The Prizrak of Sofia

1 Jun

The capital of Bulgaria drew the unique and bizarre from all sectors and regions of the country. Sofia contained a rich variety of neighborhoods that matched the character of every conceivable type of resident. A place where many different strands intercrossed was the Boris Gardens, a gigantic park southeast of the center of the capital.

Police Detective Ivan Dimov, a veteran close to retirement, spent many of his leisure hours observing people within the vast garden area. His favorite spot was around Lake Ariana, at the northern most corner near the central hub of Sofia. What was he watching for during his time sitting on some bench? The gray-haired widower could not answer that question. It was somehow connected to his bottomless curiosity about human beings and their nature.

Ivan often entered into conversation with others enjoying the park in summer. It was here, while enjoying the view toward downtown, that Ivan began to talk with a stranger who gave his name as Zheko Borisov.

“Do you live and work in the central area of our city?” asked the policeman in plainclothes, not naming his own job and profession to the other.

“I am a microbiologist working for a nano-laboratory. We are located near the opposite end of the park, where Vitosha Mountain begins to rise.”

“You must have traveled a distance to get where you now are,” said Ivan with a friendly grin.

“I had private business I had to see to downtown,” explained the short, muscular scientist. “My chief gave me the day off so that I could go to an important medical appointment.”

“Oh, I hope that there will be good care given your health. Nothing is more important than our medical care and treatment, I always say,” declared Ivan. “Do you have a physician whom you trust? That is always vital.”

“Yes, I have excellent relations with my therapist,” said the man named Zheko. “I take it that you are a person who has some position in central Sofia. Am I right in guessing that?”

“I am an investigating officer with the city’s police division,” boldly confessed the older one. “In just a few months, the time for my retirement will have arrived.”

“That is extremely interesting, in fact it is a fascinating fact. You must have had a lot of unusual cases to deal with in your experience. Yes, there could be many strange tales that you could tell about crimes committed here in Sofia.”

The large, heavy plainclothesman smiled. “One in my profession learns to forget much of what they see. That is the way that one learns how to survive and continue on.”

Zheko, all at once, got to his feet. “Excuse me, but I have to return to our lab. There are duties waiting for me to perform. I hope that we see each other again. There are many things that you and I could talk about, officer.”

In his own mind, Ivan Dimov made a resolution to return and try to find this interesting microbiologist.

Zheko had allowed the police detective presume that he had traveled to downtown Sofia for the purpose of an appointment with some physician. There was no reason for him to be more accurate about the character of the person he was consulting, since it would not have been at all easy to explain why he was seeing a person like Kamen Chanev.

There was a second occasion for the biologist and the police investigator to come upon each other in the Boris Gardens three days later. It was a bright and balmy summer day. The park around the lake was full of people strolling and resting on benches. Was their meeting again a matter of chance and coincidence? Or had one of them, or both, looked ahead and anticipated finding the other there one day?

“It’s good to see you again,” smiled Ivan from the bench where he rested. “Did you have another doctor’s appointment to go to? Is that what brings you back to the central city?”

Zheko, who had been strolling about, sat down at the other end of the detective’s bench.

“It is not a licensed physician that I deal with, but a sort of naturalist. Some people would call him a psychic or mystical healer of sorts. His method is completely unconventional, one might term it unusual. It falls under the label of alternative or folk medicine. Bulgarian folklore includes much of what Kamen Chanev does in his therapeutic practice. He never goes beyond the limits of what the laws will accept done by those like himself.”

“He is, then, a traditional znakhar? A kind of quack?”

The face of Zheko suddenly became grave, covered with folds and wrinkle lines. “No, not at all. Kamen is fully aware of modern psychology and what it teaches about human thought and personality. No, he is not a pretender to psychic gifts or skills. His help is based on careful analytic methodology. He takes no dangerous chances of harming someone, but only attempts individuals to find their way out of traps and blind alleys.” He paused a moment due to a thought that had unexpectedly occurred to him. “Perhaps, if you yourself have any need for aid or guidance with personal problems or difficulties of any kind, I could take you to his apartment and introduce you to Kamen.”

The pair looked at each other intently for a short time, until Ivan Dimov made a sudden decision.

“Yes, I am worried about what I shall be doing with myself once I retire from my job. You see, I have no wife, no children, and no close relatives or friends. Of recent years, all that remains to me is my work. I have no hobbies, pass-times, or outside interests at all. My life threatens to become an empty desert, a sort of vacuum, before very long.”

Zheko beamed with pleasure. “No question, but you will find value in contact with him. When can you see him? He lives close by the park, over in the Lozenets neighborhood.”

“I will be free later this afternoon. Why don’t you and I meet right here about four p.m. Would that be convenient for you? Will this man be free to talk to me?”

“Yes, Kamen likes to rest late in the day. I can take care of some lab matters and be back here by that time. Then, I’ll take you so you can meet a man who knows how to cope with all sorts of obstacles that can handicap us.”

Lozenets, a green and sleepy neighborhood, was home to government bureaucrats and white color office employees.

The apartment of Kamen Chanev was located on the highest storey of a cement building constructed in the Communist era after World War II. The resident was a self-employed operator who obtained customers by word of mouth. There were no complaints made by any of his customers over two decades of providing telepathic advice, treatment, and education. Many in Sofia recommended his services to troubled persons. His reputation had grown and consolidated over the years.

The man who opened the door was middle-aged and of medium height and build. He gave a hearty handshake to Zheko, then stared at the stranger that had entered after the latter.

“This is the man I phoned you about,” indicated the microbiologist. “He is a city detective very close to retirement and desirous of the kind of advice that I described you giving to me.”

Kamen gave Ivan a suspicious, probing look with his hazel eyes, then extended his right hand to him.

The police veteran gave a firm grip and a vigorous shake.

“Let’s all sit down in the parlor,” said the psychic. “Can I get anyone something to eat or drink?”

Both the visitors declined what was offered them and sat down on an old, soiled-looking sofa. Chanev took a plain wooden chair across a coffee table from them.

Ivan decided that he had to state what his position toward the psychic was before anything else occurred.

“Let me first of all express what my attitude toward your kind of activity is, Mr. Chanev. Do not have any fears about my intentions. My purpose is not to embarrass or harass you in any way. The law, as I understand it, no longer aims at persecuting or stamping out claims to mental power. That capacity is now recognized to exist. As long as no criminal fraud is committed, psychic means are legitimate. Toleration is now the watchword, and I completely agree with that new, enlightened attitude. Since we no longer live under the totalitarian rules of our past, all of our citizens are free to participate however they wish in this particular area of life and culture.”

The face of Kamen Chanev appeared to glow with satisfaction. “I thank you for saying that to me. That makes it much easier for me to introduce what I am involved with. My aim is, first of all, to help those who come to me find their own inborn mental inheritance. I merely help them to harness what they already possess but do not know how to use. That can take time to achieve though. Are you prepared to look deeply into yourself, Mr. Dimov?”

“Indeed I am,” answered Ivan with determination in his voice.

The telepath then asked him to give a brief history of his life path, which the detective then did. When that was finished, Kamen made a surprising announcement.

“I think that is enough for today,” he said softly. “Could you come back this time a week from today? There is much that I must think out about what you have just told me. We shall be ready to go forward when I see you here again.”

Once Zheko and Ivan left the apartment, they separated and each went his own way. The microbiologist, though, had reason to telephone Kamen Chanev by means of his mobile cell-phone as soon as Ivan had walked away and climbed aboard a tramway car that would take him home to his flat.

“Hello, can you hear me, Kamen? Yes, this is Zheko here. I just watched Mr. Dimov leave for his home. What do you think of him? In my estimation, he is exactly the person that we have been looking for. Yes, I know that he is connected by his profession to the police authorities. But he is sincerely convinced that telepathic powers exist and can be perfected. The man is eager to experiment on himself. His mind is open and he has an adventurous character. He is on the verge of retirement and has no wife, children, or close relatives in Sofia. I believe that Ivan can be the exact subject we need for the initial trial.”

“I hope you are right about him, Zheko. When do you think that he will be ready to begin the injections? Are they fully prepared?”

“Everything is compounded and in cold storage at the lab. Just give the word, and I can bring you the syringes containing what you will need.”

“That is good to hear. I don’t believe in waiting around any longer. We will have to see what the effects will be on Detective Dimov.”

In a week, the threesome met once again at the apartment of Kamen Chanev. There was a startling surprise in store for Ivan, explained to him by Zheko.

“I must tell you about something I have been working on for several years. What would you say if I told you that I believe that I have developed a substance to bring forth and multiply a person’s psychic potential? It is a compound long sought by seers, something that could transform a mere possibility that one is born with into a living ability that will have positive results.

“What do you think of that concept, Ivan?”

The latter felt at a loss. “I don’t know,” he stammered. “It sounds miraculous, but is it proven a possible?”

Kamen intervened. “We are absolutely certain that it has an active psychic effect,” he said. “But we are waiting for longer use before we dare to announce or publicize it.”

“How can anyone be certain before using such a thing?” countered Ivan, staring at Kamen, then at Zheko.

“I have worked on it at our laboratory, on my own and secretly. No one there knows the real purpose of what I have been concentrating on all this time. So far, it has strengthened my own psychic sensitivity, as well as that of Kamen. The results on the two of us have been spectacular. I would call them astonishing.”

“Now, we wish to establish that the substance that Zheko has discovered can awaken powers long buried in the mind of a person never identified as sensitive before. That is why we need your assistance, Ivan. Will you join with us in this endeavor? We believe in it and know that success will result for you.”

The detective thought for a time, then nodded yes. “I trust what you tell me,” he said with evident fervor.

Everything was ready for the transformation of the mind of Ivan. He lay down on the long sofa in the parlor and closed his eyes as commanded by Kamen.

Zheko opened the carrying case he had brought with him from the lab and removed the small syringe that contained the microbiological compound he had worked on for a number of years. He rolled up the right shirt sleeve of Ivan, dabbed it with a swab of alcohol, and injected a vein with the preparation supposed to produce augmented psychic capacity.

Ivan fell into a trancelike state close to but not identical to sleep. The two others present stood watching his body, particularly his face. Did they expect their subject to show some sign of alterations within him?

All at once, a series of strange moans issued out of the closed mouth of the detective.

At first, not a single word was decipherable, but at a certain point a thread of meaning appeared to form.

“What is that man over there up to? Why is he acting that way? Is he going to approach me and say something? Is there any risk that he might attack and injure me? Should I run away and save myself that way?”

Then the voice stopped and another one, with a different tone and pitch, came forth from Ivan.

“I can look all I want, but I can’t afford to buy anything. The quality of what is offered is excellent, but the prices asked are absurdly high. I cannot accept to pay a fortune for things of low intrinsic value.”

Ivan lay silent for a few moments, then began to mumble words that were inaudible.

Kamen turned to Zheko and spoke.

“He is picking up a number of unintended psychic signals from unstructured, probably unconscious emitters of thought. Our friend appears to have an extraordinary receptiveness for signals from many outside sources. This is an incredible growth of telepathic power in one single person.”

Zheko gaped in wondrous awe. “He has become a phenomenon never seen before. What are we going to do about the situation, Kamen?”

“Let’s see whether we can measure the range over which his mind can operate,” proposed Kamen.

“It might be best if we wake him up at once,” said Zheko with a hint of apprehension.

When Ivan came out of his coma, he was like a new, different person. “I have never in my life had such an exiting, thrilling experience,” he told the two who had overseen his treatment. “What was in the substance that was put into my blood?” he asked with burning curiosity.

Zheko was the one who answered him.

“I constructed a biomimetic membrane of engineered tubes and molecular scaffoldings,” replied the microbiologist. “It was all a practical application of nanotechnology to a problem it had never before been applied to. After an infinite number of attempts and experiments, I found the biomaterial that had psychic characteristics.”

“You became a general priemnik of all the telepathic messages streaming through Sofia, it appears,” said Kamen. “We have proven the efficacy of what our comrade here has put together.”

“What happens now?” asked Ivan, looking first at Zheko, and then at Kamen.

“You have earned a deserved rest,” said the latter. “If you wish, you can take a nap in my bedroom. Zheko and I can go down to the restaurant across the street. If you want, we can bring you back something to eat. What do you think?”

“I am not at all hungry, but I do feel a little tired. Yes, you two go down and eat while I go in the bedroom and have a little sleep.”

As Ivan rose to his feet, the others said good-bye and left the apartment.”

The pair, Zheko and Kamen, moved to the service counter of the small zakuska eatery and ordered a kyofte for the former and a nadenitsa for the latter.

Simultaneously, Ivan was lying in the bed used by Kamen, falling asleep with no trouble in the first moments.

His mind, relaxed and in a state it had never before possessed while in deep slumber, began to operate in an unusual, unfamiliar manner.

Psychic potential never utilized before started to emit invisible waves and signals out of his unconscious.

It was as they sat on stools at the snack bar, taking their first bites of food, that Zheko and Kamen felt the first strange sensation. Pulses from elsewhere struck in an unending series. On and on came the outer emission.

Both men stopped eating at once. They looked each other in the face, neither speaking a word.

The external force grew stronger, taking full possession of their two psychic minds.

Customers and employees in the place stared in astonishment as both of them writhed in pain. It was when Zheko, then Kamen, fell to the floor as if in some epileptic state that people came closer to try to help them.

Detective Ivan Dimov woke up a little after midnight. He rose and looked around the apartment, but found that no one else was there. What had become of his two partners? he wondered with increasing alarm.

All sorts of anxious scenarios appeared then vanished in his imagination.

A police officer like himself had a number of resources not available to average citizens of Sofia.

Ivan reached into his suit jacket, lying on a chair, and took out his mobile cell-phone. He dialed downtown police headquarters and asked for a duty official who was his close friend. “I need to know whether there has been any notification of harm or accident concerning these two persons of interest to me,” he told the man at the other end.

“Hold on, Ivan. I will check my electro-monitor and see if anything appears on those two names.”

It took a fraction of a minute to find what he was looking for.

“Bad news, very bad. The two reportedly fell into wild fits of confusion while eating at a food counter. At first, drug overdoses were suspected. But when an officer and a medical ambulance appeared, it was determined that it was a case of something quite different.

“The medicos took them to the Sofia Hospital Emergency Center. When the two awoke, they claimed that they had been victims of an experiment of some sort with psychic materials, not describing them in any understandable fashion.

“They will remain under observation until the doctors can tell us if they had committed any crimes, or if they were the victims of actions by others.

“That is the extent of what we know at the present moment, Ivan.”

The detective thanked his friend and shut their connection.

He decided he would wait till the morning before he went to the hospital to see the pair.

Ivan did not sleep any more that night. He wrestled with the thought that his new psychic capability had somehow caused the disaster to Zheko and Kamen. It seemed obvious that his mind was transmitting harmful, dangerous signals in his sleep.

Would that end by itself, or could treatment put a stop to it?

He now had the mind of a demonic prizrak, an invisible mental phantom.

What have I got myself into? the troubled police detective asked himself over and over.

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