Hazard – Devon Monk

Sometimes life and death come down to a split-second decision. This particular decision hung over an impossible, improbable accident that would kill the rookie skidding across the ice on his back. He was already passed out and concussed. Boneless in that sickening rag doll way that made it hard to watch. He was also about to be slammed in the side of the head by his own teammate who hadn’t seen him fall, hadn’t seen him slide. Taking a direct shot from a man who could knock a ninety-mile-an-hour puck into the net and slam full grown men into the boards on the regular, was brutal. If the rookie didn’t move, he’d never stand up again. Get up, get up, I silently chanted. He did not even twitch. Which meant that guy on the ice, my teammate—though I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce his last name—was about to die. No one could stop this shit show. It was possible no one had put two and too much together and even noticed what was about to happen. Life and death moments, the few I’d seen—one bike vs. car and one hiker vs. edge of cliff—that stuff always played out in super-slow motion for me.

Maybe it was because I was observant. Maybe it was because I was a wizard. Some days I swore the only reason shit happened when I was around was because magic didn’t like me hiding what I was. Didn’t like me hiding that I had magic. Magic—that non-sentient, chaotic force that had been cracked up out of the earth by drilling, fracking, earthquakes or whatever conspiracy of the week. That thing that had gotten into our air, our water, and for some of us, got into our blood and irrevocably changed us—wanted me to use it. Magic wanted me to bend, to break. To give in to it like it was my destiny or something. To use me until I was all used up. I’d spent twenty-two years hiding what I was.

Twenty-two years fighting what magic wanted me to be. Magic wasn’t my destiny. Hockey was my destiny. Ice, sweat, grit, and hope. But right here, right now, this moment? This life and death choice was going down. Choice number one: do nothing, let the guy take the hit to the head. I’d feel sorry for the guy. I would. But I would still be one of the many new rookies drafted into the NHL. My dream job.

My lifelong hope. Choice number two: do something, do magic. Save his life. There would be no major league hockey for me. The life I’d been chasing for fifteen years would be gone. Taken away before I’d even gotten a taste of it. Wizards, shifters, and every other kind of magically infected marked weren’t allowed in major league hockey. Weren’t allowed in the minor leagues either. If I saved this guy it would end my career. It would save him.

Save him. And what kind of a choice was that for a regular guy like me to make? Shit. Just like that, time ran out. And just like hockey, instinct took over. The defenseman’s stick swung back. He thought he was going to hit the puck clean, didn’t realize unpronounceable-name unconscious guy was flat on his back, down for the count and sliding right into the line of fire. I pulled on magic with everything I had in me. And magic answered like a rebel scream. It flew from me, from my fingers, from my solar plexus, from deeper places that might be where the heart or soul or core of me started and ended. Magic exploded into the air with heady oil-painted strokes, swirling in gold and white and midnight blues like Van Gogh’s Starry Night had caught fire.

Magic, all of it visible, all of it painting me: the yellow and gold of my determination, black of my fear and anger, blue of my shame. And in that wall of colors was green, faint but visible: my hope. Hope that I hadn’t just destroyed my life. Hope that I had been fast enough to save his. Magic slid between the hockey stick and unpronounceable guy. The wall of solid color rippled with impact as the defenseman smashed the puck and his stick into it. The impact set off a low, sweet sound like struck metal, and magic undulated in starry waves of color. Everything stopped. All the players. The coaches.

The scouts. The reporters. The viewers in the stands. Everything. I had one brief, hopeful moment that no one had noticed I was the one who had thrown that monster of a spell. Even though I was the only one on the ice breathing so hard. Even though I was the only one who had acted fast enough to do something. It was a pretty impressive spell. Fast, precise. Strong enough to take the puck hit without letting any of the stick impact the guy on the ice.

It was kind of beautiful, really. Pulling that much magic up out of me had the normal consequences. I was instantly exhausted, ravenous, and sick. If I didn’t get some food or shut-eye, I’d hit my knees and pass out. Have I mentioned using magic sucks? I stood there, sweating, shaking in a way I couldn’t stop, my vision fuzzing at the edges, swallowing down bile. I stared at the scene, but it was moving away from me down a long gunmetal tunnel. “What the hell?” the defensemen yelled. He scurried away from the wall of blues, yellows, and green, green, green, that still shimmered in front of him like it was fire. Why was magic still shimmering there? My head felt thick, my thoughts sort of gooey. Oh, yeah.

I had to let go of the spell, cut the strings that attached me to it. Should do that before I passed out, although passing out would probably end the spell too. Or maybe not. It wasn’t like I did a lot of magic. I hated the stuff. Avoided it at all costs. Never trained ’cause I was never gonna be a wizard, right? So what did I know about spells? Nothing, really. “You!” a woman’s voice rang out. It seemed too big to fit in the stadium, so big, it filled my skull, made it ache. She stood, and even though she was across the ice from me, I saw her light up as if someone had just snapped a spotlight on her.

“Wizard!” She pointed at me. A sensitive. Great. Just what I needed. Someone who could zero in on marked who were using magic, or who were about to shift, which was also a kind of magic, but in a more physical, beasting-out way. I would have answered her but my brain was slushy and I was still trying to figure out how to cut the spell. I’d done it before. Done it under pressure twice. Once with the whole bike versus car thing and once with the hiker vs. edge of cliff.

I tried to imagine a pair of scissors in my gloved hand and made snippy motions. But the imaginary scissors were made out of butter or something because they just sort of melted away. Screw it. I was this close to passing out. I didn’t have time to be subtle. I pulled back my hockey stick and took a swing at the ice, imagined a puck there, imagined sending that puck flying toward the spell. Imagined the puck hitting it high glove side. Magic hummed, then shattered, a beautiful melted chorus of color and sound that rained down on the ice in soppy, sparky colors. Goal! The first and last I’d made in professional hockey. And it didn’t even count.

SOMEONE SHOVED a sports drink at me. It wasn’t enough to recover from using magic, but it should keep me from passing out. Things went by in a blur while I drank. I was off the ice, down the corridor, out of my gear—but not showered—and sitting in a chair across from a desk in what appeared to be an office. I couldn’t remember the details of any of it. This wasn’t just an office, it was the coach’s office. Nice. Expensive. A pro-league office. The office of the man who ruled over the Colorado Avalanche.

The coach was there. So was the woman sensitive, and someone in a suit who looked like a lawyer. “You still with us, Mr. Hazard?” Coach asked as he settled down behind his desk. I nodded while finishing the drink, my whole body shaking like I was stuck naked in a snowstorm. My stomach was killing me. Yarking up everything I’d just drank looked like a real possibility. I eyed the trash can in the corner behind the coach and estimated my speed and accuracy. “Do you have more, uh…water?” My voice was scrubbed out like I’d been yelling for three periods nonstop. The sensitive reached in her bag and handed me a wrapped bar, heavy with protein and carbs.

I’d never tried this kind before. They were formulated for the marked: wizards, sensitives, Canidae shifters, Felidae shifters, and the others. I had made it a point to stay away from all that. “It will help.” Her voice was normal volume, and she wasn’t glowing anymore. “I have more.” I shook my head, but my hands were already moving, tearing at the wrapper, shoving half the bar in my mouth. Instinct to survive. I had it. Oh, god that was good.

If someone asked me what it tasted like I’d never be able to tell them, but after a couple chews the bar was gone, my stomach was on the mend, and my shaking was down to a shivery tremble. “You pulled down a lot of magic,” she said sympathetically. I’d noticed her in the stands during the last few practices. She was in her forties, had soft, dark eyes and was wearing a hijab in the team’s colors of burgundy, silver, and blue. “You will need to rest,” she said. “Hydrate. Eat.” I didn’t need her pity and didn’t want her advice. All I wanted was to forget that stunt I’d just pulled. Or, better: I wanted everyone to forget about it.

I frowned, wondering if there was a magical way to make them forget. Maybe? Yeah, probably. But should I do that to someone? “Mr. Hazard?” Coach again. “Random?” The lawyer guy raised his eyebrows. Yes, I had a stupid name. I blamed my dad who was probably high when he named me and my mom who didn’t change my name because my father committed suicide a week after I was born. Welcome to the world, kid. You don’t have a dad, but hey, here’s a stupid name you can keep for the rest of your life. My mom had been left raising a baby on her own while holding down a couple crappy jobs to try to keep a crappy roof over our heads.

The re-naming thing got shoved to the back burner and stayed there. I’d heard all the jokes. I’d heard all the jeers. I gave the suit a look that invited him to come up with a new one. “Son?” Coach said again. Right. My future was at stake here, not my name. “I’m sorry, Coach. I promise that will never happen again. If you would just give me a chance, I’ll never––” “What you did was a brave thing.

” The way he said it, strong and clear, full eye contact, told me he meant it. That was nice. I felt a warm embarrassing need for that kind of praise. Praise for my character, not for my magic. But that kind of need was a weakness. It gave away too much of who I was. Or rather who I wanted to be. I shoved my reaction down and hoped it didn’t show on my face. From the brief pity in Coach’s eyes it showed. Screw my life.

Screw it all the way to the wall. “You saved Mr. Miłosz’s life.” “Me-wash?” Huh. So that’s how you said it. “He has a minor concussion from hitting the ice. But that’s all. He’ll be fine.” “That’s good. Really good.

” “Mr. Kowalski didn’t handle the shock of your…interference quite as gracefully. Still, better a panic attack than involuntary manslaughter charges, eh?” Coach smiled. It looked like he’d bit a hot pepper and couldn’t swallow. Was I supposed to apologize because the defenseman had lost his shit over one harmless spell? It wasn’t like I’d conjured a fire-breathing dragon in front of him. “Sorry?” Coach shook his head once. “Don’t be. I’d have had quite the mess on my hands without your quick thinking and reaction.” “Very quick reaction,” the sensitive said. Even the lawyer-guy grunted in agreement.

Okay, whatever. Also, it made me wonder how fast most people threw magic. Anyone could have done what I did, right? “In any case, while we appreciate your actions and your decision to use magic to save a player’s life…” “No,” I said. “…I will not allow deception in this club.” He speared me with a look that was not approving at all. “You lied to us, Mr. Hazard. To this club, to your teammates, to this league.” “I didn’t…” My throat closed up, and I swallowed hard. He was not wrong.

I had lied. But not just to him, the team, the league. I’d lied to everyone. To myself. “I’m unregistered.” It came out like I’d borrowed someone else’s voice. Someone broken. “That explains why your background check came back clean. How long have you known?” I couldn’t speak. I opened my mouth, but couldn’t find the words that would slow the freight train full of dynamite roaring down the track of my life.

“Whether this is the first time you’ve realized you’re a wizard, or something you’ve been hiding for years, is beside the point.” That was all coach. No nonsense. No backing down. No mercy. “There is no room for you in this program.” My stomach knotted and I broke out in a cold sweat. “Please.” I don’t know why I thought that one word, sort of whispered, would change his mind. Marked didn’t play in the major league of any sport.

Marked weren’t allowed in the minors either. “I’ll do anything.” Something in him shifted. He blew out a breath and wiped a palm over his face. “This isn’t…” He tapped the end of his pen on his desk. “You have talent, Random.” It was the first time he’d ever used my first name like that. Friendly. Sympathetic. I wished he’d go back to using my last name like a coach instead.

“Maybe even great talent on the ice. I expect to see you do great things. But not here. Not in the NHL. If you want to play hockey, and as your ex-coach I hope you will continue, you have to do it in the league for your kind.” My kind. Not human kind. Marked. Freaks. Hammer, meet nail.

Coffin lid closed for good. That was it. I was done. Over. He stood. I stood. We shook hands. He said something about contacting my agent to dissolve the contract. I told him I understood. Thanked him for his time.

Thanked him for the opportunity. Choked back the apologies, the begging, the pleas. If I was going out, I was going out with my head held high. I absently wondered how my agent would take finding out I was a wizard. Knew he’d let me go too. There was no money in the league for my kind. No reason for him to keep me. There was no future for me. I was worthless. In an instant, I was no longer a man, a hockey player, a center with the kind of icesense that had people saying I could one day stand with the greats.

One day see my name on the Stanley Cup. One day make history. I was less-than. I was other.

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