He found the entrance to the castle, a heavy wooden door, and thanked his guardian angel when he realized it was already ajar. He rushed inside and crossed the large stone hall. There was equipment scattered here and there, but he paid no attention: he had spotted the only staircase leading up to the open stage, and he climbed the steps two at a time. He opened the powder case with a flick of his wrist, and his heart raced when he still didn't see Jordane. The thing under the bed had disappeared, and he even realized that it lay on its side, overturned. He continued on his way, and once upstairs, the first thing he saw was the large purple box with silver patterns lying on the ground. From one half, two feet protruded. From the other half, a meter to the side, Inès stared blankly at the sky. An explosion sounded above her, but she didn't flinch, despite the yellow light filling her pupils. The streak of blood drying on her chin remained red.

The second thing he noticed was not Jordane, lying on the ground; it was the man standing above her.

Raphaël took a step forward, and the stranger turned around in surprise: the man must have been in his forties, and he was tall, very tall. He was blonde and sported a thick mustache. Confusion was evident in his eyes: how could one blame him, after all that was happening. But what was he doing there, right next to Jordane? Why hadn't he left like everyone else?

“Hey,” the man said after a moment, “I think she's not breathing anymore...”

Raphaël ran to join him, panicked: as he approached, he noticed that the stranger seemed to have a wound on his leg, and a bloodstain spreading on his pants. But he paid it no more attention, worried about his friend. He crouched beside her, dropping the mirror without realizing it, and placed his finger on her neck to try to find a pulse.

“Jordane!” he shouted in vain.

“What's happening here?” lamented the man behind him.

No pulse. Was she dead? Or was he not placing his finger correctly?

“I don't understand,” continued the other behind him, “what does this mean?”

Jordane's face was pallid. He screamed her name several times, but she seemed asleep.

“What's happening to me,” the man muttered as if to himself. “Is it because I let her escape? Is it a punishment? Or have my fantasies caught up with me... Now I'm a prisoner in my imaginary world...”

Raphaël ignored him: by repositioning his finger, he had just found a heartbeat. Weak, but it was there. He called Jordane, shook her, but she didn't move.

“Is this real, or am I dreaming? Have I gone mad?”

Raphaël continued to shake her.

“And if I kill her, once and for all, everything should sort itself out, right?”

He froze: not because of what he had just heard, but because an insect had just stung him in the back. Maybe a wasp. He turned around: the man was upon him, a screwdriver in hand. Covered in blood. Raphaël, sitting on the ground, passed his hand over his back and felt something warm and viscous. He then brought it to his face, and a new explosion above him illuminated his bloodied fingers: that's when the pain hit. Then he understood. And he screamed.


Jordane watched the door explode from her hiding spot under the bed. She quickly made sure her powder case was well hidden under her dresser: if the monster found it, she was sure it would be the end of her. She saw the two pairs of slimy feet floating above the ground, dropping tiny spiders that scattered in their path. Then, the monster came dragging a red, almost shapeless mass wrapped in its silver thread.

She didn't waste time watching it approach and turned to gaze into the darkness at the back of her den: she concentrated and thought hard about what she wanted to see appear.

“Where are you hiding again, little mouse?” Billie said behind her.

She tried to ignore him and imagined what she had seen so many years ago: after all, even if it wasn't her world, it was her room, right? There had to be a possibility that it would work, that she could act just once in this nightmare.

The footsteps drew closer, and she felt something settle on her blanket.

“Under the bed, really?” Billie continued. “Come on, Jordane, don't be childish and come out from there...”

This time, she didn't even hear him: in the black mass of darkness under her bed, right in front of her, the two bulbous eyes stared at her. An irrational fear invaded her mind, urging her to flee, but even if she had wanted to listen, her body would not have followed; she felt it completely contract, and she began to tremble.

“Come on, I'm counting to three,” Billie announced, “if you come out quietly, I'll be nice to you...”

The creature detached from her just a moment to see where the other voice was coming from, then its eyes returned to Jordane, like those of a frightened animal. She grimaced involuntarily as the memory of that fateful night, twenty years ago, began to resurface. How she had heard the little noise. How scared she had been, but still went to look under her bed. And the terror when the man emerged.

“Hey,” she whispered.

It seemed the creature had recoiled even further against the wall.

“Hey, you. I know you're there.”

It blinked, perhaps in surprise. A shiver of disgust ran through her, but she forced herself to continue.

“One...” the voice above them began.

Jordane flinched, but the creature did not take its eyes off her.

“You're a monster, right?” she continued. “A nice monster, you told me. I need you today. Right there, there's a bad monster. You said you'd protect me from the bad monsters that night, remember?”

“Two...” the bad monster grew impatient.

The creature didn't move.

“Go on, attack him. Defend me, or he'll kill me. He'll kill us both.”

Still no reaction.

“Attack him, or I'll call my parents, and I'll call the police. You'll end up in jail.”

This time, she thought she saw the round eyes widen even more. She almost swore it had glanced at Billie's feet, but it still didn't move.

“Is this going to work?” she wondered to herself. “If it doesn't, I'm doomed...”

There was no “three” in the countdown. No warning. Just the poker piercing the mattress and appearing right in front of her face. She screamed, but Billie's laughter filled the room. She backed away, but he had already withdrawn his weapon and stabbed randomly through the bed again. She heard the fabric crack and the metal rod appeared to her right.

“You want to play, let's play!” he growled.

She rolled to the side, and this time when the mattress tore again, she felt something touch her leg.

“Was that the sound of the mattress fabric or my pajamas?” she panicked.

She stepped back, bumping her head against a slat, and the weapon plunged just beside her ear, eliciting a scream from her and a giggle from Billie. With his other hand, he was now using the revolting corpse of his mother to rhythmically beat against the metal bed frame with a large spoon. She moved further back, until she felt something behind her. Something that shifted. It was like an animal emerging from its burrow. At lightning speed, the thing lunged at Billie, knocking the bed over in its path. Jordane saw her parents, their yellow discs in their eyes and the little creatures crawling on their white, parchment-like skin. The silver wires stretched in all directions, skillfully manipulated by the monster's hairy arms.

“What the...” Billie screamed as the man grabbed his arm, emitting a ferocious yell. With a nimble finger movement, he spun Jordane's mother around to deliver a violent blow to his face, knocking out a tooth in the process. With another gesture, he directed his other puppet to strike him in the throat with the poker. Blood sprayed to the ceiling, but Jordane wasn't even looking. The diversion had worked. She was firmly holding something in her right hand. She gazed at the bloody heap and thought she even saw a wink: without consulting each other, they had understood. She nodded her head, and lunged at the window to open it with her free hand.

Behind her, Billie let out a shrill laugh as he pulled the poker out of the unfortunate victim's belly, entangled in his entrails. “Do you think I can make you my puppet too with your intestines?” Jordane heard as she finally managed to open the window. She climbed onto the ledge, still clenching her fist. Raphaël was looking for a way to bring her back to his body, but it wouldn't be immediate. He would succeed, she knew, but in the meantime, she had to buy time, so she jumped.

No sooner had she left the ledge, she seemed to freeze in mid-air, as expected. Outside, the moon bathed the neighborhood in its benevolent aura. She smelled the warm concrete a few meters below her. She heard the grass whispering in the wind. “You really think you can escape us?” she heard Billie's voice inside her head. “I'm going to give you a taste of the hell that awaits you, you'll see.” Then it was as if her entire body exploded. She lost all sensation, her heart stopped beating when it vanished, she stopped breathing when she lost her lungs. She struggled to keep her concentration on the thing she held in her right hand while her soul was exposed once more. Everything darkened around her as she shifted realities. Traveling further into the Astral world. But she didn't let go of the object of her thoughts, clutching it even tighter with an invisible hand. If she let go, it was the end. Or rather, the beginning of the rest of her eternity, here in Duli.

When a kitchen slowly appeared around her, a terrible dread clutched her throat with its sharp claws. The emotion almost made her lose consciousness of the object, but she managed to hold on; however, something was wrong in the room. Intense terror seized her when a woman appeared in front of the sink. “Why isn't he breathing why isn't he breathing why isn't he breathing...” a voice echoed in her head. The woman was screaming into the phone. She was gasping, but not out of anger; out of fear. “... he just drank his powdered milk how can it be what happened it's not true it's not true it's not true...” She looked at the countertop that had just appeared: a baby lay there, motionless, but he was not sleeping; there was no emotion emanating from this little being. He was dead, white foam at his lips. The woman's words now drowned in her sobs, while for her reality began to hit. Fear slowly gave way to despair. She had just lost something irreplaceable. This pain tore Jordane apart, but despite this, her thoughts were occupied with two things: the object she had brought with her, and Raphaël's voice. She had heard him speak, at some point. Something about people who had come to see his “program”: so now, she remained listening, waiting for the moment he would call her. And only then, would she use what Inès had managed to give her.

The woman had now collapsed onto the tiled floor. Next to her lay a bottle, dripping milk into a small puddle. Jordane saw death hiding in the liquid: arsenic. She was in Duli, thirty years ago. And somewhere not far, the mine had collapsed. “My baby, my sweet baby...” the woman lamented, holding her lifeless son in her arms. But already, everything was blurring around Jordane.

The infinite sadness grew more distant, and the scenery changed again: vertical bars gradually appeared. Cold, rusted bars. On the other side, in a small room containing only a bed, a desk, and a toilet, a man cried. He had torn a strip of cloth from his blanket and was now wrapping it around his neck. “Why me I don't want to I don't want to I don't want to...” he wept. Jordane felt his fear, but she looked at what was on his desk as he tied his makeshift rope to the bars of his cell: a small glass bottle, and a parchment. A message was written on the paper, in a monstrous handwriting. “I don't want to relive that, I don't want to relive that... Why did they choose me? I can't do this...” he continued. The message was addressed to a certain Eustass. They were asking him to “trigger the next catastrophe” ... Suddenly, the man let himself fall, caught by the now taut fabric, and at the same time, Jordane was sucked into an endless abyss. She emerged in a setting she already knew this time: the faded pink cobblestones, the attractions rising around her like menacing silhouettes. “Damn! It was supposed to be you!” the man in front of her yelled. “You screwed everything up! What's going to happen to me now!” Dull and flabby thuds sounded at each syllable: “WHY... DID... YOU... OPEN... THOSE... DAMN... GATES !!” When a younger Oswald by ten years dropped his bloodied knife, Inès was dead. “Why did it have to be that woman who entered in your place?” he spat, “if it was you on top of that lamppost, no one would have opened the doors!” Jordane observed the man filled with as much fear as rage, but she didn't think about what she had under her eyes. She simply listened to a familiar voice that soothed and reassured her. Nonsense, certainly, but she clung to it now: “...one, two, one, two, three, two, one, zero, ...”

She absentmindedly watched the man responsible for their recent woes vanish like a dream. Inès had been manipulated, just like her. She was still paying the price, but Inès had given her the keys to salvation. All she had to do was hold on. Hold on long enough for Raphaël to regain his physical form.

“If he even makes it, otherwise it's all over,” a voice in her head said.

No, she trusted him. She knew they would make it.

“The carnage is imminent,” another voice said behind her.

She turned around: in the central square of the Palace of the Strange, Zoltar had come to life. His mechanical red eyes lit up behind his cherubic angel mask. With one hand, he caressed his crystal ball, glowing with a black light, and in the other, he still held his butcher knife.

“The stars predict a great feast tonight,” he continued. “Do you want to know your future, young girl?”

There was a mechanical scraping sound, and a card emerged from a slot on the front of his machine.

“Come and get it,” he taunted.

Jordane couldn't see what was on the paper from where she was, but she didn't move towards it; she couldn't move. She was focused on Raphaël: “minus-one, minus-two, minus-one, zero, one, zero, one, zero...”

“Come now...” the monster began, then: “Huh.”

His eyes shone as bright as lasers, and she felt the uncomfortable sensation of being scrutinized. She felt him rummaging in her soul, powerless, until he found what she had brought with her.

“Impossible!” he spat. “Why do you have that with you!? It's not yours!”

He began to agitate in his glass cabin, and his crystal ball glowed brighter.

“What do you think you're going to do? Get away with it!?”

He raised his knife and slammed it down on the glass, shattering it into a thousand pieces. The shards of glass rained down with almost musical tinkle, flooding the cobblestone ground with their shiny reflections. The monster leaned forward and planted his knife into the ground. With a grunt, he pulled on his mechanical arm, and the entire machine began to advance towards Jordane, scraping the ground. She wanted to use the object to escape, she wanted to pull on the silver thread Inès had given her to return to her room, but on the other side of the silver filament, she felt Inès's energy telling her it was too early, that she had to hold on. She was saying Billie was still busy shredding the intruder, but if she returned too soon, she would miss her chance.

She had to wait for Raphaël.

Zoltar planted his weapon again and pulled himself closer, now barely more than two meters in front of her.

“Where did you get that?” he raged. “Do you think you're going to deprive us of another meal?”

He advanced again, now very close, and Jordane still couldn't move an inch. Just focus on the silver thread, on Raphaël, and hope. The monster raised his knife to attack her, but only sliced the air, still too far away. He moved one last time, and this time, he was close enough for Jordane to see what was written on the card:

“A faithful friend is a powerful protector: whoever has found one has found a treasure.”

The monster raised his knife. She closed her eyes. And she heard it: “Jordane! Jordane!”

She exerted all her energy on the silver thread: on the other side, Inès received the message and pulled on it to bring her back. The universe disappeared faster than Zoltar's knife and his roar of rage was carried away like everything else in a whirlwind of darkness. A moment later, she was teleported and found herself in her childhood room, in the physical form these monsters had given her to play with her. Her hand still gripped the silver thread leading to Inès's broken arm. Billie was still in the same place, his puppets engaged with the man she had sent him. For a few seconds, he remained dazed, as if he didn't quite understand what was happening. That was enough time for Jordane to dive under her dresser and grab the object she had hidden. She opened the compact, and intense relief flooded her: she saw herself in the small mirror. Her body, at her adult age. But she saw herself lying askew, the compact as if fallen on the ground and lying on its side. Her heart sank in her chest when she saw the person grabbing her: Richard.

But was she afraid of another monster in her path?

“One more monster,” she thought, “I'm going to make it.”

Then she threw herself into the mirror: it was like being sucked into a tunnel as thin as a pinhead, accompanied by Billie's mournful wail realizing the situation, but when she emerged, a fiery ardor roared within her like a lion.


When Jordane opened her eyes, she found herself face to face with Richard. His warm breath burned her skin, and all signs of intelligence had left his eyes: a gaze so empty it made one wonder if he was simply dead, frozen in his ultimate desire for murder like a wax dummy. He was brandishing the tip of his screwdriver directly at her, but she wasn't afraid. Not even when a firework exploded above them, casting a crown of purple light around his head.

Perhaps he was caught off guard when Jordane suddenly woke up. Maybe he was startled by the explosion in the sky, or saw something in her eyes that destabilized him. The absence of fear?

Whatever the reason, his hesitation - a few seconds at most - was long enough for Jordane to grab his hand and direct the screwdriver right into one of his eyes. The sharp tool plunged into the eyeball as if it were butter, and Richard let out an animalistic scream that seemed to echo throughout the entire park. He rose, bringing his now bloody hands to his face. He writhed in pain, staggering like a drunkard. Jordane got up in turn, appreciating having regained her woman's body, and she lunged at the killer, striking him with all her weight. The giant, unbalanced and half-blinded, tried to catch himself but only managed to grab the end of the cannon's barrel pointed skyward. He tipped over and crushed Richard: they fell onto a wooden crate that cracked under the weight of the man and the fire-spewing machine. Small red tubes scattered around them, rolling away, and when one of them stopped against Jordane's foot, she mimed a “damn it” with her mouth, and she started running to join her friend.

“Raphaël!” she cried, throwing herself on him.

A red stain had spread across his t-shirt, but it wasn't big enough to come from an artery.

“Get up!” she urged, trying to shake him without finishing him off, but he didn't respond.

She turned his head and tapped his cheek. His eyes were half-open, but he still didn't react.

“Come on! We have to get out of here,” she shouted, trying to lift him.

She looked back: Richard was trying to get up, panting like a caged lion, but his hands were rolling on the red tubes, causing him to fall back, further enraged.

“I've been telling you this for a while, and it's only now that you realize it...”

Her gaze returned to Raphaël, who had come to. He tried to give her a pitiful smile, but could only grimace in pain.

“Raphaël!” she exclaimed, relieved. “Can you get up?”

He placed a hand on the ground and rose painfully, with Jordane's help.

“I'm going to need help walking,” he grumbled, “I'm in fucking pain.”

She put his arm over her shoulder, realizing just then that he was heavier than he seemed, and they started moving towards the stairs that would take them back down the park alley.

“Damn, what's happening to him?” Raphaël yelled.

She followed his gaze and saw Richard at the edge of the stage, still sprawled over the crate debris. He was gripping the screwdriver handle with both hands, and they just had time to see his eye leave its socket as he pulled the tool out of his skull, where it remained stuck. A spurt of blood shot from his empty socket, and he let out an inhuman scream that sent chills down their spines. The cannon's muzzle was still positioned over him, preventing him from getting up, but he began to grab it to free himself.

“Why isn't it firing?” Jordane whispered to herself.

Raphaël wanted her to repeat, but he was interrupted by Richard's cry of rage:


He grabbed the muzzle of the cannon, but the cylinders still in the crate made him lose his balance.

“Why hasn’t it gone off yet?” she lamented.

Raphaël was about to ask her when his eyes fell on one of the red objects rolling on the ground: a firework. Then, he looked at the muzzle of the cannon, aimed straight at Richard: was it every two minutes? Or was it random?

He didn't have time to ponder further: the shot simply went off. A yellow burst briefly illuminated the entire scene, even Richard's empty socket, and it was as if a fairy flew out to bury itself under his arm. Then nothing. They remained motionless for several seconds, all more stunned than the others. Richard was the first to react, but his scream was instantly drowned in a formidable shockwave that passed through all their bodies. The noise tore through the sky, and they were blinded by a white light, leaving only the silhouette of Richard visible. The explosion spread into hundreds of sparks that crackled in turn. They heard an agonizing scream grow louder and louder, and Jordane finally snapped out of her daze: she pulled Raphaël towards the stairs, and they hurried down the steps to escape. When they emerged from the castle, they heard another detonation. Then another, and yet another. They circled back along the stage, and gunfire cracked in all directions, sending multicolored sprays in every direction, like a grand finale on a festival night.

“Where are we going, Jo?” Raphaël yelled, muffled by the whistles and bangs, mesmerized by the sparks shooting up from the stage like a tornado.

“To the exit!” she shouted, pointing with her free hand to the central alley.

Black smoke began to rise from the castle. She pulled Raphaël, still half over her shoulder, and they set off. They left behind the noise of the colorful explosions, and as she cast one last look behind her, she saw a tall, thin shadow slowly emerge from the light of the stage: the black silhouette walked slowly, seemingly unaware of the chaos surrounding it. As it stepped over the edge without flinching or slowing, like a zombie, Richard's body crashed to the ground like a doll. He lifted his head towards them, his face now nothing but a surface of charred embers, two black holes staring at them from afar, then it fell back to the ground, the long red flames consuming the rest of his body.


The mass of flesh crashed against the doors of the Palace of the Strange like a raging ocean. When one pushed from the back of the crowd to try to make a way, the force moved through the assembly like a shockwave, rebounding against the sealed gates before returning to its sender, further compressing the unfortunate ones who, for some, could no longer even breathe. Each man, each woman became one, a great reptilian brain governed by panic with only one idea in mind, to push to get out. Even their bodies merged into a singularity, all fused into a suffocating mass of flesh. Everyone wanted to leave, yet, the Palace of the Strange was finally awakening. Something was emerging from a deep sleep, hidden in the depths of the park: behind the windows of each attraction, in the dark corners of every street. The true owners of the place were summoned for their feast, long delayed: each missed heartbeat, each lung emptied of air was a delicious awakening, gradually rousing them from their slumber.

Someone vomited in the assembly, their organs starting to fail. A few screams of terror could be heard tearing through the night, but most could only utter groans. The few lucky ones who had managed to find refuge high up extended their hands to pull the weakest from the crowd, but even the strength of Hercules would not have been enough to extract them from the mass.

It only took one thing: a fall. The first person to fall would knock over their neighbor, who in turn could only crush theirs. A chain reaction would begin, and once the dominoes collapsed, the trampling would start.

Raphaël and Jordane looked at each other with concern when the cries for help and shrill screams began to emerge from the corner of the main alley. They continued arm in arm, moving painfully with Raphaël's injury. Then, they passed through the gaping mouth of the mad scientist, accompanied by the sinister moans echoing along the wall with peeling paint. But when they emerged, nothing had prepared them for the sight that awaited them.

It was like arriving in hell.

Human beings with faces distorted by pain, or fear. Arms reaching out from the crowd trying to grasp something to escape, but fists clenched in emptiness. They wanted to turn back. Find another way out, hide at the other end of the park, anything but not stay here; but behind them, the black smoke had transformed into a threatening storm cloud: the entire park was burning.

Jordane took the key to the gates in her hand and placed Raphaël against the large decorative panel illustrating a futuristic city.

“What are you doing?” he worried.

“You came back to save me earlier,” she replied, “now it's my turn to make sure.”

“And Inès?”

Jordane stopped and answered softly:

“No matter, all that matters is that we both get out of here.”

Raphaël nodded, and she headed towards the crowd, firmly holding the key in her fist. She reached the last row, but when she tried to make her way through, she was brutally pushed back, as if she had been hit by an electric shock. She placed her hand on a man's shoulder to ask him to move aside, but he turned to her with a savage growl, foam at the mouth. She tried to pull towards her a woman with half-dropped glasses and a bloody lip, but she received an elbow strike that almost knocked them both over.

“Damn it,” she cursed, drowned out by the cries of the tormented. And something else too, like the crackling of fire.

Her mind went back to the scene she had seen during her astral journey. How she had followed Inès, when she had opened the door. She had sneaked in, but not just any way. She advanced in a zigzag.

So she slipped between two people, sinking into the mass. She moved diagonally, passing between people at an angle, but it was like making her way through a river of sand. A river that was slowly contracting. That almost prevented her from moving. That almost prevented her from breathing. She continued, someone grabbed her hair, but she managed to free herself by scratching their hands. Every face she met had wide eyes, some with a vacant look. The visitors in the back were still screaming, but the deeper she went, the more they became silent, beginning to concentrate all their efforts to get air into their lungs. And it was hot. Terribly hot, a real furnace. She was sweating. She found herself against a family crying, the father carrying his child on his shoulders: he pointed at something behind them, horrified. She couldn't follow his finger, her head completely blocked between the chest of a woman and the shoulders of someone else, but she knew he was pointing at the fire approaching.

She couldn't get through them, so she changed direction. She headed left, still diagonally. Someone grabbed her blouse sleeve and tore the fabric to her shoulder. She didn't make two meters without being blocked again. She was hot. She was overheating. She couldn't cool down despite her panting. No, she couldn't breathe anymore. The crowd was compressing her. She continued her zigzag by changing direction again: she almost fell when her leg got stuck, but she managed to free herself, leaving one of her shoes on the ground. She looked up and saw someone floating in the air. No, he was sitting on the ticket booths.

“The door! she thought, I'm not far now!”

She wanted to scream at everyone to move aside, but when she opened her mouth, she realized with horror that she could no longer speak. The man on the roof extended his hand towards the crowd. Instinctively, she wanted to approach him to grab it, but several people imitated her, and she received an elbow strike in the nose, quickly feeling the coppery taste of blood rolling on her lips to invade her mouth. She wanted to bring her hand to her face, but she couldn't extract herself: in fact, she realized that her whole body was numb. Someone behind her screamed: “SAVE ME! I DON'T WANT TO DIE!” and the person pushed everyone. She felt the wave pass through her, then her front neighbor. The wave spread to the gates, tearing terrifying screams from the front row, then rebounded back in her direction. This time, her bare foot tripped over something, and she lost her balance. She fell on someone, and he toppled in turn. They were all too compressed to fall, but if the shockwave spread, they would start to end up on the ground, and that would be the end.

“Jo, you can do it...” a voice in her head said.

She believed it was Inès' voice, but perhaps it was just her inner voice. Maybe she was beginning to run out of oxygen up there. She continued zigzagging for a few more meters and couldn't believe her eyes when she saw the heavy iron bars. At that moment, she was thrust against the grill, as if charged by a bull: she was so compressed that she couldn't catch her breath. She looked around: dozens, if not hundreds of arms, were reaching out towards the parking lot, seeking someone to come to their rescue. Some were hanging or at odd angles, probably broken or dislocated as the unfortunate ones were tossed about. She looked at the parking lot: everything was so calm, just on the other side of the bars. The moon was beautiful, illuminating the countless cars parked side by side. The forest behind began to blur. Her vision started to cloud: she still hadn't caught her breath.

She looked down, and to her left, at hip level, she found a lock. She just had to stick her right arm through the bars, pass the key to the other side of the lock, and she could get out. She tried to move, but she could no longer feel her arm. She didn't even know if she was still holding the key. A shock wave crushed her against the grill, and she thought her head would break to pass between two bars. She focused on lifting her hand, but it felt like the grill would slice her skin or break her ribs. She still couldn't breathe, and her heart now seemed to have stopped beating. Everything turned black around her.

She could no longer see the parking lot, nor hear the groans and moans around her. The curtains had been drawn. On the other side of the grill, right in front of her, stood a little girl. The little girl she had been so many years ago, the one who believed in monsters under her bed. She was sure she was dying. Jordane seemed to be drowning, sinking into black water. She contemplated the child she had been. Perhaps more accurately, her inner child, the one she carried with her every day. The one afraid to express her feelings, who didn't want to show her flaws, her weaknesses. The one who judged others so as not to be judged. The one who rectified others' injustices because the world had been unfair to her.

“Are you scared?” Jordane asked her inner child. She timidly nodded her head. “It's OK to be scared,” she continued. “But we'll get through this, I promise.” She seemed a bit reassured. “It's thanks to Raphaël that I'm still here. So, we're both going to get out.” Jordane looked down at her right hand, and the little girl followed her gaze. “Can you help me?” she asked. “I can't do it alone, I need your help.” The little girl hesitated, then took Jordane's hand in hers. She pulled it towards her and directed it towards the lock. “Thank you,” Jordane thought just in time, and the click of the key in the lock brought her back to reality.

The world around her lit up again. She was back in the Palace of the Strange, still choking against a grill crushing her face and lungs. Her hand had passed to the other side, and she held the key in the lock. She turned her wrist, and the lock unlocked. The door swung open, and she was propelled out of the park like a cannonball. She crashed to the ground but managed to take a gulp of fresh air, which re-energized her. She managed to stand up and faced the door of the Palace of the Strange: it was wide open, but no one had come out. The crowd was screaming, arms stretched forward, but each person was so compressed that they couldn't detach themselves. Behind them, flames began to show, and the ocher smoke escaping in clouds made her feel like she was looking at a painting of tortured souls trapped in hell.

She threw herself at the mass of flesh and grabbed random arms, trying to pull them out. At first, she didn't succeed, and she thought they would all be consumed by the fire right there, unable to escape despite the removed obstacle. But when she managed to extract one person, it was like she had created a crack in a dam: drops began to escape, then the flow streamed out of the park entrance. Some visitors sprawled on the ground, catching their breath, crying. Some didn't even look at her and ran straight to their cars. She moved aside to avoid being trampled, and the crowd flooded the parking lot. She heard engine noises, people shouting names, but she looked on the other side of the fence, worried.

On the other side of the grill, she finally saw what she was looking for: Raphaël. He hadn't moved, still leaning against the wall. He had made a makeshift bandage with his jacket. But he was absorbed in something. He was looking beyond the gaping mouth of the mad scientist. She followed his gaze, and she saw it too: in the distance, at the end of the alley, they saw Oswald lying on the ground. His hands were flailing, trying to grab anything, but the thing dragging him by the foot was too strong. Once the crowd had evacuated, the calm returned enough for them to hear his last pleas: “WAAAAAIT!!” he screamed in the distance as he disappeared into the flames. “GIVE ME ANOTHER CHANCE!! PLEASE!!”


Raphaël barely had time to step out of the park when Jordane jumped on him to embrace him. “Ouch, ouch, ouch, you're finishing me off,” he grimaced. “I'm so glad we made it!” she exclaimed, hugging him even tighter. And that was exactly what she felt: joy and relief. Sharing it filled her with a strange, but positive feeling. Raphaël brought his hand to his bloody nose, frowning. “Are you going to be okay?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied confidently. “I will be.” They moved away from the park and leaned against the old white car that had been abandoned for years. Raphaël slid to the ground with a grimace. “I hope the firefighters arrive soon,” he said, pointing to the fire that was already beginning to die down. “It's starting to hurt a lot.” They watched the last visitors leave the parking lot in panic: there were no cars left, only the wreck against which they leaned, so no one had died. “There won't be a feast tonight...” Jordane thought.

But they saw someone, unlike everyone else, heading towards the park. Their eyes met, and the person came towards them.

“Damn!” the woman exclaimed, “Are you okay?”

They nodded, and she looked at the park almost entirely gone up in smoke: “I have to go in there,” she said, “there might still be people.”

“No, there's no one left,” assured Jordane, “and the firefighters will take care of the rest, it's safer to stay here.”

“You can't know that,” she retorted harshly, “and the firefighters are lazy, they won't arrive in time. It's up to me to take care of it, it’s my job.”

The woman pretended to leave, then addressed them one last time: “And I hope you didn't scratch my car by lying on it, it better be spotless when I take it back at the end of my shift tomorrow morning.”

Then they watched Inès rush into the empty park: the one who had been there that night, the one who wandered in this park every night since her death, ten years ago. Jordane thought that no one could help her, and that she would continue to guard the park every night until the end of time, but that it was her responsibility.

She rested her head against Raphaël's shoulder: “Thank you again,” she said, “if you hadn't been there, I would still be in that park.”

He nodded in response.

“I'm sorry for everything I said.”

“No worries,” he whispered.

“I'm grateful to have you by my side, and I hope it lasts a long time.”

She felt him smile, and they both started laughing: already, they could hear the sirens in the distance, on the other side of the forest.

“Will you have enough space in your magazine to write everything that just happened?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, “I don't think this story is meant to be told.”