Game Changer

By: Max Sebastian

Chapter One





You could totally blame it on climate change. Unless you’re one of those out-and-out whack jobs that denies what every scientist not on an oil company’s payroll says about climate change.

‘You’re kidding me.’

‘Is closed.’

Here we were, the four of us, stuck in the middle of the Slovakian Alps in clunky boots not made for walking, all clutching ski poles and skis optimistically as the rain kept on falling.

‘But it’s going to open later, right? I mean, when the rain clears up.’

‘No. Is closed. No snow.’

‘But up there, at the top, there’s got to be some, right?’

‘No. No snow. Is closed.’

Jake was leading the negotiations with the one guy we’d found in the whole place who seemed to speak a word of English. And he really didn’t speak much more than a word. Jake was kind of our host, but also the one of us who had more language skills than just elementary high school Spanish. However, here, Spanish was as alien to them as iced hazelnut macchiato or broadband internet—and German was downright frowned upon.

All he could do was speak slowly and loudly in English, ‘You think it might open tomorrow? Thursday? The weekend?’

And the old man, with the even older cigarette hanging off his lip, merely shrugged and repeated his entire English vocabulary back at us:

‘No. Is closed. No snow.’

That was the extent of our interaction with the locals our whole week there. After our attempt at communication, we trudged back to the chalet, past bars and restaurants and even grocery stores that were all closed like the ski lift, past houses and chalets that were equally lifeless, windows darkened or even boarded up.

‘When you booked this, you did look to see if they ever have snow in these mountains?’ Hanna asked Jake, and it wasn’t the first time the question had been put to him since we had dismounted the decrepit weekly airport shuttle bus the day before, only to discover green grass and mud all around us instead of dreamy white snow.

But we couldn’t spend the whole time blaming Jake. We’d all done our little bit of Internet research on the beautiful Slovakian Alps before agreeing to Jake’s suggestion of a low-low-low-price ski vacation to Europe. The year before, they’d had plenty of snow here.

There was one grocery store in the whole town we’d discovered open, though the three aisles of mostly canned goods hardly offered us the most diverse menu to cook up once we got back to the chalet that was to be our prison cell for a whole week. There were pistachio nuts and some kind of licorice-like substance to snack on. At least we wouldn’t starve.

The first couple of days, it proved something of an activity for us to try and come up with some kind of recipes with which to keep ourselves fed all week without getting sick.

There were precious few other activities available to help us pass the time until the goddamn airport shuttle bus returned. Conversation only went so far. Television was all in Slovakian, and mostly seemed to involve either news broadcasts or documentaries about mountain goats. Internet was supposedly available as dial-up, but we all came bearing smart phones and tablets, nothing that could even conceive of needing to connect to anything as Stone Age as dial-up.

Anyway, you get the picture. There wasn’t even a pen and paper on which to doodle.

We spent the first day cleaning up the chalet, we were so starved of anything to do. Hayden found a single solitary pack of cards in a tiny drawer in the writing table hidden down in the basement, and that just about took care of Day 2 even though there were no kings in the whole deck.

Day 3: after waking up and spending a leisurely two hours munching on Slovakian corn flakes and milk, while attempting to crack jokes about how terrible the local TV was, that lonely pack of cards really did not appeal any longer.

‘We could go for a walk,’ my wife, Hanna, suggested with a half-hearted attempt to sound bright and cheery.

We all looked to the windows, and what view there was, which was blurred there was so much rain streaming down the glass.

‘We could sing some songs.’

Well, that just prompted laughter, even from Hanna.

Of course in years gone by, we would have simply bought a crate or three of the local plonk and worked our way through it. Even the lethal-looking local Borovička— something not unlike gin except with a much higher alcohol content—seemed enticing while we had strolled around the grocery store. But Hayden had been to rehab, and we all had to respect that. There would be no drinking the week away.