Happiness is found within.

The inscription on the door of the wine shop located at the bottom of the building caught Amber's attention once again. She had read this phrase countless times while crossing the threshold of the store this week, but she couldn't prevent these words from looping in her head. The sign spoke the truth; the wine merchant truly represented the main source of happiness in her current life.

Her heels, sharp as knives, tapped the ground impatiently as she selected her wine for the evening. The deep meaning of the phrase at the entrance irritated her. Happiness is found within.

Throughout her childhood, her grandmother Rose had repeated to her that it was vital not to torture one's soul and body, for they alone would stay by our side until the end. She always presented this statement as good news, the assurance of remaining the master of one's joys, of one's life.

“You are the only one who can truly take care of yourself, to give yourself everything.”

Amber looked up, grabbed a bottle of lukewarm white wine without even reading the label, focusing only on the price to avoid blowing her budget, and paid contactlessly. Time was pressing. Her presence was expected in an hour and a half on the Île de la Cité, to attend the inauguration of the Balzart Museum. A real sham.

With a firm step, she climbed the irregular stairs of her building and locked herself in her sixteen-square-meter studio, lost in the depths of the 19th arrondissement of Paris with a view of the neighbor.

She couldn't afford anything else in the capital, despite the decent income from her website. Amber undressed in the room that also served as her kitchen, office, living room, pretty much everything. Her cramped living space where dark thoughts clashed for lack of space and oxygen.

She mechanically opened the bottle, like an automaton, and poured herself a glass of wine as generous as it was pitiful. Her gaze lingered on the fridge. Her stomach had been crying out in hunger for a few hours now, having not been fed all day. But thinking about the tight dress she planned to wear for the inauguration, Amber settled for the alcohol.

The low-quality dry white wine forcefully made its way into her cramped stomach. This groove dug into her belly gave her the sensation that her navel was touching her spine. She took another sip. Her hungry body would look very beautiful, once squeezed into her black dress.

Her blond hair smoothed, her eyes made up and her dark circles masked, the young woman barely out of her studies practiced smiling in front of the mirror. Once satisfied with her mask, she slammed the studio door to head to the brand new Balzart Museum proudly opening its doors.


From the Pont-au-Change, Amber observed the Conciergerie and its nighttime illuminations. The Seine reflected the golden lights of the pale palace with blue roofs. Sometimes, when she wanted and from a certain angle, Paris could be breathtakingly beautiful. An open-air museum, as people who are just passing through the city like to say. But the Conciergerie had also served as a prison, reputed to be the harshest during the Terror. Its walls had confined a mountain of detainees, piled upon each other, waiting for the anonymous executioner who would lead them unemotionally to the guillotine.

The Balzart Museum, far less imposing than the architectural treasures of the Île de la Cité, had nonetheless managed to find its place not far from the Conciergerie. Its dark stone walls were adorned with fine silver symbols, shining in the darkness. Amber recognized several signs related to esotericism and demonology. The Eye of Horus, capable of perceiving what lies beyond the world of the living, pentagrams of witchcraft and alchemy... The metal bars on the windows of the first floor suggested that the contents of the exhibition should not escape outside, lest they sow turmoil in the world of the living.

“It's grotesque,” Amber murmured into her scarf before heading towards the entrance to show her invitation.

“Welcome to the Balzart Museum, dedicated to the greatest French mediums and clairvoyants,” a polite old man in a suit greeted her in front of the building with a mystical aura.

Amber's heart clenched, but she let nothing show. She had a role to play in this masquerade. Tonight, she was even one of the main characters.

“Your name, please.”

At this question, Amber understood that the doorman was not one of the enthusiasts of the occult sciences. He must surely have been hired temporarily and solely to manage the entries for the inauguration. The museum director liked to care for appearances and impress.

The massive black door suddenly parted in two, just revealing Mr. Occis and his eternal tasteless skull bow tie. With flushed cheeks and eyes shining with excitement, he recognized Amber at first glance.

“Amber Balzart, in person! We are honored to have you among us tonight. Enter, do not stay in the cold or you will die. Leave your coat in the cloakroom, take a glass of champagne, and accept this blue sapphire stone...”

“Which will protect me from black magic spells,” Amber quickly completed as she entered the new haunt of the paranormal in Paris.

She shed her jacket and discreetly adjusted her dress that had ridden up on her thighs due to the tight cut. She kept only her phone in hand, to take pictures of the opening night and thus feed her blog on the supernatural.

With her mouth closed, Amber took a deep breath without puffing her chest but taking care to expand her ribs. She felt the bones exert pressure against her skin. This sensation calmed her.

This one-of-a-kind event gathered personalities all more eccentric than the others. Paranormal investigators presented their greatest cases, with photographs of spirits to support. The snapshots had captured séance sessions and the icy expressions of participants around the table trying to communicate with the dead, white shapes wandering in the corridors of an old chateau in the Loire, or even a woman floating above a table.

On the menu, Mr. Occis also offered so-called retired exorcists, firmly holding the Bible in their wrinkled hands. But also clairvoyants, mediums, vampirologists, writers, and journalists dedicated to the supernatural. Needless to say, ninety percent of the world population saw this event as a very bad taste joke. Since the construction of the Balzart Museum, Mr. Occis had made his appearance in the ranking of the most mocked personalities on the Internet.

Amber grabbed a glass of champagne to have something in her hand and to fuel up. The circle was small; she had already met several personalities present tonight at conferences, readings. But discussing stories she had never believed in for a second turned out to be a real torture. Keeping up appearances, appearing convincing and passionate, an expert in a discipline she ultimately knew little about... This comedy was beginning to wear on her.

To avoid the writer who had just recognized her, Amber started touring the exhibition while sipping her glass. She only set down her glass to take pictures of objects haunted by demonic entities, or disturbing paintings and sculptures.

Her eyes eventually stopped on a scented candle enclosed in a glass cage. A bronze base with scratches supported the block of yellowed wax and featured small pieces of ivory in peculiar shapes. Amber read the sign and discovered with disgust that it was made of pulled teeth. The object had been found in Bordeaux in the 19th century, in the cellar of an old mansion. According to the museum's explanations, lighting the candle would spread the smell of the corpse from which the teeth had been taken. If the flame started to flicker, it meant that the deceased was trying to communicate with the world of the living.

Amber felt the presence of a guest to her left. She turned around and discovered a young man dressed in a simple gray hoodie and jeans. He was curiously staring at an old teddy bear missing its eyes. A sign almost begged the visitor not to touch the bear, under penalty of being possessed by the demon inhabiting it.

This toy had been made in France in the twenties. It had brought disease, misery, and sometimes death to all the families who had acquired it. Marguerite, the last owner of this plush, had torn out the toy's eyes because they “constantly followed her gaze.”

“Do you believe in all these stories?” suddenly asked the guest.

“I think that the human being is not limited to his physical body. Our emotions, sometimes destructive and unbearable, our memories, have the capacity to anchor themselves in objects. Regrets and hatred cannot die and remain to haunt the living. Sometimes, even the dead suffer to the point of wanting to make their voices heard,” Amber recited in a monotonous tone while taking more pictures.

The stranger nodded thoughtfully. Then, unexpectedly, he stepped over the cord that separated him from the exhibited works. And firmly grabbed the teddy bear in his two hands.

“Put it back! Have you lost your mind?” Amber choked.

He stroked the top of the teddy's head, where its eyes used to be, then gently placed it back.

“If I get possessed by the devil tonight, you'll have a sensational article for your blog.”

By reflex, Amber offered him her blue sapphire of protection.

“I appreciate it, but I won't need it,” he refused with an amused air. “The only beings that frighten me are the living.”

Three glasses of champagne later, Mr. Occis cleared his throat into a microphone to attract the attention of the guests. He had to repeat himself several times, as the guests were hypnotized by this exhibition as disturbing as it was unusual. When everyone finally gathered in the main hall, the museum director was finally able to savor all these eyes turned towards him, hanging on his lips.

“If you are here, it's because, like me, you know that our existence is not just about atoms, cells, mathematical formulas, or chemical reactions. All my thoughts turn to Rose Balzart, the greatest French medium who has marked history. Her supernatural investigations in Paris in the 1970s are famous worldwide. Tonight, her granddaughter Amber has honored us with her presence. Like the Balzart Museum, she aims to perpetuate the memory of her grandmother by sharing her writings, experiences, and memories. She dedicates her life to her. By creating this museum, by exhibiting all these precious relics, we wish to immortalize the evidence of the Beyond, of the human soul, and of the darkness of the demons who tread our world paths.”

Applause exploded in the museum. Amber breathed deeply and focused not to grimace.

“Rose would have found this place absolutely absurd, ridiculous,” she thought. “And dangerous.”

Mr. Occis raised his glass of champagne, proud of all these acclamations. Then, without warning, he rushed towards Amber. He grabbed the young woman by the waist, as if it was his most natural right, and dragged her into the crowd.

“I have someone to introduce you to.”

The middle-aged man's hand was hot, coarse, dirty. The director headed towards the young man who had dared to touch the cursed teddy bear. He was sitting on the floor in a corner of the main hall, quietly enjoying a salmon toast.

“You want to introduce me to... him?” asked Amber.

“Him? Of course not. He's just my nephew, I summoned him here to serve as an interpreter for a very special guest,” explained Mr. Occis. “Lucas, get up! We're not in the corridors of your university, here.”

“Uncle, I graduated several months ago.”

“I had asked you to wear a suit tonight. Your parents warned me it was hopeless lately. But you could have made an effort,” the director spat, covered in shame.

Lucas pretended not to understand the problem, but he still got up and followed his uncle to the left wing of the Balzart Museum.

“I have a real horror story for you. Did you know that if you repeat the word 'uncle' twice in front of Occis, his rage will explode?” whispered Lucas to Amber to lighten the mood.

She felt cramped in this corridor covered with repulsive portraits, incomprehensible incantations. In a room far away, one could hear an apparently authentic recording of an exorcism performed in Marseille, in 1976. A priest was trying to expel a demonic entity from a child's body. The little one screamed with all his might in a deep, adult voice. Amber could almost visualize him struggling in his sweat-soaked bed, his eyes wide with terror. His bones twisted against his will, obscene words tore his throat. Amber plugged her ears and felt the corridor wobble. She hadn't eaten for so long. She hadn't felt alive for years. She wandered in the world of humans, convinced she no longer belonged, that she no longer had the right. Amber was the centerpiece of this museum she did not believe in.

“Amber, what's happening?”

“My apologies... I don't feel very well.”

“Is your grandmother trying to contact you?” whispered Mr. Occis excitedly, wandering his eyes hysterically all over the corridor. “Is Rose among us? What does she think of the museum? Of my speech?”

Lucas shook his head in exasperation. He headed towards the exorcism altar and fiddled with the console buttons on the wall to try to silence the screams of the possessed. He ended up hitting all the controls, and the screams suddenly stopped to make way for a comforting silence.

“Thank you,” Amber let out with relief.

“I've shortened his suffering and ours at the same time. Uncle, I believe you too would scream like a devil if a priest tied you to a bed to throw holy water in your face. Your museum makes me uncomfortable. Even if I were a demonologist or medium, I wouldn't pay a penny to observe this unhealthy entertainment. You show, you shock, you terrorize. But you tell nothing. Who did the eyeless teddy bear belong to, and why would it bring misfortune? Who are these souls that appear in your photos? I'd much rather buy a cinema ticket and go see a good horror movie.”

Mr. Occis pounced on Lucas, pushed him violently to enter the exorcism room and try to restore the ordeal of the young victim. Without success. The sensation of loss of control made him fly off the handle.

“The work of my life!” the director screamed in his nephew's face. “My savings, my career, my reputation, I'm putting everything on the line. You're only twenty-five and you dare to be condescending with me? I'm only asking you for one service, do you hear me? Just one evening of your time, to lend me a hand. A depression, at your age... We've seen it all.”

The director suddenly froze, his face swollen with anger, his forehead shiny and a greasy hair strand stuck to his cheek. Alerted by this altercation, several people had burst into the corridor. Including the special guest.

“Mr. Ishida!” exclaimed Mr. Occis, rushing clumsily towards him. “This is Amber Balzart, who you absolutely wanted to meet!”

The man called upon by the director stood out for his elegance, his calm, and his thoughtful air. He smiled politely, embarrassed that mediums and vampirologists were watching the scene with so much insistence.

“Lucas, hurry up with the introductions and thank him for his presence. Then, you're free to leave. I won't hold you back.”

The nephew joined Amber and Mr. Ishida slowly, savoring each drop of sweat beading on Occis's forehead. He bowed to the guest, took his business card with both hands, and spoke at length in Japanese.

The sounds and rhythm of this language had the power to soothe Amber. The two interlocutors seemed to exchange with respect, taking their time, often nodding their heads to the other's words. Mr. Ishida was the exact opposite of the museum director. Slender, distant, and modest. His suit was adorned with several golden ideograms, impossible to decipher if one does not read Japanese. The interpreter also seemed intrigued by these symbols, as his gaze often stopped on them.

As Occis began to panic in front of Lucas's endlessly long sentences, the latter finally started to translate.

“He is happy to be here.”

“That's it?! But you've been talking for ten minutes,” Occis choked. “I know he came to present a big project related to my museum, so be serious.”

His nephew suppressed a smile and calmly resumed his discussion with Mr. Ishida.

“He runs a major school of demonology known throughout Japan. He is fascinated by the investigations of Rose Balzart, and...”

The conversation in Japanese continued for a few minutes, which seemed endless to Amber. Fatigue was seriously starting to take hold, encouraged by the cheap white wine and luxury champagne. They allied to make her lose all sense of reality, and to plunge her into a secondary state. Her legs began to tremble.

“He proposes an exchange between the Balzart Museum and the school of demonology. The granddaughter of Rose is invited to Tokyo to give a series of lectures on the legendary supernatural affairs of the medium. In exchange, Mr. Ishida assures the promotion of your museum throughout his network of specialists. A golden visibility to take off your little Parisian scam.”

Occis's chest swelled so disproportionately that Amber wondered if the buttons on his shirt were going to pop. As for Lucas, he was watching Amber Balzart's reaction. But he deciphered nothing in her alcohol-soaked eyes.

“He's offering you to go to Tokyo,” he repeated, failing to elicit any emotion from his interlocutor.

“May I speak with Mr. Ishida and your nephew?” asked Amber to the museum director after emptying her champagne glass in one gulp.

“Of course!” exclaimed Occis. “Take your time, but know that this opportunity could well give the Balzart Museum worldwide fame. When I typed 'Ishida' on the Internet, so many results appeared! I'm counting on you.”

He awkwardly bowed and joined a group of clairvoyants debating in front of a two-headed statue. One of the faces seemed plunged into a deep sleep, while the other had its eyes fixed on the guests. Occis pretended to be interested in the statue, but he was watching Rose Balzart's granddaughter with suspicion, ready to pounce on her if she sabotaged the partnership of his dreams.

Amber grabbed another glass from a tray, to Lucas's stupefied expression.

“Could you tell Mr. Ishida that I refuse his invitation?”

“Are you joking? Do you know how many people dream of going to Tokyo? His school will cover your plane tickets, the hotel... An opportunity like this won't come again.”

Lucas was wrong. Amber was often solicited to travel abroad and participate in conventions, appear on shows, speak on podcasts. As part of a TV show, she had agreed - to pay her Parisian rent - to follow in the footsteps of the Warren couple, famous worldwide for their investigations into terrifying supernatural manifestations. The massacre in the Amityville house in the United States, the Enfield case, and the Annabelle doll in England... Ed and Lorraine Warren had forever marked the world of the paranormal.

The show “The Descendant of Rose Balzart on the Trail of the Warrens” was filmed a week after Rose's death. According to information found on the Internet, Amber was then sixteen years old and had ventured into the imposing and sinister Amityville house, where Ronald Defeo Jr, under the influence of a demon, had murdered his entire family in the middle of the night.

Amber was absolutely unable to recount what had happened. Her brain had erased all memory of the two years following Rose's death. She vaguely remembered taking the plane, but the rest remained in the void. Concerned by her anxiety attacks, the team members of the show had canceled all other planned destinations.

Mr. Ishida was waiting for an answer. Amber took her phone and wrote in a basic translation app:

“I don't believe in ghost stories.”

She showed it to Mr. Ishida, who replied orally in Japanese.

“He said 'me neither.' What are you talking about?” asked Lucas.

The duo of wine and champagne suddenly stopped tormenting her. For a moment, the scene became clearer than ever. The corridor stopped spinning, her legs straightened, and she put down her glass.

Mr. Ishida was on her side.

What could he possibly find interesting in the supernatural? Running his university must bring him an essential element, otherwise how could he invest to the point of coming to France to meet Rose Balzart's granddaughter? Had he succeeded where Amber failed daily? Had he managed to thrive and find his way in an environment that remained opaque, surreal, elusive to her?

“Can you ask Mr. Ishida what his favorite investigation of Rose is?”

“The Black Jackets of Montmartre.”

“Then that's the story I'll tell first. I accept his proposal.”

The interpreter lowered his eyes for a few moments. He seemed to think at full speed.

He then launched into a long argument, punctuating his interlocutor's replies with several nods.

Mr. Ishida finally bowed humbly to Lucas, satisfied. Then he handed his business card to Amber, who took it with both hands to mimic what she had observed a few minutes earlier.

“You're going to Tokyo next week,” Lucas quickly summarized, a guilty look on his face