“The Soul of Painting” Horror/Weird Fiction by Ferenc Kantó Zoltán

"The Soul of Painting" Horror/Weird Fiction by Ferenc Kantó


In Budapest, across from the St. Anna Parish Church in Felsővíziváros, there stands a small inn on the corner of Batthiány Square. It is a narrow building with a high gable and dusty windows. I traveled to Budapest to study the art of bygone eras, the masterpieces of skilled craftsmen, but my money quickly ran out, so this memento of a magnificent city became the backdrop for the darkest days of my life. Lacking money, I painted portraits, postcards, and sketches. I captured the constantly moving, laughing outlines of wealthy gentlemen and aging wigged ladies on paper, with varying degrees of success. Of course, lacking knowledge of art, they were satisfied with the end result and happily paid the small amount of coins I requested. However, deep down, I felt the weight of my pitiful situation. Upon returning to the inn, the owner incessantly chased after me, exacerbating my miserable state with offensive and mocking remarks. “Well, I hope you’ve earned enough money now to settle your debt! Do you even know how much money you owe? Oh well… Why would it interest you? You eat, drink, sleep peacefully, and then in the morning hours, you sit out in the square painting for tips!” Those who had never before unleashed such a torrent of words upon me could not fathom how quickly the passion for art, creativity, love for beauty, and desire to create dissolve into nothingness. One feels foolish and defeated. During the dark and lonely hours, during the darkest hours, depressive thoughts assail, stealing even the remaining tiny joy of being able to rest and start the new day with a clear mind. No. Only the hopelessness of tired days remained, enduring humiliations, surrounded by pompous gentlemen and wigged old ladies. After an unsuccessful afternoon, I didn’t even have enough money to buy myself a slice of bread. I hadn’t dreamt of a hot meal for a long time. With a rumbling stomach, I sat hungry within the moldy walls of my room, staring at the beam above me. The temptation of suicide lingered in my thoughts. At least that way, I would have caused serious financial harm to the innkeeper. The comical aspect of the situation was that I didn’t even have money for a rope, I had no belt, and my necktie wasn’t strong enough for such a purpose. There was nothing left but suffering and the dying hope that perhaps one day the cursed wheel of fortune in my life would turn.

   Thoughts like these and countless others darted through my mind like lightning. I didn’t dare to stand up because I thought that if I were to move at this very moment, somehow I might still put an end to my own life. It is an undeniable fact that a hungry person is capable of anything. Gathering all my strength, I blew out my candle and went to bed. Peaceful sleep eluded me, as my mind was besieged by strange images that had never occurred in my previous life. At first, I attributed them to the tormenting hunger and the traumas I had experienced, but the intermittent flashes of peculiar scenes were replaced by a continuous narrative. I saw a dark, cobblestone street leading among crumbling walls, sparsely lit by the glow of street torches. A figure wearing black boots, a long coat, and a hat walked with determined steps on the filthy road, clutching a hammer in their gloved hand. They frequently glanced back over their shoulder, as if afraid of being seen. They hurried into a side alley between two buildings, each step producing an unpleasant, damp squelching sound. The pale light of the moon filtered through the chimneys, illuminating a woman. She stood alone near the side exit of a bar. Her blonde, curly hair cascaded gently onto her shoulders, and her face was adorned with heavy but low-quality makeup. The deep neckline of her dress left no doubt that she was open to anything. The prostitute smiled, then seductively beckoned the man towards her. The stranger approached with determined steps, then struck the surprised woman forcefully multiple times. She had no time to scream. After the first powerful blow, she fell to the ground, and her attacker did not cease the assault. My heart did not beat rapidly, nor did sweat cover my body. I simply observed the cruel scene with a kind of chilling pleasure. I woke up and, disregarding my hunger, began to paint by the dim light of my candle.

   Perhaps my miserable state of mind caused such violent fantasizing in me, or perhaps my whispering muses took pity on me with some kind of sincere inspiration. I couldn’t know the answer, but I genuinely rejoiced in a few minutes of liberated and profound painting, which was the reason I came to this city and had been missing from my life for a long time. I didn’t make any sketches, didn’t measure proportions, and didn’t pause to examine my work. I simply let this peculiar inspiration engulf me and transferred the horrors projected by my disintegrating mind onto the canvas. After completing the artwork, I sighed and pondered the sights for a long time by the pale light of my candle. I had created a violent, cruel, and terrible act, yet it emanated the deepest human emotions… Anger and hatred. It was a masterpiece. I looked out of my window and gazed at the stars in the nighttime sky. My eyes grew heavy, and the agonizing hunger began to torment me again. Sadness returned to my soul, and I decided to go back to sleep instead.

   I had barely slept for two hours when I was already awake. The first rays of dawn illuminated Budapest, and I reveled in the sleepy scenery of the awakening city. Lost in my thoughts, two small, gentle knocks brought me back. It was too beautiful a morning to be bothered by the innkeeper’s early commotion, so I ignored it. My thoughts revolved around my peculiar painting. I had never been a violent person, and I recoiled at the sight of blood as well. I couldn’t comprehend my own bizarre creation, but even in my rested state, I believed I had created a masterpiece. I thought I would visit the hidden corners of the city where serious money was paid for such art. Perhaps luck would find me today.

   I heard more faint knocks on my door, but this time they were firmer and more impatient. I sighed in annoyance, then stood up and approached the door. In my soul, I was already prepared for another futile and futile argument, but when the door opened, it wasn’t the innkeeper standing there, but an unfamiliar man who appeared to be quite wealthy. I was taken aback and speechless. The stranger wore a black tailcoat, a white shirt, an elegant bow tie adorned his neck, and he wore a top hat. In response to my surprise, the stranger spoke.

   “Hello! My name is Bertalan Kemenes, I am a police magistrate.”

Suddenly, my violent and rough painting came to mind. I couldn’t find my voice, I merely opened my mouth, but no sound came out. The police magistrate chuckled pleasantly and extended his hand.

  “Please forgive my rudeness! I can assure you that you haven’t done anything wrong, I didn’t come here to arrest you. The innkeeper mentioned that you are a painter. Well, I myself would be an art collector, and I thought before starting my work, I would ask you if you would be willing to create a few portrait paintings?” 

   “Of course,” I replied.

   The police magistrate looked over my shoulder, straight at my painting. I cautiously glanced back and thought I could see Mr. Kemenes’s pupils dilate, and his tone of voice changed.

   “Did you paint this?” he asked, then carefully stepped aside and entered the room.

   I must admit the presence of the man in my meager dwelling unsettled me. I looked around at the patched furniture, the moldy walls, and the faded, completely worn-out carpet. I felt ashamed. Clearly, the man was not concerned about the strong musty smell or my pitiful surroundings and questionable state. He was mesmerized by the painting.

   “I painted it last night,” I said.

   “To create such a masterpiece in just one night? Simply astounding! How much does it cost?” he asked.

   “I haven’t thought about it. The paint has barely dried on it.”

   The police magistrate leaned closer to the painting, furrowing his brow. A long and uncomfortable silence filled the room. I could only hear the distant sounds from outside and the increasingly stronger beating of my own heart.

   “I will pay four gold coins for it,” he said.

   Bertalan Kemenes took out four coins and placed them on the table. He cleared his throat, then walked out the door, but before he left, he called back over his shoulder:

   “I will have it taken away this afternoon!”

  The police magistrate left as quickly as he arrived. I muttered to myself. Startled by my own surprise, I realized how rudely I had behaved. “I didn’t even bother to thank him or introduce myself,” I thought. I rushed out of my room, through the inn’s dining hall, and straight onto the street, but there was no sign of Mr. Kemenes anywhere. The past few hours felt even more peculiar. Thoughts of the four gold coins and a plate of warm food lingered in my mind. My stomach growled loudly, and I saw stars dancing before my eyes.

   Summoning all my strength, I stepped back into the inn and addressed the repulsive and gruff innkeeper in an impolite tone.

   “Have ‘hot soup and a slice of bread’ on the table by the time I come downstairs! Do you hear me?”

   The innkeeper looked at me in bewilderment, then angrily tossed his kitchen towel to the ground. He retorted, “Only when you pay your debt can you eat! Until then, you won’t receive a crumb from me!”

   As I hurried down the stairs, I couldn’t resist shouting back, “I have money, damn you, you scoundrel!”


   The appearance of the police magistrate filled me with a newfound vigor. I practically soared with joy. Of course, my jubilant state of mind was aided by the knowledge that I no longer had to hunger. Four gold coins… The most esteemed artists receive such a hefty sum at auctions held in the elite quarters, from the wealthiest individuals. I glanced up at the beam above me. It seemed pitiful and laughable that just a few hours ago, I contemplated how to end my own life. I looked at my worn-out, tattered brushes. I would need to purchase new ones if I wished to create further masterpieces.

   Reluctantly, I admitted to myself that I had no inspiration. I stared at the freshly set empty canvas, hoping for a trace of mysterious inspiration, but unfortunately, it was not to be. I felt completely burnt out, empty and devoid of anything, like someone who had poured their life’s work onto the canvas and nothing remained but a worn-out and hollow shell.

   I must have looked pathetic when the innkeeper rudely barged into my room. Sweat trickled down his trembling jowls, and flakes of dandruff the size of snowflakes fell onto the shoulder of his unwashed clothes from his balding head. A wave of nausea washed over me as I remembered that he had prepared my meal, and similar – presumed spices – pieces were found in my soup. His eyes fixated on the four gold coins, and he exclaimed triumphantly.

   “Well, well, young man! Have you abandoned painting and resorted to other earthly pleasures, given the amount of money I find on you? Pay your debt, and I’ll bring you even more customers!”

   Suddenly, all the humiliations and cruel behavior he had shown towards me flooded my mind. Anger engulfed me, and in a sudden surge, I grabbed his garment and forcefully pushed him away. The innkeeper’s pupils dilated in surprise, and he cried out. He stumbled and tumbled backward, rolling down the stairs.

   I didn’t care about his fate; I slammed the door with impatience, locked it, and rushed to the window. Taking deep breaths, I tried to calm my tense and nervous body. My heartbeat began to slow, and my breathing returned to a more normal pace. I needed to return to normal life, and for that, I needed new brushes and better canvases. I could recall several shops in Buda from my memories. I decided to visit them, hoping they could provide some advice on where I could sell my bizarre paintings. I believed I would continue creating similar works in the future. I no longer cared about the wealthy gentlemen.

   I became aware of a strange noise. I heard the loud thuds of leather boots. I looked out the window and saw four gendarmes marching toward the inn. Did I accidentally kill that miserable innkeeper? How peculiar is life’s sense of humor. During the night, I had wanted to put an end to my own life, and now icy terror gripped me at the thought of hanging. The gendarmes reached the inn, and I heard the thunderous sound of their footsteps on the stairs. They pounded on the door insistently. In a state of shock, I stood petrified by the window.

   “This is the royal gendarmerie! Open up!”

   No matter how much I tried to move, I was unable to. The possibility of escape flashed through my mind, but I felt it would only worsen my situation. The gendarmes had guns, knives, and batons. They were trained to pursue criminals. They fought against murderers, violent offenders, and looters. I, on the other hand, was nothing more than a fragile painter who had always neglected his own body.

   “In the name of the law, open the door, or we’ll break it down!”

   Summoning all my strength, I approached the door. I turned the key in the lock and opened the door. Two gendarmes rushed into the room, pointing their rifles forward. I raised my hands and could only plead.

   “I’m sorry!” I begged. “I didn’t mean to kill that wretched innkeeper; it was just an accident!”

The two gendarmes didn’t move; they simply held their rifles steadily on target. I glanced towards the door and saw the terrified face of the innkeeper. I didn’t understand what was happening. The police magistrate, Kemenes, walked up the stairs with measured, elegant, and slow steps, then entered my room. This time, he carefully surveyed my pitiful living environment and thoroughly examined me. I saw astonishment and disgust in his eyes. He approached the painting again, then gestured to a third gendarme who took the painting and left the room with it. The police magistrate looked at me and spoke: “I am arresting you on charges of sexual assault, robbery, and lustful murder! You’re coming with us now!”

   Kemenes nodded, and the two gendarmes seized me and dragged me out of the room. I couldn’t utter a word; I just waited for my fate, frozen in shock, disbelief, and fear. What kind of murder? My painting? Could it be considered a crime in Hungary to create something like that? But I didn’t know!

   They threw me into a prison transport wagon parked on the street, and they handcuffed my hands and feet. We set off. I heard the people on the street shouting “killer” and “rapist” at me, but I still didn’t understand what was happening. One of the officers spoke to me in an eerie and menacing tone.

   “Now you’ll learn how we Hungarians deal with lustful murderers!”

   My blood ran cold in my veins.

My situation was far from brilliant. Just as I had barely escaped starvation and the tormenting thoughts of suicide, I found myself in yet another dire predicament. I cursed my misfortune and dreadful fate. I knew that escaping Hungarian prisons was not easy, and I didn’t harbor much hope for it, but my longing for truth burned strongly within me. I was not a murderer. I hadn’t killed anyone, and I had no idea why they singled me out. Perhaps it was because of my painting; perhaps Police Judge Kemenes believed I had captured some previous heinous crime on canvas, but I can easily prove that it is not the case. Every detail of my painting is merely a twisted fiction of my shattered mind. It couldn’t be that I lead a double life and unknowingly turned into a nocturnal predator. Such questions and doubts raced through my mind as they led me towards the prison.

   The prison transport carriage came to a stop in a vast, shadowy, gray, lifeless courtyard. Not a blade of grass or a shrub in sight, not even a single tree symbolizing life. No, just gray stones, worn-out walls, barred windows, and a rusty weathervane. It was only slightly worse than the inn, but I was certain that the company here would not be as quiet and cordial as the unpleasant guests of the inn. I recalled the prison rumors I had heard before—what prisoners do to each other, the tales of abuse, the horrors of violence in the showers. I grew dizzy and struggled with my tears. Physically, I was too weak to defend myself, and words do not deter perpetrators of violence. I wanted to go home, more than anything else.

     The jailer escorted me to my cell and calmly closed the dark gray-painted iron door behind me. I looked around and realized I was alone in here. This provided me with a bit of relief. The walls seemed to have been recently whitewashed, appearing white and relatively clean given the circumstances. It occurred to me that I hadn’t had a trial, hadn’t been sentenced, so I couldn’t have any fellow inmates. The thought gave me a glimmer of hope that perhaps I could still explain myself out of this situation. After all, it could only be a terrible misunderstanding.

   A faint light streamed in through the tiny window. Inside the dungeon, there was nothing but a straw sack in place of a bed and a bucket for my needs. It wasn’t an uplifting sight. I sat down and buried my face in my hands. I wanted to cry, but I was too afraid to show my weakness. I feared that if a future cellmate became aware of it, they might see me as an easy target and harm me. I had no idea how long I had been sitting like this when I heard footsteps from outside. The jailer opened the door of my cell, handcuffed my hands behind my back, placed heavy chains on my legs, and forcefully pushed me. I lost my balance and landed hard on the floor, hitting the stone with a loud thud. Sharp pain surged through me, and stars danced before my eyes. The jailer, unconcerned with my agony, simply shouted at me, “Get up!”

As I was unable to comply with his request on my own, he roughly grabbed me and forced me to stand up. We proceeded along a narrow, long, and enclosed corridor illuminated by evenly spaced lamps. Somewhere deep inside, I found the country’s level of development fascinating. It was unusual to have electricity even in prisons. This meant that they could execute people in the electric chair. I envisioned a glorious future ahead. Passing by one of the barred cells, I caught a glimpse of the “mummifier” from the front pages of the newspapers, a figure well-known to me. He would cut out the organs of his victims, soak them in preservatives, store them in jars, embalm their bodies, and hide them in his secret cellar. He was a horrifying, bestial, and cruel killer whose notoriety had spread throughout Europe. He lifted his disturbed and insane gaze to me, then grinned maniacally and exclaimed, “Good to see you again, buddy! They’ll hang me tomorrow, and there’s a spot for you on the gallows too!”

   Mad laughter erupted from him, and the jailer pushed me again. Trembling with indescribable terror, I quivered like a leaf. I must have presented a pitiful sight.


   The jailer shoved me into a spacious courtroom, where straight rows of benches were tightly arranged behind one another. It was an empty room with barred windows, worn-out and dreary walls, and above the judge, the portrait of the emperor adorned the wall. A crucifix was placed on the judge’s podium, depicting the outstretched, bleeding Christ. The room and its atmosphere perfectly expressed my state of mind. In my childhood, I still believed in God, but all of that was in the past. I had given up on prayers, and I hadn’t even dreamed of any spiritual or intellectual purification. I had never felt the need for it. Perhaps, when it comes to receiving the last rites, my opinion will change, and I will be given one last chance for salvation.

   Facing me on the podium sat police magistrate Kemenes, accompanied by his two colleagues. A peculiar shadow cast a dull light on their faces, giving them an almost eerie appearance. Not far from them, seated farther away, was the clerk who typed mechanically on his typewriter without even looking up. I knew that I was nothing more to him than one of the many scoundrels guilty of atrocious acts. I believed less and less in my release, even though I knew I was innocent. They made me sit down, and then police magistrate Kemenes spoke: “Thierry Clermont – Tonnere. Where did you acquire this painting?” He pointed toward the painting with his left hand, which two gendarmes had brought into the room.

   They made me stand up, and then they pushed me toward the painting. I examined it thoroughly and couldn’t decide what to answer. I couldn’t come up with any lies, and I still believed that by telling the truth, I could clear my own name.

   “I painted this picture last night, sir!”

   A foreboding silence fell upon the room, and my judges huddled together, engaged in earnest discussion. The monotonous clicking of the typewriter echoed in the room. Finally, the police magistrate turned to me again: “So, you painted it. And what does it depict?”

   “I merely brought the fiction of my deranged mind onto canvas! I beg you, I had no idea that such visual representation is punishable by law in Hungary! I promise that if you release me, I will cease this, and immediately return to France and never come back to your country again!”

   Judge Kemenes raised his glasses resting on his nose and spoke to me in a stern tone: “Thierry… Are you certain that you painted this picture? And if so, are you absolutely sure that you didn’t copy it from anywhere?

   “I told the truth, Your Honor! “

   “Record that! – he said to the clerk. – And the woman whom you depicted in such detail, did you also invent her?”


   “Think carefully!” – the police magistrate spoke again. – “And consider your words, Thierry! Are you completely sure that you have never seen this woman? Perhaps during an evening stroll, a midday lunch, or briefly at the market square?”

   No matter how much I pondered, I was absolutely certain of my answer. I merely shook my head and replied.

   “I am completely sure, sir, she is only a creation of my imagination.”

   The police magistrate and his colleagues began a wild murmuring once again, and their gestures clearly revealed their angry and annoyed emotions. Mr. Kemenes looked at me once more and spoke to me in an irritated tone: “You’re in deep trouble, young man!” – he glanced at the gendarmes and continued. – “Take him back to the prison transport, we’re heading to Johannes Platz! “

   The prison transport moved slowly through the midday crowd. Hurried pedestrians, bureaucrats, and ordinary workers, who had no idea how fortunate they were. They could breathe the free air, and no one would take it away from them. I remained disturbed. Fear burned inside me, and my thoughts revolved around my own death. I considered the death penalty for a simple painting to be excessive and unreal. I took deep breaths and tried to think clearly. Could it be that my strange vision, in which I witnessed the horrendous crime, was real? Did my mind somehow connect with the killer’s mind? Could it be possible? I had heard of peculiar spiritualists and mysterious occult sciences in France, but I never gave any credence to these forbidden superstitions. However, now as I sit here, I think that perhaps there might have been some truth to them. After all, every legend has a kernel of truth.

   We arrived at Johannes Platz, and the two gendarmes led me with heightened attention and caution, my hands and feet in chains, to one corner of the square. They took me to a secluded side street that I immediately recognized. The filthy, foul-smelling street was adorned with broken cobblestones, and as I looked up, I saw the chimney faintly illuminated by the moon, just as it appeared in my vision. At the end of the street stood magistrate Kemenes next to a woman’s lifeless body. Her blonde, curly hair spread like a bloody rag around her. Her cheap and poor-quality makeup smudged on her tortured face, and her bulging eyes were forever marked by terror. I didn’t want to believe what I saw. My heartbeat quickened, my breath caught, and I started to sweat.

   “Oh God, no!”

   I cried out, attempting to free myself from the grasp of my captors, but to no avail.
The police magistrate looked at me with pity.

   “Well, Thierry… Do you wish to share something?”

   I didn’t answer; I whimpered like a child, wanting to escape, but I was incapable of it. At that point, I was almost certain they would hang me. Police magistrate Kemenes, knowing no mercy, continued his monologue.

   “So, you admit that last night you killed this woman, raped her, and then painted her in hopes of profit? Don’t think I’m unfamiliar with France, Thierry! I know the atrocities you commit and the despicable, dark arts you practice! But this is Hungary! We do not tolerate degenerate and abnormal ‘art’! You will hang for your crime, and I will personally see to it!”

    All I could do was sob and plead for mercy.

   “It wasn’t me!” I screamed. “I only saw it in my dream, a vision, how someone killed her!”

   Kemenes didn’t say anything; he simply left. The gendarmes took me back to the prison, but this time they threw me into a dark, dirty, and foul-smelling cell with no bucket or straw. Leaning against the hard stone, I pondered my own sad fate. I myself began to doubt my own innocence. Deprivation, hunger, poor conditions, and constant stress had shattered my mind like a powerful trauma, and I started a secret life of which I had no awareness. I had become a murderer. I couldn’t think of anything else. Perhaps I deserved death. But I didn’t want to die. I was still so young, and I had seen so little of this world. I didn’t yet grasp the depths of art, the soul of painting. Tears streamed down my face. After years of hardship, I made the decision to fold my hands in prayer and plead for mercy. Perhaps the Lord would truly forgive me, and perhaps He would allow my wretched, pitiful life to be spared by some miracle. I bowed my head to the ground and begged. I wept and crawled on the floor, but nothing happened. God didn’t hear me. He didn’t pay attention to me, as He never had before.

   “Perhaps He doesn’t even exist,” I whispered.

   “But He does,” a woman’s voice replied from the dark corner.

   An icy terror ran through me, and in fear, I looked up. Red eyes stared at me from the dark corner. Hellish eyes gleaming in an otherworldly hue. Had I already died and ended up in hell? It was dark, but the woman emerged, and I could see her beautiful figure, enchanting gaze, and long red hair clearly. She wore a tight black leather outfit that didn’t conform to any current or past fashion, as if she had stepped out from another dimension’s world. It seemed too real to be a creation of my imagination. I slowly stood up with awkward movements and waited to see what would happen next.

   “A dark cell is unpleasant, isn’t it?” the woman asked in a peculiar, mysterious, otherworldly voice.

   I didn’t answer. I simply stood frozen, observing another strange turn of fate’s wheel.

   “I heard you cry, and I came to you. I’ve done it before. Perhaps you’re not satisfied with your painting?” she said.

   “It was you…” I exclaimed. “You showed me that murder! You committed it, and they will hang me for it!”

   The woman smiled, then approached me and gently caressed my face with her cold, lifeless hand. A chill ran through me.

   “Yes, it was I who showed it to you,” she said. “And I have a purpose for you. It’s up to you whether you walk out of this prison as a free man or exhale your soul on the gallows.”

   Her words pierced through the fatal depression in my soul like a last ray of hope. Excitedly, I stepped closer to the woman.

   “What do you want? What should I do? Who are you, anyway? How can I know that you’re not another manifestation of my sick mind?” I asked.

   “Do you have any other choice?” she asked mysteriously.

   I lowered my head and sighed. Indeed, I had no choice. Either I would enter this insane game or I would die. It couldn’t get any worse.

   “What do I have to do?”

   “Be the soul of my art! I want you to paint, create, and spread my blasphemous, infernal art in the world! And in return, you shall have a long, happy, and wealthy life. “

   “Why me? “

   “Because you heard my voice in the darkness. You alone witnessed my vision. “

   “And how do you plan to free me from here? “

   The woman grabbed my collar, our gazes almost touching.

   “Create! ” – she touched her cold hand to my forehead, and I fell into some kind of sick trance.

   I remembered that my solid graphite pencil was still in my pocket, the gendarmes hadn’t taken it away. So, I took it out and approached the bare stone wall. Before my eyes appeared the figure in a long coat, leather boots, and gloves, but this time I saw it face to face. It held a hammer in its hand and raised its weapon over the blonde-haired prostitute. It struck her, again and again. Madness and paranoid fear emanated from its eyes, fueled by rage and hatred. I saw its face clearly, and I recognized it instantly. I surrendered myself to the muse of hell and let my hand draw. The graphite scratched on the cold stone wall, and I had no idea how much time had passed until I finished. The wild and bizarre images besieging my mind didn’t cease like last time. I saw the man sneaking through the shadows between low-roofed houses, through streets and squares, all the way to the Battyhiány Square inn where I myself had stayed. He rushed into the cellar, took off his coat, boots, and gloves. He hid the hammer in a wooden barrel among the wines.

The vision ended as abruptly as it began. I looked around, but the mysterious woman was nowhere to be found. I glanced at the wall, where I saw another masterpiece. Under different circumstances, I would have been proud of it, but now I saw the key to my escape. I immediately rushed to the door of the cell and began pounding on it.

   “Jailer”! – I yelled. – “Jailer, come here immediately! “

   I heard the sound of cursing and swearing as my captor approached. Nervously, he entered and stared wide-eyed at the drawing on the wall.

   “Is this possible? ” – he asked in astonishment, then rushed off.

   Shortly after, he returned accompanied by police magistrate Kemenes, who stood perplexed in front of the drawing.

   “Would this be some kind of strange trick, Thierry? The evidence is clear! “

   “No! ” – I answered, surprising myself with my newfound courage. – “The murder weapon is missing, isn’t it? I know where it is! I had another dream! The inn where I stayed, in the cellar, the innkeeper hid it! A black coat, a hammer, boots, and gloves hidden in a barrel among the wines! Confront him with it, and he will confess his terrible deed! I have been imprisoned innocently! “

   The judge turned to the jailer.

   “Immediately inform the gendarmes and search the cellar of the inn! You will stay here in the meantime, ” – he looked at me.

   The magistrate left the cell, and I collapsed to the floor, exhausted, immediately falling asleep. The sound of footsteps woke me up. Those who have never walked in the shadow of the valley of death cannot know or understand the cruel torment of the seconds filled with anticipation. Therefore, they cannot even imagine the tense atmosphere felt by a death row prisoner awaiting his release. Kemenes returned. His face displayed a peculiar mix of astonishment, shame, and surprise. He approached me and personally removed my handcuffs.

   “Please forgive my hasty judgment! That cursed innkeeper immediately started to flee as soon as we began searching his cellar. After apprehending him, he confessed. We found everything exactly where he said, but unfortunately, there was more. The body parts, locks of hair, and personal belongings of additional victims. “

   I stood in a state of shock, unable to speak. I had been saved. The woman, the mysterious infernal presence, had spoken the truth. Kemenes escorted me out of the prison and took me to an elegant hotel. He insisted on covering the remaining duration of my stay in Hungary. He provided me with new canvases, a set of brushes, and quality paint. However, my state of mind was far from calm. I had made a demonic pact, perhaps in exchange for my soul, but I had not yet fulfilled my part of the deal. Each night, I waited for the red-haired demon, but she did not appear. Until last night.

   I woke up in the middle of the night, and she sat at my table with casual elegance, sipping fine French champagne. She addressed me. I got up and sat at the table. Her captivating red eyes were beautiful yet terrifying. We observed each other for a brief moment. She smiled and spoke.

   “I see you’re enjoying my gift.”

   “It’s better than I expected, – I replied. – What do you want? “

   “Straight to the point… I like that. I want my due. “

   The woman handed me a sealed metal tray adorned with peculiar symbols I had never seen before, along with some sort of unfamiliar script carved into its side.

   “I want you to mix my cursed blood into the paint. You will paint portraits of wealthy and influential individuals, thus spreading my art. “

   “But why? – I asked. – What do you gain from this? “

   “Their souls. Because every being must feed, don’t they? “

“Ferenc K. Zoltán is a Hungarian writer born in 1992 who specializes in historical fiction and horror novels. He has published three novels so far: “The Color of Death is Red,” “The Gospel of the Devil,” and “The Black Monastery,” all in the Hungarian language. He has been nominated twice for the Dugonics András Literary Award in his homeland and is also the owner of Morningstar Publishing, a book publishing company. He supports emerging or completely novice writers through short story and novella competitions, providing them with an opportunity for publication. Currently, he resides in the Scottish Highlands, in city of Oban.”

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