You meet your friends at Xfinity Live, an hour before the game is supposed to start. The idea of so many people so close together unnerves you in some small, silly way, but you go anyway. You promised yourself you’d put in an appearance. You watch the game, and you begin to enjoy yourself.
You get an order of nachos, four Bud Lights, and three whiskey sours over the course of several hours. When the game is over, you ask the bartender to cash you out. You tap your fingers idly on the bar, waiting as they smile behind the cash register and as they then slip you the thin receipt.
Total: $1,356.59. The bartender laughs at you, and suddenly the laughter infects the dying room, spreading like wildfire. You turn, eyes wide, to see two hundred people pointing at you, mouths sliced wide in sick, open smiles. They yell. They jeer. You feel tears prick at your eyes. You think you’ll suggest Chickie’s next time.
The first time you hear it, you think it’s something from the PA system. It’s so loud, so clear. A wolf’s wild howl just before the Flyers take the ice for warm-ups. No one jolts the way you do. You ignore it. It must be new. You may not get it, but you accept it.
The second time you hear it, you realize it’s not being hosed in at all. It’s slightly deeper in tone than before, coming from the bowels of the building, and it sends a shiver up your back. Your friend is standing up against the glass, banging on it trying to get Sean Couturier’s attention.
“Hey,” you say, tugging lightly on their sweater, “what was that?”
Your friend turns back to you, eyes narrowed.
“What do you mean?” they ask.
“The...howl?” you say. “It was loud as fuck.”
“It was Travis Konecny,” they say, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
“What do you mean?” you ask.
“God, you’re such a fake fan,” they smile at you, shoving at your shoulder. “He’s a werewolf.”
“I--,” you start, but you don’t know how to finish, so you just shut up.
The third time you hear it, you don’t just hear it. You see it. Your seats are by the tunnel, so you watch as Travis Konecny steps forward just a little, half of his face illuminated, half drenched in shadow. He hunches his shoulders. Suddenly, you watch as his teeth tear into a young rabbit. He swallows before he bays into the cool, recycled air, and your whole body shakes in fear. He smiles, and you feel the image burned in your eyes like a hot iron on flesh. When you close your eyes in the evenings, you’re sure that you will see his mouth stained red and that you will hear his howl, a shriek that will echo throughout your nightmares.
The Flyers have lost eight in a row, each loss more embarrassing than the last. You shut the television off in a fit of rage after they lose a ninth. Immediately, you open the Twitter application on your phone and begin typing an expletive-filled tweet to the official Flyers account.
You’re done with this team. You consider giving your jerseys to Goodwill. There is no improvement. There is no change of direction. You simply cannot support this organization. You spend some time researching other hockey teams to support. You could be a Blue Jackets fan, you think. Maybe. Sure. You’ll give it a shot. You rub at your eyes until you see stars. Maybe the Dallas Stars. You don’t know. You lay awake that night. Sleep does not come to you the easy way it normally does.
You toss to the side. You crush your pillow under a fist, trying to make it more comfortable. You turn for several minutes more. You reach over to grab your phone off the night table. You pull up Stubhub. Your brake cables are cut. You are a shameless vulture. Tickets are twenty bucks.
Every goal against, you see him. Just behind the net. Staring at you. Staring into you, staring through you. A tall figure, cloaked in black, hovering just an inch above the ice. He glows all around, an icy white that attracts the eye. His face is just a shadow, but you can see his eyes through the impenetrable shade, dark green and gleaming like priceless emeralds.
Every time someone falls, every time the puck hits net and the fans sigh with heavy chests, there he is. It fills your stomach with concrete, threatens to carry you to the bottom of the Delaware.
Soon, he follows you. You try to run. He finds you. He always finds you. Soon, you stop running. There is no point. He is in your rearview window. He is at the end of your bed. You see him in the trees and in the sea. You find him at the bottom of your basement stairs, and at the apex of your attic. He is everywhere, you realize. He is everywhere, and he is nowhere. When he reveals his face, you knew. You knew all along. Of course it’s him. 47, he whispers, sharp-toothed and bitter. You scream with an open throat tilted skyward, blood curdling in your veins like hot milk.
“The #Flyers have traded Shayne Gostisbehere and a 2018 first and a 2019 second round pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Johnny Gaudreau,” you read.
I’m dreaming, you think.
For the first time in your life, you realize why people try pinching themselves. You pinch the skin of your forearm. Pain. You try your leg. Pain. You’re awake. Johnny Gaudreau is a Philadelphia Flyer. Your heart aches for Shayne Gostisbehere, and you know you will miss him, but the joy overwhelms your sadness.
That evening, you tuck yourself around your spouse and dream happily of the line combinations, of the celebrations and the smiles that will surely come. You wake in the night, a sickness in your gut. You need to check again. It wasn’t a dream, though.
You know it’s not a dream when, the next day, the Flyers flip Johnny Gaudreau for Shea Weber, and you cry. Stigmatas open on your hands. You cry. “I’m happy to finally be back in Philadelphia,” Weber says. He was never here in the first place, you think wildly, trying to clear the blood from your eyes.
They finally bring the Cup back to Broad Street. The parade is scheduled the week after. The city buzzes with joy, the streets of littered with the wreckage of the party. The sun shines high in the sky, bright blue and dotted pleasantly with clouds. You stand on the edge of the sidewalk, just barely off the street. You’ve pissed in a bottle three times already. Alcohol warms your stomach, and sweat sits on your brow. They will be passing by soon. You raise yourself up on tiptoes. You catch a glimpse. The brightest silver you’ve ever seen, white in the sun. It nearly blinds you, so you shield your eyes before the trucks roll down the street. Orange, white, and black confetti rains down from Heaven. I will never be happier than I am in this moment, you think, taking it in. This will last me a lifetime.
Mike Richards turns and waves. You tamp down a scream. A young Claude Giroux locks eyes with you and winks before crushing a beer on his forehead and letting it drench him. You laugh, but the day spirals away from you. You feel yourself tumbling off a cliff. You fall into a mattress. You wake up, rustling in sheets that have tangled around your legs. You fall from your bed, and realize you’ve pissed yourself in the night.
The Flyers lost Game 6 to the Chicago Blackhawks seven years ago. The puck is still missing.