A Haunting Beneath Paris

Some history is better off dead.

France is ancient country.

France itself, however, is relatively young as of its current iteration. The France of the 17th century, for example, may be considered something else entirely compared to the state that stands now.

Fragments of the former are still scattered throughout Europe, even beyond France itself. To say that all of the French past in contained entirely within the France of the now is folly. France has left its mark on the world in more places than one. Not unlike its sister nations, residents of the neighborhood of Europe.

My flashlight begins to flicker, yet I am unabated. The way ahead is the way out, out of this place.

I do not believe this. I have gone too far inside to possibly escape. Yet the mantra of freedom continues in my mind.

But there is something else of France's history. Some marks are wounds, deep and bleeding a stark red color. Marks of war and bloodshed, crimes of faith and fury.

This is not to say that France is a worse sinner than its siblings. To have sinned is black and white- yes, or no. To judge coal among coals is to stare into pitch and search for light.

A sound. A light, in the distance. I go to it. It is not the light of the outer world but something else, a red glow alien to me but fitting to this place.

I walk cautiously.

There are deeper histories in the catacombs of Paris. Old tunnels, lined with bones, mixed with ancient war bunkers. The further we go, the further it deviates from what we know.

There's a campfire at the turn, and man sits on top of a barrel nearby. He turns to face me once my boots crunch against the ground.

"I hear you. Come into the light."

The man wears a gold-embroidered keffiyeh, with the agal cord set above his gas mask, the headdress draped down over his shoulders, partially covering the elaborate military uniform he wore that was covered in unrecognizable symbols.

In his hands is a rifle. The make and model are unidentifiable but it is unmistakably a weapon. He points it towards me as I come closer to the campfire. Once he sees me, his body relaxes and he sets the gun by his side, but his hand remains nearby.

This deeper place is hungry. It eats. It can swallow you whole, digesting you into something else, something foreign to our histories. It wants you to become a part of it, and it is a web across the stories of millions of worlds.

"Pray, sister, sit here. You seem weary, and weary souls have the greatest need of the fire."

I cautiously walk forward. He gestured towards a spot on the ground and I decide to rest there. He seems amicable enough, and if he wanted to kill me he would've shot me when he had the chance. I have no reason to distrust him- and yet no reason to trust, either.

"It is a pleasure to see another soul in these chambers, even a face as strange as yours." He raises a hand to his chin. "I do not recognize you, and you wear no uniform."

I didn't respond. I studied him further, tried to find the face under the mask, the skin under the suit. The symbols looked Arabic, but I could not understand what they said. He shifted somewhat- my stare made him uncomfortable.

What is it, this creature beneath France? This maze of alternate places, these exotic times? They do not belong here- yet here they are, available to those willing to look.

"Ah, may I ask your name?"

His French was better than mine. I speak with my own flawed tongue. "Joanne."

He seemed confused. "I… Can't say I've ever heard a name like that before. Where are you from, Joanne?"


He leaned forward. "Ah, do you mean Khobar? Used to be an old Roman city, near Paris?"

I shook my head.

"Hmm." He rested against the wall. "I am relieved that you are a French native, though, and not some German worming their way through these tunnels."


"Yes, Germans. German soldiers and spies. Of the 'Holy Roman Empire?' Maybe even some Italians who made their way over the mountains."

"I'm not familiar with them."

His voice grew frustrated. "How are you unfamiliar with this? We've been at war with them for- for generations, are you trying to-"

"I'm not from one of the larger cities, I don't-"

He stood up and pointed his rifle at me. "Khobar is one of the largest cities in Occitania, ever since the Caliphs took it! Who are you? Tell me!"

I hold up my hands as I slowly get to my feet and back away.

"Listen to me, woman! Tell me who you are! Tell me!"

I don't respond. He sets his finger on the trigger.

"So be it. I must fulfill m-"

His hand recoils from the gun as his glove catches fire. Something burns under his skin as he drops the rifle to the ground. He frantically swats at the flames on his body as he panics.

"THEY'RE BOMBING US!" he screams, drawing a sidearm and firing into the air at random, dust flying from the shattering stones. "ALLAH, THE FIRE-"

I quickly grab the rifle and run, deeper into the catacombs. I hear his screams echoing in the distance.

They stop.

For a moment, I catch my breath. I hear nothing but distant drops of water.

I grab my canteen, and the scant amount of liquid gives me the strength to go on- although where I go, I do not know.

What have we built beneath Paris? What histories have we made? What horrors have we wrought here, under the earth- what crimes have we engraved onto the stones?

What will be remembered, once memory is all that remains?

He stumbles down the hall, blood trailing behind him. Some weapon is slung over his shoulder and falls to his side as his hands reach for his mask. He grips the edges of it and pulls at it, falling to his knees.

The sound as the mask is peeled off of his flesh is sickening, his skin sloughing off with it, strands of pink and red meat snapping as the mask is removed.

His face is exposed almost to the bone, with the scant traces of skin and muscle leaving a haunting visage. The eyes had gone, along with their sockets, as a wicked web of gaping pores covered everything above the mouth. Warped bones scorched black jut out of the body.

He shudders, dropping the mask to the ground before he howls like an animal, an inhuman screech sending blood and bile flying from his mouth.

"Allah! Save me, Father! Free me from this flesh. Breath has become agony to me, my life anathema to my mind."

He drags himself back to his feet. I slowly walk further down the pathway, not taking my eyes off of him.

"Why… why… it- it burns, it's burning through me, God, the phosphorous sticks to my skin!"

He claws at his exposed flesh and tears at his clothes, the epidermis peeling off of his body as the clothes are removed and his fingers dig further into his arms and chest.

"Free us, free us, God! Grant us salvation from that which lets us live!"

I continue moving. He stops, and his head twitches as it turns to face me, the pores opening and closing.

"I sense her."

Not all history is content to rest.

He sprints towards me, mouth agape, howling, on all fours. His bestial visage illuminated by the torch-light along the halls.

I aim the rifle. I don't know how to handle it. I don't know how to use it properly. But the butt rests against my shoulder and my finger lies on the trigger.

I fire. The first shot does not line up whatsoever with the direction I aimed the sights towards. I refocus and readjust. He's getting closer.

I fire again. The bullet strikes him in the shoulder. He does not stop.

I fire. Another miss. No time to dwell on it. Focus.

I fire. It rips through his chest. He does not stop.

I fire. It tears through his leg.

I fire.

I fire.

I fire.

Just as he leaps towards me, hands outstretched, I fire once more.

It goes through his skull and it explodes through the other end, sending gore in every direction.

He collapses, dead, his cry dying out as he goes still.

I collapse in kind, leaning against the wall and sliding down to the ground. I sigh.

I sense something shifting. I look at my jacket- a sigil appears on the breast, a hammer and khopesh on a red patch. I feel the gun grow increasingly familiar in my hands, and alien histories invade my mind.

I look up, hoping to see the sky, but I see nothing but endless bones.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license