Jordane woke up around ten o'clock. A ray of sunlight was filtering through the curtains, now warming her cheek. She sat up in bed, her hair falling over her face: despite her misadventures at the beginning of the night, she had rested well - fortunately, because she had a long day ahead of her. She checked her phone and cursed when she saw she was late: she had arranged to meet Raphaël at nine. She jumped into the shower, dressed quickly, painstakingly straightened the bed, and dashed out of her room. Heading to the hotel cafeteria and finding no one there, she filled two cups of coffee and made her way to the back courtyard.

The hotel's green space was hidden from the world, encircled by a bamboo forest. There was a pool - covered with a tarp, as summer was still a few months away - several wooden lounge chairs, and multiple resin tables. The grass was clean and neatly trimmed, so Jordane took off her Converses and walked barefoot towards the back of the yard to join a person lounging in a hammock, a laptop on their stomach and earphones in their ears.

She stealthily moved behind her unsuspecting victim - fortunate for her, she only needed not to be seen, as her giggling went unnoticed - and picked up a dead leaf from one of the trees from which the hammock was hanging. With a meticulous and careful gesture, more akin to a bomb disposal expert, she tickled the ear of the poor soul. In a frantic and rather comical motion, he slapped his ear, emitting a garbled cry that resembled an Italian canticle, and almost toppled over. Raphaël turned to Jordane, who was trying to contain her laughter with both hands:

“May the great Cric eat me,” Raphaël exclaimed with a smile, “if it isn't Jo, the sleeping beauty!”

“Good morning to you too, Rafiki,” she replied, handing him a cup.

“Perfect, this is exactly what I needed. Jo, grab a chair, you're going to love this,” he said, pointing to his laptop.

She went back and forth to the folding chairs and picked the first one she came across. She sat down and Raphaël handed her the laptop: on it, there was an article titled “The grand opening of the Palace of the Strange for Halloween.” Occupying a good quarter of the page was a photo of two men shaking hands. On the left, the mayor of Duli, but younger than he was today. Maybe a good ten years younger - and definitely ten kilos lighter. He wore the falsely radiant smile of a politician on the campaign trail. On the right, at the other end of the handshake, was a man in his fifties, with a piercing gaze even in a newspaper clipping, his hair slightly slicked back. His face, rather in poor shape, bore a forced smile that made him look sinister and mysterious. No doubt, it was the man they had met at the tavern yesterday. Except in ten years, he hadn't aged a day. Strange.

Jordane skimmed the article: the Palace of the Strange was located outside the city, about a twenty-minute drive away, and construction had taken six months in total. Targeting a family audience, the park was to offer attractions, museums, exhibitions, and shows. The owner, one Oswald W. Lucas, was eager to welcome the inhabitants of Duli for the grand opening on October 31st. The article stated that he had built his fortune in the fur export business in a land far to the east, but had always been fascinated by all sorts of oddities. He often went to the circus, fairs, and magic shows with his parents as a child: having now retired, he had settled in Duli a year before starting the construction of his fairground.

“Interesting,” Jordane noted. “This guy seems to have come out of nowhere...”

“I found an Oswald W. Lucas,” Raphaël replied as if anticipating the question. “A luxury fur magnate, if you can call him that.”

“I think these days we call them furries,” Jordane interrupted.

“Don't put images like that in my head,” he laughed. “Anyway, I found photos of him when he was young, it seems to match. I think he's clean, at least in terms of his background. Check the next file.”

Jordane clicked on the next PDF and came across another article: this one, tiny with barely a title and description, didn't even have a photo. It was a border article filling the empty space next to a piece on the supposed danger of 4G antennas and Wi-Fi waves.

“Palace of the Strange, temporary closure due to an incident causing many injuries. Investigation ongoing,” she read aloud.

“Looks like our good old park owner has greased the palms of Mr. Mayor and the press to hush up the matter, Jordane continued. Mr. Oswald, I'm starting to find you very interesting.”


They joined Ed in a small parking area at the edge of the forest: surrounded by tall pines, the area was delineated by logs laid on the ground and covered with dull-colored needles. They parked the Mercedes next to an old, faded pickup truck, its bed filled with various old tools. After turning off the engine, Jordane got out first and looked up at the sky to admire the only patch of blue sky available to them: they were at the foot of the hillside that housed the famous Duli forest, whose tree roots alone knew the dark secrets of its mine. It seemed that with the first step on the winding path between the woods, the foliage of the trees would envelop them with their majestic and intimidating presence, brushing their shoulders or grabbing their ankles from time to time.

“Oh, what are you doing here?” she heard exclaimed to her right.

She walked around the car to find Raphaël crouched next to his door, vigorously petting a dog: the Husky was wagging its tail frantically, drooling profusely, and licking his new friend's fingers to encourage him to continue the affection.

“You're a handsome one!” he complimented, burying his face against its muzzle.

The dog barked proudly in return, as if to say, “I know!” and began sniffing the car tires.

“Come pet him, Jo, he's so soft!” he exclaimed.

“No thanks,” she retorted warily, “you know I don't like dogs, and even less so displays of love with flea-ridden, germ-filled bags of fur...”

The poor creature, seemingly hurt, threw itself into Raphaël's arms for consolation, but a few seconds later, it stood up abruptly, ears erect, alert to a sound only it seemed to hear.


The raspy voice echoed from the edge of the woods: the two companions stood up and watched Togo trot nonchalantly toward the trail to join a figure that gradually emerged from the shadow of the forest.

Ed appeared before them, a man in his fifties, worn by either work, alcohol, or probably both. He wore a green work overall, hunter boots, and a half-frayed woolen hat.

“My dog doesn't bite, but he can be very clingy, even with strangers. Some guard dog,” he said by way of greeting.

He dragged himself over to them, his dog joyfully orbiting around him, then fished in his pockets for a half-smoked cigarette, which he proceeded to relight.

“I hope we're not late,” Jordane ventured to break the ice, “the road was a bit harder to find than we thought.”

“You got the money?” he asked, completely ignoring her comment.

Jordane and Raphaël exchanged a quick glance, and she pulled out a wad of bills from her pocket, the amount they had agreed on over the phone three days earlier. Ed eyed it, and when he took the money in his hand and realized its authenticity, he relaxed slightly:

“Sorry,” he mumbled, shifting the cigarette to the other side of his mouth with a flick of his tongue, “I was sure all this was just a bad joke or something... That someone would want to visit this place... it's the first time I'm hearing about it, and I was born in this rat hole!”

He pocketed his dues and turned his back to return to the trail: Jordane and Raphaël exchanged another look, he shrugged, and they telepathically concluded they should follow him, their day of exploration beginning.

“You said you're a journalist?” he asked without turning back.

“Yeah, that's right, I have a camera and even a real notebook,” she replied, snapping a picture of their guide disappearing among the pine branches with her Nikon.

“Don't write down my name, huh? And no pictures of me. It's not well seen by the locals to hang around this side of Duli, it's something people here want to forget.”

Togo barked solemnly in agreement. And so, they left the daylight and delved into the forest: beneath their feet, fifty bodies lay in their communal grave for decades.

“But was that all that lay in the bowels of this mine?” Jordane wondered.


They had been walking for five minutes in silence: Ed about ten meters ahead - despite his age and appearances, he kept an excellent pace - and Togo joyfully gamboling now at his feet, now around Raphaël. With the ambient gloom, one might easily think that night was about to fall and not that the morning had barely started: the trail zigzagged between the trees to counter the rather steep slope they were climbing, and one could barely discern its beginning or end, blending into the darkness of the forest.

“Cyanide...” Ed shouted back to them, gesturing towards something on their left.

When they caught up to him, panting, they found a tree, or rather its ghost: the white, leafless specter of the dead pine stood, a relic of the deadly poison's passage through the town's lands.

“You'll see more and more as we get closer to our destination,” he continued.

Jordane snapped a photo of the carcass.

“This whole damn forest is dead...” he lamented.

“And the animals?” Jordane asked, “Did they die from the poisoning too?”

“No, not that,” he replied. “They died because of the mist.”

“What mist?” she asked, puzzled.

“You don't know this story?” he continued, “Well, that's not surprising. At first, no one believed me, but it took a smartypants with a diploma from who knows where to come and give the answer, much later. And by then, people in Duli didn't want to hear about this disaster anymore, so it didn't even make the papers. But I was there. I was there the day of the accident, when the mist killed my sister.”


Ed opened his water bottle and poured some into his hand for Togo to drink. The dog lapped it up eagerly and then gave a joyful bark. He had known this pooch since it was just a puppy and had had him for nearly five years now. He had named him Togo, after the sled dog that participated in the 1925 serum run in Alaska. History remembers Balto because he was part of the team that covered the last fifty kilometers to the village and had a more marketable name for a newspaper article. But Togo had covered almost four hundred kilometers before retiring, ignoring the relay of other dogs every fifty kilometers: he just didn't have the luck to be present to receive the medal. Ed's dog was old enough that he had been well-trained and didn't cause trouble, but not old enough to enjoy a good early evening nap on the porch; so, he made sure to exercise him before returning home to have some peace in the evening.

The kids had asked him what happened on the day of the mine accident. It had haunted him all his life, and even today, he would sometimes wake up at night screaming his sister's name, his heart soaked in sweat and his soul filled with guilt.

Every time, Togo was there at his bedside to comfort him.

He had only him: after his sister, then his parents, and finally his wife, he had lost everything.

“Duli took everything from me,” he thought bitterly.

He didn't want to revisit that day, but the kids had offered him a good sum to walk them through the forest. All that to follow the trail, then veer off into the woods to find one of the sealed entrances.

He could grant them that much.

He looked around him: in his youth, this forest was teeming with life, the rustling of leaves as squirrels raced, the songs of birds; and now, only the oppressive silence, or the distant crack of a dead branch collapsing, accompanied them in this cemetery.

“I was a child when it happened,” he began...


Ed was twelve years old when he lost his sister. They had ventured into the forest, as was their habit, Ed to find sticks to add to his collection, and Yvette, his younger sister, to pick up pine cones. Their parents lived at the edge of the forest, their father being a fish warden at the lake on the other side of the hill. A river flowed down the slope and skirted Duli to lose itself in a larger river, miles away from the town - the end of the world for them. Every Sunday, Ed went fishing with his father, but on Saturdays, he was in charge of taking care of his little sister, so he took her with him to the forest, where she could play alone without bothering him.

“Can we go to the cabin?” Yvette asked her big brother.

“No, mom said we're not allowed to go there,” he lied.

In truth, he just didn't want to go there: the “cabin” was actually a hunter's shelter, a bit deeper in the forest - adults used it for deer hunting, but it wasn't the season - and apart from that, there wasn't anything interesting to see.

“Pleeease, I want to go,” she pleaded.

“No,” he repeated as he kicked a pile of dead leaves.

Eventually, Ed found a straight stick that he deemed satisfactory for his collection: in his imagination, it was a gladiator's bronze sword, sharp and powerful enough to kill the lions of the Colosseum.

“Can we go to the cabin now?” Yvette persisted.

Ed sighed:


“Yay!!” his sister exclaimed in delight.

Now that he had found his weapon, Ed felt capable of venturing further into the forest: if they encountered a deer, Ed could slay it with a single swipe of his saber - his stick had now become a hefty pirate's sword, sturdy enough to open a treasure chest with a flick of the wrist. They thus headed towards the hunting shelter, Ed staying back to keep an eye on his sister. They left the trail and walked a few hundred meters to reach the shelter: it was a simple wooden platform raised two meters high, with a rudimentary ladder for access. A swarm of old beer cans and hunting rifle cartridges littered the ground.

He hit one of the cans with his baseball bat - he was now a popular player in the minor league - which flew off with a metallic sound; meanwhile, his sister clumsily climbed the ladder to reach the top of the shelter.

“Don't fall,” he called out to her.

“No,” she said confidently, as if wondering why someone would choose to fall.

She sat on the edge of the structure, her legs dangling on either side of the vertical bar of the rudimentary guardrail.

“We can't see anything from here!” she yelled, “Not even our house!”

“Well yeah, banana,” he retorted, “did you think you'd be taller than the treetops?”

They spent a long time each doing their own thing: Ed pretended to have epic saber battles with his new toy, and Yvette sang nursery rhymes while swinging her feet in the air, until she broke the silence:

“I'm bored,” she suddenly declared. “How about we go to the lake?”

“No,” Ed replied, “I don't want to climb all the way down there. And it's going to get dark soon,” he lied.

“Okay, okay,” his sister resigned, “let's go back.”

She began to climb down the ladder backward, making sure of each step, while a few kilometers away, a pocket of methane underground exploded.

First, they felt the ground tremble under their feet, a sharp and brief jolt, as the shock wave traveled through the forest: trees shivered, crows screamed as they took flight, and a rain of pine cones and needles fell upon them. Yvette, still on the last step, fell on her buttocks and let out a cry of surprise:

“Are you okay?” Ed worried.

“Yes,” she replied, getting up, “I just fell...”

A second rumble rose beneath them, this one much longer and more diffuse than the first. It wasn't strong enough to rain down more pine cones, but the forest seemed to tremble in its entirety, shaken to its very core.

Then nothing.

The two children had intertwined without realizing it.

“Do you think it's the lake monster waking up?” Yvette asked, pointing to an invisible spot, up the hill hidden by the thick trunks of the pine trees.

“No,” he fretted, regretting having made up that excuse a long time ago to avoid climbing the long slope with her that would take them to the lake's edge. “There's no monster there.”

“Then what is it?”

“Just a little earthquake,” he reassured her, “it's over now.”

Ed saw her relax and loosen her grip, but he thought it was probably time to head back: he sensed something was not right, but he had no idea that the second tremor had sealed the fate of the miners, now left to their own devices in the clogged arteries of the forest, just beneath their feet.

“Let's go back,” he declared.

The forest was completely silent: no birds singing or taking flight, no cracking of branches or rustling of leaves. The atmosphere weighed on him, and he felt claustrophobic, crushed by this tension that built up without breaking. He started to turn back when a rustling sound came from behind him: “Oh, a rabbit!” exclaimed his sister. Then Ed saw out of the corner of his eye the animal running at full speed down the slope toward the edge of the forest. He fixed his gaze on the hill: first alerted by small, sharp noises, sounds of branches shaken rapidly approaching, then colored dots detached from the darkness, high in the branches. A swarm of panicked squirrels dashed from branch to branch, fleeing toward the city. They dropped needles and twigs in their wake, eliciting a cry of ecstasy from Yvette.

“What's going on, Ed wondered. Are they fleeing something?”

“Did you see that?” his sister exclaimed. “They're all leaving the forest!”

“We need to get back...”

He was cut off by a gigantic shadow that brushed him at an astonishing speed: it was like being brushed by a train, a sound of hooves clapping in his ears. He fell backward from the shock and barely had time to turn around to see the deer disappear into the darkness, joining the other animals.

“That was close!” he exclaimed, getting up, trembling.

Yvette was starting to get scared, hiding behind a tree, her gaze fixed in the direction of the hill, or the lake.

What if there really was a monster there?

“What's that?” panicked Yvette, pointing at something in the darkness.

Ed started to look as well, then saw something moving slowly among the shadows. He took a step towards the shelter, stepping on a branch, which made him jump.

“What are you doing?” implored his sister from behind her tree.

“Don't move,” he reassured, “I'll see better from the top of the cabin.”

He climbed the ladder agilely and found himself up high, leaning against the guardrail. From here, he could see a little better what was coming down from the lake: a thick, whitish mist was slowly descending the hill, hugging the ground, coming their way. The dense fog was spewing from the water body, licking the ground and embracing the trees in its path, advancing straight towards them. They were motionless as the waist-high white haze, now just a few dozen meters away, approached. They heard a mournful wail, echoing among the trees, then a shadow emerged from the mist: a doe limping, trying to outrun the thick mass swallowing everything in its path. She left behind a trail of blood, flowing from a massive bite mark on her flank. She continued to run but collapsed near them with a death rattle that could wake the dead: Yvette watched with wide eyes, unable to turn away from the horror. Ed, however, had his eyes fixed on the place where the flesh had been attached: a bite of that size could only have been made by a bear, and there were none in this forest.

“Unless it's the lake monster,” his panicked mind continued.

The doe stared at Yvette with its big black eyes, panting heavily, as the pristine mist slowly enveloped them: only the animal's head and the upper body of his sister emerged; the rest swallowed under the milky river. Around him, Ed saw only the expanse of mist advancing slowly between the trees like a lava flow. Only their ragged breathing broke the dreamlike silence. He dared not move, standing on his perch, condemned to watch helplessly as the endless white sea passed his sister and the poor wounded animal. Then, a few moments later, the beast let out a final gasp and collapsed on the spot, disappearing into the fog.

“Ed, I'm scared...” sobbed Yvette.

“Come join me!” he implored in return: he was terrified, his instinct forbidding him from approaching the fog.

“I can't... I don't feel good, it stings...” were her last words.

“It's going to be alright,” he sobbed in return, his hands glued to the railing of the shelter.

What they didn't know, and what would be discovered many years later, is that the explosion of the methane pocket that occurred that day in the mine had caused a landslide behind the hill. The small lake, less than three kilometers from them, rested on a layer of volcanic earth: for centuries, carbon dioxide had accumulated at the bottom of the lake, trapped under the pressure of the large body of water. This landslide, of phenomenal force, had turned the layers of water and released all the trapped gas. This gas had to come out of the water in the form of a huge column, then, being heavier than air, descended to the ground and spilled out as a thick white mist. The scourge covered the entire forest below, asphyxiating all the animals too slow to escape.

Yvette leaned against the tree, only her face appearing from the deadly bath, her eyes half-closed: she coughed one last time, then simply stopped breathing.


Many years later, Ed would stop at this point when telling this story to two young strangers; he would keep the end to himself because he hadn't decided whether what he had seen was real or the product of his imagination. Because then, he had started to cry uncontrollably: Yvette wasn't moving anymore, her eyes open, looking far ahead, while he, up in his hiding place, could only wait for the white sea to disappear. Why hadn't he come down to join her? Why hadn't he made her climb up with him to save her? Why had he remained safe and helpless, while he was supposed to watch over his sister? Was he a coward? What was he going to do now? Just wait for it to pass, and go home?

“Hi Dad, hi Mom! Can you help me bring Yvette back? Then we'll all three go find a coffin her size! And don't worry: I'm doing super well!”

He had pounded on the railing with a furious fist: he wanted to jump. To go join his sister, sleep forever with her and not be called a coward. But he was too scared. Too scared to move even a toe. As he lamented his fate, a shadow passed in the opaque cloud in front of him: a dark silhouette seemed to glide through the mist, moving with the agile step of a predator. Spotting it, his heart contracted in his chest: the thing seemed large in size, but moved with ease hidden in the deadly carpet. The thing headed towards his sister.

“Get out of there! Run away, you nasty beast! Leave my sister alone!” he thought, but his mouth was paralyzed, like the rest of his body. The shadow settled at Yvette's feet, and Ed watched in horror as her head slowly disappeared into the mist as the monster pulled her by the foot. And thus, in an instant, he found himself alone in the forest, crying and begging to be rescued.


“Incredible…” Jordane exhaled, concluding the story. She could feel adrenaline rising within her, thinking about the new paragraph she would add to her article.

“Your sister... was she never found?” she continued.

Ed stopped, fixing her with a grave look, then gestured with his head towards something behind them: “This is where we leave the trail,” he declared, “we'll cross this small hill to find flat ground and follow the railway line.” Then he walked past them, seemingly ending the conversation.

“It couldn't have been real...” he thought, while the last image of his sister remained etched in his mind: her final appearance, as the mist had completely evaporated shortly after nightfall, and the last tears had dried on his cheeks, replaced by a miserable hiccup. He had slowly climbed down the ladder, his legs trembling, barely able to put one foot in front of the other. Then, before leaving, he had cast one last glance towards the lake: in the darkness of the night, in the distance between the trees, he saw his sister seeming to wave at him. The enormous monster with eyes shining bright yellow like bulbs held her in its jaws, and by shaking her like a rag doll, her limp arms flailed as if to say goodbye.


They had left the trail a few minutes ago, Raphaël panting loudly and Jordane fluttering around to take photos here and there - mostly of dead trees it seemed; Ed, for his part, seemed to maintain the same pace from the beginning, as if it were a leisurely walk. They caught up with a railway track, initially completely hidden under the foliage, then gradually emerging from the humus. Decades ago, coal-filled wagons must have made incessant round trips, to the rhythm of pickaxe strikes, or to the rhythm of greedy inhabitants who started heating their homes earlier and earlier since the mine's arrival.

They reached a massive wooden bridge crossing the chasm between two hills, taking the opportunity to take a break. They were out of the suffocating embrace of the giant pines, and the breath of fresh air and the sight of a radiant sun did them a world of good. Below the bridge, Jordane spotted a single road barricaded by a large fence: from this distance, she couldn't make out anything on the yellow signs that blocked the fences, but she knew they spoke of a forbidden road, risk of collapse, and dead miners. Ed took out bread, sausage, and cheese, as if he had rightly predicted that the two city dwellers accompanying him wouldn't have thought to walk for so long, and Jordane and Raphaël gladly accepted. He gave the crusts to Togo, along with a piece of bread, then ate in silence, sitting on a rock.

“Do you know the story of Inès?” Jordane asked, breaking the religious silence.

Ed simply nodded, lost in contemplation of his sandwich.

“I guess you've heard what happened to her in the tunnel... Do you think some miners could have survived that long down there?” she asked.

“People always make up stories to explain traumatic phenomena,” he replied irritably, “this damned town has caused so many deaths that it reassures people to think there's a reason for their misfortune. But it's just old wives' tales, nothing more.”

Jordane fell silent, giving up on the urge to ask why he was so touchy and what personal issues lay beneath - What really happened to you that day in the forest, she thought - but she didn't want to push him over the edge and have him abandon them so close to the mine.

“Let's go, we're almost there,” he said, getting up. Togo jumped in place and barked joyfully, clearly delighted that the walk could finally resume.

They crossed the bridge, Ed with a confident step, Jordane and Raphaël measuring each of their moves carefully: the ancient beams seemed solid - fortunately, a train used to pass here - but every view of the void dozens of meters below between each plank made them dizzy.

“Get out of the way, you nasty dog!” Jordane hissed when Togo, simply trying to encourage her, hopped around her.

They continued their hike for a few more hundred meters, until:

“Wow...” was the only word that escaped Jordane's mouth when the trail opened onto the entrance of the mine: the cliff housing the opening was blackened and frightening, as if it had been touched by fire itself. Graffiti with various messages adorned the flaked rock slab, such as “honest people always pay the price of the rich's greed,” “here lie the cannibals of the underground,” and the classic “a good cop is a dead cop.” Imposing, rusted, and twisted safety barriers blocked the entrance, preventing any intrusion into the dark depths of the lair. The vegetation had slowly started to invade the surroundings of the entrance, but even the plants seemed not to want to get too close to this place – was it the arsenic, or did they know what atrocities were hidden under those rock bowels? An unsettling silence reigned, broken only by the sound of branches cracking under the weight of the wind. Jordane felt a wave of chills run through her body as she stood there, staring at the entrance of the abandoned mine: she felt as if something was watching her from the darkness within, something malevolent and threatening.

She knew the mine had been condemned for good reasons, but a morbid curiosity was invading her. She wanted to cross the barriers and explore the darkness: but what would she find inside? Would she simply come across an impassable wall of rocks? Or would she see a narrow passage that only she could traverse, and fall into the trap of monsters eager for human flesh? She took out her camera, ignoring Ed's sarcastic snort, and tried to capture the forbidden atmosphere of the place as best as she could.

“Do you know if anyone has ever managed to get in?” she asked her guide.

“No one has ever entered there,” he growled, almost indignant.

She approached the moss-covered cast-iron barriers, joined by Raphaël. He grabbed the bars - unable to suppress an initial recoil - then shook them for good measure: no, no one could hope to move them.

“Isn't there another entrance?” she asked.

“No, everything has been sealed,” Ed replied categorically. “This is as close to the mine as you'll ever get, believe me.”

He nervously scratched his chin before adding: “You've seen what you wanted to see, there won't be anything more. I have other fish to fry in town, I suggest you come back with me, I don't want to have to come back out tonight in the forest to search for you because you got lost.”

Raphaël questioned Jordane with a look, who discreetly shrugged her shoulders: Ed was already heading back the opposite way, visibly eager to get as far away as possible from this cursed place – could she blame him? – probably about to abandon them at the foot of the wrought-iron entrance. His dog joined him with a light step, seemingly uninterested in the abandoned lair.

“But why was he so eager to leave?” she thought. “For someone who doesn't believe in all these old wives' tales, to be nervous, you are. Are you hiding something? Someone who spends so much time in the forest, have you seen something? Could you have accidentally found another entrance while walking your dog? The dog could have gone into a rabbit hole before coming out with a human skull in its mouth.”

She felt that she needed to shake him up a bit, as he might have information useful in finding Inès, or even to uncover what strange things were happening in this town: because yes, monster sightings after a mine collapse, a mass hysteria in a prison that nearly killed everyone, and also that mysterious incident on the day the fair opened…

Something was definitely going on here, whether it was paranormal, natural, or criminal. This girl had called her for help, and since she had arrived in this town, she had immediately sensed that something was off.

“I understand,” she finally said, “we've seen what we had to, but I get the feeling that this place scares you, Ed.”

His remark hit him like a slap, causing him to jolt: he curled his lip in a fit of anger, quickly mirrored by his dog Togo. From the corner of her eye, Jordane saw Raphaël step back, and she began to regret her lack of tact – it seemed she had a knack for striking a nerve...

“Down, Togo!” Ed commanded, and he wiped his mouth trying to regain his composure. “What are you talking about?”

“Inès, or Crazy Inès as she's called around here, sent me a letter, talking about strange phenomena and asking for help. You must admit the history of this town is somewhat disturbing, and I can see on your face that you've seen things too.”

Ed burst into a fierce, dry laugh and shook his head as if the idea was laughable:

“Inès never existed, and I have a feeling you've been played, my dear lady. This town has seen tragedies, like all towns, and most of its residents have chosen to move on. Accidents happen, and there's nothing to do but pick ourselves up and rebuild. Some have chosen to invent stories for comfort, or to keep themselves awake at night, good for them. But don't go insulting the good people who are doing their best to move forward. As for this place, it would affect anyone who has lost a loved one, so have the decency to never bring up this subject in front of me again!”

Ed was now breathless, his face red with anger: even his dog looked small, tail between its legs and head skimming the ground. Raphaël turned to Jordane, looking alarmed, but she kept a perfectly impassive, almost cold face.

When he had met Jordane, Raphaël had felt a bit uncomfortable at first, as he had trouble assessing her feelings: she never showed her fears and weaknesses, always talked about her problems in a trivial way or changed the subject with humor, but he had learned to know her, to love her for her dedication, integrity, and passion, and to accept her clumsiness or lack of tact. She had always been there for him, giving very good advice, but it was impossible to return the favor: she knew how to be inscrutable to not show her feelings. And at that moment, Raphaël was taken back to the years when he felt lost with her, seeing that something was troubling her on her face, but knowing that a question would only lead to a joke, or an annoyed hand gesture as if it was nothing. It's true that she had invested a lot in this story, from the beginning: Raphaël suspected that in one way or another, the stakes were quite important for her career, even for her position. If he had to dig deeper, move out of his area of expertise and turn into a psychologist and brain teaser, he felt it was possible that something in this story with Inès resonated with her on a personal level; but now was not the time for wild speculations. Tonight, he would sit in front of his computer and could push his thinking further with the help of one or two graphs, some arrows on his digital board app – since he had discovered computer programming, his brain had slowly but surely rewired so that today he could only think in a structured way, with cause and effect links, an introduction, hypothesis, proof, conclusion, endnotes, goodbye – but now, he had to especially avoid upsetting Ed and having to walk back. Or worse, end up on his hunting board.

With a new furtive glance at Jordane, he now saw something he didn't like: obstinacy.

“Sorry, sir,” he finally said in a conciliatory tone, “if we have offended you. It wasn't our intention: we haven't slept much these past few days and fatigue got the better of us. We thank you very much for bringing us here, and we will go back down to town with you, the first round is on me. Right Jordane?”

He gave her a pleading look and thought he saw the gears turning in her head, maybe realizing that she had gone too far, and that the game was over for today. She opened her mouth to answer, but her voice was drowned out by a thunderous bark, startling everyone.

“What's gotten into you, Togo!” yelled Ed.

The dog started growling, baring its yellow, saliva-coated canines, ears lowered and tail bristling.

“He's looking Jordane straight in the eyes, thought Raphaël, he's taken offense too and he's going to jump on her and tear her apart.”

He barked even louder, three sharp, aggressive growls. A stream of saliva was ejected at his feet.

“Down, Togo!” Ed replied, now worried.

“No,” corrected Raphaël, “not Jordane, but behind her.”

And he wanted to turn around, but his gaze was drawn to a tiny shadow darting between his legs at lightning speed, making a high-pitched noise like an old mattress spring. The apparition disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, and Togo had obviously paid no attention to it, still staring behind them.

“Yeah, right,” thought Raphaël, “he's looking at that damn cave and you know it.”

He spun around and came face to face with another shadow that ran into his leg: the thing twirled on itself, paddling in the air, whipping the air with its big pink tail. The rat squeaked in panic, and when it finally got back on all fours, it ran off without looking back, disappearing into the forest. That's when they all turned towards the entrance of the mine and started looking in the same direction as the dog: they heard more powerful squeaks echoing among the long-balanced stones, and three other rats suddenly appeared, in their frantic, panicked run. Two of them ran straight between the three individuals, eliciting a cry of disgust from Jordane, but the third zigzagged erratically, spraying the grass with a thick black liquid. The beast approached the trio in desperate zigzags, then ended up in the middle of the path, panting at a frantic pace, a blood stain growing under its gaping flank with each breath. Raphaël heard Jordane scream to his left, and the two young people turned a panicked, pleading gaze to Ed, but he didn't see them: he was shaking his head, eyes bulging and mouth open, a thin stream of drool running down his jacket. He was staring at a point high up, behind them, near the entrance of the cave.

“No, no, no, that's not possible...” he murmured.

Togo began to howl louder, his eyes wild, almost frightened. It was then that Jordane and Raphaël turned around, and saw a thick white mist slowly and delicately descending from the cliff face.


“RUN!!! Ed had screamed, RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!”

But they didn't, at least not immediately: he had dashed off in the opposite direction, leaving the duo of investigators as well as his own dog behind. Both were hypnotized by the thick and dense cloud that was now lazily pouring onto the ground, blocking the entrance of the mine like a waterfall of cotton.

“Jordane...” whispered Raphaël, slowly backing away. But she was paralyzed, her arms stretched out and shoulders tense. He tried to call her again, but he noticed that her lips were moving silently: she was repeating the same thing over and over, but no sound would come out of her mouth.

“Jordane!” he yelled.

He was able to snap her out of her stupor. She pointed ahead and finally managed to articulate her thought:

“What is that...”

Raphaël followed the direction of her index finger, and his mouth opened in horror: from the mist had emerged a dark shadow, as tall as the mine's entrance. A canine shape was discernible, with two large paws and a massive body. The glow of a yellow eye pierced through the veil of death, gazing at them obliquely. The shadow did not move, wrapped in its white veil to which it seemed immune. It was the soft, caressing contact of the mist with his legs that brought Raphaël back to his senses: he grabbed Jordane's hand and darted down the trail to escape, ignoring Ed's dog growling at the apparition. Jordane, still in shock, first let herself be dragged, then released Raphaël's hand to start running with all her might, panting in panic.

“Run, damn it!” she exclaimed between two cries of terror.

Instinctively, they followed the slope, tumbling between the trees like two rocks unable to stop their momentum. They dodged roots as best they could, slaloming between branches, some whipping their faces, others cracking sinisterly.

“The path!” Jordane yelled behind him.

“What?” he replied on the fly, without even turning back.

“The path! We've lost it!” she gasped.

Indeed, Raphaël looked around him, while continuing to run, and saw no trace of the trail; just pine trees as far as the eye could see. He found a tree large enough to stop his run and threw himself against it to stop. An explosive pain radiated through his shoulder at the contact with the wooden wall, but he tried not to think about it. He turned around and saw that he had gotten ahead of Jordane, who was trying to catch up as best she could. Then, he looked far behind them, up high, and saw no trace of the mist, nor of the thing within it. He tried to catch his breath, to rebalance himself, and he placed his supporting foot a little lower: he immediately felt it sink into the cushion of dead needles like quicksand. He panicked, trying to grab a branch, and saw Jordane hurtling directly towards him.

“No, Jordane!!” he barely had time to scream, but caught in her momentum, she had no choice but to throw herself at him, and she added her own weight onto the pile of rotten humus: that's when the ground collapsed beneath them, and the world turned black.


Ed was panting like an animal at death's door, coughing and spitting out his lungs. His blood pounded in his temples to the point of preventing him from hearing his own thoughts, and his legs trembled, feeling like two cotton stalks. His vision was blurred, and he wondered if he was going to vomit his sandwich at his feet: he was definitely too old to run that much.

He straightened up as best he could, out of breath, trying to take stock: what had just happened was utterly impossible. Everything was fine during that morning hike, until that girl lost her mind, and then...

No, he didn't want to think about it. It hadn't happened. He hadn't reverted to being a simple twelve-year-old boy, about to spend the darkest day of his life losing his sister. He hadn't seen that thing ooze from the rocky walls. Not yet.

“It's not my fault, it was automatic, my body decided to run, not me,” he heard himself say out loud.

“It's not my fault if they didn't follow me,” he thought, too tired to continue speaking. “I didn't leave them there and...”

“TOGO!!” he yelled when he remembered his dog.

He looked around, panicked: he had followed one of the branches of the old railway line, and he had arrived in front of the old, disused hangars that once served as storage and repair stations. Three triangular-roofed buildings rose sadly among the trees, their sheets eaten by rust, windows black with grime or shattered on the ground. A pine tree sprouted from the torn roof of one of the buildings, like an arrow stuck in the chest of a fallen warrior. He called his dog again, but the echo of his voice was his only answer: the place was dead.

“Damn dog...” he thought, and he set out to retrace his steps: of course, he had been hallucinating. None of that had happened, there was no mist. Everyone was safe and sound, and he just had a panic attack. A... what's it called? PTSD?

He gathered his strength and set off to find the trail: he wanted to find his dog above all, but he wasn't going to leave the kids in the forest. But a second later, he froze.


At first, he thought he was dreaming; but he listened closely and heard the sound again. A voice. He held his breath, closed his eyes, and concentrated as best as he could. The voice again, he was now certain. A feminine voice. He reopened his eyes and located the noise coming from the first building, into which the railway line disappeared into the darkness of the carcass.

“Help…” the female voice said weakly.

Ed froze.

He scrutinized the hangars but saw no movement: everything appeared completely dead, except for that voice echoing faintly against the rusted steel.

“Help me, please,” the voice said, louder.

Ed realized: yes, it was indeed the girl’s voice. How had she gotten there? Had she managed to pass him without his noticing? Probable, he was so scared that a train could have come straight at him and crushed him without him realizing it…

“Where are you?”

His voice came out much higher than he intended. No response, just silence.

“Who's there? Is anyone there?” the voice sounded miserable.

No doubt, it was her. But where was her friend?

He came out of his stupor and approached the building cautiously. He walked on the line until he arrived at the entrance, facing total darkness. He let his eyes adjust until he could make out some parked wagons at the back of the building. He then saw several heavy machines, some overtaken by vegetation. A bush had grown inside and stretched outside through a broken window. On the other side, a small shrub had grown in an overturned toolbox and had wrapped a wrench in its trunk. It had grown up halfway, with both ends of the tool sticking out on each side.

“Hello!!” he called out to the empty room, and the echo made him jump.

He finally entered the hangar, having gathered all his courage, when he heard panting. The sound was animalistic, but it didn’t resemble any noise his dog would make. It was wilder, more primal.

“Help! Please, I beg you!” the girl’s voice sounded again.

This time, it was very close: it seemed to come from behind one of the wagons, standing on three wheels. Ed approached even more cautiously, heading towards the back of the hangar. He now heard a rough breathing coming from behind the wagon, then a liquid sound. Like an animal lapping soup.

“Something is very wrong. Something is very, very wrong,” he thought.

He stepped forward and stepped on something: he bent down slowly and picked up a white collar with a small medallion. On the gold medallion was engraved “Togo.”

The collar was stained with a dark red, viscous liquid.

His hand started to tremble, and he dropped the collar as if it had burned him. He frantically wiped his hands on his jeans, tears starting to well up in his eyes.

“Togo…” his voice broke.

“I'm scared, help me… Please!” whimpered the girl's voice just on the other side.

Then, a sound of chewing.

Ed advanced to the edge of the machine and cautiously peeked around. The first thing he saw was Togo: he lay on the ground, gutted. His organs and tufts of silver fur were scattered around him. His tongue hung from his half-open jaw, and his eyes stared blankly. Above him stood a large black wolf. Well, it looked like a wolf, but the animal was far too big: it must have been over two meters tall and had unusually long, thin legs. It had a powerful jaw, with long, sharp fangs. Its eyes were bright yellow. It stood about half a dozen meters from Ed, in the back of the large room, devouring Togo's entrails with an obscene noise.

“That's it, goddamn it. That's the thing that devoured my sister,” he thought.

The wolf-like creature lifted its head and opened its mouth as if it was about to speak:

“Please hurry!” it said with the girl’s voice.

Ed's blood turned to ice in his veins, and he had to cover his mouth with his hand to keep from screaming. He tried to back away but tripped over an old empty tool bag and fell backwards. He let out a weak grunt and then froze, listening in horror: he heard the monster start walking towards him. He wanted to get up but his body refused to move: all he could do was watch, trembling and crying, as the wolf's head slowly came out of the corner, then walked towards him with its long, terribly long legs. It stood in front of him, intimidating in its abnormal height, drooling a mix of sticky saliva and fresh blood, its bright yellow eyes fixed on him.

“Dinner time! Dinner time, kids!” said the monster with Ed's mother's voice.

At that moment, Ed's body was overtaken by adrenaline. He bolted, running for his life. He heard the monster chasing him, barking like Togo and laughing like a hyena. Lost and in full panic, he randomly dashed through the first alleys he found. Disoriented and gasping for breath, he heard the wolf gaining ground on him. He raced past closed office doors, turned just before a large pile of coal, and dove into the first open door he found. Once inside, he hid under what appeared to be a desk and remained completely silent. He heard the beast pass right by him, on the other side of the door. It walked around, seemingly searching for him.

“Promenons-nous dans les bois,

pendant que le loup n'y est pas…”

it sang in a child's voice, in a strange language. It seemed to leave but then returned near the pile of coal, continuing its nursery rhyme:

“Si le loup y était

Il nous mangerait,

Mais comme il y est pas,

Il nous mangera pas. ”

It sniffed loudly, as if tracking the scent of its prey. It continued to sniff, rubbing its snout against the ground, approaching the entrance of the room.

Loup, y es-tu ?

Que fais-tu ?

M'entends-tu ?”

it sang.

Ed bit his fist to stay quiet. Tears streamed down his face. He trembled like a leaf, hidden under the desk in the near-total darkness. The room was large, but he knew he would soon be discovered. And something was off in this room: all his senses were on high alert, the information scrambling in his head, but one of his senses screamed a piece of information that his brain couldn't process at the moment. The monster sniffed at the door, stuck its head inside, and said in a deep, thunderous voice, resonating throughout the room:


It slowly passed the entrance, standing up to almost touch the ceiling. At that moment, it slightly pushed the door and let in some light, and Ed looked around: he saw that the room he was in must have been a maintenance room. He saw several imposing tools arranged on the wall, and in front of him, a cart filled with decaying animal corpses.

That was what was off, and now that he had seen it, the smell of rotting flesh began to invade his nostrils. The monster turned around the room, sniffing everywhere. While it circled, it knocked something over with its tail. Ed, in a superhuman effort, took the opportunity to change his hiding place and nestled in a corner of the room, between two large workbenches - he had realized that the nauseating and almost unbearable stench of rotten flesh masked his own smell. In the near-total darkness, barely lit by the light through the ajar door, Ed saw the wolf search where he had been just seconds ago, banging its head against the table. It growled, clearly irritated, then lifted its head, freezing in place.

“Eddie... Oh Eddie... I'm so scared...”

Ed felt like he was falling ten stories when he heard his sister's voice.

“Eddie, you lied to me! You said everything was going to be okay, that I would make it! You lied, Eddie!” cried the wolf with the tortured voice of his little sister.

Ed clamped his hands over his ears, on the verge of going mad.

“You let me die!” it continued, its bright yellow eyes shining in the dark. “You stayed in your cabin, safe and sound, without coming to get me, and now I'm in hell! I will suffer until the end of time! Because of you!”

The monster began to bark and laugh ferociously, then resumed with Ed's sister's voice:

“Help, Eddie, they're torturing me! They're eating me! Help!!”

Then more barking, more laughing, mixed with crying. Ed was going mad, biting his hand until it bled, his eyes completely rolled back.

“Eddie! Eddie! They're tormenting me!”

“No!!” Ed screamed. “Please, stop!! Stop!!”

Then the two bright yellow lights approached Ed until they were right in front of him. He felt the monster's horrific breath on him, a breath of death and decay.

“I'M TAKING MY GUN! HERE I COME! HERE I AM!” it sang with its booming and shattering voice, like a god.

Ed wet himself.

The monster pounced on him with a ferocious roar, tearing him in two with a single bite. Blood splattered across the room, and it crushed his head between its jaws.

Once finished with its feast, the beast left the hangar, laughing under the high noon sun.