At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.
‘Wh-who are you?’
‘I am the master of this castle.’
The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’
The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.
‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.
‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!’
Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’
The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’
‘And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.’
‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’
Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.
‘What do you want with me?’ she cried.
The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’
‘You were trespassing.’
‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’
The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.’
‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’
Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’
The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’
‘Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …’
‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’
‘Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.’
The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’
Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’
‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’
‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’
The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’
Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’
Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.
Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’
‘What is it?’
Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.’
Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.
‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’
With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.
The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’
The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’
Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’
The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’
Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’
‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’
‘Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.’
Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.
The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’
‘Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?’
‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’
‘Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.’
Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!’
The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’