“So, explain it to me again,” the blond, round-faced boy asked the lanky ginger lad he stood next to as they looked out over the frozen rink .
“Okay,” the other boy said with half a crooked smile that still managed to radiate fondness. He pointed out to a cluster of children standing near a large red and blue bullseye that had been painted underneath the ice. “That’s the house,” Crowley said, pointing to the bullseye. “You want to get your stone as close to the center as possible, closer than any of the other teams stones. If you do that, you score points from each stone that’s closer to the center than the other teams’.”
Crowley fell silent as one child at the opposite end of the rink kicked out of the hack1he had been bracing again, one hand on the yellow handle of the rock she held skimming out in front of her and releasing just before she reached the redline. The stone slid along the pebbled ice, curling 2 sharply to the left and stopping just shy of the concentric rings. Crowley nudged Aziraphale. “That went down like a lead balloon, didn’t it?”
“She clearly wanted to score with that one, or at least knock out one of her opponents’. Now she’s given them a guard that’ll make her own team’s future shots harder.”
“Ah, I see. Thank you, Anthony-.”
“Crowley,” the ginger boy corrected immediately.
“Sorry, Crowley,” Aziraphale replied, “Thank you for explaining this all to me so many times. It looks fascinating, but there’s so much to learn and I’m not always the fastest learner.”
“Nah,” Crowley said, giving his friend another nudge. “You’re so much more clever than that. That’s why you ask questions, you want to understand. How else are you supposed to learn anything? Besides, I like talking about curling. You give me a good excuse. Now, are you ready to get out on the ice?”
“I think that I am now. After you.”
Twenty years later
team won the coin toss and chose to take the hammer3, letting their opponent take the first throw of the match. As his team’s lead, Crowley set his left foot back into the hack, kneeling with his right knee in line with his shoulder, his left hand resting on the handle of the curling stone, and kicked off, the slick white bottom of his right shoe skidding along the ice as his right foot dragged behind. He released his hold on the stone, coming to a stop while the first stone kept going. It was up to Hastur and now as they swept with brooms 4 the ice in front of the stone, giving it speed and direction, guiding it into the house while the their skip 5 Lucien yelled variations of “hurry” and “hurry hard” to tell them to sweep the ice faster or slower. As the stone approached the bullseye, Lucien shouted “Off”, and the two sweepers halted. The stone lost momentum and came to rest just outside the blue inner ring. Crowley smiled. It was only the first shot of the match, but it was a good one, and now they had some idea of how the groves and textures on the ice flowed, carrying the rock with them.
Now it was Carmine’s throw. The ginger woman took her place in the hack, kicked off, and with almost surgical precision knocked Crowley’s first stone out of play with her own. She came back behind the hack with her skip, Crowley, and Lucien. Crowley moved into place once more, and made his second throw.
The rest of the match went by in a blur, each team trading the lead in the score over the ten ends6. Carmine continued her vicious strikes, while Argenti established shot-blocking guard stones out in front of the house, Sable made creeping shots that almost always found their mark, and Blanc led them all with precise instructions from the hack and shots of his own. Crowley’s team was more than a match for them, though. They wouldn’t have made it all the way to the final round of this tournament if they weren’t. He, Hastur, Beelz, and Lucien played like demons on the ice, and Crowley loved every second of it. He lived for moments like this, and now all their hard work was paying off. The Ice Demons won the ninth end by a stone, giving them first throw next. It was neck and neck the whole way, stones being placed and knocked away and placed again to score by each team until finally the second of Sable’s shots missed and just grazed past the stone it was trying to displace. Crowley smirked as he watched Beelz stifle a poorly concealed fist pump.
With one stone left to each team’s skip in the last end of the tournament, Crowley’s team was well-placed to win the Wetherbury Classic. Lucien kicked himself out of the hack, lightly holding onto the handle as the grey granite puck gained momentum. Still sliding behind the stone, Lucien gently lifted his hand off to let it make it’s own way down the ice, coming in to land solidly on the left side of the red outer ring of the house. The crowd filling the stands went wild. With their other stone resting just outside of the button far nearer than the Four Horsepersons’ closest rock, victory for Crowley’s team was all but guaranteed. Crowley’s elation, however, was short-lived.
As the last of the cheers died down, he saw that there was just enough of a gap between his team’s two point-scoring stones for an extremely lucky shot to edge through and knock both of them out of range. It was a small chance, but any chance could be enough. With cold, calculating precision, the Four Horsepersons’ skip took his place in the hack, a wild white horse embroidered onto the back of his team shirt, and kicked off. Crowley watched in horror as the hammer, defying chance, curled its way into line, ricocheting first off of their stone on the red circle, and then off of the button. The score was tied in the last regulation end. Crowley’s heart fell into his stomach. They had come so close!
There was one more round to determine a bonspiel winner, but their momentum was broken. Crowley, Beelz, Hastur, and even Lucien missed shot after shot while the Horsepersons’ team members threw with deadly accuracy. Defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, and after, Crowley could hardly meet the eyes of Blanc, Argenti, Carmine, and Sable as they shook hands. Blanc whispered a heartfelt apology, but Crowley barely heard it. He was much more keenly aware of Lucien fuming behind him, muttering to himself that things were going to change, and that next year’s tournament would be very different.
- A wooden stand very much like what runners brace in on a track before the pistol fires, if track races were held on a frictionless surface and instead of running the racers propel themselves forward while hanging on to a forty pound lump of granite. [ ▲ ]
- The direction the stone turns on the ice, although calling a sport “turning” doesn’t sound nearly as interesting. [ ▲ ]
- The last stone thrown in an inning or end. Hammer sounds cooler and allows one to feel ever so slightly more like a certain god of thunder as they soar down the ice. [ ▲ ]
- Think swiffer-like floor cleaners. You can try this for yourself at home if you have similar brooms, wood floors, and a roomba or a cat. Your results and success may vary. [ ▲ ]
- Captain. No actual skipping required for the role. The ice would make that difficult. [ ▲ ]
- Like innings in baseball, but without the seventh inning stretch and mascot races. [ ▲ ]