You know that when I hate you, it is because I love you to a point of passion that unhinges my soul. Julie de Lespinasse
Her hair was usually barbed and caustic, like a thicket of thorns—such a picturesque duplicate of her demeanor. The smoke escaping from her pursed lips tickled his nostrils. It had a peculiar odor. A combination of burnt wood and metal—perhaps something one would smell in a blacksmith shop.
She took another drag from her cigarette, purposely blowing the smoke directly in his face. Her acerbic voice followed, "Are we waiting for anything important, Mr. Todd?"
Her use of words. Her ridiculous stilettos tap-tap-tapping against the pavement—an obvious, childish signal for impatience. Her total lack of respect. These little quirks would have been obnoxious. It would have taken miracles—no, a divine intervention, no the very hand of God—to pry his razor-gripped hands from cleaving her flesh, sawing her ribs, and repetitively gouging her heart. He would scrape her ventricles. Cauterize her aorta. Watch her blood fill and then eject, spraying his visage. How he craved and missed hot, steamy blood.
But these were actions he would have done. There was no reason to get caught in memories past.
At the moment, her hair was very deceiving. Her curls mocked the sun. She had a golden crown of thorns—blindingly brilliant amidst the burgundy horizon.
He could not contain a smile.
She countered his gesture with a creased frown and up-turned nostrils. She spoke again, "I'm not here to entertain you, Mr. Todd."
"An' yet that was your intention at Dr. Mortis' office, wasn't it?" Sweeney questioned, the smile plastered against his teeth.
"Yes," Emma Balm huffed before including, "but I've grown bored of you. You aren't worth the hassle. Besides, I've stumbled upon something wonderful—someone wonderful."
"Mr. Stone?" Sweeney Todd inquired, interest momentarily peaked.
"Thomas?" She gagged, almost choking on noxious smoke, "Listen the boy is fun. But that is it. He is a mere boy. And only fun for a short time, for gossip and the sort. Do you understand?"
"Mmm," He answered with utter indifference.
"But, you never answered my first question," She mentioned, blowing out more smoke, "Are we waiting for something?"
"Your little pup, I'm afraid," He sighed, watching tall streetlights flicker.
"Why?" She complained, face turning melancholy.
"You mentioned not goin' back home. An' I agree. No reason rushin' to that trickery with open arms," He growled, balling his fists.
That woman, he dared call lover, was monstrous. She was more than mere words, beyond any cruel conjugation his mind could muster. She was the reason for all his hatred. She was the reason for his vengeance. She was surely the most beautiful pretender—and he believed all her sugared lies. He would never trust her. If she insisted on parading around with fancy airs and feigned smiles, then fine. He would do the same.
Emma Balm raised one eyebrow, but shrugged her curiosity away. She commented, "I'm glad you understand the truth of that matter."
"An' Miss Daver mentioned Thomas would escort me—an' I suppose you too—to the fields. Said somethin' 'bout wantin' me to understand harvestin'," He replied, glancing her way for any additional information.
But she revealed nothing.
"Oh," She responded, "Thomas must be choosing then."
"Must you all be so vague 'bout this?" He scoffed, noticing a waving figure approaching.
"When you see the fields, you'll wish I was still vague," She said, giving a fictitious wave to a certain zealous assistant.
"Don't you find this humorous, Mr. Todd?" She questioned.
They were only walking up a pebble-infested hill behind the courthouse. She was holding her precarious stilettos in one hand, skull-embossed lighter in the other, and a limp cigarette was dangling from her pursed mouth. Her feet were battered and bruised, little beads of blood trailed behind her advancing steps.
"Doesn't that hurt?" He wondered aloud, mesmerized by her patience and determination.
"Ah-ah," She lightly scolded, "Answer my question first."
"Come on you lazy-daises!" Thomas Bertram Stone called, forcefully waving both arms, "All the good ones will be picked over!"
Emma Balm shook her head and snickered. An airy, elongated sigh followed behind her chortle.
"Humorous … like how excited Mr. Stone is—all the bloody time?" Sweeney Todd mocked, taking some frustrated kicks out on the pebbles.
"No, no," She negated before including, "You are actually tolerating me."
And he was hiking alongside her. And he was concerned about her feet—a truly irrelevant matter! But he was not angry, nor the least bit vindictive. The situation was slightly humorous, yet undeniably peculiar.
"Things change, Miss Balm," He replied, trudging forward but prodded, "Now, answer my question."
"I will answer your question with another question. If you are so concerned about my feet, do you intend to carry me?" She inquired, batting her noir-coated lashes.
"Pushin' your luck," He warned, but with a friendly smirk.
The hill was soon a plateau of grass and dirt fields—but Sweeney Todd lost his warm grin.
Emma heavily sighed and slipped her shoes back on. She did not even wince as her wounds were tightly packed and squished into those contortionist soles. She flicked her lighter open, lit the cigarette, and deeply inhaled sweet nicotine.
The black iron fence was impaled with skulls. The sharp points pierced through each gaping orbit. The gates were wide open, but far from inviting. The entrance was marked with hooded, twin reaper statues. Their arms were mere withered bones—a fragile ulna, a curved radius. Their scythes were interlocked but hovered like guillotines.
The fields were rows and rows of forearms, twisting wrists, and wriggling fingers. Some were wild, grasping around the terrain. Others were reaching higher and higher for anything—any gentle touch. And others were limp, resting against the dirt with only an occasional twitch.
"We always get more than the previous year," Emma commented and exhaled, "Such a shame."
Thomas was already stooped, examining small white cards, wrapped with white ribbon, around each wrist. He would flick one away, move to the next, flick one away and move to the next. He only examined stationary hands. His eyes would deepen with unfamiliar emotion upon evading the restless hands. He was disgusted—the repulsion clouded his pupils.
"Why—" Sweeny began, gazing out upon the endless waves of flesh.
"Would you like to see?" She countered, already sensing his question, "Why everyone passes over these wild ones?"
He did not have a chance to answer. Emma latched onto a particularly violent, swinging arm and pulled hard.
A woman, from the waist up, surfaced. She was coated with soot. Maggots wiggled and squirmed through her wounds. She was a blubbering, ranting mess.
"Who are you?" Emma Balm asked.
"P-p-puh-puh-lease, spare me. Grant m-m-me peace," She stuttered, desperately clawing the ground.
"What is your name?" Emma tried again.
"A-a-and, I've been down there so long. Let me go. F-f-free me!" She begged.
"What was your profession?" Emma continued, clearly not fazed.
"L-l-l-listen, p-p-puh-puh-lease!" The woman screamed, pounding against the ground. She looked at Sweeney for the first time—with only empty, bloody sockets.
"How did you end your living years?" Emma questioned, staring through her body.
"No. No. No. I wouldn't have done it. No. Not if I knew. Not if I k-k-k-knew!" She cried, patting the ground and stumbled over a pair of stilettos.
The woman was madly laughing and muttering incoherent sentences. She seized a leg.
"Remove your filthy hands at once," Emma hissed, trying to shake free.
Sweeney ignored them and scanned the dismal horizon. Bodies were uprooted from the earth, dusted, and shook around. If one was rotten—shoved back below with maddening, stomach curdling wails. If one was fresh—patted clean and escorted away. A colossal tree with numerous branches was not quite so distant. But the tree did not bear leaves or exposed buds. The branches bore nooses—and more bodies swaying against absent wind.
A rather cocky, arrogant business suit commented, "Well, good ones are always at the top branches. But what need do I have for virtuous lawyers, eh?"
"Oh, yes sir. I concur. You have no need for the likes of them," A snub-nosed pencil skirt replied, offering large hedge-clippers.
He yanked the instrument and effortlessly clipped the nearest noose. A tattered man tumbled like a rag doll from the tree. The pencil skirt caught him, by the noose, and scrutinized his countenance.
A similar scene was unfolding—and Sweeney could do nothing but observe. Two pinstripe skirts were yakking near a pond, crouching, and sifting through floating bodies.
"Ugh, this one had some chronic lung disease too. Gives a new meaning to the term blue-bloater doesn't it?" The purple one cackled, pushing the body along.
"Oh, you really are too much," The red one scoffed, shooing a violent splasher away.
Sweeney was completely mesmerized. It was a garden of the damned.
"You vile, impudent creature!" Emma exclaimed, crammed her stilettos into the woman, and grated, "What makes you think you deserve a chance?"
"Don't y-y-you know what happens d-d-d-down there?" The woman cried dragging her nails across the dirt and clamored, "You did pick me! Help me up! I deserve anything but this!"
"You," Emma seethed and emphasized, "You deserve nothing. You have no modesty. You have no dignity. You may feel pain. You may endure sorrow. But you fail to understand that through your suffering you have acquired a gift."
"A gift?!" The woman sputtered, struggling against shoves and pushing forces.
"You have no eyes. You cannot see what is below or above. You will never witness anything better or worse—just infinite dark. That is a blessing," She whispered.
"Are you crazy?" The woman questioned, dirt splitting her brittle nails from excessively scraping the ground.
Emma grimaced, kneeled, and jabbed two fingers into those gruesome orbits. She locked them underneath each maxilla bone and pulled. The woman elicited a jarring screech. Her throat erupted with hard chokes and wheezes.
"Fine, continue as you were then," Emma growled and jammed the punching, wailing woman back into the dirt and turned to Sweeney, "Do you understand now? Each one is a pathetic, worthless, piece of bones and rotten flesh. Eventually, each one will harden and wither—just like every other person in this damn city."
"Seems like you were givin' her some advice," He said after a considerable silence.
"Advice," She scoffed and murmured, "The one gift I would have cherished forever—and I gave her so freely. No matter. The putrid thing is too self-absorbed to understand anything."
"Like you?" He inquired and smirked, observing her body stiffen.
"Watch it," She barked, snapping her head to him, "I can do without your mockery. If you want to be of any assistance, you can help me stand."
She thrust her open palm to him. Sweeney contemplated grabbing her hand, perhaps gingerly or perhaps as a gentleman should for a lady. But even though Emma Balm presented him with some smidge of truth—and even if he could tolerate her antics—he was not content with her sudden irritation. She backhanded his thigh. Her impatience escalated.
"You wouldn't be so irate if there wasn't a bit of truth to it," He noticed, swatting her hand away like a troublesome insect.
"Why you impudent—" Emma started but quickly caught her words. She slithered upright and fired her concerns, "Are you playing with me? Is this some sort of game? Is this a fucking joke?"
"No, just pointin' things out love," He commented.
"Ah, terms of endearment now. I understand. You worry about me!" She swooned with a theatrical sigh before including some reassurance, "There is no need for that. I am very, very well taken care of—but perhaps a bit parched."
"But you 'ave no need for that," Sweeney recalled, watching her run a solitary finger over a dry, pouty bottom lip.
"Well, whatever you had to drink while living would never satisfy me now. But, shhh! This has to be our little secret," She whispered and smiled without showing her teeth—as if she was hiding something.
"Miss Balm! Mr. Todd! I've found someone, a replacement for me. I've been promoted to an assistant caseworker!" Thomas interrupted, bounding over to the pair. He straightened, caught his breath, and motioned behind him, "I really had a terrible time digging around for him, but I think Mr. Gregory Host was certainly worth finding. How long were you waiting again?" He questioned, presenting a faded man with azure eyes and bleach blonde hair.
"About one hundred years, sir," Gregory replied, staring blankly through the present company.
"Ooh, you poor man," Emma cooed, eyebrows knit together with pseudo-concern.
"But I'm sure you must be very relieved to be in Fortune City now, right Mr. Host?" Thomas questioned, giving him a hearty pat on the back.
"Yes, of course. I'm so happy. So very relieved," Gregory stated in heavy monotone.
"What a wonderful addition you will make to Fortune City, Mr. Host," Emma responded, then turned to Sweeney and included, "Just like everyone else."
His bones ached. His head pounded. His hands itched for the razor—his sweet, little helper. The razors were his only friends. They were faithful and honest. They never betrayed his love. They were always beautiful in burgundy. He could paint portraits. He could create such visionary masterpieces from flesh and blood.
But he abandoned them—for a woman. He lost them. Or maybe she hid them. Yes, yes he understood now. Her intentions were completely transparent. She was always jealous of his affection for them. She made him forget. She was the cause.
"Mrs. Lovett," Sweeney grumbled, pressing his forehead against the doorframe. He prayed the cool wood would extinguish his heated thoughts.
"Oh! Mr. Todd!" She exclaimed and heaved, "You gave me such a fright! Hmm, jus' like the first time. Funny ain't it?"
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
"I know you told me to stay in bed, an' stay jus' the way you left me," Mrs. Lovett started with a deep, thick voice—her mundane attempt at seduction. She continued, "But I jus' had to get dressed. You know, with today bein' the day an' all. I wanted to pick out somethin' nice. Do you like it?"
Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
"Mr. T, you haven't even looked at me yet. Your head is still restin' on the door. Are you feelin' alright? Is somethin' the matter? Is there somethin' you aren't tellin' me?" She produced each question with rapid succession.
His ventricles were irritated from her offensive voice. Each word prickled his fissures like pins. He turned his head right, although his eyes burned, and looked.
She was wearing a crimson gown accented with black velvet. Her neck displayed an ornate collar of rubies. Her hair was mussed into two buns—the usual, predictable style. She was dressed for royalty.
"Somethin' told me to wear red. Always thought it looked best on me. Don't you agree?" She smiled, rubbing bony fingers around her jeweled collarbones.
The color he loved with ardor and respect—the color of utmost worship. It would kiss his razor first, his precious instrument. Then, and only then if he was fortunate, the color would caress his fingertips. Or if he was truly blessed, and with absolute precision, the glorious color would shower his face—softer than rain, kinder than hail.
And what made her deserve to wear his color? She would never appreciate the majesty. She would never honor the purity. She degraded every last shred of his beautiful color.
"Yes, it suits you very well," Sweeney lied producing a very warm, yet fictitious, smile.
The answer seemed suitable enough for her. She nodded and made a little curtsy, but her form was awkward and unpracticed. He concealed a sneer.
"But you look troubled, love," She frowned and sashayed closer to his rigid body. She nuzzled her nose into his neck. Her hand slithered over his chest. Her whisper was scalding, "Let me ease your worries, Master."
Oh, but she was a cunning seductress! She distracted him from revenge and hatred—with nothing more than a smoldering piece of flesh between her legs. He would remove that little bud with one clean swipe—no, no even that was too kind. He would make slow, methodic hairline incisions. Her instrument of lust would be hanging by mere threads. His razor would thrust inside that greedy, gaping hole. He would tear her wide. He would cleave higher. He would split her navel, spill her intestines, hack away her sternum, chop her trachea, snap that delicate hyoid bone, and drag across her putrid mouth.
Those murderous desires tingled beneath his fingers. He exhaled.
"None of that now," He said and gently pushed her away. However, he did not want to appear very distant—then her curiosity would ignite. He cradled her hands and swallowed a curdling sensation, where it came, from his stomach. Sweeney masked the disgust in his words, "Keep yourself pure for tonight, me pet. Though our love is . . . beautiful, yes. I want to be washed of any notion of somethin' sinful."
Her eyes were suddenly luminous. Her voice exploded with jubilant exclamations and questions, "Oh, Mr. Todd! Are we destined for somethin' better than this? Oh, God is it true?"
"Yes, me dearest heart. We're destined for somethin' wonderful," He assured, mouth twisted into a faint smirk.
The promenade to the courthouse was unnecessary and tiresome. He heard nothing—for it was predictable, every damn word, what everyone yammered.
George Reaping and Catherine Daver were silent leaders—but that was just as well.
Mrs. Lovett was bursting with excitement. She was finally seeing Fortune City. Oh, wasn't it so long and anticipated for, Mr. Todd? Maybe it wasn't quite so sparklin' as Mr. Stone described—and here, Mr. Stone made some interjection. Oh, nothin' against you Mr. Stone, I'm sure. Maybe it wasn't jus' like you or I had pictured. But it is somethin', isn't it?
She was fastened to Thomas Bertram Stone, pointing at this building and that streetlight. She would not cease her rapid speech. Did she even pause for breath? She was a blur of words and phrases—a whirlwind so fast he only heard silence. And without hearing anything—somehow he heard it all before.
The only clear, discernable voice was Emma Balm. Her words were crisp like chiming bells.
"I would not think too much about anything, Mr. Todd. Much better to have an empty mind going into this ordeal—then you are neither surprised nor disappointed." The first bell rang.
"But I already know—" Sweeney whispered.
"Oh, oh," The second bell interjected and tinkled an octave lower, "Your lovely lady has no idea, does she?"
"The words lovely an' lady have no place with her," He lowly growled.
"Quite right," The third bell agreed.
"But no, she doesn't know anythin' at all," He affirmed.
"So what does she think she knows?" The fourth bell emphasized.
"She thinks we're goin' somewhere wonderful—where daises bloom from clouds an' other such nonsense," He grumbled, sadly delving his hands into empty pockets.
The fifth bell giggled and shook her golden locks—her laughter was almost contagious.
"Quiet, quiet," He hushed, keeping a steady eye on Mrs. Lovett, and continued, "She'll hear us."
"She cannot hear anything but her own voice," The sixth bell tolled.
"I suppose that ain't terribly far from the truth considerin' all I can hear is you," Sweeney sighed.
The seventh bell chortled again and tossed her head back, making an unbearable cacophony.
"Quiet! Be quiet would you?" Sweeney barked.
"No reason for anger now! Calm down, calm down. I am only laughing because of the obvious. You are so perfect for below this city. And maybe, perchance, they will grant you a gift greater than you ever had while alive." The eighth bell concluded.
"They? What do you mean they?" Sweeney inquired and added, "Fortune City has not given me a single gift."
Emma Balm said nothing. She pressed one slender finger against her smiling lips. Her eyes were immediately ablaze with promises of misery and torture. Her pointed teeth were creeping out like spilled secrets—the last discovery he would ever understand. Her head cocked forward. He was powerless beneath her suggestion—so he looked ahead.
The brief conversation consumed him. He did not remember walking up flights and flights of marble steps. He did not remember sitting down or having Mrs. Lovett pat his leg—a stupid, preamble for reassurance. He did not remember the verdict—well, he already knew the verdict. He did not remember the presentation. Was the judge harsh and relentless? Was the judge exasperated and dejected? Or was he stoic yet professional? Surely he would have remembered if Thomas gasped words instead of spoke them.
But one aspect of this unfortunate memory lapse was recollected—and even if the fires of Hell lapped his bones clean, he would never forget her face. It was the most beautiful distortion of pain and sorrow—and how quickly her shade changed from alabaster to crimson! Neither the razors nor his hands could ever create such a chaotic masterpiece. His words sculpted the deep furrows and creases in her forehead. His worthless promises scrunched her nose. His empty kisses made her lips tremble.
Alas, nothing so perfect can last forever. And his genius, his mastery of evoking anguish without drawing blood was doused. His creation spoke some very familiar words.
"You," Mrs. Lovett marveled before rumbling, "You lied to me."
"Now you know how it feels," Sweeney replied with a flat affect.
She could have said anything—any damn thing. He expected stuttering whines transforming to flying obscenities. But he was graced with something much different.
Mrs. Lovett reeled her body back, shot her head slightly forward, and spat in his face.
It was a disgraceful moment, to have her saliva stinging and coated to his eyelashes. He might have deserved her spit trailing down his cheeks like tears—that was the closest to crying she would ever see. But what was ahead, or rather beneath, would be more than enough punishment.
What else was left? There were no choices. There were no options. According to Miss Balm, everything was already determined. You were never meant for an afterlife above Fortune City. That was what she rambled on about, right? So what the point of prolonging anything?
Sweeney wiped his face with both hands and shook away her frothy spit—but it clung to his fingers like a sickening reminder. There was nothing left to do but laugh.
"How can you be laughin'?" Mrs. Lovett asked between clenched teeth.
"Think 'bout what they called us in London," He chuckled, watching her features soften and a little giggle escape her lips.
"The devil's wife an' the demon barber!" She cackled, clutching her stomach.
"We never had a chance!" He howled, watching tears pour down her cheeks.
"Sweeney Todd and Nellie Lovett, I ask for your pardon as you depart below Fortune City," The judge said, breaking a peculiar bond between the condemned.
The judge did not wait for a response. He made a quick downward motion with his left hand.
The floorboards behind them opened—similar to trapdoors. Their chairs reclined and tipped back. The barber and baker slipped down into darkness.
Their hysterical laughter echoed and lingered long after the floorboards closed.
Author's Note: There is only one thing left to ask: sequel-worthy?