A loud gasp pierced the stillness as Frankie Stein shot upright in bed, oblivious to the flashes of light outside the basement windows illuminating her bedroom. Normally lightning storms excited her, made her want to run out in the pattering rain and dance in the puddles despite her father's warnings that she would short circuit if she wasn't careful. Not that the sweat rolling down her face right now was much better, but that wasn't her fault. It must have been something she was dreaming about, but for the unlife of her...she couldn't remember any of it.
Realizing she was gripping the covers so tight she could have torn them in half, she slowly unfurled her fingers and flung them aside, swung her legs over the side of her cold laboratory table bed, the very same table she had been created on, and wiggled her feet into her slippers. As she stood, the Glitterati rats scurried towards her expectantly to help her with her morning routine as they always did. She forced a smile down at them.
"Sorry, false alarm," Frankie said softly as she stooped down to pet them. "Go back to sleep, it's only-" She glanced over at the digital clock on her nightstand and sighed weakly "-four in the morning." As the rats squeaked back into their cage, she checked the levels on her generator next to the bed. She still had a few hours of charging left before she was able to unhook and do any strenuous activity. Like thinking long and hard about what that dream was and what it could have meant.
The fact that she was able to dream in the first place was a miracle unto itself, being a reanimated corpse composed of artificial limbs and "sleeping" being essentially "charging her battery." But like naturally born monsters and normies, Frankie could feel basic and complex emotions, have strong feelings and formulate her own strong opinions, and apparently dream within a certain stage of sleep. The problem was, like when most people dream, she would forget it immediately after she woke up. All she knew was that it had left her incredibly distressed and short of breath when her eyes had flown open in the darkness. That would make it a nightmare, wouldn't it? It wouldn't have alarmed her too terribly if this were the first night she had woken up shaken - but this was the third night in a row.
So much for a voltageous summer vacation...
With the stress of school work and tests behind them for the next three months, Frankie figured she'd be spending it with her best ghoulfriends at the Maul, the movies, or the beach instead of wandering beside them in a haze of unease and lack of sleep. None of them seemed to have noticed yet, but if these nights kept going at this rate, not even makeup would be able to conceal the tell-tale signs of exhaustion from her friends. She needed to figure this out before it took over her entire twelve weeks of freedom.
The cords connected to her neck bolts strained slightly as Frankie walked over to her desk and felt around in the darkness for the large fuzzy book left sitting there overnight. She had been spending her evenings putting together a scrapbook-slash-photo album of the first two years of her life and was planning to surprise her parents and friends with the finished product. But in all honesty, the album was mostly for herself. She had learned and grown so much since the night her father had brought her to life that chronicling it all in a book seemed to be the easiest way to help her keep everything straight. Plus it just made her feel good to see images of all the people she cared about in one convenient place. Which was why looking through it needed to be the first step.
Hugging the album to her chest, Frankie leapt back onto her bed and opened the book in her lap. Flipping through the images, she waited to see if any of them sparked something in her subconscious. Her parents, smiling and waving at the camera at her very first birthday party? No, Frankie was almost sure she would have remembered if something terrible had happened to her mother or father in the dream - she loved them more than anything else in the world. Clawdeen and Howleen halting their bickering for one second to smile for the camera? Nope. Draculaura's floating party dress on Clawd's shoulders as he made goofy faces? Neither of them. Cleo cuddling in Deuce's lap as they smiled cheek to cheek? Nothing.
Frankie was starting to nod back off to sleep, was starting to think that she was blowing this whole nightmare thing out of proportion, that maybe it was something she ate or something in her battery fluid causing her to have bad dreams when she stopped on the group photo of the boys. On the surface the post-casketball photo seemed cheerful enough, but the sight of one guy in the back row caused Frankie to spark at the bolts and her generator to sputter and whine from the sudden disturbance. Taller for a normie, shorter for a monster, dark hair with yellow bangs, square glasses, looking exhausted and sweaty yet triumphant from his team's victory - Frankie's good friend, and sort-of ex, Jackson Jekyll.
Her breathing came out sounding more like panting as the echoing voice passed faintly through her mind, triggered just from simply seeing his face: "Frankie! You need to get out of here...Just go! You'll get hurt if you stay here! Go! RUN!"
She slammed the book shut and flung it aside, where it clattered noisily against the hard table. Clasping her hands over her mouth, she closed her eyes and listened to her own terrified uneven breathing. What was going on?
"So sorry I'm late!" Frankie sailed through the doorway of the Coffin Bean and plunked down in the seat between Clawdeen Wolf and Abbey Bominable. "You have no idea what kind of morning I've had." First she had slept in far later than she intended to, then she had to get herself ready to go out, then it took her forever to dig through her closet and find the largest purse that would fit her photo album inside so she could show the ghouls - only for her dad to stop her before she reached the door and tell her she couldn't leave until she did all of her now afternoon chores. Round it all off with waiting for her mom to get off work so she could get a ride to the Maul and Frankie was beyond late.
"Don't worry, you didn't miss much," Clawdeen assured her, grabbing Draculaura's hand before she swiped her lipstick too far off the side of her lower lip. "Abbey was just giving us some of the info on Heath's bonfire tonight." She glanced over at Frankie, thick eyebrows raised, "You're still going, right?"
"Of course I'm still going!" Frankie beamed a little too enthusiastically - luckily her friends were used to her over-abundance of optimism. "The first big party of the summer, why wouldn't I go?!"
"Is 'fire' theme - should be good time," Abbey said, smiling back at her as widely as the yeti girl was able to. "Deuce bringing flaming cheese imported all way from Greece-"
"If I can ever get ahold of him," Cleo de Nile complained in her seat from, as usual, the head of the table. She hadn't looked up from her phone since Frankie arrived and was texting frantically.
"Clawd and Heath perform fire trick...how you say...baton?" Abbey guessed.
"Ah, fire batons!" Draculaura nodded, clapping her hands together. "Clawd's been practicing for two weeks, but he won't let me see anything until tonight."
"And of course, Holt Hyde be DJ." The bag slipped from Frankie's grip and hit the floor with a large thud when Abbey mentioned Jackson's polar opposite alter ego.
"Frankie?" Clawdeen asked, leaning forward to peer at her.
"I'm fine, it's all good!" Frankie exclaimed cheerfully. "Uh Draculaura, could you get me a Bloody Bean Mocha? Extra espresso! Two shots! Three if you can get 'em!" The vegan vampire eyed her suspiciously before getting up to go to the counter.
Ghoulia Yelps looked up from her laptop and groaned in Frankie's direction, pointing to her eyes.
"Puffy? Oh pfft - must be this new makeup giving me an allergic reaction!" Frankie whipped out her compact and examined more closely, realizing her bloodshot eyes were in plain view.
"Your hand is shaking," Abbey noticed, reaching over to gently remove the mirror from Frankie's quivering hand. "What wrong?"
"Nothing's wr-wr-wrong..." The yawn escaped before she could even try to suppress it.
"Looks like someone's not getting enough sleep...or charge in your case," Clawdeen concluded, examining her own reflection in the compact as Draculaura returned with Frankie's order.
"You can tell us anything, ghoul," she said sweetly as she set the frothy drink in front of her jittery friend.
"It's so totally weird," Frankie finally gave in, glancing around the table through bleary eyes. "You probably won't understand."
"Oh right, because after being entombed in a sarcophagus for almost 6,000 years, I would have absolutely no idea what it's like to have recurring nightmares."
Frankie whipped her head around so hard she was afraid she'd pop her neck seams as she and the others gazed open-mouthed at Cleo. She still hadn't looked up from her phone.
"How did you-?"
"You match all the symptoms perfectly," Cleo dismissed with a wave of her right angled arm. "Now spill so we can get back to party discussion."
So Frankie spilled while the others gazed at her in concern, then grinned as she pulled the nearly completed album from her handbag.
"Frankie, you made this?" Clawdeen gaped, clearly impressed by her craftsmanship.
"It's fangtastic!" Draculaura leaned over Frankie's shoulder to see the first page. "My First Two Years - where has the time gone?"
"I didn't want to show you until it was done, but I was looking through it late last night after the dream woke me up. Nothing seemed to click until-" She had found the casketball picture of the boys and with a flourish, pointed down at Jackson's smiling face. "Do you realize what this means?" Her forest green nail began to dig anxiously into the photo.
"Yeah, it means you need more pictures of Jackson in this album," Clawdeen scoffed. "C'mon ghoul, he was your first big crush!"
"Let's not forget Deuce," Cleo added coldly, raising her finger pointedly.
"That was a mistake," Frankie emphasized, glancing directly into Cleo's eyes to show she meant it. "But the point is that I'm having these dreams where something awful happens to Jackson - and probably Holt too! But why?!"
"Perhaps subconscious thoughts trying to tell you something," Abbey said wisely. "You still like Jackson and Holt, yes?"
"Well...yeah," Frankie sighed defeatedly - there was no point hiding it now. She was way too tired and vulnerable to mask her feelings with a thousand denials and excuses. "If that were the case, wouldn't I be having dreams about us holding hands and kissing or something?"
"Dark premonitions lead to dark thoughts," Abbey said grimly, "Dark thoughts lead to worry. Worry leads to nightmares."
"But I'm not worried about anyth-!"
"Oh my Ra!" Cleo shouted, making everyone jump a foot in the air.
"What?!" Clawdeen exclaimed.
"Deuce is back from the airport," Cleo said matter-of-factly, hugging the phone to her chest, "With the cheese for the party." Clawdeen let out a low growl but didn't say a word.
"Maybe you should talk to Holt at the party tonight," Draculaura suggested, "Tell him how you feel."
"No," Frankie said firmly, slamming the cover of the album closed and sending wisps of glued-on fur flying. "I put my foot down until he and Jackson learn to work with each other. If I let up, I'll just look desperate."
"Then talk to him about the nightmares," Clawdeen said, still half glaring in Cleo's direction for not taking Frankie's situation seriously. "Ask him if there's anything he needs to talk about, friend to friend."
"This plan I like," Abbey nodded in agreement, and Frankie had to admit she liked the sound of it too.
"Okay, I'll talk to him tonight." Maybe then she could put this entire ordeal to rest, and smiled inwardly at the mere thought of a full night's sleep this evening.
Frankie nervously twirled a strand of black and white hair between her fingers faster than Clawd was spinning those fire batons. She pretended to be at least mildly interested in the show he and Heath were putting on, though it wasn't that it didn't impress her. Clawd tossing fireballs high into the air so Heath could catch them in his mouth was definitely a mastered feat, and no one was cheering louder than Draculaura - though Frankie was starting to think her cheers were becoming more and more like exclamations of relief that Clawd didn't hurt himself.
No, what kept distracting Frankie was that any moment now, Holt Hyde would show up out of nowhere to DJ the dance, which would keep him busy all night. Finding a moment of breathing space to have a serious discussion with him was hurdle number one. Getting him to stop flirting with her, hurdle number two. And then...Frankie fisted the clump of hair, biting her lip. What if Holt didn't want to talk to her about whatever it was he was hiding? What if it was so awful that he wouldn't confide in anyone? Not even her?
"And now guys and ghouls, it's time to get this dance party started!" Heath shouted to the crowd, who cheered and began chanting Holt's name. In a flash of bright green light the blue-skinned, flaming haired, rocker wailing party DJ had arrived.
"Are you readayyyyyyy?!" Holt sang out to the crowd, who sang "Yeah!" back in response. Pumping up the volume on the soundboard, a techno beat blasted from the speakers as Holt's fingers flew across the spinning records, scratching in time to the music.
Frankie unhooked her finger from her hair and tossed the silky sheet of black and white over her bare mint green shoulder. Looking around, she caught Draculaura and Clawdeen's gazes, who both cocked their heads in the direction of the DJ booth as if to say "Go now." Holding her breath as if she were about to plunge into icy water, Frankie began to push her way to the front of the bouncing, bumping and grinding crowd of dancers. Out the corner of her eye, she saw Cleo swaying along to the beat in Deuce's arms - and could have sworn she saw the Egyptian princess glance warily in her direction. But Frankie didn't have time to stop, she was nearly there. She had just tripped through the front of the crowd and nearly landed face first in the grass when the first song ended, and she broke into applause with the rest of the crowd.
"Alright kids, we're gonna slow things down a bit," Holt announced, and Frankie heaved a sigh of relief. "Hope ya like this new mix I came up with for tonight. Grab that ghoul or guy you care about most and show 'em you mean it." A ballad flowed through the speakers as Frankie climbed the wooden stairs to the stage, her heels clattering as she walked briskly up to the profile of the totally voltageous monster behind the soundboard.
"Holt!" she called as loud as she could over the pulsing music, feeling the vibrations under her feet even during a slower ballad. Holt turned to the source of the voice that called him, and his eyes lit up faster than a Fourth of July sparkler.
"Frankie Fine!" he sang out happily. The first couple rows of the crowd looked up at them and smiled knowingly, some chuckled, and if Frankie had a circulatory system she would have blushed. Thanks to Spectra Vondergeist, the entirety of Monster High knew about their history together. "Look at you lightin' up my stage!"
"Listen, can I talk to you for a second?!" Frankie called again, then leaned closer to his ear. "It's kind of important!"
Holt blinked for a second as if unsure if he heard her correctly, then broke into a slow sly smile. "Why of course you may, my electrifyin' ghoul." He turned to Heath who had come up onstage to assist him, "Hey rookie! Take over for a second, would ya?!"
"Will do!" Heath called, winking in their direction and Frankie grinned: Hurdle one cleared. Holt took Frankie by the arm and pulled her down the stairs and underneath the stage. The moonlight trickling in through the cracks in the wooden beams cast slivers of light on Frankie's face. Holt kept her hand firmly in his and twirled her under his arm.
"You're really puttin' the 'fine' in Fine Stein tonight!" he said, admiring the light blue strapless dress and silver heels she'd picked out for the party.
"Thanks," Frankie smiled - he sure knew how to make a ghoul feel special. But now wasn't the time to be making small talk. "Holt, about that thing I need to ask you-"
"The answer is yes!" Holt declared, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it.
Frankie sparked. "W-what?"
"Yes, I'll go out with you again!" Holt shouted to the sky through the wood boards as he picked up Frankie's lithe frame and spun her around in his arms. "I knew you couldn't stay away - they never can."
"Holt, put me down!" Frankie yelled exasperatedly, "I'm not asking you out!"
"Oh." Holt promptly dropped Frankie ungracefully back down on the ground, where she stumbled to stay on her feet. "It's okay - I'm a big boy, I can take a little rejection." He glanced back at her with puppy-dog shaped red eyes, "It just hurts so bad comin' from you, baby."
"Holt, listen to me," Frankie said through gritted teeth, stomping her heel into the grass as she clumsily forced her way past hurdle two. It was nearly impossible to hold her ground when he looked at her like that. "Is there anything you want to talk about? Nothing romantic, nothing about you and I or anything we had or anything we may or may not have in the future, just you. Is...there anything that's bothering you?" Her voice had gotten quieter, almost timid as she gazed up at him nervously.
Holt paused for a second, looking down into her two-toned eyes softly, and for one crazy moment Frankie thought he was going to grab her and kiss her. Then he threw his head back proudly and said, "Nope! Nothing wrong with me!"
Frankie tried a gentler approach, "It's okay, you can tell me anything. If you want me to keep it secret I will-"
"Frankie, I'm fine!" Holt insisted, spreading his arms wide. "There's nothin' botherin' me!"
"Nothing?" Frankie sighed. "Nothing with you or Jackson?"
"Normie boy? Pfft, he's just mad he didn't get invited. He'll get over it by tomorrow."
"Well if...if you're sure..." So she'd been right, and Abbey and the others were wrong. She was blowing this whole thing out of proportion. She could have ripped her leg off and kicked herself for acting so stupid.
"I'm sure." He pulled her a little closer and breathed into her ear, his warm breath causing her to spark again, "But thank you for your concern." As they heard the crowd break into applause and a reggae beat pulse through the night, Holt raced back up the stairs with Frankie at his heels, him returning to the soundboard and her disappearing back into the crowd.
"So it was a complete waste, huh?" Clawdeen asked later that night, tossing her empty candy wrapper into the bonfire. She, Frankie, and Draculaura could hear the music winding down, could see Abbey and Heath slow dancing close to each other - and Abbey actually looking like she was enjoying it. Though the night was chilly, the fire was nice and hot. Even Draculaura had shed her wrap and inched closer to its warmth.
"Besides the usual Holt Hyde flirting fest, yeah. Complete waste," Frankie grumbled as the music faded and people began to empty the dance floor and head home. Then her face brightened, "But hey! Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe now that this has been cleared up I can finally sleep well tonight."
"I hope so, you're sleeping at my place," Draculaura turned away from the fire to look at her. "My house can look pretty scary in the dark, it's no fun waking up before the sun rises."
"Unless you're - you know, you," Clawdeen snickered and the three ghouls shared a laugh just before a loud wail pierced the still night: "And what in flaming heck is that supposed to mean?!"
The ghouls stood suddenly and glanced in the direction of the yell. "Heath?" Clawdeen asked, thinking someone had tried to hit on Abbey.
"No...Holt," Frankie whispered, staring straight ahead. The DJ was staring down a gargoyle guest of Rochelle's, fists balled at his sides and teeth gritted, his eyes so fierce and angry they might've burst into flame.
"Calm down, kid," the gargoyle said smoothly. "All I said was if she wasn't doing anything later tonight, we could-"
"She is not that kinda ghoul!" Holt sneered, grabbing the oaf by the shoulders and pushing him roughly against the wood steps. "And if you ever talk about her like that again, let alone go near her, I'll-!"
Frankie took a step forward, but Clawdeen and Draculaura each put a hand on her shoulders and shook their heads. All three of them could agree on one thing though: Frankie had to be the "her" in question.
"She's not yours, kid - I think we all saw that tonight," the oaf twice his size chuckled, shoving Holt backwards onto the ground. Frankie winced, covering her mouth with her hand. She knew Holt's tendency to lose his temper easily, but she had never seen him like this before. "So, why don't you just let me show her a good time?"
Those who had stopped to watch the action roared to life as Holt launched himself up from the grass and tackled the gargoyle to the ground. Kneeling on his chest, the enraged DJ began throwing punches at the ogre's head, one after the other, his black tattoo glistening with sweat.
"Holt, stop it!" Frankie tried to scream over the crowd. "Get off of him! Just stop!" She rushed forward, but Abbey appeared in front of her and steered her away from the fight.
"Heath take care of it," Abbey said calmly, dragging the struggling Frankie towards the parked cars as Draculaura fished in her purse for her keys. "We go."
"No - no Holt - he - he could get hurt!" Frankie cried, trying to pry herself from the yeti's powerful grip.
"When like this?" Abbey spun her around to face Holt again. Still blazingly livid, still on top of the gargoyle who had mentioned doing who knew what to Frankie had he gotten her alone, still throwing blows at him relentlessly. "Is gargoyle boy who will get hurt."
Her grip softened to a comforting embrace around Frankie's shoulders as the innocent ghoul kept her eyes fixed on the scene that horrified her to her very core. She wanted to scream, throw herself into the fray, cry, or all of the above. But she couldn't do anything. So she just stared.