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       The Lake, p.1

           Robert L. Shelby
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The Lake


  By Robert L. Shelby

  Copyright 2013 Robert L. Shelby

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  A woman died in 2006. She was 84 years of age. Neighbors described her as being the nicest lady in the world. She had no family and lived alone. Her husband died of a heart failure almost 20 years ago. Soon after his death she started a kind of hostel/halfway house, feeling lonely in a place so big; she kept one room for herself and the other parts of the house were free to use for travelers and those who were down on their luck. She never locked her doors, always saying that there was nothing worth stealing and that a lock represents a distrust in people. The place was regularly filled with folks from all over the world. It was free of charge and in return she only asked for help around the house, keeping it clean and repairing anything broken.

  In her will she named only three names: her neighbors - a couple in their seventies and a foreigner in his early thirties who lived with her from 2000 until 2003. They were allowed to do as they pleased with the house, although she expressed a desire to keep it as it was - a place where people in need could stay for free.

  The elderly couple were sadly running low on money at the time and wanted to sell the house and surrounding property, but before they could do that, they still needed to find the foreigner, as he was also entitled to have a saying in this matter. After many months of searching for him and tracing him back to his homeland, they discovered his identity was made up and that his country had no record of him prior to 1992. Since no one knew this strange man and no one could get in touch with him, the authorities and officials gave the couple complete control of the house and they sold it a few months later.

  In 2009 the new owner commissioned a demolition of the house, wanting to rebuilt it completely from the grounds up. As the construction workers were tearing down the walls of the emptied house, they found a small steel box hidden away in the concrete behind the wallpaper. Inside they found three pictures and a letter. The first picture was of a young boy with his parents, dated ‘May 1961’. The second was a recently taken picture of the foreigner just outside the house and the third picture looked like an old postcard showing a lake, but with no name or location given.

  The box, along with its contents were given to the owner who passed it on to the real estate agent who then passed it on to those trying to find the mysterious foreigner, now having a face to go with the false name. Again, they searched through hospitals, police records and even mental institutions, but found nothing. He was pronounced missing and presumably dead soon after.

  Since then, his belongings have been stored in a cardboard box in the basement storage unit of the local municipality, because no one knew what to make of the letter or what to do with his things.


  To whom it may concern ...

  My name is not important, nor where I come from. I have long lost all the people I cared about and I do not wish to expose myself to those who are still alive today, for they have since went on with their lives and no good would come of my return.

  My story may seem strange and unbelievable and yet it happened.

  I will not disclose the location where this event took place, because I assure you - what happened to me is a curse and not a gift as you might imagine. However, if after reading my letter you will still wish to find this ... fountain of youth, I will leave some clues to guide on your journey into regret.

  I was 20 years old in 1975; a student of archeology on a three-week long field trip through Europe’s most beautiful, historically significant and/or culturally important castles, as voted by the people who had no right to have a saying in this. We arrived in town on a hot Monday morning, the 21st of July. After settling into our hotel we were informed we had two hours before lunch, and that our visit to the castle was postponed to late afternoon. Most of my classmates decided to go on a guided tour of the town and learn about its history; but my two friends and I thought it would be a better idea to cool down in a nearby lake and find a quiet place to get high. On our way there we met some local boys and girls who invited us to join them and their friends on the other side of the lake; so we did, knowing that we could easily skip lunch and have a great summer day before meeting with our group. The castle was located on a high cliff above the lake and I remember thinking that the view must be amazing. Surrounded by mountains, it was a town where you could really find your peace and tranquility; something that would be lost decades later through mass tourism and greed.

  Once we reached the shore on the other side, I immediately wanted to go for a swim to the island - the rest of the group did not share this desire with me, so I went by myself. I consider myself a good swimmer, but I must admit I was tired when I got to the island. I laid on the grass for a while, resting, enjoying the Sun, the warm weather and the occasional pretty girl. Before returning to my friends I decided to have a look under water - I could hold my breath for a couple of minutes, which is just enough to peek around. As I went under I could hear the church bells; it was noon. For a brief moment I imagined a golden bell down in the dark water, echoing and vibrating. When I came back up the bells were still ringing, but the weather had changed; it started raining heavily and although summer storms can appear almost out of nowhere I was still surprised by the intensity of this one. I started swimming back towards the shore as the sky was becoming darker with each second. I soon noticed that there was no one on land; I thought they ran away and just left me here, but it didn’t make sense why they would take my clothes or that not even one of my friends would wait for me. I ran back to my hotel; I ran through the worst storm of my life, almost naked. I didn’t pay much attention to the world around me, but I do remember seeing a few strange things on my way.

  I stumbled into the hotel wet, cold and confused. The place looked the same and different at the same time. A man came up to me asking if he could help me. I told him I got caught in the storm and that I would just like to go to my room and take a warm shower. I forgot what room I was in, so I told him about the group that came in this morning - a bunch of students; and he looked back at me saying that he had been here since 6 in the morning and there was no group coming in today. For a second I thought I was in the wrong hotel - it happens, people mix things up. After realizing it was the right hotel my mind kind of hit a brick wall; unable to understand the situation. Plus, I was shaking badly from the cold, making me look like I was insane. I was given a blanket and a cup of tea, which brought me back to my senses just long enough to see a calendar on a wall, and on it a number - 1990. I asked the man what was the deal with the calendar and I could immediately see the change in his eyes as he answered that it represents the year we’re in. It’s very difficult to describe the feelings and thoughts going through my mind and body; everything suddenly felt surreal and like a part of a bad joke. I ignored what he said and asked to make a long distance phone call, if he were so nice to let me. He handed me the telephone and I dialed the only number I knew - my home number. A woman answered with a voice I didn’t recognize. When I asked her to speak with my parents, she responded by saying she knew none of those names and that I must have the wrong number. I gave her the address and she told me it’s was the right one, but she had lived there for the past ten years, ever since the previous owner moved out.

  I hung up the phone and started walking out of the hotel, away from the man’s voice, away from the calendar, away from this u
nreal place. When I stepped outside, the rain had stopped and the clouds were slowly disappearing. I looked around and saw, for the first time, a new world. There were new buildings around me, cars I have never seen before, commercials for unknown products, people dressed in a new fashion; everything was different and I felt lost and alone, thinking I’ve lost my mind somehow in the past hour. For a short time I viewed the world through the eyes of a child; when everything you see is new and unfamiliar, but there was no child-like enthusiasm about it. I walked back down to the lake, sat there for a while, looking at people passing me by, hearing strange music from a nearby cafe; and for a minute I thought about killing myself.

  The first couple of days are still a blur; I don’t remember much, the shock was too much, I guess. I don’t even know the exact date of my return, but looking back now, it must have been around the same time as I
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