Fiction Collective Two is an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction.

The Ace of Lightning

by Stephen-Paul Martin




The morning sun is forcing its way through dusty Venetian blinds. He gets up and struggles to make his bed for what might be the final time. Then he sits and looks at his hands. It’s like he’s never seen them before. Years ago, growing up in a village too small to appear on a map, he always thought he’d be using his hands to work on the farm where his family lived, the rented scrap of land they’d struggled with for generations. But here in a borrowed room in a small house in Sarajevo, he knows his hands will soon be holding the bomb and the gun beneath his bed, concealed in a Gladstone bag, the kind that doctors use on house calls.

There’s a pile of books and pamphlets beside his bed. Gavrilo Princip has read them all carefully, some of them three or four times. They’ve convinced him that leaders of any kind are the enemy, that all political systems are delusional, destructive. He picks up a pamphlet called The Death of a Hero, which makes the assassination of tyrants seem like a moral duty. He tries to read the last paragraph, words he already knows by heart, urging him to sacrifice himself to set his country free, claiming that nothing else matters. He’s firmly convinced that nothing else matters. But the language feels more dangerous now that he’s ready to pull the trigger.

He gets up and looks in the circular mirror beside the closet door. But instead of his face looking back from the glass, there’s a camera taking his picture. He’s stunned and backs away, sits on his bed and blinks and shakes his head. He moves his fingers carefully over his cheeks and mouth and forehead, as if he were pressing them back into place, keeping his face from becoming a black and white photographic image. Then he looks back toward the mirror, thinks about taking it down from the wall, examining the other side, checking the space behind it. But the shock of what’s just happened keeps him from moving. He’s always been afraid of mirrors and cameras. They weren’t familiar parts of his life on the farm where he spent his first thirteen years, and when he first encountered them in the one-room school he attended, they seemed to have magic powers, dangerous powers, things to avoid. Now he’s afraid that the damage is done, that the picture will soon be developed, circulated in books, becoming a permanent part of the future. He can already feel a million faces turning published pages, looking at his face ten years from now, a hundred years from now.