|20.20|21|22|22.2|22.22|22.222|23|24|25|Those Extra Four…|1|2|3|4|Back Cover|
This Seems Like A Lot, But…
As soon as his sneaker makes contact with the ground, Coach can feel a low rumble. He looks towards the road in front of the school – not a single vehicle speeding by. After waiting long enough to build the appropriate amount of anticipation, he turns his attention towards the track to see no less than five bubbling adolescent boys, and two that are just slightly fizzing, heading his way.
Jack and Dakota lead their fellow runners in surrounding their coach in a semi-circle, the man’s Achille’s backed against the cool concrete of the bottom stair. With less than five inches between any one of their bright and shiny faces and Coach’s face, the children all greet him in unison. The smell of their dehydrated mouths mixed with a slight twinge of body odor from being kept inside all day pokes its head into Coach’s left nostril.
He doesn’t like it one bit.
Through tightly clenched teeth and a half-smile/half-grimace, the student-sized coach greets his team while slowly nudging them away. He splits the sea of sweaty running shirts and walks down the driveway to the backroad, looking back and forth as if surveying the area.
“Everybody stretched and ready?” Coach calls out, tightening his shoelaces while stretching his leg and back in the same motion. “Y’all got your drinks and such?”
The children are exchanging glances of building intensity with one another. Jack calls back, “Yes sir,” and starts jogging over.
“So I’m thinking, since today was the annual Hoffman Regional High School Annual Anti-Drug Assembly and Knowledge Seminar and all, we’ll race to the top of The Rock and scare away any drug doers or ne’er do wells that are plotting against the school. If any of you beat me there, we’ll just run back and do a quick mile or two as the workout. If I beat all of you there, six-mile run. Deal?”
Before any of the kids even have a chance to counter his offer, Coach takes off sprinting down the road running behind the schools. Jack and Dakota take off right after him, followed by Jaden, Prief, and Dennis fighting through the cloud of dust building behind them. Gino and Gio walk, laughing about how only one of them needs to catch up for everybody to run less.
Hoffman Regional High School
Hoffman Regional High School, the home to many of Coach’s impromptu races, is comprised of two and a half large, square, brick fortresses, with a skybridge connecting them over a river of bumpy and weathered asphalt that surrounds and divides the buildings. The East Wing, originally constructed almost thirty years before the West Wing, has a small structure sticking off it named The Addition, because that’s where all the math classes are taught; the resulting right angle from this extra half-fortress creates a perfect pocket to place a parking lot upon, and place that parking lot they did.
This parking lot leads to a road that runs behind the East Wing, connecting to the tumor-shaped bus parking lot, the breezy driveway between the two schools, and the concrete ramp up to the Hoffman Athletics Plateau before running past the West Wing into the West parking lot, a kidney-shaped lake of freshly-laid pavement that feels almost as soft as the Earth herself when you run on it.
Across this lake is a patch of jungley forest cut by a small trail which climbs a steep hill up to a large boulder that overlooks the parking lot. As far as high school views go it’s not bad, definitely better than that of the skybridge, and students like to go up there to get high off this or that and stare dumbly at the school, wondering just why it is they all flock there every day. Like, it’s not like the government is around to enforce their attendance any– ‘Oh shit!’
Today The Rock is vacant; the kids who were here shooting heroin saw Coach and the running team heading their way and decided to split and wet their needles in the nearby graveyard. When Coach summits The Rock, he kicks away a little baggy of white powder just in time for Jack and Dakota to not see it. They climb up the rock single-file, not even needing to catch their breaths.
“Not bad guys,” Coach says as he walks to the edge, balancing on one foot in the tree pose as he watches the rest of his athletes run, and walk, towards the trail. “Not bad at all. Here’s an idea,” he says in a low voice, as not to be heard by everybody. “Y’all ran, so did those three. So what I want you to do, and I’ll tell them the same thing: run onto Treering Ave and take the first left. You should get there around two-fifty seconds in, okay? Y’all follow?”
Jack and Dakota nod their heads, holding their breath so they don’t miss a single word.
“Then, find a big car and duck behind it. Do not make yourselves visible. Jaden and them will join you; if you need to use multiple cars to adequately hide, do it. Then, just wait for Gino and Gio to run by. Or rather, walk by, that’s probably more accurate. Then, wait like… three hundred more seconds. Then run back, do two miles on the track, and we’ll call it a day.”
Jaden beats Prief and Dennis to the top of the rock, catching only the last five of Coach’s wise words.
“YOOO did you guys beat him up here?!”
Everybody looks at Jaden. “No no no, goodness no, my boy.” Coach smiles, waiting for Dennis and Prief to join them. “See, you guys actually ran here. See that?” as he points over the edge towards the walking dead, still not even halfway across the parking lot, the same parking lot that fills up so quickly in the mornings that teachers resort to fisticuffs whenever students try to take their spots. “That just ain’t it. Y’all are going to hide behind cars down the nearest side street on Treering Ave until the walklings pass you, then you’re coming back and doing a quick two miles. Then you’ll go home, after making sure somebody calls me to confirm that everybody safely got back, because I’ll be waiting for those two at The Beefy Moore. Everybody cool?”
The students, smiles of wonder on their faces, all nod in unison. From above them an osprey watches, looking forward to the day she and her mate will get to raise hatchlings of their own.
“Word. Then get the fuck outta here, they’ll be up here soon!”
The kids get the fuck outta there, taking off down the rocky path that’s littered with more broken shards of glass and carcinogens trapped in cigarette butts than actual pebbles. Jack leads the pack, followed closely by Dakota with Jaden, Dennis, and Prief all in a row behind him. As Jack rounds the brick corner of the Kwik Chek mini-mart and gas station, he sees a very familiar gray Forge Engage SUV parked in the parking lot, just like the one his Mom used to drive. Same license plate and everything, C42OI7.
Jack stops running, attracting strange stares from his teammates like a lit screened-in porch does an army of June beetles on a warm May evening. He slowly walks up to the SUV, letting Dakota guide the pack to the rendezvous spot, and taps on the window. Inside, a hippie-looking dude smiles and waves for a moment before realizing he can open the window.
“Aye bro! What’s good dude, how you doin’?” Sam says, more than happy to run into his younger brother here at the Kwik Chek right behind the high school, of all places. “You guys practicing or something?”
Jack stares at his brother for a couple seconds, saying nothing. Then, “No Sam, we’re hunting elephants. In running clothes. In New Jersey.”
Sam’s eyes grow wide. “REALly now? Well shit man, you guys might need this.”
Sam reaches into the back of his mom’s backup car and pulls out a plastic pump-action BB rifle meant for a ten-year-old, complete with a small box of BBs and a shoulder sling. “Make sure you go for the eyes; these BBs hardly puncture cardboard, let alone an elephant’s leathery hide. Shit’s thicker than the exterior of this car.”
Again, Jack just kind of looks at his brother, saying nothing.
Until, “What were you doing at the assembly this morning? Did you like, shave, or something, since then?”
“Wuzzat?” Sam asks, dissociated from whatever reality Jack’s living in. “I wasn–”
“And what was with those purple contacts? And the… magic tricks? Like, what the hell was that? Like, look, I’ve had a feeling you were gay for a while now, but Sam, you didn’t have to do all that…”
Sam paints an expression of I have no i-fucking-dea what you’re talking about, but I’m just happy to be talking to you on his face. “Jack, look at my eyes. I don’t own purple contacts.”
The BB gun is returned to the back seat. An elephant lives on.
Ignoring him like Sam ignored the gay accusation, Jack says, “Dude, like, four of my classmates came up to me today asking me to get you to show them your magic tricks. What the fuck?”
“That’s good, isn’t it? Making friends and whatnot?”
Jack stares at him, his face longer than that of the horses in Lonny Ghost AD’s joke of a joke earlier.
Sam, the back of his neck starting to tingle, says, “Alllllll righty, look bro. I hardly woke up forty minutes ago, I physically could not have been at your assembly. By the way, which assembly was it today?”
Jack shakes his head in disbelief. “No, you’re… why are you lying to me?”
“I’m not dude, I–”
Jack’s face takes on a tint of red, similar to PrinciPal’s when Sam was so disrespectfully badgering him for doing his damned job this morning. “What are you even doing here, Sam?”
Sam playfully rolls his eyes and takes a sip of his milkshake through the grin he holds for his brother. “I’m waiting for my Canna-guy to come through, what else?”
Before Jack can even explode into a trillion pieces of molten shrapnel, destroying the Engage, the parking lot, and the entire Kwik Chek in a chain reaction that would cause the nearby underground gas tanks to combust and incinerate everything in a fifty-foot radius, Gino and Gio slowly footslog up behind him.
“Yoo Jack and Sam, hay!” Gio says, a dopey smile on his face.
Gino chimes in with a request to learn some of Sam’s magic tricks.
This is followed by an obnoxious, “TOLD YOU!” from Jack.
“Hah,” Sam laughs, stirring his milkshake with his straw. The machine clearly didn’t blend it enough, the entire bottom quarter of this cup is a solid hunk of burnin’ forbidden fudge. “Maybe after you guys finish your run. What’s ol’ Thennie have you guys doin’ today?”
Jack starts walking away, nurturing his walk into a jog before evolving it to a sprint by using a running stone. He blows past the side street in a rage that could fry a turkey.
Without using any oil.
The other three watch him go, impressed by the speed at which Jack shrinks into a tiny little dot, then disappears.
“What’s that about?” Sam asks, sipping his unshaken milkshake. “He’s running faster than I did after I initiated the greatest prank in the school’s history.”
“What are you talking about?” Gino says, pausing the flow of the conversation. “My older brother started the water balloon war in the courtyard. He made me fill the balloons, I had to drink like forty bottles of water.”
“Nothing,” a sip of milkshake. “Let’s just say the school wasn’t always called Hoffman Regional.”
“Huh. Anyway, he’s really fast dude, your brother is great at this sport,” Gio professes, looking up to Sam while standing eye-level with him. “You’re probably really proud of him.”
“I am. But seriously, what are you guys doing? My dude’s gonna be here soon and she won’t like your being here.”
Gino and Gio look at each other in awe; some say never meet your heroes, but they must have some pretty degenerate fuckin’ heroes, tell you what.
“Well, yew see,” Gino starts, cracking his back as he speaks, “Coach Thenure is only our coach for cross country. We’re in spring track now.”
“Ahhh, okay. Makes zero difference, but okay. Soooo…”
“Soooo…” they both say in unison.
“What are you guys running today??” Sam almost yells.
“OH! The Beefy Moore, like six miles. When Coach– hey, do you know Coach?”
“Yeah I know him, he appeared my senior year. I think. Or maybe I met him at one of Jack’s meets… I don’t know. Kinda looks like Einstein if Einstein was a Native American, right?”
Gino giggles to himself. Never before has he held the attention of someone so slightly older than him for such a long period of time. “I never put that together, but totally! But anyway, when he told us what the run was, I was like, This seems like a lot, but okay.”
“No you weren’t!” Gio trumps in. “I was!”
A beat up old Nahson Getdro pulls into the parking lot and rides over the curb, the tiny drop nearly causing the axles of the vehicle to snap. The hood, an entirely different color and material than the rest of the car, has a small drift of smoke flowing out of it, and the driver parks on the other side of the building in that one parking space around the corner that isn’t really a parking space but nobody can get a tow truck back there to tow away the cars that park there so I guess it is a parking space after all. Then, a girl draped in a purple and green drug rug that reaches past her knees gets out and sits lotus style on the hood, using the slight smokescreen to her advantage. She then reaches beneath the burgundy beanie that’s keeping her hair under something that might be described by a paraplegic as control and pulls out what looks like a cigarette, except without the yellow end. She puts the lowercase L in her mouth, flips off Sam, lights her joint, and then sits there waiting.
Ladies and gentlemen, she has arrived.
Sam, the excitement dilating his pupils to the point of appearing Psychedelic, says, “All right guys, that’s my guy, y’all better get a move on,” without making eye contact or even facing the children. Despite protests, Sam gets out of his car and walks towards his dealer and next-door neighbor, the fabulous Miss Harley Wolffe.
Gino and Gio, instead of continuing with their run, walk up to the Kwik Chek and press their faces against the window, peeking inside to see if it’s the older gray lady with three teeth working or if it’s the hot new community college student that moved here from California to avoid the rodent creature uprising. Meanwhile, about a mile down the road, Jack is running so fast he’s beginning to go airborne.