"Bertie, my love, I am home!" Winnifred Mooney said in a singsong voice as she dragged her aching body inside the property she'd just purchased.
It was on the number 186 of Fleet Street. A quaint shop and adjacent home where the only man she'd ever loved, Mr. Albert Lovett, had lived and died over 10 years ago. More recently, it was where his widow, Eleanor Price—Mrs. Mooney refused to call her by her married name—and her barber lover had set up a horrific enterprise that had ended the lives of many Londoners, including their own, in a massacre the city was still talking about more than a year later. The barber, Mr. Sweeney Todd, was found with his throat slit and the dark widow, calcined in the oven where she baked her infamous meat pies. In the building's basement that she-devil used as a bakehouse also lay the lifeless bodies of the honourable Judge Turpin and the esteemed Beadle Bamford, and more unidentified remains of the many men and women Mr. Todd savagely murdered in his tonsorial parlour for her to use as pie filling.
Yet Winnie wasn't bothered. How could she? Such tragedy prompted a significant lowering of the price! Besides, she was sure those demons were burning in hell—for the second time in Ms. Price's case—so she'd be free to spend the rest of her life with the love of her life, sharing a house like a proper married couple.
Ever since his tragic death left a void in her heart she'd been unable to fill no matter the many cats she adopted, Winnie had tried anything to bring him back. From the more mainstream séances to the more obscure practices and rituals she found in an old book her grandmother gave her when she was a child growing up in Scotland. But nothing seemed to work.
Eventually, Winnie theorised it might be because she didn't have his body. Bertie's evil widow decided to cremate him instead of giving his beautiful corpse proper rest, all to save a few pennies to buy more of her prostitute dresses or maybe to hide the evidence of her cold-blooded murder of Albert. So, even if Winnie managed to commune with his spirit, she couldn't bring him back to earth without a vessel for him to occupy—Frankenstein had taught her that much. Assembling a body for him out of remains she stole from cemeteries was out of the question, for it was too risky. She tried sacrificing one of her many felines for him, the one with the lusher coat and healthier appetite, but it was to no avail. She supposed that such a handsome and elegant man wouldn't want to be essentially reincarnated into a lowly street cat.
After some more research, she came across this theory gaining rapid popularity in the world of occultism: that some spirits—those that were neither too saintly to ascend to heaven nor too evil to secure a one-way ticket to hell—were attached to the homes they once inhabited. Clutching at straws to keep her dream alive, Winnie did everything to buy the property off Mrs. Lovett, even offering her to pay a much higher price than it was actually worth. The tart always refused, even when her meat pie commerce was failing, and she had to open a more lucrative business between her legs to keep herself alive. When a desperate Winnie asked her why so adamant on keeping the house when she could use the money to start over somewhere else, the late Eleanor Price informed her she was waiting for an old friend's return and had to be home for when that happened.
What a looney, Mrs. Mooney thought. As if she wasn't aware that the only old friend who'd probably be interested in visiting her was the devil himself.
In any case, she had to wait until the mad dollymop hopped the twig to buy the house she'd been dreaming of for over a decade. It'd been worth it. No one and nothing could tear her and Bertie apart now.
As soon as she set a foot in, she felt a cold current of air hit her in the face like a nasty slap, so strong it almost pushed her back outside. Must be my Bertie giving me a hug, he must have missed me so much, she thought. "I've missed you too, Bertie! And I'm here to stay! Forever!" she said, closing the door with a bang.
The first thing Mrs. Mooney did was taking a tour of the house. She was gutted beyond belief to realise that Ms. Price had eradicated most traces of her beloved butcher. Even the beautiful photograph presiding over the shop was now gone, replaced by one of her with the barber and the urchin they adopted. What a hussy, flaunting her immoral affair with the barber as if they were a proper family when they were not even married. Rumour had it that the baker was pregnant with his bastard at the time of her death, and that's why the handsome devil tossed her into the flaming furnace. Such lengths he went to not to marry that cunt. The story goes that she rose from the blaze and slit his throat with his priced silver razor, dragging him to the pits of hell with her. Well, good riddance to that demonic couple. They deserved each other.
Walking over to the parlour, she scrunched her nose at the smell. Overly sweet patchouli mixed with dust, a dizzying combination that made her long for Bertie's distinct aroma of sausages, whisky and smoke from his pipe. She took in the flowered wallpaper, a downgrade from Bertie's grey-stripped one. The abundance tacky knickknacks and dolls also helped cheapen the room that once held so much power and regality. The nail in the coffin was realising that Bertie's beloved leather chair by the liqueur cabinet was no longer there. That ungrateful bitch had attempted a complete erasure of the man who saved her from the streets.
Winnie was about to exit the room, already thinking of all the renovations she'd have to do to the place to restore its former glory when she noticed a rather big coral vase on the fireplace. Next to it, a photo of Albert with his evil bride shortly after they married, as well some dried-up flowers. Those must be Mr. Lovett's ashes. Without further ado, she sprinted towards the vase, holding it carefully and sprinkling it with tiny loving kisses on its cool porcelain exterior, like she'd never been allowed to when he was alive. "Together at last!" she chanted as she pulled the vase close to her saggy chest.
There was a knock on the door and Mrs. Mooney went to open, carrying the ashes of her love in her arms as if the urn was a babe. It was the men she'd hired to help her move her most precious possessions, namely her life-size Albert doll and all the fragile elements that made up the altar to his memory. The rest of the furniture, she didn't care much about. She'd sell it all to redecorate this house according to Bertie's tastes. With a surge of energy she hadn't felt since she was a young woman, she began setting up the altar.
Next up, she dragged her most priced item, a life size doll modelled after Mr. Lovett himself, to the master bedroom she would now be occupying. Every night she lay next to it, holding it close and allowing herself to pretend that the cruel fortunes of destiny—or his wife's greed—hadn't ended the butcher's life so prematurely. That he was there, flesh and blood and the right amount of fat. Hers at last. If only in the realm of her dreams.
The bedroom was unsurprisingly of poor taste, with more gaudy flowered wallpaper and even gaudier satin-like yellow bedding that had holes in them and were rumpled as if Ms. Price had just been riding Saint George with the barber a few hours ago. Properly peeling off the covers to put her doll to bed until she was ready to join it, she noticed that the sheets were in a worse state than she originally thought. Drops of blood adorning them like a polka dots, and some cream crusty substance staining the already dirty-looking fabric in quite a few places as if it were a map. The pillowcase smelled of sweat and rotting fish and more blood and was smeared with the rouge the dishonest baker once used to colour her lips and cheeks with like the whore she was. Removing the sheets with a clinical demeanour, she resolved to look for more suitable bedding on the nearby chest of drawers.
She was not having much luck, for in every drawer she only found some tasteless yet expensive-looking garments worn by Eleanor Price that she was already thinking of selling for a pretty penny at the market. But no bedsheets or blankets. She sighed, Winnie did not fancy sleeping on the cold mattress but even that was preferrable to lying on the same bedclothes those monsters sinned on. Resigned, she opened her last drawer. It was there that she found it.
Under an indecent pair of red and black stripped tights was a small wedding band. That could only mean one thing.
"I do, Bertie! Of course I do! I'm so very happy, my love" Winnifred exclaimed, putting the golden band on her bony finger. It was too big for her but she did not care. In her mind, it was her Bertie's way of asking for her hand in marriage all the way from the afterlife and she was overjoyed.
Thinking herself Mrs. Lovett at last, Winnie lay in bed next to her Albert doll. Pulling it to her, she began trembling. She felt as if it were their wedding night. The first night with her love, she could feel his presence in the room, his longing to be with her just like she longed to be with him.
Winnifred was more confident than she's ever been. She could and would bring him back. One way or another.
"I think someone finally bought the property!" Nellie announced happily. "I just saw the sign being taken down. How exciting! Maybe it's a family with children. I've always loved having children round, they infuse the place with a vitality that, frankly, had been lacking for many years until dear Toby came into our lives. I wonder what became of him. I hope he is happy and healthy and all that. But back to our new guests! Or maybe we are the guests since they paid money for the house and we now live here rent-free. Anyway, do you think we will be able to communicate with them? I heard many stories about séances when I was alive, but I always deemed them as frauds, cheap tricks to get some quick cash. I even hosted one myself once and earned a pretty penny for telling some lies and nothing remotely ghostly happened, so of course I never believed. But mind you, I never believed in the afterlife either and here we are."
She closed her rather-scattered monologue with a cackle, but her housemate didn't seem to acknowledge her or anything she'd said. He always chose to tune her out as his mind sought solace in the memories of a happy past that didn't involve her.
Her face fell at once, and there was the all-familiar heaviness settling in her chest. She willed herself to ignore as she approached the barber. He was staring out the window just like he used to do when he was alive. When they said old habits die hard, they clearly hadn't met Sweeney Todd. Even after his actual death, his old pesky habits that drove her mad didn't bloody die. His expression as vacant as always, his eyes empty. His soul had been swallowed by the great black pit he called London many years before he died, and he was barely a wraithy carcass full of hatred, resentment, and bloodthirst.
Supressing a sigh, Nellie kissed the back of his neck and predicably, he didn't react. But the obstinate baker would never stop trying.
"C´mon, love. Cheer up, will you? This is the most exciting thing that has happened to us in the year we've been dead! I'm so bored here doing nothing all day!" she pouted and grabbed his hand for him to look at her, but Mr. T remained motionless. She kept trying, a coy smile lighting up her features as she stood on her tippy toes to whisper in his ear. "If we're lucky, we might get a young horny couple to show them how it's done. You know, give them a run for their money. Me moans and your grunts will haunt them forever." She playfully bit his earlobe.
"Leave me" was the only reaction she got from him. His expression had turned into a grimace. It hurt.
"There's nowhere I can bloody go! You are trapped here with me whether you like it or not!" she yelled as she glided down the stairs.
She hated how her voice cracked at the end, how her hollow eyes filled with tears. How her foolish heart still beat for him, for her unrepentant murderer, and how still gave him the power to twist the knife and make it bleed whenever he fancied. She never would have imagined he could kill her more than once, but he was proving her wrong.
A mess of tears and hiccups, Nellie entered her bedroom, closing the door with a loud bang. She could have easily gone through the wall, but she chose to be dramatic. Yet her other housemate, her late husband Albert, merely looked up from his plate for a few seconds before returning to the delicious roast Nellie had prepared for him that morning. It was a blessing ghosts could still eat, sleep and do most things they did when they were alive. Only leaving the house was off-limits and that was fine by him, for he'd always been a homebody. But sharing the house with the mercurial lovers disturbed his supposedly eternal rest more often than not.
Needless to say, this wasn't the first time he witnessed them fighting, to the point that he was no longer phased. This wasn't even one of their most vicious fights, for it involved no punching or slapping, no throat slitting nor stabbing and thankfully, not pushing anyone inside a blazing oven, as if those acts had any real consequence now that they no longer had a life the other could take. You simply couldn't die twice in the actual sense of the word. That didn't mean they stopped trying to hurt each other.
He vividly remembered how it was at the beginning, when they first crossed the threshold and entered the realm of the dead together. Albert was shocked that the ultimate Judge had found some redeeming qualities in Sweeney and had allowed him to stay on earth instead of letting him burn in hell, but he was even more shocked to see that the burgeoning feelings they had for one another had seemingly evaporated in the bakehouse before they passed. On both sides. It soon became clear that the mean barber and his Nellie despised each other. They outwardly refused to talk to one another unless it was to insult and demean, to throw out reproaches with the venom of the most poisonous of snakes and engage in a never-ending blaming game.
Albert, who'd long been dreaming about finally welcoming her and her glorious balloons into the afterlife, was secretly elated. He'd always known she was infatuated with their young tenant Mr. Barker, and even though that once he passed and Mr. Barker returned in his new dark persona, he'd enjoyed the voyeuristic experience of watching them shag like rabid animals almost every night, he still considered her his wife. He was looking forward to get her back now that her affair with the barber was down in the gutter. The til death do us part never accounted for an afterlife on earth, as far as he was concerned.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, they got carnal once more and Albert was forced to rest his case, for antagonising the deadly barber scared him even more than Mrs. Mooney's lousy but persistent attempts to commune with him in one of her multiple séances and rituals. Thus, he had no choice but to take a back seat as he watched the resurrection of the affair he thought to be dead and buried along with their bodies.
They still fought viciously during the day, but they exchanged their weapons for kisses and caresses at night, as if it was the most normal thing to do. And over time, they mellowed down. Their fights were not as frequent and not usually as explosive, their cool offs lasted longer and occasionally, there were some glimpses of quotidian peace between the two.
Overall, their arrangement was not too different to the one they had when they were still alive, yet something was. There was a bitter animosity festering in the baker, one that wasn't there before no matter how crude or cruel he was to her. Once she accepted her seaside dreams had died with her, she stopped making excuses for Mr. Todd. She no longer saw the best in him, nor did she trick herself into thinking he would magically become a good man for her. She finally saw life—or death— as it was, and that hurt worse than hell.
Feeling a surge of pity for the woman he'd once been proud to call his wife, Albert stood up, taking his plate with him as he made a beeline for her bedroom. He knocked on the door couple of times out of politeness before walking through it. Nellie was on the bed, curled up into a ball as she sobbed like there was no tomorrow. But tomorrows were all they had, and it would be a pity to spend the rest of her existence crying for someone who didn't deserve those tears.
He tentatively approached her, flopping down on the bed next to her and running a pudgy hand through her tangled locks. "There, there, Nellie" he soothed her with as much tenderness as he could muster. "Don't cry, you look less pretty when you cry. Come on, I brough you some food" he said, referring to his half-eaten plate of Sunday roast with only the Brussel sprouts left.
She looked up and managed a small smile at him. He was a piggish oaf, but at least he tried to make her feel better, something that could not be said for Sweeney. The bastard was probably unaware of how much he hurt her with his callous indifference, or perhaps he was sadistically enjoying her suffering like the demon he was. She dissolved into more heart wrenching sobs at the thought.
"I can't keep existing like this. I thought death would be a relief, he said death would be a relief, but this is worse than being alive" she told Albert. For all his flaws, she'd found him to be a good listener, a shoulder to cry on.
After getting reacquainted with her late husband in the first months she spent on the other side, she realised he wasn't nearly as bad as she remembered him to be. She spent the years they were married pinning after Benjamin Barker, dreaming of a perfect life with him when he finally returned, and she never allowed herself to get to know the man she was married to.
And then, he just died one day, the good memories fading over the years, so only a vague picture of a tone-deaf man with an insatiable appetite remained. But he was more than that, she knew now. He was a decent man and they could have been happy together had she not been so hung up on a fantasy. And now it was too late, she didn't know when or how it happened, but she had fallen deeply in love with Sweeney Todd and that would never change, no matter what he did to her, how badly he treated her.
That was her curse, the price to pay for all her sins. For hurting the one she loved with a lie that instead of making him love her, made him hate her.
"I know he doesn't want me, doesn't want this afterlife with me" she continued. "I know he spends his days holed up in his blasted attic daydreaming, wishing he could be with his dear perfect Lucy up in heaven, even though that two-faced madwoman is probably haunting the filthy corner she set up shop at. And I'm here, hopelessly devoted and willing to swallow me pride and me hurt to do everything to make him content for the rest of our existences, but it's not enough. I will never be enough for him. I know he still resents me, that's why he keeps doing this to me. Bloody cold murderer of me body, heart and soul. He will never change."
"You don't know that. We have all the time in the world, he can change. Being trapped here gives you some perspective. I for instance, didn't like turkey meat when I just passed but now I appreciate the mild gamy flavour it possesses" Albert offered, to try and make her feel better but she just shook her head.
"He will never love me" she said with the solemnity of the woman who'd been deluding herself for too long. Even the biggest of dreamers opened their eyes at some point.
Albert didn't say anything, he had no desire to lie to her. He too doubted the barber was capable of loving anymore, hadn't been for quite some time. Actual death was only a formality in Sweeney Todd's case.
Hours went by and the day turned into night. The late butcher was in the parlour enjoying a nightcap when he saw the barber descending from his fortress and into the bedroom of the battered damsel. Soon, hushed whispers and breathy moans filled the air, growing in volume as their reconciliation reached its peak. No matter what happened between them, for every night without fail, she took him back.
Locked up in this house for all the eternity, Nellie Lovett was also a prisoner of her love for him.
She, who'd cried herself to sleep, jolted awake when she felt a presence behind her, wandering hands sneaking around her waist and up to her chest and soft kisses on her neck. She knew this uncharacteristic tenderness meant that he was somewhat sorry for hurting her, and she smiled softly despite her heartache. How she wished he could say the words, to show some real remorse not just because of this trifle, but for everything he put her through. But in that case, she would have to apologise as well, and she was not remotely prepared for that.
She just sighed, giving in. There was no use in staying angry with him, that would only make things worse. Thus, she swept the lingering pain under the rug with the rest of her unwanted feelings as she surrendered to her desire for him.
They were together for all the eternity, just like she dreamed. But she now feared she should have been more careful with what she wished for.
The calm after the storm took over the quaint Fleet Street abode, but Albert Lovett was still awake. Ghosts didn't need sleep to function, and although most still did it out of habit, the butcher had always favoured late night snacking when he was alive and now he could finally indulge with no consequences. His conversation with Nellie had his curiosity piqued, so he slid through the wall of the master bedroom, as silently as only a ghost could be. He was perplexed by what he saw.
The lovers were fast asleep, and they were cuddling. The baker lay with her head on his naked torso, as if she'd fallen asleep listening to his inexistent heartbeat. The barber had his arms protectively wrapped around her small frame, as if she were the most precious thing to him.
A thought occurred to him as he exited the bedroom to let the lovers rest in peace. Perhaps he was wrong, perhaps Nellie was wrong. Perhaps Sweeney Todd was finding in death what he couldn't in life, a love not for his razors or the memory of his mad wife, but for the petite baker who would never stop loving him.
Even if he murdered her a thousand more times.
"Bertie, my love, I am home!" the voice of their worst nightmares spoke as she entered the house she'd just purchased.
"Her!?" the baker and the butcher yelled in unison as they shared an alarmed look, their minds racing. Spurred on by a surge of terror, Albert Lovett rushed to the kitchen, leaving the lovers alone in the parlour.
Although he wasn't as quick as his housemates, the barber did react, letting out a grunt of displeasure as he flicked open the only razor those corrupt bobbies hadn't taken when they searched the place for evidence. Sensing his intentions, Nellie put a hand on his wrist, and he begrudgingly put it back inside the box. She didn't know if a ghost could kill a living person, but the silver object he polished every morning just like he did in life was the same one that had taken the lives of countless victims.
"If she really bought the house and you kill her now, we're stuck with her for good" she cautioned, and he stiffly nodded. She interlaced her fingers with his and was relieved he didn't let go of her hand. "Let's go see what that bleeding hag is up to" she said as they followed Albert to the shop.
"I've missed you too, Bertie! And I'm here to stay! Forever!" Winnifred said merrily when the ghost of the butcher charged at her, intent of keeping her out of the property. But Winnie Mooney interpreted the spectral assault as a hug and a caress and went in anyway. Nellie couldn't help but frown, recognising the pattern romantic delusion in her fellow baker. But Nellie wasn't that much of a lunatic, was she?
The ghosts watched as Winnie went over the house, scrunching her nose at the furniture and the decorations as if she was the epitome of good taste. Of course, Nellie knew by the wistful expression on her face that she was recalling how the place was when Albert was the sole occupant, from how it looked to how it smelled. The dead woman sighed, remembering the many times she'd gone up to Benjamin's old flat when he was in Australia to do the exact same thing.
Perhaps they weren't so different after all. Desperate women, madly in love with men who wouldn't love them back.
That didn't mean she suddenly liked Mrs. Mooney. She remembered how unwelcome that cunning bag of bones made her feel in the neighbourhood from the moment she set a foot in, how blatant her attempts to steal her husband were and how, after he passed and times became hard, she rejoiced in her struggling, mocking and making up rumours to steal her already depleted clientele. And when she had no choice but to sell her body to pay for some meat to keep her shop afloat—because adopting Mrs. Mooney's business model was against her principles—that ugly hag dared to come to her with an air of superiority, offering her to buy the house and the shop as if she were doing her a favour. She never let her bask in the humiliation. With her head high, she always rejected her offers, even when she desperately needed some coins to survive and her hopes of Benjamin ever returning dwindled by the day.
It paid off at the end, because Benjamin came back as Sweeney and together they enjoyed a year of personal and professional bonanza that put Mrs. Mooney to shame. The Fleet Street baker got her love and a prosperous business, she felt on the top of the world. And then she was murdered by her lover, and a year later, Winnifred Mooney had acquired the house. Nellie had won some battles, but Winnie had won the war. It stung.
"If she keeps grimacing like that, her decrepit face is going to crack like a mirror" she commented bitterly. "Not that it would make any difference. What an ugly witch she is, always has been". That was something Winnifred would never be better at. Even as a ghost, Nellie would remain the most beautiful of the two and not only because she was younger. That's why Albert chose her. It was a small consolation, she supposed, but she'd take it.
Sweeney chuckled lightly; he was definitely not above taunting. Albert opened his mouth to say something but was rendered speechless when he witnessed Winnifred running towards his urn and start dropping sloppy kisses on its porcelain surface.
"Stop it, get her off me!" Albert shouted. He could almost feel her kisses on his skin, and he did not like it one bit. Mercifully, someone knocked on the door and Winnifred went to open. A relieved Albert couldn't help but gag. "She better not kiss me again. Her breath smells like sardines."
Nellie giggled softly, remembering how his breath didn't smell much better when he kissed her. She shuddered at the memory. She thought Sweeney would remain silent, but he surprised them all with a nonchalant remark. "Must've shared her cat's food."
At that, Nellie broke into a loud guffaw. It wasn't that good of a joke, but he'd taken her off guard. She'd never seen Sweeney showcase any sense of humour. The butcher joined her with a low laugh, but it died down before hers and he resolved to observe the lovers.
Nellie kept laughing hysterically, as if she'd never heard anything funnier in his life. He was grinning, but his grin was less sinister than normal. There was a look in his eyes he hadn't seen before the night he watched them sleep, or perhaps he'd simply hadn't noticed. The demon's eyes were… soft as he looked at her.
"Oh, love, you surely are a comedian" she said lightly, and just like that, his frown returned. Nellie didn't seem to notice but Albert sighed.
The man could pretend all he wanted that he had no feelings unrelated to murder and revenge, but the occasional glimpses to his soul revealed otherwise. He wasn't as indifferent to the baker as he was so adamant in making her feel.
Winnifred's untimely return broke him from his thoughts. He felt like he was having a heart attack upon seeing the very realistic doll of himself she was dragging through the parlour. It was so accurate that if Albert didn't know Nellie chose to cremate him to avoid the prohibitive cost of a proper burial, he'd think the hag had taxidermied his body. It even had a prominent bulge between his legs, as if little Bertie was getting happy. Must be an illusion, because little Bertie would never awake in her presence. She disgusted him even more than when she was younger, if that was possible.
She walked with it to the master bedroom and laid it on the bed. "I'm not sleeping with that ugly thing" Nellie exclaimed and neither knew whether she was referring to Winnie or the doll that bore an uncanny resemblance to her husband until she turned to Albert, biting her lip apologetically. "Sorry, dear, that was uncalled for."
Sweeney didn't seem to have heard her and Albert was cudgelling his brains to come up with an equally witty remark as he tried to rein in his anger. He knew she was joking, but he was a proud man. It was then that barber spoke, his voice barely above a whisper.
"You can sleep in my tonsorial parlour. The bed is big enough."
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. Sweeney had finally left her speechless. Because his offer meant more than it would seem. His barber shop that doubled as his living quarters was his sanctuary, the place where he paid homage to his most treasured memories and let them come alive. Nellie was rarely allowed in, and even more rarely was she allowed to stay the night. When they shagged up there—because both had a fetishist kink of shagging in the barber shop where he committed his murders—he always showed her out after they were down. But now he was inviting her in, he was openly asking her to share his bed. It wasn't the same he had when he was married to Lucy, that would have been too much of a profanity for him, but it was his bed either way, in the home he once shared with his family and that was a feat, a small win she would cherish. She had to thank Mrs. Mooney for that, she supposed.
All of a sudden, Winnifred erupted into a burst of glee, getting everyone's attention. In a drawer, she found Nellie's old wedding ring she'd removed shortly after Sweeney returned. And the hag was convinced the ghost of Bertie had strategically put it in there to ask for her hand in marriage. "I do, Bertie! Of course I do! I'm so very happy, my love" she chanted as she got in bed with her doll, her ring on her finger as the self-proclaimed Mrs. Lovett.
"Bloody witch! She is delusional if she thinks we are married! I'd rather marry a flat woman with a stick-like figure!" Albert exclaimed, enraged. If he weren't already dead, he'd go into cardiac arrest. Especially when Winnie removed her dress, baring her saggy chest and her yellowing skin to the ghosts down to her bony feet. Albert wanted to vomit when he saw her rubbing her hairy mound against the leg of the doll.
"We'll give you two some privacy, love. It's not every day you have your wedding night. A bit old, but she's all yours to deflower" Nellie said teasingly and wink, she ascended with Sweeney to the tonsorial parlour above.
Knowing himself to be powerless to stop this without touching her, he decided to use a diversion tactic. He flew over to the altar she'd carefully set up earlier and with all the pent-up fury he was harbouring upon seeing her disgusting antics, he knocked some items over.
"Albooney!" Winnie screamed from the bedroom, but suddenly remembered she'd cooked up that naughty cat who had a penchant for destroying her altar years ago. And its replacements with the same name were long gone too. She gulped, suddenly a bit apprehensive. "Bertie? Is it you?"
He didn't say anything, but that night he haunted her dreams to the that point she woke up crying. If she didn't want to leave willingly, he would kick her out her himself.
But the days went by, turning into months as the leaves fell from the trees to welcome a new season and Mrs. Mooney still hadn't left. The ghosts of the former occupants of the house had tried everything, from the classic tricks of opening windows and banging on doors in the middle of the night to Sweeney and Nellie shagging in the same bed she was sleeping in, sometimes over her, always moaning and screaming with abandon into her ear. But when she felt something, an energy she couldn't quite place, she always deemed it as Albert giving her a hug, Albert waking her up to chat, him sending her little coded messages to let her know he misses her and that he wants to be with her forever
Nellie was positive now that she wasn't that much of a lunatic
As all hallows' eve approached, Winnie picked up a new notion, a worrisome prospect that filled the ghosts with terror: That she might have to die too to finally be reunited with Albert.
She hadn't taken any drastic measures yet, but they were growing paranoid. They wouldn't know how to stop her, how to prevent her from trying to take her own life. Because they could shatter the bottle of poison she planned to take, but she could always buy another one. They could hide all the knives in the house, but she could still bang her head against the stone counters of the shop. And she could always run out and let a carriage run over her. If someone really was determined to die, they would.
But despite their distress, Nellie found a reason to be excited. In less than a week it would be all hallows' eve and ghosts could leave the confinement of their homes to explore the world like they did when they were alive.
It wasn't their first all hallows' eve. Last year, she'd gone out for a walk with Albert—Sweeney had predictably refused to leave his parlour, the ruminations over his death and last murders at their peak—but she'd been forced to wait for him as he sniffed the food the costermongers carried as if he could eat it, and they had barely made it to the Thames when he announced his legs were cramping and that he must go home to rest. Even in death, he had the stamina of a slug.
Nellie had remained out, wandering around London like a lost soul—which she technically was. The world was moving on without her, people were getting married, babies were getting born and sinners and saints alike passed on to the other side every hour. It was the circle of life, and it was depressing her beyond belief. Because she still had so much vitality in her, so many adventures were in her horizon, a beautiful baby gestating in her womb that simply ceased existing when she died, just like their siblings before him or her did. She'd hoped to see them in the afterlife, a small consolation after she lost what she treasured the most—her life— but they weren't there.
It was only her brutish late husband and her murderer whom she didn't want to love anymore.
So she'd stayed out late, until the sun rose in the east, hoping that perhaps it would burn her translucent skin, turning her into dust and putting her out of her mystery. She closed her eyes when she felt its warmth on her skin, but when she opened them, she was back in the prison she once called home.
But this year is different!, she told herself as her melancholy threatened to make a comeback. Circumstances had me a friend out of Albert, and things were much better between her and Sweeney. They hadn't fought since the day Mrs. Mooney bought the property and they were practically a proper couple now that they slept together every night!
"So" she began, and the men barely lifted their eyes from his plate of porkchops and from the razor he was polishing, respectively. "Where are we going this year? I would love to crash a ball or something. Costume events are all the rage amongst the wealthy and being ghosts and all, they can't turn us out at the door. It's brilliant! Of course we can't drink or eat any human-made food but we can dance! And we can have a good time haunting people in the lavatories if we get bored!"
She tried to sound cheery, but the men's apparent apathy was threatening to bring her down. "Or we could just go scare some people shitless. Obvious choice would be Mrs. Mooney, but since she unfortunately lives here now, I think we could go haunt those monsters at the workhouse. Enslaving children and the ill until they drop and no one bats an eye! We'll give them a good fright."
Sweeney grunted, and Nellie sighed. For a man who used to claim his sole purpose was to annihilate the evils of the world as a way to avenge his former innocence and that of his wife and daughter, he was showing no interest in playing ghostly Robin Hood. What did he want, to stay home when they were finally free for a few hours? Well I won't. I'm going out even if I have to go alone again, she thought as she glared at Sweeney. She should accept that even if he was becoming more convivial with her, he wasn't really changing. He was the same old monster who only cared about himself.
"Well, it's all set, my dears!" Winnie announced to her cats—and unbeknownst to her, the ghosts—as she entered the house. She'd initially left the cats to die at her previous shop, thinking she didn't need them now that she had Bertie's presence in the house keeping her company, but she had a change of heart and went to get them. They were loyal, they've been with her through her highs and lows, she couldn't just desert them. While Albert and Sweeney weren't pleased, Nellie was secretly elated. She'd loved animals in life, to the point that she'd rather kill a human to make pies than harm them in any way.
"Madame Marney the Magnificent is coming over on Sunday for the séance. I will finally commune with my Bertie with the help of a professional. Deceitful woman, she kept giving me the runaround, claiming she was too busy to accommodate me, but she quickly agreed when I told her I'd triple her usual pay. I may be leaving this world soon, why do I need the money for if not to contact my love?"
She dissolved into a series of nasty coughs, wheezing as she tried to breathe. If she didn't kill herself, nature would. They had to act fast, she needed to go back to her old house to die or they would never get rid of her. "Anyway, she is coming over on Saturday, the day before all hallows' eve. I want you on your best behaviours, understood?"
"That gives us three days" Nellie said as she smirked, her previously decaying good mood revived through the thrill of mischief.
Saturday came in the blink of an eye, but they had everything set for when Madame Marney arrived. It was just her and Albert at the end. Sweeney had refused to participate, burying his nose in the handbook for the recently deceased that he'd never bothered reading before because even that was preferrable to plotting with Nellie, it seemed. That hurt her of course it did, but she didn't let it dampen her excitement. Half the fun was to plan the plan, the other half was setting it into motion.
Madame Marney knocked on the door at 4. With a slouched down Winnie trailing behind as if instead of a paying patron, she was a worshipper, the supposed medium traipsed around the house with a tight-lipped smile, forcing her feet to a halt in the parlour, where she titled her head back and yelled: "I sense something. A presence".
Nellie and Albert, who'd been following her for a while, shared a knowing look. She closed her eyes and brought her hands to her head to simulate she was communicating with the ghosts, but they were silent. So was Winnie, who stood frozen in awe.
"It's Mr. Lovett. He's telling me to thank you for rearranging the furniture. He likes it, he feels more at home than he has in years" she informed Winnie, who squealed in glee.
"I knew it Bertie, I knew it! You appreciate my efforts. This is nothing compared to what I'd do for you. I would die to be with you! I love you" she blabbered on, which had Albert gagging again.
Nellie rolled her eyes, for it didn't take an otherworldly gift to know that someone usually changes the furniture when they buy a new house. Furthermore, she knew Madame Marney spoke with a certain authority that surpassed mere logical reasoning. When Nellie lived, that fraud had visited her a couple of times so she knew what her parlour looked like. The two were somewhat friendly until she saw that Nellie had a talent for lying and deceiving that put hers to shame and made it her mission to trample on her rise as one of London's most prominent fake psychics. She would enjoy getting revenge on that charlatan tonight as well.
"We must commune here, the energy is strong" she announced, as if Nellie did not know she just chose that spot because it was the closest to the fireplace. Winnie, of course, bought it.
"Is he here?" Winnifred asked and she nodded. "This is where Bertie's ashes used to be. I'll go grab the urn in case we need it."
"We must begin now, Mrs. Mooney, for spirit's attention tend to slip after a while" Madame Marney warned as she laid out her phony medium equipment on the round table covered by a grey cloth. "It will be harder to resume contact if we lose him now. I could do it, but it would require quite a big effort bordering on exertion that naturally I cannot undertake free of charge." Perhaps unwilling to perpetuate the rip-off of that liar or perhaps just too eager to finally talk to Bertie, she ran towards the master bedroom where she now kept the urn, her twig-like legs moving at an impressive speed for a mummy-looking woman over 70.
"Will the cats participate as usual?" the medium spoke when she returned, barely trying to conceal the boredom in her voice.
She nodded at once and proceeded to call them over. Opening a pot with some leftover chicken, she placed a small portion on the chairs for the cats to climb on. She narrowly managed to avoid a fight because the pesky creatures wanted to eat from the same chair but soon they were all ready to proceed. Mrs. Mooney's bony hand held the fraud's rather fleshy one and the tail of Bertolini, the nearest cat, who hissed and attempted to bite her until she was forced to release him.
Madame Marney seemed unconcerned. She spoke, loud and clear, with a pretence solemnity that made Nellie huff in annoyance. "Albert Calvin Lovett, we call upon thee in the realm of the death to grace us with your presence. Give us a sign if you are here amongst us."
"Game is on" he mouthed to Nellie as he clinked the porcelain surface of the urn three times, making the women jump. The baker disappeared into the floor below.
"Bertie! My love! I miss you! Do you miss me too? Are you doing well in your new place? Are you properly fed?" Winnie began excitedly. It was the first time Bertie had made any kind contact in any of her many séances but the medium promptly shut her down, letting her know they had to be cautious not to overwhelm him.
And just like that, the quill she was holding began moving, forcing her to write down what the ghost wanted her to. "That's a 'W' he is writing my name!" Winnie shouted in elation. But the final name her love wrote on the paper made her wish she were blind. It was Nellie, written in his perfectly angular calligraphy. Not Winnie, Nellie. She wanted to cry. "Oh, Albert, why do you torture me so? I am your devoted slave!"
"Shut up!" Madame Marney shrieked, trying and failing to stay calm. It was clear that she was terrified as this was probably her first real encounter with an undeniably paranormal phenomenon. And she'd seen nothing yet.
"Ask him! Ask him what he means! He can't have written his name because he is in love with her! He was only with her for five years and she cheated on him the whole time while I've been saving my purity for him! And she killed him! Ask him if that's what he means! Is he trying to tell me he was murdered by that trollop? That she forced him to marry her? Ask him!" Winnie insisted, but the other woman was petrified, in a trance as if she were possessed, even though the ghosts could not do that. It was rattling Winnie's nerves. Wasn't Marney the Magnificent the most renowned psychic in London? Surely, she should be used to this. Was she purposely trying to be unhelpful? "Ask him or you won't see one penny!"
At that, she finally came to her senses. She shook her head before asking with a barely-concealed tremulous voice: "Mr. Lovett, thy message is causing confusion to us mere mortals. What are you trying to convey? Are thee trying to solve thy murder? Did Eleanor Lovett murder thee?"
No response. Silence engulfed them for what felt like centuries, with only the heavy breathings of the shaky women filling the stuffy air. Because even Mrs. Mooney was somewhat scared now, although in her case it was more of a heart-squeezing fear of her Bertie leaving her for good and never contacting again. Of him ejecting her once again and choosing her, for all the eternity.
All of a sudden, the urn containing Albert's ashes began levitating before their incredulous eyes. The sweaty palms of a panic-stricken Madame Marney held onto the tablecloth with such force she pulled it down, throwing all her phony gadgets to the floor. The navy-blue ink stained her maroon skirts, but she barely noticed. All her focus was on keeping her breathing in check. Inhale, exhale, as her heart threatened to beat out of her chest. She'd never been so afraid in her life.
Goosebumps erupted all over their skins as the women surveyed the floating object, unable to shake the dread that things could only go downhill from here. Sure enough, the window opened with a bang, the chilly air of the dark October evening blowing off the candles. Except for the light coming from the fireplace, obscurity was taking over.
"Bertie?" Winnifred asked in a small voice. A part of her knew this couldn't be her Bertie's doing, he was a gentle loving man, but the alternative was too frightening to think about. That she-devil was rotting in hell, she had to be!
Without warning, the urn shattered into pieces, prompting the women to let out a harrowing screech as the flying fragments pierced their skin, giving them some small cuts that were quick to bleed. But her loved-up delusion was stronger than her fear, and Mrs. Mooney hurried to pick up his scattered ashes, making small mountains out of them as if they were dirt piles she was about to sweep into the dustpan. She could not tolerate this profanity of Albert's remains.
"Leave him alone, you evil whore!" she shouted, now fully convinced Nellie was behind this sacrilege, as she kept gathering the ashes and piling them up together. Her efforts, however, were short lived.
Seemingly with a mind of their own, the calcined remains of Albert Lovett aligned as if they were leading the way. Furthermore, gas lamp in the corridor were suddenly alight, illuminating the beeline the ashes were forming. Winnifred hesitated, but a sense of hope suddenly invaded her. What if Bertie had broken the urn because he was ready to take possession of her life-sized Bertie doll, and wanted her to see him come to life?
She cast one last glance at Madame Marney, who now that she thought of it, hadn't uttered a word in quite a while. She was slumped over the chair, passed out from the fright. A nonplussed Winnie resolved she'd deal with her later, getting her some medical help and if it was too late… well, she was sure her cats would enjoy a piece of that nice plump frame.
She scoffed, noticing not for the first time than she and the late Ms. Price weren't as different as she'd like. Of course, Winnie would never steep so low as to literally encourage murder to make pies then feed them to their fellow Londoners. Meanwhile, she'd never actively murdered Madame Marney—assuming she was dead—so what was the harm in using her flesh to feed the cats? It wasn't like she needed it anymore. Waste not, want not, as her dear mother used to say.
Unaware of Winnie's thoughts that seemed to just confirm the parallelisms between the women Nellie had tried her best to ignore, the deceased baker smiled when her nemesis advanced along the corridor. Just like clockwork, Winnifred peeked into the master bedroom, only to see that Bertie's doll was no longer there just like she suspected. She resumed her following of the ashes with a spring in her step. Neither the ghost nor the hag were there to see that Madame Marney's skirt was catching on fire. They should have remembered ink is very flammable.
Winnifred made it to the trapdoor leading to the bakehouse and for a moment, she stopped. Ever since she bought the house, she'd avoided going down there for the howls and the noises she heard from that place every night without fail were enough to chill her to the bones. The possibility she'd often disregarded of the baker not being in hell but trapped in the bakehouse felt more real than ever, and she wondered whether going in was a good idea. It was then that she felt two strong hands gently pushing her forward. A delicious whiff of rotting meat filled her nostrils if only for a second, giving her a taste of what was to come if she took the plunge. For her beloved Bertie, she would.
As soon as she set foot in the underground room, she was overjoyed to see Bertie's life-sized doll in the middle, as if waiting for her. She ran towards it with her arms open, ready to envelop it in a hug. Bertie was in there! He was finally tangible, all hers to love and pamper! But when the heavy metal door closed with a bang behind her, she stopped dead in her tracks. It was then that she noticed the iron oven that cost Ms. Price's life was ablaze. On nearest wall there was something written, in a scarlet hue that looked too much like… blood.
In an overly elaborated calligraphy that could only belong to the pretentious dead baker, it read: Leave my husband alone!
"He's not yours, you demonic prostitute! He never loved you! Only your whorish body and your lack of decorum!" Winnie shouted, enraged and blinding herself to the harsh reality. "He only wanted children, a male heir, and not even with your youth as your best asset could you do that. You are a failure. He wasted his best years with you! He never loved you, no one ever did!"
Nellie didn't want to admit it, but she'd struck a nerve. Because it wasn't like she'd never considered those notions to deem them utterly devoid of credibility. It was the sad truth that hag was spewing, and truth hurt worse like the most ill-intentioned of lies. The urge to cry was strong, but she willed herself not to. They'd made it this far, they had a goal to achieve.
Without further ado, she opened the door of the oven, just like she'd done the night Sweeney pushed her inside and into her death. She called Albert over, he was supposed to help her carry out the plan, but the man was upstairs snacking on some toffees that he'd lost track of time. When he was eating, it was as if the rest of the world didn't exist.
She sighed, realising he wouldn't come and attempted to lift the doll by herself. It was rather heavy and while she had some experience with lifting some objects and making them levitate, but she wasn't prepare to carry something that weighted as much as Albert did when he was alive. Still, she somewhat managed to drag it to her intended destination. Until the bloody mummy held onto his leg.
"You won't take him, you cheap hussy! He is mine!"
The women, one dead and one alive, were practically wrestling for the door. "Let go, you ugly witch! You disgusting lizard!" Nellie shouted, as if Winnie could hear her. But she was growing more tired by the second, for the strength of a ghost was nothing compared with the human one of her counterpart, as old and decrepit as she was.
She was about to give up, when another force grabbed a fistful of Winnie's grey brittle hair, and yanked her head back, making her yelp. It was Sweeney, coming to her aid.
But Nellie had no time to swoon, as soon as Mrs. Mooney released it, she grabbed the doll and with all the energy she could muster, she carried it inside the oven to make it burn. Winnifred cried, shouted, a prisoner of her own inescapable panic, regretting ever hosting a séance and hopefully, regretting the day her eyes fell on Albert. He'd brought her nothing but tragedies.
The equally tragedy-beaten Nellie, on her part, remained in the oven for a while. She'd learned the hard way that earthly fire no longer had an effect on her, so she just stood in the flames, staring at the man she loved, the man who killed her. He started back from the safety of the bakehouse. It was so like her last night on earth and the many others a rabid Sweeney had pushed her inside this oven to keep her the memories of her torment alive, but it was so unlike them at the same time. There was a softness in his eyes, something that had never been there before. It scared her.
He approached her without averting his gaze, and Nellie felt her legs giving out as she both feared and anticipated his next move. She'd learned to be cautious with her hoping, for the excruciating pain of having your dreams crushed over and over again she wouldn't wish it on her worst enemy—excluding Mrs. Mooney, she deserved that and more. But when Sweeney extended his hand for her to take so he could help her out, she struggled to remain grounded.
"Thank you, love" she tried to sound nonchalant but her eyes were once again filling with tears that now more than ever she couldn't afford to shed. Like the soulless demon she should never forgive he is, he fed off her vulnerability to manipulate her, to make her submit and to keep breaking her spirit until there is nothing left but the dull ache of hopeless resignation.
That's what her rationality told her, anyway, for her heart was having quite the opposite reaction as she melted under his intense gaze.
"Time for the final act" she stated, letting go of the hand that he was still holding. There was nothing she could do about her pesky feelings, but at least the Mrs. Mooney problem was about to come to an end.
She went over to the mirror she'd installed to check she was presentable before leaving the bakehouse when their murderous enterprise was still going strong, and with some red ink she kept hidden behind a barrel so Winnifred wouldn't see it levitating and thought it was blood, she began scribbling her final message to that disgusting bag of bones.
Albert is mine. Leave us and sell the house or I will drag you to hell with us.
Clear, concise, a warning she could not overlook. It had her desired effect, for Winnie began shivering uncontrollably and predictably ran for the door. But it locked on the outside, so Mrs. Mooney was trapped until the ghosts decided otherwise. Maybe a few hours, or a few days. As long as it took for her to give up so that when they let her out, she ran from the house and vowed to sell it and never come back.
Tuning her inconsolable laments out, an exuberant Nellie turned to Sweeney. All caution went out of the window when he grinned at her, and said: "Good job, my pet. My bloody wonder" as if he really were proud of her. She practically ran towards him, capturing his lips into a deep-searing kiss.
Without breaking her assault on his mouth, her zealous hands began unbuttoning his shirt. She wanted him, and she wanted him now. Truth be told, she didn't recall being this hungry for him in the year they'd been dead. Her coupling was mostly hate sex when their fury reached its boiling point, or just an act to satisfy their most primal needs because they had become addicts in life. No feelings were involved, or at least that's the way they wanted to keep their arrangement these days.
But this time, she was seeking and finding something in his touch that she never though she would.
"Fire! Fire! The house is burning in flames!" an alarmed Albert came through the ceiling, from the house above, forcing the lovers to break apart. With a sheepish smile upon realising what he'd interrupted, he elaborated. "The psychic's clothes caught on fire and now she is dead." This fact was met with indifference, for Sweeney and Nellie were certain she would go haunt her own house so her death didn't concern them. Besides, Nellie thought she deserved it. "But the fire has spread! The parlour is in flames and before I knew it, the flames reached me in the kitchen! I tried to extinguish it, to banish the flames like we do with the candles, but it's too big and it keeps getting bigger!"
"Calm down, dear, there must be something we can do" Nellie tried to remain calm as she tried to think of a solution. He said she was eminently practical and appropriate as always, after all.
Even if fire didn't affect them, she didn't know what would happen if the house they were supposed to haunt until the end of time ceased existing as it burned into ashes. Were they accommodated somewhere else? Were they supposed to wait in limbo until they built another building where the house and pie shop once was? Those questions had her on edge, but she had to set her priorities straight. Because first and foremost, they had to keep Winnifred safe. If she died, they were doomed.
Winnie had just caught a whiff of the smoke and was running around like a headless chicken yelling out incoherencies. "No hell, I won't burn in hell. I'm a pious Christian. My only sin was falling in love. Lord have mercy on me!"
It was then that Nellie spotted their solution, the grate her dear Toby had disappeared into when she locked him in the bakehouse when she was intent on betraying. From where he still came back only to exert revenge on Sweeney for murdering her, his mother in everything but blood. She, who never ever deserved such a pure love. She would not dwell in those memories, in all the things she regretted. At least not when time was running out.
"Lads" she shouted to her flatmates as she moved towards the grate. They didn't need to be told twice, and they helped her open it.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" Winnie scurried to the grate, sliding down an into the stinky sewers she just had to follow to get to safety. "Bertie, I love you" was the last thing they heard before she disappeared into the darkness below.
The rest of the evening was a blur. Upon saving Mrs. Mooney, Nellie rushed upstairs to save her cats. Her poor innocent cats. Fortunately, they were all somewhat unharmed, scratching the main door of the shop until the dead baker opened it for them. Then they were free, running away into the poorly lit London streets and away from this house and its mad owner. Nellie had to admit she was going to miss them.
Someone must have alerted the firemen, for they were quick to arrive at the scene and the fire was under control soon before the clock struck nine. Only the parlour and the master bedroom were completely burned down, but the rest of the house and the shop could be salvaged, thanks to the thick brick walls that curbed the spread of the fire. Most of the wooden flooring had given out, but since they were ghosts who could go through anything in their wake if they so chose, they couldn't care less. All in all, it was still a proper home they could haunt for the years to come. And without Winnifred, the experience was going to be much more enjoyable.
Or that's what they thought, because the firemen had just finished extinguishing the fire when the hag came limping towards them. She told them her version of the story, how she'd been victim of a possession attempt by the evil spirit of the devious baker and her barber, because she couldn't stand Bertie's wandering affections. According to her, Ms. Price was losing Albert's love and she would not tolerate it.
The ghost rolled their eyes at that, did her delusion know no bounds? But when she recounted how, when she thought she would perish in the merciless flames—for which he directly blamed the ghost of Nellie, when it was the only thing she played no role in—her beloved Bertie opened the sewers' grate for her, leading her to salvation. For that she was eternally grateful, her will to persist renewed. Hers and Bertie was a love worth fighting for, she stated.
For that reason, she proudly announced she planned to sell her property on Bouverie Street, to use the money to rebuild Albert's sacred place. She planned to keep living in it of course, starting that night even after the firemen warned her that the exposure to the dangerous fumes carried some risks even when the fire was put out. Winnifred didn't heed their advice, arguing that she couldn't leave Albert alone with that she-devil. She had to save him from her, he wasn't going to let the malicious ghost of Ms. Price win.
Nellie's heart dropped when she realised their efforts had been in vain. Because no matter what happened, no matter what she did, Mrs. Mooney would never open her eyes.
Neither would she for that matter, because her heart jolted back into life when she felt a hand on her shoulder only to die again when she realised it was Albert's, that the barber was just glaring forward with his usual cold impassibility, only to fly back into the mostly-untouched attic without a word.
This was what the rest of her afterlife held. Sharing the house with her enemy for all the eternity, with her oafish late husband as her only possible friend, with the man she loved giving her the bitter much more frequently than the sweet.
All her dreams, all she ever wanted in life, and everything she did to achieve them had brought her here, to this purgatory bordering on her personal hell. She would never see the sea again, she would never leave London and retire into a lovely little cottage where she have chums over every Friday, she would never have children of her own. And she would never be loved.
St. Dunstan's bells chiming at midnight marked the beginning of all hallows' eve. But Nellie no longer wanted to go out, nor did she want to wake up and go about her day pretend everything was fine when it wasn't. The only thing she wanted, was to cease existing.
"Get up" Sweeney commanded hours later, peeling off the covers of their bed. She grunted before turning to the other side, but he knew she was awake, had been all night,
He scratched his head, feeling some sympathy for her now that the tables seemed to have turned. But he'd let her brood for almost half a day, they needed to get going. "Get up, we have a train to catch."
"What do you mean?" she conceded and asked. She couldn't help it, she'd always been curious and that would never change. She was touched he seemed to be proposing a trip, but she was no longer delusional enough to truly believe he could take her somewhere romantic, like the park or a lake, on the only day he could go out. If he was willing to leave the house, it was to do something that served his Machiavellian interests. So she just waited, with a bated breath for him to disappoint her once again.
Sensing this, he grabbed her hand before he spoke. He was nervous, more anxious than he'd ever been even when he proposed to Lucy. That had to mean he was making the right choice. "I've reading the handbook" he began, trying to convey the sincerity of his feelings. "And I found an interesting clause. It says that we ghosts are entitled to choose our permanent residence out of the ones we owned in life, either bought or explicitly passed down from our ancestors when they died. And I remembered you telling me about your great aunt Nettie's house by the English Channel. You were her only descendant."
"Yes, but I was only a child when she died. I think some friend of hers got the house in the end, my dear mother was quick to grab the easy money to spend on opium and gin. I never saw one penny" Nellie replied somewhat bitterly. Her childhood was something she did not like to remember.
"But it wasn't legally hers to sell. In her will, your aunt left it to you. And you never sold it, so technically it's still yours…" her face lit up despite herself, and he continued. "Think of it, a house by the sea, away from the mad hag, away from this hole in the world like a great black pit we call London… You would see your aunt Nettie again. I know she was like a mother to you."
She smiled, how could she not? He was proving to her that he listened all the times she rambled about things, when she was sure he was lost in a world of his own. Furthermore, he was listing her dreams not as one lists unachievable fantasies but as real possibilities. All but one.
"And you? Albert could come I guess, since he is legally my wedded husband. But you would have to stay here, with Mrs. Mooney, for all the eternity. I don't want you to face it alone" she said.
Caring too much about him and too little about herself had been her fatal flaw. As much as she hated Mrs. Mooney and dreaded the prospect of spending an afterlife with her, she would not leave without him, and he knew it. He was secretly grateful for it, for her unwavering loyalty. It was more than he deserved.
"Fated souls must remain together" he recited a line of the handbook she was all too familiar with, the one she convinced herself was the reason the barber was not in hell but on earth. With her.
His voice was so low she feared she hadn't heard correctly. But his eyes spoke the truth he was scared to admit out loud.
It filled her own with tears that this time, she couldn't keep at bay. For he was telling her what she though he never would. That he too recognised they were perfect for each other, made for one another in the unholy place they originated. Barber and baker, man and woman, Sweeney and Eleanor, theirs was a match made in hell that not even the laws of life and death could break apart.
"Why?" she couldn't help but ask. Why now? Why her? Didn't he say he hate her? Didn't he claim Lucy was the only woman who meant something in his life? Was this a cruel prank at her expense? But those eyes… they couldn't be lying.
"You match my flaws" he said through gritted teeth. It wasn't the love confession she'd always wanted to her, nor the declaration that he couldn't exist without her. But it was something, it was a start.
She was certain, by the way he was looking at her, that their relationship could only blossom from there. Perhaps one day, he would even love her. They had all the eternity, after all. And she counted patience amongst her virtues.
She leaned up to kiss him softly on the mouth, her heart fluttering all the while. Unbeknownst to her, so did his, albeit in a duller, more conscientious way.
"Let's go" she said when they pulled apart, as she excitedly jumped out of bed.
They still had a lot of to talk about, a lot to confess and to apologise for but for Sweeney Todd and Eleanor Lovett, death wasn't the end of their love story, it was only the beginning.