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The Undead Groom

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Originally posted on 04/04/14 at: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10242612/1/The-Undead-Groom

 

 

"THE UNDEAD GROOM"

There's a saying, 'you don't know what you're missing until you don't have it'. That proved to be true for Victor Van Dort. It was because of this simple statement that he now sat in an uneasy silence with his wife, Victoria, as they bounced along the bumpy road in the carriage. This wasn't anything new for the two of them. In the four years since they were married, such moments had become more and more frequent between them.

Under the light of the full moon, a feeling of immense guilt gripped Victor as he stared out the window at the night sky. Truthfully, he knew that he was the main reason that he and Victoria had grown so distant over time. His thoughts dwelled on someone else, his first wife, from whom death had parted them before their marriage could actually be fulfilled.

It was a crazy tale filled with romance and tragedy. Romeo and Juliet certainly couldn't compete with it. And it wasn't about feuding families or forbidden love. Rather, it was of certain upbringings, arranged marriages, and a whole bunch of bizarre coincidences crossed with unusual misunderstandings. Like with most people, it all went back to childhood for Victor.

Parenthood was very tough. Mothers and fathers each do what they feel is best for their children, but mistakes are always made when it comes to raising kids, especially for first time parents. In Victor's case, the mistake that his parents made was in sheltering him far too much from the real world.

Victor had grown up practically isolated from other people. He never had any real friends or gained the social skills that a person would normally obtain through public interaction. And as a result, he had grown into a shy, timid individual with a great lack of self-confidence.

That wasn't to say that he was unhappy. Quite the contrary, he felt blessed for what he did have. But it still left him inexperienced about the world. So when his parents came home one day and told him that he was now engaged to the daughter of the Everglot family, he didn't know what to think. It was a political marriage that would benefit both families. As rich fish merchants, the Van Dort family would rise in the social class by marrying into the Everglot family, aristocrats who would have their lost wealth restored by marrying into the Van Dort Family. And neither Victor nor Victoria had been given a choice in the matter.

Shock was too mild a word for what Victor had felt when he received this news. He was suddenly going from an overly sheltered lifestyle to a married one. Furthermore, he had never really interacted with a girl before, aside from his own mother, that is. He didn't even know any girls. And now he was gaining a wife, one whom he had never even met?

He tried to tell himself that it would all be ok. After all, arranged marriages weren't total uncommon, especially among the rich and high-classed. But that didn't stomp Victor from being a nervous wreck. What would he do, what would he stay? What if she didn't like him, what if he didn't like her? So much uncertainty.

But as it turned out, things were nowhere near as bad as he feared. Though her parents were hateful snobs, Victoria was a delightful young woman, and the two of them had connected very quickly. They were both able to relate to each other, both having lived lonely lives and being very uncertain about things. And for the first time, Victor got to know a girl.

Perhaps it was only natural that he became enamored with her. Suddenly, this whole marriage thing didn't seem like it would be so bad. It opened a whole new window of possibilities to them both. Now he was actually rather excited about it.

But excitement didn't cancel out nervousness. Cold feet and wedding jitters are a very common thing that both bride and groom tend to experience; Victor simply had a more extreme case of both. And when he got nervous, Victor became forgetful, more clumsy than usual, and would stutter over his words. This resulted in the grumpy Pastor Galswells practically chasing him out of the church during the rehearsal. So, to cool his frazzled nerves, Victor decided to go for a long walk and practice his vows.

Some people believe that we each have our own destiny, and that we are merely strung along for the ride by fate. Others believe that nothing is preordained, and that we each make our own destiny. Whatever the case, either by fate or by coincidence, Victor ended up making his vows to the wrong woman.

It wasn't his fault though. How was he to know that the tree branch he had placed his fiancée's wedding ring on was actually the skeletal hand of another woman? How was he to know that as he practiced his vows that he was actually speaking them to the corpse buried beneath his feet? How was he to know that the restless spirit of a woman murdered before her time was trapped in limbo and would awaken once his proposal was finished? But whether by a strange twist of fate or a series of unnatural coincidences, Victor suddenly found himself wed to the Corpse Bride.

Having a spouse that had died was one thing, but having one that was already dead was something else entirely. And in being dead, Victor's blushing new bride, Emily, was not permitted to stay in the Land of the Living, and so she had spirited him away to the Land of the Dead, where all restless souls dwelled.

It was here that Victor learned of Emily's tragic origins. Fooled into loving a conman, she had fled her home with her family jewels to elope with the man she had been forbidden to be with. Instead, the man she thought loved her murdered her and stole the jewels. And so, her restless spirit remained where it was, waiting for her true love to find her. And that was where Victor came along.

But Victor was terrified. He was suddenly in a place filled with dead people, and was even married to one of them. He couldn't comprehend being married to a corpse, nor could he bear to being literally surrounded by death. Sadly, he could not see who Emily was beyond the fact that she was dead. Instead, his sole focus had been on getting back to the living world, and so he tricked Emily into bringing him back through the use of a Ukrainian haunting spell.

Things hadn't exactly gone according to plan. Once back in the living world, he had been unable to find his parents for help, and instead turned to Victoria. Sufficient to say, Emily was not pleased to find her husband with another woman. Angry and hurt, she had dragged him back to the Land of the Dead with her.

Later, upon reconciling with his wife, Victor had begun to warm up to her. Even so, it was not enough for him to open up his heart to her. Death still kept them separate, preventing him from truly being able to accept her. But just as things had begun to improve, Victor learned from a recently deceased servant of his parents that Victoria was to wed another.

Shortly after Victor's discovery, Emily made one of her own. The ruler of the Land of the Dead, eldest of all the dead citizens, revealed that Victor's vows to her were "until death do we part". And with Emily dead and Victor still alive, death had already parted them since before their accidental marriage took place, thus annulling it.

Yet a solution presented itself to solve this dilemma. By ending Victor's life, he and Emily could be together for all eternity as husband and wife once their vows were renewed. But as much as Emily wanted to be with Victor, she refused to consider such a thing, unwilling to ask Victor to sacrifice his life for her.

Unbeknownst to her, Victor had overheard the conversation and come to a decision. He had lost Victoria, he knew that, but he still had Emily. Having developed feelings for her as well, he consented to the suggestion that had been presented. He realized that he had feelings for both Emily and Victoria, but with the latter now wed to another, he decided to be with Emily, even if it meant giving up his life.

For tradition sake, and as a farewell to life for Victor, the wedding ceremony was to take place in the Land of the Living. Yet as the bride and groom stood at the alter, a cup of poison set down in front of Victor to drink from so that he may join Emily in death, she faltered. Upon setting eyes on Victoria, who had followed the crowd of the dead to the church, she could not bring herself to take Victor from her. And so Emily released him from his promise to marry her.

However, one obstacle still remained, and it appeared in the form of Victoria's new husband. By yet another coincidence or another thread of fate, her husband turned out to be Lord Barkis Bittern, the very man who had conned Emily to her death and made off with her family jewels. Having gone broke once again, he had tricked Victoria's parents into marrying her to him, unaware that they were just as penniless as he was.

Could it have been karma, or coincidence? Perhaps a certain destiny truly had been written. The question would forever remain unanswered. But as Emily confronted Lord Bittern for her murder, he had taken up the cup of poison meant for Victor, thinking it no more than ordinary wine, and drank it down in a mock toast to his murder victim. It was a crime he was forced to pay for as, upon joining the dead, he was dragged away by the other dead folk to a fate far worse than the death that had overcome him just moments ago.

With her new husband now dead, it left Victoria free to marry Victor. And so, Emily departed, leaving the two to finally wed, as they were meant to from the beginning.

Their first few months as man and wife were well and good. Both Victor and Victoria were happy together. But as time went on, a longing had begun building up in Victor's heart. He hadn't known what it was at first, but more and more frequently, he found his thoughts constantly drifting towards Emily. It wasn't long before she was occupying his thoughts almost all the time.

Victoria figured it out even before Victor did. Perhaps she had known it from the very beginning. Still, it was inconceivable to her. The thought of being in love with a dead girl was ludicrous. Having a loved one die and still loving them even in death was one thing, but Emily had been dead before she and Victor even met. How could a living person possibly be in love with a corpse?

Which had been exactly what Victor had been thinking since the beginning of his and Emily's unusual relationship. He hadn't really seen her as a person, just a corpse. The maggot and the black widow had been right; he hadn't seen her for who she was, only what she was. Even when the two of them had stood at the alter, he still saw only a corpse, but it would have been all right since he would soon be one too.

Life is a precious thing, and when faced with death, no matter what form it took, most mortals would recoil in fear. Victor had been no different. It had been the veil of death draped over the situation that had prevented him from fully opening his heart to Emily due to her undead state. His rejection of her hadn't been anything personal. He had meant it when he said that if the circumstances had been different, he could see something coming of them. It wasn't that he didn't want her; it was that he didn't want the terror of death that came along with being with her.

He'd been a real fool, and even downright cruel to her. Perhaps it was poetic justice that he realized how he truly felt now that it was too late. Now he would never be able to act on these feelings of love for her. Yes, it was ironic, but part of him felt as if he deserved this pain for the cold way he treated her.

That wasn't to say that he didn't love Victoria. It was just a different from the love he felt for Emily. After all, she had been the first girl he'd ever gotten to know. Sure, he'd seen other girls in passing and exchanged a handful of words with them before, but Victoria had been the first one he'd ever sat down with and gotten to know. Was it any wonder that he ended up feeling something for her? And, truth be told, he most likely would have felt something for any other woman he had gotten to know before any others.

But with Emily it had been different. Had her dead state not been a factor, he probably never would have opposed to their marriage, he most likely would have realized his real feelings for her sooner. Instead, he couldn't see past the simple fact that he was alive and she was dead.

Victor sighed and glanced at his current wife. She too was staring silently out the window. He felt terrible knowing that he was the cause of her grief, but the distance between them was too great. What he had thought was love for her turned out to be nothing more than an immature crush on the first woman he had gotten to know. And now they were both suffering because of it. He didn't care what his or her parents said; marrying for anything other than love was wrong. He thought he loved Victoria, only to realize that real love was what he felt for the girl who got away. And to make matters worse, he had been the one to let go of the best thing that had ever happened to him out of his fear of death and his infatuation with the first girl he happened to meet.

Of course, he cared for Victoria, but he had come to realize that it was the type of love one felt for a dear friend and confidant. And while others may have been able to live with that, or even less, in order to make a marriage work, Victor found that he could not, no matter how hard he tried.

But they hadn't just rolled over and given up on their marriage. They both did what they could to keep things together. They'd spoken with their friends and family, gone to marriage counseling, and even attempted to have children. The third one never came to pass. They'd tried the whole four years of their marriage, but there were no children. And a visit to the doctor revealed that it was because that Victoria was barren.

This had been the purpose for their journey. And now, with the heartbreaking news, they silently road back home. Not a word had been spoken between them for a long while. Victor felt compelled to say something, anything to make his wife feel better. But what could he say in such a situation? She was most likely blaming herself since she couldn't have children.

"Victoria…" he began.

"You must be so disappointed in me," she interrupted.

Victor shook his head. "No, not at all."

"Both our bloodlines will now end because of me."

Victor placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Families are more than blood, Victoria. We can always adopt."

But Victoria was inconsolable. "I thought a child would be our last chance… to preserve our marriage."

Guilt slammed into Victor, but he fought it down. He could feel guilty later; right now his wife needed him. "Victoria, I-"

"I just don't understand!" she interrupted again, more loudly this time. "She's a corpse! How could you… with a corpse?"

Victor sighed. It wouldn't be the first time they've had this conversation, and it was always unpleasant. "That's how I first saw her too. But that's what she was, not who she was. Now I see her as simply… her. Besides, we'll all be corpses someday anyway."

Victoria didn't reply and turned to look out the window again. There was nothing left to say, not unless they wanted to reopen old wounds again. The worst of it had already occurred over a year and a half ago when Victoria couldn't take it any longer and finally confronted Victor over his feelings. They'd danced around the subject before Victoria had finally had enough and lost her temper, raging that Victor would rather be dead with Emily than alive with her.

The topic had been brought up occasionally over time since then, but never as badly as that time. Victor never even defended himself; he felt that he didn't have the right to. The only thing he could do was apologize and explain his feelings as he tried to get her to understand. But Victoria couldn't understand, it just didn't make sense to her. Truthfully, it didn't make sense to Victor either, but it was how he felt. He hadn't wanted to fall in love with Emily, but it was something beyond his control.

Feeling like a horrible person, Victor hung his head. "I'm sorry, Victoria. I'm truly sorry."

She was silent for a moment before sighing in resignation. "Maybe… maybe we should just end this."

As Victor opened his mouth to ask what she meant, it happened. Perhaps it was fate at work once again, or it could have just been another coincidence. Whatever the reason, as the carriage made a turn, it ran over a rock in the road. The already loose wheel that had hit it came off, and control was lost.

The coachman jumped off as the carriage fell into the ditch. The reigns snapped, freeing the horses, and the carriage made its bumpy journey down the slope. The two occupants violently bounced around inside the carriage. Victoria fearfully asked what was happening, but before Victor could answer, it was over. The carriage smashed at the bottom of the ditch, the momentum launching Victor out of his seat.

The next thing Victor knew, he was in a dark place. No, dark wasn't the right word for it. Rather, it seemed that he was nowhere. He was lost in a black nothingness. He could see himself as clear as day, but nothing else.

Or so he thought. Turning around, he spotted a figure lying on the ground. He didn't recognize who it was at first because his head was bent in an odd angle. It made walking straight rather difficult, but he still managed to stumble over to the figure.

Dread gripped him as, upon making it over to the person, he saw that it was Victoria. And she was stone cold dead. Seeing her like this caused Victor's knees to give out and he collapsed, his head flopping around on his shoulders.

"Vic-Victoria…?" he asked softly, but received no response. Gently, he reached out and took her hand in his. Already knowing that he wouldn't find one, his fingers searched for a pulse, yet there was nothing. "Victoria?"

As if a switch had been flipped, Victor was suddenly blinded by a bright white light coming from up above. He had to shade his eyes and squint as he looked up to see the source, but there was nothing; the light simply shined down on Victoria's body, bathing her in a funnel of light.

Something emerged from Victoria's body, causing Victor to jump back in surprise. It looked like a ghost, the ghost of Victoria, only it wasn't colorless, and it lacked a ghostly tail the way pictures of ghosts normally portrayed them. White wings sprouted from Victoria's back, and a gold halo appeared over her head. Then her eyes snapped open and she inhaled deeply. Her eyes darted around the nothingness before landing on her husband.

"Victor?"

Then she was sucked up, rising into the source of light, and was gone. The light went out, and Victor was left in the darkness. He blinked and looked down, only to find that Victoria's body had vanished as well. Only a small circular object remained. Victor reached down and picked it up to find that it was Victoria's wedding ring, the same one he had also placed on Emily's finger.

"What's… what's going on?"

As if in response to his question, Victor felt the ground disappear beneath his feet. Suddenly, he was falling, or at least it felt like he was; there was no way to tell which way was up and which way was down. All he could do was scream as he fell through space.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was fearful that a pit of fire would open up beneath him; it wasn't that hard to picture after what he had seen happen to Victoria and what was now happening to him. But something different happened instead. From within the distance of what he thought was beneath him, something came rushing up to meet him. It was coming so fast that Victor couldn't entirely make out what it was, but it certainly wasn't a pit of fire. It looked like the rooftop of a house. One thing was for sure though, he was going to crash right into it.

Shutting his eyes, he waited for the impact, but it never came. As the fear abdicated, he slowly became aware of the fact that he wasn't falling anymore. And after a few seconds, he managed to work up the courage to open his eyes, and he found himself in a familiar room.

Resembling the most unorganized library ever, the room was filled with books. Stacked up in numerous piles, shoved into shelves, and even piled up to form a staircase, the infinite number of books completely cluttered the space.

Straightening his wobbling head, Victor looked around the familiar setting. "Am I…?"

Something dropped in his line of vision. It was a spider, a black widow to be more precise. Several times bigger than an ordinary black widow, this one had features distinguishable from the rest of its kind. And draped around its neck like a scarf was a green maggot with a human face.

"Well, well, well," the maggot snickered, "look at what we have here. A new arrival, eh? Or should I say, a returning visitor."

"I must admit," the spider added, "I didn't expect to see you again so soon, if ever."

Victor stared at the familiar creatures for a few seconds before finding his voice. "You mean… that I'm… I'm…?"

"As a doornail," the maggot replied. He nodded towards the mirror hanging on the wall. "Check it out."

Victor hesitated before making his way over to the mirror. It took a few moments to work up the courage, but he finally looked at his reflection. He looked the same for the most part, but his skin had obtained a bluish-gray hue, and his neck was twisted to the side, clearly broken. Strangely though, it didn't hurt, didn't even feel sore.

"Ah, broken neck," came a familiar aged, kindly voice. "That'd do it all right."

Turning around, Victor saw an ancient skeleton enter the room. Hunched over and using a walking stick, the old skeleton shuffled over to Victor, his long beard nearly touching the ground.

"Gutknecht!" Victor exclaimed, actually happy to see the skeleton elder.

"Hello, Victor, my boy," Gutknecht greeted. "Welcome back to the Land of the Dead… a little sooner than I thought."

Victor tried to straighten his neck. "Yes, there was an accident."

"Clearly," Gutknecht replied. "Lets get that fixed, shall we?"

Placing two fingers into his mouth, he somehow managed to whistle without any lips. Immediately, half a dozen skeletons entered the room and crowded around Victor. The next thing he knew, he was being manhandled by them as they held him down and proceeded to saw off his head, despite his protests.

Victor had seen and experienced many strange and unusual things, but nothing could have prepared him for having his head lifted away from his body. He could actually see his headless corpse still being held down as one of the skeletons held his head in the air.

Another one of the skeletons peeled back the skin from the top of Victor's body and stuck a metal pipe over the severed bone in his neck. Then his vision was obscured as his head was carried over to Gutknecht. Victor was so shocked that he was unable to find his voice to even rise a complaint, but he managed to tear his eyes away from the skeletons working on his body and look at Gutknecht.

"They'll be done in a minute," he told Victor. "They're very good at what they do."

Victor glanced over at his body again. "Um, ok, if you say so."

Next to the old skeleton, hanging from a thread, Victor saw the spider and the maggot watching the others work, the latter looking like he was enjoying the show a little too much. Well, it wasn't much fun for Victor as the skeletons continued with whatever they were doing. Even with his head removed from his body, he could still feel the skeletons touching his arms, legs, and torso. He could even move his limbs, or at least he would have been able to if the skeletons hadn't been holding him down.

Finally, the skeleton holding Victor's head carried him back over to the others so they could finish their work. When they were done, they simply walked out of the room without a word.

Gutknecht shuffled over to him. "So, what do you think?"

Victor stood up, his head back on his shoulders and no longer wobbling. Glancing at his reflection again, he saw a stitch line travel in a circle around his neck, almost making it look like he was wearing a necklace. He tested the repairs by turning his head up, down, and side to side, surprised to find that he could now turn his head a fill 180 degrees.

"It looks good," the maggot told him. "Most people that end up here usually die from some sort of accident, so they don't remain so intact."

Victor glanced at the creepy crawler. "Is that why almost everyone here is a skeleton, because they're bodies couldn't be fully preserved?"

Gutknecht stepped forward. "You seem to be taking you're death rather well. I suppose that's because you've been here before."

"Not to mention he faced his own death four years ago," the spider added.

Gutknecht stroked his beard. "Yes, that's true too."

Victor turned away from the mirror. "So I am dead. It really happened. But I still don't know what's going on. Things had become… rather strange a while ago."

"Care to tell us what happened?" Gutknecht asked, taking a seat on a stack of books.

Victor tried to think back and explain what had happened. "I'm not entirely sure. One minute Victoria and I were riding in a carriage, the next thing I knew, we were bouncing around all over the place; it felt like an earthquake. Suddenly I was in a dark place. It was only Victoria and me there. And Victoria…" his eyes became downcast, and he looked like he was on the verge of tears, "she was dead. But then an angel of her rose up out of her body and was sucked up into this light from above. Then I was falling in darkness, and I somehow ended up here. Just what's going on? Where's Victoria?"

"You have nothing to fear," Gutknecht told him. "All of Victoria's troubles are over. She's now at peace in a better place."

"So she's not in the Land of the Dead?"

"Victor," Gutknecht sighed, "let me explain how death works. When you die, there are three places you can end up. The good people go," he pointed up, "and the bad people go," he pointed down. "But then you got people like us, the restless souls. The Land of the Dead is a type of limbo. Whether we're good or bad, if something ties our souls to the living world after death, then we end up here until we manage to settle our earthly affairs."

The maggot was nodding along with what Gutknecht was saying. "That's right. Something is keeping you here, otherwise you would have ascended with Victoria." An evil look crept up his face. "Or perhaps you would have descended."

Gutknecht smacked the maggot, which also meant smacking the spider since he was draped over her. "Don't listen to him; you're not going to go there."

Victor looked at his bluish-gray hands. "But then… what's keeping me here?"

"I'm afraid you'll have to figure that out on you're on," Gutknecht told him. "It's a burden we all must bear. Don't worry, though, you'll have all the time in the world to figure it out. Some people know what it is right away, some take years to figure it out, and some have been here so long that they no longer care what it is. Lord Bittern was easy enough to figure out."

"Why, what was his reason?"

"Money," the skeleton, spider, and maggot replied simultaneously.

"It's what his whole life revolved around," Gutknecht told him. "He could never get enough, and that is what tied his soul to this world. His greed controlled him, even in death."

"Whatever happened to him?" Victor asked. He had always wondered what became of the murderous conman after the dead dragged him off.

"He's six feet under," the maggot snickered.

Victor resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "I know he's dead; I saw him die when he drank the poison. I meant, what happened to him afterwards?"

"He's six feet under," the spider replied. "Literally. He was tied up, locked in a coffin, and buried underground."

Gutknecht nodded. "We have no tolerance for the wicked. The Land of the Dead is meant to be a place for those that died to find the peace they need in order to cross over. We don't need to worry about evildoers on top of that. So we dispose of them. Bittern can either stay buried forever, or if he can somehow manage to let go of his greed, he can cross over. Of course, he's an evil murdering fiend, so even if he does find peace, he's got a one-way ticket downtown."

"All the way downtown," the maggot joked.

Victor shivered. Lord Bittern deserved whatever he got, but the merciless way they spoke of his fate was still unsettling.

"As for your Victoria," Gutknecht continued, "she was a good person, and has gone where all good people go when they die."

Victor was silent a moment, taking all this in. "And me? What's keeping me here?"

"I already told you that you must figure that out on your own."

"Quite frankly," the maggot muttered, "I'm surprised you don't know. It's really not that hard to figure out." He grinned evilly. "But just to make sure I'm right, I could always take a few bites of your brain to see what's going on in there."

Victor immediately covered his ears, as if he were afraid that the maggot was going to crawl through them to get to his brain. "Absolutely not!"

"Oh, come on, just a few bites? You'll regenerate."

"Not a chance!"

"That won't be necessary," Gutknecht told him. "I've been keeping an eye on you these past four years since you returned to the Land of the Living, and I'm pretty sure that you know the reason why you are here, don't you, Victor?"

Victor looked away. Of course he knew, it had been pointless for him to ask. It was the same reason why his marriage to Victoria hadn't worked out.

"Emily," he whispered.

"The girl that got away," Gutknecht replied.

The maggot grinned. "Or rather, the girl that he let go."

Victor sighed. "I was young… and foolish. I didn't know what love was, not real love. When I met Victoria, I thought I found it. Maybe, since we got along so well and seemed to connect, I tricked myself into thinking that I was in love with her. I didn't have any experience with girls. I met a kindred spirit, but not my soul mate. I did love Victoria, but it was an immature love. It seems now that I was in love with the idea of love rather than with her."

The maggot snickered. "And then you learned what real love was."

Victor sighed again. "But I blew it. I let the fact that she was dead cloud how I really felt about her. And by the time I realized my true feelings, it was too late."

"How romantic," the spider whispered dreamily.

"We knew you'd feel that way once you got to know her," the maggot replied. "Being alive is so overrated."

Gutknecht shuffled over to Victor and laid a boney hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, my boy. Life is hard. But now that you found the problem, you can work on the solution."

Something occurred to Victor when the skeleton elder said that. "But shouldn't I be with her then? If I'm tied to Emily, shouldn't I have gone to Heaven with her?"

"In this case, yes," Gutknecht replied. "But, you see, Emily didn't go to Heaven."

Victor blinked in confusion. "But… but I saw her ascend. She turned into a swarm of butterflies and flew away."

The maggot snickered again. "And that has to do with going to Heaven because…?"

Victor didn't reply. Both he and Victoria had always assumed that Emily had found peace and was finally able to move on. "Then… what was the whole turning into butterflies about?"

"A dramatic exit," both the spider and the maggot replied.

Victor looked around, as if expecting to see Emily. "Well then, where is she? Shouldn't she be here somewhere?"

Gutknecht shook his head. "I'm afraid she's no longer in this world."

Victor wasn't sure what he meant. "But if she's not in Heaven and she's not here, then where…?" What little color he had left in his face drained out of it. "No, she couldn't possibly be…"

He hesitantly pointed down, and the others laughed.

"Don't be absurd," Gutknecht replied. "Someone as sweet and as innocent as her couldn't possibly go there."

"Then where is she?"

"You better tell him," the maggot chuckled, "it sounds like he's getting impatient."

"I suppose," Gutknecht replied. "All right, Victor, listen up. You know that the Land of the Dead is where restless souls go when they die until they manage to find peace, but when that happens, there's only two places where they go afterwards." He nodded up and then down. "Well, that's not entirely true. You see, some restless spirits become so used to their undead existence and wish to continue it even after they find the peace they were searching for. It doesn't happen often, but in such cases, there's another place they can go."

"And is that where Emily is?" Victor asked.

"Oh, tell him about the seven holiday doors," the spider exclaimed excitedly.

"Yes, I was just getting to that," Gutknecht replied. "At the border of the different worlds, there is a special place that contains seven magic doors, each one leading to a different world dedicated to a specific holiday. There's one for Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Independence Day, and Halloween."

"And where do you think an undead woman would end up?" the maggot asked.

Things began clicking into place for Victor. "You mean she went to-"

"Halloween Town," the others chorused.

"A world dedicated solemnly to Halloween," the maggot replied, sounding giddy.

"Halloween Town," Victor repeated. "Well, if that's where Emily is, then that's where I'm going." He stood up, looking determine. "How do I get there?"

"You really want to go?" Gutknecht asked.

"Of course," Victor cried. "She's my everything. She's been my everything for a long time. I've been pining away for her for four years. Even in death I'm drawn to her. I only wish that I had realized it sooner."

Gutknecht shared a look with the maggot and the spider. "Ok, then. Come stand over here." He directed Victor over to where he needed to go. "That's perfect. Now stay right there. This is the quickest way to get there."

"Um, ok," Victor muttered. He really didn't like the amused look on the maggot's face, as if he knew something that Victor didn't. "So… what? Is this going to be like another haunting spell or something?"

Gutknecht shuffled over to the wall. "Not exactly."

"Happy landings!" the spider and the maggot sang.

Victor blinked. "What's that supposed to-"

Gutknecht pulled a hidden lever, and a springboard beneath Victor's feet launched him in the air. He cried out as the ceiling opened and he found himself soaring though the sky. The land sped by beneath him in a blur as he flew an impossible distance. Eventually, the city beneath him soon gave way to a forest. Victor saw only a sea of endless green as he flew high above the treetops, screaming all the way.

The whole experience only lasted a few seconds before Victor began to make his decent. As his speed decreased, he saw that he was coming down into a small clearing in the forest. Seven trees stood in a circle in this clearing, each one with a different image on the trunk. Victor realized that he was about to crash right into the one with a jack-o-lantern on it.

But he didn't crash. Instead, the large image of the jack-o-lantern opened up as if it were a door. What should have been the inside of a hollow tree contained complete darkness. It was similar to how he ended up in the Land of the Dead, but as he fell, he was surrounded by the glowing ghostly images of Halloween icons, such as bats, pumpkins, and candy corn. Then he landed hard on his rear end, suddenly finding himself sitting in a chair in an office.

"Whoa-ho!" a startled voice exclaimed. "That was quite an entrance."

Victor looked at the speaker and found himself seated across from someone at the other side of a desk. The person, Victor saw, was an extremely slender skeleton dressed in a strange black and white Gothic-style tuxedo with a bat-like bowtie. He was eerie to look at, but was handsome in a way, and he had a kind face. Unlike the other skeletons he'd seen, this one's head was round and seemed to have facial features one would expect to find on a jack-o-lantern rather than a human skull.

The skeleton cocked his head to the side as Victor stared at him. "Are you all right, sir?"

Victor blinked. "What? Oh, yes, I'm sorry. I hadn't planned on… making such a journey." He looked around the office, noticing how it was filled with Halloween decorations, and also a few Christmas ones as well. "Um, where am I?"

"Do you not know?" the skeleton asked. "Why, you're in Halloween Town, of course."

"Halloween Town?" Victor's face lit up. "Then I made it."

"If this was your destination, then yes, I suppose you did. Am I correct in assuming that you've come from the Land of the Dead?"

"Oh, um, yes. The elder there, Gutknecht, he helped me get here."

"Ah, Gutknecht!" the skeleton beamed. "I haven't seen him in ages. Tell me, how is the old coot? Oh, where are my manners?" He reached across the desk and shook Victor's hand with his long boney fingers. "The name's Jack, Jack Skellington, also known as the Pumpkin King."

Victor's eyebrows rose. This guy was royalty? Was he the leader of Halloween Town? Perhaps that was why Gutknecht had sent him here.

He looked the strange skeleton over again, his eyes resting on his pumpkin shaped skull. "The Pumpkin King? And your name is Jack? Would that be for Jack-O-Lantern?"

The eye sockets of Jack's eyes shifted slightly as if he were raising eyebrows he didn't have. "Oh, very good. You figured that out quite quickly, Mr…?"

"Oh, my name is Victor. It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Skellington."

Jack just waved this off. "Just Jack is fine; no need to be so formal. I prefer to get on friendly terms with all the residents of Halloween Town. We don't get new recruits very often, but it's always a delight to have someone new. As long as you're not here to cause trouble, that is. We had someone move in a while ago who was the former ruler of a forgotten holiday called Bug Day really throw things into chaos. Yes, that Oogie Boogie certainly caused us a lot of problems over the years. I eventually had to put an end to him."

Victor had gotten lost in Jack's rambling, though he did pick up that last part. "Um, you mean that even though we're all dead that we can be killed again?"

Jack grinned. "You must be recently deceased. Yes, it's true that even though we're dead that our bodies can still be destroyed. If that happens, we're forced to accept release whether we want to or not and must move on with or without finding the peace we weren't able to find while alive." He sat back in his chair, looking rather relaxed. "So, what was it that kept you from crossing over, if you don't mind my asking?"

This would be the perfect time to ask. "Actually, um, that's why I'm here. I'm, uh, looking for someone."

"Oh? And you think they're here?"

"Yes, well, if they had, um… moved on, I would have moved on with them since they're the reason why I remained earthbound."

"Yes, that's true. But what I meant was if you were sure they're not still somewhere in the Land of the Dead?"

Victor nodded. "Not according to Gutknecht, they're not."

Jack chuckled. "Yes, well, he would know." Reaching over to a bookshelf, he pulled out a rather thick book and began flipping through it; Victor saw that it was filled with names. "So, who is this person you're looking for? I'm guessing that they haven't been a resident here for that long. The last person to move in was a woman named Emily. Before her was-"

"That's her!" Victor interrupted excitedly. "Emily, she's the one I'm looking for. I don't know her last name, but she's known as the Corpse Bride."

Jack stared at him for a few moments curiously before closing the book. "You said your name is Victor. What's your last name?"

An uneasy feeling settled in Victor's gut from the serious look that Jack was giving him. "Oh, it's, uh, Van Dort. Victor Van Dort."

A delighted smile suddenly spread across Jack's face. "Then it is you! Well now, this is certainly unexpected. Emily has told us so much about you."

"Us?" Victor repeated.

"My wife, Sally, and I. She never stops talking about you actually. She's told us the whole story enough times that we have it memorized."

His smile suddenly left his face, and he was now giving Victor a look of disapproval. Then he raised his fist and brought it down on Victor's head.

"Ouch!" Victor cried. "What was that for?"

"For making Emily cry," Jack scolded. "When she first came to Halloween Town, she was a heartbroken wreck. She cried for days at a time, and it just tore Sally and me apart. Yet even through all her sorrow, she never once held anything against you."

Guilt crushed Victor with incredible force. He'd been so blind-sided back then, so self-centered that he barely gave any thought to Emily's feelings. He'd been foolish and afraid, and had been unable to see the blessing in front of him.

"I…" he stuttered, "I… made many mistakes back then. The biggest one of my life was letting her go. It really is true what they say; you don't know what you're missing until you don't have it."

Jack felt his spite dissipate somewhat. For quite a while, both he and his wife had felt resentful towards Victor for breaking Emily's heart. But then again, their situation had been very unique and rather unusual. There was bound to be a lot of confusion and conflicting emotions, especially when there had been another woman involved.

He could also relate to what Victor said about not realizing how important someone or something was to you until it was gone. He'd had a similar experience with his own wife.

For several years, Jack had only seen Sally as nothing more than a very good friend. But after his Christmas fiasco, when he learned that she and Santa Claus were about to be devoured by Oogie Boogie, his fear of losing her had consumed him. It was then that he realized how he truly felt about her, and the thought that Oogie Boogie was going to take her away from him in the worst possible way had sent him into a rage the likes of which he had never felt before, provoking him into putting an end to the sadistic gambling boogeyman once and for all; although it had been his good friend, Santa, that had made the final blow, or rather, final stomp.

Sighing, Jack decided to give Victor the benefit of the doubt. "So, you were unable to pass on because of your feelings for her. But what of your wife, Victoria, I believe her name was? What happened with her?"

Victor cast his eyes downward. "She's… gone. We were in an accident, and neither one of us made it. But unlike me, she didn't have anything tying her to the mortal realm."

Jack's eye sockets narrowed. "I hope you're implying that you're simply settling for Emily since your Victoria isn't around any longer."

Victor looked up, horrified. "Of course not! I wouldn't do something like that… not again." He shamefully recalled that back before he discovered his true feelings for Emily that he had done exactly that when he found out that Victoria had wed another. "The truth is that my marriage to Victoria just fell apart. Things just didn't work out between us, not romantically. Perhaps if I had never met Emily, then things could have worked out, but not with me in love with another woman."

Jack knew that it was horrible, but he actually felt glad that things hadn't worked out between Victor and Victoria. It was nothing against Victoria, Emily had assured both him and Sally that she was a wonderful and kind person, but Jack didn't know her. However, he did know and was good friends with Emily, and he wanted her to be happy. Sadly, it seemed that Victor was the only thing that would make her happy.

He decided that it was time to test Victor. "You say that you came here looking for Emily, but did it ever occur to you that she might not want to see you?"

Victor blinked in confusion. "What do you mean?"

"Four years is a long time. She's spent all that time thinking that you rejected her in favor of another woman. Just how long did you expect her to pine after you? She's been trying to get over you for four years; how do you know she hasn't? What if she even managed to find someone else; someone to love her the way she deserves to be loved?"

Victor stared at him as Jack's words sank in. The thought had never actually occurred to him, but he was absolutely right. And in realizing this, he also realized how naïve and presumptuous he had been. Had he really expected Emily to still love him? She was under no obligations to him. It was only natural to attempt to move on once she was rejected. And if she did, then he had absolutely no right whatsoever to complain about it.

Feeling a deep sense of dread and a sickening feeling in his gut, Victor hung his head. "Then I will only have myself to blame. I was selfish and foolish, and must accept the consequences of my actions."

Jack would have raised an eyebrow if he had one to Victor's response. "That's very selfless and mature of you, but it does make me question your feelings for her. Relationships shouldn't be taken as lightly as everyday decisions. If you really love her, should you not fight for her?"

Victor looked up at the skeleton, his face a mask of seriousness. "I would fight for her, if she wanted me. But if she is happier with someone else, then…" he sighed, "then I would let her go, just as she did for me. Her happiness is what's most important, and it's about time she got it."

Listening to the young man, Jack felt himself feeling impressed against his will. He'd been skeptical of him at first for the way he'd broken Emily's heart, but his opinion of him was quickly changing. He could see why Emily had fallen for him.

But was it his place to judge? He may have been the ruler of Halloween Town, but he had no authority over matters of the heart. This was something that Victor and Emily would need to work out between themselves.

"Well then," he said, "it seems that fortune has decided to smile upon you."

Victor gave him a confused look. "What do you mean?"

"I like you, Victor," Jack admitted. "I didn't want to like you after the way your trampled on Emily's heart, but I've changed my opinion of you. You're all right."

Victor shifted uncomfortably. "Oh, well, um, thank you."

"So," Jack continued, "I'm going to help you out. I'll take you to see Emily."

Victor looked confused again. "But I thought you said that she found someone else."

Jack laughed, shaking his head. "No, no, my dear boy. What I said was 'what if' she found someone else, not that she had. Guess I gave you a bit of a scare. But then," he winked, "what's life without a good scare?"

A nervous smile crept up Victor's face. Jack seemed like a nice guy, but he was certainly rather eccentric.

"Well, come on, then," Jack said, getting up from behind his desk, "let's get going."

Victor did a double-take. "What? Right now?"

"There's no time like the present. Besides, you two have been pining for each other for four years. I think it's time for your reunion."

Be that as it may, Victor suddenly wasn't sure if he was ready. As anxious and excited as he was about seeing Emily again, he didn't exactly feel ready. And as Jack led him through the festive town, he fussed over his appearance, wishing desperately for a mirror. His fingers grazed the stitch pattern around his neck, and he wondered what Emily would think about his undead appearance.

But she was all zombie-ish too. They were both dead now and were no longer incompatible. Life and death no longer kept them separated, and death could never part them. And Victor fully intended to never be parted from Emily ever again.

As they walked along, Victor saw many Halloween-ish characters; vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, goblins, mummies, monsters, skeletons, every type of nightmarish creature one could possibly imagine, yet none of them seemed hostile. Victor wondered if all of these people had also been human at one point as well and asked Jack.

"Some of them," the skeleton replied. "Even I was human once. Others have always been this way. Some were even born afterwards. In fact, my wife was created by the brilliant Dr. Finkelstein. We all have different origins, but we all have one thing in common," he smiled, "our love for Halloween, and we all work together to celebrate our precious holiday and keep the spirit alive. No matter our differences, we're all one community." His expression darkened a bit, as if he were remembering something unpleasant. "Except for a few rejects that prefer to cause trouble."

Victor remembered what Jack had said earlier about the former ruler of Bug Day. "Like that Oogie Boogie person you mentioned?"

Jack nodded. "Yes, he was the worst of them. There was also another really bad one, the Beldam. She called herself the Other Mother. She lured children into her web of illusions with treats and empty promises before sewing buttons into their eyes and draining their life essence. I had to banish her for her wicked ways. Never found out what happened to her after that." He glanced back at Victor. "You're not planning to cause trouble, are you?"

The warning in his voice put Victor on edge. "N-No, sir!"

"Good," Jack grumbled, his facial features shifting into a horrible mask of nightmarish terror, "otherwise you'll find out just why I'm the most frightening person in all of Halloween Town."

At Victor's terrified expression, Jack's features shifted back to normal and he snickered. "I'm just kidding. You seem like a good guy; I'm sure we'll get along just fine."

A nervous laugh escaped Victor. "Yes… I'm sure we will… Um, how much further is it?"

Jack pointed down the path they were walking along. "It's just up ahead. She actually lives with my wife and I as our live-in nanny."

Victor blinked. "A live-in nanny?"

"Of course. Sally and I have five kids. And being the Pumpkin King keeps me very busy. We needed the extra help. Emily is a real delight. She absolutely adores the children. She'll no doubt want some of her own."

He looked back and winked, causing Victor to stumble over his own feet. He hadn't even seen Emily yet, and there was already talk of children. Could the dead even reproduce? Looking at Jack, Victor decided that apparently they could.

"Ah, here we are!" Jack announced.

Victor's eyes widened as they came upon Jack's dwelling. It wasn't even a house; it was an entire mansion. A haunted one from the look of it, but a mansion nevertheless.

"How luxurious," he commented, noting all the Halloween decorations, "and festive."

"It's a bit much," Jack confessed, "but being king does have its benefits."

He opened the door and welcomed Victor inside. The moment the door closed behind them, the sound of excited barking started. A few moments later, the ghostly form of a dog with a glowing red nose raced over to the two of them. Victor jumped back in surprise as the dog excitedly flew around them in circles, but Jack bent down and pet the ghostly beast.

"Zero!" he exclaimed happily, scratching behind the dog's ears. "How's my good boy?"

Victor stared at the ghost dog with wide eyes. "He's, uh… adorable."

Jack smiled, scooping the beast up. "He's my oldest friend. So loyal that he came to Halloween Town with me after we died." He glanced down at the dog in his arms. "Look, Zero, we have a new friend."

The dog flew out of Jack's arms and over to Victor. It sniffed him a few times before licking his face.

"My, he's certainly friendly," Victor commented, reaching up to wipe off the dog drool, only to discover that there wasn't any.

"He likes you," Jack told him. "And I know someone else that really likes you and would be happy to see you too." The sound of scampering was heard. "Ah, here he comes now."

A small figure rushed into the room and jumped at Victor. He caught it on reflex and found himself holding the skeleton of a different dog.

"Scraps?" he cried as the dead dog remains licked his face with its boney tongue. "What are you doing here?"

Jack was smiling. "He arrived here with Emily and has been staying here with us ever since. He's a wonderful playmate for Zero and the kids."

"Daddy's home!" a childish voice rang out.

Jack turned to the source of the voice, beaming happily as three small skeleton boys ran into the room. "Well, speak of the devil."

The children hugged their father, bouncing up and down happily. "Hey, Dad! How was work?"

"Did you come up with any good ideas for next Halloween?"

"Tell us what they are!"

"Can we have roles in the festival this time?"

"I want to be as scary as you!"

Jack laughed at their excitement. "Whoa, boys, settled down. Don't you see we have a guest?"

The children looked at Victor. "Who's he?"

"Is he a friend of yours?"

"Is he a newcomer?"

Smiling, Jack patted their heads. "He's a friend of Emily's. Is she here?"

"She's reading a story to our sisters," the eldest child replied.

"It's not scary enough for us," said another.

Jack chuckled. "That's because you're my big boys."

"And you're my big man."

Victor jumped at the sudden entrance made by a woman with long reddish-brown hair. She resembled a patchwork of a ragdoll and the bride of Frankenstein. Though eerie to look at, she was very beautiful in her own way, and she had a kind and caring face.

"Hello, dear," Jack greeted, going over to her and giving her a kiss. "How was your day?"

"Very well, thank you." She turned to Victor. "Who's your friend?"

"A new resident," Jack replied, grinning widely. "His name is Victor Van Dort. Victor, this is my lovely wife, and queen of Halloween Town."

Victor suddenly realized he was being rude and held out his hand. "Very nice to meet you, ma'am. Shelly, right?"

She chuckled. "Sally, actually. It's nice to meet you too, Victor Van… Dort…"

She was suddenly looking at Victor with great interest. Releasing his hand, she went over to her husband and whispered to him what sounded like, "Emily's Victor?"

Jack smiled and nodded. Wrapping an arm around her shoulder, he turned them around and began whispering to her. Sally glanced back at Victor a few times with a dark expression on her face as her husband spoke. Victor remembered how Jack had originally had a low opinion of him for the way he treated Emily and got the feeling that he was explaining the situation to his wife, probably telling her that it was ok for him to be here.

Victor felt the sudden need to make a good impression. From what he had gathered, both Jack and Sally seemed to have accepted Emily into their household, not just as a nanny, but as a member of their own family. They both cared about her and were concerned over the fact that the man that had trampled over her heart and then discarded her was now here asking to see her. Jack seemed to be willing to give Victor a chance to prove himself and was now trying to convince his wife to do the same.

When they finished whispering, they turned back to Victor. "Sorry about that," Jack told him. "We just had to discuss a… concern we shared."

Victor nodded. "Quite all right. But, um, I don't mean to be rude, but would it, uh, be possible to see Emily soon?"

Sally glanced at her husband with a raised eyebrow, seeming to silently ask one last time if he was sure about this. Jack just smiled and nodded, and Sally seemed to give in.

"Certainly," she finally replied. "She's in the nursery, with the girls." She turned to her three sons. "Would you boys escort him there, please?"

All three boys immediately saluted. "Yes, ma'am!"

Two of them ran up to Victor and seized his arms, giving them a tug for him to come with them as the third son waved for Victor to follow him. Victor allowed the boys to lead him away, but as he passed Sally, she placed a hand on his shoulder and gave him a serious look.

"Don't you hurt her again," she told him, the warning in her voice very clear.

Victor could only respond with a quick, "I won't," before the two boys dragged him out of the room as the third led the way. He let them lead him through the mansion until they came to a door standing ajar at the end of the hallway. From within the room, he could hear a sweet voice reading out loud. It had been four years since he'd heard her beautiful voice, and it was music to his ears.

Releasing Victor, the three boys raced into the room. Sitting on the couch, with a little skeleton girl on either side of her, Emily was reading a scary story to them. The three boys immediately climbed up on the couch and began jumping around and shouting.

Emily looked up from the book as the two girls began complaining about their brothers. "Now, boys, if you don't want to listen to the story, that's fine, but don't ruin it for your sisters."

But the three boys continued whooping and yelling. "We know something you don't know!" one of them announced as he jumped up and down on the top of the couch.

Emily tried to look stern, but it was clear that she was actually amused. "Oh, and what is that?"

"A newcomer," the boy replied.

"A newcomer, a newcomer!" the other two chanted.

Emily raised an eyebrow in interest. "Really? Someone new? There haven't been any newcomers to Halloween Town since… well, me."

"Who are they?" the younger sister inquired.

"What are they?" the other asked. "A gargoyle? A poltergeist? No, wait, I know, it's a troll, isn't it?"

"None of the above!" their brothers cried.

"A scarecrow then?"

"A zombie," the eldest boy told them. "He's here now."

"Now?" Emily exclaimed, jumping to her feet. "I wish someone had told me that we were expecting company. I haven't prepared refreshments or anything."

"Oh, he doesn't want any refreshments," the second oldest snickered.

"He wants you!" the youngest declared.

Victor took that as his queue. He released the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding, and actually didn't need, and stepped into the room.

For the first time in four years, Victor set eyes on Emily once again. She was exactly as he remembered her, eerily beautiful with long flowing blue hair. Pale grayish skin that was partly degenerated was covered up by the tattered remains of the wedding dress she had been wearing when she died all those years ago, She was a true vision of zombified beauty that would have made Victor's heart race if he were still alive.

Emily slowly turned to him as he entered. At first, it didn't seem to register to her who she was looking at, but then the look on her face shifted to one of disbelief as she recognized him. Her grip went slack and the book she had been reading fell from her skeletal hand, but she didn't even notice.

"V-Victor…?" she asked carefully.

He offered her a nervous smile. "Hello, Emily. It's… been a long time."

Emily just continued to stare at him, as if she wasn't sure she could believe her eyes. "Yes… it has. I… I actually didn't expect to see you again. I would have thought that you would have moved on to…" She trailed off as the fact that he was here truly registered to her, along with what that meant for him. And his zombie-like appearance certainly left no room for doubt.

"Victor!" she cried, suddenly horrified for his sake as she rushed over to him. "What happened? You're… you're…"

"Dead," he finished for her. "Yes, it happens to all of us, I'm afraid."

Emily barely heard his attempt to add humor to the situation as she busied herself fussing over him. "But how? It's only been four years. Why so soon? You were a young and healthy man. You should have had decades left." Her eyes landed on the stitch pattern around his neck and she traced it with her finger. "What happened?"

"An accident," he told her. "I ended up with a broken neck, but Gutknecht fixed me right up."

"But you're dead!" she cried, her eyes filling with tears. "Oh, Victor, I'm so sorry. You had so much to live for. You're parents must be so upset. And poor Victoria, she must be heartbroken."

In all actuality, Victor hadn't thought much about his parents. After he and Victoria had been married, her parents had insisted that the two of them move in with them so they could keep an eye on things, namely him, and make sure he did things properly and according to their standards. They also made it clear that Victor's parents, who they felt were beneath them, were not welcome guests, and so Victor had seen very little of them these past four years.

"Yes," he sadly agreed, "Mother and Father will no doubt be devastated when they find out. I too will miss them terribly." He sighed. "As for Victoria, I'm afraid she didn't make it either."

Emily looked confused at first. "What do you mean?" Her eyes widened and she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. "Are you saying that…?"

Victor nodded. "She was with me during the accident. She's dead too, but she was able to cross over."

"Oh, Victor, I'm so, so sorry. Neither of you should have died so young. It's so unfair." Her eyes widened in concern. "Wait, there weren't any children, were there?"

Victor realized she must have meant between him and Victoria. "No, no children. Not that we didn't try to have some. It just… didn't happen."

I'm sorry," she said again, though a small darker part of her felt a tiny bit glad that there hadn't been any; it made her feel horrible. "At least there will be no orphans." She couldn't hold it back any longer, and she threw her arms around him. "Oh, but I am glad to see you. I just wish it was under less tragic circumstances."

Victor hesitantly returned the hug. "Maybe it wasn't entirely due to tragic circumstances. Perhaps fate was stepping in to set things on the correct path."

Emily broke the hug and gave him a confused look. "I don't understand. What are you saying? I don't even know why you would be here. You're wife moved on, you should have moved on with her. What's causing you to linger?"

Here it came, the moment of truth.

"Something I hadn't realized was so important to me until it was gone," he answered. Reaching out, he captured one of her hands in his. "Emily, when we first met, I was scared and confused. I made a lot of stupid mistakes that I'm not proud of, but the worst one I made was letting you go. I just didn't know it until later."

Emily's eyes were as wide as saucers and contained, perhaps, a glimmer of hope. "What do you mean?"

It took great effort to look her in the eye. "It seems you were right, Emily. Victoria was the other woman. Things just didn't work out between us. I realized later that it was because my heart didn't belong to Victoria. It belonged to you, Emily."

Her free hand flew to her mouth. "Victor…"

"You're the reason why I linger, Emily. I can't bear to be away from you. I realized my true feelings when it was too late. I cared for Victoria, yes, but I didn't love her. Perhaps I fooled myself into thinking that I loved her because I didn't want to be in a marriage without love. At most, I suppose you could say I was in love with the idea of love. But when I met you, my judgment was so clouded by fear that I was blinded to my true feelings. And so I ended up making you and I suffer and spend these past four years unhappy." He cleared his throat and held his head up high. "But now I'm ready to do things right. I'm no longer afraid, and my mind is clear. This time, I know exactly what I want. This time, there will be no mistakes."

Still holding her hand, he got down on one knee. "Emily, when I first put my ring on your finger four years ago, I thought it was a mistake. But now I know that it was actually destiny at work, and the real mistake I made was letting you go. I truly love you, Emily, and if you feel the same, then I hope you will forgive me for being such an idiot back then and accept me once more. I swear to love you for all eternity and to never take you for granted again. This time, I am asking you directly. Emily, if you could ever bring yourself to love this miserable fool, would you make me the happiest man in the world by becoming my true wife, for real this time?"

She had long since given up on trying to hold back her tears, and they now flowed freely down her cheeks. "Oh, Victor." She pulled him to his feet and grasped both of his hands in hers. "My love for you has never wavered, not once in these four years. I wanted only for you to be happy; if not with me, then with someone else. The hardest thing I ever had to do was walk away from you that night, but I thought I was doing the right thing. And now you're here, saying to me the words I longed to hear above all others, but never thought I would; not to me, not from your lips. My answer is the same as it was back then. Yes, Victor Van Dort, I will be your bride."

With trembling hands, Victor reached into his pocket and pulled out the ring that had been left behind. "It was always yours," he told her, placing it on her finger, "just like my heart; even if I didn't know it."

Emily raised her hand and stared at the ring on her finger that had once again found its way back to its rightful place. So mesmerized by it she was that she hardly felt Victor place his and against her cheek.

"After I died," she said, "when I decided to wait beneath that tree for my true love, I never expected to feel what I do now." She placed her own hand over Victor's, holding it to her cheek, and looked at him with eyes shining with joyful tears. "I believe that fate truly has brought us together. I am now actually somewhat grateful to Lord Bittern for taking my life that night; it allowed me to meet you. I would endure anything, die a thousand deaths, just to be with you."

Victor's other hand came up and cupped her other cheek, his thumb brushing away a stray tear. "We'll be together forever, my love."

He leaned in and kissed her. The five skeleton children, who had been watching with great interest, immediately turned away, the tree boys making disgusted gagging noises while the two girls giggled uncontrollably.

From the doorway, Jack and Sally had been spying, the former looking teary eyed while the latter was openly weeping.

"That was so beautiful," Sally sniffled.

"Indeed," Jack agreed, wiping the tears from his empty eye sockets. "We'll have Emily move to a bigger room so the two of them can stay together."

"You have to wed them as soon as possible, Jack," Sally told him. "They've waited too long already."

Her husband nodded in agreement. "Yes, but first we'll put together a spectacular wedding for them, the likes of which Halloween Town has never seen before." He took his wife's hand, squeezing it affectionately. "Second only to ours, of course."

"Oh, Jack…"

At that moment, the doorbell rang. Both Jack and Sally jumped out of sight, afraid that they had been caught spying.

"Um, I'll get it!" Jack called, cupping his mouth to make it sound like he was calling from farther away in the house.

Grumbling all the way to the door about how he was missing the good part, he opened it to be greeted by Halloween Town's literally two-faced mayor.

"Jack, we have a problem!"

Jack groaned. "Can't this wait? I was kind of in the middle of something."

"But this is an emergency! There's only 258 days left until next Halloween, and there's a problem with the traditional festive song."

Jack sighed, rubbing his empty eyes. "All right, what's the problem?"

"It's the new lines for 'This Is Halloween'. Ever since you, um, got rid of Oogie Boogie, we haven't been able to find any suitable lines to replace the ones he sang." He pulled out a notepad and began flipping through it. "Lets see here, the clown with the tear-away face, the who when you call 'who's there?', the wind blowing through your hair. Ah, here it is! 'I am the shadow on the moon at night; filling your dreams to the brim with fright'. Yes, the recent new lines to replace those have received mostly negative reviews again. What are we going to do, Jack? That was our 14th attempt at new lines. We need a suitable replacement.

Jack sighed again. The mayor really did worry far too much. True, they did need to create a new verse for their song since Oogie Boogie was no longer around to sing his lines anymore, but it wasn't as bad as the mayor was making it out to be.

From behind him, Jack heard footsteps approaching, and he turned to see that his family, along with Emily and Victor, had come to see what all the commotion was about.

A stroke of inspiration suddenly struck the Pumpkin King, and he scratched his chin in thought.

Grinning, he turned back to the mayor. "I think I have something that we could try."

And from that day forth, a new verse was added to Halloween Town's traditional festival song:

The Who: "I am the who when you call 'who's there?'"

The Wind: "I am the wind blowing through your hair."

Victor: "I'm the Undead Groom."

Emily: "And I'm the Corpse Bride."

Both: "On an endless honeymoon even though we have died."

THE END