Hoof Prints Novel by Esteban Erik Stipnieks If I did not know Better I would Call this a dress rehearsal



Christmas to New Years 1992 for Ace was a mass of activity. Christmas would be celebrated in New Braunfels Texas. The weird thing about the Christmas was Ace choosing not to attend a Catholic service which caused some eyebrows raised. It was a tri cultural Christmas. Spekraus and hogs head tamales. Spekraus were sweet bread wrapped around bacon onions and ham. They were of Latvia. A simple walking between houses brought hogs head Tamales. Hogs Head Tamales were from naturally hog fried up wrapped in a corn based dough and heated wrapped in a corn based shuck. There was the joke made about Gerald Ford forgetting to unwrap the shuck on a visit to San Antonio Texas.

Before the trip Keith had told Ace to call him around Christmas their might be something coming up. Winter of 1992 was chilly and wet. The chill of New Braunfels though was mild compared to the harsher more north chill of Denton. The German culture celebrated the Christmas one way similar to Norteno Christmas and some Latvian traditions were mixed in. One year had passed since the end of the Cold War Latvia now being independent. The letters from Latvia were now more open and free. In the midst of the Christmas was the sweet taste that the Soviet Union no longer existed and the memories its darkness were now memories.

The Friday before Thanksgiving Ace had been introduced to Probe ministries. It was one of Keith’s brainstorms for a Friday night activity. The group was presented to someone acting the role of atheist challenging the faith of the Denton Bible Youth Group. He was tough Ace noted watching how the sister of the Senior who had challenged him the previous year. It was not just finding the appropriate scripture to the moment. The greater challenge was linking the scripture to an experience to render flesh to truth. Scripture defined the experience to believer the trouble is a non believer does not regard scripture as the touch stone of truth. In short you had to build credibility of scripture to a person who had no use for it. In the exchange Ace told the story….of what happened May 1 1991. His words were a story of a true encounter with a living God. Having jumped past a hoop the man began explaining the concepts behind what he did. LLYC in addition to reminding Ace exposing Ace to the love of God prepared him for the encounter. Ace lived in a world of struggle yet the struggle was already generating a depth of faith that others in the youth group simply did not have.

Keith knew his role was to mentor. Ace was like a TAMster. The University of North Texas had a program where the last 2 years of high school where the first to years of college. Denton Bible Youth Group allowed some normalcy. The apologetics course and scholarships to it came up fast. As a youth pastor now leading a youth group of 150 kids many of whom he knew had to distribute a mere 4 scholarships to the retreat weekend. The money had been donated by a member of the church. It was a tough moment for the youth Pastor such a moment drove him to his knees. Once on his knees in submission and worshipping God with his heart and mind often decisions were made that had a positive effect for eternity. Ace had been selected Jennifer Hill. Robert Navertte had also been selected. Finally Amanda Meeker a senior who did debate and was on the Phillies dance squad. The 4 were selected because they would use the apologetics information rapidly and more importantly share it with other students. Strangely enough the conference was at T Bar M about 5 miles where Ace would depart from. The phone call from Ace was right in a nick of time Keith found Ace’s mother cooperative….simply put the arguments had stopped and Denton Bible had rightfully been given credit. It was an opening. She agreed to drop him off at T-Bar M at 6:30 pm. This allowed Ace another run with friends. Ace would have a fun winter run with the Unicorn cross-country team.

Ace left his Tias wearing his obligatory been there done that souvenirs not so much bragging but telling his friends he was doing well. The T-shirt purchased at the regional meet and the purple and gold letter jacket were two signs of achievement. Ace walked the mile to Unicorn stadium from his aunts house. The sky was overcast but no rain was coming down. A steady but not knifing wind blew from the north. The bleakness of the day strangely enough was going with the Gin Blossoms song Ace had selected on the CD.

Coach Bob, Bo and Amanda Cook were waiting along with Tom. Coach Bob quipped “Ready for Pit Stop” Ace replied “Save me misery my first track workout” Coach Bob laughed “That’s sounding like a real letterman” Bo asked about the regional meet. Ace confessed he was there as alternate. Coach Bob than said “I thought I was the only cross-country coach with a warped sense of humor the bible thumper pulled a surprise.” Ace replied “Droopy’s revenge its Denton humor now I know how much fun you guys are to run against” Tom asked “What is that” Ace replied “Allen had beaten us all year they beat Denton all but one meet district they in fact had bought plane tickets to Lubbock enough about that though I am looking forward to seeing some nice scenery while I run” Amanda Cook smiled. It was clear Ace was happy to be around his friends his grin was in wide. Ace allowed himself to forget….he remembered the sweetness what little there was a his freshman year. Bo and Tom were friends. Ace asked about the season. Boys had missed regional's. Ace visibly frowned when he heard the news. They took off

On the run by the Baptist church Coach Bob and Ace were running close to each other Bo and Tom were edging ahead. The view was still spectacular for Ace as they ran in high ranch grass over the rocks that made up the Edwards Plateau that loop 337 ran around. NBHS was still perched between ranchland and upper middle class neighborhood with some nice views. There were cattle and deer to be seen. The black clay over the white limestone were warm memories. The wind bit some the gray skies the gray grass filled Ace’s eyes but it was good to be back. Coach Bob “I can forgive your stupidity costing us district but now the freshman Amanda is getting upset at no male co stars” Ace nodded. Coach Bob saw Ace wince a bit at the news. It was clear Ace had not fully put New Braunfels behind him and was genuinely concerned about what happened there. Coach Bob than said “Thanks for wearing the shirt how was the airline flight.” Word had spread about the team who bought airline tickets that had to sell them. Ace laughed “I love flying it was neat Branniff’s old floor is still at Dallas love pretty neat seeing the piece of early 1960s in Dallas flavor is where you find it” Coach Bob than added “You are not complaining about the cold” Ace replied “Feels like October to me” in doing so he answered the implied question. They went over the narrow section over a tunnel between pastures under loop 337.

Coach Bob could see some changes to Ace…..he did not mention them. Their was courage their was genuine happiness to be around Tom and Bo. Ace genuinely loved being back. This though was balanced by confidence and drive he could sense. Ace loved New Braunfels but Coach Bob sensed that Ace was also keeping his mouth shut on some topics. That for the first time Coach Bob became unnerved by Ace.

The run for Ace was boring but Ace knew its role a battle of boredom he had heard about Coach P. Coach P was old school and the two believers would be in conflict Ace through effort and integrity would have to earn the right to challenge Coach P so the run in December continued at its pace. The sky was overcast and the wind blew but the warm up pants heavy air max and long sleeve of the regional meet shirt from Lubbock did their job by the time of Pit Stop Ace was beginning to sweat despite the slightly slower longer cruise pace. In Ace’s mental juke box it was a little Gin Blossoms “Found out about You.” The return leg Coach Bob noticed a subtle surge. He barked out below the ear shot of Tom and Bo “What are you doing Stephen being a Unicorn” Ace flashed a thumbs up and began visibly closing with Tom and Bo. The face on Ace had a bit of grief. The song that popped into Ace’s head was White Lion’s little fighter. Ace was intuitively messing on Donna’s turf tinkering with a fairly divided class. Ace knew the little fighter would not rise. Coach Bob let go a chuckle. It was as if Ace was already responding to a gripe pushing Tom and Bo likely had no effect on the team but it showed Ace had his heart towards following Coach Bob’s order. The use of Unicorn was a quip but the thumbs up also showed some loyalty to his old school even if it was becoming evident Ace was seeing the vices of NBHS. The purple and Gold letter jacket had also been a declaration of pride and achievement. They got back to the field house.

Amanda Cook had noticed what happened in the far distance. Her voice was simple “Leisha tells me you have the nickname Ace” Ace replied “That I do” Coach Bob quipped “Ace has Stephen’s memory.” Ace joked “Guess I tweaked Donna today” Bo snickered “Yeah so you did before the season began” replied “Tom replied…good friends keep us honest.” Ace calmly said “Great working out with you guys have a great soccer and track season” His aunt had shown up and it was time to shower and head to another world. The world he was going to measured the world he had been exposed to. He loved New Braunfels but now he was seeing the flaws. Coach Bob asked “Where you going afterwards?“ Ace replied “Apologetics course from Probe ministries at T Bar M” Coach Bob rolled his eyes. Ace was just happy he got to kind of help a friend. As bitter as Unicorn memories were they were always sweet. If their was a gloat factor Ace was already becoming to the class he joined as powerful as Donna was. The thing was Ace was learning and while rough Ace had already shown more than adequate wisdom in the role and he was about to get more.

Ace at his aunts house had gotten the local gossip. The local gossip was in its own form heart breaking. The bullying Ace had been subjected to in sixth grade had been brutal. It was though in the midst of hearing the news Ace realized why the bullies did what they did….their parents were messed up. There were a couple drug scandals affairs and fraud. This explained why the class he left behind was so nihilistic. If you could not get attention and love from your pain pill popping philandering mom or dad you inevitably wound up taking it out on….Stephen King had been a rather easy target.

What Ace did not know was that Bo would tell Donna what happened for spite. Ace was visibly strong powerful a letterman not cocky but confident. It was clear Ace was becoming something at Denton. Ace was relaxed confident. Bo swore that a late surge had been done at the behest of Coach Bob which was intriguing. That late surge was clear interference at NBHS. Bo laughed about it though it made Tom workout hard Ace clearly was also drained by it.

The shower in his Aunt’s house his grandmother had done the laundry while Ace was running was brief. Soon his uncle who had once told him about white phosphorous burning off the arm of a human being trying to live before his eyes drove him the short distance to T Bar M. Ace was fatigued.

Keith waved as he saw Ace walk up wearing a Latvian T-shirt. It was strange realizing Latvia was now free. All Ace’s aunts and uncles had lived to see the day. Ace went to the dining area. He was walking a bit slowly They went through registration and had sandwiches at the buffet line. Keith was blunt in outlining a vision “You were selected because we feel you will share this information with others the youth group is getting too big and we are losing quality in the quantity now it will up for you guys to share what you learn here with others to whom much is given much is expected. You were given $100 in expectation you would use it and share with others.” The schedule had 8 hours of sleep. Ace got the feeling he was checking into a rather intensive schooling. Students were encouraged to get coffee before the session about evolution it was mandatory for everybody.

Keith asked “You were walking slow what happened” Ace grinned “Pre season track workout with some members of Unicorn soccer and track teams.” Keith “See old friends” Ace replied “Yes and probably irritated somebody as I did what Coach Bob wanted me to do” Keith than asked “Pushing harder to push Unicorn teammates” Ace replied “Coach Bob is disappointed in male cross-country not making regional's I went a little harder got some friends to run harder” Keith replied “I doubt Coach P would mind that that’s serving” Rob seemed surprised. Ace had just shown himself to be an unrepentant jock. Rob replied “Drink some coffee it will take the edge off the runners high” Ace grinned as he got both a cup of coffee and some additional water.

To the Tamsters Ace was a reminder of what they were missing. He had just run with an old cross-country team and he was prepping for a track season. He had obviously enjoyed it and had enjoyed some sentiment.

Ace had encountered what he had not figured out was circular logic….the science book he had been exposed to the previous year. As the lecture began his eyes were open by data as a PhD in micro biology pointed out what had been omitted. The text book had been written from a stand point of philosophic naturalism which than over looked many in consistencies. The effect of the culture was if science disproves God than……everything goes out the window. Rob the resident science major sat by Ace soon. Ace looked at the binder given and he was drinking from the fire hose. In a 90 minute session a 150 watt light bulb had been turned on. The under girding of had ideas had been exposed as false. There were legitimate points made. Ace understood that evolution was as much of mythology. He memorized the flaw of the experiment which had amino acids dererive from the supposed atmosphere of the earth. The Sun light threw it off. Than hidden in plain sight was the issue of amino acids going across the concentration gradient. Ace was memorizing all the information as debate points.

What followed the second class of the night was an optional elective. Ace was viewing himself more and more as a liberal arts kind of guy. He was challenged about Christian literature. He remembered what Edward James Olmos had said about the artist’s responsibility for images. Sin was portrayed often but its portrayals omit the consequences and horrors of it. Good Christian literature celebrates truth and good it also sheds the unflinching light of truth on sin. Sin when shown honestly is repulsive. There was a late night snack followed by time to sleep.

The morning breakfast began with prayer. The tables were gathered like the tables of college campus. The reality was Ace found himself in a university environment. While being grueling it was also stimulating. It was mentally what the run to pit stop had been physically. The three other students from Denton Bible would not allow slacking. After the breakfast it was time for the world history course Ace had been denied. It was good broad accurate brush of the flow of western civilization and art. The flow was not so much progression but entropy.

Ace found himself drinking coffee speech and debate tournament style. Ace drank a couple cups mixing in large amounts of half and half and packet of hot chocolate. That was good.

Another session followed Ace was beginning oddly enough to understand how he could work with even music he did not like…Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The session that followed allowed him to see the tiny pieces of morality within the nihilism of grunge. Jeremy told Gino’s story….Smells like Teen Spirit with its fury reflected a deeper anger at something lost and people knew what was lost. Instead of viewing the materially hostility the ministry encouraged active engagement. LLYC had been a primer Probe was filling in much more details and explanations. Ace gained an understanding of the music his other friends listened to and he understood it all.

The supreme irony was Probe was that it billed itself as college prep. In Denton Ace would have to use all of what he learned just in normal polite discussion with classmates. It was used a couple times in college by Ace but by that time it had been so second nature its use was automatic and done with no excitement. Ace was in a far greater challenge to his faith at Denton Ryan than college would ever offer. The following morning the drive which Ace was starting to hate was back to Denton Texas along inters state thirty five at least the drive would provide time to further break down in Keith’s car what truly was learned.

A discussion about the Evolution information began. You could present the data to a person who believes the in evolution. Ace pointed that with Evolution it is used to undermine the existence of God. If you kill God you become God. A professor at UNT actually had gone so far in reflecting about DNA “Who ever did this knew what they were doing.” DNA is an effective means or as one computer program later pointed out was a very complex base four code. Ace pleased Keith with the comment quoting Romans referencing man without excuse because invisible attributes of God are made visible through creation leaving man without an excuse. This actually went back to its origins.

The conversation shifted to other topics. Ace’s aunts and uncles had been caught up between modern and post modernism. The myth of modernism that with intellect man could tame everything. While modernism produced interesting art and architecture. The trouble is the architecture was imposing and cold. By eliminating God man was dehumanized. Post modernism on the other hand was the other extreme because reason lead no where without God we would fall back on emotion. In a microcosm you had a man fleeing a death sentence because he did not fit in the central plan and his daughter being forced to walk past a pile of dead bodies on the way to school implied as a threat. They were trapped between Stalin and Hitler. Both had eliminated God. The greater irony was that Ace had been a test of post modern thought. What Ace’s mother propped up about changing perception changing reality indicated the post modern influence. It was easy to hate Post Modernism. The screams of Cobain and Pearl Jam reflected the greater suffering as post modernism became the belief system of many baby boomers. This post modern belief system allowed the transformation from hippie to yuppie and than the justification of what went on. If people made their own morality instead of being subject to a transcendent morality things could get bad. A supreme irony was that Ace had departed to the conference from a neighborhood with its intrigues and drug use that was literally full of the bitter fruit. Ace did not mention the two affairs and several drug abuse cases in the neighborhood he had celebrated Christmas in. The one thing about the long drive that became palatable with all the scripture digging and discussion about what happened is the four and half hour drive went by so much smoother and so much pleasant. While the hippies said “If it feels good” the trouble was what felt good for parents did not feel good kids. Drugs felt good at a time. Sex outside marriage felt great at the time….ignoring children's needs felt good. The trouble was the kids felt other things. The parents inflicted their own hell on their kids.  Rob and Ace started discussing music….beneath the rage of Nirvana their was an implicit cost of immoral behavior. Cobain himself spoke bitterly of divorce and the havoc it caused him. The Phillie had noted some other things she was the dance team debater a senior. Ace was far more the freak in Denton she was she saw how it would be used. The conference though would be used by all. The ministry would have been surprised at how quickly it been used.



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