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Ship in a Bottle

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More like a maelstrom in a teacup, Barbara would say.

Adam had once started crafting a ship in a bottle, before they died. He was good with his hands, enjoyed the fiddly miniature work, and had the patience for it. Despite the care he took with it, however, some of it was not perfect; the keel was slightly crooked and the masts weren’t straight. Without breaking the bottle, there was no way to remove it to fix those pieces. He never completed it. It sat dusty and half finished on a shelf in the attic.

Beetlejuice came into their (after)lives in with zeal and pageantry. They’d been overwhelmed--rightfully so, they agreed privately--and then with the clarity of hindsight, they realized they'd been rude to him. From the start he’d been clear about what he wanted, even if his over the top enthusiasm had very few boundaries and was politically incorrect at times.

When his schemes and the con he tried to pull by forcing a teenager to marry him at first seemed to go his way actually failed and he was speared like a fish on the living room floor--Lydia’s counter con job helped in no small part by the two of them--Adam turned away at the violence of it. Barbara, however, couldn’t drag her gaze off Beetlejuice, collapsed on the floor with a pole jutting out of his chest.

His expression was pain: deep pain of having taken the first sips of sweet air and then trying but failing to fill his lungs again. His expression was shock: nauseated shock that everything he had wanted been torn away from him only moments after he’d been given it. His expression was disbelief: utter disbelief that he’d been so lied to and betrayed, and that he’d been such a fool to believe them.

The Deetz, nee Maitland, house gained a new newly dead resident.

After his initial bluster and bravado to get rid of the horrible being called his mother, now that he was trapped in the house, Beetlejuice became withdrawn and small. He couldn’t be bothered to speak and spent literal days on the roof, laying flat on his back staring into the sky, not moving. The Maitlands weren’t upset with the situation--he had put them through a lot--until one day, they were. It wasn’t right that someone so vibrant had been reduced so much. Occasionally Barbara would go up there to check on him, to brush off the leaves that fell onto him and to comb out the dust that settled into his bruise-colored hair. He never seemed to care.

Eventually she and Adam would find excuses to join their new housemate on the roof. They’d sit and talk. They tried to engage him. Whether he responded or not, they continued. And gradually, because they worked to make it normal, and worked to make him understand they cared, he came around.

Finally he was almost back to the high spirits and pushing the less-than-appropriate boundaries they’d first known from him. He only had brief lapses of the purple hair that heralded his melancholy, and if he saw they saw, he either swiftly brushed it off or escaped back to the roof again. It took a long time before he would just accept a hug and quiet company when they found him in that state.

Those days were fewer and further between, now.

Now he was back to being full of piss and vinegar, and once again eager to cause havoc. Everyone living and dead learned to put up with him. Adam said Beetlejuice grew on them like a fungus, which pleased him and gave him the opportunity to use the dumbest, most clique response possible (“I’m a fungi!”) (No one laughed but him.)

Maelstrom in a teacup was accurate. But more accurate was a ship in a bottle: stuck with no way out except to break what contained them, and face the Netherworld or Sandworms. Neither of those were an option they were willing to try. As they grew used to the chaos and the exuberance that Beetlejuice tackled them with, they eventually realized how dull their (after)life would be without him. Their (after)life with him was wonky and slightly off kilter, like that wooden ship in its dust-smeared bottle.

And just like that wooden ship in its dusty bottle, their (after)life wasn’t finished either. As Beetlejuice liked to remind them, death was a really long time. But at least they had each other, and him.