Excerpt: Spark of Thought

The city of Prague was like a perfect, moving mechanism in the oncoming evening. The white walls and brass roofs, the slender towers and palaces seemed to shine in the last rays of the sun. People in the streets, on whom occasionally fell the shadow of a passing zeppelin, resembled lively sparks, running through the veins of a gigantic machine.

Nikola stood at the window staring at the sky and at the silhouette of Prague Castle. Then his gaze fell upon a black circle on the cobblestones in the square—a circle where a witch had been burned. Yesterday. The smell of burnt flesh still seemed to linger in the air, and screams still seemed to echo in the nearby streets and corners. Nikola sat down at the wide parapet. He tried not to think of the young girl who had been burned there. She had the gift of turning her skin to tree bark, and she’d been desperately trying to do so as the flames consumed her. As if it could keep her alive.

Nikola felt sick. He was thinking of moving somewhere else, as he often did. Away from the House at the Stone Bell, away from the Old Town Square. But the metropolis of Prague was overcrowded and he needed a flat in the center of the city, and a nicely spacious one, for his work.

The streets were buzzing with life with steps of hurrying people—the common people, uncaring for the unlucky fate of the few who were born different. For the majority the condemned ones were damned witches anyway. Nikola moved to his table and started playing with the metal coils and brass components, trying in vain to concentrate, to find consolation in his work. He didn’t believe in witchery and superstition. He believed in God and science.

These people are no sorcerers; they didn’t make any deal with a demon, he thought. They were born like this. He knew. He knew all too well.

The sky was getting darker with the onset of a sudden summer storm. Nikola lit a masterfully embellished gas lamp in the corner. The rumbling of the distant thunder was like purring of a giant cat. Nikola heard the voices of street vendors struggling to shelter their goods. Prague was a prosperous city, the capital of the Holy Empire and one of the seats of power of the Inquisition.

It was a paradox, when the presence of the Church brought both fear and wealth into the city. It had been so since a Czech priest, a Prague preacher called Jan Hus, was burnt at the stake for heresy and witchcraft over four hundred years ago, in 1415. He preached humility and poverty of the Church and was strongly against simony. And he was able to heal the sick just by laying hands on them. Some thought he was an angel, some that he was Jesus himself, but he never claimed such a thing.

Because of his execution, the Czechs went to war, to an open rebellion against the Catholic Church, called the Hussite Wars. But they lost. They lost badly.

Since then, the Inquisition had kept an eye on this country, on these rebellious and heretic Czechs. Some of the Hussites went into hiding, and their teachings survived, and some of their priests still preached and administered Holy Communion under both kinds, unlike the Catholics. Needless to say, the Hussites were Inquisition’s most favourite prey alongside with witches. But Prague grew and prospered, full of merchants, artists, architects, craftsmen, and scientists in service of the Church. People from all over the world. People like me, Nikola thought. Or not exactly like me.

He sighed and rubbed his temples, lost in thought. He was no Hussite. Not that he didn’t like their ideals, but it was more convenient to be Catholic. Easier and safer. He was not eager to lose his life because of religious differences.

A bolt of lightning made him jump away from the table. He lifted both hands, startled. From his fingertips surged a handful of bright bluish sparks, hitting one of the pieces of metal on the table.

Nikola screamed and clutched his hands to his chest. A crack of thunder from outside followed, and the continued roaring of the storm drowned his voice. His head was spinning and he couldn’t catch his breath for a moment.

“Oh, God,” he whispered. He had to sit down. “It happened again. No. No, I don’t want this! I don’t want this gift! Please! I don’t want to be burnt because of it!”

Spark of Thought