Tales of Dead Armadillo A novel running tale by Esteban Erik Stipnieks One Last approach to One last Non district meet Chapter 7 section 4



Thursday morning the team was their scattered Ace would shoot JV football that night. It was lunch that would bring some of the elements together. Tara was the only Jr that sat the crosscountry runners table she was taken by surprise at the explosion of emotion from last night. Kimber said, "We love the sport it was our last major workout before district." Ace said, "This had been my team I am glad you are on it we have sweated together Amanda I am glad that the bond that had once been strong was rebuilt.” Amanda picked up, “There was no second takes this was the last peak workout of our high school crosscountry careers the dreams of district had to be acted on.” Kimber smiled “No regrets.” Her voice contained grief but satisfaction.  "No regrets" was a statement of fact.  The seniors would not look back wondering what if.  Ace looked at Tara "Glad you are a part of what I never stopped loving." 

They touched the juice cans together. Coach Bob witnessed it and smiled. Ace may not have respected him but Ace loved him.  Ace was delivering a Christmas gift.  It was odd seeing the team together at lunch and seeing them actually talk to each other in the halls but it was good....the gold had been real nice as well.

The workout was announced an honorable Encino but keep in mind the race is Saturday. In short some action above the lactic acid threshold for all but nothing stupid no drag racing. The two groups walked to their locker room in near silence. Once inside as the team started, changing into shorts in the guy’s locker room, last night had not been forgotten but it was one of less then 10 runs left before district it was in the rear view mirror. Ace said, "I could use a camp out or a fishing trip." The flight to Denton had been a diversion but things had been a bewildering blend of school photography assignments and runs. The climax was approaching.

As they went out the cloud, cover was dense. Ace realized that rain was a real opportunity. He suggested that the stretching be quick and that the acceleration be gradual. As Coach Noel was outside one the circle started it was clear that the plan was going to be carried out. Coach Noel commented about the stretching does not start burning rubber. The legs were still somewhat sore what followed was methodical.

Bo wondered if it would rain. He knew the purpose of this run. Slowly he went across the practice field he was aiming for the parking lot and Kentucky then Canyon Drive. He did not cannonball down opting to use his ham string to control speed down the dip of Kentucky and then he added just a bit force in his stride to make the uphill run of the dip and climbing right turn on Canyon. As he did the felt, the first drops come down. He pushed himself up the hill not too hard but not backing down. Compared to July it was good clip. The rain was if anything a good friend. He ran the familar run counting down the fact its significance in his life would soon be gone. BO made the turn to Canyon drive Raul and French fries were ahead like him gauging a decent pace to maintain some strength but burning out as the last of last nights lactic acid was wash out the meager amount of sweat he had on his body was mixing with rain. This was turning into a fun run as he could see Walnut close in and Shwamkrugs appeared step by step as always it was getting close. It did not seem to take to long before he was there. Bo found himself having to be mindful of the call to back off as the rain added to the euphoric feeling. He timed his burst across Walnut and then it has a block on Kerlick. Then it was the long stretch of Encino. As it went down the street he was unaware of the ex rocket scientists in age who had fought the cold war after a regime had coopted them. He was aware of the antics in some of the adults who never grew up that had seasoned the neighborhood down by the dentists house up.   Then down swinging around Anna’s house he added power carefully near the loose gravel at the base of the turn then poured it on up through Laurel. He crested the hill he was more then halfway through the run.....district victory regionals another medal that frankly Ace deserved he had believed first and though he been caustic at times his love for the vision of the team as a part of Unicorn land could not be denied the photos had been great.  Finally somebody on publications staff that understood. The dream was burning and going out in glory was the way seniors were to go out. He made it through the second dip of Laurel lane and up climbing back to Encino wanting the run to last forever knowing it would not a chapter in his life was closing. The ending though that was being written was more then he had hoped for as he turned back on Encino. The run was now familiar back yard and as he ran it, he was beginning to say good by to a beloved friend he cross the drive in parking lot after a small section on Kerlick he got a good break crossing Walnut without breaking stride homeward bound. He used form to accelerate with Raul leading and French Fries between him. The turn back down to Canyon brought grief as closer companion. It was if he did not want to turn on Kentucky to end the run back on the campus.

Tara ran the run in the rain methodically she attacked the run that had once intimidated her was becoming familiar a little less sinister. She understood Ace and his two views of the town both were right and amidst the black and white strikes, a picture emerged. He was ahead.  He was glad she was there.  The workout took her Canyon to across walnut then Kerlick. The rich textures of run and symbology of each house she did not know of. It was fun run in the rain with a hint of caution attached to it.  She found herself pulling back on the throttle and this pulling back was a struggle against herself.  She descended long stretch of Encino make the turn climb dip then the long uphill leg. She was processing lunch. She had a feeling she would understand the emotion that had made up last night. Leisha was beside her with a distant emotional look in her eye. Tara remembered the joy of running in rain.  She also knew she had to calm down a bit.

For Amanda the dirge continued.  The run was a route she was intimately familar with.  As the rain started falling the mood was set. Amanda was bound for a neighborhood she had known. Amanda had known no other world till this year where she had been forced to face that New Braunfels was far from an island of innocence.  Ace as he had come to be known represented the new world.  The face from her childhood who she had shared many an hour on school bus with in the end though different was really a mush ball.  It was unflinching in face the grimmer reality.  It also embraced the idealism with arms if anything more open.  The guys though had made it clear that district was still a goal. Two freshmen meant that a collection of seniors would leave bathed in Glory. Ace would not believe district glory till he saw it.  He would continue to guard the back of the team.  Everybody on the guys squad knew that if Ace had half a shot at varsity he would.  Booze hounds had stopped because they wanted gold.  They believed the dream and they knew the long thin brown haired white skinned Ace would take their place with all the ceremony of some his passes on Alamo Heights this year.  It all seemed larger then life.  The wild Unicorn crosscountry had gotten wilder by a mild mannered assistant a former star who enjoyed backing her up.  With cynical purist.  She run continued In forcing a reality Amanda's She saw Shawmkrugs good steak and good memories. The restaurant had been a New Braunfels and neighborhood institution. The horrors that had been emerging from the neighborhood as she passed by the houses had challenged her.  She was finally looking at them dead on.  What became of it all her changed relationship with a weird person she had grown up with offered hints of a newer future.  Tara and Kimber had hints. Kimber seemed to have grown.  She was sweet still loyal but a practical side was emerging as well.  Julie seemed to be aware of the darkness and light. She passed by a house what had been talked about a couple ex Nazis. The letters to editor her sophmore year about a candid exposition of the Holocaust had shocked her.  She was unaware of how New Braunfels was a stash point for ex Nazi scientists working at Security hill.  The reaction of holocaust denials and the deaths had rattled now she was under-standing as she was running one of her final runs that made an impact she saw Anna's house she watched her footing and strided over the mass of gravel that existed where Encino met Laurel. There was nothing subtle about whole mass of uphill on Laurel. Like Bo, she wanted the run to last forever she knew it was not. She climbed up she had not lost sight of Steven Ray. Each step was closer to the end she passed Shawmkrugs and Canyon St behind the high school on the opposite end of the draw that fed into Panther Canyon it was a near hammerhead turn onto Kentucky a smooth cruise to the high field house.

Bo had waited for Ace to do the crunches with he knew Ace had probably kept a good pace keeping to his nickname. Tom and Serg along with Leisha, Amanda and Linda had joined them. The rain had lightened up. Bo, Ace and Tom picked up there bags. Bo simply said, "thanks man for this year." Ace smiled "Its good to be back I love my Denton teammates but I missed you guys." Bo then stared at his teammate, "We will go out with Gold."  It was a promise.  Bo was surprised how much Ace missed his team and how he loved Coach Bob. Ace left with his cam. 

Friday dawned Unicorns were bound for the football playoffs...the volleyball team seemed to be playoff bound and the crosscountry team was closing in on district glory. For the seniors the day would have a greater amount of bitterness mixed in with the sweetness. The ritual of the morning the team even the Monoceras and Cheerleaders had on their team T-shirt with their nickname. Negatives were developed and contacted. Frenchfries made a comment the jocks are saluting your camera work. Ace replied we know their world finally; I get to tell the story from their point of view. Having done that it allowed another Pep Rally with the team and a workout.

The bell for the last class rang and Ace made his way to the classroom. Coach Bob described the course for those who were not familar with it and confirmed that Ace would be running JV that meet. It did not bother him. He also gave the time that the bus was leaving. They were quiet through the halls...in the locker room the seniors were quiet not wanting to state obvious. This was the last workout before a meet that would not be district or regionals. It was half up eight strides half down. Aero and Raul noticed the hints of grief on the faces but it would take a while for them to understand just why their journey had begun with a shot of fame they were the hope of a group used to playing second fiddle. Serg quipped "Odd how those who we are most dependent on understand things the least." Ace replied, "So it is."  The punch line remained unsaid.

Tom, Bo and Serg ran with Ace as they did the 800. The talk was gone as they jogged two laps around the place of myth and reality. The pace was comfortable. The strides that followed were run better then they had been run the yard makers of the football field points to mark acceleration and power off points. Amanda, Linda had joined them after the first two. Amanda after the third stride told Ace next week he better be busting his butt to keep two juniors honest. Ace smiled and laughed, "I will make sure you are not the star this time!" She replied, “Its would nice to have others in the spot light.” They did two more. Ace moved to Thomas and Mike just to keep them honest. Coach Bob made a comment "Wish they had your form ace." They did two more. Bo joined ace for the last trip down the football field. "I see you are Amanda’s enforcer." Ace replied, "We want hardware don't we." Bo replied, “You deserve one.” They jogged a half mile down two more laps around the track.

Tara was understanding pep-rallies and the town as a result she was glad to join her teammates. Her father had told her the night before he would recognize the team in addition to his football team and the volleyball team....in short they were all Unicorns. He had learned the mood early on and he liked the idea. The football team may have been stars of the Peprally but the supporting cast was large and those other teams were not to go unnoticed. The skit was funny the gym's decibel level shot above 90. The team supported its own on the dance team and the cheer squad she would try out this year to get a spot she sorely missed it. She though was glad to be a part of a team that was as dynamic as she had been told about. She also realized that she was playing a role of a vision she was slowly beginning to understand. She was impacting her new campus for Christ and pointing the way of traditional values to survive in the world that had been decaying.

Kimber saw the pep rally the man that had replaced her dad as he had gone on to Judson was a steward of traditions. He was different a bit harsher a bit more hands on. She was always a Unicorn and the traditions she had feared gone were instead being reformed. Her boyfriend and her had found cohorts in Tara who was the adopted sister of Ace. She a senior for once found hope for the future. The very structure of Unicorn pride was not so much under assault by outside forces the cancer was not being attacked by the virus that had the DNA of truth and the very cure for the mutation. District and things were changing.  She saw Ace adding to the noise of the pep rally.  Her career as a crosscountry runner was ending with the unmistakable force of hope for a new tomorrow and better future that she had not dreamed possible. The gruff emotional hurricane had hit. Noel Scott had a plan and he was caring it out. The heartbreak of the early summer had been a storm blast for a new future.  It was not so much a new vision but a return to a forgotten past.  

Bo was at the pep rally cheering Anna, Kathrine, Brandy, Dennis and acknowledging his status as a part of the boys team for glory. He was different he had a darkness in his eyes but the love could not be denied so here was the day before his final non district meet in a team that seemed bound for glory. The vision Ace was complex he did not follow all but it was embraced. Departing with gold would be nice. Stephen King had been hurting but his love for the team was more real then ever. The new coach seemed less emotional but more driven the Bob. The partnership had seemed odd but it was working. The pep rally was great he loved the noise the school could still have fun.

Ace was savoring the pep rally. Traditions he knew he wanted people to remember their meanings. He could see that his step had not faltered. Time was slipping away but it was not being wasted. The innocence from a Steve Miller song in the headphones was as close as he would ever get. Kara had gone she was dead in horrifying end. One who had flirted trying to get acceptance on the team was dead. There was an overdose along the way. Raul may have irritated Ace but the fact was he cared. Ace's voice joined Tom, Bo, Serg, Thomas an Mike as Kathrine Whe and Brandy did a routine. Anna was recognized Ace gladly leant his voice to the recognition of his sister crosscountry team. He had come home he was a Unicorn he was ending his running career not in a foreign land but on the black clay over white limestone. He sang the Alma Matre and the fight song.

Amanda offered him a ride home he took it. In the car, he confessed, "I have still yet to beat my personal best time from Denton." Noel Scott had told her after class.  The voice was sheepish with embarrassment. She replied, "You can do it Boerne why not!" He closed the door to her car and walked to his house. The emotion was only building. Implied in her tone was, “You better.”

Dennis found glory in the form of a pass and a jink to the end zone Friday night. Ace, Serg, Amanda, Linda, Tom, Kimber and Bo were more aware of the fact that the element of their life was rapidly fading. While Tom and Dennis celebrated a Unicorn, victory that night it was also clear that Saturdays meet would in its own way represent an end of sorts.



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