Two essences. Huh.
Gliding silently through the wall, he emerged into the only bedroom. Elizabeth was curled under a thick purple comforter, deeply asleep. The ghost considered messing with her, maybe sending snakes under the covers. But he stopped dead, mid way between raising his arm to snap the serpents into existence.
She was moaning.
A shiver went down his spine at the sound, and he slid silently further into the room to hover over the sleeping woman. How long had it been since he’d heard that noise? Sure, he’d made a couple trips over to Dante’s Inferno since he’d decided to befriend Lydia, mostly to keep himself from gettin’ too anxious, if ya know what I mean. But here was a live, warm blooded woman. With pretty brown hair and eyes...A lot like-
That caused him to reel back. Right. He was here to...uh. What was it again?
A delicate pink flush had spread from Liz’s face to her neck, and if that goddamn grandma style nightgown weren’t in the way Beetlejuice bet he’d see that blush spread further. She’d flung the comforter aside and he found himself gulping. Clearly whatever she was dreaming about was exciting. He found himself reaching for her forehead, intent on finding out just how great this Fred bastard was--
Oh. Oh shit. Lydia. Right. Best Friend Duty. The fact Lydia was calling him back clearly meant he’d taken too long.
He shook himself, feeling bizarrely guilty about taking so long to get what he’d intended to. Glancing around he finally saw what he was looking for. On her bedside table, a simple jack-in-the-box.
Smeared, practically dripping with green spiritual essence. It leaked and dripped down into nothing; fluorescent, shining, snot green in the gloom of Elizabeth’s bedroom.
Gross. Beetlejuice smirked. A guy after my own heart.
Snapping his fingers, a duplicate was left in its place. Inspecting his own handiwork, he shrugged and shoved the original into his coat jacket and Juiced back to Lydia’s room.
Surely Lizzy wouldn’t notice the duplicate was covered in black and white stripes, and leaking a black ooze onto the carpet.
I pondered over posting Liz's dream sequence this chapter, or next.
I guess you know what's happening next chapter now, eh?
Chapter 4: Chapter Four: I Miss You
The dream Beetlejuice almost stumbled into.
I had to go back and alter the rating. It was really very silly of me to write a smut chapter, and not realise that writing a smut chapter with a Rik Mayall character wouldn't be as explicit as it ended up being.
It could be worse. A friend suggested Fred pulling a Rabbit out of a Twat. Let's thank god I didn't do that. As Rik as that sounds.
“You have to go now.”
His words sounded hollow as they went through the motions one more time. Acting out their goodbyes. She wondered if this was all her, or if he was having the same dream back with Natalie in Minnesota.
Can Imaginary Friends dream? Liz wondered as she monotonously uttered aloud “Ok. I’m ready, Lets go.”
Mechanically looking up, she saw him looking around him, unlike the first time. The first time, he’d stood there, looking more mature than she’d ever seen him, arms crossed, leaning against the empty door frame. Now he stood there helplessly, as if this was beyond him. “No. You...you have to go alone.” He even fumbled over the words, in bemused confusion.
She fought against whatever was making her have this dream again to let her stand from the bed. “But I want you to come back with me.” She managed to gain control of the emotion behind her words, straining against the word “Want” enough to grab his attention. He seemed to jolt as he saw her as if for the first time. Raising an eyebrow he jerked backwards at the word, a hand flying to his chest in confusion.
Me?! He seemed incredulous.
“T-that’s just tough.” The maturity he’d had the first time he said those words seemed to completely vanish. “You have to go...alone.” He frowned at the word “alone” as if it left a bad taste in his mouth, biting at his lip in thought, eyes darting to the floor in thought. “Alone.” He said the word again. As if trying it out. “I can’t get back now.” That really made him pause, eyes darting up in shock.
“Look, you’ve got you now. You don’t need me.” He shook his head at that, letting out an exaggerated huff, and rolling his entire head along with his eyes. That coaxed a smile out of Liz. His animated gestures finally making him seem more...well. Fred Like.
“Not...any...more.” He dragged the words out of his mouth, shaking his head. He tried to start gesturing to himself and then to her, but whatever he was trying to communicate was lost of Liz.
The compulsion of this moment however made her nod, finally standing. Her eyes screamed at him that she didn’t entirely agree, that yes she was okay now, and that now she had control of her life, and yes she was complete in ways she’d never even considered...but she still missed her best friend. She missed him.
The look in his confused wide eyes didn’t fill her with confidence that he’d understood. “So.” He tried to keep his mouth shut, but the words she hated hearing tumbled out anyway. “Goodbye.”
He started towards her and Liz felt her limbs rush to comply with the scripted movements. He looked down his pointed nose at her, and she contemplated his mouth, knowing what was about to happen. He was biting his lip again, and she finally felt the now familiar awareness of lucidity seep into her. She still didn’t move.
She wanted to hear him say it first.
Well. The first part.
He seemed to shudder as he said it. “Just kiss me, and-”
She didn’t let him finish.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him. There was that little whimper she’d been obsessing over earlier that day. It tore through her quickly, and she felt his hands rushing to slide over her back and to her hips.
This is where the dream had ended last time, but she stubbornly didn’t let Fred draw back from the kiss this time. She grabbed a handful of orange hair and held him in place, even as she felt him squirming against her to let him breathe.
Can Imaginary Friends breathe? Did she need to breathe? It was a dream after all. With the control of her limbs came a powerful rush. It was her dream. She made the rules, right?
Refusing to let go of his hair, she finally ended the kiss, pressing her forehead against his. Before he had a chance to get a word out, she harshly whispered against his lips “Don’t you dare say goodbye to me, Fred. I’ll decide when I don’t need you anymore.”
She missed the shocked look on his face, her eyes still shut tight. Fred was shell shocked.
Well first, he was bloody well annoyed he had to have this stupid dream again. It was bad enough knowing something was wrong with him, that his memories of Lizzy hadn’t gone away now he was assigned to a new kid. It was even worse that he had to keep saying goodbye to her, over and over and oooooovvver again.
If he wasn’t certain he was crazy already, he’d have thought this was enough to drive a bloke bonkers.
About hhheeer. His inner voices were being particularly loud today. God I’m such a bloody girl over snotface. Drop Dead Fred liking a girl? Stupid. Fucking Stupid. The whole thing was stupid.
Ever since she’d left, he’d been having the same dream.
It was awful to have to replay was was obviously the worst moment of his imaginary life of all the time. But it was especially upsetting when he couldn’t control the dream. Sometimes he could. Sometimes they’d play games like they used to. Sometimes...they talked. And he wasn’t sure he liked that too much because it always made his head hurt when he woke up. Sometimes…
Well sometimes they ended up like this.
Sometimes she kissed him so much it made him have to hide from Natalie when he woke up, for a few hours until he’d...ahem... calmed down. Punching it didn’t seem to make things better, but it made him feel a little less guilty for wanking over a dream about old Snotface.
Sometimes he was the one who kissed her first. Sometimes he’d storm right over to her, push her back on the bed and snog her silly. Let her feel as confused as he felt when he woke up hard and wishing hard to whoever was in charge that he was a real boy.
Which was a problem. Because he wasn’t one.
A real boy.
At least. He didn’t think he was. Sometimes after the dreams with all the talking, he’d mope around Sticky Mickey’s house, turning on all the taps, flicking the switches on and off to make himself feel better. But his head would be filled with questions.
Fred didn’t like questions much. It made him feel queasy and as much as he vomited into Mickey’s shoes he just didn’t feel better. The questions about where he and the other imaginary friends came from. How they all knew the rules and yet none of them knew who made them.
He was starting to wish for the kissing dreams if only because the kissing dreams only left him with a sore dick and not a sore head.
“Liz, you’re pulling my hair.”
Maybe he’d have both this time.
“Oh, so, now you can talk?”
“Yes, that’s my bloody name isn’t it?”
“Shut up and get on the bed.”
Fred felt his throat tighten, and nodded, pulling her with him as he sat down on her childhood bed. He let out an odd sort of squeak when she hiked her dress up and straddled his lap, the fabric there tightening too. He tried to gulp it down, but it bubbled up again when she slid his hands up over her thighs, an annoyingly nasal giggle that didn’t sound half as manly as he’d hoped it would be.
“Never had an imaginary sleep over before?” She had the nerve to tease him at a time like this? He glared up at her, his grip on her legs slipping higher.
“Don’t...don’t ask me questions right now.” Fred greedily pushed his hands up and under her dress, pausing just below her bra line. “I can’t deal with any questions right now when you’re being a saucy little strumpet five inches above my prick.”
“Oh so you can ask questions and I can’t?” Liz’s smile was dazzling, her hands busily pushing his jacket off his shoulders. “How’s that fair.”
“Watch it, little miss, that’s two questions, don’t think I didn’t notice.” Fred pushed a cup off her pert little breasts and pinched a nipple, grinning evilly when he noticed her shifting on her knees. “What’s up, love? Trying to dust the cobwebs out for me?”
Liz was stuck on the word “Love.” She leaned down and captured his lips again, her hands stroking softly at his jawline. She’d noticed when she started having this dream that he had the vaguest shadow of stubble, wondering if it was somehow an effect of the mature air he’d had when this first happened.
Another sharp pinch to her breast had her squeak in shock, ripping her mouth away from his.
“Don’t.” Fred was breathing heavily now, his hand now soothing against where he’d pinched her, his other hand inching up her thigh again. “I can feel you thinking. You think too hard and you’ll end up losing the connection.” His hand finally snuck under her panty line, but only to snap the fabric against her skin. He was shaking. “I don’t want this to end just yet.”
“Neither do I.”
A pained look crossed his face. “You...I don’t know how to…”
“Let me show you--”
Her hand guiding his, she pushed her panties to one side. He look intensely at her actions as she swirled a finger tip slowly against herself. She was just beginning to feel the edge creeping closer, when she felt herself being thrown onto her back, bouncing onto the bed with an indignant “HEY-”
“I need a closer look.” He’d knelt on the floor next to the bed, his tongue between his teeth in concentration. He refused to look her in the eyes, hiking one of her legs over his shoulders. “Well.” He effected a more proper, posh voice, even as his face turned redder than his hair which he swept dramatically back as if it weren’t already standing on end. “You’ll be happy to know, Ms Snotface, you are 100% cobweb free--”
Liz let her head fall back against the bed, groaning. Of course he wasn’t taking this seriously. She let an arm drape over her face.
“--But I’m happy to tell you, every inspection comes with a guaranteed cleaning!” Liz felt her panties being stripped from her legs, looking up in time to see him waggle his eyebrows at her annoyingly, before diving at her cunt, his tongue lapping enthusiastically at her clit.
She didn’t even have a chance to clock he was going to go down on her, let alone realise this was the first time anyone had done this to her. Her ex-husband hadn’t, but expected it of her. But Fred was eating her out as if his life depended on it, sliding a hand up to take over torturing her clit as he stuck his tongue in as far as it would go.
It was messy. And loud, the noises bouncing off the void. And he was certainly not lying about not knowing what to do, but the sheer boundless enthusiasm caused shocks of pure pleasure to shoot through her body, until, what she suspected later was accidental, he managed a combination of his tongue and fingers that had her arching up off the mattress, grabbing his hair to keep him in place--
The pair awoke where they’d fallen asleep.
Liz dug frantically in her nightstand to find something phallic to finish herself off.
Fred zapped himself to the attic to furiously wank into a cobweb covered corner.
“Bloody BRILLIANT way to kick off Halloween, eh, snotface? Wherever the HELL you are.”
Chapter 5: Chapter Five: Waiting for an Invitation to Arrive
The Deetz's Halloween Bash is simply to die for...
Chapter Five: "Waiting for an Invitation to Arrive"
Lydia shoved the antique jack-in-the-box under her bed in a hurry as Delia respected her wishes by knocking on the door but asserted her authority as her Step-Mother by coming in anyway.
“Will you be gracing us with your presence this evening?” Delia was already decked out in a eye-wrenching, skin tight, neon number, various plastic and latex shapes bedecking her form (“I’m the concept of confusion dear...yes! That’s exactly the face I was hoping for.”).
“I was just finishing up some...homework, Mother.” There were still a lot of note paper and heavy books littering the floor. Luckily Lydia doubted Delia’s caring act would ever extend to helping her with homework. “I’ll be down as soon as I finish up.”
Still, Delia didn’t quite buy it. “The Maitlands mentioned that you’d been up here all weekend. It’s Halloween. I should think you’d be in your element, helping them decorate.” There was an accusatory look in the Artist’s heavily made up eyes, her hand planted on one latex covered hip.
“I did help them decorate.” Lydia decided to hold back that the tasteful decorations the Maitlands had picked out were tame in comparison to what she’d wanted, but had relented when the Maitlands promised that next year, on Lydia’s 18th Halloween, she could do whatever she wanted to the house. “Have they left yet?”
“Yes. Something about visiting the village.” Delia waved the idea of the Maitlands aside. “Just be sure to come down when you’re through. The whole village, and some of the most influential people in the county are going to be arriving soon.”
Come to gawk at the small town people just trying to enjoy themselves. Lydia watched as Delia flounced back out of the room, before taking the jack-in-the-box from under the bed.
“So, do you see it?”
Beetlejuice popped back onto the bed behind her, bouncing slightly as the mattress squeaked under his sudden reappearance. Lydia didn’t even look over her shoulder as her nose crinkled, gingerly turning the box over in her hands.
“...I can feel it. I can’t see the essence, but...GOD why is it so sticky?”
The ghost cackled. “It’s leaking the essence of this guy. You’d be able to see it if you were dead, Babes. All your senses become attuned to the spiritual plane when you die, but Mediums can only behold one, or two senses at a time. I used to be able to see shit about people all the time. It got me into a ton of trouble back then.”
Lydia stilled and Beetlejuice hurriedly pushed past the unintentional reference to his past. “What’s weird is this is way more essence than a human could release.” He grunted, cracking his knuckles loudly to diffuse the sudden awkwardness. “And if he really did kick the bucket, it’s way more than a piddly little level one ghost could produce.”
“Maybe he was just really fond of it?” She gingerly set it onto the floor, and began clearing away the paper and books surrounding the toy. “Took it everywhere? Like a good luck charm?”
“Doesn’t explain why it’s coming from inside.” The ghost started sniggering, the barely contained innuendo threatening to burst forth. “Ya know...that’s what sh-”
“Don’t make me send you back. I thought you wanted to see this?” She’d managed to tidy the ground, and had begun lighting candles.
“I want to see what the big deal with this guy is.” Beetlejuice didn’t bother adding he wanted to make sure his best friend didn’t end up inviting another ghost to become her new afterlife pal...or, waiting room forbid, she didn’t get hurt by whoever this jerk ended up being. “Who’s this guy that Little Lizzie is so strung out over, finally making her interesting for the first time in her boring little life.”
“Well, we don’t have long to wait now.” Lydia surveyed her room and wrung her hands nervously. “Do you think I should have done this in the attic?”
“It’s too thick with the Maitlands and their sickeningly sweet aura. Baby ghosts, level one-ers. Their shit is still streaked over almost everything in Little Lizze’s apartment.”
“God…” Lydia’s face creased in sympathy. “I hate it when I just know something isn’t really mine and I have to live with it everyday. No wonder she never looks happy.”
Beetlejuice personally thought there was another more immediate relief that’d solve Elizabeth’s problems, but decided maybe now wasn’t the right time to share this with Lydia.
Maybe in a few years. After she’d turned 21.
Elizabeth was on edge.
She’d finally arrived at the Deetz’ feeling like she’d rather run home and lock the door than face another living person. Since the previous night’s dream, and the disappointing reality of waking up alone, she’d stormed into the shower and desperately tried to chase the lingering pleasure...only to flop back onto her bed and scream into a half finished embroidery project.
How utterly pathetic was she? Fantasising about Fred like that?
She’d avoided looking at his box all day, choosing to miserably mope around her apartment and half-heartedly poked at the various home improvements she had left to make. But everywhere she went in the apartment, that same sweet stench seemed to follow her. It was almost unbearable, and no amount of opening the windows seemed to help.
It was almost a relief to get into her costume and head up the hill to the Deetz’s place.
Everywhere she looked, masked faces and laughter followed her. The sloping grounds of the house were decked in festive lanterns, smiling pumpkins and dry ice being pumped out of some unseen place. The Deetz’s certainly spared no expense.
She smiled politely at several acquaintances she’d gotten to know during her time in the village, milled around admiring several very inspired costumes, and fretted her simple Candy Striper Nurse Costume wasn’t as extravagant as she’d liked. Sure she’d purposefully made it more festive by dumping red food colouring over the apron and around her mouth, but now she wondered if next year she could go bigger.
“Hey, are you Miss Cronin?”
Elizabeth turned to see perhaps the only two regularly dressed people in the crowd of costumes. A man in a checkered shirt and glasses, and a beautiful, tall woman with a head of curly hair. They were smiling pleasantly, seemingly indifferent to the party happening all around them.
“That’s me.” Elizabeth hesitated before offering. “Liz...do...I...I’m so sorry, I feel like I know you both. I’m sorry, since I moved here I’m kind of bad with-”
“Oh no, sorry. I-”
“-WE, yeah, we just wanted to say you’re doing a great job with the...store.”
“It’s been in our family for a long time and we’re just happy to see it being looked after so well.” They had a peculiar way of communicating. Elizabeth didn’t find it irritating, though she could easily see how it could be. But it was nice to see a couple so clearly in love with one another that they could finish each other’s thoughts.
Like two halves of one person.
“Oh so, you’re related to Jane Butterfield?”
A momentary darkness crossed the man’s face, but his wife seemed to breeze past it. “Yes. Distantly. We know she’s here somewhere.” The woman squeezed her husband’s arm reassuringly, and her voice turned playful. “We can’t wait to give her a bit of a scare. We haven’t had the chance to visit in some time.”
Her husband finally cracked a smile at that, before clearing his throat.
A shout of laughter wove through the crowd and a stream of children ran between them, indifferent to the adults trying to have a conversation. The woman smiled after them a little wistfully.
“So...why didn’t you guys dress up?”
The couple shrugged, and awkwardly laughed, shifting on their feet. “Oh we just got into town at sundown. It was a little last minute, the decision to come here.”
“It was actually Lydia’s idea.”
“You know Lydia?” Elizabeth looked between the two of them before turning to the crowd behind her, looking for her young friend. “It’s funny, she’s the reason I came too, have you guys-”
When Liz turned back to ask them, she found herself alone, her nose wrinkling at the smell of river water that abruptly filled the air. A lone child had stopped nearby and was staring at her as if she’d grown an extra head.
What IS it with kids in this town. Liz grumbled to herself as she stuck her tongue out at the rude child, turning to continue up to the house.
Lydia stood waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, a nervous smile on her face. Elizabeth let out a sigh of relief, passing the more snooty partiers who refused to dirty their clothes out on the hill.
“Ok, so was there a memo, only you’re the third person I’ve seen tonight without a costume!” Elizabeth said in lieu of greeting. “Lydia Deetz, I’m disappointed in you.”
Lydia rolled her eyes, gesturing to herself. “I’m OBVIOUSLY a homicidal maniac...they look like everyone else.”
“That would work much better if you didn’t already dress like every day is Halloween.”
“Look, I got a little sidetracked. Come on.” Lydia grabbed the older woman’s arm and started dragging her upstairs. “Also, you dressed as a Nurse. A little generic isn’t it?”
Laughing, Elizabeth allowed her to cart her around. “Well, Ms Homicidal Maniac, OBVIOUSLY I poison my patients in their sleep. Better?”
“Much.” Lydia paused in front of her room, before turning back to Elizabeth, full of indecision. “Liz...you need to trust me ok? I’m...This is important, and I want to do this for you. I think you need this.”
Frowning at the sudden mood whiplash, Elizabeth gently tugged her hand away. “Do what for me?”
“We’re going to have a seance.”
Chapter 6: Chapter Six: A Flashback
We take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to provide you with a flashback to the year 1883.
1883, Venus, Juno’s Office.
“Tell me why I shouldn’t just send you straight to the lost souls room, immediately?”
The man sat across from Juno shrugged, picking something from under green nails. His pointed nose wrinkled in confusion before flicking whatever he’d uncovered into the recesses of the office, probably to get stuck to some unsuspecting ghost’s case file.
Bored blue eyes lazily lifted, and the man rolled his eyes and shoulders at the old woman, trying desperately to get comfortable in the cramped chair. “Yes, June-bug?”
A thick stream of smoke issued from the wound in her throat. “This is serious.”
“I’m perfectly aware of that, thanks.” Fred sneered back. “Demonic Possession without a permit; under section 889 of the Deceased in Saturn Act of 1752 clearly states involving an underage Demon in Level 4 hauntings is illegal--”
“And you very clearly involved that Demon in the Winchester case. They’re going to be bound to that house until that stubborn woman dies.”
“As long as she keeps building she’ll be fine. They both will. She’s stinking rich, who cares? No skin off your nose, June-bug, not that it’s not already dropping off a bit there.”
“Oh, DO keep your sensible skirt and stockings ON, Juno.” Fred sighed and snapped his green finger tips lazily. A scroll appeared on the desk between them. “The sub-clause of that particular section states the underage part is pretty much taken part of as long as an older registered Demon checks in every ten years or so.”
“God, I wish you’d never killed yourself. You are the second most infuriating piece of shit ever to step foot into the Civil Undead Service.” Juno was now massaging her temples.
Fred’s smirk only widened, the green bruising around his eyes crinkling. “Second most, eh? My ego will surely never recover.” Leaning forward, he snatched the scroll up and unravelled it enough to point an emerald stained finger against the parchment. “Oh but you’ll love this, look who I’ve decided is the lucky boy to get this once in a lifetime pass to the world of the living?”
Juno stilled and growled around her lit cigarette. “You didn’t-”
“Oh I most certainly did.” Fred’s eyes snapped up to just over Juno’s shoulder. “Didn’t I, BJ?”
Juno whirled around and gripped the now cackling ghost beside her by the necktie. “Don’t. Call. Me. That.”
Fred tutted from his chair. “Oh, well that’s nice. Whatever did he do to you?”
“He was born. Isn’t that enough?”
“Technically he wasn’t--”
“LOOK.” Juno shoved Beetlejuice aside and stood to jab her finger directly into Fred’s face. “It’s bad enough you somehow let him find his way back past the waiting room. But you KNOW he’s on probation. He’s not to leave the Neitherworld until he’s served his sentence.”
“Tough luck there, Junes.” Beetlejuce strode around the desk to let himself fall into the chair next to Fred’s. “Already signed the contract. In blood, made it reeaaall nice and official, know what I’m sayin?”
The ghost with the most just shrugged. “I don’t know, didn’t think it mattered.”
“It certainly doesn’t, blood doesn’t have any bearing on the legality of the contract.” Fred eagerly interjected.
“‘Blood only holds legality on the part of Living Participants of rituals concerning possession, reanimation or summoning!’” The two of them recited the line from the handbook in unison, before bursting into loud braying laughter.
Juno stared between the two of them, the fight slowly draining out of her and being replaced with something like cold dread.
Fred had only been dead 10 years or so, but his time in the British Parliament had only made him perfectly suited to jumping through and exploiting every weakness made available by the forty second printing of Handbook. (They’d get it right in the next edition, every editor swore as they were lead to the depths of the Publishing Department, never to return).
And Beetlejuice, with his 400 years of experience in weaving through every rule and boundary the Civil Undead Service had fought to put in place, was more dangerous than ever. Probation had only made him vengeful and bored. Juno shuddered. A bored Beetlejuice only ever led to suffering.
Usually her own.
Clearly...they had to be separated.
Juno just had to find a punishment final enough to deal with them.
Now, you may wonder, "Hey. That's terribly out of character for Fred."
And you'd be right. First of all, I promise it will absolutely make sense later on. Secondly...You need to go to Youtube immediately and go watch some "The New Statesman". Thirdly...oops, spoilers for the Beetlejuice Musical? If you squint.
...Also, lol. FredeRICK. HAHA.
There are canonically 50 editions of the Handbook that have been published since 1620. But this only counts the editions printed in the USA. So I suppose you could argue each territory has their own rules...makes you wonder how Fred ended up there, doesn't it? Or maybe not, I don't know what you're thinking.
Probably a bit peeved there isn't anything sexy in this chapter. Oh well, never know, it might happen later.
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven: Going to a Party where no-one is still alive.
The Seance, part one.
Chapter 7: Going to a Party where no-one’s still alive
Elizabeth found herself sat across from Lydia, inside a salt circle, surrounded by candles, on the floor of the teenager’s bedroom, and trying very hard not to lose her temper.
Between them sat Drop Dead Fred’s jack in the box. She’d carefully peeled the tape from it not long after rescuing the toy from her mother’s house, and spent a considerable amount of time cleaning it. If nothing else it was an antique, and more than that it held two very important sentimental symbolism for her.
One, it was Fred’s former prison. It was all she had left of him.
Two it was one of the only things her Father gave her as a child that her mother hadn’t destroyed after the divorce. Every care package she received from her Father in the following years, ended up being discovered by Mother and confiscated. Tapes, Letters, the odd treat sent from England- all got summarily burnt as soon as her Mother found them.
Eventually the packages stopped coming all together.
And so the jack-in-the-box, the one constant in her life remained. Until she was able to marry her way out of that oppressive house.
No matter how hard she cleaned the toy however, she never could get that smell of earth, chemicals and lemon zest out, bizarrely.
The teenager had been ashamed when Elizabeth quietly explained just why this toy was important to her, but she’d seemed very set on having the seance anyway.
“Please Liz, let me do this for you? I promise never to bug you again if you just...humour me and go along with this.”
“Lydia, after all that you…” Elizabeth huffed and finally relented. “FINE. Why not. Tis the season and all that bullshit.”
And so they sat, on either side of the circle. Elizabeth drummed her fingers impatiently against her bare ankle, moodily watching the shadow that followed Lydia around flicker in the candle light. She wasn’t about to point it out to the girl across from her, who was looking something up in what appeared to be a very thick, handwritten manuscript.
Pointing out things that other people couldn’t see had never worked out well for her.
“Ok, so for this to work, I’m going to read an incantation.” Lydia explained, finally setting the manuscript aside and picking up a small piece of paper. “As I’m speaking you’ll need to interact with the box, until I’ve finished. Just crank the handle--”
Elizabeth nearly jumped out of her skin, as a gruff voice cackled suspiciously close to her ear.
Lydia glared just over the older woman’s shoulder. “Don’t mind him. I’ll put him away if he interferes with this.”
“Wait...wait, a friend?” Elizabeth held up her hands and looked to her left. There was that shadow again. Shaking her head in confusion, she reached out and stuck a finger directly into the shadowy mass. The tip of her finger felt frozen, as if she’d just dunked her hand in a glass of ice water.
“Uh...I’d move your hand.” Lydia looked like she was trying very hard not to laugh. “You...can’t see him right?”
“No but...there’s a shadow there. I thought I was seeing things again. Like...before.” Elizabeth frowned and drew her hand back suddenly registering it’s not polite to stick your hand into shadows you don’t know.
“You should be able to see him after we finish.” Lydia hummed in contemplation. “Before. You used to be able to see before what?”
“It’s...not something I’d like to discuss right now, Lydia.” Admitting she’d had a nervous breakdown wasn’t something she wanted to share. Let alone try to explain to the teenager that this seance wasn’t going to work. Fred was imaginary. If Imaginary Friends existed, and their trip to the Psychiatrist confirmed that they were- then this was going to be a pointless exercise.
If nothing else, the disappointment and guilt for stealing the toy Lydia was bound to feel when she failed would be punishment enough.
But then... Elizabeth glanced to her left again wearily. She hadn’t been able to see the other Imaginary Friends in the Psychiatrist’s office. Why could she see this shadow, but not them?
Lydia cleared her throat and nodded to the box still sat between them. With a sigh, Elizabeth shuffled closer and gripped the handle on the jack-in-the-box.
“On this night, with moon so pale,
We come to call upon,
A soul, a friend, beyond the veil.
Through Saturn’s Rings and Venus’ dust,
Lift the barrier,
Bring Fred to us!
Unbound, Unchained, Free to roam
We ask you to join us here, at home!”
Elizabeth had been steadily winding the handle on the box, biting her lip so as not to laugh at the teenager’s poor poetry. As the poem ended she let the handle go, noticing with annoyance that the mechanism must be broken, because it didn’t immediately unwind.
Lydia on the other hand had one hand behind her back, observing the sudden flickering of the candles around them.
“I’m sorry, Liz.”
Elizabeth shook her head, and was prepared to gently reprimand the teenager...Only to hiss in pain as a knife suddenly knicked the hand that had been on the handle.
Blood dripped onto the box...only to sizzle and sink into the metal surface.
Finally the box started to unwind, the tinny musical box song somehow echoing over Elizabeth’s soft groan of pain.
“Here we go.” The gruff voice that’d come from the shadow muttered as the candles suddenly roared to life once again.
Fred’s Halloween hadn’t started great.
There’d been that dream, for a start, that left him holed up in the attic, his head pressed against a support beam, cock in his hand and furiously stroking himself to completion.
He felt furious with himself, and for the millionth time he wished he had someone to ask about what the bloody hell was wrong with him. He’d smashed up what looked to be a very expensive mirror in the attic, hoping the breaky noises would distract him but no. He was left standing atop a crunchy pile of glass, and yet more questions to make him feel like he was somehow wrong.
Eventually, he hadn’t been able to avoid Natalie calling for him, and had sulked back downstairs to help her get ready for trick or treating. Helping by improving.
Some annoying Aunt had seen fit to providing Natalie with a costume this year. An Aunt who had clearly never spent any time with the young girl.
“UUUURRGGGHHHH!” Fred retched and mock vomited into the top drawer of Natalie’s dresser. “You look AWFUL.”
Natalie looked a lot like she was going to cry. A fluffy, poofy, pink fairy costume, with gossamer wings and pink and white striped stockings adorned her. Her long blonde hair was braided. Her face was slowly turning as pink as the rest of her, and her bottom lip wobbled.
“I don’t wanna go like this. I hate it. It’s stupid.”
Fred hopped up onto the dresser and put a hand on his chin, crossing his legs as he looked the young girl over. “I quite agree, it looks just awwwwwwwful.” He’d affected a posher accent and threw his hands up in the air. “Thankfully, I know just the answer.”
Natalie sniffed and pulled fretfully at the dress, big blue eyes threatening to fall. “What is it?”
“Simple!” Fred hopped down and dashed out of the room, rummaging in closets and drawers until he had all the tools he needed. This he understood. This was something he absolutely knew how to do. Cheering up unhappy little girls was his speciality.
He came back and unloaded the pile of supplies he’d scrounged from all over the house. An old dog chain, a padlock, a pair of scissors, some handy black paint from the garage, a sharpie and an inkwell of unused red ink.
“When somethings not working, the best thing is to tear it apart to make it better!”
And so, two hours later, Mickey Bunce found himself bemusedly walking Natalie down the street, with her stockings ripped, her dress hacked away until it resembled a very punk rock looking evil fairy with (worryingly) lightly singed wings.
Fred followed at a slower pace behind them. He had the distinct feeling that whilst the whole costume makeover had been very fun (if a little too girly for his usual taste) and he felt a lot better when he saw how Natalie’s eyes had lit up when she saw herself in the mirror, he felt a hollow stab of something below his ribcage.
He didn’t see Natalie needing him for too much longer.
Mickey was a right old girlie pants but he genuinely loved his daughter. Now that Elizabeth had been gone for the better part of three months, Mickey was finally spending decent quality time with her. Healing a lot of the hurt that had occured when her Mother had left.
The Mega-Beast could have used a parenting lesson from Sticky-Mickey.
Fred found himself wondering if he’d remember Natalie. Clearly he was broken. He remembered Elizabeth. Was that just it then? He was just going to have to remember all his charges from now on? Every heart breaking good-bye?
Furiously he kicked the bushes outside the house Natalie was trick or treating at. It wasn’t fair.
He glanced up at the sky, wondering if he shouted loud enough, would someone take pity on him and erase the memories of Elizabeth for him. Maybe he could just fly away to Venus and sulk up there until he died.
If he could die.
Could he actually die?
“FUCKING QUESTIONS, URGH, JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!” He yanked at his hair, and screamed into the sky.
The moon seemed to dim at his shout. Blinking he felt a strange swooping sensation in his chest.
The moon was winking at him now. Pervy.
He staggered through the hedge, but the leaves didn’t stir, as he quite literally fell through and onto the muddy ground.
The moon disappeared.
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight: A second flashback
Chapter 8: A second Flashback.
“And you’re bothering me with this...why?”
The man squirmed, fumbling over his words. “You asked me to report back with any news of the mine, Sir. And it looks like there’s a problem with a couple of the workers getting sick- That’s why the men are slowing down production, until they can work out the cause-”
Frederick B’stard was already bored of this filthy little ordinary taking up his precious time. There was a million other things he could be occupied with right now than listen to the foreman of his mine complaining and whining about some sort of mysterious illness.
“New world, Charlie. Tell the men they have 24 hours to make up their quotas. That copper isn’t going to mine itself.” Frederick sneered at the man. “America is full of disease. Get over it.”
Sensing he was being dismissed, the foreman scrambled to leave the lush, ornate office, wondering how the hell he was going to sell this to the workers.
Standing swiftly from his chair, Frederick moved to stand by the window over-looking his estate. It wasn’t bad. Of course it wasn’t up to his usual standards. Their estate in Haltemprice had been much finer. He’d have to order the grounds staff to completely re-do the west gardens. Pursing his lips, he drummed his fingers restlessly against the windowsill.
When somethings not working, the best thing is to tear it apart to make it better.
Like his entire life.
Frederick stilled then turned to face the doorway. Standing there in a simple green dress, was his infant sister. She smiled toothily at him, her arms folded behind her back. “Can I come in?”
“Of course, George.”
Georgina took an exaggerated step across the threshold, then picked her way carefully over the patterned rug under her feet. Frederick watched her amusedly, watching as she avoided certain swirls and patterns. “What are you doing?”
“Can’t step on the flowers, Freddy, they’re poisoned!” She said this in a way that implied Frederick was impossibly stupid for not knowing.
“Oh, how silly of me.”
“Very Very silly.” He crossed the room (carefully copying her movements so as not to crush the imaginary flowers) to join her, crouching down, not caring as to how it crinkled his waistcoat. “What have you been up to, today George?”
The young girl thought for a moment, her long red braid falling behind her shoulder. “After morning lessons I’d decided to fix the gardens for you.”
“You’re always one step ahead of me, George.” He noticed for the first time the bottom of her dress was indeed stained with mud. “I take it you have a solution for how ghastly they look?”
The small girl nodded seriously. “Turn it into a bakery. I think that would be a fine idea. The miners and the servants would simply love a good pie.”
Holding back his laughter, Frederick nodded. “Who doesn’t? Although I don’t want them to think I’m spoiling them.”
Georgina planted her hands on her hips and huffed at her older brother. “Freddy, they deserve nice things too. Everyone does!”
“They work very hard. Lord Saunders would have done nice things for them.”
Frederick winced as his former business colleague was brought up. “He...would have, wouldn’t he?” Pathetic. No wonder when that nasty business in Westminster went down, he’d fled to Spain rather than the colonies. Soft hearted bastard could never had had the stomach for the horrors of the new world.
Horrors that Frederick B’Stard had relished in.
“And there is plenty of mud to go around.” George nodded as if this were settled. She took her brother’s hand and began to march him out of the room, hardly caring as he stumbled over his feet towards the door.
“Well, we can’t allow the ordinaries to have much of anything else!”
Frederick let out a bark of laughter and scooped his sister up onto his shoulders, ignoring her thrilled giggles and tiny flailing limbs. “George you are a GENIUS!”
Chapter 9: Chapter Nine: Don't run away, it's only me.
The Seance, Part 2
Chapter Nine: Don't run away, it's only me.
Lydia’s bedroom had turned horrifically cold, the air the two living occupants were breathing turning to mist before their eyes. The flames of the candles around the salt circle were stretched impossibly upwards, creating a cage of green streaked fire around the two women.
The roar of the party below them had been silenced, and all Elizabeth could hear was her own panicked breathing, and the tinny, increasingly irritating sound of the jack-in-the-box.
Her hand was throbbing, and she had it cradled to her chest as the handle stopped whizzing.
The last time, the last time this had happened, she thought, he popped out of the box in a tight little ball and bounced all over the room.
A warm tingle of hope bloomed in her chest. Maybe this would work.
The lid sprang open and an agonised scream exploded from within.
A shaft of green light shone from within, and slowly, a man slowly appeared, his arms and legs furled in on himself, clutching at his stomach in pain.
“Fred?” Elizabeth scrambled up onto her knees to try and reach out to him but Lydia hurriedly stood, carefully avoiding the salt on the floor to hold the older woman back.
“Don’t.” Lydia’s voice was nervous in Elizabeth’s ear. “Don’t, this won’t last too long, I promise, but it’ll be worth it.”
Fred’s body spasmed in the air, his limbs thrown outwards and his head rolling back as he let out another strangled yell. His eyes stretched wide, before turning pitch black.
That gruff voice from before was back and as Elizabeth turned to glance at the shadow she started, struggling to free herself from Lydia’s grasp and get away from the apparition.
She could see.
A portly, middle aged, corpse-like man was hovering in the air beside them, outside the circle. Greasy green and white blonde hair stood on end, haloing a face caked in moss, with a frowning, stern expression. “Fuck.” The corpse gestured angrily at the still convulsing form in the air in front of them. “FUCK. Lydia. Of all the stiffs in the goddamn universe to bring back, ya had to pick THIS one?”
“What?!” The two women turned at once to the ghost who had started furiously pacing the air.
“This guy is bad news!” And Beetlejuice growled, shaking his head and throwing his hands up in the air. “Okay, and I get the irony here babes, but I mean it, you don’t wanna get mixed up with this guy.”
“Why? What’s so bad about him?” Lydia had slackened her grip on Elizabeth at this point, enough that the older woman was able to edge her way closer to the centre of the circle. She didn’t want to reach out again, but seeing her best friend like this was insane.
“Ya don’t even wanna know, babes.” Beetlejuice grimmaced as Fred finally stopped twitching. “Look, it’s too fucking late now, but hopefully his punishment is still intact, and he won’t remember anything.”
“Beej, what? What won’t he remember?”
Fred’s body was finally still, and with an anti-climatic ‘click’, the handle on the box finally stopped spinning.
Causing the body suspended above it to fall to the ground in an undignified manner. Fred’s face smashed into the floor, his ass straight up in the air. A feeble whine came from the body.
“Fred…” Elizabeth breathed and scrambled over to her best friend, heaving his upper body onto her lap until she could see his face. And this is when she finally saw the difference.
Fred as she’d known him had always been flushed with excitement, slightly pink in the face, especially when he had a new game to play, or had made a particularly spectacular mess.
This Fred, was deathly pale, his cheeks gaunt and there was a deep green bruising along his eyelids, the tips of his ears and at his lips. When he stirred, his mouth opened to reveal his tongue and the inside of his mouth was the same mottled green. When his eyes finally opened, the brilliant blue remained...but his irises were also ringed with rusty brown-green.
Smacking his lips, Fred blinked up at Elizabeth and then smiled, his voice sounding extremely tired.
Elizabeth let out a shaking breath and promptly burst into tears, awkwardly throwing herself onto her best friend. “You BASTARD. I thought I’d never see you again!”
“Takes a lot more than that to get rid of Drop Dead Fred!” There was a feeble attempt at laughter before he tentatively patted her on the back. “Uh...although I feel like shit if I’m quite honest. And I don’t...really know what’s going on?”
Lydia had sat down on the other side of the circle, watching this exchange with trepidation. On the one hand, this is exactly what she’d been hoping for, to see Liz reunited with someone who clearly meant a lot to her. On the other, Beetlejuice’s warning had left her feeling worried about exactly who she’d invited into her home.
Fred had jolted when he saw the pale teenager sat across from them, struggling to sit up in Elizabeth’s arms. He wasn’t used to being seen by more than one person at a time, and as he quickly took in the rest of the room, the salt, and the candles, a very sharp recollection came to him, although he couldn’t place just where it had come from.
“Whose blood did you use?”
Blinking, Lydia nodded to Elizabeth.
“Then I’m now bound to Elizabeth?”
“...Well...that’s...fine. More than fine really.” Fred dazedly rubbed at his forehead, wondering where that momentary moment of clarity had come from. “I...the salt?”
“To keep you...and your essence confined.”
“I...yes. I know that’s what it’s for.” Fred scrambled to his feet and walked the perimeter, not looking up from the salt. “I’m not stupid, salt keeps spirits trapped until the...medium or mediums determine the parameters of the contract….” Fred blinked again and stuck his tongue out. “Where do all these pouncy words keep coming from? YEURGH, it’s like I swallowed a dictionary.”
Lydia looked helplessly towards Beetlejuice, who’d been carefully avoiding being seen by the obviously confused man in the circle. “Beej...what’s happened to him?”
The Demon sighed and snapped his fingers, reappearing in front of Fred, who for his part didn’t register any disgust at seeing him, only increased confusion and irritation.
“Fred. Do you know who you are?”
“Who I am? Why don’t we start with who the flying bicycling christ you are?”
“Look sunshine, we’ll get to me, and believe me when I say it’s way more impressive than you and your stain of a reputation.”
Fred sneered back. “I’m Drop Dead Fred. The absolute best Imaginary Friend in the whole wide world!”
“That’s the name you came up with? They really do make you as thick as a sandworm’s backside when they put you through the process don’t they?”
“I’m NOT stupid, you’re stupid! Who wears black and white stripes anyway? You look like a Zebra with an eating disorder.”
Cackling, Beetlejuice reached across the salt circle (ignoring Lydia’s gasp) to ruffle Fred’s hair. “Awwww, Ickle Freddie-kins! You little shit, you have no fucking clue do you?”
Fred struggled, trying to slap the Demon’s hands away from his head, trying and failing to stay within the circle. “Get OFF! You stink, URGH, Stop fucking touching me--”
“You were once the second biggest threat to the Neitherworld, after me, of course, and now look at ya. Pathetic. A child’s plaything.”
“Leave me alo-”
“For all that big talk about how you were going to change shit and make things worse, ya ended up here-”
“GET OFF ME-”
“BEETLEJUICE, BEETLEJUICE, BEETLEJUICE.”
Beetlejuice popped out of existence.
Fred gasped for breath as the last word left his mouth. Then straightened up. In the struggle, Beetlejuice had knocked the salt circle, leaving a gap on the floorboards.
Adjusting his suit jacket, and running a hand through his hair, Fred turned back to Elizabeth and extended his hand. The smile on his face lacked any warmth, and there was a dangerous glint in his eyes.
“Come along, Lizzie dear. I think it’s time we answered a few questions.”
Chapter 10: Chapter Ten: She has the smoke in her eyes
Questions are answered. Mostly.
Chapter Ten: “She has the smoke in her eyes”
This hadn’t been what Lydia had planned for.
She’d been ready to deal with a malevolent ghost. She’d studied the handbook, made numerous trips to Neitherworld with Beetlejuice, had all manner of adventures, and gotten out of some nasty scrapes with ghosts, poltergeists and even the odd demon.
But she’d done all that with her best friend with her.
And for the last five years, she’d been the only one to summon and banish the “Ghost with the Most”.
Article 987, Paragraph 12, Section G: If a Spirit (ie, levels 1-4 including that of any formerly human, animal or otherwise unknown entity with previous or current awareness and cognisant thought) is summoned by a member of the Living, and undergoes bonding with said member of the living, that spirit is bound until the contract, verbal or physical is considered null and void. Amendment i) If the Living is considered a Medium of any level (ie, levels 1-4, able to anticipate 1 or more sensory essences clues [see Article 2]), the Medium is then able to determine the nature of the contract, regardless of the level of the Spirit (ie, Terms of Summoning. [See Article 988, Paragraph 1, Section A]). Amendment iii) If the Living is a Medium and the Spirit is determined to be the cause of death for said Medium, the Medium will be immediately conscripted into the Civil Undead Service upon Death (As it will be considered their own fault for making a deal with the dead, and thus suicide).
The rules of Beetlejuice’s summoning had been set well before Lydia had ever met him. But when they’d decided to attempt the ritual, he’d been uncharacteristically serious with her and adjusted the rules so that whoever had been the one to summon him, would have to be the one to put him back.
He’d told her the reason for this had been to create a new loophole. One, if Lydia was the one to open the door for him, she could be the one to close it. Beetlejuice trusted her to keep him in line. No-one else had the this power over him anymore.
The Maitlands said that Juno was absolutely bewildered as to why that was. Not the mechanics of how it worked, but why he’d willingly put himself in that position. But as the years went by, the Neitherworld found that Beetlejuice’s antics had been tempered by Lydia’s nature. For which everyone was grateful.
The only way anyone else would ever have been able to banish him...is if they’d previously left a summoning open before the bonding ritual.
Lydia was furiously thinking all of this, looking around for her handwritten copy of the handbook as Elizabeth showed hesitation in taking Fred’s hand.
“Lizzie, there’s nothing to be frightened of. It’s only a hand. Look!” Fred waggled green stained fingers in her face. “It’s not going to bite!”
Wrinkling her nose she batted his fingers away with her good hand. Only to let out a yelp of shock when he grasped her around the wrist and hauled her up into his arms, her back against his chest, and his arm snug around her waist.
“See?” He squeezed her hip and a filthy grin spread across his face. “Well. My hand might not bite, but I certainly will!” He snapped his teeth at her.
“Fred?! What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing much yet, but give us a couple of rounds and maybe I’ll warm up to the idea!”
Elizabeth’s face flushed red at the innuendo and her eyes darted to Lydia who’d been frantically paging through the book. “What did you do to him, Lydia, this isn’t what he’s supposed to be like!”
“No, of cooooourse not.” Fred rolled his eyes and dropped his head against Elizabeth’s shoulders. The pathetic look on his face was ruined somewhat by the frequent peaks he was trying to take down the front of her nurses’ uniform. “You know, ever since I had that stupid punishment forced on me, I’ve been too blind to see what’s really been going on with me. But I’m perfectly clear on what it is I need to do now.” The pitiful look he’d been going for dropped and the salacious grin returned. “Wanna guess what it is I need to do, Lizzie?”
Gulping she shook her head, not trusting herself to speak.
“Well, Let’s goooo someplace a bit more private and a bit more adult, now we’re both fully mature enough to understand things.” Fred sneered down at Lydia and raised his free hand.
He snapped his fingers and they, and the jack in the box were gone in a flash of green and the brief sound of disjointed musical chords.
Lydia dropped to her knees in the salt circle, dropping the handwritten handbook, not caring as it crumpled under it’s own weight.
Elizabeth dazedly watched as Fred bandaged her hand. She found she couldn’t focus on the room around them (was it a room?) as her head began to pound, her vision swimming. The only thing that she was able to focus on was him. She saw as he muttered something under his breath, efficiently cutting the bandage and tucking it neatly away. His eyes were crystal clear as he leaned forward to lift her bangs and feel her forehead. She felt herself swoon, the world around her refusing to settle into place.
“Those bloody pills you took when you were trying to forget me have damaged your connection to the afterlife.” Fred clucked his tongue and looked around him angrily. “Mediums ought to be respected not forced into believing they’re crazy. Establishment is trying to dull the truly exceptional beings before they die so they don’t get to experience their true power when they do...And they called me a menace! Hypocrites.”
“Is that where we are? The afterlife?”
“Yes, yes, I did just say that didn’t I?” Fred looked back at her and rolled his eyes in irritation. “Ok, well, we can’t stay here if you’re going to get all… like...that.” He gestured to the whole of her, exaggeratedly swaying in place and pulling a face at her. “So come on then. We’re going to have to go somewhere else.”
“Can’t we just go back to my place?”
“Nooooo.” Elizabeth noted with irritation that for all the more mature this Fred was, he hadn’t lost the snotty, brat like whine in his voice. “That’s the first place that little level 4 Medium friend of yours...Lisa? Whatever, that’s where she’ll look first. What was the name of the state you were in?”
“Connecticut. And her name is Lydia.”
Fred shrugged and rubbed his hands together. “Don’t care. Good job she saw to do all this on a Pagan holiday. Might not have the power to make a 100 odd mile trip otherwise.”
Struggling to stand, Elizabeth almost dropped to the ground (was there any to begin with?) “Where are we going?”
Fred smirked and caught her before she fell. “My place.”
“Told you he was a jerk, didn’t I?”
Lydia turned and saw a morose looking Beetlejuice in her vanity mirror, moodily chain smoking. With a sigh of relief, the girl walked up to the surface and tentatively rested a hand against it.
“Are you alright?”
The demon scoffed and avoided her gaze. “I’m a fucking idiot, babes. I should have recognised the essence when I saw it in her apartment. But it was all...sugary. I don’t know. I think it’s a side effect of the punishment. Made it hard to tell who it was until it was way too late.”
“Beej, can you just, stop talking in riddles already? Who is Fred? How do you know him? What did he do? What is this big punishment?”
The demon took a deep drag and let out a huff of smoke. “Frederick B’stard. That’s his real name. Drop Dead Fred is the name he made up for himself when Juno made him into an Imaginary Friend.”
Lydia let herself drop onto her vanity stool and nodded for him to continue. Beetlejuice blithely continued. “That’s the punishment he got for trying to change how the CUS works way back when. He thought that the rules were bullshit and he kept introducing revisions that made it easier for hauntings to take place. He made it easier for Demon summonings and bindings. He tried to make it so Mediums had more power than the older ghosts who’ve been running the show since day one.”
“Is that such a bad thing? I mean the rules are complex…” And privately Lydia liked the idea of having a little more control. Not that she’d ever share that idea with anyone.
“Babes, he didn’t want to make things easier for everyone. He wanted to twist things until they only made sense to him.” Beetlejuice smirked at the memory. “That man could talk the biggest, baddest motherfucker into signing over all his health vouchers and his haunt to that bastard and then THANK him for ruining his afterlife. Frederick was a force to be reckoned with.”
“Then how did Juno manage to catch him out?”
“Not sure. All I know is he went into her office one day, and never came out. She said he’d made a deal, and he was happy about it. No-one ever heard from him again.”
Frowning, Lydia leant her arms onto the surface of the vanity. “And now I’ve let him out.”
“Oh Juno WILL be pissed when she finds out, for sure.” Beetlejuice perked up a little. “Hey. You know, since it was 100% you who did all this, I’m in the clear!”
When Elizabeth opened her eyes again she was laying on a soft surface, in a room lit with candles and a roaring fire.
“Can you believe, some idiot blocked the chimney up?”
Starting, Elizabeth quickly shuffled away from the voice right by her ear. Fred was beaming down at her, cross legged and almost looking like himself. The fireplace was casting the entire room in a soft orange glow which almost hid the gauntness of his face.
Those same green shadows remained around his eyes however.
“Yeah! It’s like, how are you supposed to keep warm in the winter? Morons. Nothing beats a good fire, that’s what I say. Pretty glad they didn’t muck my room up with central heating or something stupid like that.”
“Your room?” Elizabeth took in the room again as her vision finally stopped swimming. They were sat on a large, ornate oak bed. The sheets were clearly supposed to be recreations of older bedding, and were a little dusty. Heavy green velvet curtains hung around the bed posts. Beyond the bed she could make out matching heavy oak furniture, inlaid with coppery bronze metals. Above the fireplace hung a large portrait which Elizabeth slid off the bed to see better- only to be stopped by a modern museum rope.
“Mind that- don’t want to ruin the exhibit.” Beat. “Well, we do actually, but we’ll get to it when we get to it.”
Elizabeth unhooked the rope and let it drop away to get closer to the portrait.
And there, in what she roughly guessed was Victorian clothing, was a man who looked a lot like Fred. He had a haughty expression, staring down his pointed nose at the painter, his red hair in curiously curly waves upon his head. He had one hand resting on the shoulder of a small girl. She had the same pointed nose and red hair, but the painter had captured her with a shy smile on her face.
“A total snack, wasn’t I?”
Jumping again, Elizabeth shoved Fred lightly in the side as he’d appeared next to her ear again. He only chuckled and wrapped his arms around her middle from behind, his head resting on her shoulder again. It was such a casual move, and it felt nice. To be warmed from the front by the fireside, even as no heat came from where he touched her.
It only reminded her that he’d been dead this entire time.
She stared back up at the portrait.
“You said you had answers.”
Fred nodded absently, the tip of his nose brushing against the soft skin under her ear. “I do.”
“Are you going to give them to me straight?”
There was a snort of amusement and she felt him press against her more firmly. “As straight as you want it, Lizzie. I’ll give it to you anyway you want.”
“I guess that answers my first question, doesn’t it?” She rolled her eyes but didn’t shove him off. “So, you died. Looks like...you died a long time ago.”
Fred was silent for quite a while, and the only sound in the room was the crackling of the flames.
“...It...wasn’t an accident.” Fred had turned his face to speak into her hair. “I killed myself. Deliberate Copper Overdose. Seemed very poetic at the time. About half a dozen of my workers had died from copper poisoning. Built my fortune on Copper. Thought it might make a nice obituary. Didn’t realize how bloody painful it’d be.”
Elizabeth made a small noise in the back of her throat that may have been a sob. She moved to turn around in his arms but Fred held her firm. “Don’t pity me. I was a pretty shitty human being. I don’t deserve pity.”
“Did you kill yourself because your workers died?”
“No.” The firmness behind that statement told her that the topic was closed. “I’ll tell you one day. But not tonight.”
They were silent a while longer, before Fred spoke again. “Shall I answer one of the bigger questions of the night, Lizzie? The one that’s been driving me up the wall for the last three months?”
“And what would that question be, Fred?”
“What the hell is wrong with me.” Fred’s voice had turned deeper and an trickle of mischief slipped in. “See, Imaginary Friends, they aren’t supposed to remember their charges. You get a kid, You help them, You move on. Now, this process is supposed to last say… anywhere from a month to five years, right? After that you get your memory wiped nice and clean and you get zapped to the next kid who needs you.”
“But you didn’t lose your memory when you left me.” Elizabeth felt a wave of understanding wash over her. “That’s why all those dreams happened.”
“That’s one reason.” Fred mouthed against her neck, continuing to talk even as he felt her shiver in his arms. “How long was I left in the box, Liz?”
Elizabeth was finding it hard to concentrate. She felt flushed. “I...guess about 20...22 years?”
“Hmph. You know why Imaginary Friends are only supposed to stay for a short period of time?” He waited for her to shake her head. “We’re not supposed to mature. We’re not supposed to have time to grow. And believe me, Lizzie, I sure did grow up A LOT in that box.”
He let her go, and waited for her to turn around before pulling her backwards towards the bed, grinning.
I have a playlist I write this to- it's on my tumblr. A couple of the chapters have song lyrics in them. Today's is "My Girlfriend is Better" by Talking Heads.
Whelp. Things are going to get saucy again next time.
Hopefully Frederick lasts longer in bed than Alan, or else Liz is about to have a pretty anti-climatic evening.
Chapter 11: Chapter Eleven: If we get through one more night
Chapter Eleven: If we get through one more night.
“Wait.” Elizabeth shook his hands away from her own, and held them up in front of herself. “I’m...not sure this is the best idea.”
“Why not?” The petulant look on his face was so close to how she remembered it. If it wasn’t for the shadows playing across his angular features from the roaring fire, she’d swear this was just another of their dreams.
But he’d just admitted that he’d died.
“Isn’t it...like...necrophilia or something?” Elizabeth grimaced as the words came tumbling out. “It was weird enough when I thought you were just a figment of my imagination but. You’re dead! Literally Dead!”
Fred rolled his eyes, his entire body slumping at her outburst. “Urgh. Is that really what you’re worried about? Seriously?”
“You can’t just pretend like this is normal!”
“Look if I could, I’d do this the proper way, I would!” Fred hopped up to hover a foot off the ground, his legs crossing in the air. He waved his hands emphatically. “I’d love nothing more than to take you out to dinner and...I don’t know. How does courting work these days for adults? I barely remember how it went before I died.” His face screwed up in thought and he shrugged. “Come to think of it I don’t think I ever did it the proper way when I was alive either.”
“So you weren’t married?”
The ghost scoffed. “Certainly not.” He started out of his contemplation when he saw Elizabeth smirking up at him, her arms crossed over her chest. “OI! Look! I never said I never did it! I just said I was never married. There’s a big difference, Mrs!”
"I thought that you guys were big on getting Married before sex back then."
"Oh groooow up Lizzie! People did it as much, if not more than people do now. We just had more decorum about it." Fred sniffed at her, studying his nails.
Elizabeth snickered at his outburst. “Sounds to me like you don’t have a lot of experience.”
Bristling, Fred dropped to the ground, and stormed up to his former charge, squaring his shoulders. “You have no idea of what I can and can’t do!”
Elizabeth stood her ground. “I seem to remember you not knowing how to do much in our last dream.”
Clucking his tongue, Fred sneered down at her. “I didn’t have my ruddy memories back, did I?” His expression became darker and he wet his lips. “And. I couldn’t do this.”
He snapped his fingers.
Elizabeth found herself sat on the bed again, watching helplessly as her best friend clambered up to join her. The curtains around the bed twitched closed, and above them, several long thin candles hovered lazily to cast a glow over them both. Fred crawled up the expanse of the bed until he was kneeling in front of her. His hands were clenched in the material of his jacket, looking frustrated with himself.
He opened his mouth several times before snapping closed, muttering furiously about “The right way to do this.” As he sat there scrubbing at his eyes, looking for the right thing to say, Lizzie found herself looking for her Fred in this new man. And he was in there. She saw it in the quick, fluid movements of his gestures. The irritating but endearing whine of his voice.
And in the warmth that had been missing when he’d been first summoned back only an hour or so ago. There’d been nothing but ice in his gaze when he’d addressed Lydia.
But as he looked at her now, resolutely not touching her even as he had her on his former bed, there absolutely was the same warm, glowing, love filled look he’d given her when they’d had to say goodbye.
“Lizzie.” His voice was careful, as if testing the weight of each word. “You’re right. I don’t have a lot of experience. But not in the way you meant it. I don’t have experience with...feelings. Not when I was alive. And certainly not as an imaginary friend. We-...they love their charges, but it’s protective. It’s supposed to be like...a big brother’s love.” His voice tightened. Exhaling sharply he looked up again. “I matured beyond that with you. I got to know you as an adult. And that’s never supposed to happen but...I’m so glad it did.”
“So am I.” Elizabeth smiled weakly, and reached across to take his hand in hers. His skin had no warmth to it, but the weight felt right in her own. Slowly, green stained fingers wrapped around her own.
“...I want to finish what we started in the dream.” Fred’s eyes never left her own. “Me being dead shouldn’t matter. We’re connected Lizzie. Don’t you want to, too?”
Elizabeth’s breath caught in her throat, but she nodded. Leaning across, she felt, rather than saw, him kiss her. Something sizzled behind her eyelids, a curious but pleasant surge of energy that travelled through her nerves to the tips of her toes.
Feeling him make that same choked half whimper against her lips made her relax. This was her Fred. She found herself lain down against surprisingly soft pillows, one of his arms cradling her head as his other hand lazily stroked her side. He lay between her legs, her short nurses uniform rucked up around her waist, but she was long since caring. Her own hands pushed his jacket off his shoulders.
“Lizzie,” His eyes were startlingly blue. The green bruises that darkened his sockets only made them stand out all the more. His hand reached up to rest just over her nurses uniform’s zipper. “Please? Let me hear you say you want this as much as I do.”
Taking a shaking breath she nodded, her own hands working to fumble with his shirt. “I want this. I want you Fred. I don’t want to be without you anymore.”
His head dropped to rest over her heart, and she heard him chuckle quietly. “Thank god.” When he raised his head again, he was grinning. “Then lets not keep you waiting.”
She blinked, and their clothes were gone.
“FRED.” She started to squirm under him, halfheartedly trying to cover herself, although all this served to do was remind her he was just as naked, and now with his hips cradled between her legs, this was doing some very interesting things indeed. Tucking his head beside hers, Fred cackled before pressing a soft bite to the juncture of her neck, crushing their chests together.
It was a curious sensation. No heat, but there was a pressure, and when they kissed she swear she could taste him. She finally realised where that curious smell, a metallic but citrus smell, had been coming from. It was purely him, his essence, sharp and heady that licked between her lips and demanded all of her attention.
He shifted against her, and she felt the delicious weight of him against her center. Elizabeth smiled against his lips, and curled one leg up to drape against the back of his and delighted when she heard him whimper against her. She ground her wet heat against the smooth length and soon he was cursing under his breath, his fists bunched up in the comforter.
“Liiiizzziiieeee….” Fred hissed against her shoulder. His hands reached down to squeeze her hips and he rolled them until she was laying atop him, coaxing her to sit astride him.
From above, she was finally able to see all of him. His chest was completely hairless, and he had a very slight gut. Smooth, was the word that came immediately to mind. Fred’s big, clear eyes were blown wide, and she reached out to push his hair back from his face, loving that he leaned into her touch as if it were the most important thing in the world. Was he always this handsome? She supposed she must have missed how good looking he was thanks to the ridiculous expressions he was always pulling. Even now, in what was absolutely a tender moment, and surely the most loved she’d ever felt during any act of intimacy, she was slightly taken out of it when he grinned up at her, and all that mischief and naughtiness sprung out again.
He’d reached between them whilst she was lost in his eyes apparently, and she felt him push her down and onto him without much ceremony.
“Oh God!” It was like all the air was pushed out of her in one thrust and she barely had time to adjust to the intrusion before she felt, rather than saw, Fred giggling under her.
“It’s Fred actually.” He didn’t have the decency to look apologetic. His hands were splayed across her waist and this thumbs were hooked over her hip bones, rubbing soothing circles into her skin. “Not that there has to be much of a difference.”
Elizabeth glared at him, and opened her mouth to bite out a reply, when one of his hands dipped lower to rub at her clit instead. The reply died in her throat and before long she was bobbing up and down on his cock without much bother to how smug the bastard looked.
The flames in the hearth, the sound of their slick coupling and the needy little moans Fred was tugging out of Elizabeth were the only sounds to be heard in this forgotten corner of the great mansion he’d magicked them to. Until there was a great creaking of wood on wood as Fred sat up and flipped Elizabeth onto her back, and slung one of her legs up onto her shoulders, pistoning his hips harshly into hers.
The new angle shoved his cock deeper into her and he ground against the little rough spot inside her that no amount of toys or exploration on her own had taught her how to satisfy yet. She was so close, but she found her hands magically pinned to the bed when she reached for her clit to tumble over the edge. Fred kissed sloppily against the leg he held captive and smirked even as she writhed under him.
“Say the magic words Lizzie~” The sing song quality in his voice made her wish she wipe that stupid smile off his face. “And I’ll make you come. Just ask me, nicely.”
Two could play at that game.
She clenched her muscles around his length, enjoying the way his hips faltered and the pathetic little moan he gave as her walls fluttered around him. The leg he had over his shoulder fell to around his waist as he leaned forward over her, and she used to it to slam him back into her to the hilt, grinding her clit hard against his pubic bone just in time for her to come hard.
On her own terms.
He was just lucky enough to come along for the ride, so to speak, spilling into her.
Neither of them paid much attention to the flames in the fireplace burning emerald green before silently being extinguished altogether.
I've been going a difficult patch irl, which I've talked about on my Tumblr. This fic has been a great way to distract myself from said patch. So...much love.
Finally, eh? This is the part of the fic I usually end up ditching, but I've come this far, and I have a lot of plot I'd like to get to...so who knows what'll happen next?
I mean. Apart from me. Obviously.
Chapter 12: Chapter Twelve: And Nothing is Better than That
Fred contemplates his new situation.
Chapter Twelve: And Nothing is Better than That
Ghosts don’t need to sleep.
This had been something that a freshly dead Frederick B’Stard had relished when he first discovered it in the handbook. Because of how time passed for the Deceased, the dead technically hibernated between thoughts. If you don’t have a purpose, you drift idly through time. If you died and the house was left vacant, there’s a very good chance you won’t notice how much time has passed until the new occupants move in.
The fact that the dead didn’t need to sleep was now a slight hindrance, considering Fred found himself in bed with the most beautiful woman he’d ever met, alive or dead, and she’d fallen asleep what seemed like hours ago. He was left with just the events of the evening playing over and over in his head and a raging hard on he didn’t want to waste on wanking when he finally had everything he’d ever needed in his arms.
A dreadfully soppy thought. He could practically hear Lord Saunders in his head calling him a girl.
Fuck. When was the last time he’d thought about that bastard? Fred grimaced at the curtains draped above them and tried to concentrate.
Much easier to do that now that the limitations of the Punishment were removed.
‘So it’s… 1992.’ Fred ran his fingers through Elizabeth’s dark locks idly as he did the math. ‘I’d been dead 30 years when that bitch Juno stuck me in Imaginary Friend Purgatory. Died 1872. It’s been...90 years.’
The Handbook must have been updated to Venus and back in that time. A whole new set of rules were probably introduced.
Fred grinned. More rules to break.
Elizabeth murmured against his chest and tucked her arm more closely around his waist.
Even better, now that he had a permanent mortal anchor he was almost untouchable. Frederick chuckled and gently rolled Elizabeth onto her side, and swept her bangs aside. She was smiling in her sleep.
She really was too good to be true. Thinking back to the breakdown that had caused her to bring him back from the Jack-In-The-Box, his smile faltered. Lizzie deserved better. He wondered how in the world her shit-bag of an ex-husband managed to get her to marry him in the first place. Mentally he scoffed. Of course. Her self-esteem was so low due to the Mega-Bitch. Charlie boy had probably made her feel special with a few well placed compliments and snide comments. Enough to damage her. Keep her keen.
Lazily watching as the strands of Lizzie’s hair dripped through his fingers, Fred wondered how far the bond would allow him to travel. Now he had full control of his powers he sorely wished he could go pay Charlie and Mega-Bitch a visit.
The impulse to act on this was incredibly strong and somewhere around his navel he felt a sharp tug of longing to act on it. This had been the way his powers worked when he was an Imaginary Friend. Pure Impulse and Instinct tempered by the fact he didn’t have full control of his level 4 Poltergeist powers. Now he was able to swallow the urge, and curl further inwards around Elizabeth, greedily soaking up that delicious mortal warmth.
He tried to stay still but the energy of the impulse still shivered it’s way through the length of his entire body. He glared down at the top of her head. How dare she make him feel so protective? And equally how dare she be so soft and smooth and ARGH!
Fred poked Elizabeth.
In the ribs.
“Wake up snot-face.”
Elizabeth groaned and tried to bury her face further under the musty comforter.
“I SAID WAKE UP.”
“What?!” Elizabeth squinted at Fred in the darkness of the room. The moon still shone through the grand windows of the bedroom, and slivers of light managed to find its way through the curtains of the bed.
Fred continued to scowl at her and huffed impatiently. “You’ve been asleep for AGES.”
“It’s barely been 10 minutes.”
“Has not! It’s been forever. Come on, be awake. We’ve got a lot more we could do-”
“Are you SERIOUSLY waking me up to have sex again?”
“YES. I mean, come on, it was pretty fantastic, if I do say so myself, and I’ve not done it for almost 90 years now-”
“And I thought my dry spell was dramatic-”
“And you’re all tempting and lovely just laying there, so I think we ought to do it a couple dozen more times. It’s still Halloween! No better time for good old session of snogging loads and doing IT.”
Elizabeth just stared balefully at him until he’d finished ranting. Her groggy post nap mind struggled to sort through everything he just said. Eventually the fact he’d called her lovely settled and she bit her lip in an attempt to stop from smiling, a pretty blush spreading across her face.
“URGH, and that! Stop that.” Fred used the heel of his palm to push her head back against the pillow and moved to straddle her hips, not caring one wit as the cover fell away and left him on full display on top of her. He flicked her forehead huffily. “Stop being so bloody adorable, I can’t stand it.”
The blush turned scarlet when she took him in. Sure she’d seen him before, but she hadn’t had a good look at...little Fred before. Elizabeth let her hands wander over his thighs shyly, emboldened by the little gasp he mad when her hands got dangerously close to touching where he was practically begging her to.
The more she studied his body, the more endeared she was to him. Clearly there was the beginnings of a beer gut that looked odd on his thin frame. A thin line of ginger chest hair led down to an even thinner sparser trail between his hips. When she finally grasped hold of his length, she giggled to herself as his cock measured up perfectly in her hand, from the tip of her index finger to the curve of her wrist. She felt the physical throb of the thick vein underneath against her own pulse and the slick of his head leaking against her skin.
Still the lack of heat was something she was struggling to get used to. The weight on her hips felt secure and real but even as she found herself panting and thrusting against Fred as the night continued, the fact that all of the body heat was emanating from her was distracting. And yet Fred still seemed to be sweating. A lot if the dewy look on his skin was anything to go by.
Elizabeth mentioned this some time after the fifth orgasm.
Fred scoffed at her, still trying to catch his breath. “I’m not sweating THAT much.”
“Yeah?” She reached across and ran a finger tip against his collarbone then flicked it into his face. She grinned as he physically flinched away from the very visible droplets of sweat flew at him. “Sweaty wanker.”
“Okay, okay, so maybe a little bit- but everyone does! It’s just showing how much effort I’m putting in, and you should feel LUCKY, Mrs! Anyway if we were doing it in Neitherworld you’d be able to feel my body heat.”
“Is...that the place we were in before?”
“Yeah, but it shouldn’t be blocked like that to you. Mediums are able to perceive the Neitherworld and even travel to it if accompanied by a Demon or a Poltergeist.” Fred huffed and snapped his fingers, summoning a towel. He scrubbed self consciously at himself. “That’s going to have to be the first thing we need to fix.”
“Uh.” He seemed incredulous. “Because I’ve got some serious stuff to take care of in the Neitherworld and you’re going to help me, that’s why!”
Yeah, things have become dramatically worse for me irl, so I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to keep writing this.
Kinda odd that I have so much death going on irl and I'm writing this ghost heavy fanfic.
Anyhow. Ever watched the Bottom Live shows and noticed how distractingly sweaty Rik gets? I mean. It makes you think.
Chapter 13: Chapter Thirteen: One Step Beyond
In which the rules of the Neitherworld are explained and the Ghost with the Most reappears.
There's a LOT of worldbuilding in this chapter. Stuff I've had planned since day one.
I have done my very best to introduce a lot of the rules I've come up with organically because just dumping them on the reader is a bit tedious, especially when I know what you all came for was Fred x Lizzie.
But the time has come for the plot to intrude, so think of this chapter as clarification for a lot of Neitherworld lore that I've headcanoned and thus mentioned in passing. Let it be known again that I have drawn pieces of lore from the Movie, the Cartoon and the Musical, and then made up a bunch of shit myself.
ANYWAY LETS GET ON WITH THIS.
Chapter Thirteen: One Step Beyond.
A young woman tapped a microphone, seemingly indifferent to the wild crackle of electronic whining that erupted. Even as the rest of the tour bus cringed in their seats. A big fake grin was plastered on her face, which when accompanied by her short afro with it’s white shock of hair and permanently wide dark eyes gave her a demented air.
Not that the look was in short supply on the bus.
One woman was bright blue, her teeth chattering wildly, much to the displeasure of the man sat next to her. He rubbed what was left of his right arm to try and warm up, trying not to rub at the phantom limb. Another woman was trying desperately to readjust her head as it kept threatening to topple off and into her lap.
There wasn’t a single person on the bus who looked happy to be there. With the exception of the Tour Guide.
“Welcome, welcome! Welcome, Recently Deceased, to the Neitherworld!” The woman at the front of the bus exclaimed to her captive audience. She nodded to the driver, a purple faced walrus of a man who merely grunted and started the engine, pulling out onto a twisted and dangerously high highway that stretched off into the distance. Below the highway was nothing but smoke and waves of dust with no end in sight.
A woman near the window actually screamed when she saw the world beyond the station. The Tour Guide only turned her vacant smile in her direction to continue talking.
“The Neitherworld is the next step in your continued existential journey. You all have died under the correct set of circumstances that assures you will remain in the Neitherworld for the allotted time period connected to your particular spiritual experience.”
She paused only to lean forward a little in preparation for what was clearly a scripted joke. “Seems like some of us didn’t achieve our full potential back on Earth, eh? Never mind! Plenty of time for that now!”
No-one laughed. The Tour Guide continued on regardless.
“You might be interested to know that the Neitherworld is stretched across two planets. There is the residential zone, here on Saturn, which you all will be confined to until you reach your allocated time or until you achieve contentment, whichever comes first. And there is the Bureau for Undead Civil Service, or the BUCS, which is located on Venus.”
The bus groaned on, speeding along the highway. Floating platforms of rock emerged from the smoke, and upon them the beginnings of a surreal Cityscape appeared. Buildings from every time period and culture sat upon these outcroppings, some hanging precariously over the edge. Denizens of the Neitherworld went about their daily routine, some walking, some floating, all of them just as miserable as they had been in life, even in the bright technicolour of the afterlife.
“The BUCS is responsible for maintaining everything about the afterlife. We control the laws that govern the Neitherworld and the Existence of Life after Death on Earth. Everything about your very existence is down to us! Isn’t that neat?”
The Tour Guide didn’t pause for breath as she continued to flatly deliver her scripted speech. “As none of you were fortunate to get a Haunting, you will all be entitled to only two health vouchers in your welcome packet to visit your Caseworker on Venus. Be warned, if you choose to visit your Caseworker, you will NOT be eligible to apply for new vouchers for another two hundred earth years.”
The Bus remained silent.
The Tour Guide gazed around the bus. “You may have noticed that you aren’t able to raise your hands or interrupt me.” The bus driver gave a wheezing, coughing guffaw at this. “This is because of the one major brightside to the Afterlife. Depending on how you died and the quality of your creativity and imagination in life, you will have been determined a level and designation. This level cannot be improved or decreased. It is linked intrinsically to the content of your soul. Most people are a level 1 or level 2 ghost. Luckily, with practice, this means you will be able to use your powers to entertain yourself here in the afterlife.”
With this, the Tour Guide shifted the pile of heavy manilla envelopes in her arms to clumsily snap her fingers. An apple dropped into her outstretched palm. The newly dead occupants of the bus’ eyes widened. Some seemed to try snapping something into existence themselves but apart from a few promisingly looking sparks in the back seat, nothing appeared.
“It’ll take practice.” The Tour Guide snapped her fingers again and the apple disappeared again. “But you will find that this new gift will make acclimatising much easier. Which brings us back to the fact none of you can speak right now.”
The man with the missing arm opened his mouth angrily to protest but nothing but smoke issued forth, causing him to cough and splutter. The Tour Guide nodded towards him, and for the first time genuine amusement showed on her face, and shocks of electricity sparked from her temples.
“As Mr Kusma has just demonstrated, this is because rather than tell you all to be quiet and wait til the end of the tour to ask questions, I simply have made it impossible for you to interrupt. Which brings us to my final point.”
Snapping her fingers again, an ancient television behind the driver’s cab turned on. The screen sputtered to life, and one after another, pictures of numerous individuals appeared with listed ‘crimes’ under their names.
“This is not Heaven. This is not Hell. Beyond the Neitherworld there is the infinite cosmos. Your energy will succumb to that fate one day because you all died accidentally, or you were murdered. It will join the energy of those who passed on from natural causes or old age. Your extended family will only be in the Neitherworld if they also died accidentally or were murdered. There are of course circumstantial evidence that varies from case to case but broadly speaking, that is just how things work here.
For those who commit murder or suicide on Earth, there is one more caveat. Those who...pass on in this manner, such as myself, are forever bound into the Undead Civil Service. This is our eternal punishment.”
Defiance was clear in the woman’s posture, and her scowl was almost palpable as she dared anyone to even look at her with pity. She shook herself and then that eerie plaster beam appeared back on her face. “However not everyone is content to exist. And there are several individuals you should be wary of. Never initiate contact or agree to make deals of any kind with any of these Individuals. Be sure to contact the BUCS as soon as possible with any information should you encounter them.”
The bus driver grunted unintelligibly from the cab, and startled the Tour Guide from looking up at the screen, where a grinning level 5 demon grinned down at them all, his eyes rimmed in purple, his long black and white striped tongue gleaming even in the crappy mugshot.
“We’re almost at the bus terminal. Here.” She threw the envelopes out and they zoomed into the laps of the passengers. “Inside you will find your copy of The Handbook, which will answer any and all questions. But. I think we have time for…” She rolled up her sleeve, revealing five different wrist watches. “One question.” Her temples sparked and a she pointed a finger at the back of the bus. “You. Go.”
A young man with a backwards baseball cap and a large metal pole sticking out of his tye-dyed t-shirted chest had his hand raised for him. His jaw dropped and he started to sweat as the rest of the bus turned to glare at him. “Uhhh...uhm. I uh…”
“Come on kid, you just died and you get to ask one question without having to use your health vouchers. Ask me something. Anything.”
“Uh…” He gulped and the pipe in his chest wobbled. “Uh...where...are we going after we get off the bus?”
The tour guide sighed and threw her hands up in the air. “You all get two weeks in a hotel until you can find your own place to spend your afterlife. I’d suggest using that time to find extended members of your family to help support you during this time.”
“Give ‘em one more question, Jenkins.” The driver’s thick voice grunted as he rolled down the window to flip off another driver on the narrow highway. “Looks like there’s a delay on the road ahead.”
“FINE.” The Tour Guide, Jenkins, looked put upon and planted her hands on her hips as she cast about for another passenger. She pointed sharply at a woman who for all intents and purposes rather untouched by death. “You. One Question, go.”
“W-when you spoke about the different levels, what exactly is the difference between the levels?” The woman’s voice became braver with each word. “The men and women you showed us on the screen looked...well some of them looked positively ghastly, but what is it about their levels that we need to be worried about?”
The Brahman accent on the woman gave Jenkins some pause. The question actually wasn’t that bad. Fairly sensible. But the superiority that the woman had something to be desired. Jenkins had been giving this tour for over 40 years now and every bus ride had one of these women on them. The kind of woman who’d ask to see your manager if her fries were cold.
Jenkins decided to deal with this question with how she dealt with everything since she’d died.
“Ma’am I think you’ll find everything you need to know on that particular subject in the Handbook.” The tour bus shuddered to a halt in a parking lot outside a large bus terminal. The hulking beast of a vehicle seemed to visibly wilt as it’s engines shut down. “Now, everyone off the bus! Welcome to the Neitherworld, watch out for snakes!”
The passengers found themselves moving robotically towards the door. Many of them cast scared looks at Jenkins as they passed her, but she did little more than beam that fake deranged smile at them.
As soon as the last one shuffled off the bus, Jenkins fell heavily into the first seat on the bus. Her vision was swimming and she pinched her nose under the thick spectacles she wore. Sparks continued to spit from her temples as she gratefully accepted the hip flask offered to her by the Driver, who’d hefted himself from the cab, and sat heavily on the steps leading down from the bus.
“You could have answered her question, Jen. Don’t cost nothin’ to be nice.”
“Why should I make it easy on ever soccer mom who shoves their shitty attitude my way?” Jenkins handed the flask back after taking a deep swig.
The Driver shrugged, pocketing the flask. “She did just die.”
“And what from? Didn’t look like the trauma has even sunk in yet. No visible sign of stress or manifestation of the experience. Mark my words, she’s going to burn through her vouchers faster than a conservative christian in the waiting room. The Strange and Unusual probably never even passed her perception on earth.”
“Mediums are gettin’ pretty rare these days ain’t they?” The driver looked thoughtfully up at the heavy yellow sky. Thick swirls of dust clouds hovered over the city. “Must be the world is gettin’ more accepting to bullshit.”
“Or more conditioned to accept tragedy.” Jenkins let her head flop backwards, closing her eyes for a moment.
If only she could sleep. If she could just live outside of the moment for one second, she was sure she could grin and bare the job more easily. Ferrying souls from the Waiting Room to the Neitherworld sucked. The Neitherworld itself was pretty...Meh (as the little jingle that played on the bus radio liked to remind them. As it played over. And over. And OVER again. When it wasn’t playing Cher of course). But being unable to sleep was the worst. She’d heard from the older members of BUSC that this rule of agents not being able to sleep was a recent rule change. She hoped desperately that the next adaption of the Handbook got rid of it.
“We have about 2 more runs to make today.”
Jenkins groaned. “Just give me a second.”
“Aw, is the intern gettin’ sleepy?”
Jenkins’ eyes snapped open as she heard the familiar gravelly voice of her former supervisor from about two seats behind her.
Beetlejuice cracked a filthy toothed smile at her, saluting Jenkins as he sat with his legs propped up against the seat in front of him. “Hey, howya doin’?”
Jenkins sprang upwards and immediately vaulted the seat to face him properly. “BJ?!”
“That’s right Sparky, it’s me, in the rotting flesh.” Beetlejuice shook his jacket suit out, uncaring as dust spilled out onto the floor of the bus. “S’been a while? Some crossover this is shapin’ up to be huh? Almost like I’ve been upstaged by some pale little limey imitation.”
When he failed to get a response from his former underling, he let out a deep sigh through his nose and shook his head. “Don’t worry ‘bout it. Just been havin’ a hell of a Halloween is all.”
“A hell of a Halloween?” Jenkins face lit up and her grip on the seat tightened. “You and Lydia been having adventures again?”
The demon shrugged and he lit up in lieu of an answer. “In a manner of speakin’, yeah.”
“Well, where is she?” Jenkins looked around eagerly. “I haven’t seen her since that whole Prince Vince Ballroom disaster.”
“Beginning to think ya like seein’ her more than ya like seein’ yer former boss, there Sparks.” Beetlejuice pouted.
“How often is it that a Medium comes to visit? Not to mention a Medium who isn’t a complete moron?”
The Driver scoffed loudly and stomped out of the bus, muttering something about checking the engine. Beetlejuice perked up at this immediately formulating ways to mess with the younger demon.
“Could you NOT mess with him this time?” Jenkins snapped. “He’s not going to rat you out for being here, but he’s a good driver and I don’t want to swap him for another.”
“Look, I’m not even stayin’ long this time. But I gotta bum a ride off ya to the Waiting Room.”
“Why the hell do you need to get to the Waiting Room?” Jenkins grinned suddenly. “Why don’t you just get back there how you usually do?”
Beetlejuice deadpanned “I’m not goin’ ta go pick a fight with a sandworm just to get Juno to talk ta me. I gotta talk ta her about some big boy ghost stuff, you wouldn’t understand.”
“If you’re going to potentially get me and my Driver in trouble for smuggling an illegal Level 5 Demon to Venus, you should at least have the decency to tell me why I’m doing it.”
“‘Cuz we got a Level 4 Poltergeist bound to a Medium on Earth, that’s fucking why.”
Chapter 14: Chapter Fourteen: You should have raised a baby girl
Fred finally lets Lizzie out of bed, and Beetlejuice has a conversation with Juno.
Chapter Fourteen: You should have raised a baby girl.
Elizabeth shivered. The nurse costume lay at the foot of the bed, but she found that much to her chagrin it was almost impossible to put back on again. Fred seemed to have ripped the zipper clean off, leaving her with an extreme plunging neckline.
“Halloween is almost over anyway.” Fred was bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands shoved deeply into his pockets. His ever present outfit no worse off than when he’d zapped it off hours ago. “You don’t need a silly old costume.” Another of his filthy preening leers appeared on his face as his eyes greedily took Elizabeth in just her underwear. “In fact I think you ought to just stay as you are.”
Elizabeth’s deadpan expression remained no matter how much Fred tried to persuade her. In the end he threw his hands up in the air and whined loudly before snapping his fingers, finally clothing her.
Standing, Elizabeth found herself wandering to the full length, ornate standing mirror in the corner of the room. She was surprised to see she wasn’t just put into even more revealing underwear. She’d remarked as much to Fred and he’d just pouted that he wasn’t as pervy as she clearly thought he was. Lizzie missed the grin he gave as she turned back to examine the outfit.
He couldn’t wait until she had a chance to see what he’d done to her underwear.
Elizabeth found herself wearing something similar to what she’d worn the day she’d found out Fred had become Natalie’s imaginary friend. A soft black long sleeved shirt, deep purple slacks and violet braces. She even had supple brown and white leather oxfords.
She lifted a hand to her hair and snorted. “You cut my hair again.” It was back to a chin length bob. “What is it with you and my hair?”
Fred shrugged, bouncing over to stand next to her. Unfortunately he still didn’t show up in the mirror. “I like it short on you. I can change it back if you want?”
“No...No it looks good.” She took a very long look at herself in the mirror and then looked to him. “We kind of match.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of the point.” He took her hand in his and scooped her up in his arms. “We’re bound now. Your little friend didn’t really get that what that means when a Poltergeist is bound to a Medium. We’re a package deal now. Where you go, I go. You’ve got your very own Poltergeist, Lizzie!”
Elizabeth squeaked as she was lifted, and immediately found herself clinging to Fred’s jacket. “And that’s what you are? I thought you were a ghost?”
Again Fred Shrugged. He started walking towards the bedroom door, not sparing a backwards glance at his former bedroom. “The Bureau has different categories for souls that have certain qualities. Poltergeist is the name given to souls with a certain...panache for mayhem and disorder.” He grinned at her. “I always thought it fitting for me, don’t you agree?”
Elizabeth nodded, because that’s what you do when you’re trying desperately to understand what the hell your former childhood best friend is explaining to you, when you’re still a little dazzled by the last orgasm he gave you not ten minutes before.
“Most ordinaries who die end up as measly little ghosts. They have their own powers, but they can’t begin to dream of the kind of things I can do.” Fred tossed his head back and gave a dazzling smile. “I’m great.”
“So what about Beetl-”
“SHH!” Fred’s eyes widened in alarm, stopping dead in the darkened hallway and Elizabeth found herself unable to move her lips. “Don’t. Don’t say his name. You say his name three times, he appears.”
When she nodded her understanding, he unstuck her lips. “So...what is he?”
“He’s a Demon.” Rolling his eyes theatrically he clucked his tongue at her. “No, not like, Hell and fire and brimstone blah blah bullshit. Demon is the name the Bureau gives to...fuck it’s hard to explain it to a mortal. Okay.” He suddenly let her down onto the ground so he had his hands free to gesture as he talked. “So say a mortal Medium, like you or that little friend of yours, let’s say you perform a ritual and summon a very powerful spirit. That Spirit then offers you something, but only in return for a slice of your emotions. You as a Medium then will never be able to experience that emotion again. The Spirit can then take that emotion and create a Demon.”
“And that’s what B-...I mean. That’s what He is? A...manifestation of emotion?”
“No.” Fred grimaces. “BJ is the end result of a pair of spirits using that ritual to harvest DOZENS of emotions. The full spectrum of human experience. And then using that mess to resurrect an exorcised soul.” Fred’s tone of voice suggests what a stupid experiment he thought it was.
“Why would someone do that?”
“June-bug wanted to see what would happen. Kinda deserved what she got.”
“And she got him?”
“She got a Demon son.”
Ms Argentina (as she expected everyone to call her- she refused to answer to anything else) pursed her lips, holding the clipboard between hot pink manicured finger tips. This wasn’t part of her job description. She was a receptionist, not a secretary. But the disturbance in HER waiting room was not her responsibility.
And if there’s one thing that serving your sentence in the mind-numbing bureaucracy of the BUCS does, it’s that it teaches you that you can ALWAYS pass the buck onto someone else, with very little in the way of repercussions.
“I am not having him back in the Waiting Room again. You must come take him, Juno. I simply cannot deal with another year of him.”
Juno’s head rested in her hand. Smoke issued from the slit in her throat as she watched the green skinned beauty talk. “I don’t know what you expect me to do, Ms Argentina. As you are well aware, he’s bound to a Mortal. Lydia Deetz should come collect him. He’s HER responsibility.”
“That’s the problem.” Ms Argentina plucked a note from her clipboard and handed it brusquely to the older ghost. “She can’t summon him right now.”
“Someone else banished him.”
“Apparently someone had left a summoning loop open from before the bonding ritual.” Ms Argentina pouted. “I would have thought you had all the loops closed before the ritual was completed?”
Juno angrily spat the cigarette out and smashed it into one of the overflowing ashtrays cluttering her desk. “I DID. Get him in here. Now.”
Ms Argentina nodded sharply and opened the door. Before she had a chance to step out, Beetlejuice strolled in. The former beauty queen bristled as he passed her, and flipped him off as he leered at her. He leaned around the door frame to watch her go, whistling. He fixed Juno with a grin as he finally shut the office door. “Someone ought to amend the handbook again, ‘cuz looking that good should be illegal!”
“SIT. DOWN.” Juno bit out. She waited until he did as she asked, not even bothering to reprimand him for pushing piles of paperwork onto the ground as he slapped his boots up on the desk.
“So Mom,” The demon started casually. “You have got a big ‘ol storm comin’ your way.” He struck a match along the heel of his pointed boot, and lit up a smoke.
“Don’t call me that.” Since he’d been bound with Lydia, she’d seen him less and less. The last three years had been blissful. Any report that came her way about his misdemeanours had been laughably small in comparison to the shit he used to get up to. “Laurence-”
“Hey, if I can’t call you Mom, then you can’t call me that.” Beetlejuice pointed his red tipped finger at her in annoyance.
Gritting her teeth. “WHO banished you?”
“An old ‘friend’. One I thought I was never going to see again, because you said he willingly took the Imaginary Friend punishment, and that he was happy there.” Beetlejuice blew out a cloud of green tinged smog. “Ya know, you told me that in the same way a parent tells a kid his dog has gone to a farm upstate. Ya really are a five star mother there Juno.”
“Fuck.” Juno pushed away from the desk in shock. “Frederick B’stard. How the flying sandworm shit did he- he shouldn’t have been able to- he shouldn’t remember your name!”
“Sounds like you did a shitty job ta me. Ya left a loop open.”
“I didn’t think it would matter!” Juno was pacing. “The Punishment takes away memories and emotional maturity. There’s no way he should have been able to break the punishment to remember your name. Oh this is a mess…”
Beetlejuice watched as a the tiny pile of wrinkles, ash and pure unbridled anger paced behind her desk. Of course he wasn’t about to get Lydia into trouble over this by mentioning his best friend was the one to help summon Fred. All he needed was for Juno to close the loop. That way Fred couldn’t summon or banish him anymore.
Fred could fuck up the BUCS all he wanted. As long as Beetlejuice still had a way to get to and from the Neitherworld to Earth, that’s all he cared about.
Juno stopped pacing and picked up her phone, punching in an extension number. “You are not to go anywhere until I’ve checked on this.” She muttered to Beetlejuice.
“Sure thing, Mom. Not like I can leave til you close the loop.”
The old ghost scoffed, before there was a click of someone on the other end picking up the line. “Operator? Get me whoever’s in charge of Imaginary Friends these days...Uh huh? Yeah. Of course I’ll hold.”
There was an tense stretch of silence. Juno shot a sickened glance at her Demon offspring who was busily sorting through his suit jacket pockets. “You never used to be so...filthy.”
Beetlejuice threw his hands up. “I ain’t the guy you fuckin’ unexorsised there, Ma. I never will be.”
Juno’s voice softened. “I’d thought...well, Lydia has been such a good influence on you...maybe you’d changed.”
With the sarcastic air of a teenager mid-tantrum “Why can’t you just accept me for who I aaaammmmmmm?”
“Must we do this every time you come in here?”
“You started it.”
“Did NO-OH yes, hello.” Juno’s attention snapped back to the phone. “Yes I’d like to speak to the head of the Imaginary Friends department...uh huh. Yes. No. Yes, well I’m sure he’s very busy, but It’s very important. Tell him it’s Juno. Yes THE Juno….Good. Now if possible.”
“Oh god, didn’t know you’d added an article to your name.” Beetlejuice sniped as he studied his nails, smirking as Juno flipped him off.
“Thank you.” She put the handset down and sat heavily down. “They’ll be here presently. Now. You actually SAW Frederick?”
“Yeah. I mean. He looked kinda...messed up. Like when a kid draws an adult? No-where near as slick as he used to. Like Sid Vicious if he fell in a thrift store bin.”
“That’d be the Punishment.” Juno nodded. “Oh, Sid’s finally been assigned by the way.”
“No kidding. Where’d he end up?”
“I’m not telling you where, you’ll only end up trying to mess with him.”
There was a knock on the door, and without waiting for an answer, a Demon strode in.
Almost immediately, Beetlejuice decided he hated this man. Most members of the BCUS, if they didn’t keep the clothes they died in, like Ms Brazil, ended up adopting a sort of office formal wear in drab grey colours. The exception to the rule being the higher level Poltergeists who tended to always be drawn to bright, obnoxious colours fitting their abrasive personalities, and Demons, who tended to wear whatever the hell they liked, and choose how their appearance manifested (Of course, Beetlejuice found that he always looked close to the man Juno had tried to bring back from the Lost Souls Room no matter what form he took. Corpse Chic, as he called it).
This motherfucker was wearing a full white tuxedo, and choose to manifest with horns. A goddamn Demon with Horns? Beetlejuice sneered. Cliche. BORING.
“Hey pal, ya ever hear of subtlety?”
The Demon in white had an eerie smirk on his face, the thick lines around his eyes crinkling, and he adjusted his crisp white sleeves with pristine white gloves. “And I’m supposed to take tips on subtlety from a guy wearing a striped suit?”
“They let a Demon be in charge of an entire department?”
Both the Demon in white and Beetlejuice shot Juno a look. She seemed to be taken aback and had the good sense to look embarrassed. “I didn’t mean- I didn’t mean to imply that-”
“I believe you called me down here to discuss one of the Imaginary Friends on our books?” The Demon sniffed disdainfully.
“Uh...Yes.” Juno sat up in her chair and handed the note Ms Brazil had delivered to the Demon. “A Frederick B’stard. I’m not sure what his...new name would be…”
“Drop Dead Fred.” Beetlejuice snorted.
“Ah yes.” The Demon took the note and scanned it quickly. “One of our best. An almost spotless record, every child assigned to him the past had been quite happy by the time they passed from his care.”
“Really?” The Shock on Juno’s face had the Demon give pause, and he raised a single long eyebrow.
“Well yes. He has a nearly 98% success rate. Drop Dead Fred is a legend among Imaginary Friends.”
Beetlejuice shrugged. “Who would of thought?”
“Of course, he has been inactive for the last decade or so.” The Demon’s head tilted thoughtfully. “He very recently appeared on our radar again.”
“How do you lose track of an Imaginary Friend?”
“Occasionally, if the child the Imaginary Friend is attached to is a Medium, they have the power to repress their Imaginary Friend. It happens, if rarely these days. It’s of no concern.”
“But...if he was inactive during that time, doesn’t that mean he could have...escaped? He could have been up to who knows what!”
The Demon smirked. “Not possible. The Punishment is quite thorough. There is no way to rescind the punishment enough for an Imaginary Friend to regain full control of their powers. Quite literally the only way for them to recover their memories and powers is if they’re summoned through a blood ritual, and with a totem, by someone who loves them unconditionally.”
“Frederick died 113 years ago.” Juno was now holding a very old case file in her wrinkled hands, and Beetlejuice was starting to fidget in his chair. “His relatives all passed on and all of them hated him by all accounts, with the exception of his sister. Even his best friend from life is over on Saturn. No mortal should be able to summon him.”
Crap. Crap. CRAP.
Juno gestured to the Demon in white with the file. “Could one of his charges summon him?”
“I suppose it could be possible. However most charges are minors, and not many are Mediums. I would have to look into who his last Charge was. It’s rather intriguing, if this turns out to be more than a hunch. Especially considering the current purge.”
“Oh, yes, you wouldn’t know, being over here in Social Services.” The Demon simpered. “There’s a curious movement on Earth to ‘cure’ children of their Imaginary Friends. Quite a few of the souls on our books have been going through a manner of...exorcism. It’s a very interesting phenomenon really. The exorcism is done via medication and can take months. Very painful apparently. It also leaves the Child stunted emotionally, and it takes the one thing left to the Imaginary Friend after the Punishment- their heart. Their ability to feel. Extraordinary.”
The Demon smiled as if the whole thing was an interesting puzzle. “Anyway, I shall go and investigate Drop Dead Fred’s last charge and send you what I find, THE Juno.”
He swept from the office without a backwards glance.
Beetlejuice watched him go, with his mouth hanging open. He then jerked a thumb at the door as it closed. “THAT’S what you wanted to happen to Freddy?!”
Juno’s were wide with horror. “I...didn’t realize that Mortals had resorted to such extremes.”
“YOU put him in that goddamn place. Sure he was a poncy little prick, but he was actually GOOD at his job!”
“He made things difficult for everyone.”
“YOU’VE LET OTHERS OFF FOR FAR MORE!”
“He was trying to override rules that have been in place for generations!”
“SO? We’re on the 50th iteration of the damn Handbook! It needs updating. Mortals change! WE CHANGE.”
“HE WAS A BAD INFLUENCE.” Juno reared back and covered her mouth. Beetlejuice’s eyes narrowed.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You only sent him down when the whole Winchester thing went south.” Beetlejuice launched himself out of his chair. “You sent him away because you wanted to punish me, is that it?”
“DON’T. CALL. ME. THAT.” Beetlejuice was livid. If the temporal limitations present on Juno’s office hadn’t been in place, the room would have been thick with writhing snakes. “I’ma make this real clear to you, MOM. I ain’t your kid. I’m your fuck-up. Your MISTAKE.”
He stormed over to the door and wrenched it open, turning back to her to give her one last parting shot. “And if you think I made your unlife difficult BEFORE, I’m sure as hell going to make it harder now he’s back.”
The door slammed shut so hard the glass smashed out of the frame.
Some context and some spoilers for Beetlejuice the Musical.
It's revealed in the Musical that Laurence is BJ's first name, and that Juno is his Mom. Hilarious as the reveal is, a lot of fans have been a bit put off by this. I've decided to include it in the canon of this fic because it just makes me laugh so goddamn much.
However I have made it more of a metaphorical Mother-Son situation. Ghosts can't have kids in my fanon. But the way Demons are brought into the Neitherworld is as close as they can get. And of course, BJ is not purely just a demon. He's a resurrected ghost with the powers of a Demon. Making him a one of a kind experiment that Juno has resented ever since.
...Also how cute is Lizzie's new outfit? I can't wait til I can draw again. I'ma draw her in it so much.
Chapter 15: Chapter Fifteen: Flashback the third. (Du bist sehr schan)
Another snapshot of Fred's life before he died and the people he loved.
Chapter Fifteen: Flashback the third. (Du bist sehr schan)
1861, Manchester, England.
“That one? The sort of...pretty-ish one with the dark hair?”
“Oh, oh that one- with the green apron?”
“Extraordinary. Ok, him, with his wig on backwards?”
“Brown. Edwin.” Frederick’s voice was strained as he massaged his temples. “This is dreadfully boring. What could you possibly gain from knowing what colours their Auras are?”
The man sat beside him at the small wooden table chuckled and took a sip of his whiskey. “It’s just a simple way to pass the time! My god, you’ve been off all evening, Frederick. I’ve never known you to turn down a chance to show off. Frankly I’m shocked.”
“I’m just doing a lot of the labour here, Edwin. Why don’t you go around slapping your hand on their backs? Tell me how their essence feels?”
“Yes and I’m sure that’s what I want the night before our first big trial. Rumours circulating that Lord Saunders’ bright and capable first born is inappropriately groping fellow Magistrates.”
“I never said any groping had to take place.”
“No but with your filthy mind, I’m almost certainly feeling up every barmaid serving tonight.”
Frederick grinned. “Perhaps, Edwin, my mind wouldn’t wander to that intriguing image if I hadn’t been subjected to watching it so many times.”
Edwin flicked the back of his best friend’s head and winced. “Good lord, something is wrong with you. You’re considerably more viscous tonight.”
“Have you ever wondered just how bizarre that must sound to an ordinary?”
“Good thing I’m not chumming around with an ordinary then, isn’t it?”
The young men lapsed into companionable silence. They often took to various Inns and Pubs when they had been studying to become magistrates. They’d found in each other a kindred spirit. Not only had they found a willing accomplice in the mischief they delighted in, both in the classroom and in the streets of Cambridge, but they also shared the ability to perceive the strange and unusual.
Ghosts ran rampant through the streets under the rule of Queen Victoria, and the University was thick with them. When Frederick had arrived on his first day to begin his studies, he was struck by just how many ghosts roamed the halls. Former students, former teachers, slaves and servants- they trailed through corridors in a daze, still following schedules that had long since been changed.
Edwin had seen Frederick gazing around during their first lecture. A spectre kept interrupting their current lecturer by dropping pieces of chalk in front of the lectern. Not one of their fellow peers seemed to see the man in ancient robes getting frustrated that no-one was taking his haunting seriously. No-one but Frederick and Edwin.
Months passed before one of them brought it up in passing conversation. A boozy lunch turned into them skipping several classes and into an extremely drunk afternoon.
“So, what. You can see them?” Frederick slurred, his eyes unfocused but his smile stretched wide and manic. “Fuck me, I thought I was the only one!”
“I can! I can see them, my god this is fantastic! Tell-HIC-Tell me. Can you feel them?”
Frederick had let out a stream of loud giggles that had the landlord of the local pub eyeing them with distrust. “Can I? I don’t know, am I allowed to?” He made grabby motions towards Edwin who slapped his hands away.
“NOT Me you GIRL. I meant can you feel what their essence feels like?”
The landlord chucked them out after that. Frederick refused to stop laughing, and Edwin had to drag the red-head back to his halls of residence. They sat on the floor of Edwin’s room, passing a bottle of cooking sherry back and forth (stolen from the kitchens, when Cook’s back was turned), shoulder to shoulder. Frederick’s head lolled onto Edwin’s shoulder at some point and the blonde man was far too drunk to push him away.
“I can’t feel t- hehehe- them. I can’t feel them. I can sort of see more of them? I don’t know. It’s like their...heads have a colour behind them? It shines through their eyes sometimes.”
“Really? That’s odd. Is that just with ghosts?”
Frederick shrugged, the movement accidentally moving him closer to Edwin in the process. “It used to be? But like. If I concentrate real hard...I can see living people’s colours too? My Mothers... hers is a bright bright yellow. It’s so clear it hurts to look at for too long.”
Edwin hummed and shook the last few drops of sherry into his mouth before throwing the bottle uncaringly across the floor. “What about mine?”
“Fuck I’m too bladdered to look now, Eddie.” Frederick smacked his lips for a second then peered up at Edwin through dishevelled curly red hair. He tried to hold his laughter back but he ended up hiccuping with mirth. “What does my uh...essence feel like?”
Edwin grimaced and tried to elbow Frederick off his shoulder. “Fuck off, Freddy.”
“No really.” Frederick refused to get shoved away. “What does it feel like?”
The gasping hysterical laughter that came from Frederick was only halted when Edwin thumped him hard in the stomach.
Edwin never did find what colour his aura was, even when the two of them had sobered up and started to spend near enough every free moment together. Frederick held it over him as a constant source of teasing.
They graduated, somehow. Frederick put in a frightening amount of swotting up month before their final exams. He found he had a natural gift for the law. He graduated with glowing results much to his father’s amazement.
Edwin’s father’s good name seemed to allow him to coast through life. Neither Edwin nor Frederick knew in the end if it was Edwin’s studying that earned him his qualifications or if it was simply nepotism.
Neither liked the idea of living off the fat of their parent’s achievements. It meant they’d be subject to their father’s whims. And they hadn’t wanted that at all.
And so they now found themselves in Manchester. They started their workload in court, mostly toiling under the greying gaze of their elders. And started in earnest at gathering contacts, acquiring information, and researching the best way to cause as much trouble as possible.
As young men are want to do.
“Did I mentioned how shocked I am at your lacklustre attitude tonight?”
“You may have mentioned it.”
“Would a lap full of barmaid help?”
Frederick’s mouth twisted in thought, before he shook his head. “No.”
Edwin finally put his drink down. “Good lord it IS serious.”
Reaching into his suit jacket, Frederick pulled out an envelope. “Father’s illness is getting progressively worse. Mother wants me to come home to help organise his will.” His normally exuberant personality had vanished.
“Oh.” Edwin knew his friend’s relationship with his father was strained. Lionel B’stard made it known that his son was a disappointment at every opportunity. Frederick was sure the man was out to sabotage him. But the younger B’stard had done everything possible to undermine his father’s actions through underhanded backroom deals. Every investment, every business deal mysteriously fell through, whilst Frederick quietly reaped the rewards, building a tidy little portfolio of his own, mostly in the metal trade.
He was making a small killing in Copper without ever having to leave his studies.
“Would you...like me to accompany you?”
“What about the trial?”
“Frederick, our sole task was to sit and observe. I hardly think we’ll be missed.”
“You don’t need to-”
“Nonsense. I’ll see to to the travel preparations as soon as we return to the house.”
Frederick often wondered what he’d ever done to deserve the few people in his life who treated him well. His own father had never saw fit to encourage him. His mother lived her life almost separate from him after his Father died, remarrying almost immediately.
Edwin, for the longest time, seemed like the only source of comfort he had.
And then, quite suddenly, some weeks after his 28th birthday, there came a knock on the door at the B’stard estate in Haltemprice.
“Yes, yes, what is it, Hemley?” Frederick was reading through his last piece of Correspondence with Edwin. He and his wife had recently had their second child. Reading between the lines, Frederick was certain that his best friend was chiding him into getting married himself, and to stop his silly meddling in Politics.
He was too busy formulating a biting and brilliantly witty retort to notice the stricken look on his man-servant’s face. He hadn’t even bothered to look up from his second draft, still furiously writing and scratching out his reply.
“My Lord...We just received word that your Mother has...passed on.”
Frederick stopped writing.
His voice sounded choked when he finally spoke. “...So. The old battleaxe finally saw fit to join Father, did she?” He huffed out a humourless laugh and ran ink stained fingers back through his copper curls. “How’d she go?”
“...I think it’s best you come downstairs, My Lord. It should become apparent how she passed when you see what’s waiting for you in the parlour.”
Frederick lifted his gaze from the desk in dazed confusion.
A woman stood waiting for him by the fireplace. Frederick cleared his throat, and the woman turned to face him. She was unremarkable, her face serious and lined. But Frederick’s go to sneer failed when he saw what she was holding.
In her arms was a tiny bundle, swaddled in lace and fine cotton blankets.
A halo of lime green surrounded this bundle, and radiated the purest warmth he’d ever seen.
And so Frederick found the one other source of comfort in his life.
“Georgina Rose B’Stard!”
A small squealing mass of green silk and wild red hair streamed past the iron wrought glass doors leading out onto the palatial estate of Lord and Lady Saunders. Four adults watched in bemusement as three more children chased after the tiny red-headed girl, all of them screaming with excitement unbecoming of good Victorian children.
Helplessly at least four nursemaids hurled themselves after the herd of children, to no avail.
“They appear to have your staff on the run, my dear.” Ms Granger said over cup of tea to the Lady Saunders. The blonde woman merely clucked her tongue and gently kicked her best friend in the shin. The twinkling in the dark haired woman’s eyes didn’t disappear.
“Yes well, I think you’d find that they’re normally much better behaved than that. I can only blame their rowdy behaviour on their guest.” The Lady Saunders stared pointedly at Frederick, who appeared completely unconcerned with what trouble his diminutive sister was causing.
Edwin chuckled and nudged his best friend in the ribs. “Freddy, I do believe my wife is rightly judging your parenting skills.”
“Oh I know.” Frederick appeared unconcerned and moved to sit on the other side of Ms Granger, casually slinging an arm over the back of the sofa. “Please inform Guinevere that my darling Georgina is just excreting her control over your staff as is her right.”
“And what right is that, Lord B’stard?” Ms Granger enquired, taking another dainty sip of tea.
“Why, the right to be superior in every way to those who cannot perceive the beyond.”
“You can not be seriously suggesting that your connection to the occult-” Ms Granger began to protest. But Lady Saunders shook her head quickly, cutting her off.
“I do so enjoy our little chats, Geraldine.” Frederick leaned closer, flashing a dangerous smile. “Tell me, has much changed on your decision to commit yourself to the almighty?”
Ms Granger seemed unphased by his obvious disdain for the Church. “I’m as committed as ever, my Lord.” She eyed his face for a moment before shooting him a pretty smile.
Frederick’s tongue flicked out to wet his bottom lip, his eyes hooded. “A pity. We did used to have such FUN together.”
“Edwin dear, please tell your best friend to refrain from assaulting my best friend in the parlour. We are all far too old for that. Especially in the middle of the day.” Lady Saunders stood to summon the staff to clear away the tea things.
Edwin was still too amused from watching the sparks between the two still sat on the sofa. “Are you suggesting, my dear, that if this were taking place after dark-”
Lady Saunders gently tapped his chin as she passed him on the way to the door. “I MIGHT consider it.”
Frederick stood watching the sun rise over the hills of his new Estate through the window of his bedroom. Every day came another disaster. The workers were dropping dead like flies. The steady income he’d been relying on to furnish his and George’s new life was decreasing with every new death.
He’d borrowed and swindled every last contact he’d made and he was blacklisted from every loan and lending company in Britain. And then word had made it’s way overseas too. No-one in the Colonies would touch him either.
Then last night he’d received a letter from Spain.
Edwin had perished in a shipwreck. His whole family had been wiped out.
Frederick let his head drop against the window pane, and sighed deeply.
“With any luck I’ll be with you soon, Eddie. Maybe I’ll finally tell you how bright your aura glows. It’s a fantastic shade of blue. Like your eyes. God that sounds soppy. I can’t promise that I won’t be a mess when I get there. But at least I know you’ll be waiting for me.”
George had been the one to find her beloved older brother dead in his bedroom. Once the sale of the estate took place, and his assets liquidated, there was enough to comfortably put her through schooling and provide a dowry for her wedding.
She never forgave him for leaving her.
Unfortunately that rage followed her into death.
If you correctly guess not only who I'm using as references for the important people in Fred's life, but also which characters they're based on, then I suppose you too have a lot of love for the 80's UK Alt-Comedy Scene.
In which case you should talk to me about it because I'm in such a mood for that entire era of comedy right now.
Anyhow, I wanted to expand on Fred's life a little more. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it.
Today's title is a reference to "Girls and Boys" by Blur...thanks to the pretty relationship between Lord Saunders and Lord B'stard. -Shrug- I'm just saying.
Chapter 16: Chapter Sixteen: We Wanna Wait
Elizabeth expresses her feelings about Halloween Night, and Lydia doesn't like Fred.
Chapter Sixteen: We Wanna Wait
“No? What do you mean ‘No’?”
“I mean, no, I’m not ready. I don’t get any of this.” Elizabeth worried the sleeves of her new shirt, avoiding looking at her former imaginary friend turned...god what were they even to one another now?
“I explained it to you! What’s not to get?”
“Well I don’t know! A lot has happened in a very short amount of time!” She snapped back. “You come back, and it turns out you’ve been dead this entire time, but you didn’t know. And then we had amazing sex and I’m not sure I’m totally over seeing you as a sexual creature- and then there’s all this...business with the afterlife and bureaucracy and red tape, and then you tell me I’ve got this power to see ghosts and so does Lydia? OH. That and Lydia has a best friend who’s a...a...corpse?! This is all too complicated! Fred, this isn’t normal!”
“Guh. Thank the waiting room for THAT.” Fred huffed.
“Thank the what?”
“Oh right, okay so when you die-”
“I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANYMORE!” Elizabeth stomped her foot on the ground and Fred was forcibly reminded of when she’d been young and the rare occasions she’d stood up to the Mega-Bitch. He couldn’t help but smile at way her face turned red and the pout on her face.
The smile only served to make her angrier however.
“Don’t you DARE laugh at me, Fred! I’m serious!”
“Okay, Okay.” Fred held up his hands in surrender and sighed heavily. He rolled his shoulders and carefully tried again. “It is a lot. I’ll tell you what, we don’t HAVE to do anything tonight. Or well.” He eyed the sun coming up through one of the windows. “This morning. We can take it slow.”
“Really?” Elizabeth let out a breath of relief. “That would be great.”
“Yeah.” Looking put out he reached to take one of her hands in his own green stained one. “We don’t have to overthrow any corrupt undead government's right now.”
A corner of his mouth curled up and he hooked his pinky finger with hers. “I promise.”
Elizabeth tugged him closer and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Fred.” She let go of his hand to trail down the corridor. He followed her, stuffing his hands in his pockets, chewing his bottom lip in thought, warily taking in the halls of his former home.
He waited until Elizabeth stopped to idly inspect a small plaque on one the walls (he’d skim read it over her shoulder, scoffing at the estimated number of people his Copper Mine had supposedly killed. A quick snap of his fingers and the number was corrected. It had been far too low. He’d had to deal with many of their ghosts when he’d worked at the Buero) before he poofed to visit his sister’s room.
“Hullo George.” He didn’t expect a reply. The room was roped off, seemingly in the middle of being refurbished for display for the general public.
He didn’t dare set foot on the floor. It felt wrong. Instead he took to hovering above the ground. Closing his eyes, he concentrated, reaching out to see if her essence lingered. But everything in the room was a reconstruction. Blank. Nothing remained of her belongings. Except.
There. A swirling, angry, lime green mist hung over a single doll on the dresser. He floated over to it, gingerly picking the decrepit antique up. It was remarkably well preserved but it felt fragile in his hands. Staring down at the hollow glass eyes, he smiled sadly. He’d given her this.
Snapping his fingers a duplicate doll appeared on the stand, and he tucked the original away in the recesses of his jacket.
He was about to leave when a sharp pain behind his navel made him let out a shout of pain.
Elizabeth’s hurried footsteps stopped outside the door to George’s room. Fred dropped from hovering to stagger towards the mirror. Elizabeth ripped the rope away from the door in time to see Fred clutching the edges of the mirror.
“Your friend wants to talk.” Fred grit his teeth and nodded towards the mirror.
There in the mirror, was Lydia.
“Lydia?!” Elizabeth stared over Fred’s shoulder at the teenager. The young girl had dark circles under her eyes, well, darker than usual. She looked relieved to see the older woman.
“Lizzie, where the heck are you?! I can’t summon BJ back and he told me he had some stuff to do, and he wouldn’t tell me what, and I hate not knowing what’s going on and I didn’t know if you were okay or if HE hurt you-”
“I’m fine! I promise! I’m not hurt at all.” There was a faint groan from in front of her and she frowned down at Fred as his knees buckled. “Uh...you ARE hurting Fred though
“I know.” Lydia glared at him. “Bet he didn’t count on me being able to hurt him just because he’s a level four Poltergeist. I’m a level four Medium, buster! We’re even!”
“You’re still alive.” Fred bit out. “That’s a pretty big weakness, right there.”
“Stop it. Both of you.” Elizabeth ordered. “Lydia stop hurting him! He’s done nothing to me.”
“Oh I’ve done plenty-”
“NOT in front of the teenager, Frederick.”
Fred took a deep breath and seemed to relax, but still didn’t take his hands off the mirror’s edge. He turned and waggled his eyebrows at Elizabeth. “Ooo. complete name eh?”
“Not now.” Elizabeth muttered. Turning her attention back to Lydia. “How are you in the mirror?”
“I spirit boarded your ghostfriend there.” Lydia looked between the two of them knowingly, holding up the party favour for them to see.
“I thought those were bullshit? Can’t you buy those at department stores?”
“Anything you give power has power, Liz.” Lydia said patiently. “I’ll show you how to do it when you get back here. If he lets you.”
“It’s not like I kidnapped her you know!” Fred snapped. “I’m her oldest and bestest friend, spooky girl!”
“Oh yeah? So you’re going to come back here and close the loop so Beej can come back too, are you?”
Fred snorted. “Not bloody likely.”
“And why not?”
“Don’t want to.”
“Are you serious?”
“Nope, I’m Fred.”
“GOD.” Lydia looked pleadingly at Elizabeth. “Lizzie? Please? He’s my best friend-”
“Well that’s worrying.”
“Shut UP. Liz?”
Elizabeth sighed and looked between the two of them, unsure of who’s side to take. “...We can discuss it when we get back.”
Lydia looked ready to argue this but Fred interrupted before she could get a word out. “So where exactly are you, Spooky Girl?”
“My NAME is Lydia-”
“-I don’t care-”
“-And I’m at your place, Liz.” Lydia held her hands up as Elizabeth spluttered. “I know, I know, but technically I didn’t break in the first time. That was Beej.”
“Great, so he’s been there? There’s already that weird sickly sweet smell in there that I can’t shift and now I’ll have to disinfect everything.”
“That’d be the Maitland’s lingering essence.” Lydia nodded and tapped her fingers along the edge of the dresser on her side of the mirror. “I can feel it on all their old furniture. I’ll show you how to remove that when you get back.”
Fred cleared his throat obnoxiously, demanding their attention again. “Seeing as you’ve done half the work for me, Spooky Girl, Snotface and I can get back real simply now.”
“You might want to stand back.”
Lydia stood back and watched as Fred pried one of his hands off the mirror to take Elizabeth’s. He then hurled himself at the mirror’s surface, ignoring Elizabeth’s shout of warning.
Lydia threw her arms up to brace herself for the impact. A bright flash of green light and a terrible smashing sound erupted as Fred and Elizabeth barrelled through the mirror and into the bedroom.
Fred let go of Elizabeth’s hand and shook himself like a dog free of shards of glass, exhilarated from the instantaneous journey, his manic hair looking all the more brighter through the morning rays of light streaming through Elizabeth’s purple curtains.
“FUCK, I love those breaky noises!”
Chapter 17: Chapter Seventeen: But here we go again.
Elizabeth is underwhelmed by her gift, and the news breaks about Fred.
Chapter Seventeen: But here we go again.
Much to Lydia’s distress, Elizabeth refused to discuss bringing Beetlejuice back until they’d both had some sleep. Lydia had been swaying dangerously in place and it was clear that the younger woman had been awake far longer than just the entire night.
“I was researching how to help you bring that idiot back.” Lydia half-heartedly protested as Elizabeth pushed her into a make-shift bed on the sofa. “I tend to get carried away when an idea comes…”
“No kidding.” Elizabeth tucked a blanket over her, watching as the girl’s eyes fought to stay open. “Look, you can just take a nap here, ok? It’s been a very long night for all of us-”
There was a snort of laughter from Elizabeth’s bedroom.
“-and we ALL could use the rest!” Elizabeth glared at the closed door. Fred had been relegated to the bedroom to stop him and Lydia arguing.
“Just...just 10 minutes.” Dark doe eyes slipped shut, and the goth girl’s breathing evened.
Elizabeth quietly made her way to her room, relieved to see Fred hadn’t destroyed anything in the short time he’d been without supervision. He sat in the middle of her bed, playing with-
“That’s...not your box.” Elizabeth frowned. The jack-in-the-box in Fred’s hands was black and white, and decidedly in better shape than the battered one Fred had jumped out of not 8 hours previous.
“This is BJ’s handiwork.” Fred’s tongue was between his teeth as he carefully turned it over in his hands. “Looks like when he stole my box from you, he left this one in it’s place.”
“And I didn’t notice?”
“Apparently not.” Fred held it out to her, a questioning look on his face. “Tell me, what is it about this box that makes it stand out to you?”
“Yes. But that’s not what I’m on about, love.” He shook it at her impatiently. “Take a good hard look at it and concentrate, what can you tell me about it?”
Elizabeth frowned and sat opposite to him on the bed. Gingerly, she took the box and turned it over in her hands. Immediately she winced, and tried not to gag. “It stinks!”
Fred grinned. “What does it smell like?”
“Urgh.” Coughing she struggled to find the right words. “It’s like...death. Or burning garbage. Or a tire fire. God it’s disgusting...he smelt like that too. B-I mean. Lydia’s friend. How she can stand it is beyond me.”
“You didn’t notice until you concentrated, did you?” Fred took pity on her and took the box back. “See, I don’t get that from just holding it. But what I do get, is a shadow surrounding all of it. And that’s because when I was alive, I could perceive people’s auras. It’s a pouncy power for a great stud of a Medium like me, but it’s helpful sometimes.”
“So...that’s it? That’s my big power?” Elizabeth deflated. “I just have an extra keen sense of smell?”
“Don’t knock it. Think about all those times with the gladiolas. Your sneeze could knock me clear across the room! You know why you have such a violent reaction to them?” Elizabeth shook her head, nonplussed. “It’s because the smell of them reminds you of the Mega-Beast.”
“So it’s...not just hayfever?” Elizabeth still didn’t look impressed.
Fred sighed and tossed the box over his shoulder, where it tumbled into nothingness. “You’re selling yourself short again, Lizzie. Not everyone can do that. It’s a gift. It makes you special. Not just anyone can knock me around.”
“I used to think you did it just to make me laugh.” She smiled shyly, scooting around to sit next to him.
Curling an arm around her waist, he pulled her back to lay next to him, smiling himself when he felt her cuddling up against his side. “Well. I may have made it a little more violent than it needed to be.”
“Hmm?” She was getting drowsy, linking their hands together over his chest.
“You are special.”
Fred lay there, waiting for her breathing to deepen and even, wracking his brain to try and find a way to prove it to her.
Jenkins trudged wearily towards her desk, sighing in relief as she finally sat down. Four runs from Saturn to Venus and back. Fifty new souls to process, file and report on, and then she was free to take her first break in two months.
Kneading her temples, uncaring of the sparks that flew away in the process. All around her was the sound of tapping and clicking, the occasional bell on an ancient typewriter sounding as her co-workers hustled to make their own deadlines. Before her, her own typewriter sat. She’d been denied access to one of the new word processors.
“Like we’d let a toaster jockey near anything electric.” The demon from maintenance had scoffed.
“It’s not like I’m going to take it with me to the bath!” Jenkins had protested, but in her flustered state, embarrassed the Demon would bring up her suicide in the office, sparks literally flew from her head, threatening to set fire to her outgoing mail.
The Demon had only cackled and strolled off, leaving her to hurriedly put out the smouldering folders.
“Two hours. Three tops.” She cracked her knuckles and sat about filling in forms, her mind wandering as she did so.
Somewhere after the fifteenth file, a conversation filtered into her cubicle. She often lamented her desk was right next to the water cooler. Usually she tried her best to ignore the gossip, but sometimes it was useful. She’d acquired her third wall when she relaid which intern was sleeping with which level 4 Demon to her manager.
Today however, a word caught her attention.
Her spine stiffened. The word in itself usually didn’t warrant much attention. But the emphasis put on the word had a strange energy to it. Poltergeists were just another classification of ghost. Usually powerful, if also extremely annoying. Just one more way the Department of Regulation kept tabs on the undead populace, like Banshee or Wraith.
But the hushed, secretive manner in which this Poltergeist was being referred to was intriguing. More so considering Beetlejuice had mentioned a Poltergeist to her earlier that day during her second run to Saturn.
Pushing her glasses up her nose, Jenkins continued to work, but softened her typing instead of her more common practice of hammering the keys as hard as she could.
The conversation on the other side of the cubicle wall continued.
“-So’s I say to her, I says, it’s not like they ain’t got enough goin’ on over there. Last thing they need is a scandal.”
A second, more nasal voice replied. “I don’t think it’s much to get worried about. They got that guy headin’ them now, haven’t they? Ya know. Oh you know the guy. Wears a tux? Struts around lookin’ like brimstone wouldn’t burn in his mouth?”
“Oh him.” The first voice tittered. “My stars, what I wouldn’t do to get into his slacks!”
There was more girlish giggling from the other side of the cubicle and Jenkins shuddered. This is why she hated the gossip chain.
“I mean. Ya know he’s a d-”
“You finish that sentence Terry, see what happens.” Tanya’s voice was suddenly stern.
“I was going to say a dick.”
“Oh! Well yeah. He is. Massively.”
“But he’s also a total micro-manager. Micro-dictator, or so Mabel says. Runs his department like a eastern European politician. And you know they redecorated in there right? I saw maintenance over there like two decades ago.”
“So when was the last time WE got a new look in here?”
“I don’t think it needs changing…”
“That’s because you died when everybody was still doing the Charleston, Tanya.”
“Hush. Anyhow, I think it’ll be a pretty big deal when it gets out what happened.”
“URGH. Are you completely dense? When you rigged up that shotgun, did you HAVE to have it go through your brain?”
“Yes. That was entirely the point, Ms I-drank-myself-to-death!”
“Terry, they’re saying an Imaginary Friend has broken out of their punishment. That’s huge news!”
“I thought it was supposed to be permanent?”
“It is. Hence why it’ll be such delicious gossip.”
“Hang on, who told you this?”
“Ms Argentina, you know, the bitch from the Waiting Room. She was eavesdropping on The Juno.”
“How long has Juno had a ‘the’ in front of her name?”
“I have no idea. Apparently Ms Argentina heard her refer to herself as that.”
“What an ego on that one, huh?”
“So this Imaginary Friend was a Poltergeist?”
“Wow. Do you know their level?”
“I hope they’re not too high. Like a 4 or a 5. Think how hard it’d be to restrain them.”
“Depends how kinky the head of the Imaginary Friend’s Department is.”
“Is that ALL you think about?”
“What else have I got to think about?”
Chapter 18: Chapter Eighteen: I live in the world of spirits
Elizabeth begins the painful process of digesting everything she's found out so far.
Fred has the beginnings of what will surely be a very cunning plan. So cunning that...actually no I'm not doing a Blackadder reference here, fuck it.
Chapter Eighteen: I live in the world of spirits
Elizabeth awoke to the sound of raised voices. Fred was gone from her side, but when one of the voices told the other to “PISS OFF” she relaxed into the rumpled sheets.
She knew he was still in the apartment. That was enough for her.
“I’m not going anywhere until you bring Beej back.”
“You do realise that when someone tells you to ‘piss off’ the kind thing to do is to actually, you know, go away.”
“God how can Lizzie stand you?”
“Easy. I’m the best. What’s not to love about me?”
“Well you’re arrogant for starts-”
“Bloody cheek! You know, little miss Medium I could ruddy well send you to where your beloved Mr. B is. Do us all a favour. Give you what you want and get you the hell away from Lizzie so we can properly catch up with each other.”
“But you won’t.” Lydia sounded smug. “Because it’ll alert Juno to your presence.”
“...No it won’t.”
“Yes it will.”
“It won’t, actually.”
“I think if you’re so eager to keep Beej in the Neitherworld it’s because you don’t want him to send you there with no way to get back.”
“UH. Yuh-huh! That’s it, isn’t it?!”
“You need a way to get back and forth, like how Beej and I have. You want that deal with Lizzie but you can’t. Something is stopping you.”
“What is it?” Lydia’s voice was calmer now. “If you just tell me maybe I could help. And then if I help, you can bring Beej back!”
“I don’t see how a teenage Medium can do much that I haven’t already thought of.” Fred’s voice was sulky, clearly put out that Lydia was smart enough to suss out exactly what his problem was.
“Look, do you know how long you’ve been an imaginary friend?”
“How many times has the Handbook been updated since you were last able to look at a copy? You should know better than most that there are bound to be a dozen more rules since then.”
“Alright Miss Smarty-Farty-Spooky-Kooky-Girl! I KNOW all of that. But short of killing someone and drawing even more attention to myself, I have no way of accessing a handbook right now.” There was a pause. “Say…”
“Urgh, and BJ has put up with you for this long?”
“You don’t need to kill anyone for a handbook.”
“Oh so they finally rescinded that stupid rule about ‘only recently deceased have access to the Handbook for the Recently Deceased’? Good. ‘Bout bloody time too-”
“No, you don’t need to because I have a copy.”
There was a long beat of silence.
“This is remarkably through…” Paper rustles. “...Shit they’ve really overhauled the text. It’s deliberately more complex than it needs to be.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Why should I, you’re the one who copied all of this out.”
“No I meant...urgh, never mind.”
Elizabeth took this as a chance to leave her bedroom. When she emerged into her tiny living room slash kitchenette, she found Lydia starting sullenly at the former imaginary friend, who was sat cross legged, hovering over the counter-top, and furiously reading through the same heavy, handwritten manuscript that Lydia had been taking notes from the night before.
Lydia perked up when she noticed Elizabeth was awake. “Hey.”
“Hi... Uh.” Elizabeth sat next to the younger woman on the discarded pile of blankets draped over the sofa. “So. Ghosts are real?”
Lydia quirked an eyebrow at how flat Elizabeth’s voice was. “Yep.”
“And there’s an afterlife?”
“Yep, there’s a place we go to after we finish our time on Earth.”
Elizabeth was quiet for a moment, and fidgeted with her fingers, lacing and unlacing them as she processed through this information. “Mother always said if I was good I’d go to heaven.” Elizabeth’s voice was tight, and she cleared her throat, hiding behind the dark curtain of her still slightly bedraggled hair. “I guess that's just one more way of her trying to scare me into being good.”
Lydia didn’t know what to say to this. She’d never heard Elizabeth to bring her Mother up in conversation. She made the occasional glowing mention of her father, but Lydia could never recall an instance of her mentioning her Mother. She shot a look at Fred over her shoulder, and she was surprised to see his eyes trained on the back of his Medium’s head. His expression was tense, and his grip on the manuscript tightened.
“She...she used to tell me all sorts of things to get me to behave. Before s-she took Fred away, it was little things.” Elizabeth turned to Fred then, giving him a watery smile. “Remember? She used to tell me that I wouldn’t get anything for Christmas if I broke one more thing?”
Fred scoffed and in a blink of an eye, he was next to her on the couch, and wrapping his arms around her middle, stubbornly holding onto her and rubbing his face against her back like a child. “Yeah, and then the stupid old cow hid all your presents. You were so upset. I looked EVERYWHERE for them, but then we found out she’d locked them all up in the silly old shed.”
“And then when she saw the mess you made she gave them all away.” Elizabeth huffed out a hollow laugh. “But then...Father snuck me one toy.”
“Your Dad was alright.”
“After she took you away…” Elizabeth swallowed thickly and looked up at Lydia then. “When she took Fred away, and taped him up in that box, my father left. He was never happy with her. Her treatment of me was what drove him away. And she blamed me for him leaving. Told me I'd be punished by God for ruining their perfect marriage in the next world.”
“That’s...so awful.” Lydia hadn’t realised she’d been holding her hands over her mouth until then. “Why didn’t he take you with him?”
There was a near hysterical jolt of laughter. “Because he wanted to move back to England with me. Their divorce took such a long time, and Mother had friends in high places. The court took her side, as she was just a mother looking out for her ‘troubled’ child.”
Fred mumbled into her back. “I’m literally going to make the rest of her life hell. I fucking swear it to you, Snotface.”
“Father sent me letters. Care packets.” Elizabeth continued “Mother confiscated all of them of course. I wrote to him every month. But one day he just stopped.” Elizabeth worried her bottom lip. “I...reached out to my grandmother then. I was in high school, and I stayed late, making up some excuse to Mother about doing extra credit work, and I used the Library’s phone to contact her. And...she told me he’d died. Some nasty accident at one of the buildings he’d designed.”
Lydia could sense where this was going before Elizabeth had even asked. “You...want to know if we can find him, don’t you?”
“Perhaps not. Not right now.” Elizabeth amended. Twisting she tried to dislodge Fred from her back but he refused to move, whining. She sighed and simply turned to tangle her fingers in his hair instead. “Apparently I can’t even get to the Neitherworld without having a near epileptic fit anyway, but I think...if I could see him again…I’d like to.”
Lydia frowned at her lap, twisting the dark fabric of her skirt. “Lizzie…”
“Neitherworld is...a big convoluted mess. Generations of dead living on top of each other. Finding anyone is a huge undertaking.” Fred sighed, finally lifting his head.
“It’s not impossible.” Lydia carefully added. “It just. Trying often feels…”
“Hopeless.” Fred finished for her.
Elizabeth was quiet for a moment and jerkily nodded. “I thought it might be.”
Fred cast a look at Lydia and a smirk crept across his face that was almost eerily too close to the look Beetlejuice gave her when he felt a scheme brewing.
“But. I’m not above breaking a few...or well. A LOT of Rules to make you happy.” Fred began slowly.
“Spooky-girl, if there’s one thing I know how to do, and do well, it’s break the rules.” Fred’s blue eyes seemed to flash with sudden energy. “And thankfully, we can kill four birds with one stone.”
“Four?” Lydia felt impending dread settling in her stomach.
Fred sprang upwards, almost knocking Elizabeth to the ground. “Four big fat smelly birds! One- We find a way to locate Lizzie’s Dad and anyone else we want to contact over on Saturn. Two- Whilst we’re doing that, we find a way to stop her from getting all wibbly in the Neitherworld. Three- We make things really MESSY in the BUCS whilst we’re looking up all this fantastic information. Like, enough to make them have some sort of internal panic. It’ll be pure MAYHEM. Glorious!”
As he spoke, he practically vibrated with joy at the prospect of making the biggest mess possible for his former bosses. Fred literally levitated off the ground, hugging himself in glee.
Warily, the two women watched him floating and giggling to himself. Lydia cast Elizabeth a look, but the sheepish but fond look on the other woman’s face was not as encouraging as Lydia suspected Elizabeth hoped it was.
Clearing her throat, Lydia interrupted him. “And the fourth bird?”
A face splitting grin spread across the poltergeist face. “Why, we get BJ in on the joke, of course!”
Today's title comes from "Mama" by Oingo Boingo. The song is a whole plot reference to Psycho and Norman Bates, which is actually another of my special interests. Abusive mothers like Lizzie's tend to make me think of that song.
Anyhow. There has a been a gap between updates, which I'm actually thankful for. I've been going through a lot irl, and the fact I was updating almost daily like that was, in retrospect, not healthy.
Chapter 19: Chapter Nineteen: Flashback 4- Rhetoric of Failure
Finally down to what you've been waiting for- Just how did Beej and Fred first meet?
Chapter 19: Flashback 4- Rhetoric of Failure.
16th of August, 1874.
Frederick Jeremy B’stard wasn’t sure how he found himself able to walk. The last few months had been agony and he was beginning to think his choice of suicide, whilst all together plausible and fairly inconspicuous (Copper magnate dies of copper poisoning seemed reasonable enough to him) even with him being on the brink of bankruptcy, was rather ill conceived on his part.
Firstly, it hurt far more than he’d anticipated.
Secondly he had to deal with the fact that he’d consigned his beloved sister to watch him die.
The selfish, idiotic part of him had convinced himself she would be better off without him, that she would no longer be corrupted by his presence.
But having to see her small face crumple as his prognosis worsened, as the colour drained from his face, as coppery green deposits collected in the irises of his gradually dulling blue eyes. As his fingers turned gangrenous and stiff.
He knew the right thing to do would be to have her taken away to some boarding school or perhaps reach out to Ms Granger back in England to see if she’d take Georgina into the convent.
But again, being the selfish arrogant prick he was, he couldn’t bare to see her leave, even as he became too weak to lift his head from the pillows.
Which is why he found it strange that he was walking through the halls of his manor home as if the last few months had never happened. He couldn’t recall how he’d even left the bed. His feet apparently had plans of their own, and he dazedly drifted downwards, in search of the front door.
He saw that the moon had risen in the sky through one of the windows as he neared the entrance.
Perhaps if he took in some fresh air it’d help to figure out just how he’d come to be up and about after months of such intense pain.
He pushed open the front door, and stepped off the porch...and fell.
The sky was a colour he’d never seen before. Some sort of brilliant sapphire jewel blue that he was certain didn’t exist in nature. It stung his eyes almost as much as the yellow grit that dug it’s way past his lashes. He’d taken in an unfortunate mouthful when he’d landed.
Frederick coughed and spluttered, spitting gobfuls of the peculiar sand out as he struggled to stand, his footing slipping and sliding as he desperately tried to make sense of the strange landscape. Twisting red formations rose out of the dunes, and in the sky hung several strange orbs with swirling patterns.
And there...was his front door.
Feeling himself begin to panic Frederick tried to race towards it, but it disappeared as soon as his hand reached out to turn the handle.
“What...what the...where on earth-”
“Uh, yeah, gotta correct you there, buddy.”
Frederick whipped around and leaning against one of the craggy red rock formations was a Corpse.
The Corpse was picking at his rotting green teeth with a toothpick, his hips thrown forward in an utterly casual air, seemingly disinterested in Frederick’s distress. He wore a thick black leather overcoat over a three piece suit, patterned with wide black and white stripes. A purple cravat was sloppily tied around his neck, and upon his head was a cap, with the curious signage of “Guide” affixed to it. His eyes were ringed in heavy purple shadows and his clawed fingertips were stained red.
Frederick had never seen a more foul creature in his life and he recoiled as the corpse flicked the toothpick away and sneered in his direction.
“Ya ain’t on Earth.”
Frederick’s lip curled back, and his fists clenched. “What do you MEAN, I’m not on Earth?”
The corpse’s expression never changed, and he rolled his shoulders, loudly cracking his spine in a way that made Frederick’s skin crawl. “I MEAN, ya ain’t on Earth, Freddie boy.”
“Then where in the bloody buggering hell am I?”
“Funny you should mention hell.” The corpse sniffed dismissively. “Hell would be a real treat for a guy like you, I’m sure. But m’afraid Hell’s too good for you. Or ya know, it WOULD be, if Hell existed.”
Frederick felt himself getting red in the face as he tried desperately to keep it together. “What the fuck are you talking about? Just tell me what this place IS!”
“It’s not like knowing where you are is going to help ya know.” The corpse’s eyes dragged across the horizon lazily.
“No. Well. It’ll be more important later, but at this moment in time? No.”
“Well if you’re the EXPERT, then tell me what I SHOULD be worried about.”
The corpse shrugged and lifted a single red tipped finger to point just over Frederick’s shoulder. “I’d be worried about that, if I were you, but ya know, it’s your death day, you do you.”
Frederick impatiently turned around to face whatever it was the corpse was wasting his time with, when he saw it.
The sand was rippling under his feet, and emerging from the dunes where it’d been submerged, was a gigantic striped serpent.
If the corpse had been the most foul thing he’d ever seen, then this was certainly the most terrifying.
The serpent raised it’s head, it’s mouth gaping wide only for ANOTHER head to slide slickly from the throat of the first. It’s sharp teeth and lashing tongue where the last thing Frederick saw.
When he awoke again, he was in a sparsely furnished room with half a dozen other people.
Flattening his back to the uncomfortable chair he’d awoken in, he covertly checked to see what sort of people were around him. The amount of rags around him did nothing to set his nerves straight. Here and there dotted among the ordinaries were suits and finery but they were very much in the minority.
So preoccupied with how people were dressed, that he managed to miss the one thing everyone seemed to have in common.
A bell sounded and a door on the left of the room opened. A young woman in a charcoal blouse with a stern manner entered the room. In her violet hued hands was a long list.
“Pardon the intrusion, ladies and gentlemen, but if the following could just accompany me to the next room, we can get started.” It was only when he heard her voice did it begin to occur to him what was wrong with her.
No-one in the room had an Aura.
The colours he usually saw halo’d around every person was instead reflected in their skin, their clothing. The young woman, who was now ushering men and women into the next room, was bright violet. Her voice, which had startled him enough into paying attention was gravelly and hoarse, and as he craned his neck to look more closely at her, he finally noticed that her high collar didn’t quite hide a nasty rope burn around her neck.
Everyone in this room was dead!
The remaining occupants of the room and the violet skinned woman stared at Frederick as if he was insane.
He must have said it out loud.
Looking down he found himself standing on the uncomfortable chair, his hands grabbing at his normally well coiffed hair, and his eyes bulging in shock.
Or rather, screamed it.
“Uh...heh.” Frederick slowly let his arms drop, and swallowed thickly.
“Sir, please don’t stand on the furniture.” The violet woman sniffed, irritated, and she swept from the room with the last on the ghosts on her list.
Frederick let himself drop back down, and stared mutely at the floor.
So, he’d died.
“Slow on the uptake, aren’tcha?”
The Corpse had returned, and chose to flop down next to Frederick. His feet were propped up on another chair. His pointed leather boots still had errant grains of yellow sand clinging to them.
“Alright, alright!” Frederick snapped peevishly. “It’s just a tiny bit of a shock, that’s all! I mean, it’s not everyday you die, now is it?”
“Uh, yeah. It is. At least around here it is.” The Corpse was no-longer looking at Frederick, and leered at a woman across from them. Her look of pure repulsion was noted and he moved on to another target, seemingly unhindered. “Literally every second of every minute of everyday someone kicks it.”
“Yes, but it’s happening to ME.” Frederick bit out.
“Well you should have waited it out like a big boy, now, shouldn’t ya?” The Corpse cackled. “Poor little rich boy, you really fucked up a sweet thing there, didn’t you?”
“And I suppose you know absolutely everything about me, is that it?”
“Clever boy. Of course, I know everything about everyone in this room.” The Corpse nodded to the woman he’d just leered at. She wore a simple gown, her hair in two loose braids. Her shoulders were slumped in resignation. “Patricia over there topped herself with bleach and scotch cocktail. And Johnny over there-” He indicated a middle aged man who’d clearly been a bank clerk. “He jumped from a cliff after there’d been a hold-up and three people got shot. Annnnd then there’s Peter-”
“I don’t care about them.” Frederick hissed. “What I want is to go find Edwin and his family and get on with the rest of my...whatever this is.”
The corpse snorted with laughter, slapping his thigh in merriment. “Oh boy, you really don’t get it, do ya, Freddie boy?”
“Ya ain’t gonna get to find anybody.” The Corpse stood. “Ya ain’t gonna find your bestie, ya ain’t going to get to visit yer sister. You, my boy, fucked up. You broke a rule. And boy are you are going to get real friendly with the rules over the next couple millennia. Not that you’ve got any choice in the matter anyhow.”
“What bloody rule did I break? I didn’t know there were any!”
“You.” The corpse stabbed a red finger tip into Frederick’s chest. “Killed yourself. Taking a life is against the rules. Doesn’t matter if it was your own.” The Corpse paused in thought and let out a sharp bark of laughter. “Wait a sec-” He held his hand out and a thick book fell into his grasp. He flipped through until he found what he was looking for. “HA!”
The book disappeared in a puff of sulphur and a rain of insects. The Corpse looked beside himself. “HA! Not only did you kill yourself- but you are indirectly responsible for at least 50 men’s deaths!”
Frederick flinched, and crowded himself back further into his seat. By now the other bystanders in the room were watching him, and he saw Patricia, roused from her self loathing to stare in open disgust in his direction.
“Oh Freddie boy!” The Corpse leaned down to pat Frederick’s cheek affectionately. “You’d be shit out of luck even if you DIDN’T kill yourself!” The corpse turned to face the room at large and jabbed his thumb at Frederick’s shaking form. “HEY, get a load of this guy-”
The Corpse froze. A solid force hit the back of his head, knocking his hat askew. A thick green, viscous mass slid through the already threadbare and greasy hair on the Corpse’s head and on to his leather overcoat. The Corpse turned slowly to face his attacker, and saw Frederick staring in disbelief at his left hand, from which the substance leaked steadily.
The Corpse looked somewhere between furious and impressed. A sinister smirk split his face and his voice was low and dangerous.
“Oh Freddie boy, ya shouldn’t have done that.”
Frederick watched in horror as the corpse began to morph and change, his body mass distorting and growing into the same huge serpent he’d seen out there in the sands. The other occupants of the room screamed and rushed to the other side of the room, leaving Frederick to be crowded into a single corner.
From the gaping maw however, instead of another serpent head, a huge monstrous version of the Corpse’s head slid into view, his teeth elongated and smeared with saliva.
“Lemme tell ya, Freddie baby, about this whole...ya know…”
A thick striped tongue curled out of the hideous mouth of the Corpse and drug across it’s lips with an audible smack.
“...the whole being dead thing.”
Now that Frederick has died in the flashbacks he's going to have to eat an awful lot of humble pie. He has a long way to go until he gets to the imaginary friend stage. There are three very important events that happen with Beej and Fred in between this chapter and the transition to Drop Dead Fred.
But we'll get to that later. In the meantime...
Next chapter we get back to the girls.
Chapter 20: Chapter Twenty: Put down that chainsaw and listen to me
Hurt feelings and contracts.
Chapter Twenty: Put down that chainsaw and listen to me
Lizzie chanced a look at Lydia who looked as nonplussed as she felt. They’d been sat watching this exchange for what seemed like hours now. At first there’d been much screaming and cursing. Three times Lizzie had had to physically pull Fred away from the dresser mirror, to avoid the connection (and the furniture) being broken.
Now however the two ghosts were slumped against their sides of the glass, having seemingly exhausted the more imaginative insults available to them and slinging whatever was left at one another.
“...Cretin.” Fred weakly shot back, barely lifting his chin from the dresser surface. At the beginning of the argument, he’d been practically vibrant and glowing with fierce anger towards his former ‘friend’. Lizzie was half tempted to check if he was ok, considering the last time he’d been this flat was with the little green pills.
The ghost on the other side looked no better off, his breath fugging up the glass. But a gleam still shone in his yellow bloodshot eyes. “Critic.”
“Fuck!” Fred groaned and pulled at his hair, finally sitting back on nothing. “Fucking Fuckery Fuck. Fine. You win.”
“Wait, he won? How?”
Both ghosts looked startled at Lydia’s outburst, seemingly having forgot they’d had an audience the entire time. Fred frowned and shrugged. “He won. We can arrange a contract now to allow him to come back.”
“Oh ALLOW me?” Beetlejuice cut in, clawed hands settling over his chest. “Lydz, babes, he’s got me over here on a goddamn technicality. The Lord B’Stard is ALLOWING me to come back, never mind the fact that banishing me is illegal-”
Some of the colour flushed back into Fred’s being. “LOOK. Your Medium is the one who illegally removed me from my punishment! We’re at a bloody impasse unless we can find a way to settle this without Juno finding out.”
A look of momentary panic flitted across Beetlejuice’s face before he scoffed. “So what? You wanted the punishment right?”
Fred was silent. His fists clenched against the dresser. “Yes. I did.”
“So why do you care if Juno finds out?” Beetlejuice sneered coldly. “You wanted out of the Neitherworld so bad you ASKED for the second worst thing in the world to happen to you.”
Fred’s head dipped, refusing to meet the demon’s eyes. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I wouldn’t eh? Why? S’not like I ever did you any favours- OH WAIT.” Beetlejuice flared up, smacking his fists against the glass, startling Lizzie and Lydia from their seats on the bed. They looked helplessly at one another before Lydia squared her shoulders and stormed over to the mirror.
“Beej!” The Demon’s ire seemed to dissipate as his best friend appeared in the mirror beside Fred. “Beej I just want you to come back. I need you here with me. Please can...we just try to sort this contract out first?”
“Lydz, babez, you don’t want us on the same plane of existence right now.” Beej bared his teeth at the poltergeist still avoiding his gaze. “Little Lizzie will find herself short one ‘maginary boyfriend.”
Lizzie’s cheeks flamed at this, and deliberately looked away from the mirror. Boyfriend? The demon chuckled as Fred finally tore his eyes away from the dresser top to glower back at him.
“Don’t what?” Beetlejuice sneered. “Don’t insult the crazy thirty year old who has wet dreams about an imaginary friend? Oh yeah.” Beetlejuice smirked as Fred’s eyes practically popped out of his skull. “You should hear her, Freddy boy! I know I have.~”
“Don’t! Don’t you talk about her like that!”
“Like what? Or should I talk more like how she was? ‘Oh Freeeedd’” Beetlejuice’s voice immediately switched to a carbon copy of Elizabeth’s, moans dripping from the demon’s mouth with heavy sarcasm. “Oh yes, mmmmm, please Fred! Make me not so boring and tragic! Make me cum rainbows, that’s what imaginary friends do, right?!’”
Fred was about ready to smash the glass completely when Lydia yelped and yanked him aside just in time to dodge a lamp being hurled at the mirror. The look on Beetlejuice’s face went from condescending to surprised to strangely proud in the blink of an eye, just before the connection was severed.
The socket by the bedside table was sparking, the cord having been ripped clean from the plug. The lampshade lay at Lizzie’s feet, discarded. The wanton destruction of furniture sparked something at the core of Fred’s being, but the rawness of the emotion behind it was preventing him from truly feeding on the energy. Beside him, Lydia looked distraught between the broken mirror and her human friend, not knowing what to do.
“Lydia....I think we’ll have to pick this up again another time…” Fred watched as Lizzie shuddered. Her face was hidden by her hair, her hands in clenched fists by her sides. Fred nudged the teen gently in the direction of the door.
Lydia looked torn, before tightly nodding. “Yeah...I’ll...I’ll come back tomorrow.”
“You can still contact him.” Fred reminded her as he walked her out of the apartment. “Provided you don’t start throwing lamps at your own mirrors.”
Once the door was safely shut behind Lydia, Fred popped back into Lizzie’s bedroom. She’d crawled up onto the bed, and wrapped her arms around her legs. Fred sat next to her, carefully pulling her to his side. “Nice throw.”
“I thought so too.” Lizzie huffed into her legs.
“You used to be crap at throwing in a straight line, remember?”
“I was only seven, Fred.” She peeked up at him from behind her knees. “I really am pathetic, aren’t I?”
Fred scowled at the remains of the mirror and properly pulled Lizzie onto his lap. “No. Don’t you ever think that you’re pathetic. He’s the creepy jerk who watches women sleep apparently.”
“But he’s not wrong. I’m in...I’m da…” Lizzie sighed and buried her face against Fred’s chest. “What does it say about me that I’m crazy about a man who used to be my imaginary friend?”
“Uh, that you’re one hundred percent sane, because let’s face it, who wouldn’t be crazy about me?” Fred tried to joke, but the watery smile she gave wasn’t quite cutting it. “Look, Lizzie, it’s a weird situation, but if I’d met you when I was alive...and I wasn’t quite the vain greedy bastard I had been, I would have scooped you up as soon as look at you.”
“You don’t have to say that...I’m already in your pants.” Snapping the left violet suspender on her shoulder. “Literally.”
Fred followed the movement, minorly distracted. “I mean it. You’re so...lovely. You’re sweet, and a little scatter-brained about the less important things in life, but when you care about something you’re so determined, so focused. You’re so good at breaking things and don’t look at me like that, it’s a good thing.”
Giving him a look of confusion and exhaustion, Lizzie’s lips pursed, not understanding what he meant by that. “Breaking things? Really? That’s a good quality?”
Nodding hurriedly, Fred continued, more of the vibrancy returning to his form. “You aren’t afraid anymore of change! You were brave enough to come here and start again. The married you would never have chucked a lamp like that, it was absolutely brilliant! I was going to reach through the mirror and throttle that bastard but you stood up for yourself!” His eyes gleamed as his hands took hold of her upper arms. “Lizzie, you’re beautiful, and full of wonder potential. If anyone’s crazy around here it’s me, and for once I’m crazy about another life form that isn’t me or someone I’m related to. And trust me, I’m not just saying all this in a ‘I’m trying very hard to not just poof your shirt off and see you in nothing but those suspenders’ kind of way.”
The choked laughter and the sudden hug threw them both off balance, landing the pair on their sides, leaving the pair of them a giggling mess.
This took a lot longer than I wanted it to take. I have started and abandoned around three different chapters because I hit a block about how to get from this to the chapter where the action happens.
I wanted to rush to the plot but I realised that the boys have a LOT to discuss before we get there.
Also real life tragedies and whatnot but enough about that.
Should be a little something nice in the next chapter. ;)
Chapter 21: Chapter Twenty One: And don't complain if it don't taste good
Fred tries his hand at home improvement. Beetlejuice tries to get into the Imaginary Friend department. Lydia deals with a number of parental figures butting into her life. And Lizzie tries to relax.
The apartment was...sweet. Fred mock retched as he finally took the time to look around the small space Lizzie called home. Anything that might have been Lizzie’s influence was suffocated under the thick gagging aura of two completely unfamiliar auras.
Lizzie was sleeping fitfully in the bedroom as Fred drifted through the apartment. Whilst he felt impressed that she’d managed to break away from her oppressive mother enough to feel comfortable moving this far away, it was clear that Lizzie still needed to make her mark on this place.
Well. Fred reasoned, tossing his jacket over one of the sofas, there’s one sure fire way to ensure this place really felt like home. He poofed himself into the hardware store below.
He found himself in an aisle of hammers. Everywhere Fred looked, implements of destruction lined the shelves. Sledgehammers, Ball-Pin Hammers, Claw Hammers, Mallets-
“Oh sweet Venus and the Waiting room, thank you.”
The Maitlands sat across from Lydia at the dining room table, their best ‘I’m not mad, just disappointed’ faces on display.
“You’ve been gone almost a full day.” Barbra sighed, her head tilted to one side in concern. “You weren’t here to even enjoy most of the party.”
“You guys were in town! How could you possibly know that?” Lydia’s eyes were planted squarely on the table, finger tips worrying the lace tablecloth.
“Charles told us.” This caught Lydia’s attention, and she finally looked up, raising a single eyebrow in question. “He mentioned he hadn’t been spooked at all that night, and he’d actually enjoyed himself.” Adam paused and the corners of his mouth twitched, like he was trying not to laugh. “He apparently didn’t think to question it until the morning after.”
“Are you and...that man having problems?” Barbra asked delicately. “We know we’re not terribly ‘gifted’ ghosts, but...he’s not here is he? In the house I mean. Has he left for good?” There was no hiding the hope in her voice no matter how much the older woman knew it’d hurt if Lydia lost Beetlejuice forever.
Lydia huffed and steadfastly looked away again. “I...made a mistake. I’m working on correcting it. I just need a little help from some...other friends.”
The Maitlands shared one of their looks, silently communicating. Lydia could never be certain if it was a side effect of their shared death or something they had as a couple. Adam cleared his throat. “You didn’t make these friends- I mean to say-”
“You didn’t make them in Neitherworld, did you?” Barbra finished for him.
“No. It’s Lizzie. You know, the lady who brought the hardware store?”
“Oh!” For some reason this seemed to lighten some of the heavy atmosphere in the room. The ghosts actually looked rather pleased.
“We met her at the party!” Adam clarified.
“She seems so sweet. Down to earth.” Barbra nodded. “And she’s done so well with the store.”
Lydia thought back to the shattered mirror and the red headed maniac currently haunting her friend and plastered a fake smile on her face. “Yes...very down to earth.”
“Well, we’re still here for you, if you need anything Lydia.” The heart-breakingly sincere look on their faces very nearly made the teen spill everything from the last two days but she just about held back. No sense getting them mixed up in all this.
“Thanks you guys.”
The Imaginary Friend’s department was, for all intents and purposes, unremarkable from the outside. The long, twisting, spiralling corridors of the BCUS were deliberately confusing for most to understand. Warped walls and uneven floors from every decade of design curved up and down in seemingly no discernible direction or order.
Most spirits would be unable to follow even the simplest of directions to the distant, far flung corner of Venus that the the IF department was housed in. Persistent employees of the Buero would find it, only to be utterly bemused by the simple office door, and the even sparser secretary’s office beyond it, manned by a single bored ghost at a very bland word processor.
The most persistent ghost of all found himself face to face with said secretary. Beetlejuice huffed, tapping red clawed nails against the desk as the ghost behind the keyboard steadfastly ignored him.
“Ya got sand in yer ears, sister? I SAID, I wanna talk to the bastard in the tux. He’s yer boss right? Tell ‘im the most interesting man in the Neitherworld is here to talk to him!”
The ghost merely blinked behind smeared coke-bottle thick lenses, her lank brown hair hanging around a sallow miserable face. She certainly didn’t look like the kind of ghost who’d be the face of a department full of infantile super-powered spirits.
“What’dya mean, ‘No’?”
“I mean, No.” She didn’t offer any further explanation, simply going back to typing. The insistent click clack of keys only provoking the Demon further, his eye twitching. Maybe it was time to change tack. Smoothing a hand over his threadbare hair, he threw on his best, most charming smile.
“Listen, I get it, Tuxy’s a busy guy. Can’t be easy corralling the mad house back there, huh? Bet you get a lot of idiots in here tryin’ to get through that door. But all I want is a few seconds of the guy’s time. It’s real important, know what I’m sayin’?”
“Mr Vega isn’t taking appointments right now.” The ghost’s voice was as devoid of emotion as her face was of colour. Death by being boring? Beetlejuice vaguely pondered as he tried his best not to lose it. This was shaping up to be a real lousy Day of the Dead all things considered.
“Mr. Vega, to you, Mr. Geuse.”
Click, Clack, Click.
“That’s...that’s the demon who discovered the Sixth Dimension. THAT’S who Tuxy is?!”
Beetlejuice’s eyes popped from his skull, and he stumbled to catch them. Slamming one of them back into his socket, where it rattled for a moment until the demon slapped the side of his head to straighten it out. “Well shit! Even more reason to meet the guy, I got some questions for this son of a bitch.”
“As I have previously stated. No.”
“Well I ain’t leavin’ til I get some answers. And I betcha I can annoy you into lettin’ me in there!” The Demon with the most poofed a chair into existence and sat down, stubbornly staring down the ghost on the other side of the desk.
“I can’t make you leave.” The ghost simply said. Click. Clack. Click.
Meanwhile, one yellow, distinctly slime covered eye rolled it’s way under the door leading to the rest of the department.
Lizzie awoke to the sound of wood splintering.
Groaning, she drug herself out of bed, rubbing the heel of her palms against her eyes. The steady "thwack" of metal against wood should have been instantly her first concern. Destruction lay beyond her bedroom door and at some point she would have to face what was out there.
Instead she turned and headed into the bathroom.
Pulling the short cord by the door, the tinny grind of electricity humming through the simple bulb hanging above the sink started up, illuminating the closet like room with light.
The mirror was something she’d salvaged from her first marriage. It’d been one of the few things Charles had let her buy for the apartment that had been entirely her choice, and he’d only relented when she’d explained it was a genuine Memphis piece.
It wasn’t, of course. It’d been a knock off, but as pretentious as Charles was, it’d easily pacified him.
The mirror was segmented into squares and irregular shapes, bordered by thick lines. It sat awkwardly over the sink, and ultimately didn’t fit properly in the room at all. But it hadn’t fitted with the older furniture in the apartment either. And she’d needed a mirror for the bathroom. So here it hung.
Turning her head this way and that, she observed the darkened circles under her eyes and the dreary way her hair was hanging. Two whole days and she was a mess already. Lizzie stuck her tongue out and four segmented faces pulled faces back as she moved towards the shower, tugging her suspenders off her shoulders as she turned on the water.
Fred paused in his tour of destruction in the living room long enough to hear the gurgling pipes surge to life behind the wall. The sledgehammer he’d been favouring dropped to the ground with a dull thud against the carpet as the poltergeist drifted towards the noise.
He was about to poof his way into the bathroom (“Lizzie. Water...Lizzie PLUS Water. Lizzie PLUS Water PLUS Soap…!!!”) when he stopped, his fingers halfway to snapping. She hadn’t come to see what he was doing. Wanton destruction of property should have caused immense curiosity in the living.
She was still processing.
This gave Fred pause.
For all of about twenty seconds.
A jangle of chords and green sparks and he was staring at a pile of clothes he’d given her, a plain white shower curtain and the humid steam coming from the shower.
Fred could see the silhouette of Lizzie’s body through the curtain, and the movement of her hands as she scrubbed at her hair. Grinning he prepared to rip the curtain open when Fred suddenly got a face full of warm water.
Lizzie pulled the shower head back and cackled with laughter, holding the shower curtain against herself as she watched her former imaginary friend splutter and cough, his green suit soaked through and his vibrant hair drooping under the weight of her attack.
“That’ll teach you to creep around the bathroom like that.” Lizzie smirked triumphantly. “I can feel when you’re near by, you know. Just knock, and maybe I’d have asked you in.”
“Where would the fun in that be?” Fred sulked, shaking himself like a dog. His hair flopped miserably in his face, making him look all the more pathetic, long strands of orange hair hanging limply in his face.
Lizzie disappeared back behind the shower curtain, presumably to rinse the suds from her hair. Fred entertained the idea of messing with the temperature for a moment, musing on what would create a better reaction...but got rather stuck on what the cold water would do to certain parts of his former charge’s anatomy.
“Ah!” With a jolt there were cold hands cupping and eagerly thumbing at Lizzie’s breasts under the spray of hot water, her own hand occupied with massaging the shampoo into her scalp. She relaxed somewhat when she felt Fred’s mouth against the back of her neck, a huff of laughter escaping when he made a disgusted noise.
“Shampoo in your mouth?”
“...Maybe.” Fred’s hands dropped to her hips, seemingly unwilling to stop touching her. “Blech...phleeegh…”
“Well stop kissing me if it’s getting in your mouth.”
“Don’t want to…Eurrghh…”
“You know those noises aren’t exactly sexy…”
“No, but you are.” Fred’s hands smoothed up over her breasts again, pulling lightly against her. Lizzie swallowed a whine, pressing her thighs together at the slow bubble of arousal that formed with every eager touch against her skin. More to distract herself than anything, she turned around to face him, letting the shower head wash away the shampoo with a backwards tip of her head.
When she opened her eyes again, his gaze was electric. He’d thankfully poofed his clothes off, leaving him free to yank her hips flush against his. The soft hum of appreciation Lizzie let slip at the press of his erection against her stomach was immediately swallowed in a fierce devouring kiss.
With the hot water beating down on both of them, Lizzie could almost believe that Fred was alive. The water slipped between them, masking the odd sensation his touch gave.
It didn’t hide the lack of breath against her lips as he pressed his forehead against hers when he suddenly hitched one of her legs up and over his hip. It didn’t hide the coppery deposits around his eyes as he ground against her slick center. And it didn’t hide the green tinge his tongue had as his mouth opened in a satisfied groan as he slid his stiff length home inside her.
The glide of his cock against her walls, the fist fulls of sodden orange hair in her grip, the slam of the cold tiles against her back, soothed over with that same rush of hot water chased by Fred’s hands?
The way he cradled her body against his as they chased and arrived at their climax? The almost greedy way he clutched at her, swooping her up in a big towel and poofing them both back to her bedroom?
The hot shower absolutely helped.
Lydia looked up from the book she’d been trying to lose herself in. Delia was hovering by the open door to her bedroom, her step-mother looking uncharacteristically concerned.
“I um...I was talking to my sister, Janie.” The older woman apparently felt she had enough permission to enter. “She was telling me about this....Lizzie woman you’ve been becoming so chummy with.”
The teenager fought the urge to roll her eyes. “Yes?”
“Well...and I don’t mean to gossip, dear-” Lydia felt her eye twitch from the effort now. “-but...did you know she was on...medication?”
That hadn’t been what Lydia had expected. Closing her book, Lydia raised a dark brow at her step-mother. “So? Don’t tell me you’re expecting me to stop talking to her just because she was on meds. Because seriously Delia, if that’s the road we’re going down, you’ve got a whole bedside drawer of reasons for me not to talk to you-”
The older woman bristled, her hands crossing over her chest in defence. “A little kiss of Valium before bed is one thing, Lydia dear, but your little friend was on some ridiculously complicated drug I’ve never even heard of!”
“And this Janie just...told you all this information?”
“Of course not! I had to pry quite a bit to- Oh don’t give me that look. I was worried for you. Janie refused to tell me anything solid, but she told me enough for Otho to do a little digging- Apparently it’s called Tulpatripidenze. It’s for children! Can you believ-”
“Delia.” Lydia cut in sharply, her grip on her book tighten with every word. “...Please stop talking. Lizzie is my FRIEND. I don’t care what she’s on, ok?”
Sniffing, her stepmother left.
Lydia tried her best to ignore the anger still fizzing from the nerve her step-mother had to intrude in Lizzie’s life. Delia didn’t seem to care when Lizzie was helping deal with the mess she’d made with the Maitland’s furniture, or when Lydia was trying to enthuse about the nice woman who’d arrived in the village and didn’t give her dirty looks for her clothes.
She didn’t own any medical books, and neither Adam nor her Father had any in the study. Lydia’s fingers drummed restlessly against the book in her hands. Normally when she wanted a book, she and Beetlejuice would juice their way to either a Neitherworld book dispensary or the tiny Library down in Winter River.
But that option was currently off doing god knows what on the other side.
Lydia crept out to her father’s study, and after a quick rifle through her father’s roll-a-dex, she found the number she was looking for.
“Hello! Peaceful Pines Doctor’s office, how may we help you this evening?”
Winding the phone cord around her finger, Lydia gulped down her trepidation at intruding on Lizzie’s past. “Uhm, yes hello, I was wondering if I could speak to a doctor? I had a question about my medication.”
“I’m sorry miss, but the doctor has just left for the evening. I can put you through to an On-Call Doctor in the next county if you like?”
“That’d be great thanks.”
“Just a moment.”
Lydia glanced around the door frame. With four parental figures in the house and no-one to keep a look-out, she felt more on edge than ever.
The phone line crackled and the receptionist cheerfully trilled down the line. “I’m putting you through now, Miss!”
“Thank you.” There was another crackle, and-
“You’ve got Doctor Basterd on the line.” A nasal British voice snapped at Lydia from the receiver. “What do you want?”
That was quite a wait wasn't it?
Chapter 22: Chapter Twenty Two: Just take your medicine
Lydia gets the truth about those little green pills from a very unusual doctor.
As it turned out, to Lydia’s considerable frustration, the doctor refused to discuss the medication over the phone. He’d insisted, after much arguing back and forth, that Lydia drive to the next county to his offices. She’d tried to say that if it was a big deal, she’d just wait until the Peaceful Pine’s resident doctor came back to work the next morning but Doctor Basterd had crowed with laughter at the idea.
“Your man’s about 90 isn’t he? Nah, That drug you’re on about isn’t the sort of thing he’s going to know a thing about. If you want to know about it, you’ll have to come in.”
Lydia groaned and let her head drop onto her father’s desk. “But--”
“Look, I’m going to be honest with you- this drug is a specialists gubbin. You COULD go asking about at every backwards country doctor within fifty miles of here and get no-where. OR. You could stop whining and come ask the ONLY Doctor around here with a first hand knowledge of what it can do to a patient.”
Lydia glared at her father’s roll-a-dex with enough intensity it could have burst into flames. “...fine.”
“Great!” Doctor Basterd’s smug cry came through the receiver. “Seeya tomorrow mornin’, bright an’ early- not too early!” He then apparently slammed the phone down hard enough that Lydia winced away in pain.
Which is how Lydia found herself wearily parking outside a fairly nice looking facility the very next day. She hated driving. She’d barely passed the last test. If it hadn’t been for Beetlejuice juicing the instructor into being so terrified he signed her papers just so he’d never see her again, she had a feeling she’d never have passed at all.
“Babes, he was scared enough as it was...your driving drove him insane!” BJ had lorded that little adventure over her for months.
Something inside her ached with the knowledge that Beetlejuice was stuck on the other side, and it was mostly her fault. This whole Fred business was her idea and now she’d opened a can of worms that was increasingly more complicated than she’d planned for. Lizzie was having what looked like an emotional breakdown, Beetlejuice wasn’t able to come back, and Fred...well. It wasn’t like she liked the poltergeist, but the idea that he’d been happy in his former state of being was weighing heavily on her conscious. He hadn’t consented to being brought back, regardless of how much he clearly cared for Lizzie…
She needed to get a handle on this situation. It was just so much harder to be in control when her chaotic best friend wasn’t by her side.
Lydia sighed and fixed her rear view mirror. “Beej...I wish you were back on this side with me.”
The mirror shimmered and Beetlejuice’s eyes appeared over her own. Well. Eye.
“You know I would if I could babes.”
“Do you know you’re missing an eyeball?”
The solitary eye rolled in it’s socket. “Really? I never would have noticed. Yeah I’m just...keeping my eye on some stuff on this side, if ya know what I mean.”
Lydia’s lips twitched, almost betraying a smile. “I don’t, actually.”
“Don’t worry about it babes, you just go ask this doctor guy what these little green pills are all about.”
“You really think it’s important?”
“It’s not like Fred’s interested in moving this along, not when he’s too wrapped up in the great mirror smasher.” The eye rolled from one socket to the next as the demon tilted his head. “So we just gotta get the ball moving.”
Lydia nodded and the mirror reverted back to her own brown baleful eyes.
After checking in and a short wait, Lydia was shown into a Doctor’s office. Sparsely decorated, there were only a few mementos from it’s occupant littered about. A degree from a number of universities hung on the wall. “Grouchos Medical School, London.” “Scumbag University, London.” “Magnate University School of Medicine, New York.”
Regardless of her own internal strife, something seemed…very off with this Doctor. Medical centres were usually rife with the essence of those who passed through, but...this office, unlike the halls and the waiting room was almost completely devoid of excess energy. Only the degrees on the wall and a few smaller objects on the desk called out to Lydia.
On the desk was a single photograph, turned towards the doctor’s chair. Reaching out to touch the corner of the frame, Lydia felt her medium senses kicking in. There were two essences emerging from the picture, both male, and each essence madly tangled with the other. One with a gritty, rough texture, the other slick and, with a disgusted cringe, Lydia realised, drippy. She made to turn the photo towards herself only to hear the distinct sound of heavy footfalls approaching, and hurriedly sat down, folding her hands discreetly in her lap.
The door bounced open, and the doctor strode in. He was bald, with a thick pair of wire framed glasses perched on a slightly bent nose. He wore a torn lab coat with faded denim jeans and a black t-shirt under his stethoscope. Across his forehead were a number of curious puckered dots that lifted when he raised a curious eyebrow at the goth girl sat in his patients chair. His expression cleared and he crowed as he finally remembered why she was there.
“Aha!” Lydia had hoped the volume she’d heard over the phone had simply been a fault of the telephone company’s but apparently Doctor Basterd was apparently just that loud in real life. “Tulpatripidenze?”
Lydia gave the bizarre man a watery smile and a nod. He laughed and strode around the desk to plonk himself down in his office chair. “Right, so what prick is tryin’ to trick you into taking that?”
The doctor nodded and squinted at her. “Well, as a rule, I don’t normally deal with patients over the age of twelve-”
“Wait. You’re a...pediatrician?”
His grin reappeared and he folded his arms over his chest. “Not what you were expecting?”
Lydia shook her head faintly. “I...don’t know what I was expecting-”
His grin turned sneering, and he tilted his head in question. “I suspect you know a thing or two about not judging someone on purely how they dress, Miss Deetz.”
Lydia felt her cheeks flush and she looked down, shamed. She heard the doctor cackle and stand up, the clang of filing cabinets being flung open and closed filing her ears. “Nah, I’m only teasin’. You bloody Americans are so bloody sensitive. Anyway.”
He slapped a pile of pamphlets down on the desk and hopped back into his chair. “Your Step-Mum should know that any doctor worth his salt wouldn’t dare prescribe Tulpatripidenze to anyone over the age of 15. It’s frankly ridiculous anyone is still peddling that stuff to the under 15’s considering that studies have shown the long term effects it has to a child’s mental development.” He began counting off on his fingers. “Tulpatripidenze has a negative effect on memory, cognitive and physical reaction times...but for a lot of parents the short term effect of having their kids stop talking to themselves is worth it.”
“That’s terrible!” Lydia’s hand had flown to her mouth in shock.
“Preaching to the choir, Miss Deetz.” Doctor Basterd shrugged. “My partner is actually down in DC trying to petition to get it banned. Not that he’s going to get very far considering his limp little petition has to get through all that lobbying but…” He shook his head a little fondly. “The git still has to try.”
“But isn’t there enough evidence for it?”
“Sure. Clinical trials have been done, and there’s evidence spanning decades that it does more harm than good. But if big pharma continues to push all of that down and keeps paying shoddy psychiatrists into prescribing it to parents who just want their kids to be “normal”...” He shook his head. “Sorry. That’s my partner talking. Look, everything your Step-Mom should see is in here. I’ll write her a letter of second opinion if it’ll help.”
“You…”Lydia cleared her throat, her head full of alarm bells. “You said that there are adverse effects to anyone over 15 who gets prescribed it?”
The doctor nodded. “Typically, if someone over the age of 15 takes the full dosage of the drug, there are even more perverse effects to the psyche. Now, it’s not my area of expertise, but Tulpatripidenze tends to dull the senses. In children, the effects don’t wear off, but the brain can repair itself to a point. In adults, the damage done is slower to recede.”
“So if someone...around, 27?”
“Oh, a full dosage would permanently damage their parietal lobe, the part of the brain where imagination tends to flow from.” Doctor Basterd snorted. “There are plenty of IF treatment that doesn’t permanently damage your brain, but some people are proper idiots when it comes to seeing things that aren’t there.”
Lydia nodded faintly. That must be why Lizzie has trouble connecting to the Neitherworld.
The Doctor squinted at her again, leaning back in his chair in thought. “How long have you had this imaginary friend, Miss Deetz?”
“Me? Uh. Well.” Lying was never her strong suit. Beetlejuice always told her the best lies have seeds of truth in them, so she decided to follow his lead. “I guess...since we moved into our house. So...four, five years?”
Nodding, the doctor’s lips twisted in thought. “Why’d your family move?”
“My father had had a uh...breakdown. We moved to the country for him to relax.”
“Has it helped?”
“I suppose.” Lydia replied sardonically. “He hasn’t had another one.”
“How long has your Step Mother been in the picture?”
Raising an eyebrow. “Uh...Six years, come December.”
The doctor nodded again. He hadn’t moved to write any of this down, for which Lydia didn’t know if she should be thankful for or not. “What about your birth Mum?”
The dull ache of remembrance at the mere mention of Emily Deetz welled up in the space between her ribs. It hurt, of course it hurt. Lydia suspected it always would, but she merely blinked. “She died a few months before Father remarried.”
“Moves fast, your old man.” The Doctor tutted and shrugged. “Sorry. Not my place.” He reached out to pull out a drawer, and placed an additional pamphlet o ntop of her pile. “Might want to give counselling a go, if your Step-Mum is dead set on getting your IF thing under-control...or you could lie to her and say you’re going to go and give her the pamphlet as proof.”
“Why would you tell me to do that?”
The Doctor adjusted his glasses. “Honestly?”
“Honestly because it’s not something I think demands treatment of any kind, Miss Deetz.” The Doctor frowned. “Imaginary Friends can be crucial for some people to work through difficult periods in their lives. Yeah it’s a bit weird if you’re of a certain age, but honestly, the prevalence of the IF syndrome is so wide spread that I think it’s damning to demand people go through damaging lengths to stop it.” He shrugged. “Your friend. Do they make you feel happier about your situation?”
“Yes.” The immediate reply brought a smirk to the Doctor’s face.
“Then you’re the one who needs to decide if you’re willing to cut that friend out of your life. Sometimes, the best friend you can ever have, is one only you can see.”
The doctor’s phone rang and he nodded towards the door after passing the pamphlets to Lydia. “Sorry, your time is up anyway.” He picked up the phone and turned away, effectively dismissing her.
Once the door was shut, Vyvyan began responding to the man on the other end of the phone, pinching his nose under his glasses.
“Rick...Rick, yes I know...No I didn’t- Yes I blimin’ well did remember to put the rubbish out this-- WHY wouldn’t I?! Oh yes, right, all because I didn’t do it- Yes of COURSE I put food out for SPG5, he’s my flipping hamster--”
Doctor Vyvyan Basterd, consulting paediatrician at your service.
There'll be a spin-off chapter concerning exactly why Vyv is so nuanced in Imaginary Friends later. OuO (Also, Ade was the one to say that's exactly what Vyv's specialism was after he graduated and it just made SO much sense to me in the context of this story...so in it went!).
Chapter 23: Chapter Twenty Three: Flashback Deux, Remains of the Day Part One
In the past, Beetlejuice is tasked with helping Fred get his groove back.
“How did I let you talk me into this?”
The first few months of being dead had been a huge adjustment period for Frederick. Well, that was an understatement. Moving from Britain to America and losing all his money had been a huge adjustment. Dying and knowing there was a huge chance he’d never see his sister when she crossed over, or find Lord Saunders now that he’d joined him in death was monumentally foundation shaking.
Frederick was adrift. He literally floated from room to room in the BCUS, mindlessly ferrying recepits and documentation for the recently deceased without much care of what he was doing. This wasn’t unusual, the new recruits usually failed to process their grief during their first decade or so.
What was unusual was that Frederick was a poltergeist. He had a natural talent for mayhem and chaos that was rivaled only by some very high level demons. For all intents and purposes, Frederick should have been fast tracked towards a major haunting or upper management.
But he seemed to have lost all the energy and zeal needed for it.
Which had been why Juno sent Beetlejuice to sponsor him in the first place.
Or at least. That’s the reason she gave her wayward son.
“And just why should I?” The demon had sneered. He was midway through ferrying new souls from the land of the living to the Neitherworld when his “Mother” approached him with this task. He gave a particularly filthy cackle as a man and his wife cowered as they passed him, giving the man a good pointed boot up the backside to encourage him to keep moving. “Freddy-kins not living up to your exacting standards, eh Juno?”
The older ghost was already exasperated. “He needs a sharp jolt to remind him of the reality of his situation. Show him Saturn. As soon as he fully appreciates how hopeless it is to find his old best friend and his family, the sooner he’ll move on and we can move him onto more important tasks.”
“Oooor you could just give those tasks to me?” Beetlejuice swept his Guide hat off his head and held it in his red tipped claws, fluttering his eyes in a simpering manner. “Give the little demon who could a crack at a haunting all of his own?”
“Make Frederick B’stard see sense and I’ll think about it.” Juno gritted out, her fingers crossed behind her back.
Like hell Beetlejuice would ever get a permanent haunting on her watch.
And so, The “Ghost with the Most” found himself shoving the limply protesting former Lord of Haltemprice into a rickety carriage, pulled by two skeletal horses, and setting across the impossible, long and perilous road from Venus to Saturn.
“What was that, Freddy boy?”
The ginger haired man huffed dramatically, wrapping his arms around his torso and peering out the window of the carriage. “I said- ‘How did I let you talk me into this?’”
“You didn’t.” Beetlejuice reclined across the entirety of one of the benches in the carriage, leaning his boots up on the peeling velvet interior. “I just grabbed you from your boring little desk and poofed us over here.”
“And just where is here?”
“We’re headin’ to Saturn, Freddy boy.” The demon snapped his fingers and pulled a nail file out of the ether, setting about sharpening his claws.
Frederick’s eyes snapped up from the window, and for the first time a flush of real colour entered his being. A vibrant shock of green flooded his clothing and the hue of his skin. Beetlejuice noted this with interest. Maybe Fred wasn’t such a bore afterall.
“That’s where the rest of the dead are, isn’t it? The ones who didn’t…”
“Who didn’t let fifty odd men die from copper poisoning? Yes, Freddy, Saturn is where the sad sacks who died by ‘accident, murder or illness go--”
“--excluding those who perish from old age or have achieved their full potential’.” Frederick finished. He’d poured over that one particular chapter of the Handbook as much as he could. “Wait, why are we going there?”
The Demon shrugged, rolling his shoulders languidly with an audible snap of bone on bone. “You’ve been here a while now. Thought you’d wanna take in the sights.”
Frederick blinked stupidly at this, not comprehending the demon who’d made his afterlife even more miserable doing something...kind. It’s at this moment that someone with a smear more light in their soul would have given the demon a pass on this out of character act.
However, Frederick B’Stard’s soul was never what you could consider...light.
Beetlejuice’s lips pulled into a pleased grin. “Smart boy.”
“I could run as soon as you open the carriage doors.”
“I suppose you could, but you know you won’t.” The demon swept his legs down and onto the ground, pointed heels clicking against the rotting wood. “Look, You wanna find your bestie? You ain’t going to get far before you get lost in the crowds. Ain’t no-one who’s ever found what they’re lookin’ for on Saturn. No-one. And just ‘cause you’re powerful, don’t mean you’ll be the one to break that streak.”
“You think I’m powerful?”
“Kid you’re the best pull of the crop since they brang me into existence.” Beetlejuice huffed as the poltergeist in front of him couldn’t help but preen. “Listen here pretty boy, I’m calling it how I see it, and I’m going to level with ya, Saturn? Neithworld Central? You disappear into the crowds looking for Lord what-sis-name and you’ll be one more soul in the malestrom. You’d be better off stickin’ with me.”
“And if I don’t?”
“No skin off my nose.” The demon cackled, his nose literally falling off and bouncing off his knee into Frederik’s lap. Having been subjected to this pun before, the poltergeist knocked the offending feature onto the carriage floor with a flick of his wrist.
“I’m not picking that.” Frederik’s lips twitched with ill-hidden amusement. Beetlejuice snapped his fingers and his nose reattached itself, giving it a brief honk for safety's sake. Frederik suddenly smirked.
“You think I’m pretty?”
The demon scoffed. “I got eyes don’t I?”
Chapter 24: Chapter Twenty Four: Flashback Deux, Remains of the Day Part Two
It's been a grip, huh?
Chapter Twenty Four: Flashback Deux, Remains of the Day Part Two
“Don’t Threaten Me with a Good Time!”
When Frederick had been alive, he and Lord Saunders had spent a number of favourable summer months between the end of their university days and the start of their internship in Manchester, in London.
The smoke stacks piercing the already gloomy sky, the stench of disease and poverty lining the streets. Bodies pressed in close together, the misery and despair coalescing into a thick sludge to be consumed by the rich.
Frederick had been inspired. They’d spent those three months in a constant fervour of party after party, meeting after meeting, visiting the new money and pressing the flesh (in more sense than one). Frederick had been in his element, and he knew he’d found his place in the world. Turning misery into profit.
It was with this memory in mind, that the now dead Frederick now observed the scene ahead of him.
As far as the eye could see, sprawling platforms of rock hung suspended in mid air, connected by thick cobbled roads, slatted wood bridges and in some places, rope. Upon these platforms, farcical buildings, huts, and ramshackle dwellings were crammed. Everything was warped, or twisted, the colours all wrong, the lines stretched too thin or too wide.
But what struck Frederick was how close everything was. It was suffocating, even with the ever present threat of falling from these platforms into the abyss below, into the swirling yellow dust of Saturn.
He and Beetlejuice stood almost shoulder to shoulder, the carriage having trundled off back in the direction of Venus, back to the BCUS, on a crumbling platform facing a great fissure dividing this particular platform from another. Even here, dozens of the undead wandered, the state of their forms informing any onlooker of their demise.
Spear to the torso.
Gun-shot to the face.
Hanging, trampled, poisoned-
“It’s too crowded here.” Frederick mumbled, pulling sharply at the cravat around his neck.
“It’s what?” Beetlejuice was checking one of the many pocket watches crammed into his waistcoat, not noticing the increasingly uncomfortable poltergeist beside him.
“ I said, it’s too crowded here!” Frederick began to gesture wildly to the undead around them. “All of these filthy cretins are too close!” A small portly man in a bowler hat and a knife sticking out of his back pouted and drifted away.
Beetlejuice merely raised an eyebrow at this outburst. “Yeah and?”
Sucking in a breath, Frederick cringed as a woman with her eyes gouged out strolled past with a basket in her arms, and shrunk further in on himself. “I want to get out of here!”
“Out of here?” Beetlejuice shrugged. “I mean, you’re the boss.” And shoved the poltergeist off the side of the platform.
The high, shrill scream that followed the descent was barely acknowledged by the demon, but the reactions of onlookers varied. The older ghosts just continued on their way. Some of the “younger” ghosts spared a sympathetic sigh. Beetlejuice bounced on the heels of his boots and tipped his guide hat to those who acknowledged him.
Some minutes passed, before Frederick poofed back up onto the platform in a cloud of green smoke. “YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER BASTARD!”
“You enjoy your trip there, boss?” Beetlejuice grinned.
“WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”
“You said you wanted to get out of here.”
“I DIDN’T MEAN FOR YOU TO SHOVE ME OFF THE BLOODY THING, NOW DID I?”
“I don’t know, did you?”
“OF COURSE I DIDN’T!”
“Huh? Didn’t what?” The demon now had one finger shoved deep into his pointed ear.
Huffing loudly, the poltergeist bristled. “I didn’t want you to ‘shove me off the edge’!”
Beetlejuice smiled innocently, removing the finger with a slick pop. “Sorry boss, didn’t quite catch anything after, ‘didn’t want you to’ care to repeat yourself?”
“I SAID ‘SHOVE ME OFF THE EDGE” YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER WANK--!!!”
Beetlejuice shoved him off again.
A blue skinned woman in a crinoline dress stained with blood gave the demon a strange look as she passed. Beetlejuice responded by miming a “shove it up your ass lady” motion at her until she hurried on her way. Frederick poofed back moments later. The wind rush had ruffled his hair to the extent that it had fallen out of the carefully coiffed curls he preferred into a riotous mess of red. In fact, a lot of colour had flooded back into the poltergheist’s body. There was green and yellow leaking into every item of clothing as if the rush of air had steaked it haphazardly over Frederick’s form.
“WANKER!” The poltergeist shouted directly into the demon’s face. With a flick of red tipped nails, the spittle Frederick’s outburst had sprayed over Beetlejuice was wiped away, and the latter grinned again.
“Right, so are you finished falling about yet, or are we going to hit the town?”
The pair found themselves at a House of Ill Repute in the very centre of the maelstrom of the Neitherworld, drunk out of their in-corporal minds and watching scantily clad ghouls singing their woes to a distracted crowd.
Neither were sure how long they had spent on Saturn. It could have been days, it could have been months, it could have been minutes. But they’d managed in whatever span of time it had been to be thrown out of ten pubs, pissed off fifty BCUS officials, left a wide swathe of mayhem and destruction in their wake.
They were slumped against the stage, their chins the only things keeping them upright. Beetlejuice had one arm slung around Frederick’s shoulders, whilst Frederick giggled hysterically into the other’s leather jacket. The colour was streaked more viciously into the poltergeist’s form now.
His hair - the crowds in a public house full of ghouls watched in fear as Frederick’s arms stretched long and thin around the patrons to snap the doors shut. Beetlejuice’s face contorted and warped to resemble the demon he really was- was standing on end.
“Come on, that guy over there looks like a chump.” Frederick tried to stand- the man they’d cornered in the alleyway behind the public house cowered and screamed as Frederick pelted him thick vicious green slime, his laugh high and manic. Beetlejuice stumped a cigar out on the frightened ghoul’s forehead, content to just watch- and stumbled backwards into the already full lap of a patron of the brothel.
Beetlejuice cackled and pulled the poltergeist out of the mess of limbs of the prostitute and patron. “Sorry folks, ickle Freddie-kins here can’t handle his booze- BUT YA’LL CAN’T HANDLE US!” the Saturn stationed BCUS agents tried to get a handle on the dozens of decoy Beetlejuice clones, each one busily scaring and crowing as their leader stood upon the wagon the BCUS agents had arrived in. The Demon and the Poltergeist stood back to back, their forms warped into monstrous forms, frightening the most hardened agents. - only to pull Frederick too hard and the two of them stumbled backwards onto the stage, interrupting the singer.
Frederick fell messily on top of the demon. In his intoxicated and crazed muddle of a mind, he barely noticed the hideous smell oozing from every pore of his...companion? Friend?
Beetlejuice, for all his teasing was in just as bad a state, high on the joy of so many good scares, and numbly registered that the weight of man uttop him was actually...fairly comfortable.
Nano seconds stretched into an eternity as pale blue eyes met yellowed bloodshot ones. The girlish and indignant protests of the singer disappeared into the smoke filled chasm that was the brothel. The final streaks of colour filled into Frederick’s suit.
...And unfortunately, that was how Juno found them.
Yeah so, I wouldn't get too hopeful for a regular schedule or nothin' but I have a couple bits and pieces of chapters already written, so maybe I'll have some more chapters soon. MAYBE.
...Neither of them knew the feeling they were experiencing was "friendship". -coughs-
I guess, but I've never full on straddled my friends, don't know 'bout ya'll.
Chapter 25: Chapter Twenty Five: The guards look scary, but the girls look pretty fine
Lizzie learns of Lydia's doctor visit, a keepsake goes up in flames, and the imaginary friends department is decidedly more interesting than Beej anticipated.
Chapter 25: The guards look scary, but the girls look pretty fine
When Lydia arrived back at Lizzie’s apartment, she found that much of what had remained of the Maitland’s furniture gone.
In their place, Lizzie was sweeping what looked like splinters into a dustpan. She raised an eyebrow when the teenager let herself in, and clucked her tongue.
“I was tempted to lock the door, but I figured if you broke in last time-”
“Beej broke in, not me.” Lydia’s low black heels echoed as they crossed the now empty space. “What...happened to the Maitland’s furniture?”
“Well.” It was a testament to how many times Beetlejuice had popped into existence behind her that Lydia’s only reaction to Fred appearing over her shoulder was a grimace of distaste. “It’s Snotfaces home right? Why should she have some sticky old stuff that’s not even hers cluttering up the place.” Fred’s green stained fingers twirled in front of the teens face and produced a hammer. “So I cleaned up a bit!”
Lydia blanched and whirled around to glare at the poltergeist. “You broke EVERYTHING?!”
“Of course not!” Fred sniffed, shrugging “I left the bed alone.”
“In fairness, it was all stuff your Mother didn’t want, right?” Lizzie shrugged as well, dumping the dust and splinters into a trash bag and tying it up neatly.
“It, wasn’t, HERS!” Lydia turned back fuming. “That was the Maitland’s stuff! What am I going to tell them?!”
Lizzie’s face suddenly dawned with understanding. “Oh...that nice young couple from your Halloween party...that’s why it all smelled like them!”
“If they didn’t want their stuff smashed they shouldn’t have just left it laying about the place! Honestly you can’t just leave great piles of frankly ugly furniture hanging out-”
“I came here to help you out, and THIS is what you’ve been doing--”
Fred’s smile grew and he waggled his eyebrows at Lizzie. “-that’s not ALL we did--”
“--You came to help us out?” Lizzie interrupted, her cheeks flaming.
Lydia was still fuming but pulled out the stack of leaflets the doctor had given her and handed them to Lizzie, who for all accounts blankly shifted through them. What the teen hadn’t counted on was Lizzie’s lack of reaction.
“Just...why are you giving me these?” Lizzie placed the stack neatly on the kitchen counter. Her palms felt slick with perspiration and an empty ache had settled at the back of her throat as she struggled not to cry.
“The pills you used to be on? They...they cut off part of your brain’s ability to use your imagination effectively. I think that’s got something to do with our perception of the strange and unusual.” Lydia blurted out, her hands twisting in her over long sleeves. “That’s why you can’t get to the Neitherworld without feeling sick!”
Lizzie’s hair had slid in front of her face again, avoiding making eye contact. Fred recognised it immediately as her defense. When she’d been a child, she’d avoided making eye contact with her mother, flinching in pain when anyone touched her, or tried to make her meet their eyes. She’d been unable to hide behind her hair then. The hair ties her mother used pulling everything sharply back away from her face and behind her ears.
Of course, now she had a curtain to hide behind, to feel safe behind. And he couldn’t blame her for wanting to hide. The lingering pain from the little green pill had caused him made some of the colour drain from his face and his suit. He crossed the few short steps to stand behind Lizzie, the strength of their bond helping to ease the discomfort. His presence seemed to help, and Lizzie frowned at the younger woman.
“Lydia...I...can’t believe...why would you disrespect my privacy like that?”
The teenager’s mouth opened and closed silently for a moment. “I...Delia told me and her sister told her-”
“Did you even stop to think that I may not have wanted to discuss it?”
“But- I thought it might help-”
“I DON’T. Want to talk about this!” Lizzie snapped. “This is something deeply personal and I just…” Lizzie took a sharp breath and pressed her face into the palm of her hand. “Just...go home Lydia Deetz.”
“No.” Lizzie turned away. “I can’t look at you right now.”
Lydia wanted to argue, and try to continue but Fred slowly shook his head, his expression unreadable. The teenager felt lost, the need to shout and explain herself bubbling up in her throat and turning to nausea. Her hands gripped the edges of her sleeves and pulled them upwards to guard her chest.
She’d just wanted to help.
‘Or did she just want to get her best friend back?’ A nasty, snide little voice whispered to her as Lizzie’s apartment door snapped shut behind her.
Lizzie’s shoulders were shaking. Fred watched her form tremble and then whirl around to face him her eyes red.
“You just had to break everything.”
Okay, that hadn’t been what he was expecting. “Wot?”
“I. Want. To. Smash. SOMETHING.” Lizzie ground out and she gestured around them at the now empty apartment. “There’s nothing left!”
“Well how was I supposed to know you’d want to break more furniture! I thought that lamp was enough for you!”
With a strangled cry Lizzie kicked the trash bag of splinters into the far corner, not feeling a wit better from the act of violence. “Can’t you...magic it all back?!”
“That’s not how poltergeists work love. We smash. We don’t carefully reassemble. We aren’t Mary Bloody Poppins.” He watched with a growing helplessness as Lizzie’s chest started heaving, her footing becoming uneven as she started to pace. If he’d still been an imaginary friend, he might have had some instant idea what to do- but he wasn’t an imaginary friend anymore, and Lizzie wasn’t a toddler having a tantrum.
She was having a panic attack.
“I just...who does that? Who goes and--and talks to a doctor about you without...AND JAINE. I thought she...we were...URGH I can’t. I want...she can’t just…” Tears were forming in Lizzie’s eyes as she worked herself up more and more.
And curiously, Fred felt something beginning to build around her. Her aura became blinding, the usual purple burning red with anger that he’d never seen in his former charge. And then he felt something hot beneath his jacket, searing into his skin through his t-shirt. Struggling out of the offending garment he jumped up to grip Lizzie’s shoulders, forcing her to look into his eyes.
“Lizzie. Lizzie you have to stop. You. Have. To. Stop.” He shook her a little with each word.
“But...BUT FRED- She--”
“I know. But you getting so worked up won’t help, you’re hurting yourself.” Fred pulled her close and held her shaking body against his. “You have to breathe, ok? I don’t want you crossing over because of some snotty little spook.”
As he felt her breathing slow and even, he started rubbing her back. This felt more familiar. This he could do. He’d done this before hadn’t he? Had he? He couldn’t place it, but it felt like something he’d done for someone else…
This realisation hit just as Lizzie pulled back, confusedly sniffing the air. “...is something burning? Something...something citrus-y?”
They both turned to find Fred’s jacket in flames.
...And sitting upright in the smouldering ashes...an antique doll.
Blazing with a green, furious aura.
A single, yellow eyeball rolled it’s way through a black and white chequered tunnel towards a light. It’s owner sat, the picture of boredom, back in the unwelcoming welcome office of the Department of Imaginary Friends, trying in vain to get a rise out of the ghost behind the desk and failing miserably.
The eye had been travelling for what seemed like months, seeing very little in the way of anything valuable and beginning to get intensely sick of black and white squares. The eye was almost starting to think that this Vega, the big bad demon who’d discovered the sixth dimension, was just some freak who really liked tiles.
Squishily rolling for some time, the eye eventually relaxed and everything became one big grey blur, allowing for the owner of the eye to concentrate more fully on ignoring the secretary.
She still wasn’t impressed.
And then the eye fell, bouncing twice before it blinked and refocused on it’s surroundings.
Before it sat five doors, a black void and three figures. One figure, in his distinctive white tux and insufferably on point horns and tail, was Vega. The demon was barely listening to the two other figures. One of the figures was obscured behind Vega. The other a male with thick round glasses, a garroting scar around his neck and pale blue skin was stammering about something to the disinterested demon. Clearly whatever it was was distressing the ghost intensely.
Of course, being only an eyeball, Beetlejuice had no clue what was being said.
“Shit.” The demon back in the office cussed and stalked to the other side of the room to try and concentrate more on what his other eye was seeing.
The ghost behind the desk didn’t bother to look up or stop talking.
Beetlejuice rolled his disembodied eye around a little, trying to see more of the scene. As he did the other figure was displayed and--
“WOAH!” Beetlejuice’s eye stretched and bounced as it took in the breathtaking ghoul interrupting the geeky blue skinned ghost. With a tiara, and long black gloves she looked like she could give Ms Argentina a run for her money in terms of beauty queen self importance...the only thing marring her purple body was the stem to stern full body gouge down her nearly completely exposed torso.
Vega quite suddenly held a hand up to interrupt the two ghosts, rubbing at the bridge of his nose with impatience. He pointed them towards a door marked with a pair of dice and waited for them to leave.
The eye was then forcibly plucked from the ground. Vega held it up to face height, one long eyebrow raising as the demon coolly inspected the slimy organ.
The eye was thrown full force at the ground and Beetlejuice found himself face planted against those same chequered tiles he’d been privately cussing out for the last however many hours.
“You know,” Vega said casually, catching the eye as it bounced back upwards. The demon in white beheld it between gloved fingers as if appraising a jewel. “You could have made an appointment if you wanted to talk so badly.”
“Oh hey, of course, but uh, You may want to rethink your welcome committee back there.” With a groan, Beetlejuice prised his face from the tiled floor and glared up at the other demon. “She ain’t exactly very forthcoming with your calendar there, Vega.”
“Oh my stars, well that is precisely the point of Sally.” Every word out of Vega’s mouth was lilting and musical, but the undercurrent of ice beneath it gave away nothing but contempt. “You see, you aren’t welcome here, Beetle. My domain is tucked away in another dimension for a very good reason. Can’t have you contaminating my charges with your...flith and degeneration.”
“And that hot little piece of ass you sent through the dice door just now? She ain’t going to containmate nothin’?” Beetlejuice snapped back. He didn’t like that insinuation one bit.
“My my, did I hit a nerve?” Vega’s head dipped to the left. “In anycase, the ghost you saw leave through that door is going no-where near my charges. She and her companion are admin, much like Sally. That door is the one you will be leaving through. It leads directly back to the front office. Save you the trouble of climbing back up through the access tunnel you rolled down.”
“Nah, see.” Beetlejuice pushed himself heavily back to his feet, rocking back on his boot heels and pointing towards the other doors. “I came to see what kind of operation yer running down here, Vegs. Seems like you’re getting a bit sloppy, what with that former IF running around, sans punishment.”
That finally seemed to rustle Vega’s perfectly quaffed exterior, his red hair fluffing dramatically upwards. “On whose authority?”
“Juno’s.” The lie was quick and easy. “Ya saw me upstairs earlier in her office, right? I’m here to check yer doing your job.”
There was a heavy pause. If Beetlejuice was capable of sweating he would have. The other demon’s eyes narrowed as he sized him up. It was well known how his ‘mother’ hated him and had distanced herself from him for the last several centuries. How he acted out and become the most wanted ghost in the afterlife. But he also evaded punishment. Partly for his own impressive ability of skirting the rules; but also because Juno bent the rules to avoid his capture. Juno was half the reason he was allowed free rein...and Beetlejuice was painfully aware of how wide spread this information was.
That his own ‘mother’ bent the rules for him...but didn’t trust him with so much as a packed lunch let alone a task this important.
But he wanted to get as much dirt on this whole Imaginary Friend punishment as possible.
So if that meant pulling the Juno card, then so be it.
Finally, sneering, Vega jerked his head to the door marked with an 8 ball. “Fine. In there. I’ll be watching.”
Sorry for the long waits between chapters to anyone still reading! Much going on irl.
If you're lost or confused, might be worth going back and reading some of the older chapters. Or ask me in the comments! I'm always down to talk about this story.
Otherwise, thanks for reading/still reading!