A new idea that came into my head a few days ago, and wouldn't leave me alone. Please let me know if you think it's worth continuing. Thanks! :)
"I walk this empty street…on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams…"
I yanked sharply on the cord that connected to my earphones, unplugging one of them out of my right ear canal and allowing it to unceremoniously drop and dangle at my side, music still blasting from its end. Something willed me to look up at the depressed sky, silver clouds heavy with unshed rain, just in time for a fat, icy raindrop to splatter in the middle of my forehead like a Hindu dot. With a sigh, I dragged a black sleeve over my brow, wiping it clean with the kind of fake-leather jacket that Michael Jackson used to wear. London was very different.
I was warned by extended family that lived in England that it rained mucho in London. I braced myself for the cloudiness, but I was still taken by surprise by how bleak it was. Truth be told, it was a beautiful city, but so far I haven't seen a splash of bright color anywhere, all of the citizens seemed to have conspired to wear identical black and grey knee-length coats, and I looked like I had 'Yankee Tourist' written all over me thanks to the bright shade of my Green Day t-shirt, which, no-doubt, was green.
"Where the city sleeps….and I'm the only one…I walk alone…"
I was a college student studying abroad from the U. S. of A. that had miraculously gotten accepted to the London Institute of Technology and Medicine, amazing both myself and my whole family. They were more than eager to ship me off the UK and spend many long seasons in the care of my…eccentric British aunt, Miranda Lovett. See, we had her over for Christmas once when she was visiting the States in my California hometown, and she was just creepy in appearance. However, my siblings and I soon discovered her to be practical and witty, the perfect combination to be sure.
I have her business card in my hand with 'Lovett Bakery' scrawled on by a machine in elegant rose-pink cursive, with a sketch of a pink pie printed on the bottom next to the address: 186 Fleet Street. I just handed the card to the cab driver, who had picked me up from Heathrow Airport, and with a nod of his head, he got me here. However, the ride cost twelve percent of my pathetic student-salary, and grudgingly coughing up a several pounds and two Euros, I pressed the currency into the cab driver's open palm. He, in turn, veered off of the curb with such force that I was splashed by a murky puddle that just happened to be waiting for me at the bottom of the grey sidewalk.
Grey, grey! Why was everything so grey? I had already made up my mind to think about that later. I slung my black JanSport backpack over my shoulder, adjusting the strap. It was all I brought; for I was a light traveler, and my parents gave me some extra money to buy some clothes at Harold's this really huge department store somewhere in downtown. I was hardly aware of putting one foot in front of the other, for I was still in a daze from the ten-hour flight from LAX to Heathrow, and had some serious jetlag working up the fatigue.
"I walk alone…I walk alone…"
I almost didn't notice the great big sign with 'Lovett Bakery' painted a top a shabby store with dirty glass windows, streaked with old rain residue. I didn't realize how real this move was until I was at Miranda's doorstep. I let myself have a tiny little 'pep-talk' as I observed the bakery from outside. The old paint was chipped and peeling, and the newer, hunter green that was being painted over it looked bright and out-of-place on the exterior wood and brick walls of the shop.
If I had to guess, I would have said that the structure must have been built in the mid-eighteenth century like most of the shops on Fleet Street. An alpine, gloomy brick chimney towered over the other roofs of the street. The burgundy bricks were stained black from stack to vent with ashes and old smoke that even the constant rain couldn't seem to wash away. A set of wooden stair led up from the mini-courtyard up to a wooden door that looked like it hadn't been opened in years. Cheerful place, Fleet Street.
Movement at the furthest corner of my sight caught my eye and I jerked my line of vision to the right, landing on one of the grimy, rain-and-bird-turd-streaked windows of the corner shop. I was startled for a second at the unexpected display that met my gaze. A man leaned against the window, his arm raised over his head and propped up against the pane. He was as pale as a ghost, punctuating his dark eyes, shapely brows, and ebony hair. He wore a grey coat, the fashion of the nineteenth century, with brass buttons opened to reveal a white, loose-fitting shirt. There was a thick, ivory streak in his hair and a sadistic gleam in his eyes as he gazed at the world outside with stomach-churning disgust.
I was almost afraid to go in there.
He was looking right at me, but it seemed as if he could not see me, and was lost, wandering aimlessly in his own, deep, dark thoughts. He glanced behind over his shoulder disinterestedly, his attention snared by someone else. A woman appeared behind him, placing a gently, affectionate hand on his tense shoulder. He seemed to have hardly noticed her, turning back to the window and continuing to stare at the bleak London street, his brows furrowed as if planning something complicated. I, however, could not so readily dismiss the woman. She continued to watch the man, her face pale like his, but an expression of sorrow blended with love resided in her eyes instead of his malicious hate.
Was that Miranda? Or someone else? I haven't seen my aunt for so long that I hardly remembered her, her picture in my memory was fuzzy and her feature blurred. This woman seemed familiar however, with the same mop of curly auburn-brown hair pinned up in a mess atop her head, the dark, charming brown eyes and the hollowed cheeks with high bones. Her alabaster skin was accented by the dark dress she wore. That's weird. Why was she wearing such a poufy dress? Perhaps the man and the woman were historical reenactors, but what were they doing in the bakery?
My hand circled around rattling brass doorknob, twisting it around and pushing the door open.
"I walk alone…"
A rusty, tacky bell banged against its metal sides as the door pushed against it, continuing to ring as I kicked the door shut with my Converse-sneakered foot. This time, I ripped the other earphone out as well, cutting off the drum solo completely, tapping the off button and wrapping the dangly white cord several times around my lime green iPod, before shoving it into the pocket of my stone-washed jeans. Looks can be deceiving, for the inside of the bread shop was much more agreeable than its exterior. Fresh breads, cakes, donuts, pies, and pastries were put on display in brightly lit 'showcases' that kept the baked goods warm and saved them from perishing.
A granite counter was set up in the center of the room, complete with flat pink and white boxes labeled 'Lovett Bakery', set-up and ready for packaging, plastic bags with 'thank you's' printed on them, and a plastic cash register with a computerized sign indicating how much was owed by the customer. The floor was a different story. The wood was soiled with flour and streaked with dirt; the boards were vulnerable and creaked with every step. It looked out of place in an otherwise cleanish facility. I stared at the filthy floor again, was that legal?
Suddenly remembering the presence of the grim man and woman, I snapped my neck into their direction, eager to find them again for some strange reason I did not know myself. I was astonished to find that they weren't there. I furrowed my brow. That's…well…weird. They were there a minute ago I saw them with my own two eyes! That's kind of creepy, but I am a rational person and dismissed it, thinking that they must have stepped out of the other door across the room.
I heard loud footsteps above me, rushing to the hallway and then clamoring down the stairs. "Coming, love! Just you wait! Coming!" Called a sing-song voice, tainted with a soft, Irish-English accent. I remembered myself, I was the visitor, and here I had the accent. It was difficult to think of Americans having accents.
The woman I had seen a few minutes earlier appeared at the top of the stairs. Only she wasn't wearing a dress, she was clad in skin-tight jeans, a navy blue blouse, with matching flats and a headband. She looked chic. When she reached the bottom of the stairs she raised her head, and her brown eyes bore into mine. She cocked her head from side to side, letting the mess of brown curls brush against her shoulders, studying me as if trying to remember where she had last seen me. Hardly a second later, her lips split into a pleased smile.
"Angel!" She exclaimed in recognition. "I was expecting you, but I completely lost track of the days!" We stood awkwardly for a moment and smiled at each other, before she crossed the room and enveloped me in an affectionate hug. "Oh, welcome, darling."
I patted her back. "It's good to see you."
"Tis good to see you too, love!" Miranda Lovett put an arm around my shoulder and led me to a small sitting booth with leather seats that resided in the corner of her shop. She sat down across from me and we stared at each other.
I could tell that this was going to be very awkward for a while.
Suddenly she blinked, as if waking up from a trance, and began toying with her fingerless gloves. "I have forgotten me manners. You must be exhausted not to mention hungry." She rose from her chair and glided to one of the 'display cases' of pastries and selected a small, neat pie. Grabbing a paper plate from a nearby stack, she placed the food gracefully in front of me. "Tea? Coffee?"
"Tea, thank you." I murmured, sliding my JanSport backpack off of my shoulder and kicking it under the table. I bit in to the pie as she poured me some hot green tea. It had a most unusual taste, smooth and soft with just the right amount of salt. I gave credit to my aunt's talents as a baker. But I immediately lost my appetite when I noticed a fat cockroach on steroids scatter across the room.
Miranda slammed her foot down on it, a sickly crunchy noise proceeding. She shrugged indifferently to my stare. "Pest control problem, is all." Was that legal?
I swallowed hard, and a moment later she spoke again. "So, Angel Lovett." She began, folding her thin, spidery hands. "How are all they in the States?" I studied her before answering. She was my dad's sister, age thirty-three and single. I noticed how similar we were. The same kind of long, thin hands, pale skin, blackish eyes, and brown hair. Only hers was earth-brown, with gorgeously-frizzy curls, unlike mine, which was a darker, almost charcoal, shade of brown that came down in annoying waves that prevented me from doing anything fun with it.
"Fine." I replied shortly, disappointing her with such a crappy answer.
She shifted in her seat, looking uncomfortable. "Oh."
She left it for me to search for subjects, and I got the hint. "So, are you a part-time reenactor?"
She frowned. "Pardon?"
"I just saw you wearing a dress." I explained, twiddling my thumbs. "What was that all about?"
A flicker of a smile brushed her lips, but it dimmed and vanished immediately, almost as if it was never there. She patted my hand. "I think it best I show you to your room, love, it's getting to be quite dark."
I shrugged, determined to wrench an answer from her later. "Sure."
She had already twirled around, stalking diligently back up the stairs she came from. "You'll like this place, Angel." She called back to me, her voice dimming the farther away she went. I got up to follow her. "It's real fucked up."
I stopped, confused with her constant riddles. "Why?" I asked tentatively.
She sighed loudly. "Come up here, love."
To trust or not to trust? She was family, but she was more than just a little strange. I clutched the railing of stairs and took them slowly, one at a time. Miranda waited patiently as I ascended. I reached the top of the stairs and pulled the only door on the small loft open. She was already inside, seated at a hard-looking cot in one corner of the room. She smiled up at me and patted a spot beside her. I abandoned my backpack on the floor, wincing as it crashed loudly on the floor causing it to creak and moan. I chose to stand in front of her.
I recognized it to be the room I saw earlier, protruding out of the main roof of her house. The air was stale and the grey air was actually visible. The floor was streaked with grim and who knows what else, black, brown, and burgundy stains decorating it like a Persian carpet. The dust on the panels alone was thick enough to serve as a carpet; centimeters thick and transforming the wooden brown into a murky gray. Ugly wall paper clung to the fortification, peeling slowly like the bark off of an old tree.
Bulky cobwebs with chunky, black spiders-eww!-hung from every corner and available ceiling space like gloomy decorations for a crappy Halloween party. A broken window leaned against the northern wall, distorting my reflection, multiplying my eyes in its scattered image in a way that was freaking me out. There was a window in the attic that was streaked with so much old rain, rust, and some reddish-brown stains that fogged up the glass until it was impossible to see out to the Londonian world below. An ancient leather trunk rested silently beside the door, like an unopened tomb that had been there for ages.
To top all that off, there was a large square in the floor in the very middle of the room, jutting out of place like someone had sawed through the floor. I approached it cautiously, my curiosity as clear-cut and intense as a diamond. "Oh! Careful, love!" Miranda Lovett warned calmly.
I turned my head in the direction of her voice, not surprised to find her leisurely reclining on the white-sheeted cot. I raised an eyebrow at her. "Why? What is it?"
"Trap door." She replied with a smooth English accent.
Umm…thanks for not being vague. "A trap door to what?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "To the bake house."
That's not weird at all. I shook my head sharply. "But why?"
Again she patted the dusted bunk spot beside her. I submitted this time, plopping down beside her, ignoring the angry hiss of the metal springs as they coiled beneath my weight. "Something happened here many years ago, something not very nice."
I looked up at the pale, heart-shaped face of a fellow Lovett, slightly ticked at her continuous riddles. "What happened?" I had to fight it out of her.
"See, there was this barber and his wife. He was beautiful. His wife was beautiful. His little girl was beautiful." She paused for effect. "They lived in this very room, about two hundred years ago. Your great-great-great-great grandmother owned this house. Nellie Lovett-our ancestor-owned it she did." Miranda repeated, her eyes were cloudy-like the sky.
"There was this judge, see, exiled Benjamin Barker-the barber-to Australia. He wanted that wife, because she was so beautiful. Gone for fifteen years he was. But when 'e came back, his fam'ly 'twas gone." Her eyes flickered to my face. "Nellie Lovett took him back in-to this very room-his landlady once 'gain."
I leaned closer. "What happened?" My whisper pierced the dark room.
"She told 'im 'bout his wifey, how the silly thing took arsenic from the apothecary that used to be here 'round the corner some years ago. Died was what she told 'im. Lied through her teeth, she did." Miranda spoke gravely, intensifying her dark soap opera.
I was getting a bit nervous about remaining in the room, but her story was hypnotizing. "Why did she lie?"
A ghost of a smile touched her pale lips, and here eyes glowed with scandalous light. "She loved him."
Not the smartest way to do things.
Miranda continued before I could say anything. "But he paid her no mind. Life lost meaning for 'im. He only thought of that damned judge. Hated him, he did. Loathed and despised and any other word you could think of."
Again, she stopped. "What happened?"
Her voice sounded hollow and throaty when she responded. "He went mad."
"What happened?" I repeated.
"People started ter disappear, he was known as Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street, well, at least after the police found him." She spat the man's name in disgusting, as if it was vile in her mouth.
I frowned in fearful curiosity, almost too scared to ask. "What did they find?"
"Him." She murmured dramatically. "Kneeling in the bake house, throat slit, blood pouring onto his wife who he held in his arms. He killed 'er by mistake." Her voice dwindled until it was barely above a harsh whisper. "Found scraps of a dress and some rings in the oven. Threw her in there-that bastard-killed a Lovett!" Her hands curled up into tight fists, quivering with fury.
I swallowed hard. "Why did he kill his wife?"
She smirked a little at that. "Didn't recognize her. Thought she was just a menace beggar woman. Almost killed Johanna, too. And the judge, they found a bloody pulp of him, dropped down to the cookhouse through that very trap door." She cocked her head at it.
I followed her line of sight. "Why did he kill them?"
"Because they all deserved to die." She spat, standing up abruptly, as if stung. "Except Nellie." Miranda Lovett whispered.
"He killed his wife." I repeated, confusion knotting at my brain, leading me in circles.
"He pushed Nellie into the fire…" She clarified with a tranquil swallow. "…because because of her, he killed his own wife by mistake."
"That's awful." I massaged my forehead, jet lag overpowering my senses.
The smirk reappeared again. "You know the victims? To rid the body, the woman made 'em into pies, she did, clever woman, Nellie Lovett. They found almost one-hundred and sixty sets of clothing. Been eatin' people-pies all that time-the fools-didn't even know it." She looked almost proud at such a macabre thought. Miranda looked at me. "You're a Lovett, too, you know."
I am not Nellie.
I felt disgusted. Disgusted to have such a family history, and disgusted that my aunt had such a dark side to her. "Not a Todd." Miranda whispered.
She hated him. I could tell that my aunt truly loathed him. How she said his name: Sweeney Todd, spitting it out like I child spits out cough medicine behind its mother's back. "How do you know all this?" I asked, folding my legs beneath me and brushing my bangs out of my eyes. "It was two hundred years ago. Records weren't kept back then as they are now. The police couldn't possibly know their motives."
"They told me." She stared straight ahead, as if making eye contact with a person that wasn't there. That more than freaked me out.
"W-who told you?" I whispered, refusing to look in the direction she was looking.
She smiled ahead, and then broke her gaze, returning to reality. "Now look at me!" The congeniality returned to her personality, and all of the deathliness evaporated. "Sittin' here borin' you when you must be exhausted out of your wits. Come, come love. 'Tis off to bed with you. I want you bright and early tomorrow morning, to show you London!" She grinned, and with a dramatic sweep of her arm, exited the room.
Sleep? Now? No thanks. I have the most serious jet lag, but to top all that off, the time change: California-Eastern London; I wouldn't be able to fall asleep even if I tried. Why was she treating me like a kid, I was a college freshman, nineteen years of age-and it felt good. Whatever. I listened to the soft tap of her flats prattle down the stairs, and I was left all alone in a dark, filthy room with the only source of artificial light coming from my phone when I flipped it open, but it was almost out of battery juice.
I made my way to the corner where I had discarded my JanSport bag, using the pathetically dim cell-phone-light to tug on the zipper and dig through the contents inside. Toothbrush, pajamas that say 'Disneyland' on them, suggestive Hello Kitty underwear, and…I kind of feel like someone's watching me. It's not a very nice feeling, those who experienced it before could relate to me. The fine hairs on the back of my neck rose to a fearful frenzy. It felt like someone was in the room with me.
"There was a barber and his wife, and she was beautiful…" A deep, breaking voice sang softly in the night, but it scared the everything out of me.
Usually people scream when they're terrified, but I freeze and don't breathe, kind of like an ostrich, sticking its head into the sand. My heart pounded loudly in my ears as I sat there on the floor, trying to think of every rational idea for from where the voice could possibly be coming from. Perhaps Miranda turned on the radio? No, the voice was soft, and I wouldn't be able to hear it through the walls. I started to panic. Suppose somebody had broken into the room. No, there was no one in the room when I came in, and I didn't hear anyone get in either.
Suddenly I thought of the movie Paranormal Activity. I didn't believe in ghosts. No. This was probably my imagination. Then other movies and TV shows came into mind. Ghost Hunters. No, I refuse to think that it is a ghost. "I don't believe in ghosts…" I whispered harshly into the pitch black darkness. "I don't believe in ghosts!"
I felt cold air tickle my ear, like someone breathing, and I recoiled. "We all…deserve…to die." Jesus-Christ-my-savior-and-lord-what-was-that? I just got here! Tears welled up in my eyes; I was too terrified to move. "Even you, Mrs. Lovett, even I…" I felt something icy and cold wrap forcefully around my neck in a choke hold.
That's when I screamed my lungs out. It was the loudest I have ever screamed. I clawed ferociously at the air, suddenly thick and ice-cold in front of me. I wrenched away and the hold around my throat loosened, the air thinned, and the temperature rose. But I ran anyway tripping over my own two feet and stumbling in the darkness. I only wish I had remembered the trapdoor, because as soon as my right foot stomped on it, it broke open and I found myself free falling.
The bottom was lit and I could see the 'shadows' of fire cackling from the deep. It was as if I was falling into hell. I screamed the whole way down, as the velocity increased. The air was thickening again so much that it was difficult to breathe. Wind rushed upwards from me and there were voices floating around me screaming my name, screaming the names of others: Johanna! Lucy! Nellie! Angel! I felt the emotions of other people: love, hate, lust, fury…
Then I hit the bottom.
Can I trouble you for a review? Like/hate/criticism? Thanks for reading and thanks in advance!