Chapter One

Math class would not normally be a high point of Lydia's day, but today's lesson was especially bad because Miss Shannon was absent, and the substitute teacher was paying little attention to the class. In any other class, this would be a good thing, but in geometry, Claire Brewster sat right behind Lydia so she had free reign over tormenting the less popular girl.

While Lydia absentmindedly drew a picture of the villain from the horror movie she'd watched last night, Claire looked over her shoulder and stifled a giggle.

"Like, omigawd," Claire whispered, "is it, like, possible for you to get any weirder?" She looked over at her friend Samantha and looped her finger around her ear several times—the gesture for "crazy." Samantha smirked at Lydia and scribbled a note to Claire. Upon reading it, Claire had to hide another mean snicker, and Lydia turned back to her geometry book with a sigh.

Who cares about what they think? she thought, but she still pulled out her eraser and hastily began erasing Count Von Blargsworth before anyone else could see it. Glancing at the clock, she smiled a little: only two more hours until school was over, and she was free to visit the Neitherworld.

Lydia sighed and gazed at the Neitherworld sun sinking low in the sky.

"Today was a great day, BJ," she said, smiling at her companion. "But I've got to get back home and start studying for that geometry test."

"Aw, c'mon, Lyds," Beetlejuice cajoled. "Can't ya stay just a little longer?" He pulled an hourglass out of his pocket and waved it at Lydia. "Just say the word, Babes, and I'll buy us one more hour."

"Oh, OK," Lydia replied, laughing. "One more hour won't hurt."

Beetlejuice excitedly flipped the glass over, and the sun moved up several inches.

"Let's go get Doomie!"

Later, Lydia arrived home and cracked open her math book when someone knocked at her door.

"Lydia?" her father's quiet voice came through the door. "Pumpkin, your mother and I need to talk to you."

She put her pencil down and opened the door to her very pale, worried-looking parents.

"Lydia…" Delia began. "Perhaps it's best if you sit down for this…"

"A car accident?" Beetlejuice only seemed interested in the gory details. "Couldn't have picked a better way to off her myself," he muttered.

"That's not funny, Beetlejuice!" Lydia shouted, her hands trembling. Of course, she'd never liked Claire, but she was still a classmate, and now, she was dead, dead before she could have that Sweet Sixteen birthday celebration she'd been yammering about since the beginning of high school. Lydia had sat numbly between Bertha and Prudence at the funeral; it had all seemed unreal until she saw Claire's mother sobbing uncontrollably.

For someone whose best friend was a ghost, Lydia had no idea how to confront death when facing it in her own world.

"It was so sad," she mused. "Even though she was so cruel to me, perhaps someday she could have changed."

Beetlejuice opened his mouth to make another wisecrack but shut it fast when he noticed tears running down Lydia's face.

"Listen, babes," he said, awkwardly attempting comfort, "death isn't so bad; trust me, I would know! Claire's probably fine."

Lydia's face visibly brightened. "Maybe she's in the Neitherworld! I'll bet Claire hates it!"

"Yeah," Beetlejuice chimed in. "And you know the Neitherworld's only three B-words away…"

Lydia smiled, her tears gone.

"Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!"

Although they searched diligently, two hours later, Lydia slumped against Doomie's dashboard.

"This is hopeless; the Neitherworld is just too big to ever find Claire."

"Cheer up, Babes," Beetlejuice said. "We can always go to the Hall of Records and try to find her."

Lydia gave him a weak smile. "OK, BJ." She pulled Doomie up to the door from the Neitherworld to the Otherworld. "I'm going home now; let me know what you find." She stepped up to the door, turned to wave, and was gone.

Beetlejuice sighed; he was always sorry to see Lydia go back to the Land of the Living.

"Well, come on, you hunk of junk," he said, pushing the gas pedal. With a honk of his horn, Doomie obligingly screeched forward.

Arriving back at the Roadhouse, Beetlejuice was surprised to see Jacques and Ginger waiting for him outside.

"No chance for juicing, huh?" he muttered before putting Doomie in the garage.

"Ah, Beetlejuice, we were hoping to see Lydia before she left," Jacques said.

"Oh, well," Ginger said, sidling back toward her home. "We'll just talk to her tomorrow."

"Yeah," Beetlejuice agreed. "Lydia always comes back."

The next morning, Beetlejuice and Doomie took off toward the Hall of Records to check the newest arrivals section for Claire.

He parked Doomie and hovered to the building, humming as he went.

The bell gave off a huge clang when he pushed the door open.

"Take a number," the receptionist droned. Beetlejuice took one look at the line of ghouls and rolled his eyes.

With a snap of his fingers, he was inside the record room; the walls were surrounded by huge filing cabinets. Another snap and the huge B cabinet sprang open.

Beetlejuice flipped through the files, smiling as he passed his own file, which was bulging with prank reports.

"Brahmun, Brandwire, Brewster!" He pulled out the folder and opened it.

Later that night, Beetlejuice showed up in Lydia's mirror.

"Babes…psst, hey, Babes!" he whispered, waking her up.

"Beetlejuice?" she sighed sleepily.

"Lyds, let me out; it's important."

Yawning, Lydia said the required words and lay back down as Beetlejuice plopped onto the foot of her bed, holding the file.

"What is it, Beej?"

"It's Claire's file," he said softly, almost as if he were scared. "It's got all the morbid details and everything."

Lydia frowned. "I am not interested in the details. Everyone knows Claire died in a horrible car accident."

"That's what I was afraid of," Beetlejuice said. He held out the folder. Lydia took it.

"Al-alcohol poisoning?" she cried. "But that's not how Claire died at all!"

"Keep reading," Beetlejuice instructed, his look of concern growing deeper.

"Age eighteen?" Lydia nearly shouted. "But Claire wasn't even sixteen yet! What's going on?"

A single sheet of dark blue paper fell out of the file. Lydia hastily gathered it up and began to read before letting go of the page with a gasp.

"Lyds?" Beetlejuice grabbed the paper and began reading.

"The Neitherworld," Lydia whispered. "Due to time spent in the Neitherworld, appropriate time has been subtracted from expected lifetime."

Beetlejuice refused to meet Lydia's eyes.

"Beej…she's only been to the Neitherworld…"
"Not even a full week."

"Then…how?" Lydia tried to meet his eyes, but he still avoided her gaze.

"Each hour spent in the Neitherworld takes time off of a living person's lifespan," he mumbled. "I don't know the specifics, but it must be rather…"

Lydia put her head in her hands; what little color had been in her face was now long gone.

"I've been going to the Neitherworld since I was eleven…" The realization dawned in her eyes.

"How…how long do I have?"