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The acrid smell of the burning torches mixed with the mossy, dank scent of the misty dusk as the angry crowd approached the tower. They might have been shivering in the late-Fall brisk air if it not for the fire they were all holding in their hands.
Shouts of "BURN THEM!" and "GET THEM!" and the like thundered up from the soft, rich soil of the ground below. Frank and his Bride looked over the stone balcony down at the crowd annoyed, but not seriously concerned. It was, after all, the second angry mob in as many months.
"Good morning, dear," Bride said. "Shall I put on a pot of coffee?"
"That'd be great," Frank said in his usual deep, grumbling voice. "Um. What should we do with them this time?"
"Hmmm, Broomy and her coven are out of town at that witch convention," his Bride replied, "maybe I could call Dracula? The sun will be down soon. He might be up by now."
"I can take care of it," Frank said as Bride was already getting out her iPhone.
"Last time you 'took care of it,' dear, you needed a new arm. Charbroiled appendages don't become you."
"I like the new arm," Frank said, wiggling his right thumb, "this smaller thumb is much better at working my phone than the old one." He got out his own iPhone and looked at it. "Hmm. I think they organized this mob on Twitter."
"Ahh, modern technology," Bride said with a sigh. She hesitated, then: "Look, Frank, there's something I have to tell you. Something important. I don't think you're going to like it."
Frank slowly turned to look at her. She seemed tense, nervous. "What is it? And isn't this a weird time for such a conversation?"
"It cannot wait any longer. Now's a good of a time as any."
"Well, come on, spit it out, then!"
"All right," she said. She took in a deep breath and let it out. "I realized recently that I have feelings for Dracula."
"Feelings?" A knot slowly began twisting in Frank's stomach. "What do you mean?"
"I mean... this is hard... I think you know what I mean. I mean... I like him. And he, well, likes me, too."
Frank sighed. He began to tremble. "Well, so? You're married. So's he. I mean... I guess these things happen. I understand. I guess. But you just have to forget about it."
"I'm not sure I can," Bride said. Her dark eyes grew watery.
"Honey... come on now. I mean..." Frank trailed off. Then he resumed. "It's all those times you hung out with him while I watched Frank, Jr. and Bridella?! Isn't it?"
Bride sniffed. "It was Wolfman who noticed our attraction, even before I did, or Dracs did. He told us we'd better tell our spouses, do the right thing."
"Well, he's right!" Frank said. He broke off a stone from the balcony and tossed it at the crowd below, causing some of them to disperse. "I'm glad you told me. Now we can deal with it. I'll, uh, help you through it... or something. Help you deal with it. I mean, I once thought I was attracted to Broomy. But I suppressed it. I ignored it. Because I'm married."
"I cannot forget it," Bride said. "I don't want to. I want to establish an open relationship so that I can explore this with Dracs, see where it's going."
Frank could not quite believe what he was hearing. How could this be happening? Was he dreaming? Was it a nightmare he was going to wake up from soon? Maybe it was a joke?
"You want to WHAT?!" Frank exclaimed. "What do you mean?! Open relationship? Explore?! Have you lost your mind?" He closely examined her head. "No, seriously, have you lost it? I once left mine in the closet accidentally."
"This is serious!" Bride said. "Besides, you shouldn't mind. After all, you stopped caring; our marriage is just a piece of paper now, anyway."
"Not to me!" Frank said. He broke off and threw another stone at the crowd. "You're my bride! You always will be!"
"Fine, I'll stay your bride," she said. "But I want to do this. I want to date Dracula."
"This is against the rules!" Frank said. "You don't date other people when you're married! Do I have to look up the definition of marriage?!"
"Married, but separated, couples do that," she said. "We're separated."
"No we're not," Frank said. "Don't you have to sign papers or something?"
"Well, I think we're mentally separated. I don't think we need to go through the trouble of making it official."
"Do you want a divorce?!" Frank said. He was starting to shake.
"No, no, I don't. What I want is to stay together for the kids while I date Dracula."
"YOU CAN'T DO THAT!"
"I can. Don't get possessive on me, ok? We can all be mature about this can't we?"
"POS--- MA---?!" Frank put his hand to his face. He was speechless for a moment.
"You need to give me space. You owe it to me. You haven't been attentive enough for almost a century. I've felt uncared about, unloved by you. Dracula, he cares about me, see. He makes me feel special. I can't remember the last time you did that."
"I rubbed your feet a few weeks ago!" Frank said. "I mean, come on... I mean, yeah, sure, we don't act like we did when our relationship was new, when we were only a few hundred years old, but every married couple goes through that!"
"I'm sorry, but I need this. I was near being in a state of depression. And I've tried to tell you the problem but you didn't listen."
"Was that when I was waiting for my new ears?" Frank asked. "Weren't they on order for, like, a week that one time?"
"No it wasn't!" Then Bride thought about it with her finger on her lip. "Well, it may have been. But, hey, I've told you many times anyway! Not just once! You didn't listen any of those times! None of them."
Well... I'm sorry," Frank said. "I... I didn't know it was that bad."
Bride was looking down at her phone. She smiled. "Hey, Dracula, Dru, and his kids wanna come over. He can take care of our mob and the kids can all play Wii together! Doesn't that sound fun?!"
"NO!" Frank said. "Are you insane?! After what you just told me? He's going to come to my tower?! And what about his wife?! Does she know this stuff?!"
"Yes. And Dracs has told me she's ok with it."
"Oh, be mature. It'll be fine! You'll be ok!"
But Frank was not "OK" with it. Not in the least. But he didn't know what else to do so he just went with it. But having Dracula and his family over was not nearly as fun as it used to be. He had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach every time Dracula and his wife looked at each other, smiled at each other. How could his friend do this to him? How could his wife do this to him? What the hell was going on?
Frank's appetite was suddenly all but gone. His insides were twisted up. He began to hurt, emotionally, more than he ever had in his life before. He felt like he was being tossed aside, at times worthless, almost totally ill-considered, the way that the both of them were going to do what they were going to do regardless of how he or anybody else felt about it: his friend (or, former friend) and his best friend, his bride. And, whether it was intentional or not, Frank felt like they were rubbing his nose in it, rubbing salt in the wound, how she talked about this arrangement like it was something normal, something everybody did, what's the big deal? Be an adult about it! Stop freaking out, geez, what's your problem, Frank? Dracula was trying to steal his wife from him, and by extension, really, his entire family, but he was being immature or something by having a problem with inviting Dracula over and not wanting to be pleasant to him. Frank's feelings no longer mattered! But maybe that would change when Frank, when he had the chance, opened up to his Bride about all of those feelings, let it all out. He decided that that's what he would do.
"So you noticed this before they did?" Frank asked Wolfman. They were at Wolfman's lair having a roasted leg of cow together.
"Listen, dude," Wolfman said while working on a small bite, "it was obvious. Well it became obvious over time." He stopped to lick some pieces out of his face hair. "Yeah, I told 'em. I said, 'Look, you guys gotta tell 'em!'" His Bronx accent was thick that night.
"This is fucked up!" Frank said. "They wanna date while married! I mean... how could... how can..." Frank put his head in his large hands.
"I know, it's pretty heavy, man. I feel for ya. I'm here for you, like now, whenever you gotta talk."
"Oh god!" Frank said through his hands.
"You're really taking this hard. Geez. I mean, I understand being jealous, but if ya got no more love in your--"
"I STILL LOVE HER!" exclaimed Frank. "I guess I just... I guess I just was really bad at showing it for a long time." Frank pinched his eyes, not wanting to cry. "I never stopped. I love her dearly."
"Frank...." Wolfman whispered. "Aw dude... now I feel awful letting 'em hang out here a lot. Wow I totally enabled their affair."
There it was. It was the first time in the ordeal that Frank had heard somebody say the word. AFFAIR.
"B-b-but they were just talkin', yknow, huggin' that's it!" Wolfman quickly said before Frank could ponder the word very long. "Nobody uses Wolfie's for a motel, ya dig? I got standards!"
"I hope..." Frank could barely get the words out. "I hope... I've been told... that's all they do. For now."
That night, after talking with Wolfman a few more hours, Frank went home. He crawled into bed with his Bride and pleaded with her to stop hurting him. She was surprised at the reaction, for she had thought Frank didn't love her any more. She was sympathetic, and loving, and remorseful, but didn't want to give up Dracula. They both cried together until they fell asleep.
"Come on, Frank!" Stan said as he gunned his camera at Frank. "Halloween is only a few months away! We need this ad to be SCARY! We need a big seller this year! I mean, at least you're not smiling this year, like you tried last year, but we need MAD, not SAD!"
Frank was at his job, at the studio, which was lending his likeness to everything from napkins to social media ads for car insurance. His job was always more stressful near Halloween, the busiest time of the year. But he was feeling so despondent, so twisted up in knots, so stressed, that he could barely do his job.
"Yeah, what's with you, man?" Mummy said. "You're all mopey and stuff." He was seated nearby, waiting his turn. Next to him was Wolfman.
"I'm not feeling very good," Frank said. He suddenly had to crush an overwhelming urge to start sobbing. The sob gnawed at his insides, trying to get out.
"Do you feel sick or something?" Stan asked. "We can come back to you."
Wolfman cast a knowing glance at Frank. He tried to ignore it. "No, let's continue, I'm all right." From somewhere deep inside him he summoned the courage to put aside his feelings for a moment and do his job.
On the way home from work Frank had an epiphany. He was thinking about how he was feeling, and some of what his Bride had said. "My god," he said to himself, "is what I'm feeling anything like what she has been feeling?" If it was, then he finally understood what she had been trying to tell him, even before the crisis. Dr. Frankenstein could not give him those emotions by adding more parts. It could be given to him like an emotion chip like that android character on that space show the humans loved so much. He just had to feel them, and feeling them was necessary to have proper empathy for anybody else feeling them. He didn't - and couldn't - get what his Bride had gone through until he had gone through it himself.
Frank became excited for the first time in days. He found hope again. It was a breakthrough!
He called Bride and told her about it.
"I see," she said. "Well, I have to admit, that's interesting. I think it is a breakthrough. We'll talk about it tonight when I get home."
"Aren't you going home now?" Frank asked.
"No, tonight I'm going with Dracs somewhere."
"But... but... last night you were gone almost all night with him and Wolfman and Broomy playing games... while I watched the kids. I gotta now watch the kids myself tonight?? Because tomorrow night is your regularly scheduled fly night?" Even before the crisis, Bride had been going to weekly "fly nights" where some monsters learned to fly via witches' spells and played different sorts of ball games while doing so. Frank was lousy at it so he had happily agreed to let her do it while he watched the kids because she loved it so much. But now she was hanging out with Dracula for hours and hours after it, sometimes so late that Frank couldn't wait up for her.
"Yeah, it's crazy isn't it?" Bride said. "Busy, busy, busy! So Dracula will meet me at our tower tonight before we go."
"What?!" Frank said. "I told you I didn't want him at my tower."
"Yes, he will not be allowed into the tower, I'm respecting your wishes, as irrational and stupid as they are!"
"No," Frank said, "you misunderstand, I don't want him at--!"
"He won't go inside! Geez! Lighten up! He won't go inside. Now stop it, you're pressuring me again, you know what I've told you about that. You'll force me away further!"
Frank sighed. To win her back he had to put up with it. He had to put up her going out with Dracula... her boyfriend. Maybe he deserved it. Maybe this was what he had to go through to make up what he'd done to her.
After he hung up he cried again, all the way home.
"Where's mommy?" Frank Jr. asked Frank as he served them dinner.
"She's gone, um, to see a friend." Frank hated lying to his own children so he tried to convince himself that he wasn't technically lying.
"Again?" whined Bridella. "Mommy hasn't had dinner with us for eleventy days!"
"Three days, snotbreath!" Frank Jr. said to his younger sister. "Learn to count. And 'elventy' isn't even a word."
"Is, too!" Bridella said.
"Kids!" Frank yelled. "Stop fighting now, please, I can't handle it right now!"
"What's wrong, dad?" Frank, Jr. asked.
"Ummm... I'm just stressed out is all. Now eat your newt eyes, and I mean all of them!"
"Why doesn't mommy eat dinner with us anymore?" Frank Jr. asked.
"This is just temporary, OK, there's just a lot of stuff going on," Frank said. "She'll be eating dinner with us tom--- well, uh, not tomorrow, um, two nights from now." He thought for a second. "Yes, nothing is going on that night. I think."
That night Bride got home fairly late. Of course it was early for Dracula, who had to sleep during the day due to the whole sun-will-turn-him-to-ashes thing, but it was late for Frank and his Bride. At first he was happy when she finally returned, but when she did - or when they did - Dracula didn't immediately leave. They stood outside the front door to the tower talking. Frank went out the door. There they stood, standing close to each other, looking up at the stars. Her arm was around his. Frank wanted to vomit.
"Beautiful night," Frank managed.
"Yes, it is," his Bride said, looking back at him. Then she looked at Dracula and smiled. He smiled back.
"Perfect night for hunting!" Dracula said. "Maybe later, though."
RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!!! Frank thought.
Then he fantasized about pulling a wooden stake out of his pocket, screaming "GET AWAY FROM MY WIFE!!" and stabbing it into Dracula's heart.
"Go back inside, hon, I'll be in in a bit," Frank's Bride said to him. He felt like all his stitches were about to unravel and leave him crumbling to pieces.
"How was... your thing?" Frank was barely able to ask.
"It was fine, now go back inside, please. We'll talk about it later."
Frank suddenly realized she hadn't even asked how the kids did that night.
When she did finally come in and Dracula left, they did talk about his epiphany while holding each other in bed.
"I think it's good," she said, "maybe this is a sign in progress in our relationship, our communication."
"That's what I thought," Frank said, smiling, for only the second time that day. "See, we can still fix us. I know we can. I still have faith in us, our marriage."
"I'm not sure I do."
"Then I will have enough faith for the both of us!" Frank said. "Umm, while at work today, I called and made that appointment with that marriage counselor. Yknow, Vera, from Broomy's coven."
"I asked you to do that YEARS ago. I'll go, but maybe it's too late now."
"I know you did, and I was stupid for not listening, I guess I was too prideful. I didn't understand how bad things were and I didn't think we needed one. I guess it took something like this to help me realize that."
"Wolfman thinks we should go, too. But honestly I'm not sure it will help. But I'll go."
A few nights after that Frank encountered Dracula in the back alleys of the city. Frank knew it was one of Drac's favorite hunting spots for vagrants and criminal types. He had long stopped feeding on the land's decent citizens.
"Out a bit late, Frank?" Dracula asked as he held his latest victim in arms. The poor bastard was still alive but barely.
"Listen, Drac!" Frank said the name like he was spitting out poison. "I am fighting for my marriage. Do you know that? We are going to a therapist. Tomorrow. I am fighting for her, for my family! I don't like you trying to steal her - and maybe my kids, too - away from me."
Dracula quickly finished his meal and let the corpse slump to the ground. He licked some blood from his lips. "These are separate events, her leaving you... well, kind of... and me leaving Dru.... sort of... and B and I finding each other."
"Bull shit, you're splitting hairs!" Frank exclaimed. "If you weren't in the picture then we'd be doing much better and be much faster at fixing our marriage."
"Frank, I'm sorry, but in the picture is where I want to be. But if B tells me to get out, I will. It'll hurt, but I will. I've never been happier--"
"SHUT UP!!" Frank yelled. "I don't care about your happiness! I care about my family's happiness."
"I care about her happiness," Dracula replied.
"I do, too. And PLEASE! Don't you even try to act like you're not selfish! You're thinking very much about your own happiness, drop the bull shit act! You're not so noble! You're not less concerned for your own happiness than I am of mine! It's been over a hundred years since I was all 'FIRE, BAD!' and whatnot; I'm not stupid anymore!"
"Perhaps. But... I'm afraid there's still things you are not understanding. Good luck in figuring them out. I bid you adieu."
With that, Dracula transformed into a bat and flitted off up into the night sky.
Frank watched the bat vanish into the distance. Then he mumbled: "Asshole."
Honey, I've figured something out. What we need to do is go out on dates ourselves, have fun, like you do with him. All of our time together lately, even though we've improved our communication a lot, has been so emotional and sad. We need to put our time to better use if we are actually going to get back to where we were.
"ME SMASH YOUR HEADS!!! GRAAAAA!!!"
The evening villagers ran from them, screaming in terror (the ones that weren't taking pictures or video with their phones). Frank and his Bride grunted and yelled and basically acted as terrible and scary as they could as they feigned pursuit of the horrified townsfolk. It was great fun for them, something they used to do quite often, but hadn't done in a while: just going out and scaring villagers for kicks. It was more fun than the humans all had going out to see movies and plays at the theaters. Fortunately that night Dr. Frankenstein (or, the latest mortal human man to have that name and legacy), who sort of considered himself the grandfather, could babysit the kids.
"Now, see, this is what I'm talkin' about!" Frank said to his Bride, taking a short break from his big ugly dumb but terrifying monster act.
"Yes, I admit, this is great fun!" she said. "I didn't realize how much I missed this."
"See? We're more perfect for each other. Dracula is more about stealth and cloak and all that. That's no fun! Ah, it's like the good ol' days again tonight!"
"I thought we agreed we weren't going to talk about that stuff. Stop trying to pressure me, damn you. Just enjoy the moment!"
Frank grunted. "Ooooook." Then he resumed flailing, yelling, carrying on, terrifying the nearby villagers.
"...but she still goes out on dates with him!" Frank said to Vera, their marriage counselor, a few mornings later.
"Dates?" Vera said. Concern beamed at them from her silver eyes. She sat in her chair across from Frank and Bride, who were both on the couch. "You go out on actual dates with him? Oh no, that's not healthy for a marriage. I mean, you guys have talked about progress you've made, Frank's epiphany, your desire, Bride, to stay in the marriage, try to make it work, keep it together. But how can you really be doing that if you continue to see Dracula, actually going out on dates with him?"
"I'm not willing to give that up," Bride replied. "Sorry, I guess I'm being selfish. I shouldn't make a rash decision. It's important to take my time on this."
Frank sighed. She was saying that a lot lately. No rash decisions, the decision can't be made quick, Frank can't expect "instant gratification."
"I understand that, how can you be working on two relationships at the same time?" Vera asked.
"I'm just working on mine and Frank's," Bride said, her face scrunched in confusion. "I mean, Dracula, he's..." She trailed off.
"You're working on that one, too," Vera said, "but in a different way, but you're still working on it." Frank sighed. Vera was right.
"Well, I guess so," Bride said.
"I know I'm a witch, I know, and usually I spend my time turning nasty politicians into newts and goats, but I'm also a marriage counselor. I did get special training for that and that's why you guys are here. I fix broken marriages in the monster/paranormal community. And my expert advice is that, if you truly are wanting to fix your marriage, B, you can't be seeing somebody else on the side."
"OK," Bride said, "but sorry, I'm just not ready to give that up yet."
They did not schedule another appointment with Vera.
For weeks and weeks it went on, Frank would have to put up with his bride seeing Dracula for hours and hours after flying, and then another night for an all-night date until the wee hours of the morning, all while he watched the kids. What a sweet deal she had! Frank ruminated on that often. How long could he put up with that? How long would his love for her put up with that? And how long would Dru put up with the same thing on the other side?
Frank spent most of his time miserable, with sparks of good times when he was with his bride, spending quality time with her. It wasn't all bad, but that dark cloud still hung over his entire afterlife during that time. He just had to accept this, wait for her to make her decision, all while she had her fun.
She would claim that it wasn't all fun, that she hated that she was hurting Frank, and how that caring about two people was making things very difficult. Frank tried to understand that, but to do so he had to get past his own searing pain.
Dru would call Frank, send him messages, upset, pretty much going through the same thing, but it was much worse for her because Dracula was planning on leaving her regardless as he could not stand her any longer. Frank knew this but didn't have the heart to tell her as she'd go on and on about how much she was trying to be a better wife and mother to their own children.
One day, when the subject was no longer as sensitive, and they could talk about it without emotions running high, Frank made another long-awaited attempt to reason with his bride. He told her he loved her, and he could certainly tell she still loved him, and explained to her all the reasons why she should stop what she was doing, about how bad it was for everybody, even for her, despite how much she was enjoying herself.
"You just don't get it, do you?" Bride said. "After all this time, you still don't get it. I'm in love with him, and he's in love with me. You have to share me indefinitely if you have me at all. I'm sorry. That's just the way it is."
And there it was. Frank had never heard it put so bluntly. Suddenly the little bit of hope he'd been holding onto vanished. He realized that this crisis might not end for a very long time, that it'd just go on and on and on... unless he left... which was the last thing he wanted to do.
Frank grunted. His heart began to flutter. Sharp pains sparked around his chest.
"Frank?" Bride said. She sounded a mile away.
Frank put his hand to his chest. Something was wrong. It was his heart. The heart he'd had for nearly eighty years, since the last time he'd needed it replaced, was failing.
He grunted loudly. Then the stone floor of their living room zoomed up and hit him in the face.
"Get him down to the lab!" Frank heard a voice echo. It sounded like Dr. Frankenstein. He felt himself being moved.
"Don't worry, pal, we'll get ya fixed up!" he heard Wolfman say. They were moving around and around, probably descending the stone staircase down to the lab in the basement of the castle. Frank blacked out again.
"Igor!" Frankenstein yelled. "Have you located a new heart yet?!"
Frank was lying on a table in the lab. His arms and legs were strapped down and his shirt was already off. Electrodes were stuck to his chest.
"I'm still looking!" Frank, awake again - barely - turned his head to see Igor staring at his laptop computer. "Plenty of gall bladders and kidneys... but y’know hearts are like brains, always out of stock and expensive!" He must have been looking on the new body parts dealer website. Usually monsters perused it to find body parts to cook and eat, not actually use.
"Hurry!" Frankenstein said. "Frank doesn't have much time!"
"Oh my god!" Bride exclaimed. Frank turned his head slowly to look up at her. She was terrified. Wow, she really did still care about him.
"If I can just find a good candidate, I can get instant magic delivery!" Igor said. "But these few hearts I have found, they're too small, too weak for Frank."
"He can have mine!" said Mummy's muffled voice. How many of Frank's friends were there?!
"Mums, your heart hasn't been beating for over two thousand years!" Wolf said.
"Well I still thought I'd offer!"
"You may have to go to the cemetery, Igor!" Dr. Frankenstein said.
"Hey, I am not my great-great-great grandfather, OK!" Igor said. "I don't go digging up no graves! Besides, it's a clear night, no storms, you can't reanimate, you need a fresh, recently-beating heart."
"Maybe you should just let me die," Frank said weakly, barely able to speak. "I don't think I can live like this any more."
"Your heart only started giving out twenty minutes ago!" Wolfman said.
"That wasn't... what... I was talking about," Frank managed.
"Frank!" Bride yelled. "Oh Frankie, I'm... I'm so sorry... I'm sorry!" She began to cry. "I'll... I choose you! I... I choose YOU, Frank!"
"Really?" Frank said. He tried to smile as he looked up into his bride's big, dark eyes.
"Yes!" Bride took one of his hands into both of hers. "Now I hope your heart will stop breaking!"
Dr. Frankenstein looked at the heart monitor and slowly shook his head. "It's still broken."
Then the beep-beep-beep of the monitor stopped, turning into the terrible, dreadful, long flatline beep.
"FRANK!" Bride's voice echoed as Frank drifted into oblivion.
Everybody stood in stunned silence. Every attempt by Dr. Frankenstein to revive Frank had failed. His body lied on the table, still and lifeless. His eyes were still looking at his bride. She still held his hand.
"I am very sorry everybody," Dr. Frankenstein yelled, "but... Frank is no more. My diagnosis... he died... of a BROKEN HEART."
For Children of the Night: The 2012 Halloween Horrorquest