The Blue Hour is delighted to bring you a short story in six parts by author Lucien Brodeur. This is part three. Check back tomorrow for the next installment!
The night was quiet as Jules gazed up at the ceiling wishing he could see green lake. Instead mental images of what occurred after his removal from class materialized.
Tapping a Cal-Neva pen against the discipline referral form, the Principal had furrowed his eyebrows.
“We don’t talk like that here, Jules. No matter what others say to us,” he said. His parents sat next to him opposite the Principal. Though his father’s tie was loosened his face was clenched, and his mother’s eyes were bleary.
“You’ve barely learned there’s no Santa Clause. How could you even know that word?” his mother asked.
Jules thought for a moment before replying.
“From HBO,” he finally said.
Mr. Boudreau ran a hand through grizzled hair and murmured, “You won’t be watching that anymore.”
There was talk of an extended suspension, but in the end he received just one day. Not as bad as it might be, yet it seemed an injustice to Jules.
As he considered the day’s events fluorescence from the streetlight seeped through the blind, pooling on the ceiling, and once again it became a lake. The water was calm with only a slight ripple, as if a mountain breeze passed by. Circling the water at its shadowy edges was the beach, interspersed with smooth dark rocks, perfect for skipping.
The rippling sharpened. Soon green waves appeared in the water, small at first and petering out early, but then gaining momentum, becoming arched peaks breaking into white foam slapping against the beach. The water roiled like a cauldron, so much like a real lake disturbed by a storm that Jules was sure it would wake his parents; that they would come in and yell at him for having a lake on his ceiling.
Amidst the crashing of green and white, he saw the figure again. Only it wasn’t a silhouette anymore. A real hand—followed by a real arm—reached out of the water, waving Jules forth. Jules stood on the bed and looked up, learning that the dim pair of eyes he saw the night before belonged to a pretty autumn-haired girl, who grabbed Jules’ hands. When she touched him Jules experienced an excitement unprecedented in his life, superior even to the feeling of waking up on Christmas morning. She yanked him upwards into the bubbling green.
As Jules entered the dark icy water his throat tightened. In the distance were a beach and a pinpoint of hazy light. Still the lump expanded in his throat causing a sense of suffocation.
The girl put her slender arms around Jules and held him closely. She had soft hands, tawny skin, and grey eyes. Suddenly Jules could breathe.
Then they were no longer in the water but standing on the beach surrounding Green Lake. At first its surface was earthly green, like the natural waters of a mountain lake reflecting the reeds under its surface, but the color dissolved and became an unnatural green, Technicolor, like he had seen in a colorized movie. Once it dissipated the lake became a gigantic movie screen showing the girl pulling Jules out of his bedroom and into the lake.
There were several other boys his age standing around on the beach dressed in Levi 501 jeans, Vans, and button down rodeo shirts. Watching the scene where the girl put her arms around Jules, they cheered.
“Good work there, Jules,” one of the boys called out.
The scene disappeared and the lake became Candyland purple, then Caribbean blue, and then Romper Room orange. When it returned to earthly green Jules could smell campfire and the innards of gutted fish.
Surrounding Green Lake were mountains that seemed close enough to touch, tall and majestic like the Andes, their tips disappearing into the clouds.
“Seems like Zeus could live up there, huh?” said the girl.
As he had stood in awe birdcalls of all kind sounded. There was the singsong of the northern mockingbird, the calling of the hawk, and the tweeting of the mountain songbird. Jules felt overwhelmed.
“You can tell them to stop,” the girl said.
Though hesitant under normal circumstances at Green Lake he felt a new confidence.
“Quiet, please,” he proclaimed. There was silence.
“Good call, Jules,” one of the boys said.
Jules looked at himself in the reflective surface of the lake. He wore not Wrangler jeans but Levi 501s, and not a cheap pair of old New Balance sneakers but a new pair of black-and-red-and-white checkered Vans, and not a plaid shirt from K-mart but an embroidered western shirt like a real cowboy’s. The reflection showed not a pale, scrawny boy but a flaxen, muscular Jules. His image stretched across the lake as the surface turned golden.
“Holy shit,” Jules said, embarrassed by another use of profanity.
“Don’t worry about it, Jules, cursing is allowed here at Green Lake,” the girl said.
“Yeah, don’t fucking worry about it, Jules!” said a boy across the water. He was lying out in the sun on a granite rock. Jules watched as the rock sprung up, flinging the boy into the air. The boy laughed and flailed before diving into the water, out of which he flew and landed back on the rock, lounging once more.
“Come on,” the girl said. “Let’s run!”
She grabbed Jules’ hand and turned toward a plot of tall pale grass beside the lake. When they reached the field the grass parted ways and a dirt path formed before them. The path continued extending as they advanced, keeping ahead by one or two steps.
As they ran the fauna changed. The reedy grass of the ocean dunes became the redwoods of northern California, then the pines of New England, and then the olive trees of southern Greece. Jules stayed close behind the girl as they ran up and down the rolling dirt path, in and out of landscapes, until they reached a field with roses, lilies, and daisies. Overhead the sky was electric blue.
The girl stopped. “We’re alone here,” she said.
With the confidence of Han Solo, Jules leaned over and kissed her on the lips. He had never kissed a girl before; he felt the electric shock. When he pulled his face away from hers, she smiled. Then Jules grabbed her by the hand and again they ran.
They tore into a hot day in late July at a beach near the ocean. A breeze whistled through the reeds of the dunes. Jules and the girl were now wearing bathing suits, his blue and hers a pink one piece, and they both appeared six or seven years younger. They were children who came to the beach with their families, who had wandered off to find playmates in one another.
Though they appeared younger they still had the voices of fifth graders. They trudged up a dune, standing at its top and peering out at the ocean, smelling the dried seaweed and petrifying crab shells.
“This place seems familiar, but it can’t be my memory. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to the ocean,” he said.
“This is mostly my memory,” the girl said. “I lived in southern California before I came to Green Lake. But you were there once too. I saw you. Do you remember?”
A very faint memory returned to Jules, but the scene dissolved and they were back at the lake. Now it was twilight and a group of boys and girls were convening in a field by the side of the water. Electric orbs of light hung in the sky, illuminating the area. A song familiar to Jules hummed from the limbs of the pine trees, and the surface of the lake continued changing colors.
Green Lake began projecting another of its short movies. This one was Chuck Butler picking on Jules in Mr. Lee’s classroom. From the crowd came a round of boos.
“Not a nice boy that Chuck,” the girl said, holding Jules’ hand.
The movie changed into animation, showing cartoon versions of Chuck and Jules on the blacktop outside the classroom near the tetherball nets. Chuck said something mean to Jules, but Jules punched him so hard that Chuck went flying out of the scene.
The crowd erupted with cheers and applause.
Music sifted from the boughs of the pines along the field as it became a dance floor. A song with a dreamy melody played.
“What is this?” asked Jules.
“Xanadu,” the girl said.
“It’s wonderful,” Jules said, glad Chuck Butler wasn’t there to comment.
“If you want to switch it, just think of a different one,” she said.
Once it was over Jules thought of his favorite song, and the pulsating synthetic beat of the music began.
“This is my second favorite song,” the girl said. Jules was able to dance the way they did on MTV. The two of them fast-danced so well to “I’m So Excited” that they attracted a crowd. Afterwards, someone thought of a slow song.
As Jules and the girl danced, she laid her head on his shoulder.
“You know, you could stay here for good if you’d like,” she said.
In silence Jules considered the idea.
“Wouldn’t you want to be in a place like this forever?”
He thought about the little ranch house in Reno where they lived, the crumbly road with patches of burnt-looking sagebrush, the cinder block school with its rusty awnings hanging over the classroom doors, the playground with its battered monkey bars and tetherball poles, and the leering face of Chuck Butler.
Then he thought about his younger brother Francis who tormented him by putting rubber rattlesnakes in his closet, and of his Mom and Dad who looked so concerned when they talked about his progress in the Resource Room or about how he was getting along with the others at school.
“There’s a lot of stuff I don’t like,” he said to the girl. “But I love them.”
The girl nodded, her grey eyes misting. The sound of the last song faded as she led him back to Green Lake with all the boys and girls following. Night had come, making the water murky.
“You have to go back alone,” the lake girl said. The surface of the lake began to glow. “But you have one chance to come back. Just remember, if you do,” she paused, wanting to make sure Jules understood what she was telling him, “it’s for good.”
He nodded. The girl put her arms around Jules and kissed him on the lips; he felt the electric shock again.
“If I want to come back, how do I do it?” Jules asked.
“You know,” she said tapping a finger against her temple. “Just like before you blow out your birthday candles.”
Then without fear Jules walked down Green Lake’s beach heading for the water, which now had a dark green radiance.
Some kids called out from the crowd: “See you soon, Jules!” and “We’ll miss you!”
Jules turned to look at the lake girl. She smiled at him and then he dove into the water.
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.