Coming fast around the other team’s net, Chris hits the puck and curses when it gets blocked by the goalie. One quarter into the game and he has only scored once, which has been his worst performance all year. Unsure what is going on, he moves back to let his teammates handle the puck and scans the stands for the scout. He spots the lanky Mr. Zalen standing on the other side of the glass from Coach Warner, both men watching him intently. Glancing at the scoreboard, Chris is thankful that they are winning even though he has had very little to do with that. He knows one point is all it takes for a win, but he has missed passes and lost the puck far too many times for him to be proud. Forcing his ego away, he mutters about being part of a team and them needing him. Giving a final look to the scout, he goes around his own net and crosses over to steal the puck.
Passing to the captain, Chris rushes to get ahead of the defender who has been the bane of his existence all night. The taller player has practically manhandled him and the refs have done nothing more than a warning. While the crowd boos the decisions and shouts at the officials, the players know that everything is barely legal. Seeing the puck heading toward him, Chris moves faster and stretches his stick to catch it. Unable to shake his aggressive opponent, he is knocked into the boards and falls to the ice. Back on his feet and gasping for air, his head swims from the impact and he struggles to join the action. A whistle stops the game, the refs awarding a penalty shot to the opposing team.
“Don’t worry too much about it,” the captain says as he skates over to Chris. He watches one of the officials skate by, the man glaring at the pair. “Something funny is going on here, but we’ll figure out how to stop it. Coach Warner won’t let us down and none of us are willing to give up. Heard about you and the scout, so I hope that isn’t messing you up. We need everyone at their best now.”
“I’m trying, but that big guy keeps wailing on me,” Chris replies, his ribs aching from the last blow. Seeing that they are about to set up for the penalty shot, he follows the captain to the middle of the rink. “They aren’t calling anything on him, which means he’s going to continue beating me up. You and the others can focus on scoring. Let me keep the monster occupied because it looks like he’s their best defender. If he’s too busy shoving me around then he won’t be able to stop the rest of you.”
“Sacrificial lamb position, huh?”
“Not ideal, but at least it negates one of their weapons.”
“Try not to lose any teeth.”
“More concerned about my ribs.”
With matching grins, the two players move away from each other and wait for the shot to be taken. To their relief, the goalie blocks the puck and sends it skittering toward the captain. Chris waves that he is open, which causes the large defender to get closer. Moving to escape and putting on an act to make it look like he really wants the puck, he draws his opponent away from his teammates. Risking a glance at the captain, he gestures for a spot that he could feasibly reach, but has no intention of really heading for. Sensing that something is wrong, the larger player slows down and looks to his coach, who waves for him to stay on his opponent. Skating toward his own goal, Chris smiles when the defender tries to bait him back into the action. He skids to a stop and waits to see what his tense opponent will do, his own body relaxed and loose to allow for quicker reactions.
Dodging to the side, he lets the snarling player fly past him and hurries back to where the puck is sliding into the open. Hearing the cursing defender coming up behind him, Chris tries to pass to one of his teammates. Before he can hit the puck, his opponent’s stick catches his ankle and he crashes to the ground. He is thankful that he does not feel or hear the crunch of bone, but his head is aching from the jarring impact. Whistles go off around him, the referees unable to ignore such an obvious foul. As the smiling defender is put in the penalty box, Chris is helped to his feet and guided to where he can take his shot. Feeling blood in his mouth, he does his best to swallow the metallic taste instead of spitting onto the ice.
Tuning out the cheers and stomping feet, Chris focuses only on the goalie and trying to find a weak point. The bulky player makes it difficult to choose a target, especially since he has seen the man easily catch and block the puck. With no other ideas, he decides to fire his shot down the middle with all of his strength and hope for the best. Pretending to take careful aim at an exposed corner, he shifts his stick before swinging and gritting his teeth to hold back a shout. The sound of Chris hitting the puck echoes throughout the arena as the disc rockets across the ice. As it nears the goalie, it bounces and arches up to strike the player in the mask. People scream as his head is knocked off his shoulders and smashes against the glass divider. The body remains standing as whistles ring out and many in the crowd scramble to get pictures of the grotesque scene.
Enraged beyond reason, the visiting coach throws down his clipboard and jumps onto the ice. He immediately goes through the surface and plunges into the freezing water, his flailing form barely visible as it floats away from the hole. Cracks form around the rink and players from both sides begin to lose their footing. The home team’s goalie does his best to remain motionless, but the circular piece he is on suddenly flips. People with a higher vantage point take pictures of the panicking man stuck in the net, his padding preventing him from getting free. Others begin to fall in with only two managing to cling to the edges, their legs already turning black from frostbite. The referees continue blowing their whistles even after fall into the water at the same time, the spots around them turning red as if they have been liquified. Players that are off the ice do their best to stretch their sticks to those who are close to the edges, only a handful making it to safety.
Appearing to be unaffected by the chaos, Chris is still staring at the body when a familiar shout snaps him back to reality. He looks around to see the captain holding onto a spinning chunk of ice that is threatening to flip. Skating toward his friend, he jumps over the cracks that are spitting plumes of frost. Coming to the edge of the water, Chris reaches out a hand that is covered in slick ice that makes it nearly impossible to grab. Removing his gloves, he tries again and touches the captain’s fingers before the rink shifts again. The bobbing and pivoting chunk comes down and snaps in half, the terrified player getting torn in two by the razor-sharp edges of the hole.
Blood on his face and hands, Chris backs away and looks around to see if anybody else is on the ice. He watches one player bursts from the water, but they are immediately crushed by two fast moving pieces. Unsure of what to do, he notices that the defender has been trapped in the penalty box. The player bangs on the walls, none of which are the door that would normally let him out. Chris begins looking for a way to reach him, his simple plan being to use his stick to break the glass. Before he can move, he hears a sound that reminds him of a blender with the top off. A nauseating idea comes to his mind an instant before it becomes a reality and the shrieking defender is pureed from below. The gore explodes out the open top of the box, but everyone in the crowd is too focused on escaping the cracks that are spreading to the stands.
“Coach Warner!” Chris shouts, his voice cracking. Looking around for his mentor, he realizes that there is no way off the fractured ice. “I can use some help here. Not really sure what’s going on too. Kind of hoping I’m dreaming since none of this makes any sense. Hello? Anybody out there?”
A low rumble shakes the arena and Chris watches the last of the crowd rush out of the doors, which slam shut. Blood can be seen flowing beneath the ice and all of the holes emit bubbles that explode into puffs of snow. Another quake sends the damaged parts of the glass dividers toppling into the rink, their shards bouncing into the water. Unable to escape, Chris takes a seat in the middle of the rink and removes his helmet. He takes out his handwritten message and stares at it while his body becomes cold. Even when he hears the crackling return and become louder by the second, he remains sitting. He is prepared for the worst when the rink explodes into a roaring geyser that freezes to the ceiling, the faint silhouettes of bodies emblazoned on the crimson-hued ice.