The Barber screamed himself awake. He frantically looked around and found that he was sitting in an armchair on the left side of a table, in the dining room of a Tudor cottage. Smiling at the Barber from across the table was an English gentleman in a top hat and fingerless gloves, along with a humanoid hare wearing a chef’s uniform and a ten-year-old girl. The other guests at the table were an eccentric and elegantly dressed group of misfits that the Barber recognized as the former inmates of Jonas Fogg’s asylum.
“Look alive, darlings! Our guest is awake. Now our tea party can begin,” the gentleman said.
“Tea party?” the Barber repeated.
“What is a party without a spot of tea?” the gentleman chuckled.
“Where am I?” the Barber demanded. “How did I get here?”
The gentleman passed a cup of tea to his less-than-welcome guest.
“Drink up, my dear, and all shall be explained.”
“How am I supposed to take tea without a proper introduction?” Sweeney asked.
“Tea first. Questions later."
The Barber looked up at his host and said,
“But you haven’t told me your name?”
The gentleman laughed nervously. He smiled at his guest.
“Look at me! I forgot my manners. I am Jefferson Stan, professionally known as the Hatter. What’s your name?”
“Todd,” the Barber said. “Sweeney Todd.”
“The Demon Barber of Fleet Street?” the Hatter presumed.
Sweeney smiled at his host.
The March Hare moved his chair down, so that he was seated next to his guest.
“Do you have a wife? If so, what’s her name?” the Hatter asked.
“My former wife was named Lucy. I have a new woman in my life. Her name is Nellie Helena Lovett,” Sweeney replied.
“Mrs. Lovett? I’ve heard of that bloodthirsty baker,” the Hatter said.
"Does she live here?" Sweeney asked.
"She dropped in a week before you did. Her home is located in the northern territory of the Tulgey Woods."
Sweeney looked over at the child who was seated next to the hare in the chef’s uniform.
“Who’s the girl?” the Barber asked.
“My daughter, Grace. We live here," the Hatter replied.
“What sort of realm is this? Is this Purgatory or Hell?” Sweeney asked.
“It’s both and neither,” the Hatter chortled.
“What do you mean?” Sweeney replied.
“I mean what I say," the Hatter said.
“Then say what you mean," Sweeney said.
“But that’s not the same thing,” the March Hare argued.
“It is the same thing with you,” the Hatter replied. “After all, you put butter and breadcrumbs in Percival’s pocket watch!”
“It was the best butter,” the March Hare said.
Sweeney Todd rolled his eyes at the bickering couple and decided it was best to take a sip of the tea that was offered to him. His beverage was a tasteful mixture of lemon and peppermint, with just a spoonful of sugar.
“I know your name, by the way,” the Hatter said.
“Do you know my history as well?” Sweeney asked.
“You were a barber who lived on Fleet Street with your amoral paramour, Mrs. Lovett, and a homeless boy named Tobias. Together, the three of you operated a shady business which involved slitting the throats of your customers and having their flesh baked into meat pies. These pies were sold to those who dared to taste them without suspicion or disgust.”
“And I did it for Johanna,” Sweeney said.
“Who’s Johanna?” Grace replied.
“She was my precious songbird,” Sweeney said.
“Your daughter,” the Hatter said.
“My daughter was a turtle dove who was locked in a cage by a captor masquerading as her guardian. She was freed, but I got revenge on the bastard who locked her up against her will.”
“Who is this bastard that you speak of?” the Hatter asked.
“Judge Turpin. He believed himself to be one of God’s men, but he was a predatory beast among mortals. A gluttonous hunter with an unholy appetite for bloodlust and feminine flesh.”
“Was he a werewolf?” the March Hare asked.
“No, he wasn’t. Even if he was, I still would’ve killed him with my razor,” Sweeney said.
“What’s your razor made of?” Grace asked.
“Silver. Everyone knows that only weapons made of silver can kill a werewolf.”
“He sounds wonderfully brutal,” Grace remarked.
“He was,” Sweeney confirmed.
“Do you still wish to know where you are?” the Hatter said to his guest.
“Yes, please tell me,” Sweeney demanded.
“This is Wonderland.”
“Wonderland? But that’s a fictional world from a children’s storybook,” Sweeney scoffed.
“In your kingdom, perhaps,” the Hatter argued. “But, in this kingdom, anything is possible.”
“And how exactly did I get here?”
“Through a portal. A rabbit hole, if you will.”
“That makes sense,” Sweeney scoffed.
“It’s the truth,” Grace said.
A rabbit hole? This was rubbish, Sweeney thought. Sooner or later, he was going to wake up in Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop and discover that this mad tea party was nothing more than a dream. Or, if his mind wasn’t playing games with his eyes, a waking nightmare.
“This is nonsense,” Sweeney said.
The Cheshire Cat appeared between Sweeney and the March Hare.
“This is reality,” the Cat replied.
“This is madness,” Sweeney said.
The Cat grinned at the Barber.
“We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” Sweeney asked.
“You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”
“This is insane!” the Barber screeched.
Unlocking his handcuffs, Sweeney broke free of his restraints and proceeded to scream while repeatedly banging his head against the end of the table.
“Don’t scream too loudly! You might hurt yourself,” the Cheshire Cat said.
“What’s our guest doing?” the Hatter asked his husband.
“I don’t know, but he’s creeping me out,” the March Hare replied.
“Wake up, wake up!” Sweeney said to himself. “This isn’t real. This is a dream. None of this actually exists.”
“Sometimes, the reality of fantasy is that fantasy is our reality,” the Cat said.
“You’re not real. You’re just a voice inside my head,” Sweeney sneered at the smiling feline.
“Should we tell him?” Grace said to her father.
“I think it’s best if the revelation comes to him,” the Hatter replied.
Sweeney looked up from the table and glared at Grace’s father.
“So this madhouse exists? It’s real?” the Barber asked.
“It’s as real as the tea I served you,” the Hatter said.
“Am I to be stuck here for eternity? To sit at this table and drink tea in the company of lunatics?”
“Pretty much,” the March Hare replied.
“Would you like to hear the story of our tea party got started?” the Hatter asked.
“Go ahead. Tell me,” Sweeney said.
“Once upon a time, I was one of the singers at a royal concert that was hosted by the Queen of Hearts,” the Hatter said. “It was in the middle of our last performance, and I was singing off-key, which annoyed the courtiers. Her Majesty was infuriated and accused me of murdering Time. So what do you think she did? She ordered for me to be decapitated.”
“How dreadfully savage,” Sweeney remarked.
“Since Time was my friend, he saved me from losing my head, and transported me to this spot in the Majestic Maze where our party was condemned to have tea parties forever.”
“Did you just mention that Time is your friend?” Sweeney asked.
“Indeed, Mr. Todd! Although, he’s more famously known as Chronos,” the Hatter said.
“Chronos? The God of Time?” Sweeney said.
“And the brother of Thanatos, who is the God of Death,” the March Hare snickered.
“Are Time and Death on good terms with each other?” Sweeney asked.
“They are thick as thieves,” the Hatter replied.
“Speaking of thieves, Robin Hood and his merry crew also live here,” the March Hare said to his guest.
“Go figure,” Sweeney Todd remarked.
“As for Time, he works differently in this realm than he does in your so-called reality,” the Hatter said. “Here, it’s always summertime in the afternoon, and we barely have time to clean up the table before new guests arrive.”
“Is that why you keep changing sweats?” Sweeney asked.
“Exactly,” the March Hare replied. “None of us can sit straight.”
“Or act straight, for that matter,” the Hatter chortled.
The Hatter and his husband laughed together at their wordplay. Sweeney simply rolled his eyes, glancing at the Hatter’s daughter. Grace pulled the hood of her cloak over her eyes to avoid staring into the grimacing face of the demonic Barber.
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare whispered to Sweeney.
“But I’ve barely finished my first cup,” Sweeney said.
“How about half?”
The March Hare took Sweeney’s cup and sliced it in half with a bread knife. He handed the other half to his guest.
“There, isn’t that better?” the Hatter said.
“What exactly did he do?” Sweeney asked.
“I gave you half a cup of tea,” the March Hare replied.
As Sweeney drank his tea, the Hatter resumed his story.
“Of course, my existence in Wonderland isn’t lonely. I have my husband, Jeremiah, and my lovely daughter, Grace, to keep me company.”
“Your husband? But he’s a hare?” Sweeney pointed out.
“Don’t question it,” the March Hare said.
“Our marriage was ordained by the Queen of Hearts and her Knave. It was the prettiest wedding in all of the fabled kingdoms,” the Hatter continued. “The guests of honor were the Duchess, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and the White Rabbit.”
“How intriguing,” Sweeney replied, finishing his tea.
“Would you like some more tea? It’s my specialty,” the Hatter said.
“I’m afraid that one cup is enough,” Sweeney said.
“Have some wine,” the March Hare whispered to the Barber.
Sweeney looked at the table. There were platters of sausage rolls, cinnamon buns, and gingerbread cupcakes, but not a single bottle of wine.
“Why don’t you pour yourself a glass of wine?” the March Hare asked.
“Because there isn’t any!” Sweeney growled.
The Barber banged his fists against the table, snarling in the March Hare’s face. The March Hare snarled back.
“A word of advice, Mr. Todd: Be careful who you piss off,” the Cheshire Cat warned his guest.
Sweeney looked at the Cat. He was a purple tiger with pink stripes and red eyes of fire. The seemingly harmless feline grinned at the Barber. He purred darkly, baring his teeth.
“Listen to Cheshire,” the Hatter said.
“Why should I? I thought the Caterpillar was the wise man around here?” Sweeney replied.
“The Caterpillar is nothing more than a lazy stoner. His advice is just a bunch of idiotic ramblings,” the Cheshire Cat said. “As for me, I am a divine being who is respected and adored by everyone in Wonderland, even the Queen of Hearts.”
“You can be one of Her Majesty’s subjects,” the Hatter suggested to the Barber.
“What sort of woman is she?” Sweeney asked.
“You might find Her Majesty to your liking. She’s a regal dominatrix who chops off the heads of those who offend her. You slit the throats of your customers and bake them into meat pies. Think about it, Sweeney! The Demon Barber and the Queen of Hearts coming together to form the deadliest duo that Wonderland has ever seen.”
Sweeney smiled at the Hatter’s words. His idea sounded reasonable. Besides, he had worked for bloodthirsty women before, although his partner was a peasant and not royalty.
“What do you think? Is my husband a genius or what?” the March Hare asked.
“His idea is crazy,” Sweeney said. “Perfectly crazy.”
“So is that good or bad?” the Hatter asked.
Sweeney flashed a deadly smile at the Hatter. He laughed darkly as he reached into the pocket of his waistcoat, taking out his trusty straight-razor. He smiled at his reflection within the blade. His arm was complete again. Soon, his instrument of death would drip precious rubies once more.
“It’s to die for.”