The Blue Hour is delighted to bring you a short story in six parts by author Lucien Brodeur. Each segment will be published during the week beginning Monday 16th September, beginning with part one below. Use the Table of Contents below to find the other installments!
by Lucien Brodeur
While the rest of his family slept, Jules would sit in bed gazing out the window at the lonely landscape surrounding their home. In the daylight he and Francis, his younger brother, roamed the outdoors like they owned it, pretending to be Han Solo and Luke Skywalker on Tatooine or documentary filmmakers in search of a legendary rattlesnake. But at night when it was a shapeless expanse dotted by wiry tufts of sagebrush, the desert gave Jules the creeps. Sometimes he heard coyotes yapping in the distance.
So he invented ways of dealing with the dark. Glow from a nearby streetlight suffused the bedroom and turned the ceiling a soft shade of green, like a lake he saw when they camped in the Sierra Nevadas. Jules used the memory to play a kind trick on himself, imagining the surface of the ceiling to be the lake. That way instead of the gloom of the desert, he would see shimmery water and snow-tipped mountains. When he was little and couldn’t sleep his mother told him to think about “good and bright and beautiful” things. The ceiling lake became those.
If he thought about the details of the trip—the jar with the rusted top holding the salmon eggs they used as bait, or the red-and-black checkered flannel shirt his father wore while fishing, or the song of the northern mockingbird—the more real the ceiling lake seemed to him. He could sense the crispness of the morning air and smell the innards of gutted fish.
Sometimes he would push aside his Star Wars sheets and stand on the creaky twin bed, perching on tiptoes while extending his palm upwards, to touch the ceiling and confirm it was still just plaster.
One night Jules lay awake thinking about three people at Lincoln Park Elementary School, where he was in the fifth grade: Mr. Lee, his gum-smacking, overly enthusiastic teacher; Chuck Butler, a bear of a boy with a freckly face who sat behind him; and Mary Ann Michaelson, an autumn-haired girl who batted her eyes at both Chuck and Jules.
Jules pictured the look of concern on Mr. Lee’s face when he returned from the Resource Room, hearing in his mind the hollow remarks—”Oh, I’m sure you’ll make progress in there, Jules”—said through Juicy Fruit-sweetened breath.
As for Chuck Butler, it was beginning to be a bit much. The poking, the flicking of ears, the pulling of hair. The questioning: “How much does your dad make?” Jules would feign interest in Mr. Lee’s lesson on the digestive system. “Don’t ignore me, you faggot. Where’d you get those shoes?” Remembering the late summer shopping trip to K-Mart with his mother, where he picked out a pair of price-reduced New Balance sneakers, the red would rise to Jules’ face.
And there was the mystery of Mary Ann Michaelson. Did she have a crush on one, or both, of them? As she seldom spoke it was hard to tell.
But instead of obsessing over school, Jules decided to take his mind off things by going to green lake.
He stared at the ceiling, entering into the memory of the camping trip. He envisioned them playing poker by the light of the Coleman lantern and Francis swiping glances at his hand. He tried to hear the rustling of the pine trees at night, to smell trout frying in the skillet.
When he opened his eyes the ceiling was glowing green. The surface appeared more than before to be like water. Jules could smell fish bait and pine needles and campfire.
At that moment Jules was certain the ceiling was not a ceiling. It was, somehow, a lake, crystalline green, wavering as a body of water does. He perceived a dark layer in the depth, perhaps its sandy bottom.
In the distance he saw a figure in the water, swaying as it approached. Once it drew near enough, Jules discerned the silhouette of a hand. The hand waved as if beckoning him forth. Behind it, obscured in the green water, was a dim pair of eyes.
Jules leapt from bed landing on the floor with a thud and ran quietly, wishing not to wake his parents whose bedroom was across the hall, to the window and looked out, hoping someone on a stroll had passed the streetlight, casting shadows on the ceiling.
But Edmands Drive was deserted. Under the pale fluorescence were the crumbly road, the small ranch houses lining the street, a few patches of sagebrush, the streetlights lit up like spurting matches, and the desert leading to the foothills of the mountains.
Scanning the dark barren land, Jules thought he heard something outside, but maybe he imagined it. It was a singsong sound like children in a choir, crying out:
“Wish I may, wish I might, wish to see Green Lake tonight.”
Lucien Brodeur is a high school English teacher who lives with his family outside of Boston. His short stories have appeared in Mirror Dance, Eunoia Review, and the Four Cornered Universe.