By Thomas Mc
Chapter 1 : The Park and Déjà Vu
Emily Hansen adjusted the waist band of the rather skimpy bathing suit she was wearing as she glanced around at the Central Park Band Shell. For the last five years she had been listed in that very rarefied category of 'Supermodel'. That title got her the best gigs with the highest pay in the most exotic locations. This shoot for the magazine's annual swimsuit edition would net her a tidy bundle and got her an all expenses paid trip to New York. The photographer had finished switching cameras and called the models back to work.
The sense of déjà vu, that had been plaguing Emily since she first arrived in this section of the park, persisted. She had never been in Central Park before in her life, yet everywhere she looked she was filled with the eerie feeling that she had seen it all before. In fact she had never been to New York City before. This in itself was a rather strange situation for a top model of the caliber of Emily Hansen. It seemed that every time a gig came up in New York, she found something more interesting somewhere else. She probably would have passed this one up, in favor of the Hawaiian shoot, if not for the fact that she had never missed this particular issue of the magazine since the first time they had invited her six years ago. It was her first appearance in the swimsuit edition that had catapulted her into the supermodel status.
Now that she was here Emily had quickly fallen in love with the city and was seriously thinking of relocating here. One of her idols, Supermodel Victoria Burch had come from New York. The love affair between Victoria and Elliot Burch was legendary. She wondered momentarily if she would ever get that lucky. The photographer was finished with her for now. He called for a two hour lunch break while all the equipment was relocated to the Delecorte Amphitheater for this evening's session. The other three models headed off to the small motor home that had been set up for their use.
Emily put on a cover-up and started to wander around. She was thinking that after the job was over, she would have to come back to this park with her sketchbook. Something about this area pulled at her and she wanted to see more of it. As she wandered further from the band shell the sense of familiarity grew stronger. She recognized landmarks yet, try as she might, she could not remember ever being here before. Her wandering became more deliberate as she found that she knew exactly which way she wanted to go. She saw the concrete drainage runoff culvert and recognized it. She paused at the entrance to the storm drain, her hand resting on the concrete wall at the edge of the opening. She knew this place but she still couldn't remember when she had been here nor even why she might have been in this particular storm drain. Almost without conscious volition she stepped into the strangely familiar concrete pipe. Emily was soon overcome by a mix of excitement, and dread. The tunnel was getting darker yet she was sure that it would get lighter again. Sure enough she did come to an overhead vertical shaft that allowed light into the darkening tunnel. There should be a junction just up ahead. She was sure of it.
She recognized the intersection the moment she reached it. Her attention was drawn to a rusty iron bared barrier that blocked one of the tunnels. The blocked off tunnel was only about four feet deep and ended in a blank wall. She didn't know why, but something was wrong about this place. She closed her eyes and an image sprang into her mind. She saw this place, twice as big. The tunnel on the other side of the bars was very long and looming just beyond the iron bars was a giant dark hooded figure. Her fear rose as the iron bars between them swung away and the giant stepped towards her. Emily's eyes flew open as she stood there before the short blocked tunnel breathing hard and shivering, heart pounding, as she glanced around.
She slowly got her momentary panic attack under control, as her surroundings shrank back to their normal dimensions. Then a second image appeared in her mind. It was a close-up of a furry hand with long sharp claws and it was pressed against the side of the tunnel, just beyond the bars about three quarters of the way up the curved wall. There was a gate in the iron bared barrier but a quick inspection convinced her that the gate had long ago rusted shut and would never again be functional. The image that remained in her mind of the clawed hand pressed against the curved wall drew her gaze to that spot just beyond the iron bars. She could just make out a discolored patch on the curved wall, just past the bars, exactly where she had seen the clawed hand of her vision. She gazed at the spot for a moment then hesitantly reached through the bars to touch that discolored spot. She could feel a very slight difference in the texture of the spot. She pressed the discolored patch. Nothing happened. Feeling a bit foolish she withdrew her hand and, shaking her head, she turned away to head back out of the storm drain.
She had gone less than six steps when that image of the furry clawed hand pressed against that spot on the wall, again flashed through her mind. She stopped, turned around and returned to the blocked tunnel. She studied the iron barrier and that particular section of the tunnel wall as best as she could in the dim light. Again she reached through the bars and touched the discolored patch and pushed. Nothing. She grabbed the bars with her other hand and pressed the spot much harder this time. There was a slight amount of give then the back wall of the short tunnel started to move aside with a very faint grinding sound. Her heart was again pounding as she watched the back wall slide aside, revealing the long tunnel from her other vision. Then there was a metallic click and the barred barrier, which she was still holding on to, swung away from the opening until it bumped her foot. She stepped back and pulled the barred barrier grate outward.
Emily stood there immobile for several seconds as caution and curiosity fought for mastery of her mind. Finally the curiosity won, it usually did with her, and she stepped through the opening into the newly revealed tunnel. She had gone about a dozen feet when she was startled by the sound of a metallic click behind her. Whipping around she saw that the iron barred barrier had closed. She ran back and found the barrier locked solidly in place. She felt a moment of annoyance then shook herself. She reached up and pressed the same patch but the bars remained locked. Then she became aware that the wall behind her was closing and in a moment of panic dived through the opening just before it closed completely. Now she was inside the tunnel and there was very little light except what came from somewhere far down that long tunnel.
After taking a moment to calm herself down she reached out to touch the blank, dead-end wall before her. Then she felt blindly along the curved sides of the tunnel but could find nothing to reopen the sliding wall. She succumbed to another moment of panic before she turned back around and slowly began making her way down the tunnel. It was lighter at the far end so maybe there was a way out. She quickly realized that this new tunnel was not at all familiar to her.
The further Emily went without finding a way out the more worried she became that she might become lost in this maze of tunnels if she wasn't careful. She came to another four way junction and stopped. She wondered if she should continue on or maybe return to that hidden door and try again to find a way to open it. She was startled by the sound of foot steps ahead of her. She emitted a little squeak of surprise and froze as a huge cloaked and hooded figure came out of a side tunnel, stopping about twelve feet away. The hood was pulled so far forward that his features were completely hidden. She placed her hand against the tunnel wall to steady herself. The dark hooded figure looked so much like the one from her vision.
"Hold it right there. Who are you? How did you get down here?" There was something so incredibly sexy about the voice from under that hood that it sent chills right through her and it took a few seconds for his actual words to register.
I . . . I'm Emily Hansen." She paused trying to get herself under control while wondering if the stranger would recognize her name. "I, ah, I don't know why but that hidden entrance up in the park was so familiar to me. So I followed the tunnel to see where it led but I haven't seen anything else down here that I recognize." She shrugged. She could almost feel him staring intently at her but she wasn't particularly bothered by that. Being stared at was part of being a well known supermodel.
"You knew how to open the tunnel entrance?" The shadowy figure asked in surprise.
"Not exactly." She thought about it. "I knew there should be a passageway at that point but I didn't know how to open it. I just had a memory of a, aaahh . . . a hand pushing against the wall at a certain point and that's how I found the lock."
The large figure appeared to study her quietly a moment then he spoke again. "You really shouldn't be here." There was another pause. "You should go back the way you came."
That voice continued to stir something deep inside of Emily. The more he spoke the more she was drawn to him. He was so reminiscent of the hooded giant from her vision, except she was nearly as tall as this cloaked figure. "I don't know how to open the door from the inside." She took a couple of steps towards the cloaked figure, trying to get a better look at him, her curiosity getting the better of her. "Can you help me get back out?" She took another step toward him and he took a step back. She couldn't help glancing down toward his hands but they were hidden beneath his cloak.
Emily took another step toward the figure, staring intently into the dark recess of his hood, and he took another step backward. The shift allowed the light from a nearby torch to partially penetrate under the hood illuminating a portion of his face. Emily's eyes opened wide as she emitted a little gasp. What she could see of his features was startling, frightening and somehow familiar. Surprise and just a tiny hint of fear warred with rampant curiosity and the resurgence of that sense of déjà vu for a moment. She had to see, had to know. Then with out thinking she took three quick steps forward and reached out for his hood. A fur covered, clawed hand, that had until now been hidden beneath his cloak, came up to block her outstretched hand. Her mouth fell open and her eyes got even wider as she stared at that frightening and familiar clawed hand, identical to the one from her vision. Suddenly the two images, the hooded giant and the clawed hand fused into one image in her mind.
The tableau held for about a second then the clawed hand disappeared beneath the cloak almost too fast to follow. In a daze, Emily took another step forward and pushed the hood back. Again her heart was pounding yet she was nowhere near as frightened as she thought she should be. She was amazed but only mildly surprised. The revealed face looked almost exactly like the way she had always pictured the 'Creature of Central Park' ever since she first heard about that urban myth back in elementary school. Except the colors and size were wrong. The leonine creature before her had brownish red fur and bright green eyes, yet she was sure that he should have wheat gold fur and sapphire blue eyes. And he was nowhere near as big as she had expected. In her mind's eye she only came up to his waist, yet she was almost as tall as the creature before her.
They stared at each other for several seconds. Emily's fear had completely vanished and she felt herself being drawn in by those eyes that she just knew were the wrong color. Finally she spoke. "What . . . Who . are . you?"
There was a look of amazement and surprise in those very expressive green eyes as they stared back at her. After a moment's pause, he spoke. "My name is Devin." Another pause. "What you see, is what I am." He responded, and then he cocked his head. "You're not afraid of me?"
She shrugged, shaking her head. "I should be. Your appearance is surely reason enough, but instead I feel . . ." She paused considering, in surprise, just exactly how she did feel and realized that she felt no fear of him at all. "I feel safe . . . almost as though I should know you." She looked closer, puzzled. "Except I'm positive your eyes should be blue." She looked him up and down, appraising him. "I don't understand it. I know I've never seen you before, or anyone even remotely like you, yet I recognize you. I've had this image in my mind for most of my life. It's the way I have always pictured the mythical Creature of Central Park . . . only you're not mythical are you . . . You're real." She shivered from the chill of the tunnels that had penetrated her light, thigh length, bathing suit cover-up.
"You're cold." Devin stated as he immediately whipped off his hooded cloak and placed it around her.
Emily got goose bumps as she felt the residual heat from his body that clung to the inside of his cloak. "Thank-you." She responded as she pulled the cloak tighter around herself savoring the warmth of it. "Um . . . Do you think you could show me how to get back up into the park?" She looked down at the ground a moment then glanced at the very expensive Lady Rolex watch, that she had purchased only a day ago at an upscale New York jeweler. "I . . ." She looked up into his mesmerizing green eyes. "I'm supposed to be at the Delecorte Theater in about thirty minutes for the rest of today's photo shoot."
Devin gazed at this strange, tall, incredibly beautiful, blond haired, gray eyed woman for several seconds. "This way." He stepped around her and started heading back up the tunnel the way she had come. Emily quickly caught up to him and took position by his side. Her long stride made it easy to keep up with his brisk pace. Devin found his gaze continuously drawn to the incredible beauty walking unafraid beside him. Often when he looked at her she was looking back at him. He sensed confusion and curiosity in equal measure in her. Strange how the fear he had originally felt in her had vanished as soon as she had gotten a good look at him. She was an enigma. He was fascinated by her and wanted to understand why she had ended up down here and how she could know so much and be so comfortable in his presence; all without having ever been Below.
Though most of her attention was on the incredible creature beside her as she continually found her gaze drawn to him, Emily was aware that he was leading her along a different route than she had taken to get down here. He stopped at a new door and opened it. Inside was a narrow stairway that went up into darkness. He took a candle from a tray just inside the door, lit it, and then started up the narrow stairs. She had to follow behind him since the stairs were too narrow for her to go beside him. The walls on either side of the narrow stairway were made of large stone blocks and made her think of a medieval castle.
He stopped on the steps about halfway up and pressed his face against the stone wall. Then, after about a second, pulled his head back and pressed a spot on the wall. A section of blocks about the size of a small door swung away. Emily blinked in the light that was now streaming in through the open door. She stepped up to the opening and gazed out into a large room lined in the same stone blocks. Her eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light that had only seemed bright relative to the light of a single candle. Devin stepped back and pointed through the doorway to an opening on the other side of the room. "Just go up those stairs on the other side of the room and you will be near where you want to go."
Emily stepped through the door and stopped in the middle of the room, glancing around. She turned to thank Devin only to see the door swing closed and virtually disappear. After a startled moment she ran back to where the door was located, but she found it difficult to make out its exact position, much less figure out how to get it open again. Then she realized that she still had on the cloak he had given her. She pounded on the apparently solid wall and called out. There was no response. She finally gave up and headed across the room and up the stairs. She soon found herself standing just outside of Belvedere Castle. The Delacorte amphitheater was just a short walk away. Emily easily made it to the theater in time for the shoot all the while thinking about her rather incredible detour and the unbelievable creature, called Devin, that had been her guide.
~ o ~
Devin's mind was spinning. That woman, Emily, had captured his imagination. She was taller than any of the women he knew, at least six feet, maybe six-one. And her beauty was almost unreal, like a perfect picture. He kept picturing those incredible gray eyes with their flakes of turquoise that seemed to sparkle in the flickering candle light. He was almost halfway back to the home tunnels before he shook off his dazed state. Then he realized that she still had his favorite gray cloak.
He ran back to the castle and checked the basement but the woman and his cloak were not there. Then he went up to the 'box seat' room at the top of the stairs and opened the hidden window, by this time of the evening the opening would be completely shrouded in shadow. He saw the crew over at the theater doing some type of fashion photography shoot. There were several models in swimwear moving and posing at several locations. He had no trouble spotting Emily. She was the tallest of the models. Then he spotted his cloak draped over a bench in the nearest corner of the theater seating.
~ o ~
The photographer called a halt for the day and Emily went to the changing trailer to get into her street clothes. By the time she stepped out of the trailer she had half convinced herself that the whole detour thing had been a strange hallucination. Someone must have spiked her water or something. It had happened before. Some jerks thought it was funny to slip something into the models' drinks, either to make them act silly or to try to take advantage of them. Then she spotted the dark gray cloak tossed over a bench in the corner of the theater's seating.
She went over, picked it up, and looked down at its very real, solid, weight. Then she held it up to her face, and breathed it in. The smell of candle wax, damp earth, leather, and some indefinable spicy musk invaded her mind, bringing forth the old familiar image of the Creature of Central Park. Then the imaged face morphed very slightly and her mind's eye was gazing on the image of Devin, the owner of the very tangible cloak she now held. She shrugged, smiled, threw the cloak across her shoulders and rushed to catch up to the other models. Together they all climbed into the limo and rode back to the hotel. The other models all commented on the cloak, wondering where she had gotten it. She chuckled then told them that she had run into the Creature of Central Park and he had given it to her. Christy, who lived in New York, gave her a side-long look. The others made various disparaging noises and they all laughed about it.
~ o ~
Devin knew he should leave but he just couldn't stop watching. The girls were all beautiful but it was that tall blond, Emily, which kept drawing his gaze. Finally they were done for the day and, as he continued to watch, they began packing up their equipment while the models disappeared into the mobile home they had been using as a changing room. A few minutes later he saw Emily come out and, after looking around, she walked over and picked up the cloak. Then to his surprise she held it up to her face and stood there like that for a while before throwing it across her shoulders and heading out to the parking lot.
He closed the window, deep in thought, and pondered the meaning of her actions all the way back to the dining hall chamber where he joined his two sisters, Caroline and Sharon. "Where's Michael?" He asked.
"He's with mom and dad. They went to visit Uncle Charles and Aunt Elizabeth at the brownstone." Sharon replied. "They were discussing some photographers that were supposed to be in the park for most of the week. They even sent out that pipe message saying to avoid the park for the rest of the week."
"Oh." Was his only response. The message must have gone out when he was in the upper tunnels. The normal message pipes didn't reach that particular area. He figured he would just wait and tell them about the intrusion tomorrow morning.
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.