The inner city is lit by pale lights, illuminating an extended stretch of concrete and brick buildings. Bars cover the lower-level windows facing a busy street, and light blooms from behind opaque windows in squat, stone-chiseled apartment blocks.
It is fully night, and cars zoom by these series of austere structures making up the middle of Budapest’s Eighth District. Honking horns and squeaking breaks echo from commuters as they drive home to more affluent homes in the suburbs. The gritty streets they leave behind are full of working girls, most of whom are starting their own version of shift work in the urban environment.
Sprinkled throughout the rough area are ambulance sirens, resounding off age-old buildings as they twist through the constricted avenues of the dense metropolis.
The location is not a wealthy one, and it’s comprised of dirty streets littered with discarded liquor bottles and vague heaps of assorted cardboard. The collected refuse of crowded tenements fills the air with a pungent stench as everyday garbage awaits pickup from rat-infested receptacles and graffitied bins.
Dark shapes of numerous people amble through the city as it closes down for the day. Urban retirees and blue-collar workers compete for space on sidewalks that offer dog excrement up for the unsuspecting shoes of plodding pedestrians.
At the intersection of a side street, dull light cascades down from a public light post. To its side stands another broken public lamp, so the illumination below is uneven, casting patchy shadows into the darkness of an alleyway. The barely lit side street extends back for fifty yards.
Down that alley are sets of more garbage cans and rusted bins, lined up for orderly collection in the squalid environment. Their location makes the sheltered space beyond the garbage containers ideal for privacy in the dead-end alley. It’s an oasis of calm away from the prying eyes of the bustling city.
Gabor stands in the fading light of the brick-lined back street. Of considerable height, he was once a strapping man, but a life living on the streets has transformed him. His tawdry clothes are stained with unnamable liquids, and holes in his frayed jacket show mismatched and layered clothing below. Inside his arrangement of disheveled apparel are multitudes of pockets, with all manner of ketchup packets and seasoning supplies crammed inside for future use.
On his worn and wrinkled face, Gabor wears a toothless grin. Patches of stubble grow across his ruddy cheeks, giving him a merry appearance in the shifting light. He wipes away snot with a crusted half-glove as he considers his fortunes for the night.
Gabor looks down at his feet with an approving nod. Below him lies his pile of possessions, with various plastic bags holding personal items and stashes of booze. He’s even managed to score a cache of expensive hand cream that someone from the hotel threw away. All in all, they’re the goods of someone who likes to travel light and self-medicate.
“Ha, I knew we would get it tonight,” Gabor says, his mood growing ecstatic. “Sometimes, you just gotta get here early. It’s never easy to get this spot; you just gotta settle in after the cops come by. They clear out the competition and throw ‘em in the shelters.”
Raising his bloodshot eyes, Gabor glances to the side, where he meets Bianka’s gaze. She is also well into mid-life. Addiction issues and poor hygiene likewise mar her blurry vision and swaying physique. With a grimy complexion that complements her filthy clothing, she clutches a cheap bottle of wine in her palsied fingers. She nods her head vigorously as she looks around the dirty and cold environment.
“Yeah, I’m not giving it up,” says Bianka, focusing on Gabor with a confident and dreamy smile. “Just let someone try to take this spot from us.”
Staggering to the corner of the stone walls, Bianka sets some ratty blankets down in a semblance of order as she prepares for the night ahead. She still grasps the bottle in her tight grip as she moves her gaze around the dirty walls that encircle their precious sleeping spot.
Gabor nods eagerly, and his eyes catch in sudden remembrance of an important memory. Grunting, he digs into his pockets and pulls out a wad of cash. The brightly colored Hungarian bank notes are crumpled and smeared with dirt, as if they’ve been dipped in congealed soy sauce.
Counting carefully, he crunches up several bills as he tries to access distant mathematical skills in his frayed memory. Losing his place, he restarts, trying again for an accurate appraisal of the bills’ value.
With a frustrated grimace, Gabor gives up. He stuffs the soiled cash back into his pocket and lowers his voice into a conspiratorial whisper.
“I told ya, the best way to get donations is to hound the weak ones…and the women,” Gabor says. “They always give something when they don’t wanna deal with us. It’s just a matter of them understandin’ that we deserve something. They gotta pay the less fortunate.”
Bianka smiles at him through her alcohol-dulled senses.
“You always right, Gabor,” Bianka replies, and she holds up her bottle, trying to read the ingredients in the fuzzy light. “Nobody smarter than you in the whole city. Don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Gabor beams in modest appreciation of himself, playing the role of reluctant genius as he considers their fortunate location in the dank alley. He surveys his surroundings like a conquering general, making sure everything is in the right place for a night of drinking and mind-numbing intoxication.
After a moment, Gabor becomes confused. He fiddles around in his pockets, looking for something. After some fruitless searching, he shrugs and leans down to his possessions. Pulling out a rumpled pack of cigarettes from a bag, he withdraws a bent one and expertly pops it into the corner of his mouth. Digging out a book of matches, he lights it on only the third try.
Leaning back, he inhales the smoke into his abused lungs, fighting the urge to cough as the toxins flood his bloodstream. With a contented sigh and exhalation, he relaxes into a standing stupor.
At the entrance of the alley, from where it meets the street, Gabor notices something strange. The Huntsman stands in the half-light, focusing on them. Covered in darkness, he is tall, even more so than Gabor, and he doesn’t move as it stares into the alley at Gabor and Bianka.
Gabor squints down to the alley’s entrance, trying to make out the odd observer.
“Hey, we’re sleeping here tonight,” Gabor shouts, his face flushing in anger. “We got here first, so get outta here.”
The darkness continues to hide their visitor, and the figure doesn’t respond to Gabor’s claim of ownership. Unmoving, the silhouetted Huntsman stands still, making Gabor more nervous with each unresponsive moment.
Scowling, Gabor thinks for a moment. After tossing away his cigarette, he grabs an empty bottle from the ground. He strides to the wall and smashes it against the cold stone. Holding up the improvised weapon, he raises his voice higher, motioning to the stranger with his glass shiv.
“We don’t want any trouble, but we’ll give you plenty if ya fuck with us,” says Gabor. “Ya don’t wanna find out the hard way—we ain’t playing with ya.”
Such a threat is not idle from Gabor. Using his size and weight to great effect, he’s finished many a fight in his life. Anybody who’s anyone on the streets knows not to mess with Gabor, and this fucker will be sorry if he tries to push them around.
The observer says nothing, but his head tilts perceptibly towards Gabor. The features of his face are lost in the cowl of his strange head covering.
Bianka motions toward the shadowed figure, sounding worried.
“Gabor, maybe we can give it up,” says Bianka. “I don’t like the look of that guy.”
Shaking his head, Gabor walks towards the alleyway entrance and their quiet observer. Bianka’s train of thought drifts elsewhere as Gabor moves closer to the stranger.
“I said, we…” Gabor says, his voice trailing away in worry.
As Gabor gets closer, he notices the Huntsman is large, with that odd cloth hood covering his face in shadows. He’s sturdy, and he has a big white beard that puffs from under the strange hood. The rest of the stranger’s clothes look funny, like he’s an actor from an ancient play.
He doesn’t look like a fellow street-dweller.
Gabor stops, unsure of how or whether to proceed. Shaking his head in defeat, he drops the bottle and turns back towards Bianka. As he shuffles back her way, he motions to the collection of their possessions on the ground. His movements are hurried, and his voice is frightened.
“Get our stuff together,” Gabor shouts. “To hell with this.”
As Gabor gets closer to Bianka, the sounds of scraping feet come from behind him. His eyes fill with panic as he gestures again to their piled possessions.
Not hearing or understanding, Bianka looks confused, and her drunk eyes meet Gabor’s in incomprehension. She smacks her lips, about to take another pull on her bottle.
There’s a thudding impact in Gabor’s back, and he’s propelled toward Bianka. Suddenly, he’s looking down at her from only inches away. There’s a long, dark shaft protruding from his stomach.
The other end sticks through the chest of the shorter Bianka. They’re held up and together by a long spear, and its sharp end is embedded in the brick of the back-alley wall. The pole-like weapon is as black as night, with its entire length consisting of an obsidian-like substance.
Jerking uselessly against the shaft, the skewered Gabor looks down to Bianka. Working her jaw, she coughs spurts of blood. She tries to respond to what’s happening, but only strained gurgles escape her convulsing mouth. Confused, she struggles to comprehend her grave condition.
Looking down at the shaft, Gabor notices some of his innards are wrapped around it, and great gouts of his blood splash against the filthy concrete below. His disbelieving eyes stare at the flowing gore as if it belongs to someone else.
Looking back to Bianka, she is focused elsewhere, no longer concerned with the physical world.
Behind him, the sound of striding feet grows closer. A dark hand grabs his head, yanking it back and exposing his pale neck. An equally black knife saws through the soft flesh of his throat, opening more paths of spraying blood as his life drains away.
Gabor doesn’t leave the conscious world until his head is torn completely from his body, leaving his headless trunk to slump against his deceased girlfriend in the dark alleyway.