A Yooyuball Story
Elbin took a deep, shuddering breath as he trudged through the thick knee-high snow. The snow was almost brown as a result of so many muddy boots stomping through it. And even as packed in as it was, it was still higher up him than Elbin would have preferred. He pressed his parka up against his striped Shoyru skin in hopes it would give him just the smallest amount of warmth. Elbin had walked this path up the side of Terror Mountain many times, and each trip was a strain and a nightmare of its own. But in Elbin’s mind, it was worth it. Because at the top of Terror Mountain, just behind Donny’s Toy Repair Shop, there was a Yooyuball court.
And Elbin absolutely lived for Yooyuball. All his essays at Neoschool were on the delightful subject of Yooyuball (which his teacher found, after the first nineteen essays, not so delightful anymore). All he would talk about to his mother as they huddled together around the small wooden dinner table and ate in their tiny kitchen, much to his poor mother’s dismay, was Yooyuball. All Elbin ever thought about was Yooyuball. Every year when the Altador Cup came, Elbin saved every cent of his pitiful allowance to buy a ticket to watch just one game, even if he didn’t support the teams. Even in his dreams Elbin played professional Yooyuball for Terror Mountain. In his dreams, Elbin was the star player. Every time he came on the field, the fans would go crazy. “Look!” they would shout. “Look, I see Elbin Kroe! I actually see him! Isn’t he just amazing?”
Finally, Elbin came to a withered, dying old tree. Trees like this sprouted up, against the almost impossible odds, all over Terror Mountain. Elbin usually didn’t pay them a second thought. But this tree was special. It was special because it marked that the end of the path was near. Elbin smiled and continued to walk up, his body pressed against the sheer face of the cliff so as he wouldn’t tumble off all the way to flat ground over a thousand feet below. Elbin rounded a corner, and then he was there. Donny’s Toy Repair Shop was ahead of him, sparkling like a beacon of light in the middle of a fierce snowstorm, which, quite literally, it was.
Elbin ran up to the little shop with its wooden door, tarnished door handle, patched up roof covered with inches, sometimes feet, of snow, and musty old walls that he couldn’t help but love. He knocked once on the door.
Elbin heard some grumbling and someone stand up. “Don’t you know it’s after hours?” barked Donny as he opened the door. He then saw Elbin and smiled as he stroked his beard with his red Bori paw. “Oh, it’s you,” Donny said in a much warmer voice. “Will you really be playing in such cold weather?”
“I always do,” replied Elbin proudly. He pulled his fury hood closer over his head. “Can I have my Yooyu?”
“Of course.” Donny disappeared into his shop for a moment. He then came out clutching a small regular Yooyu. “I’ll hold onto it again for you when you finish,” he reminded Elbin as he handed it to him. But Elbin was already off and running.
Elbin stopped when he came to the court. It was just so perfect. He always thought that when he ran on. Elbin took a moment to observe the neat goals and lines. There was a hole in the middle where the Yooyu came out of at the beginning of the game. But on this court it was only a hole, since there was only one Yooyu.
Elbin took a shot at the goal. He passed to himself. He practiced goalkeeping. He even made a snowperson to be the goalkeeper so he could challenge himself. Elbin knew he was good at Yooyuball. Maybe someday he would have real fans cheering him on.
* * * * * * * * * *
Elbin smiled as he walked with ease up the narrow mountain pathway. It had once been a difficult path for him to take, but now after years of real Yooyuball agility and strength training it was almost effortless. Once he had walked pressed against the edge, afraid he would fall if he walked freely. Now he was more secure with his skills.
However, that didn’t take the cold away. Of course, it wasn’t as cold as it had been before, but it was still cold. Before he had worn a skimpy parka. Now he wore one designed by professional parka-makers and fitting for him by tailors who knew their trade well. Yes, he was much less cold than he once was when he walked this way. Not to say that he still wasn’t feeling too many degrees below zero.
There it was. The tree. There was nothing remarkable about the tree; in fact it was less than ordinary. But in his childhood years it had brought Elbin such delight to know that his treacherous climb was almost over. Elbin grabbed onto it and swung as he rounded the corner. “Woo-ee!” he cried joyously at his dangerous act. Elbin smiled. Before he had been much too scared to attempt it.
Donny’s Toy Repair Shop lay right ahead of Elbin, right next to the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop. These were the shops of Elbin’s childhood and Donny and the eccentric Lenny who owned the Super Happy Icy Fun Snow Shop were the shopkeepers of Elbin’s childhood. But as Elbin got closer, Donny’s Toy Repair Shop seemed much smaller than he remembered. Almost frighteningly small. Elbin shrugged it off. He had grown.
Elbin knocked once on the door to Donny’s just as he once did. Donny answered the door. He, too, seemed smaller and older than before. His beard seemed whiter than before and his steps wearier. He somehow seemed more weighed down.
“Who are you?” asked Donny grouchily. He tugged on his beard, a familiar gesture to Elbin that almost made him laugh. “Do you need any toys fixed? I was reading the Neopian Times and I want to get back to it. Don’t waste my time!”
Elbin smiled. “Did you read about that new defender on Terror Mountain this year? For the Altador Cup? He’s supposed to be pretty good, right? I think his name is Elbin Kroe or something.”
Donny almost smiled. Almost, as a smile would be too not-grouchy for a stranger to receive from him. “He’s not pretty good,” he said, his face almost lit up with the almost smile. Elbin blinked in disbelief. Did Terror Mountain fans not like him? He had always dreamed of playing, and now that he was no one wanted him to be!
“Really?” asked Elbin, trying hard to keep to an angry tone from edging into his voice.
“Really,” replied Donny. “He’s not pretty good. He’s great!”
Elbin breathed a sigh of relief. “Are you a fan?” he asked again, playing along as if he didn’t already know everything about Donny.
“I wasn’t until Elbin started playing,” admitted Donny, who was obviously starting to warm to this stranger—or at least he thought Elbin was a stranger. “I know him, you know. He used to live around here, and every day he would play Yooyuball in a court right behind the shop. I helped him buy his first Yooyu. It was just an ordinary one, you know. But he practiced rain or shine. I always knew he would play professional one day. He was such a spunky kid. He was like a son to me. Or he was.”
“Was?” asked Elbin, a note of concern in his voice. He, too, had loved Donny like a son might love his father. And he still did. Apparently Donny didn’t think so anymore.
“Well,” muttered Donny sadly, “he moved away to pursue his dream. He promised he would visit me and his mother. Well, then his mother moved, too. And then he stopped visiting. He hasn’t visited in years.” Donny suddenly looked confused. “Wait,” he said angrily. “Why am I telling you this? You don’t know me or Elbin!”
Elbin almost laughed at how wrong Donny was. “Actually,” he said. “I do know Elbin. He tells me about you sometimes. He says he still thinks of you and he misses you. But his career has kept him so busy that he didn’t get a chance to ever see you. He was going to send me here to tell you he was really sorry he forgot. He wanted to apologize so badly,” Elbin pulled the furry hood of his parka down to reveal his face. Donny’s mouth fell open in shocked recognition. “He actually came to do it in person.”