Lynna’s performance at practice was completely top notch that Coach took her on with the team despite her handicap. Drew was right about her. She was so good that she played in our game against Cove Lake. She didn’t score any goals, but that wasn’t anything I’d complain about. Instead, she helped manipulate the puck into the net by passing it between the people who could get a shot off the goal, observing opportunities that our teammates sometimes missed. We ended up scoring two goals to their one, which put us in the final game against Westbrook.
That week of the game, the school held a special pep rally in honor of our team. Everyone dressed up as penguins or pirates, though I didn’t understand why we kept that flimsy mascot. Somehow, only the hockey team’s mascot was the penguins. The rest of the school’s sports emblazoned the pirates. Even the girl’s teams took the pirate as a mascot, but not us. I don’t remember where I heard it, but a friend once told me pirates hated ice and that’s how we ended up with penguins. The hockey team was once a sport for jokes as we hardly won games; at least the comedy club used it in their act. But because of our sudden popularity, everyone claimed to be the number one fan when we knew they weren’t.
We took in extra tickets for our fundraiser from the students for tonight’s game and pooled the money into the prom fund. Clara and Teresa were excited when Justin brought them the money. They already plotted and planned their way through the event as if they were the only two members on the council. After tonight though, we would draw the tickets for the winners of our contest. Every team member would choose the lucky girl’s ticket and give them a kiss; well except for Lynna.
When we arrived at the rink to get ready for the game, the wolves were already there, except they were our welcoming party. The display was a horrific of sorts; they threw decapitated stuffed penguins at our bus as we pulled into the drive. Images from the jumbotron inside played a video of a wolf pack massacring more stuffed penguins, which was not only disturbing but got me wondering how exactly they filmed that because it looked incredibly real.
Lynna was the only teammate who wasn’t perturbed by the situation. She pulled her hair into a knot and braided it swiftly. She stuffed a hat onto her head and pulled a warm coat over her body before hoisting up the huge bag on her shoulder. I followed her out of the bus and into the building. More images of what was starting to be known as ‘The Penguin Massacre’ followed us as we made our way into the locker rooms. They were plastered on the walls and billboards.
Thank goodness the locker room was free of pictures and wolf memorabilia. Another thirty minutes went by as we got dressed in silence. I know we all thought about the game and what it meant for us to have gotten this far. It was awkward talking about guy stuff in front of Lynna, though I was sure she didn’t pay any attention; at least she didn’t show it. We finished dressing once she disappeared behind a wall. Eventually, she reappeared from out of the adjoining bathroom in her gear and sat down on the benches with us. She produced some carrots from a concealed pocket and started munching on them.
Ella suddenly burst into the room carrying a huge bag in her quivering arms. She was out of breath like she’d been running down the hallway. She plopped herself down in front of Lynna and unzipped the bag. She took out a small compact machine with electrodes that she placed on Lynna’s temples.
“I almost didn’t make it in time. The cheer squad is organizing an anti-wolf support party. I told them to bring on the ice age, but some of Westbrook’s adoring fans didn’t take kindly to my words and blocked my passage into the hallway that led down here. I had to take an alternate route. They’re brutal. Already two students have been thrown out for instigating violence. West Fork’s team is present, cheering on the wolves. They were slated to be the champions this year, but you guys ended that streak.” She paused and took out a bottle of scented air freshener and squirted it in the room. “Already it smells bad in here,” she commented.
Coach Clarson walked into the room. He froze when he noticed Ella in the room. He stared at her, unsettled by her presence. When she didn’t acknowledge him, he spoke up. “What are you doing in here? This isn’t meet-your-boyfriend night.”
She stuffed the bottle back into her pack. “Relax Coach C. I’m the designated trainer for tonight’s game, so it’s my job to make sure Lynna is ready for battle.” Ella glanced at the printout.
All I saw was what Coach and rest of the team saw; a graph with squiggly lines charted onto it.
“And?” Coach inquired. “Can she play?”
Ella pulled off the paper and let the machine go again. “Yup!”
“Then why are you measuring it again?” he grunted.
“I’m making sure she’s ready. With the complaint made, I want them to know I have proof. More than one test should do it.”
“What complaint?” Drew blurted out.
I silently wondered the same thing.
Coach sighed. “The wolves’ coach complained about the fact that we have an epileptic on the team. He stated that she could be seriously injured if any more trauma was done to her head as it usually occurs in the games. Plus, if she had a seizure while on the ice, we can’t just pause the clock and wait for her to regain consciousness. Ella brought the machine that measures brain activity. It’s really good at pinpointing the underlying signals prior to attacks.”
Ella smiled casually. “Her brain isn’t registering obscure activity on the graph. Most epileptics show abnormal activity or less activity if they’re close to a seizure.” She pulled off the next paper and glanced at the Coach. “I think we should keep her off the ice as much as possible, for true stability. They’d love for an excuse to get rid of her.”
“Hmm,” he contemplated. “We’ll see. We only really need her when Milligan plays. He’s the team’s best forward. He’s a goal scorer too. She’d put up a good defense.”
“Don’t forget about Vanderwerk. If he’s on the ice, don’t put Lynna on. He’ll eat her alive,” she chastised.
I had forgotten about the defensive man for the wolves. They called him Igor, because he made quick work for the forwards. He was a huge guy, towering over the rest of the team at seven feet in height. He should’ve been a basketball player, but he wasn’t. Already my senses frayed thinking about him. That was the last person I wanted Lynna to have contact with.
Lynna glanced up at us for the first time. “No, it’s best if we stick to the plan that we made before. Change it if we have to.” She raised an eyebrow at me before staring back at the floor.
None of us knew that she had listened in on this conversation. She had ear buds plugged into a musical device, which we all figured was streaming nonstop music of some sort. We had discussed a strategy in the locker room at our field house before piling onto the bus, one that she listened attentively to.
Justin buckled his helmet. “Well, what are we waiting for?”
Toby grinned at him. “Let’s do this!”
“Alright,” Coach sighed aloud. “Three minutes, then out on the ice.”
I put on the last remnants of my uniform. I grabbed my helmet and caught up with Lynna who didn’t wait for the three minutes to pass. “Are you sure you’re up to playing?” I asked her, practically pleading silently she would say no.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “Are you alright?”
I bit back my retort because Ella followed us closely from behind. She came with us out onto the ice, carrying another bag full of bottled water and dry towels.
“Peachy,” I answered her finally, breathing out my words.
Ella shook her head at us. “You two…” she trailed off.
“What?” we both asked her in unison.
She smirked and let out a giggle. “‘Are you okay? Are you alright?’” she mocked us. “Just start making out and get it over with.”
Toby groaned from behind Ella who stood in the gate between the ice and lower rooms. “I hate to say it, but she’s right.”
“No kissing on the ice, Drew!” Coach yelled down the tunnel at us. “Ella is not here for your enjoyment!”
Ella scowled. “Hey, now…”
“They’re talking about Reed and Ashford!” Drew yelled back, cutting off Ella.
“Oh,” Coach stated as he caught up. “Well, I don’t think I’d stop that, but no kissing on the ice. Save it for later.”
The entire team laughed at Coach. Lynna and I frowned at him; we didn’t like each other in that way. Well she didn’t and I…I didn’t know how I felt about Lynna anymore. I always admired her and felt this need that she had to be protected, along with Saladian and the child whose name I didn’t know. But did I like Lynna? Did I like her in the same way Ella and Drew liked each other? I didn’t have the answer.
I hadn’t had any of the visions or dreams in a long time. The drive I had after each was always because of what I felt at the time; at least that’s what I thought. But when I looked at Lynna the need was primal and basic. She was the one I would give my life for. I had never really thought about it before but only acted on instinct. Now that I consciously thought about the topic, it was clear that even though the need might be a left over feeling from the visions, I would still act upon it. I wanted her to need my protection. The thought of her needing me alone was enough to make my blood hum and vibrate with power. I never knew where these feelings originated from, but I didn’t care. I was born for this. I knew it in my heart. Whenever I thought about protecting Lynna, strength poured into my limbs and my vision grew clearer.
The wolves had already started warming up on the ice. They skated past our box, quickly and efficiently. I spotted tiny movements between the forwards and defensive men. They used a code of sorts to communicate with each other without using words. No wonder their team was quiet. Their coach didn’t give them a pep talk at all, not like ours did. After studying their movements from the box in the first period I understood the language they spoke to one another. Each tiny gesture was a signal to the others what was about to happen. I thwarted some of the aims at our goal, and it wasn’t too long before they figured out I had deciphered their code. I don’t know when they learned this piece of information, for I never told any of my teammates about the plays, I only tried blocking their advances and succeeded every time, except for the last one. They went for another pass at the goal, and as I moved to block the player another teammate flew across the ice and intercepted me. Somehow, though I couldn’t really understand why, I ended up in the penalty box, which was odd because the person who sideswiped me should’ve been put in here instead.
During their power play they scored a goal. Lynna jumped on the ice then, taking over for James. She rushed over to Toby as quick as she could and blocked another shot aimed at our goal with her body. As soon as the puck hit her in the side and ricocheted off, she was gone again from our end of the rink and skating towards their side with the puck. Drew waited for her on the other end; they must’ve combined their ideas concerning scoring before this game. I didn’t know this play. This was not discussed in the field house. She twirled in place, dodging an attack from an oncoming player who intended to knock her into the sideboards; the player missed her by only a few inches and sailed straight into the plastic. She stopped quickly then hit the puck towards their goal. Drew swept into the mass of players in the front of the wolves’ goalie and shot the puck into their goal from an awkward angle, giving it an extra push. We scored!
I had two minutes left in the box. No more goals were gained for us or the other team in the first period. During our break, Justin removed his helmet displaying a nasty bruise the Vanderwerk kid had given him. His forehead swelled slightly from the contusion. Ella smeared on some Neosporin where a tiny cut was and put on a bandage to keep most of his sweat out of the wound. Toby joked with him about healing the cut with saliva. He offered to spit on it and started hacking up mucous for the effect. Justin pushed him away into Lynna, who immediately vomited into the trash can that was beside her. Our games were over now. I warily stood up, wondering what could’ve provoked Lynna to do something like that. Ella rushed over to her. She pulled out the electrodes and checked her brain for abnormal readings. So far, she was concussion free. Lynna had been able to keep away from the wolves’ harsh attempts to knock us all unconscious. She always moved out of their way at the last minute avoiding collision. They couldn’t correct their course quickly enough to escape their intended trajectory and that’s how they ended up hitting the sideboards as often as they did.
A few more minutes went by before our break ended, and it was time to get back on the ice for round two. But before we broke away from the locker room, one of the referees walked in and announced Lynna’s removal into the penalty box for a three-minute hiatus because she was suspected of cheating. They searched her uniform for anything out of the ordinary and then reminded us all that if they found any evidence to incriminate her, our team would be disqualified. Once they left the locker room, our time was up, and we couldn’t discuss the odd matter. Lynna shrugged off the incident and sat down in the penalty box without complaint. I took over for Justin on the ice and rammed into Milligan just to prove a point. They could mess with me, but not Lynna. Milligan counterattacked me with a punch and I dodged it. His fist hit the plastic behind me. Nevertheless, a fight broke out and the refs were forced to intercede. Instead of throwing Milligan into the penalty box for instigating a fight they threw me in there, though I never threw a punch at all. The entire game turned in favor of the wolves. Our team was short two people now.
“That was foolish,” Lynna chastised me from under her breath.
“They started it.” I shrugged in response.
She glanced at me, tearing her eyes off the ice for the first time that night. “They’re not playing fairly,” she spoke in Chinese.
I recognized the dialect she spoke in, Mandarin. How did she know I spoke that language? I don’t remember telling her what languages I knew fluently.
“All of this is on purpose,” she resumed. “We were never supposed to come this far in the playoffs. This isn’t normal hockey, not the hockey you play.”
Twenty seconds were left on her timeout clock. The wolves scored, pushing Justin out of the way as he moved to block Milligan’s shot.
“Surely you’ve noticed,” she mumbled before she disappeared out of the box and back onto the ice.
Eventually I was back into play as well, but as soon as I hit the ice, Justin was slammed into the sideboards again for protecting Drew from a nasty shot at his legs. The shot would’ve sent Drew sprawling. Justin’s helmet broke on impact with the sideboards and he fell unconscious to the ground. Their teammate, Hoffman, was thrown into the penalty box with two minutes on the timer while Justin was hauled away by paramedics. In another game, with another team, that kid would’ve been suspended for the whole game. I was the only defensive man left on our team who was strong enough to stop their forward’s advances now that my friend was out.
I attempted thwarting an unfair and nearly devastating attack aimed at Drew. I ended up in the penalty box again, instead of the player who tried harming my friend, which was completely backwards. I knew then that what Lynna told me was correct, and my suspicions once she had raised them were confirmed. This wasn’t a normal hockey game. The refs were intent on punishing us no matter what happened, no matter the rules. The players kept trying to harm enough of us to keep us out of play so that we would be forced to forfeit. I wondered why they went to this trouble instead of scoring multiple goals over our one. It hardly made any sense. The game was already fixed in their favor, and we were the team at a disadvantage of not knowing how the rules truly worked, if there were any rules at all.
As I sat in the box awaiting my release, I overheard a peculiar conversation from the opposing team through the glass.
“I can’t believe they’ve made it this far,” someone grumbled. “It was supposed to be West Fork’s team that we played. That would’ve been an awesome game and a well-deserved win. This is ridiculous.”
“Calm down. They may not be like us, but they’re actually good at what they do,” someone else replied.
“I wouldn’t call it that…” a rough guy spoke up suddenly. His voice sounded familiar, though I couldn’t place where I’d heard it. “The girl on their team…” he trailed off.
“What about her?” the first guy asked.
“There’s something strange about her.”
“I think Cason stated she has epilepsy.”
“No. That’s not it. We tried citing them for cheating; the refs found nothing. No single human moves like that.”
“Do you think she’s…” he trailed off.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw the two guys stare at each other, meaningfully.
“We should test her,” a third responded.
“Which one?” the second asked.
“Full assault. We’re going to win this no matter what. Let’s see what she does,” he concluded.
The five minutes were up, and I was out of the box once more. The other team scored another goal. I joined my teammates on the rebound and chased after the puck. Drew appeared on the ice, followed by Lynna who traded out Alex and James. Lynna passed me mouthing the words, “Don’t do anything foolish,” and I in turn mouthed at Drew, “Watch her.” He understood me right away and skated into place. Lynna and Drew passed the puck back and forth to each other across the ice, stalling for time. Eventually Drew lodged the puck into the goal, but the goalie blocked the shot. The wolves skated back down to our side, trying for another goal. Toby miraculously blocked it, but I thought I saw Lynna’s arm twitch a bit before she moved again.
Ella caught the movement as well. She leaned forward in the box, searching for a reason to gain a timeout. Coach even tried getting the refs attention, but they seldom looked anywhere near our box. Drew finally got a hold of the puck again after a series of shots from the wolves’ bodies; they had surrounded Toby and the goal. Lynna followed him and I matched her speed down the ice.
Vanderwerk made a motion with his stick. I caught the trick from where I stood; he was signaling in code again. Two huge defensive men made a beeline towards Lynna after she gained control of the puck. They barreled into her, taking her by surprise. She dropped her stick and I caught the puck and flicked it over to Drew. Drew shot it back to Lynna, her stick was back in her hands. The two defensive men were no where near her, but they had noticed that she was out of their reach again. She got near the goal and hit the puck towards it, but the net was blocked. Drew caught the puck and tried again, before passing it back to Lynna. She caught it once more as the puck ricocheted off the sideboards, and then propelled herself closer to the goal, angling her stick for leverage.
Four defensive men now barreled towards her, paying no attention to the puck or the game or anyone else on the ice. They had singled her out for a purpose, whatever that was. There was no time to help Drew. There was only one thing I wanted, and that was to protect Lynna from this apparent attack. Full assault apparently meant an attack on Lynna. I shot myself out of Vanderwerk’s reach and rushed towards her location. I skated in front of her body just as the group hit us.