CHAPTER 1 - KADMUS
There is a saying in Borschland that a hockey puck is akin to the human heart, for as a puck in hockey so the heart in love is fiercely knocked about while seldom reaching its goal.
You will have to forgive us Borschlanders. We are a very romantic and hopeful people, and nearly all of us consider love nobler than a frozen rubber disk. But it is true that Borschlanders are ice hockey mad, and so are prone to sayings that combine love and our favorite sport.
So much is also true of this story, the story of the first North American ever to play ice hockey in the Borschland Hockey League: Sherman Ignatius Reinhardt.
But I, Kadmus Greningen, journalist, eyewitness of this story, must also inform you that what follows is not strictly about love, nor even ice hockey, but about Te Hart.
Te Hart can be translated roughly from Borschic as "The Heart," and from this you may conclude that I come to you with a romance. And yes, certainly there is one.
But Te Hart means more to us Borschers than the temporary flutterings of passion.
Te Hart is best translated "the deep longing of the heart," and this is in truth that for which all life strives. This is the soul of intrepid adventure, of human beings who bravely step forward onto the slippery ice of their destiny, testing the blades of their grace-given talents, while saints and angels sing in sheltering harmony.
It is, finally, a tale of how one such skater found his talent and changed an entire nation.
Sherm's story unfolded in the year 329 of our reckoning, the year that in North America there was no National Hockey League season. Our hero was a 24-year old of promising ice hockey ability in the lands of North America. But if you look up his statistics in the record books you will be hard-pressed to find them, because though he had very fine promise as a professional, he never quite made it, for reasons known only to the saints and Fate.
In fact, Sherm was so mightily frustrated by the higher-ups and decision-makers of North American hockey that he had become willing to play somewhere else. The tipping point came when the National Hockey League of that year was suspended, for reasons best known only to the principals in the matter. Sherm wrote to put his name in when he saw the Borschland hockey posting on a bulletin board just inside his team locker room.
In due time he received a telegram from Kronus Vujlsbarron, the legendary owner of our most legendary Borschic ice hockey team, Te Staff ("The City," in English), saying he would be glad to have him, based on his written credentials.
No one receives telegrams in the wide world, of course. But our land is different. We live somewhere in the world that isn't quite the world all the time-- more about that presently-- and the only sure way of getting a long-distance communication from Borschland or the peoples of its continent is to send a telegram by our underwater cable to Perth, Australia, where it is then sent by other, more advanced means all around the world.
Sherm received this telegram, so it has been told, on the very day that he had been on the telephone (another very advanced device only now coming into use here) with someone in Russia, thinking that he might be able to play in that very cold and cruel place.
This telegram said, in good English, because we Borschers are proud of our ability to learn languages, START. HELLO FROM BORSCHLAND. YOUR CONTRACT TO FOLLOW. PLEASE REPORT TO NUMBER 14 WAATERSDRAM, STAFF BORSCH, BORSCHLAND, FOR TRAINING, BY 25 NACHTOBER 12 NOON OF THE CLOCK. END.
Meester Vujlsbarron is famous all about our country for saying only those things that need to be said, and indeed, in our country that is seen as a great virtue (which makes me the greatest chatterbox in Borschland, I am afraid). But Sherm, who is a man of few words himself, understood that his petition to play in the Borschland Hockey League had been granted.
So Sherm collected his equipment, said his goodbyes to his family and friends, and stepped on to an airplane to make the long trek to our nation.
Now to get to our Continent, most foreigners do fly. This might seem normal to you in the wide world.
Flying, however, is a risky business for those of us who call the Continent our home. That is because periodically the Continent is caught in a "phase shift," a phenomenon that takes the entire mass of land upon which we live into a parallel universe whose borders no one has adequately mapped as yet. And when the phase shift comes, anyone caught more than five hundred meters above the earth is liable to be left behind.
That means, one moment you could be flying merrily above Staff Borsch, Borschland's capital city, and the next you could be over a very empty and desolate portion of the South Indian Ocean.
And since most people who live on the Continent are not partial to being left behind (shifts sometimes last years), most of us do not go up in airplanes, and many of us want nothing to do with airships, those floating balloons with gondolas attached, even though they fly perfectly well at altitudes of five hundred meters and below.
Sherm flew first by airplane to the Waterbrownbear International Airport, disembarking on the morning of 23 Nachtober (April 23, 2005) having found that the only way by air into the Continent is by the jetliners of the Upright Bears, our neighbors to the south, who in many ways have embraced the advancements of the wide world that we have not.
From Bearland to Borschland by train takes something like 16 hours, but by airship only 5. So Meester Vujlsbarron and his colleagues considered in their wisdom that going by airship would find Sherm in Staff Borsch a day early, and give him time to rest before his first skate on 25 Nachtober.
But when Sherm did not arrive at the airship station of the Borschland Airship Conveyance Concern in Oststaff at the appointed hour, not having been taken on as a passenger on the ship, there was understandable consternation all round, and some suspicion of the Upright Bears, who are not always so upright as all that.
Sherman Ignatius Reinhardt, skater in a strange land, missing person.
CHAPTER 2 - SHERM
I knew I was in deep yogurt the moment I lost my airship ticket.
Let me back up. I knew, before I even got on the plane to go to the Continent, that I was in deep yogurt, but something made me do it, something like a yogurt monster that sucked me into a carton full of very deep yogurt.
See, I have always wanted to play pro hockey. Sherm Reinhardt, professional hockey player. My dream.
I was good enough to play college hockey, at a school called College of the Lakes in central Minnesota, though you can hardly look it up even today, because they are trying to duck the feds for tax fraud.
I'm a pretty good skater, and not small, at 6 feet and 175 pounds. And when I came to Borschland I was still young, 24, but old enough to know what I was doing.
The problem was, I never played on those teams that lead to a good junior team or a good college program.
I always got overlooked.
Some people say when you don't get picked for a sport you ought to try something else. But I didn't want to. I wanted to play hockey.
So when I was coming to the end of my career at College of the Lakes, where I was a pretty good center, I scored 6 goals my senior year, coach tacked up this message on the bulletin board that was advertising players to travel to this place called Borschland, that no one has ever heard of.
It said that it was a very competitive program but if you were picked you would get a contract to play one season in the Borschland Hockey League for guaranteed money, plus housing, health care, and incidentals. "Possibility for extension of contract exists for the best players selected."
One of my buddies, Cal Campaigner, said that thing was a scam. There is no place called Borschland, he said. It's a scam to get your email address.
But I was finishing my time at College of the Lakes, and after that it was going to be rec hockey for the rest of my life, if that. And I wasn't any nearer to my degree at the College than when I first came four years before, had plenty of student loan debt and no job to go to. I also had almost all my teeth still, and they say you really shouldn't retire from hockey until you need a whole new plate above or below.
So I wrote them, and because they said it was competitive, I told them I was getting ready to be drafted into the NHL, but that since there was going to be a lockout that year, I probably wouldn't get to play, and I needed a one-year job to tide me over. I told them I was in negotiations with the Russian hockey league, but since I was an adventurous young fellow I could stand to go to an exotic place like Borschland and help out whatever team needed me.
That was all at the suggestion of my then girlfriend, Caroline what's-her-face, who was good at words for being a beautician major at College of the Lakes.
Well, they must have bought it, because one day I get a telegram from Borschland that tells me to be somewhere at some time, and that's before the end of the school year, and more details will follow.
And I'm thinking, what's a telegram? What's that supposed to be? Something from 1958? But it so makes sense for Borschland. One hundred per cent.
Pretty soon after that I applied for and got a passport expedited processing, got my plane ticket and some traveling money, and I packed my gear and said goodbye to Cal and Caroline and the coach and everyone at College of the Lakes, which wasn't many, to be honest, and last I said goodbye to my sister Cathy and she said take care and I'll pray for you.
And so I flew, and flew, and flew some more, and I finally found myself in a place called the Maldives, a desert island with an airport, an airstrip, and a taxi between the two. At the airstrip there were twenty palm trees, a shack, and an old 727 parked out back with a logo that said Bear Air and a bear head with wings coming off of it. The driver left me off with my gear, and the first person that greeted me in that shack was a bear.
He was dressed in a navy-blue uniform with a peaked cap and shoulder boards like any other airline employee, except he was furry all over and his voice was rough and growly.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Reinhardt," he said to me, "the plane is right on time." I'll never forget that. It was in an accent that sounded English and maybe Jamaican and something else I couldn't place.
He put my gear on a cart, and we walked out to the plane, which fired up when it saw me coming. And a female bear flight attendant-- I knew she was female because she was wearing a skirt and had a slightly higher voice than the male bear-- greeted me at the bottom of the steps to the plane, and I went up the stairs, and besides one other human I was the only one in the plane, so I sat down next to him.
He was British, and glad of the company. He was also in uniform, an RAF guy, and he said he was on his way to the RAF base in Bearland, and was I the contract man from America who was overseeing the sprinkler installations at the base?
"No," I told him. "I'm a hockey player."
And then I said, "Bearland?" and my face flamed up all hot, because I thought maybe I'd read the flyer wrong, and it was Bearland they were after, not Borschland, and maybe I was going to be playing hockey with a bunch of huge, sharp-fanged animals that could also speak perfect English in a Jamaicanish type of way.
"It's daft, isn't it?" said the RAF guy. "No worries. They're quite civilized, aren't they? More than a lot of places you can go in this world. It's a bit boring, really. Bearland. Daft. But you get used to it."
"But it says I've got to be in Borschland day after tomorrow." And I patted my carry-on bag, a backpack that I used to go hiking with, and began to unzip the pocket where I'd stashed the telegram, airship ticket, passport, and traveling money.
"Borschland?" He blinked, then said, "Oh, yes. Yes, right. Now it all comes clear. You're an ice hockey player. Right." He looked out the window, at the sand and the palms and the Indian Ocean, which was as blue as the picture on a jigsaw puzzle, and he said again, "Ice hockey. Right."
And then he checked his seat-back pocket and took out a magazine, and the flight attendant said, "Pardon me, sir" and asked me if I wanted something to drink. So I said, "Coke," and she said, "We don't have that," and she offered me something called Bee Cola, while the RAF guy was ordering a Foster's, which they did have. So I ordered a Foster's too, which came in a big oilcan.
"They are so daft about cola," said the RAF guy. "Anything sweet has to be sweetened with honey. Potty honey guilds."
Then the pilot came on and told us there would be only light turbulence and a small chance of a phase shift.
"Phase?" I said.
"Annoying thing. Bearland's in a bit of a parallel universe, isn't it? Sometimes here, sometimes not. When the place goes into a phase shift, you can't get there from here. Sometimes you wind up exactly where you started. Sometimes you fly right through and you're in Australia before you know it. And it's why the whole daft continent can never be found on a map. But it's bloody well there if you do find it, isn't it?"
Deep yogurt, I'm telling you.