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SECRET OF THE LAKE

                        Everything that once begins must have an end--that’s the unwritten
                law of nature.  It is my opinion that everything that begins at one place
                must have an end at the same place.  Just a while ago, I confirmed that
                theory.
                        It is unbelievable that the lake looks so calm and that its surface is so
                smooth and peaceful as nothing has happened.  As it isn’t interested in
                anything.  As it doesn’t want to be interested in anything.  And yet, I sent
                into its depth the man whom I had killed with my own hands just a while
                ago.  Only five minutes ago, there was a struggle for life and death and he
                lost.  He appeared suddenly like always and looked at me with fear in his
                eyes--or so it seemed to me--and I had to stand on his way.  I had to kill
                him because that was the only way.  When I came to him with my fists
                ready, a flock of birds flied up out of the nearby grove making a lot of
                noise.  Then, there was a fight, a moan, a splash.  And that was all.  The
                lake’s stillness was deranged for just a moment.  After that, there was a
                silence again and only birds continued their twitter from a very distance.
                        Like nothing happened...
                        It is strange, but I feel calm, too.  As I have done the most common
                thing in the world, as the murder is something that is absolutely normal, as
                it is the only possible way of solving problems.  I feel pleased, I feel
                satisfied.  Actually, I enjoyed killing him.  Do you think I am crazy?  No,
                I am not.  But, I’ll have to explain everything to make you understand.

* * *

                        I was born here on this lake--right there in that small wooden cottage
                that is bashfully peering out of the woods.  One weekend about twenty-five
                years ago, my mother came over here to find inspiration for writing;
                instead, unplanned and two months before the expectation, she got me.
                        Maybe that’s the reason I’ve always liked spending time on this place.
                I don’t know, but somehow the lake has always been something special to
                me.  As a kid, I would have come here to swim, to collect pebbles on the
                beach, to go fishing.  I would have come here to think when I had problems
                and to share my pleasure and happiness when I was satisfied.
                        My story began one sunny afternoon when I was a ten-year-old boy.  I
                was sitting on the beach and indifferently throwing pebbles into the water.
                My parents went shopping and I was bored waiting for them to return.
                        The surface of the lake was calm as it is now.  The Sun was going
                down lightening up its left side, while the right side became covered with
                long, long shadows created by surrounding trees.  It was then that I saw the
                thing for the first time.  Something sparkled out from the shallow water in
                front of me and when I came nearer, I saw the metal hoop about three feet
                in diameter.  The hoop was silverish and very shiny, as it had just been
                made and polished.  I had not found anything in the lake before.  Our lot is
                out-of way and casual passers-by have never come over here.  And, if it
                had been dropped in the lake by some of the boatmen, how come it didn’t
                sink?  It's made of metal!
                        I didn’t think too much about that.  I finally found something that
                attracted my attention and broke my boredom.  I sit on the pebbles again,
                rolling the hoop in my hands and thinking what could I use it for.  And right
                then, a stranger appeared in front of me.
                        He was tall and big and dressed in jeans.  And he was somehow
                familiar to me, although I couldn’t find out why.  Maybe that was the reason
                I didn’t run away immediately.  The stranger put down his hands that had
                been covering his eyes, he looked to the left and to the right a couple of
                times, and then he looked at me with an unusual expression on his face.
                        “Throw that thing away,” he said suddenly. “You don’t need that!”
                        My parents appeared right then and while I turned over to tell them I
                was on the beach, the stranger disappeared.  Simply, when I turned back
                again, he wasn’t there anymore.  It was in vain telling my parents what had
                happened while they were out; they didn’t believe me.
                        I played with the hoop months after that.  I would have rolled it and
                ran along.  That was fun!  Suddenly, I lost my interest--I probably became
                too old for such game.  Then I took the hoop over to the cellar, hang it on a
                wedge and forgot about it.

* * *

                        Next time that I saw the hoop, I was twenty-five.  I took over some
                pals for the weekend and I went down to the cellar to store the bottles of
                wine.  It is always better to cool down the wine naturally, than to cool it in
                a fridge.  And then, I saw it hanging, silverish and subtle.  It was shiny like
                on the day I had found it.  I recollected my boyhood and numerous sunny
                afternoons spent on the beach.  I recollected the day I had found it.  The
                memories were very lively.  I felt the need to touch that thing and I
                stretched my arm.  But, as I touched it, the hoop felt over my head and
                slipped down.  It touched the ground with an unpleasant clinking noise.  At
                the same very moment, I felt pain in my eyes caused by some intensive
                source of light.  Soon, I found out it was the sunlight.  I covered my eyes
                with the hands and later, when I moved them off, I realized that I was
                standing on the beach in front of the house.  I was confused; I was in the
                cellar a moment before!  Then I saw a boy in front of me who was sitting
                on the pebbles and holding the hoop in his hands--the same hoop that had
                felt over me just a while ago.  I looked at the boy. That face, that look--but,
                it’s me!  Is it possible that the hoop took me to the past?  And yet, how
                could be possible for something like that to happen!?
                        The boy looked at me.  He seemed confused, too.
                        “Throw that thing away, you don’t need that,” I shouted in a fright, but
                the boy didn’t answer. He took the hoop and ran to the house.
                        A moment later, I found myself in the cellar again.  I was taken in in
                the same miraculous and unreal way as it had happened when I was taken
                out.  Again, I needed a couple of seconds to adjust my eyes, now to the
                darkness that was surrounding me.  And when contours around me began
                getting shapes, I bent down and took the hoop intending to put it back onto
                its place.  Is it possible that just a while ago, here on the beach near the
                lake, I saw myself when I was a ten-year-old boy?  Is it possible that this
                thing in my hands is a kind of a time machine?  No, it is probably just my
                imagination and maybe the lack of oxygen in this small, dark room.
                        Suddenly, among all familiar things in the cellar, I saw the silhouette
                of a man right in front of me.  He was just standing and watching me.  When
                my eyes became well adjusted too dark, I realized that the person standing
                in front of me was nobody else but--myself.  He was even dressed the same
                way as me.
                        “ I’ve come late, haven’t I?”- he asked, watching me and the hoop in
                my hands.
                        I didn’t have to answer--I was sure he knew everything.  I shrugged
                my shoulders and did what I intended to do.  I hang the hoop on the wedge.

* * *

                        It was Sunday evening.  My pals left and I unexpectedly decided to
                prolong my stay for one more day.  I needed loneliness and the stillness of
                the lake to clear my mind and to think about everything that had happened.
                        I went out and sit on the pebbles.  The night was hot and with so many
                stars that reflected back from the surface of the lake.  I heard crickets
                chirping somewhere far away and murmur of small waves that were
                playing with the pebbles on the beach.  I enjoyed the atmosphere.
                        What could I do, I was thinking.  Could I do anything?  Maybe it’s just
                the fissure in time-space continuum that happens once in a million years?
                Maybe it’s just my imagination that slipped over its borders.  Maybe it’s a
                hallucination?  Anyway, I am certain that something as weird as this could
                never happen again.
                        With these thoughts in my mind, I stood up and went to the house.

* * *

                        As soon as I walked into the room, I noticed another myself who was
                sitting in my armchair.
                        “ Listen, we have to talk,” he said.  “I think you know what's the
                problem.  We have to find the way out.”
                        I was startled.  I just convinced myself that the occurrence was nothing
                but the result of inadequate work of my brain cells--and now this!
                        “Yes,” “I” from the armchair continued like he was reading my
                thoughts, “it was a time travel.  Only, it has to be stopped!”
                        “Well, that’s easy,” I muttered.  “I won’t touch the hoop ever again
                and that’s it.”
                        “Do you really think it's so simple? Do you think I wanted to come
                over here to chat with you?  Or, maybe I should better say, to chat with
                myself?  Do you understand that as much as I--or you--are attracted by the
                beauties of this lake, the hoop is attracted by yourself...?  I just want to
                say..."
                        He suddenly became silent and took a glance at the bedroom doors.
                There was the third myself standing dressed in a nightgown, looking sleepy
                and confused at the same time.
                        “What have I told you,” said the one that was sitting in the armchair.
                        Weakly and slowly, I sat on the sofa and covered my eyes with hands
                in despair.
                        “O.K., we have to do something,” I said.  “But what?”
                        When I lifted my face, I realized I was alone again.  My doubles were
                gone.

* * *

                        If I suppose it’s true that I attract the hoop so much, then it is the only
                solution finding out the way of using the hoop.  That way, I could go back
                to the past and advise my previous self not to touch the hoop.  Let’s say, at
                the moment I tried to touch it down there in the cellar, when it felt over my
                head.  If I could just advise myself before the moment I touched it, nothing
                would have happened.  Only, I must not be late, I must not arrive after the
                travel...  Yes, that would be the best thing to do.  I stood up with the
                intention of going to the cellar and trying to use the hoop once more, when
                the knocking on the door stopped me.  Who is it now!?  Another myself?
                This time, I wouldn’t be surprised.
                        I opened the door and became paralyzed.  There was the hoop right in
                front of me, floating in the air in the height of my shoulders.  O, God, am I
                daydreaming?  I was shocked.  The hoop floated for a while, then it moved
                slowly and gently and touched my chest.  I simply didn’t have a chance to
                react.  At the same moment, I found myself in the cellar watching my
                previous self as he was lifting the hoop from the ground after his first
                travel.
                “ I’ve come late, haven’t I?”- I asked, although it was totally unnecessary.

* * *

                        I couldn’t fall asleep.  My head was full of confused thoughts and as
                soon as I would close my eyes, I would see a great number of myselves
                who were strangling me with their presence.  I was exhausted, but the sleep
                didn’t come.  On the contrary, I just tortured myself trying to fall asleep.  I
                stood out of the bed and opened the window.  Maybe the fresh air could
                help me relax.  I went to bed again and again there were scenes in front of
                my eyes that I had had today.  If anybody had ever told me that one day I
                could have come into the house finding myself inside...
                        Everything that happened after lasted no longer than a second.  I didn’t
                notice when the hoop floated into the room through the open window,
                neither I noticed when it came near me.  I just felt the touch of cold metal
                on my hand.  After that, I found myself standing in the living room dressed
                in my nightgown.  I was sleepy and confused at the same time.  Beside
                myself, there were two other myselves in the room, too, talking.
                        I was there only for a moment or two.  Then, I was in my bed again
                where I finally fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

* * *

                        I was in much better mood when I awoke.  I made a coffee and went
                out to the porch.  That was something I liked the best--drinking the first
                morning coffee on the porch while the lake in front of me sparkled and
                glittered lightened up by the morning Sun.
                        I felt my mind was clear--that was good.  Let me think.  Apparently,
                all my travels through time and space were caused by the hoop, that strange
                object that had been thrown out of this lake years ago.  Furthermore, all my
                travels were totally unexpected.  In fact, I would have thought about some
                detail of my past and the hoop took me right there...
                        I saw another myself in front of me on the beach who was running like
                his life depended on it.  He was waving his arms as he was trying do
                defend himself from something.  I didn’t want to be startled.  The only thing
                I needed at that moment was logic and I wanted to keep my mind clear of
                those stupid occurrences.
                        So, I can’t run away from the hoop.  The only way to stop these
                awkward travels is to stop thinking about my past.  If I knew yesterday that
                I shouldn’t be thinking about the past, I wouldn’t have found myself in the
                living room while those two were there talking.  If I knew...
                        The metal object that touched my back showed me that I became
                caught in the trap of my own thoughts.  I couldn’t think any more because
                the next moment I found myself sitting in my armchair.  A moment after, the
                door opened.

* * *

                        “Listen, we have to talk,” I said to my previous self who just walked
                in.  He looked startled by my presence, but I didn’t want to be hindered.  I
                had to hurry because I didn’t know when I could be taken back.  “ I think
                you know what's the problem.  We have to find the way out.”
                        “Yes, it was a time travel” I said nervously when I saw that stupid
                expression on his face.  “Only, it has to be stopped!”
                        “Well, that’s easy,” he finally answered.  “I won’t touch the hoop
                ever again and that’s it.”
                        “Do you really think it's so simple? Do you think I wanted to come
                over here to chat with you?  Or, maybe I should better say, to chat with
                myself?  Do you understand that as much as I--or you--are attracted by the
                beauties of this lake, the hoop is attracted by yourself...?  I just want to
                say..."
                        At that moment, I heard that the bedroom door opened.  When I took a
                glance, I saw another myself standing there in the nightgown.  O. God,
                where is the end of this madness!?
                        “What have I told you,” I said hopelessly.
                        I couldn’t continue because at the next very moment I was on the same
                place I had been before--on the porch holding the coffee mug in my hands.
                Am I really incapable of going out of this swirl?

* * *

                        After I drank my coffee, I decided to take a walk to the beach.  Have
                you ever tried not to think about anything?  I tried then and it was very
                hard to do.  One is absolutely not aware how much he is connected to his
                past until he tries not to think about it.  For example, just a while ago I was
                drinking my coffee and now it has already become the past.
                        A strange noise startled me for a moment.  No, it wasn’t the pebbles
                creaking under my feet, neither it was the twitter, nor the murmuring water.
                That must be...
                        I heard the noise again.  I looked in front of me, I looked back, I
                looked up and then I saw it.  It was the hoop flying somewhere high above
                my head.  It flied in circles making that strange noise as it was doing it.
                        No, you won’t do it again, I thought and I started running as fast as I
                could.  I wanted to run away, to hide myself, to force the thing to give up.  I
                ran and ran, madly and furiously.  I didn’t feel the touch.  It was just a
                moment after that when I realized I was running by the porch while there
                was another me drinking his morning coffee.  I waved my arms trying to get
                rid of that stupid thing as that could help to make me free.

* * *

                        O.K., if I can’t think about the past, then I can think about my future.
                This thought came to me suddenly when I, tired out of running, sit on the
                pebbles near the water.  Somehow I felt that the hoop isn’t capable of
                taking me into the future.  Future is not defined and, by now, it has taken me
                only to the moments when the defined things happened.
                        What would happen if I kill myself?  I would cut the chain of
                happenings and--make the end.  And yet, I am only twenty-five and until a
                couple of days ago I led a perfectly normal life. Why would I kill myself?
                        What would happen if I kill him?  I could kill that ghost of my future
                who is coming to me over and over forcing me to follow his steps.  If I
                could get rid of him, then it is only me who remains.  And then, I could
                build my future the way I want!
                        That’s right.  That’s the only solution.
                        I was sure that he’ll come again.  I was absolutely sure and I was
                ready to wait.

* * *

                        I wasn’t sure how much time I spent sitting on the beach and amusing
                myself by counting glimmering ribbons that were painted by the Sun on the
                surface of the lake.  That was the only way to clear my mind of thoughts
                and to force myself not to think of anything else.  I couldn’t allow myself
                the luxury to think about the past again.
                        When I finally saw him, he was standing right in front of me.  His eyes
                were filled with fear.  As soon as he appeared, he started waving his head
                and walking backwards.  Oh, how much I hated him at that moment!  He
                was absolutely aware what he was doing to me!  No, he ought to be
                stopped!
                        I approached him slowly and punched his face with a fist as hard as I
                could.  He felt down into the water.  The splash frightened a flock of birds
                and they flied up out of the nearby grove.  I punched him again.  Then--as
                the anger and despair gave me new strength--I continued punching and
                hitting and kicking him with my fists and elbows and legs--whatever was
                more suitable at the moment.  He lifted his hands covered with blood, but
                he couldn’t defend himself.  I was beating him all the time: I didn’t stop
                even when his body became moveless and lifeless.  I wanted him to die.  I
                wanted to be sure he was dead.  Every new blow filled me up with energy
                that was circulating through my veins so that the next blow could be even
                harder than the last one.
                        When I became absolutely sure he was dead, I dragged his body
                deeper into the lake.  Everything began here on this lake and I wanted it to
                end here, too.  Somehow, it seemed the most logical place for the body.
                        I came back to the beach and sit down.  I killed a man, a human being,
                and still the only thing I felt was pure pleasure.  The hoop flied over my
                head somewhere far above and continued his flight heading towards the
                lake.  I was very satisfied watching the silverish circle that began diving
                lower and lower until it became swallowed by the lake.
                        Yes, I was right.  His death broke the spell and opened the doors of
                my future.  The hoop went back to the place that had sent him out to our
                world.  Finally, I was free.
                        Maybe it’s strange, but I felt calm, as I have done the most common
                thing in the world, as the murder is something that is absolutely normal, as
                it is the only possible way of solving problems.  But, in my case, it was the
                most common thing in the world, wasn’t it?
                        I really enjoyed killing him...

* * *

                        Is it my hallucination, or is there something glimmering from the
                water?
                        I didn’t have time to look twice.  With a big splash, the silverish
                circle flied out of the water and felt over me.
                        I didn’t understand whether it was my fear that made me jump on my
                feet, or...  Then I saw my previous self sitting on the pebbles and waiting...
                Waiting for me.
                        No, this is unbelievable, this is absolutely crazy.  It is impossible that
                the madness is going on.  But I broke the spell!  And, anyway, I don’t want
                to die, I am only twenty-five! I want to live!
                        When he stood up and approached me, when I saw that anger and that
                hatred in his eyes, I realized that there was no escape.  There was a
                scenery for this, too.  I stepped backwards trying to get the time, but,
                nothing crossed my mind.  I closed my eyes and bravely waited for his first
                blow.
                        A flock of birds flied somewhere high above my head.

* * *

                        Everything that once begins must have an end--that’s the unwritten law
                of nature.  And everything that begins at one place must have an end at the
                same place.
                        There was nobody around to see the round metal object that was flying
                in circles just above the surface of the lake.  Then, suddenly and without
                any sound, it slipped bellow the surface and sank into the depth of its
                creator.  It was right there where it had been created ages and ages ago by
                the incomprehensible game of nature.  It was right there where it had to
                come back.
                        The time came and it had to return to its place.
                        The lake finally found it's lost part.

                        Dragana Konstantinovic
                        Translated by the author
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