Jordane was so excited that she barely had time to release the handbrake of the old car, parked in a recess in front of the tunnel. She rushed into the middle of the road and faced the monument, supposedly a witness to a horror story. She took out a professional camera from her handbag and snapped several shots of the tunnel looming before them. But it was only when Raphaël slammed the car door that Jordane froze, struck by the atmosphere of the place.

The road they were on was crossed by an old, abandoned railway line - another relic of the mines - that passed overhead through the tunnel. Around them, there was only a wasteland, an apparently abandoned warehouse, and a field leading to the forest.

The silence was absolute.

There was not a soul for miles, and solitude gripped them with its icy hand. The tunnel itself was not very long: about twenty meters, and one could see the other end. But since it was unlit, a part was plunged into darkness. Jordane took out a small object from her pocket: Raphaël, who had stayed near his car, recognized her dictaphone.

“It's now…” Jordane glanced at her watch: “8:15 PM. I'm standing in front of the tunnel. The atmosphere is really impressive. It's dark, and we're alone. A deathly silence, nobody for miles. The perfect place for a nocturnal encounter.”

She slowly approached until she reached the entrance. She stopped dead, measuring her next step with gravity, as if entering the tunnel would swallow her into a parallel world. A world of vampires, werewolves, and the undead.

She took a step forward.

She didn't know what to expect, but she felt as if she was leaving the world of the living, the heel of her boot echoing in the tunnel, like a bell toll announcing the arrival of spirits.

“There's an energy here,” she commented. “No wonder legends are born here, and no one dares set foot here after nightfall.”

She continued to move forward slowly, observing attentively. Graffiti, mostly indecipherable, adorned the worn and cracked walls. She spotted an older one than the others, in faded red paint, which she photographed. It read “Inès the Mad's tunnel.” Jordane continued forward until she found what she was looking for, in the dark part halfway through the tunnel: a large sewage outlet, almost bigger than her. She turned on her camera's flash but hesitated to take the photo: what creature of the night would the light reveal? Would she see a face disfigured with a sinister grimace the moment her flash lit up the dark lair that every resident of Duli knew?

She stared at the gaping hole, perplexed. Would she end up like Inès the Mad if she took the photo?

No, that legend had been fabricated from scratch. Inès probably hadn't even existed.

The camera's shutter clicked, the flash revealing the bottomless inside of the pipe like a fearful glance into the abyss of the night: empty.

Jordane cast a furtive and ashamed glance at Raphaël, like a child realizing there's no monster under their bed - yet, there really had been one under hers, long ago. But he was absorbed in his phone, leaning against his pile of mud.

With the photos taken, there was only one thing left to do: a little ritual. According to the legend, reciting the incantation Inès had pronounced that night would attract the sewer monsters. With luck, Inès herself might show up.

Here is the story of Inès:

Inès was born to her father Ulrick and her mother Olivia. Not much was known about her father, but everyone in Duli knew Olivia. They called her Mad Olivia. She had led a respectable, even exemplary, life until the birth of her first daughter, Inès, gradually plunged her into postnatal depression. At first, Ulrick chose not to see the symptoms: Olivia talking to herself, Olivia crying alone. Inès slipping in her bath. Inès falling from the changing table. Until one day, returning from work, he found his wife and two-year-old daughter unconscious in the kitchen, their heads in the oven. This time, after the ambulance left his house, he had to face the truth: something was wrong with his wife.

And that's how Olivia started her back and forth trips to the local psychiatric hospitals.

Inès grew up with her father in Duli. Her youth was not easy: when the news spread throughout the town, other children quickly began to mock her. Sometimes Olivia appeared in front of their house: Ulrick would simply call the hospital to have her taken back and wait for the ambulance, locking the doors. But it was harder when she appeared in front of Inès's school: the children had time to throw stones and shout at her while she just looked at them, dazed. The principal would end up calling the police, and Inès would return home still reeling from the other students' taunts.

Then, at the age of twelve, the mine accident occurred. She was not affected, her father being a merchant in the city center, but she was steeped in the heavy tension shared by the town's inhabitants, who still hoped the trapped miners would be saved.

But two months later, hope had vanished, and the entrance was sealed. All sorts of things were said about the accident: rumors circulated everywhere.

That's how one evening, Inès was about to return home by bike, as usual now that she was old enough to come back alone. She had to pass through the tunnel but always dreaded that moment: she had to cross the unlit zone, halfway through, then pass in front of a large sewage pipe, which seemed twice her size. Behind the heavy grate, one couldn't see what was hidden in the darkness, in the depths of the underground.

A monster could take advantage.

It would reach its hand through the bars of the grate and grab her leg: then it would devour her alive, cutting with its sharp claws and shredding with its pointed teeth. At twelve, Inès still had a lot of imagination, and it didn't always help her.

Regardless, she had found a way around it: when she approached the tunnel, she would speed up her bike, pumping with all her might, and she would cross it completely motionless, even holding her breath, hoping she had taken enough momentum to pass the sewage pipe. That way, the monsters would think it was a rock rolling down the road. Or a car. In any case, not a tasty little girl alone on her bike. But that evening, Inès was distracted: indeed, a year after the coal mine disaster, the rumor at school was that the trapped miners were still alive. That they were lost in the city's underground networks and that, blinded by complete darkness, they had turned into night creatures, wandering, devouring rats to survive. So, she decided to whistle a little tune to distract herself.

Lost in her thoughts and song, she forgot to gain momentum to cross the tunnel. She realized it at the last moment and tried to speed up. But, stuttering and changing gears while going too slowly, the chain came out of its gear. She tried to straighten up but failed miserably and sprawled out on the ground just between the two exits.

She raised her head, nothing broken. She sat up, grumbling, when she realized where she was: if she turned her head to the left, she would come face to face with the wide-open mouth and regular steel teeth of the drainage. She wanted to scream but immediately clamped her hands over her mouth. Maybe if she made no noise, the underground monster wouldn't see her. In the dim light, she saw her bike lying on the ground. She wondered if she should grab it and flee with it at full speed. But no, she couldn't: the chain, unhooked, lay a meter away. It taunted her, shining faintly in the dark, reflecting the light of a street lamp at the exit. No, she had to start running all at once, running with all her might and never looking back. Her father would come to retrieve her bike tomorrow.

She swallowed hard, daring not to move, daring not to make a sound. But monsters don't exist. Her father had told her a hundred times, and her father was often right.

“Monsters don't exist.”

So why did she feel a breath behind her? No, not a breath. A stench. A foul stench enveloped her, wrapped around her.

“Monsters don't exist.”

A smell of decomposition. The same smell as when a wild cat had come to die in their garage while they were on vacation, its belly writhing in all directions, maggots coming out of its empty sockets and decomposed mouth. The same smell, but stronger.

“Monsters don't exist.”

“Help me…” she heard behind her.

“Monsters, don’t...”

“I'm stuck... It's dark...”

Inès's heart rose in her chest. But monsters don't talk. They scream, and they growl. So she turned around. Behind her, the sewage pipe hid its secrets behind its black veil, only streaked by iron bars. She saw nothing.

“I'm hungry...” moaned the voice that had swallowed her.

Inès cautiously approached.

“Who are you?” she managed to ask, her voice trembling.

Squinting, she saw a slight movement in the hole, but she wasn't sure what she was seeing because it was really dark.

“The explosion... I was lost down there... I'm hungry... And there's no one left...”

“Do you live in there?” Inès asked.

She felt sorry for the voice.

“Help me,” it begged. “Take my hand and pull me out...”

Something gently emerged from the darkness, approaching the bars. It was the hand of a human, not a monster. There were five fingers, and not a single claw. But it was dark, and she couldn't see well. So, she reached out to grab the hand to help the poor soul out.

Except it was the hand that grabbed her. Inès screamed: partly because she was surprised, but mostly because she realized the hand was half-decomposed. It was black with dirt and disease, thin, and the nails had been torn off. The hand, gripping her arm with superhuman strength, pulled her against the grille. All she could do was scream, cry, and struggle, but the hand did not let go. In a few seconds, her arm was completely out of sight, and her head was stuck between the cold bars. When the man opened his mouth, the stench hit her full force. The smell of death. The man's mouth was drooling profusely, the blackish, slimy saliva dripping between his few remaining teeth. His eyes were atrophied and half-closed, like a mummy. She saw this decomposing face approaching hers, mouth wide open. She noticed that the man was wearing a helmet on his head. A helmet with a broken headlamp. Like a miner's helmet.

The story goes that she managed to escape. She went home to tell her father everything. A monster had tried to eat her. But her father was skeptical, so she started talking about it to others, and then, everyone around her became skeptical. People began to believe she was like her mother, and rumors spread.

She was never seen again. It's said she ended up in the psychiatric hospital, with her mother. There are also rumors that if you pass through the tunnel late at night, she appears to warn you, that there's a monster lurking.

“Come on, just this little step, it's easy...”

Jordane was too old to believe in monsters. She knew monsters were human, and alive. There was enough violence in the world that there was no need for supernatural creatures. She had been studying urban legends for years, and never once had she seen ghosts or monsters. The haunted church of Saint-Antoine? A patient from a psychiatric hospital who snuck out at night, thinking she was a nun. She had even managed to interview her - the article received a five-skull rating in the magazine, and a copy hung on her fridge. In any case, there was always an explanation. Especially since in this story, everything was bogus: they had leafed through the registers, no Inès or Olivia had ever existed. Nothing in the staff files they had stolen from nearby psychiatric hospitals either - Raphaël had kindly offered to help a nurse fix her computer, after it was mysteriously disconnected from the network. He had also cleverly scanned a public works employee's access card with his phone while infiltrating the cafeteria, but the plans they had recovered showed that the mine galleries and the sewage system were at their closest point five kilometers apart, impossible that an explosion could create a hole that would join the two networks, and for a miner to get lost under the city.

So, she could record herself saying the incantation, and nothing would happen.

She walked forward until she reached the middle of the tunnel, where she plunged into darkness. She looked back: she couldn't even see Raphaël anymore, she could barely make out the light of his phone screen. She looked to her left: the gaping hole was still there. Nothing moved in it. She looked in front of her: nothing in sight down the whole road. Just her, in the tunnel, in the darkness. A gentle wind tickled her neck. Or was it a chill. Goosebumps.

“Come on girl, have courage.”

What did she have to lose?

She triggered her dictaphone, and the click made her jump.

“Monsters don't exist.”

She held her breath: nothing happened. Nothing moved. Only the graffiti mocked her.

“Monsters don't exist.”

Already, her voice trembled a bit more. What was she afraid of? This story didn't exist. Just three more times.

A scratching sound came from her left. It seemed to come from the drainage. Her body stiffened.

“Calm down, old girl, it's in your head... Or maybe it's a rat... These pests swarm in the sewers,” she thought to herself.

“Monsters don't exist...”

The scratching again, louder.

She began to panic. Paralyzed, she dared not turn her head to the left. She looked straight ahead. The void. The night. The silence.

The scratching again. Twice.

A thought crept into her mind:

“Everything is pure for those who are pure.” No, not that, not now, she thought. Please no...

She tried to calm down; if she panicked, the door she had taken so long to close might reopen and unleash her demons in pursuit.

“Monsters, they...”

The woman who was approaching her seemed to come out of nowhere. She appeared to be about her age, maybe a bit older, and she was wearing a somewhat outdated brown leather jacket with a pair of white jeans. She had impeccably pulled-back ocher-black hair in a ponytail, a square face but an absent look, like a sleepwalker. Jordane felt a cold breath form in her stomach, then climb up her spine to make the hairs on her neck stand on end. Her throat dried up instantly, and she was unable to move. She realized she couldn't even breathe. The woman continued to walk as if she hadn't seen her; but she stopped at her level, right next to her. Jordane heard her teeth chatter and her legs starting to give way beneath her.

“Do not approach the hole, there is a monster inside.”

Her voice was distant, like in a dream, but it echoed in her head. Time seemed to stop, and Jordane was unable to produce any intelligent thought.

“I know,” she heard herself say as a perfect spectator of her own body: she heard her voice from afar, as if it was kilometers away, or years from the scene.

The woman seemed to nod, then continued on her way behind her. She did not move, still unable to process the scene; it was when a hand was placed on her shoulder that she began to scream.

“Wow, are you okay!?” Raphaël cried, jumping out of his shoes.

She stared at him, panicked: yes, it was definitely Raphaël. She looked behind him, but there was no one there.

“Did you see her?” She stammered.

“See what?” He replied, puzzled.

Jordane frantically looked around her. Had she dreamed? Yes, that was the only plausible explanation. She had made it all up, she watched so many horror movies that her imagination had played tricks on her. There was no need to look any further. That was it.

Was it?

“The rat,” she lied. “The rat that snuck into the drain.”

“Nope, I didn't see anything.”

She caught her breath and managed to calm down a bit.

What a fool, scaring herself like that...

“It's okay,” she continued, “anyway, I'm done. Let's go eat something.”

“That's the spirit! Off to the steakhouse! Are you treating?”

“Definitely not.”

They both headed towards the car, Raphaël with a determined stride, Jordane a little too fast to be natural.

“You know,” he resumed, “the only rat I see here is you. How could you book single beds? How did you even find a hotel that offered them? You're pretty strong...”

“The boss watches my expense reports, egghead,” she retorted, her voice lighter.

And as they walked away from that place they would never see again, the streetlights began to turn off, plunging the site into oblivion until the sun dared to reappear the next day. Indeed, the next people who drive through this tunnel will surely pass by a graffiti that Jordane had not been able to see because of the darkness, just above the sewage pipe. It had been written a long time ago, and some letters had been erased over time, slightly modifying Inès's incantation. It read:


Interlude: Still waters run deep

“Honey, can you take Alizé to her singing lesson tonight at 6 pm? I have to cover for a colleague this evening.”

Christine was dressing in the walk-in closet while her children had breakfast. She addressed her husband, Richard, who was shaving in the en-suite bathroom. She only heard an irritated sigh in response, but decided she wouldn't settle for that answer today:

“Rich,” she repeated a bit louder, “can you...”

“No, Christine,” he retorted sharply. “I'm busy tonight, I have a site to supervise.”

She slipped on her last shoe and stepped uncertainly towards the bedroom door frame, wanting to confront him since he had said he was free that evening and that work was on “autopilot,” as he had boasted, but her courage had its limits. She knew she'd lose her composure if she spoke to him face-to-face. From where she stood, she could see the entrance to the bathroom in the reflection of his mirror, watching his shadow move slowly in front of the sink.

“You told me you were free tonight? That you didn't need to work and your employees could handle everything on their own...”

“Enzo called, I have an emergency to handle,” he replied calmly.

“Liar,” she thought: she hadn't seen him take a call either last night or this morning. The truth was he had his own schedule and shirked all responsibility, leaving her to handle all obligations and chores. But was she mistaken? She hadn't been by his side all evening: she had helped Alizé with her homework while he drank a beer in front of the TV. He could have stepped away for a few minutes without her noticing.

“But wait,” she thought, “isn't Enzo supposed to be on paternity leave?”

He had called the house a week ago to announce the news to Richard since he wasn't answering his cell phone, and she was the one who had picked up and congratulated him on the happy news.

She bit her lip, hesitant to confront him with a lie that would anger him; but this time, she really needed him to take responsibility since she had to close the salon: her colleague was having problems with her stepson and had an appointment at the police station for an identity theft issue on the internet.

“Isn't Enzo on paternity leave?” she asked timidly, stepping back unconsciously.

She saw his shadow freeze for a moment in the bathroom, and her heart raced.

“What are you talking about?” the voice in the bathroom said. “Enzo is working this week, what are you making up?”

Christine frowned. Was he lying? She had indeed received his call last week. Or was it two weeks ago? A spike of anxiety rose in her: had she been mistaken? She was quite tired lately, maybe she got mixed up and he had called earlier? Was it even Enzo she had talked to? She lost confidence in her own judgment and resigned herself to dropping the battle: maybe she had confused the dates...

“Fine,” she replied, “I'll call her aunt to pick her up.”

She heard Richard put down his razor, and she saw him in the mirror exiting the bathroom and advancing towards her furiously. Her eyes widened in fear, and she pressed herself against the wall of the dressing room, horrified: Richard's outbursts were explosive, and they always ended badly for her. He stood in front of her, menacingly close: his lips still covered in shaving foam, curled back, showing his teeth in a beastly manner.

“Your sister!?” he yelled. “Why involve that meddler when you can't handle your responsibilities? All she's going to do is tell everyone we can't raise the kids and need others' help! You wanted kids, so take care of them!! And I shouldn't have to suffer your incompetence or scheduling issues!”

Anger rose in her, and she clenched her fists so hard it hurt; but she was too scared to look him in the eye. She stared fixedly at a pair of shoes on the floor but managed to respond, without taking her eyes off her pumps:

“I have to cover for a colleague... I'm just asking for help this one time, I've been running around for work and the kids all week...”

She felt Richard's breathing quicken, and without daring to look up, she knew the vein on his forehead was pulsating. He moved even closer to her, almost touching, and she suddenly regretted starting this argument.

“Your job…” he said. “How many times have I asked you to quit? With two kids, you should be taking care of them full-time!”

“But I love my job,” she replied, tears in her eyes and her voice trembling, “seeing my clients and colleagues is what gets me out of bed in the morning, they're the only people I see outside of this family...”

“You call that a job?” he said contemptuously. “I earn four times your salary, we don't need it! All you do is style the same people over and over! What's the point? And if you were any good at it, you might have ended up owning your own salon, but no! You're just an employee, doing a crappy job, paid like crap, and you can't even take care of your family! It's pure pride and selfishness on your part. You're a bad mother who puts herself before her children. And you have the audacity to dump your responsibilities on me!”

“You're being unfair, I need this job,” she replied. Her voice was just a whisper. Tears blurred her vision.

Richard straightened up, stepped back, and sized her up from head to toe. Then, he finished the dispute with a final blow:

“Why are you wearing a dress to go to work? You think someone is going to look at you? At your age? You're a mother, get a grip.”

Then he went back to finish shaving in the bathroom; Christine slid to the floor and began to cry silently, her head in her trembling hands.