Mr. Wierzyński's Promotion

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Mr. Wierzyński knocked on the office door, made of a solid mahogany panel. Nervously shifting from foot to foot, he waited for an answer. Finally it came, although very quietly; the chairman's "come in" was barely audible. The man hesitated for a split second, then with a decisive motion he pressed the handle and slipped inside, closing the door behind him.
A familiar sight appeared before his eyes; as the main assistant to the Chairman of the Association, he had been here many times. The panelled walls and the yellowish light of the lamp hanging from the ceiling gave a cozy impression, broken slightly by other elements of the room's decor. On both windowsills stood sizable pots, from which grew multicolored (yellow, orange and red) mushrooms with wide, ragged caps, reminiscent of fleshy flowers and emitting a smell that resembled orchids rather than mushrooms. On the walls hung, framed in simple frames, illustrations from some old mycological atlas, and on the shelves stood neatly, alphabetically arranged newer atlases, as well as numerous cups and diplomas, won by the Chairman during his tenure at various competitions, conventions and the like.
The Chairman himself sat behind a desk, surrounded by piles of papers. A look of fatigue was visible on his aged face. An elegant desk block with the name "A. Smykowski" engraved on it, usually standing perfectly parallel to the edge of the desk, was now pushed aside as if someone was in a hurry to rearrange something.
"You called…?" Mr. Wierzyński started.
The older man glanced around him, then rose from his chair to close the blinds. Without the stately light behind him, he looked even frailer and older.
"Yes. I'll explain everything to you in a moment… please, sit down, Mr. Marek," he sighed, sinking back into the seat.
Mr. Wierzyński pulled out a chair for himself. As he sat down, his eyes suddenly widened and he quietly exclaimed:
"But sir, you're…" His hand hovered in the air, unsure of exactly what to point to.
"It's nothing. I know, this mold on my face looks alarming, but really, there's nothing to worry about. It's strange that you've only just noticed, it must have been very visible in the last few days," the old man giggled.
"Oh, well… all right," choked out the embarrassed assistant. "In that case… why did you call, sir? You sounded as if there was something serious going on." His gaze went instinctively to the calendar hanging next to the window, and he instinctively found today's date. The twenty-eighth of July, twenty-sixteen, Thursday. In exactly a month, the Harvest Festival will take place.
"It's true, Mr. Marek, it's true… Well, it can't be said easily. The truth is," he paused for a second, "I'm dying. Or rather… my body is dying," he sighed deeply.
"Oh my goodness… are you sure?" whispered Mr. Wierzyński.
"Yes, unfortunately. But I have to ask you now, Mr. Marek: don't interrupt me and let me explain the situation." There was no resentment in his voice. "That mold you noticed — this is the "real" Chairman of the Association. Since the dawn of the PZGA, each successive person holding that position has been another host to this fungus. Don't get all big-eyed, this phenomenon does nothing to damage the health of the host. No, you can even profit from it in a way. The so-called symbiosis. You see, Mr. Marek, this mold has a kind of consciousness of its own. It uses it properly only for, well, scientific, exploratory purposes. It ensures that the Chairman doesn't neglect the Association, that the passion needed to do well in that position remains. That's the kind of fuel that drives the research and development of the Association and its continuity and independence." Chairman Smykowski paused for a moment, clearly pensive and tired. Mr. Wierzyński realized he was sitting with his mouth open, so he quickly closed it. The chairman continued, in a slightly weaker voice than before:
"As I mentioned earlier, my body is dying. But if you agree, Mr. Marek, to take over my position… which I would hand over to you with a clear conscience and confidence that you will do a good job… really… my beliefs, my principles, my memories… would go on, thanks to this very mold, this fungus of progress. Because you see, Mr. Marek: when you take this marvel into your body, you will immediately know the whys and hows, so to speak. Generations of Chairmen" — he laughed quietly under his breath, breaking the solemn tone — "will guide you, because this fungus absorbs all the years of experience like a sponge. In fact, I suspect that it is the knowledge of other anomalous fungi that it needs to live, even more than the host. It is a strange world, really." He frowned suddenly, as if in pain.
"Uh… are you all right?," the younger man mouthed.
"I don't have much time left. Please, Mr. Marek, agree to take over as Chairman." Smykowski struggled to get the words out.
"Why didn't you tell me anything about… all this… before? Does anyone else even know about it?," Mr. Wierzyński asked quickly, concerned.
"One person from the Board, appointed by me. Currently, it is Mrs. Maniecka. I could not have told you, because I had to be sure that you were driven by an uncontaminated passion for anomalous mushroom picking. Who knows what would have happened… But, Mr. Marek, decisions, decisions, time is running out…"
"Yes, yes, er, of course, it would be a great honor for me…"
"I'm glad to hear it." There was a smile of relief and satisfaction on the Chairman's face. "Come closer, Mr. Marek, and don't be afraid…" He gestured with his hand as if to whisper something in his ear.
Mr. Wierzyński leaned nervously across the desk. Chairman Smykowski furrowed his eyebrows, grunted, then violently and with a heavy gurgle coughed out a yellowish cloud of some kind of dust that coated the startled assistant and made him jump back, stunned. The dust itched, getting into every nook and cranny, even his lungs, making him cough too. A loud thud followed, but the spores — for what else could the dust be — entered his eyes as well, and through his yellowed tears he could not discern the source of the sound. A nonsensical train of thoughts ran through his head, partly about mushrooms, partly about senile health problems (he felt as if he experienced three strokes at once, only in a dream), partly about random historical events; he saw pictures, heard languages (Polish and presumably Russian), felt the cold, but only for a short moment.
After a moment, the state of bewilderment passed, and the new Chairman of the Polish Anomalous Mushroom Picking Association, Marek Wierzyński, age fifty-three, blinked, took a deep breath, and looked around his office. Behind his desk, on the floor, his former body lay lifeless, but he knew exactly what he should do with it. He pulled out his phone and dialed the number for Mrs. Maniecka from the Board.
"Hello? Yes, everything went according to plan. Yes, the funeral needs to be arranged. Yes. Thank you. I'll see you later."

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