Tales of the Dead Armadillo Novel about high school crosscountry running Esteban Erik Stipnieks all rights reserved

 

Prolog

 

Coach Noel Scott picked up the phone. The voice was familiar Dr. King.  She was brownest German he had ever met. She had married an immigrant who became a pilot for the US Army.  "There is going to be a teaching position in the history department and soccer coach at New Braunfels high school open up I am leaving here." The voice had an implied command to it. Coach Scott knew of her son Stephen. Dr King had her flaws but, she was also smart ...the money was good he sensed. He was one of her favorites if he wanted or not..he would think about it. He felt a call to watch her son and the call on his heart after a prayer was clear. The town also had made her son a quirky character and deep inside him a voice called.  Coach Noel Scott did not want to leave Denton but in that reluctance made the appeal easier to understand.  A phone call from Allen West made the decision for him. Allen was going to be the new athletic director and head football coach in Unicorn land. The Iowa boy living in Plano felt obligation in his heart. Allen and he were different in approaches but the faith was a call. Tara West was her father's only son and adopted little sister of the half over sophisticated half deer in headlights Stephen King. Coach Scott understood what was going on at the high school and knew he had to be a part of it.

Tara heard her father call "Stephen's mom is now the superintendent of schools New Braunfels offered me a job as head football Coach, Biology Teacher.  Your mom will be teaching at a local elementary school Seele."  The voice was matter of fact. Tara felt obligated to run cross-country. "By the way" he asked, "Did you know Kara or Javier?" Her father asked. She said, "Kara was AP classes with Stephen why" He answered, "They were both murdered last night north of town"

Coach Bob Hansen read the paper Irma King was coming back Bill Kingsbury had gone to Judson he took Bill Miller with as an assistant Allen West and Noel Scott were coming as soccer and head football coach. The phone rang it was Dr. King announcing July 8 her son would be back on the team and a girl Tara the football coach's daughter. Coach Bob thought "Meet the new boss same as the old boss doesn't she realize her son detests her?"

Stephen King reluctantly called. His parents were three hundred miles away he enjoyed not talking to them but he had to make a call. He did his mother announced, "We are going back to New Braunfels. I am the new Superintendent you get to finish with your old cross-country team.(He had been given similar news a couple years ago in the baggage claim at San Antonio International when he had gotten back from Australia.  It was the start of the Denton adventure officially.  Ace as he was called in Denton had realized Denton began in the valley the moment he accepted Christ.) By the way two teenagers were killed north of town a couple nights ago." Stephen asked not realizing the implication of the question, "Who were they?" His mom answered, "Javier and Kara" The last name hit Stephen like a fuel air explosive nothing in his life had prepared him for it he then said, "Hey I gotta go" Stephen fought back the impulse to slam his fist through the wall above the phone.  Instantly his mind flashed back to two weeks previous.

They were walking out school Stephen was going to take the 12 speed to Krum.  The bike ride was a plan to mentally slow down for camp slowing down from 1,400 miles an hour at 60,000 to a speed that the body mind and spirit would arrive.  The basics of DFW to hill country transition were far from being understood by Stephen. 

 School for all practical purposes for the three classmates was over and for the last month and half the power transition had already occurred Denton class of 1994 were in charge and the seniors had taken the role of  has beens.  Stephen did not go to Kuk LLYC was a link to his past it was a reminder of where he had come from.   Workcrew meant a transition.  This summer was recognized by Stephen as the last summer of his youth.  In reality it was more the first summer of adult hood.....the sentiment and discernment struck his Unicorn heart.  So he wished the two girls the following "This is the final summer of our youth may it last forever"  Kara would never see her 18th birthday.  The final words Stephen said to Kara would burn in his mind forever.    

He was shaken to his core as he went to the bathroom and tell the nurse to file his run plan. He gave approximate time and course so if he was late they would know where to look.  Ace was his name in Denton he respected the fact that the land he was about to run in, the land he loved he loved could kill him in the afternoon he would take his standard precautions.   

Chapter 1 A gathering of forces

June 7 1993 13 Miles East North East Leakey Texas

The sky was cloudless.  A ring of fire high had settled over central Texas.  Air was falling to the surface as it collided it became dry and heated.  The flow off the gulf was cut off and the Mexican deserts updraft was crashing against the surface of the earth over a large portion of Texas.  The result was the sky was pale blue almost white in appearance. The temperature was peaking past 95 Fahrenheit.  The urine color test while being gross was an assurance of some safety. Stephen noted the color of the urine stream as it ran clear void of yellow into a commode.  It was one factor he could control.  The urine flowed clear that meant he was properly hydrated.  Stephen thought good he wanted to run hard today.  He was visibly shaken he looked at the camp nurse giving her his route and estimated time of return.  She had asked Stephen what was the matter he told her.  He was being blown away the shock hit him.  He was going home a friend had been killed.  Unicorn love had never faded the team remained close he was going home.  Dreams became plans instantly in Stephens head ambitions were rotated to a different compass heading.  It began with servant leadership.   

Stephen as he walked the distance to the rifle range was only dimly aware of what was going on inside of him.  The run was going to start at the Echo Valley Rifle Range. All the emotion had fed adrenaline into the blood.  His pulse was high as he walked to the starting point of the run. Nothing in his life had compared to the emotion he felt when heard his friend's name as one who had been murdered. The shock to his very soul was indeed violent.  He had been changed forever at that moment.  He wondered why he had to ask.  He was angry his valley of safety had been defiled.  

He started his run.  The word was ignition.  The news had affected Stephen King.  His pulse had increased oxygen levels in muscle tissues were high.  What would have been a slow gradual acceleration was instead an aggressive race start without the lactic acid!  Stephen was almost surprised but realized whatever idea he had for the run was gone.  With each step slamming down on the gravel road, a small cloud of white caliche dust erupted.  As the rabbit start occurred, Stephen knew what was going on. He halfway expected it and accepted he was along for the ride.  This run would also be a grab for the chemicals he hoped would numb the pain the shock.  Stephen swung by the spot he accepted Christ it meant something to him it was a place of salvation he still smiled.   Chrissie waved hi only seeing the grief briefly on his face as he ran by.  She would later find out he had been hit by two big pieces of news.  In Stephen's dyspraxic mind two triggers had been hit.  He was running for many reasons.

The sign says you drive in the river.  The East Fork of the Frio was the main roadway of camp.  Steven knew and he set the path carefully just near the outside of the road markers.  Each step had to be placed carefully.  There were zones of relative safety.  The run in the river meant constant attention.  Every nerve in his body was feeding info to the brain to prevent a slip and fall into the water and worse the rock. The main section was just to the right of the now solid white limestone road markers that had been quarried.  The first step required a bit of planning from white caliche to water over limestone was always interesting.  All the high requirements of concentration were good training for working a cross-country course.  Each step required a bit of thought and the whole process wound up long-term short-term decision making for the total line.  The road was water flowing over a limestone shelf.  Where the cars drove was covered with algae and rubber  an instant wipe-out.  The area you could actually run was on the periphery of the road by the markers. This was good training the run demanded more concentration then others.  As emotions roiled the run half motivated by anger at what one of his crewmates was doing to himself trying to have things two ways.  Their was shock  death of his friend and angry at New Braunfels his placement on the team would allow a voice credibility.  It was a half a mile section the first portion was about 150 yards each step was a double impact the surface of the water then the limestone.  There was no traffic and there was little shelter from the blazing hot sun the sky so pale blue it was almost white.  Steven was grieving he was angry.  He was stunned.  Suicides made sense.  In their own twisted way suicides were logical.  The double bump was felt and each impact of his stride left water exploding upward. Each stride a series of thoughts and sensations. Stephen was thinking, "How much power can I put into the stride without slipping." The human mind was multi tasking.  There were other things then keeping safe.  The nerves in the feet and their own sensations feeling what the rubber was doing as it hit the surface beneath the water.  Restraint had fallen.  All the sensations from the body had to be evaluated and quick judgments made.  All this as a brew of emotions drove the run. The longer stride meant more force on each contact and a greater potential for a slip each step a large blast of water going skyward.  The mind was now practiced its primary task was safety during the run.   Rock slide was a short steep section of very narrow road and the four foot rise in elevation over six feet had only one true route to climb.  Their was a short section Steven's emotions were intense yet they drove his concentration on the task as hand emotions briefly vanished from the surface for 15 seconds.  The area had some points where shoe rubber could come into contact with limestone with very little water flowing.  The area also had zones of tire rubber and fungus, which were slicker then steel covered in olive oil.  The feet had to be placed on the sharp rough limestone.  Stephen in seconds placed his three steps where they needed to be keeping his six-minute mile pace.  Steven had gotten familiar with running in the valley and the road was almost as familiar as his backyard so his course was now better planned and far more precise.  Then it was back to running at a good clip in the river sploosh thok, sploosh thok was the sounds and feet he was creating. A truck appeared kicking up a large mass of water; it soaked Steven in the scene as the road jigged back to the east side the river grew deeper.  A school of sunfish had heard the rhythm of the feet coming.  They darted deep under a circle of a bluff.  The strides went near them as the river depth even on the road was near a foot deep.  Stephen had long lusted over this wide and deep section of the river that he wanted to fish.  Stephen loved the land and felt relaxed there.  The camp had changed and each site had its memories.  They flowed easier as the deeper water was harder to slip in and the pace slowed a bit.  Stephen had gone through the bulk of camp now it was the dirt road to the end of camp property.

Now it was going to be a nice long section mostly under tree cover to the end of the property. The stride was shortened briefly steep short up hill to a site of a camp memory, Kevin set them up for a raid.  It was funny now.  The memory-ignited shaving cream, toothpaste water balloons howling from behind as a girl’s cabin his camp counselor with a grin on his face in the dark of a summer night.  Stephen ran passed the draw that 20 yards away had the singing hills rifle range more memories the first time he had handled a firearm years before.  His stride opened up a bit.  The gravel road was a road of memories up a hill down into and open area then on passed battleship and the creek from Box Canyon.  Battleship looked like the prowl of a battleship.  The great mass of limestone reflected the heat as water falling filled the ears of Stephen a creek emptied into the east fork of the Frio.  The gray on the almost white was imposing and beautiful.  In Stephen's mind dopamine and endorphins were mixing not dulling but sharpening the emotions and memories.  God watched knowing in the end Stephen's friend was with him she had been a follower of Christ.  Stephen's friend was now in a land that knew not sorrow her compassion in her death was made immortal. Her memory would make Stephen better.  She would always be 17.  Stephen was at best dimly aware of her place in Peace and totally unaware how her voice would howl later in his life and that journey of his faith was deepening.  In the very core of his being a violent shock the likes he had never felt before intense grief and a vision of what HAD TO HAPPEN IN New Braunfels.  He was in a long section of there was then another long section of tree covered road and water dripped from a cliff.  Near this spring the road was always moist.  The terrain was rising and the road rolled through the valley.  There was another steep hill an old quarry on one side of it then down to the road end at the camp that contained Blue Hole.  The white caliche turned brown black and dirty as he accelerated down hill and followed the familiar way to Linnets wings and he turned around.  Steven came to the road end.  The emotions if anything were still roiling the chemicals induced by the run in the brain were flowing.  The place remained the same he was now changing and dealing with a grief in a beautiful spot in God's creation.  The partial return leg began it was up the hill and down slowly through the spring section then. The prowl of battleship a rock cut as a creek on one side came into the Frio which resembled the front of a battleship.  Steven was thinking about his return.  He realized his very nature would rip apart the town he grew up in.  The change had to be acknowledged there were lives destroyed and a grave filled warnings.  There was a classmate who killed himself and another who overdosed.  The road full of memories the run the rhythm of his long strides striking the earth the sound passed and mingled of water from a rock hitting the ground. Once more Stephen ran by the rifle range.  It was time to hit the river again at least things would be a little cooler.

Stephen wanted a mileage base so instead of continuing to Echo Valley it was time to run to Singing Hills Staff hill.  Sweat was stinging Stephens' eyes now the river was cool and lush.  Through the half foot deep water he ran then past the entrance of singing hills 10 yards later he was facing the  entrance to the road that went up to Singing hills staff hill.  The heavy air max with the tread left its mark by making the caliche surface mildly muddy.  The run continued on the open road.  The shirt was soaked with sweat and soaked with water.  Stephen felt his feet chilly the rest of his body hot.  A buzzard circled catching the thermal. The thermal was born of the sunlight hitting the white caliche.  The buzzard's wings body and brain masters of the local wind currents. To Stephen King the buzzard was almost a dare. Steven took it as a dare as he reached the lodge and turned around.  He was now on the return leg for good back to camp.  Stephen King's skin had been bronzed by the runs in the heat and work of the summer sun.  Stephen had executed a long U-turn and then he accelerated a bit the downhill came.  He went down extending the stride and shoving his weight forward catching speed then carefully controlling it as he reentered the Frio.  Coop was driving on a camp errand and though pushing 40 he was still a teenager at heart.  The be speckled copper topped man from Austin sped the truck up up.  More of the Frio's water was coming out of wheel wells that would soak him. Steven heard the truck and realized who it was...the soaking was anything but dreaded.  The laughter though that would have greeted it was not there.  The shock of his friend's death had blasted Steven.  Steven accelerated to a pace he was just a bit afraid of as he was closing now on Echo Valley he placed his feet carefully down the rockslide.  Then it was a bit faster.  The grab for the runners high on one level had been unsuccessful. There were a myriad of sore spots a friend's murder, a mission ahead and a person self-destructing clueless. None of the emotions had been dulled.  The storm inside of him had been intensified by dopamine and endorphins.  The endorphins had weakened the pre-frontal cortex from which impulses flew.  The dopamine made the emotions that normally were explosive in a dyspraxic mind more so.  As the concentration was fading only exhaustion pain and shock remained.  Yet there was also a real sense of commitment.  The run was a means to an end. You could curse or you could do.  The run was an attempt at doing.  So much agony now this blast of agony a friend had been murdered.  New Braunfels was loved New Braunfels was hated.  He would be a part of a team and he could set the example. Stephen King could carry the DNA of ideas that were both traditional and radical. Stephen knew he could lead by example and set a new direction. That was the hope that resided amidst the pain.  He could be the prince the thought appalled him or he would somehow be the first of a new future the rebirth of the Blue and White for Truth and right.  He knew not the fight song or the Alma Matre of the school he had a purple and gold letter jacket from.  The thought made him a bit daring.  Therefore, it was time to push things. So the stride was extended, its extension meant that the rubber making contact with the surface of the rock carried the most force it could without slipping. Stephen's run was now marked by a series of large rooster tails as his legs were driven down the splashes grew bigger and more widely spaced.  Stephen was going as close to a full sprint as one could get in the river.  The truck sped up Steven was soaked twenty yards off the camp bound.  Steven maintained the pace just short of a sprint the physics were being pushed Steven knew this and focused harder on the foot placement.  The rooster tails were further apart and the water kicked up higher finally the right foot of Steven hit the gravel of Echo Valley.  Stephen knew he would have to shorten the stride to drive up the hill.  Half with rage half with hope Steven opened it up as his stride and stride rate were now at their maximum point he could see to his right the spot of his rebirth.  It was an all out sprint for 150 yards trying to put a better gain on performance the shock had not diminished and soon his stride was as far out as it would go and his legs were going as fast they could go.  Stephen walked away making promises he would keep.

Steven made to the staff lounge.  He contacted the nurse he was safe.  He drank a large amount of water and headed up staff hill for a shower.  Once there he saw  his boss Gil Cawley who read his face "What's wrong?" I found out a classmate of mine had been murdered.  Steven gathered a pair of jeans and his staff shirt.  At least it was quiet. Stephen assumed that the music Geno had been blaring had once again offended enough to merit the order to turn it off.  Stephen showered his sweat soaked body was rinsed and soaped in the Luke warm stream he had selected as sun light came in from skylights. The building was nice lacking air conditioning but the sheet rock and tile had been done to the style of a house built in the early 1980s. The flow of water was great. Stephen worked to the funk off that he had built up. Dinner would be in forty minutes.  Steven decided to relax on the porch lying down on the rock ledge, as the breeze was cool.  His shirtless body long and lanky revealing the farmer's tan he had. A buzzard rose Steven watched it as it mapped out the thermals on the high plateau marked by the highway on the other side of the Frio and its near vertical rise.  Gil asked him "When did you hear about your friend?" Steven responded "Before the run" Stephen pulled himself together them after dinner would have to set up for a dance.  He put his shirt on and walked back to the open air dining area.  Stephen desperately wanted to be a counselor the following year he pulled it together though the run would be one of the 20 to follow full of emotion chasing the dream. 

 

 

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