This is the first of a series of stories I call Dreamleaks. A dreamleak comes, appropriately enough, from a dream I recently had, one memorable and weird enough to justify recording. I then attempt to make a semi-coherent narrative out of the dream logic at play. In this case, the originating dream came just last week and demanded my attention. I could even see a video game around the concept, but for now, it will have to to this tale, a little something I call Let's Play Hockey.
Aaron Jacobksy knew he should be excited. After all, this was the moment he dreamed of all his life. The years in high school and the minor league, the countless hours spent practicing or recovering from injuries instead of spending time with his friends, and most importantly, the absolute obsession with learning even the tiniest details about the sport. All of it would be worth it, because now, he was in the big leagues. In just a few minutes, he would be starting the first game of the first season of the 2006 season.
But despite all this, he mostly felt scared. What if he really wasn't good enough to play at this level? What if he made an ass of himself, humiliating his family and even worse, letting down the fellow players he once idolized. His peers now, he realized.
Coach Roberts looked back at his newest rookie and seemed to understand. "Kid, I know what you're going through. I've seen it a thousand times. Hell, I felt the same way when I started. But you're gonna do great, kid. Nothing can really prepare you for the big leagues. If you have the heart to get here, then you've got all you need. Now, I won't say it won't leave you with a few scars," he pointed at the gash across his face, one that left his eye permanently blind, "But the good will make up for the bad.
"Besides, kid, if you ever need me, any time at all, you just call, and I'll be there to help you out. We're in this together kid, as a team. You me, Erik, all the boys, and everything else besides. Now get out there and make me proud."
As he spoke, the opening buzzer rang, and Aaron joined his teammates on the ice. The rink looked so different from this perspective, he thought. He watched it on TV and even as a spectator feet away, but neither truly captured the experience in its entirety, the sheer weight of the building itself. It almost felt mythic, its presence so overwhelming that Aaron nearly missed the start of the game.
But as the puck dropped, Aaron's hesitation vanished, replaced with the energy of the game. Aaron felt himself as a part of something bigger, his instincts override any doubt he had, and he had become one with the game - for about three minutes. Then he got his first trip to the penalty box. Aaron didn't even know why; nothing serious, like getting into a fight. Probably just some technical rule he briefly forgot.
Except as he left the ice, he wasn't directed to the penalty box. No, he was sent out of the arena entirely. Instead, he found himself in a perfectly normal bar. Formally dressed men and woman flirted and drank, oblivious or indifferent to the man in full hockey gear standing there with a confused look on his face. If these people were aware of the hockey game, they didn't show it. Light music played in the background, and for lack of anything better to do, Aaron took a seat. "Coach?" he mused to himself. "What just happened?"
Suddenly, the phone rang, catching Aaron by surprise, especially since he didn't even notice the bar had a phone until now. "You doing okay down there, kid?" Coach's raspy voice asked Aaron.
"I guess so, Coach, but what am I doing here?" Aaron asked. "And what's happening in the game?" It suddenly dawned on him that he didn't even know what the score was.
"It's close, kid, but don't you worry about that now. You got to just ride out this penalty," Coach explained, or rather failed to explain.
"Okay, but why aren't I in the penalty box?" Aaron asked. "I never saw someone just go to the bar before."
"It's like I said, kid, nothing can prepare you for the real thing," Coach said. "Once you're playing, it's a whole different game."
"So when can I get back in?" Aaron asked. He also realized he had no idea how long he was down here, or the time in general.
"Sorry, but we're not putting you back in right away. We need you to go to the dungeon first."
The dungeon! Wow, they really must be cracking down on players this season. "What dungeon, Coach?"
"It's just to the right of the bar," Coach explained. "And watch out down there, kid. The monsters are fresh at the start of the season, and they added damage squares this year. So make sure you watch your step, and for God's sake, kid, take off the skates first."
Monsters? DAMAGE SQUARES. "Coach, this doesn't sound like hockey to me," Aaron admitted. "I don't think the NHL rules ever mentioned any of this."
"Of course not, kid, who said anything about the NHL? You're in the big leagues now, the secret games. And we've got more than winning a cup here, believe me. Now, don't worry kid, I wouldn't ask this of you if I didn't think you could handle it. Now, here's what you're gonna do. Once you're in the dungeon, look to see if any of the monsters can be tamed. We can really use an electric type in this match, and maybe a few ghost monsters. Once you defeat and tame them, bring them back here, and we can enchant the puck with them. It always helps to have a few monsters ready to summon when you get the last quarter."
There can only be one explanation, Aaron reasoned. Coach Roberts had gone completely insane. That scar must have brought about some brain damage. Aaron grabbed the phone and took off, looking for some proper authorities to call, or at the very least a bathroom. As he took a right out of the bar, he opened the door - to find a stone labyrinth waiting for him. Strange figures lurked in the shadow, and as he cautiously made his way inside, Aaron narrowly avoided stepping into a pool of some sizzling gray fluid. Ah, right. Damage squares.
"Hey, Coach, can I talk to you?" Aaron heard one of his players on the phone.
"Can it wait, Erik?" Coach asked. "I'm guiding Aaron through his first trip through the Nether-rink."
"It's kind of important, Coach," Erik insisted. "You see, I had a confession to make. Between seasons, I sort of - became a wizard."
A long silence passed, before Coach got back on the line. "I gotta let you go, Aaron. It turns out that Erik's a wizard now. Don't worry, that's probably good news. A lot of All-Stars were wizards. Hell, Gretzky could turn somebody into a newt like you wouldn't believe. But it's got its risks, too. And frankly, I can't afford to lose another eye." Just as the phone went dead, a horror loomed over Aaron, black lightning crackling about it. Aaron sighed, raised his stick, and kicked off his skates. This was going to be a long season.