“Don't move from here,” Raphaël told Jordane.

She nodded, not quite sure what he had in mind, and then he stood up quietly, the dynamite stick in one hand and the camera still around his neck. The monster, with its back to them, was noisily and avidly gnawing on the last remains of bone from its carcass. He glanced at the enormous elevator cage: although blocked by rocks, it seemed possible to climb its exterior face quite easily and reach a large beam high up. There, the wolf wouldn't be able to reach him, and he would have some time to light this damned fuse. And then? He imagined the beast barking under his tree, and then he would drop the bomb right into its throat: easy, right?

“You really have to be completely crazy to try this,” he said to himself as he carefully placed the explosive in the back pocket of his jeans.

One last look at the wolf still gorging itself, another at Jordane who watched him with a bewildered expression, and he quietly approached the cage. Even though he showed nothing, at Raphaël's first step, the wolf's ear twitched, but it continued eating: “Of course you heard me...” he thought.

He reached the cage: the fence, though very old and rusty, seemed quite sturdy and climbable. He grabbed his first holds, and prepared to place his foot to climb, when behind him, as he expected:

“Son... Daddy lost his wallet, give me your piggy bank, the one shaped like a pig, I promise I'll pay you back... I swear, this time I'll pay you back, promised...”

This flashback still managed to catch him off guard, hitting him like a brick wall. But he resisted the urge to run and started climbing. At the same moment, the monster charged like a locomotive, letting out bestial roars. Though it was fast, Raphaël had already climbed out of reach. It crashed its full weight against the structure, causing it to tremble. Raphaël let out a cry of anguish, shaken like a ripe nut in harvest season, using all his strength to avoid falling. Jordane watched in horror as the wolf threw itself again and again against the cage, threatening to make Raphaël fall or even collapse everything.


Its voice was deafening, and Jordane wondered if what she was seeing right now was real. And had it not taken another voice, or had she dreamed it? She thought back to Inès' famous phrase, “monsters don't exist,” and yet, it seemed she had one right under her nose. But no time to ponder: the beast gave no respite, jumping, cackling, and shouting obscenities, and Raphaël would soon fall if she did nothing. She suddenly remembered the hideout, the small crack in the wall that the other madman had made her go through to get to the small shelter. If she started running, maybe she could divert its attention to her, and maybe she could reach it before he did. It was a lot of maybes, but in a few seconds, her friend was going to fall. Then be eaten. Then she would be dessert.

She stuck her head out from behind the rock and froze: the monster had stopped moving, and its two eyes were fixed on something in the air. It looked almost satisfied. She tried to follow its gaze and spotted her friend clinging desperately to the beam. Then she looked up further, and finally saw it:

“Raphaël!!” she screamed, pointing at the top of the elevator cage.

He didn't have time to look up: already the white mist that had infiltrated the cave flowed around him like a foamy milk waterfall. The cloud of death slowly spread across the floor, but the wolf had found something more interesting:

“Well, well! Look who we have here,” it exclaimed in a radiant and enthusiastic voice, “a grumpy little girl sent to us! Here we are all friends, and only happy children are allowed! So dry those ugly tears and show me your brightest smile!”

Jordane's heart stopped in her chest.

She couldn't understand what was happening, but she was instantly thrown back more than ten years. Then he would say: “Listen, none of this is your fault, it's the devil controlling you...” she thought simply.

“... and your parents sent you here to be freed, to be fixed. And your parents only want your happiness, don't they?” the monster finished.

She turned towards it, all her strength suddenly leaving her: it was right in front of her, its fangs dripping with blood and the hot breath of death filling her nostrils. Then she fell to the ground. The mist licked her shoes, then caressed her legs. The world spun around her. She saw her school, all the students looking at her, then she saw the other school, the trauma she had tried so hard to leave behind. But all of that no longer mattered, she was going to die here and now. Either by sharp teeth like razors or by claws as long as knives. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw rats trying to escape the toxic fog, but it was in vain, they were already inside the trap.


The breath of the beast was awful, but the aura it emitted was unbearable. One could feel the spirit of all its victims floating around it, all the raw violence and carnage tingling the skin like icy needles, giving goosebumps. It sniffed Jordane eagerly, as if feeding on the scent of her terror:



Jordane trembled like a leaf, unable to move or think.


As it opened its mouth, approaching her, Jordane screamed with all her might. Saliva dripped onto her jeans. They were interrupted by a dull thud followed by a growl: Raphaël had come down. He was coughing and staggering as if dizzy. The mist was rising to his ankles.

“Jordane,” he spat out, fumbling with something in his hands, “close your eyes!”


It lunged at him, and Jordane just had time to recognize the object he held in his hands before closing her eyes: the camera's flash blinded her even through her eyelids, but the beast's scream gave her enough adrenaline to leap up and join Raphaël heading towards the crack in the ground. He plunged in first, forgetting all forms of chivalry for the moment. Jordane followed closely, keeping an eye on the monster thrashing in the void, screaming and hitting against the rocks. She pulled her head back just in time to avoid a jaw-crushing blow against the ground.


Its last words echoed in the rock conduit as they descended into the first cavity they had found. When Jordane finally set foot on the ground, she first saw Raphaël fiddling with the camera in the faint light of the room. Then, her gaze was drawn to the gaping hole that had once been a pile of rubble.

“Yes,” said Raphaël, “that's where he came from earlier, so he'll be back soon...”

She moaned, imagining two yellow eyes emerging from the darkness at the end of the passage, but she was interrupted by a dull snap. She turned and saw Raphaël hitting a small gray object with a sharp rock.

“What are you doing?” she implored, seeing his camera gutted on the side.

“I have no idea...” he murmured... “But it should work. It has to work.”

He struck the rectangular object again, which didn't budge: she recognized the camera's battery. She now looked at the red stick protruding from his back pocket, and the calculation in her head clicked.

“You're completely insane!” she exclaimed.

“Do you have another idea?” he snapped, hitting the battery again.

The plastic cracked a bit.

“Then hurry up!” she urged, “he's going to arrive any minute!”

He said nothing, pounding away with his rock, but something else answered him. Somewhere in the dark, at the end of the tunnel. A child's laugh. Jordane froze, as if hypnotized. In the darkness, voices gradually rose. The monstrosity was approaching slowly, and she began to hear them more and more clearly. Several adolescent voices exclaimed laughing:

“Look! What's with the goth girl? They say goths are easy, I bet you'd sleep with the devil if he came to you!”

Her stomach clenched. Then, a reassuring voice of an old lady:

“I know it must be hard for you to understand what's happening, my dear, but I want you to know that we will do everything to find you a new loving and caring family. You won't be alone...”

She noticed that Raphaël paused in his action for a moment, but he resumed his blacksmith's blows. Two small lights emerged from the darkness and slowly danced in the tunnel. Now, she could see its white teeth appearing calmly. She heard its steps. The saliva dripping to the ground. It was coming.

“Raphaël...” Jordane whispered, but she was shaking too much to be intelligible.

The wolf entered the room, singing.

“Watch out for Crazy Ollie,

If you cross her, it won't be jolly.

If you speak her name three times in a mirror's sight,

She'll break out of the asylum and haunt you at night.

Beware of Crazy Ollie,

Run if you're not feeling dolly.

She'll drag you into the woods, don't you see,

Put your head in the oven and set you free.

Watch out for Crazy Ollie,

In the darkness, she lurks, all eerie and folly.”

“Raphaël,” she repeated, a bit louder.

She turned towards him, just as he struck the battery for the last time: first, she saw it split in two, then a liquid squirted out and poured from the crack in drops. A moment later, it ignited, shooting out an impressive flame and blue sparks that lit up the entire room. He placed the dynamite's fuse on it, which immediately ignited. Now the battery had become a real flamethrower, hissing intensely: he flung it backhanded toward the beast. Before it could hit the ground, it exploded like a firecracker, clapping in the ears of everyone in that cave, causing tinnitus. This must have destabilized it, for it froze for a moment. Raphaël dropped the smoking and hissing object he held in his hand: it fell and disappeared under a pile of rocks, while they ran in the opposite direction, and then, nothing.

For barely two seconds.

The subsequent explosion was tremendous: for a fraction of a second, a monstrous thunder rose, then all was but a piercing whistling. The shockwave passed through them with phenomenal force, throwing them to the ground like an invisible hand. They felt a wave of heat rise, then a rain of debris hit them. A cloud of dust then filled the space, as the shockwaves came back, bouncing off the walls. A rumbling thundered around them, as if the mountain itself was moving above their heads, then the noise gradually calmed down. Raphaël was spitting dust, his ears ached terribly, he was in pain everywhere but still alive. Jordane was beside him, curled up in a fetal position, coughing, her hands pressed against her ears. They remained like this for several seconds, until the smoke settled, and they could hear again; but among the tinnitus, Jordane was haunted by a voice. A voice she hadn't heard in so long, yet she recognized it immediately, stunning her on the spot: it was Father Donovan.

Beneath his smiling and welcoming mask, Jordane had discovered his true face when she was a teenager. It was at Donovan's school. Naming a school dedicated to the almighty after himself should have raised suspicions among those so-called “responsible adults.” But if she had learned at least one thing there, it was to be wary above all of those who proclaimed themselves as exemplary figures.


They had finally regained the open air after what seemed like an eternity below: the explosion had collapsed the room separating them from the monster, trapping it, hopefully, forever. Then, they had pushed the cart along the straight rails up to the hole through which they had entered. Not only had the blast enlarged it, but they used the antique scrap to climb onto it and get out by grabbing a tree root. There was no trace of the mist anymore, and the forest had returned to a serene calm. They continued down the slope, this time treading carefully, until they found a trail far below. They followed it back to Raphaël's car, just as they had left it. They noticed that Ed's pickup was still in the same spot, so they decided to wait a bit longer. They discussed what to do next, especially whether to call the police or not, carefully avoiding any mention of whatever they had encountered in the mine half an hour earlier.

In the end, they simply had no choice, as it seemed that the entire forest was out of coverage. They concluded that the best thing to do was to go directly to the police station since their guide had still not returned from their “accidental” separation. They imagined he might still be searching for them, scouring the surroundings - the mist had dissipated so quickly, it made them wonder if it had appeared at all. They carefully avoided voicing the thought that he might have been devoured by the monster too, as with each passing minute, their previous experience seemed more and more unreal, as if their subconscious was working hard to erase this anomaly from their memory; nevertheless, it's what they thought in silence, they could feel it.

They hesitated to wait any longer, thinking it would be better for the authorities to come as soon as possible and thoroughly scour the area. They didn't say it, but once again, each asked themselves: “What should we tell?” Then Jordane decided to break the silence first, a little because she wanted to make sure she hadn't gone mad, but mostly because she didn't want Raphaël to ask her the question first:

“The voice it took at one point, was it really your father's?”

Raphaël stared at her from the other end of the roof of the old blue Mercedes where they had slumped, head in arms.

“Yes,” he simply said.

Jordane nodded slowly, seemingly reassured.

“And was it really him?” she continued, “I mean, something he had said or could have said?”

“I don't know,” he replied after a pause, “I don't have many memories of him.”

Jordane nodded again and, not wanting to give him time to ask his question, a little “and you?” for example, she quickly added:

“We need to get going, we can't just sit here any longer.”

Raphaël reluctantly agreed, and they got into the car and drove off in silence, leaving Ed's car behind, which would remain in that spot for many years to come.

With a distracted glance in the rearview mirror, Jordane thought she saw two yellow lights watching her from afar in the shadow of the pines. She turned to look better through the rear window of the car, but Raphaël turned at the same moment and she didn't have time to make sure she wasn't dreaming. But deep down, she knew the answer.


They arrived in town and followed the signs to the police station: the streets were deserted that afternoon, and they only passed one or two pedestrians who seemed to wander aimlessly along the asphalt paths. Jordane's phone, once back in civilization, began to ring like a rooster at sunrise. She checked it automatically and swiped away various irrelevant notifications with a thumb gesture; however, she lingered on the last one, an email from the agency captured by Raphaël's spy software. Making sure he was focused on the road – she knew deep down she was on a slippery slope and should uninstall the app sooner rather than later – she skimmed the message: an exchange between the boss and Melody with lots of uninteresting information, except for the part that jumped out at her, “prepare your article for tomorrow instead, you're replacing Jordane's.”

Her heart started racing, but when Raphaël indicated they had arrived, she managed to respond with a smile.

The police station was a small structure nestled among old buildings and shops, half of which were for rent. Its facade was covered with prevention posters about safety, crime, and accidents, and a far too large section dedicated to photos of missing people - Jordane regretted once again losing her camera. They were able to park directly across the street from the building, but Jordane hesitated as she touched the door handle: something like fear, or apprehension.

“Will they believe us?” a timid voice in her head said.

She immediately dismissed the thought: something horrible had happened in that mine, whether conceivable or not. They had to bring the truth to light. They had to.

To enter the police station, one had to ring for the officer to unlock the door: Jordane pressed the button and heard a shrill beep from the other side of the tinted glass door. A few seconds later, they heard a click at the lock, and they entered the building's vestibule. Once the first door closed, another click sounded in front of them, and they could open the second door, with Jordane's heart starting to beat faster. There were only two people in the waiting room: an old man in a thick jacket and beret who seemed to be napping, and a girl of barely fifteen who fidgeted in her seat, tapping her leg frantically. She glanced at Jordane, and it was she who had to lower her eyes first.

“It's not often that you must see strangers,” she thought, especially in our state...” They headed to the reception on their right to meet the officer who was engrossed in reading a manual.

“Hello,” Jordane said almost curtly.

The uniformed woman looked up, her smile fading upon seeing them:

“What happened to you?” she asked.

It was Jordane who spoke. She explained how they had arranged to meet Ed, their hike to the bridge and one of the sealed mine entrances. How they had seen the white mist arrive, got dispersed, and both fell into a hole before managing to get back to the surface. She watched the officer’s face shift from skepticism to disarray as she recounted the tale of the miner, the monster, and even the dynamite. The woman let her speak without interruption, but her response was blunt and unequivocal:

“It's impossible, there's no access to that mine.”

Jordane was initially dumbfounded, then recomposed herself, adopting a conciliatory tone:

“Is that what worries you? We fell into a hole, there must have been an unstable patch of ground...”

“Are you sure?” the officer replied sharply. “You didn't fall into a ravine or a small cave? The mine is sealed, approved by the mayor.”

“I... maybe...” Jordane hesitated.

“Furthermore, there haven't been any wolf sightings in Duli for over thirty years. They started leaving the area when the mine construction began. Is this some kind of prank? Such jokes can get you into serious trouble, young lady!”

Incredulity began to give way to frustration, but Jordane made a great effort to remain composed.

“We can take you to the entrance! You'll see for yourself! And our guide, he's missing. You must at least consider that!”

“His name?”


“Last name?”

Jordane turned to Raphaël, but he just shook his head, appearing helpless.

“I don't remember his last name, but I have his number,” she said.

“I need the last name,” the officer retorted.

“He... is a hunter, lives outside of town, at the edge of the forest... He's lived here all his life.”

“Okay, and how did you get separated?” she continued.

“The mist appeared,” Raphaël interjected, coming to Jordane's aid, visibly struggling. “Like during the accident.”

“Mist? It was bad weather and you lost sight of each other?”

“No, it's not that...”

“Listen,” she cut him off, “if this Ed is still missing in three days, come back and report a missing person. I can't do anything before that. In the meantime, go to the infirmary to get checked out. As for your grim stories of fierce beasts and ghosts, I'm doing you a favor by pretending I heard nothing, but I strongly suggest you get your minds straight before wasting anyone else's time.”

Jordane, now fully enraged, wondered how the people supposed to protect the residents of this town could be so disengaged. Something was going on here, that was clear to her, but the authorities seemed to look the other way. Who could they count on for protection?

Raphaël noticed Jordane boiling inside and felt that if he let her respond, the confrontation would quickly escalate. He grabbed her by the shoulder and turned her away, breaking the electric arc crackling between their gazes.

“It's true,” he said, “we should check your injuries, you might have something serious.”

The woman opened the gate and gestured them to head to the back. Raphaël gritted his teeth under Jordane's glare, but they followed her to the infirmary without further ceremony, while the intense gaze of the teenager in the waiting room followed them.


The nurse was a young man with a strong build, taking an infinite amount of care and time with each task. They were given paracetamol, disinfectant, and a couple of bandages. They also got to wash their faces with a cloth, looking less like vagabonds. They answered the nurse's questions, tried to chat with him, but only managed to elicit occasional “hmm-hmms” and “ohs.”

They left about half an hour later, deemed healthy and safe for the rest of the day. Walking through the corridors, they crossed paths with the young, fiery teenager. She wore loose, unisex brand clothes, giving her a street-style look, holding her white cap in her hand. She tried hard to appear proud and haughty, but perhaps there was fear in her eyes.

“We're done for now,” said a police officer behind her, “but I'm watching you, believe me. And don't think of running away, or else!”

The girl ignored him and continued to the exit. Jordane and Raphaël followed, passing the receptionist who was on the phone. Once through the vestibule again, they were relieved to leave the oppressive atmosphere for the fresh air.

“A town of crazies...” Raphaël commented.

“That's right,” Jordane simply said.

Behind them, the girl leaned against the wall, apparently waiting for someone. Jordane lowered her voice:

“It's really strange,” she said. “People don't care at all, but residents are dying! Look!”

She pointed to the wall plastered with photos of missing persons. Of all ages, seemingly from different backgrounds, they couldn't all be runaway children, husbands leaving their families, or wanderers.

“Is it that thing causing all this? Are there others?”

Raphaël didn't know how to answer. He almost said what he wanted was to get out of there while they were still alive and try to forget this whole story, but he didn't: he knew Jordane well enough.

“We have to go to the carnival,” she blurted out.

Raphaël winced, but again he said nothing. She just never gave up. It was the girl behind them who replied:

“If you go there, you won't come back.”

They turned as one. Having caught their attention, she approached them nonchalantly:

“I heard you earlier, you really went into the mine, right? But these idiot cops, all they want is to give parking tickets and go home at five to watch TV. They don't want to know what's really happening in this town.”

“And what exactly is happening in this town?” Jordane asked cautiously.

The girl let out a sardonic laugh:

“Mysterious accidents killing all sorts of people, always stories of 'we heard stuff,' or 'we saw things'... And then people disappearing from time to time... You might think, sure, they woke up one morning and finally realized they lived in a dying, crappy town and ran away. But it's not true, I know this damned town is haunted...”

Jordane observed the girl for a few seconds: this rebellious-appearing teenager seemed to have interesting information about the town. She also appeared eager to talk, and Jordane decided she could extract information without showing her cards – a reflex of an investigator.

“Why do they act as if nothing is happening around them?”

“I don't know,” the girl replied, “maybe they're in on it, or maybe they're just STUPID and LAZY!”

She shouted the last two words, standing up against the tinted glass of the police station. On the other side, one could vaguely make out the silhouette of the policewoman who didn't even seem to lift her head.

“Is that wreck yours?” she continued, nodding nonchalantly towards the Mercedes.

“Yes, it's my car...” Raphaël replied, unable to hide his outrage in his voice.

“Yeah, Mercedes... More like Shit-SS,” she scoffed, making Jordane chuckle.

“Listen,” she continued, “I bet you're here for all this weird stuff. Otherwise, why would outsiders come to this rat hole? What are you? Detectives? Bloggers?”

“I work for a magazine, Tales from the Crypt. Ever heard of it?” Jordane offered. “I'm writing an article.”

“Never heard of it. But I've got something that might interest you, check this out: me and two friends, we're planning to do some urban exploration in one of the town's haunted places. You know what urban exploration is, right?”

“Yes, we've done it before,” Jordane replied, suddenly feeling very old.

“Great, so here's the deal: last night, we got our hands on a document, perfect for its story, full of descriptions and comments, like a guided tour in a museum! So, we're planning to check it out this afternoon, take a tour, try to meet some ghosts. But here's the catch, we don't have a car, and it's not in town. So if you drive us there, you can tag along.”

Jordane's heart raced with excitement: a haunted place? Ghosts? A document? Was this providence sending this girl their way?

“And what is this haunted place?” Jordane asked.

“The prison.”


Jordane took Raphaël aside to discuss, clearly more excited than him about this new lead:

“Raf, for once we're in luck! It's the prison! The riot caused almost as many deaths as the mine accident!”

“I know,” he replied, “but we don't even know them, can we trust them just like that?”

“Don't worry, they're just kids, you'll be fine!”

“What do you mean 'you'?” he alarmed.

“Well, yes, look at the time. If we both go wandering near the prison, it'll be too late to check out the Palace of the Strange. So you go with them, and I'll head to the palace on my own, then you join me when you're done. Is that okay?”

No, it wasn't okay at all: they had nearly lost their lives in that mine. If it were up to him, he'd have gone home and forgotten the whole story with a few drinks. Yes, that girl in the letter was right: there were monsters in this town, as crazy as it might seem, and everyone either didn't care or was too scared to look into it. People were disappearing, he had just seen one die before his eyes, but that was their problem, they should just move away. And now Jordane wanted them to split up, to maybe face more danger, all for a simple article?

“No, that's not it,” he thought. “There's more to it.”

He knew Jordane well enough to understand that she felt involved, in a way. The truth was they were probably the only ones interested in this story – the girl and her friends probably just wanted some thrills, maybe sneak some beers away from adults, but he doubted they really believed the town was haunted – and it was simply the right thing to do: to act. He couldn't dissuade her or stop her: when she had an idea in her head, when she felt responsible, nothing could stop her. So what was he going to do? Leave? Go home alone? It worked for his father, so why not him?

He sighed: he would have to accept her plan. He'd make it as quick as possible, meet her there, and with some luck, she'd be waiting in front of a closed and impassable gate.

“Yes, it's fine,” he finally said. “And how are you going to get there?”

“Well,” she replied, “you're going to give me some bills for a taxi.”


Having parted with all his cash, he let the girl – “By the way, I'm Emilie,” she had said – into the front seat of his car, leaving Jordane in the parking lot of the police station, amid the deserted street. Emilie directed him to pick up her two friends: they had left the deteriorating city center, with its “FOR SALE” shop signs and soulless parks, now venturing into more populous neighborhoods to the east.

The road grew increasingly potholed, and the boarded-up shopfronts gave way to old houses with plywood windows. She asked him to park by the roadside, in front of a graffiti-covered building. Two teenagers in tracksuits sat on the steps, energy drink cans at their feet.

“What have I got myself into...” he thought.

He parked, and Emilie exited, asking him to wait in the car. She joined the other two youths: one was short and stout, his padded puffer jacket giving him the look of a Michelin man. He wore his fur-lined hood up and his sneakers untied. The other, tall and thin – taller than Raphaël – had curly hair and ear piercings. He smoked an overly long hand-rolled cigarette, likely not just containing tobacco, its ashes slowly falling onto his hideous, multicolored, expensive sneakers.

She spoke to the tall one, pointing at Raphaël through the car window. He scrutinized Raphaël just as Emilie had initially, then seemed reassured and nodded, letting her continue. At one point, he showed and patted his backpack, then the two boys stood up – “My god, he's taller than me,” Raphaël thought – and headed towards his car, leaving their trash behind. Michelin and Emilie opened the rear doors and sat in the back without a word. The tall one circled the car, casting a discreet glance at the license plate as if to make sure it wasn't an unmarked vehicle, and then folded himself into the front seat:

“Hey man,” he said, sitting down, “I'm Thomas. That,” he gestured to Michelin in the back, “is Nono. He's a bit slow, doesn't talk much.”

“Shut up,” Nono replied gruffly.

“And you already know Mimile,” Thomas continued. “Can we smoke in your car?”

“I'm Raphaël, and I'd prefer not.”

“What if I open the window?”

“I'm trying to sell it,” he lied.

“Good luck with that,” Thomas replied, cracking the door just enough to toss his joint outside. “So, she hooked you up? Heading to the prison?”

“That's right,” Raphaël said, starting the car as they unknowingly left the town for the last time.


They ventured onto a departmental road that disappeared into the fields, encountering only three or four cars. Leaving the forest behind, to Raphaël's great relief, he took the time to appreciate the rural landscape. Michelin, who hadn't removed his hood despite the twenty degrees inside the car, hadn't uttered a word. But each time Raphaël dared to glance at him in the rearview mirror, their eyes would instantly meet, forcing Raphaël to pretend twice to readjust the mirror. Thomas was conversing with Emilie, occasionally giving directions to Raphaël: “Turn left at the nasty building” or “follow that bitch” as a car took a right turn – either he knew a woman was driving, or the car was the bitch, Raphaël thought. After about fifteen kilometers, he didn't need to see the “PENITENTIARY CENTER” sign to know when to turn: they had left the last traces of civilization – an abandoned warehouse, a large farm with a tractor lazily tilling its plot – and the building loomed ominously on the rest of the barren hill where it perched.

The penitentiary itself looked like a monster: a red-brick building with square shapes, pointed towers piercing the grayish sky, and a hellish labyrinth of rusty wire fences and barbed wire. Emilie was ecstatic in the back of the car as Raphaël drove slowly down the driveway: “Damn!! This is so cool!!”

They passed through an empty guard post with broken windows, the barrier lying on the side of the road, and arrived at the prison parking lot. Completely empty except for a row of rusting dumpsters, two of them overturned. The place was fenced with immense wire meshes topped with barbed wire loops a meter high, which hadn't budged an inch. The structure stood before them, separated into different buildings isolated by walls or fences.

He parked as close to the entrance as possible: despite all the windows being barred with steel, the main door was open. In fact, there wasn't even a door anymore. Emilie didn't wait for him to turn off the engine before getting out, eager to explore. Her friends followed suit while Raphaël silently observed the impassive facade of the main building: with all those barred windows regularly dotting the red-brick wall, he wondered if he might catch a subtle movement out of the corner of his eye, a ghost passing from one corridor to another.

“Don't start freaking out,” he told himself.

He also got out of the car. Thomas was rummaging through his backpack under the watchful eyes of his companions.

“I've got it,” he finally said.

He pulled out what appeared to be an old book, or a journal. Its cover was leather, and yellowed pages, half-detached or folded, protruded from it.

“What is that?” Raphaël asked.

“This,” Thomas replied, “is our guide, my friend. We're not just visiting this damn prison, but we're reliving that freaking riot!”

“You see,” Emilie continued, seeing Raphaël's furrowed brows, “not everyone died during that riot: a guy survived, a prisoner. Eustass was his name. This guy was the biggest coward of them all, he found a hiding spot, and the cops found him to throw him in a new prison! What an idiot... But Eustass, and this was more a legend than anything else, well, he supposedly wrote a journal about what happened, then sent it to his mother. Right after, they said he hung himself in his new cell.”

“You talk too much,” Thomas cut her off.

Emilie fell silent and looked down. Thomas approached Raphaël, book in hand:

“That's about the story. No one knew what had happened that day, there were always rumors, but it was impossible to know. At least, until we found the real journal of good old Eustass!”

He opened it to the first page, pointing to the doorless entrance in front of them:

“I suggest we read his text aloud and explore his trail at the same time! It's going to be awesome! But who's going to read? Not you, Nono, because you can't read...”

“Go fuck yourself.”

“... not you, Mimile, because you talk too much, and you have a grating voice - she scowled, crossing her arms - and I'm too stoned, I see the letters dancing on this damn paper. Which leaves you, chief. You're our guide, OK?”

He then handed the book to Raphaël. Raphaël remained still, unsure of what was expected of him. Thomas shook the journal under his nose, showing signs of impatience. Raphaël took it, and several leaves fell to his feet. He quickly bent down to pick them up as Emilie laughed loudly.

“Man, maybe you're the one who needs a pick-me-up,” Thomas commented.

He feigned laughter with them and opened the cracked leather cover of the journal: the dense, spider-like, half-faded writing was hard to decipher on the yellowed pages, but the carefully written title in capital letters read: “MY STORY.”

“You want me to read the book out loud, is that it?” Raphaël asked.

“Yeah,” Emilie said, “come on, let's go!”

He looked around at his audience, all waiting eagerly. Apparently, this was what was going to happen, so first with a trembling, hoarse voice, then soon with fascination, he began to recount Eustass's story, starting with the first sentence: “I don't believe in God, but after surviving that night, I now believe in the devil.”

Interlude: There's a Monster Under the Bed.

Richard breathed calmly in the closet where he was hidden. He had been sitting there for over an hour, motionless and silent in the darkness of his lair. The house was empty and silent, which had allowed him to wander in his thoughts without interruption: and tonight, ideas were crowding in his head like enraged crows.

He was blinded by a flash of yellow light through the slats of the closet door, then the harsh light gave way to the sound of a car engine passing by the building. Richard listened attentively as the old diesel parked in the driveway, purring for a few extra seconds before the engine was turned off. A door opening. Heels clicking. Richard's heart quickened in his chest when he heard the key inserted into the door: he was now completely pulled from his world of dreams and daydreams, and excitement began to take hold of him.

That sweet dose of adrenaline temporarily calming his bad thoughts.

The door opened somewhere to his right, and the woman turned on the light. From where he was, he could only see the white tiled hallway, striped by the slats; but his ear was sharp. A long sigh was heard – “oh, don't sigh again, my dear,” thought Richard, “the night is just beginning” - then she took off her heels. From what Richard had seen in her dressing room an hour earlier, it must be her high-end black pumps, the only pair he was missing.

“So, we had an important meeting today?” he thought, alone in the darkness of the supposedly empty house.

The young lawyer first deactivated the alarm that Richard had already neutralized a few hours earlier – after all, he was the one who had installed it... - then she crossed her living room with heavy steps to go to the kitchen: he knew that after a long day like this, she would pour herself a glass of wine before reheating a dish in the microwave. He thought a woman who didn't cook severely lacked education, but he knew he would soon educate her in his own way.

The faint sound of a cork being pulled, then the shrill noise of a microwave being set.

Then, for three minutes and thirty seconds, only the buzzing of a prepared dish cooking. During this time, Richard amused himself by imagining what his sweetheart was doing while waiting for her meal: was she reading the paper? Staring at the ceiling while sipping her glass of wine, wondering why all her days were so boring and meaningless, repeating themselves each week? As he daydreamed, his skillful fingers performed the same figure in a loop, an exercise he did without even looking.

Once the electronic bell rang, he heard her get up like a good Pavlovian dog to fetch her food. She let out a loud “damn”, probably burned by the dish, then Richard heard nothing else but the regular metallic sound of cutlery on a plate. The lawyer ate her meal silently, convinced she was alone in her house: why wouldn't she be? She lived alone every other week since she had divorced her husband, an alcoholic poker player and a petty lying braggart. Her daughter was only there on even weeks, and half of the holidays.

Richard observed the vacuum cleaner among the bric-a-brac of household appliances in front of him: sometimes he could barely distinguish its silhouette in the darkness, sometimes it was striped with light through the regular slats of the door. Occasionally, a shadow passed in the hallway. Always, his fingers tied and untied complex knots with his thin rope.

He felt his knife weighing in the pocket of his pants.

He remained still for another twenty minutes, absorbed in the play of light and the various sounds of the house, when he heard the water of a shower running: the last step before his darling went to bed.

Slowly, without making any noise, he opened the closet door with his gloved hands. His boots made no sound as he crossed the house, his fingers on his knife. He approached the bathroom: he could feel the humidity and heat of the room through the door. It seemed to him that he could even smell the scent of her soap, the taste of the water trickling down her still young and firm body.

She was singing.

He continued his path and entered the bedroom of the mistress of the house: the room was in complete disarray. A pile of clothes casually placed on a chair threatened to collapse at any moment, the small desk in the alcove was littered with papers and binders, and her wardrobe was slightly open, revealing jackets lying on the ground. Aside from the catastrophic mess, the room featured apple green wallpaper, one entire wall covered with photos: pictures of Kya with her friends, Kya with her ex-husband, Kya with her daughter, Kya with her dog. Kya on vacation in Rome. Kya on vacation in Korea.

“Kya, Kya, Kya…” he thought. “You think the world belongs to you, that you are the center of your life. But your life hangs by a thread. I decide whether you will see the sun rise on your pathetic existence each morning.”

On her bedside table, three books on criminal law were placed, unfinished and gathering dust for several months. Her bed, meanwhile, was quite imposing, with its wooden frame and carved headboard. Her duvet was thick and featured red and white Japanese patterns, matching the two memory foam pillows. Richard stepped on the thick, soft white carpet, moved silently, lay down on the floor, and crawled under Kya's bed. He was going to spend the night listening to the sweet sound of her breathing, enjoying every little snore, hearing the springs of the mattress creak with every movement: the prospect of being so close to her, of being part of her life without her suspecting it, excited him intensely. Intense enough to silence the voices in his head, but not for long: Richard knew that when he went this far, the time to act would soon follow.

“Oh sweet Kya,” he thought, “will you fight, will you beg me? What do your tears taste like?”

He thought of her smooth, white, firm skin. He imagined it covered in bruises. Then stained with blood.

“What sound will your voice make when it breaks? Your beautiful eyes, what will they look like when they are empty, staring at the ceiling?”

The room lit up when the door opened. He saw the bare feet of his doll approaching - she had deliciously deep red nail polish - then the bed sagged slightly as she lay down in it. She picked up one of her books, sighed, then put it back. She turned off the light, and silence regained the room, except for the light, monotonous sound of her breathing.

For Richard, the night was just beginning.