THE HUNTER
By Thomas Mc


Note: This story begins in the year 2041, and concerns some of the descendants of Vincent and Catherine.


Chapter 1 : Unexpected Encounters

Spring 2041

William pulled his hood up, despite the beautiful early spring weather, as he made his way back to the tunnels. It was an act of self preservation rather than a reaction to the temperature. Hiding his leonine features when Above was second nature for him. This part of the city had no direct tunnel access and there was a fairly large transient population so he was careful to keep his hood up and his features hidden while he made his way to the nearest access, over a half mile away.

He had been visiting a sick helper to deliver some medicine and provide some welcome company. George was a long time friend of his family. He had been rescued from a trapped subway car by Grandfather Vincent and Aunt Jennifer after the 2001 terrorist attack. For over thirty-eight years he has been a close and loyal friend of the family. He had been present at William's naming ceremony. George had asked after Grandfather Vincent and Grandmother Catherine. William had reported that they were both doing well. As he slipped between the buildings he found himself thinking about his rather unique family.

Although at eighty-five and eighty-six Catherine and Vincent were still pretty spry, they were slowing down somewhat. Ten years ago Catherine had finally retired from public life. She and Vincent had moved to their chambers Below and planned to spend their remaining years there. Now William's mother and father lived in the old brownstone off Central Park. Though he still had his own room in the brownstone he spent the majority of his time in his chamber below, mostly as an act of independence.

His mother had followed in her father's footsteps and become a New York City District Attorney. He actually felt a sense of pride that District Attorney Elizabeth Maxwell, daughter of Joseph Maxwell was his mother. He just wished that she could acknowledge her marriage to his father but, until there was a radical change in the attitudes of the world above, that was not possible. His father like himself had inherited their lion-like features and unique abilities from Grandfather Vincent.

It came upon him, unexpectedly, in waves, interrupting his private reveries. Pain, despair, fear. The despair in particular was overwhelming. It was coming from somewhere inside the abandoned building straight ahead. As he approached he could sense the presence that was the source of the strong emotions. It was somewhere on the fourth floor. There was a sudden intensification of the pain, then after a few seconds it faded back. The entrances to the building were all boarded up so he began to climb the outside of the building. He could feel the presence slowly fading away as he got closer. As he approached a broken forth floor window there was a momentary bright flash of regret then the presence faded away completely. He knew what that meant. Death . . . but there was still an echo of distress.

The silence was disturbed by the sound of a crying baby coming from that broken window above him. He climbed the last few feet and entered through that window. The room was empty except for the deep accumulation of dust. He followed the crying into the next room. On the dirty floor lay a dead woman, a needle stuck in her arm. He was immediately struck by how much she looked like a very young version of his aunt Linda. Or more like a young Linda that had been beaten down by the world and had finally succumbed to despair. There was no heartbeat, blood was everywhere and beside her body lay the crying baby still attached to the umbilical.

William quickly tied off and separated the cord, checked the infant over then wrapped it in the folds of his cloak. A quick check of the dead body turned up no identification except for a scrap of paper with the name 'Karen' written on it. Was that the woman's name? He had no way of telling. The child had calmed down considerably once wrapped warmly in his cloak. There was also something very lethargic and blunted about the infant's emotions. He suspected that might be related to that needle in her dead mother's arm.

As William sat on the dirty floor rocking and soothing the baby, his attention was disturbed by the sense of a new presence. A malevolent presence. There was a cold machine-like quality to the person he was sensing. It was nearly inhuman. The next thing he became aware of was the very faint smell of gas. Still holding the infant, he carefully opened the door into the main hallway. The smell was definitely stronger here, though still very faint. He traced it to the stairwell door. When he opened the door he was nearly knocked over by the strong odor. His keen sense of smell also detected a second odor that he couldn't recognize. He became aware that the other presence was now outside the building as he slammed the stairwell door shut. He turned back towards the room he had just come from when he heard the screeching of car tires pulling away. William quickly ran back to the window where he had entered. Peering out, he saw taillights moving rapidly away down the alley.

* BOOM! *

The floor heaved throwing him off his feet. He landed on his knees and one hand. The other hand curled around the infant. He jumped up and quickly climbed through the window. Below him there were flames and smoke billowing out of the third floor windows. He looked back in the fourth floor window. The floor was rapidly turning black in several spots and smoke was curling up from those blackened spots. There was only one way down for him. Carefully he made his way over to a part of the outside wall that was brick all the way down to the ground and began to climb down.

He had reached a point halfway between the lines of second and third story windows. It was difficult holding on to the closely packed brick wall with only the claws of his left hand. His booted feet were nearly useless here.

* BOOM! *

Another explosion, blowing out all the second story windows, shook the sides of the building causing him to lose his precarious grip. As he fell he twisted around trying to get his feet down. With the infant clasped close to his body and only his left arm free he was off balance and was only partially successful. He landed feet first but he was way off center and curled up into a ball to protect the baby he was carrying as the rest of his body crashed to the ground, hard. For several precious seconds he lay there on the ground stunned. The child began crying again. He laboriously struggled to his feet and staggered down the alleyway.

* BOOM! *

He glanced back and saw a column of fire shoot up from the roof about where the stairwell should be. He turned back and sprinted across the street into the next alley and stopped to sooth the child until it's crying had been reduced to a whimper. He could feel her hunger building and knew she needed to be fed soon. He glanced back at the building he had just left. The bottom five floors were fully engulfed and there were flames just beginning to appear in the sixth floor windows. An explosion of flames billowed from the second and third floor windows accompanied by the sound of crashing wood and glass.

William turned his back on the inferno and made his way to the nearest underground access that was still six blocks away.

~ o ~

Linda dangled the tiny geode on its silver chain before Jacob. It had been a gift from his parents on his fifteenth birthday. The missing half of the one inch stone sphere had been given to his brother Charles, who like himself carried the unique Chandler-Wells genetic heritage. They had told him that it represented the Chandler-Wells men. "Rough forbidding rock on the outside and surprisingly beautiful crystalline fire on the inside." As he reached out to retrieve it, she playfully jerked it away, giggling gleefully. There was also a hint of erotic desire mixed into her playful emotional mix as she backed away from him.

They had been taking a midnight stroll, hand in hand, in the park, enjoying the quiet ambiance and each other's company. They had stopped for a short time at the 'Forever' Monument that Jacob and his siblings had managed to have placed in the park on their parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary. Jacob was very proud of the fact that it had been Linda who had designed it. He still was amused at some of the political and legal machinations Elizabeth and many of their helpers had gone through to get it placed here a little over a year ago. Linda had always been a very romantic person and this monument seemed to bring that aspect out in her particularly strongly. Jacob had been noticing her emotional state since they had left the monument.

Linda worked as an accountant for the Wells-Chandler Foundation and the last week had been hectic as they prepared the books for this year's Income taxes. It had been decided when the foundation was first formed to not get a tax exempt status even though it classified as a charity organization. This had avoided a lot of government interference and red tape but it meant that the weeks before tax day were long and hectic. Now that it was done, with three weeks to spare, she was taking a couple of week's vacation to spend with her family. Next weekend they were going to go up to the Chandler lake house. Thinking about a whole weekend alone with Jacob had gotten her in a playfully amorous mood and she was indulging. With a sexy tease she was off, sprinting through the moon lit park.

Filled with the heady mix of the early spring air of Central Park after midnight, the thrill of the chase and the hint of promised reward, when the quarry was captured, was too much to resist. After twenty-nine years of marriage, their love was still undimmed. With a roar of challenge, Jacob leaped to the chase. Linda dodged to the right then bolted off to the left giggling. Linda's emotions filled his consciousness as he chased after her. Although he was much swifter and more agile than her, she had become expert at anticipating his moves and dodging them. He was also just barely holding back, though that still meant that he was much quicker than any normal person. They were both surprisingly spry for fifty years old, to some extent thanks to activities such as this. She was nearly as adept at sensing his presence over their link as he was at sensing hers so there was no chance of ether one sneaking up on the other. He would simply have to out maneuver her.

Jacob sprinted around ahead of Linda. She dodged to the right squealing and was now headed in the general direction of Belvedere Castle. She had gained some distance in that last maneuver and she ran out into an open space. It took him a couple of seconds to catch up to her. He was cutting across the open space rapidly gaining on her. Again she dodged out of his reach. He swung around and lunged after her with a roar. She dodged again but he was able to grab her as he charged past. She shrieked as they tumble to the ground. He landed on top of her and raised his hands roaring in triumph.

Surprise, terror, horror! A dozen presences all around them impinged on his mind at once. They were surrounded and they had been seen. Quickly almost in a panic Jacob scooped Linda up and threw her over his shoulder. Linda squealed in surprise as he sprinted for the deeper shadowed woods away from those unseen people. As he entered the wooded area he heard some woman's voice scream out something unintelligible – that ended in - "ANN!"

Linda had sensed his anxiety through the link and, realizing that something was wrong, had quietly held on while Jacob continued to run. He sprinted around to the far side of the lake and the amphitheater, continuing right past the tunnel access in the castle. He didn't slow down until he had reached the other runoff culvert near the band shell that led to the southern tunnel entrance. He set her on her feet, taking her hand as he entered the storm drain opening at the end of the culvert. Jacob led them quickly through the old storm drain to the barred gate and triggering the secret door drew her inside. Only after the door had closed behind them did he stop and lean against the curved wall.

"Jacob, what happened back there?" She asked.

Jacob replied. "At least a dozen people saw us." He shook his head. "I didn't even know they were there until I felt their reaction to seeing us." He looked over at her. "From their emotions, they must have thought I was attacking you."

"Oh no." Her hand flew to her mouth. This could be disastrous. "We have to alert the family and the community immediately." Then she remembered the geode still clutched in her left hand and handed it back to him.

Jacob took her hand and they quickly made their way towards the central chambers. As they walked she asked. "Why didn't you sense those people sooner?" It was unusual for him to be caught unawares like this and she was curious why he hadn't sensed them.

He shook his head. "I don't know . . . but . . . now that I think about it, I think maybe I was sensing them but it felt like echoes of the amorous emotions I was getting from you." His brows furrowed. "I'm not sure but I think we may have stumbled upon a group of young people that were all engaged in similar pursuits as us."

Her eyes began to glitter with humor. "You mean we barged into a bunch of kids, necking?"

He looked back at her. "Isn't that what I just said?"

Then she finally succumbed to the humor of the situation and started laughing. "Oh . . . Jake . . . that's rich . . ." She gulped down her laughter getting herself under control. "Do you realize how much that scene sounds like a classic teenage horror video?" She fought down the desire to laugh again. "I can just picture them trying to explain it to their parents." She shook her head. "This may just turn out to be nothing."

He was beginning to see the humor in the situation and agreed that she might be right. Never the less it was better safe than sorry.

~ o ~

When Jacob and Linda reached the community dining chamber they found William there surrounded by Charles, Elizabeth and several other members of the community. The emotions in the chamber were all over the spectrum but gentle compassion dominated. As they reached the group they noticed that William was holding a tiny infant wrapped in a corner of his cloak and feeding it from a baby bottle. Elizabeth was sitting beside him apparently coaching him on proper technique. Doctor Teresa arrived carrying an ancient black doctors bag. The bag had originally belonged to old Father Jacob Wells and had been presented to Rosa who had passed it on to her daughter, Teresa, when she had become the resident tunnel physician.

Doctor Teresa carefully checked over the infant while William continued to feed her. She was a little concerned about the infant's lethargic reactions. Finally she took a blood sample which the baby barely noticed. With a quiet, "I'll get this checked out at the hospital but otherwise she seems to be healthy and normal," she withdrew from the group. William's sister, Clarissa, came in carrying a bundle and handed it to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth laid a cloth over Williams shoulder and instructed him in proper burping technique. Finally they cleaned the infant up and dressed her. Soon she was sound asleep. As he sat there holding the sleeping girl, William related the story of what had happened from the beginning for those that hadn't heard the whole tale yet.

"What are you going to do with her?" Linda asked.

William looked down at the sleeping child. "I found her. I'll take care of her, unless we find out who her family is. Until then she's my responsibility." He gently caressed the child.

William's older brother Peter entered the group. "I got out your old crib and put it in your room." He leaned in to look at the baby. "Have you got a name for her?"

Williams responded with a smile. "Yes I have but you will have to wait 'til next weeks naming ceremony to find out what it is." He had already decided to give her the name he had found written on that piece of paper.

~ o ~

Patricia had been planning to spend the evening studying when Harold had shown up and invited her on a snipe hunt in Central Park with the rest of the gang. (Translation: The gang was going out necking in the park.)

Patricia thought Harold was nice enough but, to her, he was just a pleasant diversion. Oh, she liked him a lot and found his company very pleasant, but there was no magic spark between them like her parents had enjoyed. At least until her mother had died two years ago of a burst aneurism in her brain. Patricia had sworn that one day she would find a way to detect all such hidden physical defects before they tragically announced their presence to the world. Towards that end she launched herself whole heartedly into the biology program at her college.

Harold had no illusions about the nature of his and Patricia's relationship. They had known each other since second year high school and he was sweet on her but he knew that she did not feel the same way towards him. Still they were good friends and did occasionally enjoy a sort of no strings attached sexual liaison. Also it didn't particularly bother her if he went out with another girl. In fact she had even set him up with the occasional friend. For a fairly normal red blooded eighteen year old male, it seemed like a perfect situation.

She looked down at her books, up at Harold, then back down at her books again. "#$%& - it!" She snapped the biology book shut and bounced up out of the chair. "I'm in." She grabbed his hand.

"Great!" He responded and they headed out of the room.

They joined up with the rest of the gang on the college commons. Her dorm mate, Carolyn was there with Jack, a current boyfriend. She seemed to change boyfriends as often as others changed underwear. They were all pleased that she could come. Carolyn often told her that she was way too serious and needed to loosen up some. Well they wouldn't be able to say that tonight. There was fourteen all told and three cars among them. While the high level negotiations on who went in which car began, she glanced absentmindedly out at the student parking lot and her heart jumped to her throat. She took two quick steps and started to call out before she realized that it couldn't possibly be her sister's car. Then her face fell with the realization.

"Patty?" Harold came up behind her. "Are you OK?"

She turned to face him. "I'm fine. Just thought I saw someone I knew."

"Your sister?" He asked sympathetically.

She nodded mutely, not trusting herself to speak. Had it really been six months since her younger sister had disappeared. She and her little sister had always been extremely close. There was only a year's difference between them. They even had the same birthday. Then something had gone wrong.

It had started last spring when her sister started seeing that Blevins kid. Her sister had become more secretive and distant. Throughout the summer her sister's personality had become more and more erratic until Patricia could barely recognize her. Her sister had continued to get moodier, then came the day Patricia found little sister crying heartbrokenly in her room. The next day her sister had totaled her beloved car and three days after that on a bleak September morning Patricia had awoken to find her sister gone.

Patricia never found out why. She knew there had been a falling out with her father. When she asked about it, he had refused to talk about it. She noticed that he had become a little sadder and a little grayer after that. All her sister had left behind was a short note on a torn piece of paper saying she was sorry how things turned out and goodbye. She hadn't even signed her name.

Patricia was brought out of her reverie by Harold's hand on her shoulder. Understanding and sympathy were clearly visible in his eyes. Good old sweet Harold. Sometimes she thought it was a shame there was no real chemistry between them. Carolyn called to them to hurry up. They rejoined the rest, piled into the three cars and headed off.

Halfway to the park they stopped at a favorite ice cream place and they all indulged their sweet tooth favorites. Patricia's mood improved greatly with a liberal dose of Rocky Road and friendly gossip. The sun was getting low in the sky by the time they resumed the trek to the park.

It was hours after sundown and, as expected, the park excursion had degenerated into pockets of necking couples. Things were getting a bit hot and heavy between Patricia and Harold. He was pretty good in this particular department. The quiet night was disturbed by the squeal of some female. Patricia thought to herself, 'someone got caught.' as she continued kissing Harold. Then the mood was shattered by a lion like roar followed by a woman's shriek.

Startled, Patricia looked up in the direction of the sounds. A woman came running out of the wooded area on the other side of the soccer field clearing. A moment later a large figure emerged from a different spot in the woods. The pursuer was running much faster than the woman and his curving path was obviously intended to cut off the fleeing woman. As they got closer the pursuer became a terrifying apparition. He was huge and he had the face and mane of a lion. As she watched the inevitable approach of the apparition she remembered the old urban legend of the Creature of Central Park. The woman was now running a curved path trying to evade it but the creature was moving too fast for her to escape.

The woman was about a hundred feet away when Patricia recognized her with a start. She watched in horror as the creature reached her little sister. Her sister quickly changed direction dodging out of its reach. The creature lunged with a roar and her sister again tried to dodge the creature's grasp. This time it caught her arm and she shrieked as they both went tumbling to the ground. In an instant her sister was on the ground and the creature was on top of her. It raised what she now saw were sharp claws above its head and roared in triumph. Patricia was frozen in horror as she watch what she knew were her sister's final moments. Then the creature glanced around. Suddenly it jumped up, scooping up its squealing quarry and, throwing her over its shoulder, ran back into the deep shadows of the woods.

Finally shaking off her paralysis, Patricia jumped up just as they reached the woods screaming out in her anguish. "GOD NO, KAAARREEEN!"

Continued in Part 2


'Beauty and the Beast' and its characters are owned by Witt-Thomas Productions and Republic Pictures. No infringement on copyrights is intended. This story is presented merely for the enjoyment of fans. Original concepts and story elements may be used by other authors as long as appropriate credit is given.