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By mattwaterhouse All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror

Chapter 1

Budapest looked beautiful in the snowfall. The cold had made the city come alive. People were ice skating across a frozen lake, and the statues in Heroes Square had a fresh layer of snow on their brows. I was happy for the eye catching distraction during my walk from the subway. The cold had bitten at my ears, and the icy air that filled my lungs had the distinct taste of oncoming flu. I was wrapped up in two jackets and a scarf that weren't keeping me as warm as the cup of mulled wine in my hand.

As I passed under the gate to Vajdahunyad Castle, the snowfall ebbed away and died. There were very few people around at this time of night, the only footprints in the fresh fall were mine. The chapel beside me was mostly in shadow, soft artificial light was glazing the stone walls and ornate carvings. The lights were the only sign of modernity until I spotted plastic signs nailed into the front door, opening times displayed proudly for the museum this old place had become. The castle was tall, and it's segments were slim. The segments curved around, the tree lined path following the curve and opening up into a park beyond.

My stroll was nice and peaceful, and like any good tourist I was taking what pictures I could, enough that my fingers were numb from the cold. Like an idiot I had lost my gloves somehow, probably leaving them in a cafe or having them fall out of my pocket. I had relocated to Hungary from the UK, and despite flying into Budapest airport this was the first chance I had to see the city. My town, Tiszavasvári, was near the border with Ukraine, over a hundred miles away. My work schedule only allowed me to spend a weekend in the capital, and I was using as much of that time to sightsee as I could.

The foliage parted beside me, and the path I walked on split. It stopped at the feet of a statue, hooded and cloaked, sat on what looked like a stone bench. I stopped walking. Something, curiosity probably, drew me over to it.

The light was bathing it gently. The statue was bronze, time was turning it a dark, mossy shade of green. It was a man, sat almost lounging, leaning on a couple of stone blocks, like a man on his sofa would with a drink and the TV tuned to a movie. The hood was obscuring his face, but as I got closer the light caught his features. His face was angular, and his expression was anything but relaxed. He was frowning, looking troubled and tense. He would have been about nine feet tall if he had been standing up, but even as he was he was as tall as some people I had known. In his large hands were a ledger and quill.

Somehow the falling snow had missed the statue entirely. The metal was cold to the touch, like a block of ice, but none of the fall had collected on it. It was completely dry and rough under my hand. I wondered who it had been, the man immortalised in the castle gardens. Looking around I couldn't see a dedication plaque, or words carved into the stone. Below his foot however I found what I'd been looking for. The word "ANONYMVS" was set in bold letters, but small enough to miss if you weren't looking for it.

Anonymous. His identity lost in history. My curiosity grew even more. Who was he? I drained the last of my now lukewarm mulled wine and crushed the styrofoam cup in my hand. There was no dustbin around, but my hackles raised at the thought of dropping the litter on or near the hooded man.

I bent down to read the ledger. The words carved in it were names as far as I could tell. Something bothered me as I read them, getting lower and lower. I was bent close to the statue now, blinking away the cold as I tried to focus. The names at the top were worn and faded by time, but the names at the bottom were not. They were sharp, freshly carved. The style of the carvings was the same, ruling out vandalism unless the vandal was an expert at forging handwriting. The point of the quill glinted in the artificial light, the green wear and tear on the rest of the hooded man had been rubbed away. The point was dull, too dull to carve anything like the precise lettering on the ledger. I scratched the stubble on my chin. The cold was starting to irritate my skin, and I brought the scarf up a little higher over my mouth, letting my own breath warm my face. My layers were doing a below par job of keeping out the cold, and I couldn't stand to be outside for much longer.

I stepped back away from the hooded man. My phone battery was almost empty, but one more picture wouldn't hurt. I snapped a quick photo and checked it. It was a little blurry, but before I could take another the screen went black, and stopped glowing after a second. I sighed, hoping that I wouldn't have to call a cab.

I looked back up at the hooded man before I turned to go and froze. Something had changed. I took a step closer before I realised. I would have to double check the photo to confirm what I was seeing. He was looking at me. Right at me.

I moved back a little, then backed away completely, back to the main path. I started back the way I came, glancing back. The hooded man didn't move again, and melted away into the shadows until he was out of sight. I was cold and spooked, but laughing a little at myself. I was imagining things, I had to be. I must have just been at the right angle when I took the photo. Still, the thought lingered in the back of my mind: check the photo.

Heroes Square had gained an extra layer of menace as I walked through brusquely. I couldn't help but glance up at the statues as I passed them. The horses looked wild instead of graceful, the statues of kings and Knights hunched. I was grateful for the warmth of the subway, and even more so the comfort and soft light in my hotel room. I plugged my phone in to charge and took a long, hot shower, the water breathing new life into my bones.

My phone laboured back to life, disliking the cold as much as me. The photo was blurry, I had been shaking when I took the picture. I couldn't tell where the hooded man was looking. I shook my head and lay down on the soft feather bed.

Statues don't move, I told myself. You're being an idiot. The picture annoyed me though. The hooded man had me curious, he was one of the most interesting things in a city full of interesting things. I wanted another picture of him, a good one this time. I had a full day planned the next day, but Vajdahunyad Castle wouldn't be too far out of my way. I would only need a minute or two anyway.

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