The Polymorphics

23 Sep

The question of the fundamental nature of human beings is not an easy one to answer, the professor told himself. It had seemed less of a complicated puzzle before he came across a stranger who had to be classified and described as polymorphic. This mystery without a discernible solution first presented itself to Dr. Boris Radev in the summer of 2011, during his vacation on the beach near Varna. The scholar had come by train from Sofia to a vacation at a Black Sea resort. This was an expensive way to relax, but it promised the tall young academic a restoration of physical and mental strength, just what he needed for the labors waiting ahead at the University, in the Department of Bulgarian Literature.

This summer pause would be a sunny period of rest before the strains of the new school year, Boris believed, not aware of what lay immediately ahead in what were supposed to be days of empty idleness.

Boris spent several pleasant hours enjoying the sunny beach of the Golden Sands his first morning, but decided to avoid too much exposure to UV rays by staying indoors at his hotel for the torrid afternoon. He had brought some recently published Bulgarian novels to read over and compose critiques of for autumn seminars at Sofia University.

He sat on a bench in his hotel’s covered portico facing the Black Sea perusing a mystery by a well-known, popular writer, when he heard a voice from in front of him.

“I see that you have a novel by Kolev, but from the cover’s title it appears to be one I have never read. Since it is an unknown one to me, who have all of Kolev’s works at home, I take it that the book has very recently been published.”

Boris looked up to see a small, thin man in a white summer suit standing before him. He placed a book mark on the page and closed the volume. “I was sent an advance copy by the publisher, so that I can use the novel in a course that I teach in Sofia. Not very many people have had access to the work, but it will be in bookstores this autumn, I have been informed.”

The stranger gave a radiant grin. “I can hardly wait to get my hands on it. Detective mystery stories are the only kind of fiction I ever spend time on. In a way, collecting them is my hobby. I especially enjoy stories set here in Bulgaria, written by our own novelist.

“But allow me to introduce myself. My name is Kiril Valchev, and I am a dealer in rose oil and perfumes. My home and office are in Sofia, but I spend most of my time bargaining with growers around Sopot, Kazanlak, Karlovo, and Chirpan. I have to spend a lot of my time up in the mountainous regions where flowers grow best.”

“It sounds like extremely interesting work to me,” smiled Boris.

Valchev’s face turned stone-like. “If you spend enough years doing only one thing, it can become somewhat boring,” he moaned.

“I hope that this murder mystery perks up your spirit when you get and read it,” pleasantly said the professor. “It did that to me.”

He turned back to finishing the last chapter of the who-done-it.

The return trip to Sofia by train was uneventful for Boris. He worked on notes for his autumn lectures and from time-to-time glanced out at the passing mountain landscapes. There was a quick return to his apartment near the University and the beginning of the academic year.

Every weekday, he rode on the same tramway line back-and-forth from home to work. It was on a Friday in October that an unsettling incident occurred in late afternoon on a return trip.

The tramway car made numerous stops to take and leave off passengers along busy Pirotska Street on its way to the Ovcha Kupel quarter where Boris lived. In the old “three wells” district called Uch Bunar, the literary scholar looked up to see the passengers who had just climbed aboard. Instantly he recognized the rose oil merchant whom he had met that summer at the hotel in Varna.

“Mr. Valchev! It is so good to see you again. How are you? I have fond memories of my summer vacation. Have you obtained and read the latest mystery novel by Kolev.”

The little man looking for an available seat seemed surprised and alarmed at being recognized. He stopped for a moment to answer the inquiries being directed to him.

“I am sorry, sir, but you have mistaken me for someone else. I am not the individual that you appear to take me for. Excuse, me please.”

The stranger, wearing a light brown jacket, proceeded toward the rear area of the tramway car. Boris, at a loss for how to go on, continued speaking. “Forgive my mistake. You are the exact image of a person I became acquainted with on the Black Sea. He was a person involved in the rose oil and perfume trade, on vacation like me. He had a deep interest in detective mysteries and we talked about the subject.

“You see, I am a professor of contemporary Bulgarian literature and have the task of keeping abreast of what is currently being published in all areas of popular and genre novels. That is my profession.”

Since the stranger made no reply, Boris felt that he should continue with his apology. “It is often said that every one of us has a twin or duplicate somewhere in the world. Fortunately, we never happen to meet that copy of ourselves.

“I take it for granted that you are not acquainted with Mr. Kiril Valchev, the rose oil man,” said the professor with a laugh.

Other passengers were by now staring at Boris or the small man that he was addressing.

All of a sudden, the stranger rose from his seat and moved up to where the other sat facing him. He whispered in a guarded tone, intending that no one else overhear what he said.

“We cannot talk about things here on a tramway. It would be best if we meet each other tomorrow at noon, let us say at Lake Ariana in Borisova Park. You can sit there on a bench and wait for me.

“I shall be there and will be able to clear up your confusion.. If you come, you shall learn something valuable, I promise you.”

The strange little man went back to the seat in the rear.

Boris sensed a spinning feeling, as if experiencing something never encountered by him before.

The central park of downtown Sofia is named for Tsar Boris III, who died during World War II.

Lake Ariana, 175 meters long and 75 meters wide, is located at the park’s northern end, close to the Vasil Levski Stadium.

Boris Radev had fitful sleep that night, plagued with unanswerable questions about Kiril Valchev and the man who was an exact copy of him, a living duplicate of the rose oil man he had met in Varna.

Finishing up at his University office early, he meandered on foot over to the garden, whose leaves were now in the process of turning a variety of fall colors. Sitting down at an empty bench, Boris impatiently waited for the odd stranger to appear.

Why am I here? he wondered. Is it some morbid, unnatural curiosity that has brought me here? Am I about to meet some madman or unbalanced Sofia undesirable? But how can two different individuals be physically exactly, absolutely identical in every detail and aspect?

Boris caught sight of the person from the tramway. Dressed in a dark autumn coat, he confidently strolled up to the bench where the professor of contemporary literature sat watching him.

The little man who was the duplicate of Kiril Valchev spoke first, before Boris could say anything. “Please, sir, come with me to a café I know beyond the Eagle Bridge, down on Tsarigrad Boulevard. We can talk there over a cup of tea or coffee. Let us go there at once.”

Boris rose and accompanied the other, walking beside the shorter man.

In minutes, they entered the café, each of them ordering a small cup and sitting down together by themselves in a back booth of the place.

“My name is Petar Ivanov, that has been who I am since birth. But I have made a major change in myself. This was done by joining an organization that specializes in placing its members in the bodies of other members of the secret group. The method by which this transformation is carried out is a profound secret that must never be revealed to the members who go through the change. Only our leader, a singular, extraordinary genius, knows how to complete the delicate process. I cannot explain to you how it is done, for it is unknown to me.

“That is a pledge made by each of us polymorphics: we must never inquire or meddle into the way the change is made. All I know for sure is that I went to sleep with one physical body and awoke with another.

“I surmise that you met the individual whose body I now possess before he received mine and I occupied his. That seems to be the logic of why you claim to recognize who I look like.

“Can you comprehend what I have described to you, sir?”

Boris discovered himself speechless for a considerable interval. Finally, he found words to express what was in his mind.

“I find what you have told me fascinating and exciting,” he announced as if making a revelation of something never before felt. “My inner soul desires to find out all it can. You must explain the nature of the transformation that occurs. I beg this of you.”

Petar Ivanov grinned. “I realized back there on the tramway that you are our kind of individual. Today’s Bulgaria is full of people who seek personal transcendence. Look at our country. Since the end of the Communist system, our population has fallen from nine million down to seven. We are rapidly fleeing abroad out of poverty and misery. Our economy still awaits its salvation and revival, if it ever comes about.
We are today a nation of unhappy, unfulfilled persons. Everyone knows that.

“But the circle founded and led by Dr. Georgi Snegarov here in Sofia has the solution, an assured escape into a better personal future.

“He is able to exchange identities between two persons by transplanting the individual selves between two bodies.

“Mr. Kiril Valchev now possesses the body that once was mine, while I myself inhabit the one that used to be his. We were both of us members of the Doctor’s circle of followers. Each of us choose to take over the torso of the other, and that was what Dr. Snegarov was able to accomplish for us.

“Are you willing to join our ranks? We can guarantee you a new, different existence in another person’s body. The proof exists that such a change is possible and is safe.

“Do you think that you would like to meet Dr. Snegarov and learn more of the details involved directly from him?”

“Yes, of course I would,” gulped the literature professor.

Ivanov took a pen and piece of notepaper out of his coat pocket. “Give me the telephone number where you can be reached. I will call you tomorrow and tell you where and when you can talk with our leader.”

Boris wrote out the number and gave it to Petar, then told him good-bye and left the café, his mind wandering about as if in a daze.

That evening and the following morning, the scholar went through the motions of his ordinary routines. He taught his class and seminar the next day, then returned home to his flat to await word from Ivanov.

The call came in the middle of the afternoon. Boris felt accumulating nervous tension within himself. Was he about to take a dangerous leap? Make an idiotic error that could ruin his life?

Petar informed him that he was to come alone to the Doctor’s apartment in a new luxury building on Oborishte Street. The leader was situated in the most prestigious quarter of the capital city, among the newly wealthy and prosperous. His place of residence was adjacent to the small park called the Doctors’ Garden.

“I will find it and be there this evening,” he told his contact with the circle of the Polymorphics. His heart raced with anticipation.

Dr. Georgi Snegarov was a huge, overpowering giant with an unusually large head. Bushy black hair and thick eyebrows gave him a fierce, impressive look of command. A very successful obstetrician, he lived by himself in one of the best apartments in central Sofia.

“So glad to make your acquaintance, Professor Radev,” he said as he ushered the visitor into a richly ornamented living room. “Let us sit down. Petar has told me that you have great interest in what our Circle has accomplished for its members.” He looked searchingly at Boris.

“I had no idea that such activities were actually in practice,” said the lecturer. “But my own personal experience has given me data that cannot be refuted or ignored. My initial skepticism has melted away, and I now wish to learn more from the person who founded the group referred to as Polymorphics.”

Snegarov smiled with serenity. “For many years, I read with interest works on Bulgarian mystics and their secret cults. Our nation has given birth, over the centuries, to many explorers of the supernatural. I became fascinated by the teachings of the heretical religious sects that long ago flourished in high mountain villages. In medieval manuscripts I discovered arcane secrets concerned with identity and how it can be shifted and transferred.

“That is the methodology that I have perfected and applied. My medical education and experience have been of enormous aid to me in my work with the Circle of Polymorphics. You have witnessed that Petar Ivanov today occupies the body that before was the possession of Kiril Valchev. Let me inform you that Mr. Valchev now has the body that Petar Ivanov used to own. They have had a total physical change-about. Each of them, of course, has had to begin an entirely new and different life. Valchev is no longer engaged with rose oil. but sells stocks and insurance. Ivanov is now in training to become an electrician. He is not a restaurant chef today.”

“I find all that you say to be amazing,” declared Boris. “The mystery remains for me: how is something like this possible? Is it truly credible in our universe?”

The face of Dr. Snegarov turned dark and rocklike. “I am unable to reveal my means and methods to anyone, even my closest associates in the Circle. If you choose to join us, that rule of silence must prevail. That is what I insist on with all my will and authority.”

Both men fell silent for a brief time.

“I will do what is required,” promised Boris, realizing that he had no other option if he wished to investigate further.

The following evening the two met and conferred again.

Boris asked how much of one’s prior life and thoughts persist and survive when one has entered a new, different body.

“One does not thoroughly forget all that occurred before the transformation,” explained Doctor Snegarov. “But as time passes, the new personality and identity take over and guide one’s daily life.”

“The two persons involved in the exchange of bodies must be in agreement about the practical arrangements involving places of residence and personal property, I would imagine.”

“We try to make the change-over smooth and as easy as possible,” stated Snegarov. “It is important to prevent any future problems, using foresight.”

“It is important, then, that the two partners who carry out the trade be in harmony about the details of what shall happen to them,” concluded Boris.

“I make a special effort to get them to agree and coordinate. It may take a little while for the pair to come to know each other with some depth, but it is well worth the time.”

“I see. Do you have anyone in mind to become the partner whose body I will take over?”

The physician made a wicked smile. “Indeed, I do. How would you like to make an exchange of bodies with my son? He is somewhat younger than you, but he resembles me and possesses a lot of physical strength. Krum has an athletic build to him and is quite active in a number of different sports.

“I can arrange for the two of you to meet each other tomorrow, if you set the time and the place.”

Boris arrived early at Snegarov’s apartment earlier than expected. The young man who opened the door and welcomed him looked like a younger version of his father, Georgi Snegarov.

The son invited the man who was slated to exchange bodies with him to sit down across from him in the living room. “It is important that we know each other well, because the plan is that we change places and our physical forms.” He smiled warmly, allowing Boris to see how different he was from his father, the physician.

“I learned that you are interested in sports and athletic activities,” mentioned the Professor of Contemporary Literature.

“Yes, my aim has been to build myself a body of strength that enjoys the best health possible for it. People often refer to me as a health fanatic. That seems to be my primary interest in life, I have to confess.

“My father, of course, is nothing like that. He has not the slightest interest in sports or body-building. He seems to believe only in exchanging one body for another, between partners such as you and me.”

“One point that I don’t understand is the reason why you would agree to exchange your present athletic body for mine, that does not have similar qualities at all. Why do you agree to being transformed in tandem with me? What is it about your life that motivates and moves you to desire such radical escape from your present physical being?”

Boris waited patiently to hear the answer to his query.

Krum groped to give some kind of acceptable answer.

“It is difficult to talk about oneself with realistic vision. All I can tell you is that I am deeply unsatisfied with what I have become, what my father and I have created together.

“I no longer wish to live as I have or be want I now am. That is all that I can tell you at this moment in time.

“I would rather converse with you about yourself, my friend.

“What is the reason that you no longer want your present identity? Why are you eager to become another person?”

Boris gave a prearranged, prepared reply. “I do not wish to be a dry scholar anymore. My dream is to live the rest of my life as a fully, completely living person.

“I wish to escape from the ivory tower that my soul now exists in.”

The two stared at each other. It was Boris who announced he was going to leave.

“Let us meet again tomorrow evening,” said Krum to the departing professor.

Boris went about his professional duties the next day in a fog of internal conflict. Did he really desire to become a new personal with a new body and identity, or was he merely acting the part for the sake of satisfying his burning curiosity about this matter of polymorphism? He sensed a burden of guilty exploitation and fakery in what he was saying and espousing.

Again that evening, the two possible partners in exchange met in the flat of Georgi Snegarov. The latter absented himself in order to facilitate the pair coming to terms with each other.

“I never came to know my mother as a person,” confessed Krum. “She died just a few months after she gave birth to me.”

“Your father must have been terribly grieved by her loss.”

The young man looked away for a moment. “Yes, I always knew that he felt the weight of what happened to her. His mind was greatly affected by her death. His aspiration was to perfect me as a person that she would have been proud of had she lived. I believe that the burden of her loss was what made him attempt to mold me into what he thought my mother would have wished me to be. My father became strict and highly demanding. He had to have a perfect son, and his disappointment with me grew greater over the years.

“I was unable to be the extraordinary individual that he wanted his son to be. Perhaps that is the reason he has pushed me into agreeing to become a polymorphic. That would open me to new, more valuable possibilities.

“My father, perhaps, has an unconscious or conscious need to recreate me into someone different.”

Boris did not pursue this subject. He had begun to see the hand of Dr. Snegarov in the changes anticipated for his son, Krum.

The obstetrician was present to announce to the two candidates for polymorphic transformation that the time was near for their exchange of bodies.

“Both of you are ready for the change,” he told them. “I have decided that it will occur tomorrow night. I want your minds to be fully prepared for what is coming. Take adequate rest tonight and relax during the day tomorrow. The big leap is approaching for the two of you.

“I can tell you that it will not take long to carry out. The main operation for me will be the mesmerizing of each of you, one by one. That will result in no pain or difficulty whatsoever.

“The change will take just a few minutes to bring about. It will be over before any of us realize what has happened.”

Boris left the luxury apartment that evening with a feeling of inevitability. He was now involved in something that he was unable to prevent or put a stop to. It was like being on the edge of a deadly cliff and helpless to escape.

Is this all a dream into which I have somehow fallen? the literary scholar asked himself all that night and through the following day.

He had the strange intuition that he was now caught by forces he was not strong enough to wrestle with or defeat.

I have become some sort of prisoner, an inner voice instructed him.

His steps back to the apartment of Dr. Snegarov felt like the automatic movements of a mechanical robot without its own will.

Boris was shocked to see two police vehicles outside the entrance to the modern apartment building as he approached it for the fateful appointment with the father and the son.

He entered and pushed the signal button on the wall to gain admittance to the building’s upper stories from the indicated flat.

All of a sudden, an official-looking man in a dark overcoat appeared next to him.

“Excuse me, but are you seeking to enter the apartment of Dr. Snegarov?” said the stranger in a hollow voice.

“Yes.”

“Please come with me, sir. I am an inspector with the Sofia Police Department. There has been a tragic incident upstairs in the apartment of Dr. Georgi Snegarov. A violent confrontation with his son resulted in a physical conflict between the parent and his son.

“Please follow me upstairs for personal interrogation, please.”

Boris sensed the ground shake under him. His brain seemed to be trembling. His body fought to maintain its equilibrium.

A quarrel had erupted between the two of them.

Krum had threatened to attack his father. The latter had defended himself. The son was now dead.

The doctor had telephoned the police and reported the deed.

Was that all there was to the story? Was that the simple explanation?

Boris suddenly knew that he would never be able to find out the final truth about this awful event. Had it been foreseeable? How preventable was the tragedy?

There is not much that I can reveal to the police that goes beyond speculation, he realized as he went upstairs in the elevator with the police detective.

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