The cartography, writing, and ramblings of one crazy winter lover who likes to blog about the fun and inconsequential.

Lodestone: Full Book!

Link to .pdf of full book.

Hello, all! Today, I'd like to bring you all a little treat: a full book written by me! It's called Lodestone, and it was a short book I wrote last year for NaNoWriMo. Now, I do think it was a bit of an odd direction for me to take my writing, and thus may not be quite as good as some of the writing you'll see on here in the future. Nevertheless, I think it's still an enjoyable and short read, and I hope you all will enjoy it! Below is a description of the book.

The firsthand narrator of Lodestone is high school senior Ben Harper, a native of a sleepy Chicago suburb in the hectic days of the early '90s. Through a pair of essays for college applications, he explores what it means to be a high school senior, the awkward time between teenager and adult. He finds the definitions he's put himself in to be too restricting, and so Ben is forced into a journey of loss and self-discovery, and what it means to be incomplete. Joining him is his longtime best friend, Samantha Hayes, who has already had to readjust herself after a car crash takes one of her legs. Just as life returns to normal for the two of them, a new accident forces them both to form a bond as their lives begin to come apart and a return to normality seems hopeless. Sam is, perhaps, the only one who sees both the good and bad, the joys and pains in young Ben, and it is she who will force him to decide what he wants most in the world.

Since it's just way too long to post in its entirety on the site, I'll instead leave that .pdf link to read online via Google Drive or download. To get a feel for the book, I'll also post the first chapter below, so if it sounds like something you would want to read, then you can check out the whole thing!

Chapter 1: Halloweentown


I’ve been told that the winter of ninety-three was one of the driest Chicago ever had, but I don’t remember it that way. Every time I retell this story, there seems to have been more snow on the ground, especially on Christmas. It really adds to the mood of the story, I think. It’s not like I get to tell it very often.

That long winter of my first adult year really started on a lonely highway in May, but I usually begin on Halloween of my senior year. It’s my favorite holiday, and the start of the holiday season is when most of the story really takes place. That was one of the more interesting Halloweens I had, if only for what came after, and I have been an avid fan of the holiday since I was a kid.

I had turned eighteen that year, just twenty days before, but that didn’t matter much to me. The holiday was a serious business to me, and I didn’t care much if people said I was too old. They always said that about everything at my age, or that I was too young. Besides, it wasn’t like I wanted to go to some lame haunted house or even really trick-or-treat. Dressing up for the hell of it is fun no matter how old you are. Check the history books, they had these things called masquerade parties, way back in the day. Kiddy holiday my ass.

That year, I was going as a robot. It wasn’t that inspired, I know, but I had come up with a pretty cool idea about making some old air conditioner tubing from our upstairs attic into arms and legs, and cover a box in tinfoil for a body. The tubes were too big on my scrawny arms and the hat I had made out of an old bicycle helmet kept getting caught up in my hair. I hated when things got caught up in my hair, because they did a lot. I had really curly hair as a teenager, and I let it grow out into a small afro by my senior year. Some people called me “jewfro” for a little while, and I let them because I thought the name was cool at the time.

Anyway, the helmet didn’t work quite right and the arms kept falling off, but I was satisfied enough with it. My dad kept calling me the “Six Million Dollar Man” even though I told him I didn’t know what that was. He looked a little hurt when I said that, but he always did when I didn’t get some reference from when he was my age.

I spent most of the afternoon that day waiting at home, idly flipping through the channels on the TV I had in my room. It was an old set with wooden sides and a bunny-ears antenna because my parents were too cheap to run cable upstairs. I was waiting for my best friend, Sam, to get over to my house. She and her parents had been Episcopalians for as long as I could remember, and they took their church seriously. Halloween happened to fall on a Sunday that year, so Sam and her parents were tied up at the church and some picnic afterward well into the afternoon. She’d invited me to go, but I’d wanted to stay home and work on my costume.

It was almost four o’clock by the time the doorbell rang downstairs. I scrambled out of my room, and had to leap over all the textbooks and novels I had laying on my floor. I have a tendency to drop whatever I’m reading where I had last read it, and wasn’t prone to actually picking them up later. It gave my dad grief to no end.

I almost fell going down the stairs, when my legs nearly buckled from the tubing wrapped around them. I steadied myself on the banister, though, and made it down the narrow staircase to the front door. My mom was already there, and had opened it for me. It annoyed me when she did that. It was like she didn’t think I could open a door.

“Ben, Sam’s here for you,” she said like I couldn’t already tell.

“Thanks, Mom,” I said.

Sam beamed at her. “Thanks, Mrs. Harper. Are you and Mr. Harper going out for Halloween?”
She asked on account of my mom wearing a pantsuit. She asked that a lot. My mom, though, gave her the same answer she always did: “I just wanted to look like how I feel today. Will and I are going to stay in and watch movies until the kids start coming around for candy.”

“Sounds like fun.” Sam turned to me. “Nice costume.”

She was saying that for my benefit, really. Like always, Sam had outdone herself on her costume. She was wearing a big white dress with a hoop skirt and frills all over it. The sleeves were even puffed up and all. Most years, she and her mom sewed her outfit all throughout October while I threw something together a week before without hardly trying.

That year she was going as Marie Antoinette. Except, instead of being cut off at the neck, she had lost a leg. Her thigh had fake blood that ran all the way to her prosthetic leg. Oh, right, I guess I should talk about that. See, I hadn’t hung out with Sam that much since the past May since she had spent most of it in the hospital. She and her parents had been coming home late on Memorial Day when some drunk had hit them on the side of the car that Sam had been sitting in. When it was all said and done, she had lost her left leg just above the knee.

“How does my costume look?” she asked, giving it a twirl. There was a cut in the skirt to show off the leg. “I thought that, I don’t know, I’d emphasize it a little, you know?”

“Yeah, yeah, it looks great as always,” I said.

“Yours still looks good, too.”

I snorted. “You’re just saying that.”

“Well duh, but one of us has to be the nice one.” She grinned and brushed a strand of her auburn hair out of her face. “You ready to see the movie?”

“Yeah, I’ve been waiting all day,” I said.

We were going to go see the new movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was supposed to be about Halloween, too, so I guess that was why they had released it a couple days before. Lake Theater was doing a thing where you got in free if you wore a costume, so me and Sam wanted to get there as fast as we could.

I followed her out across our dead lawn to her car. She drove a Buick all the way from the late seventies that had been her dad’s for the longest time. It was white and had nice leather seats on the inside, but she called it a junker anyway. I had to sit in the backseat so I could lay out since my costume was too big to let me sit in the front. It was just as well, because Sam’s skirt took up a lot of room in the front anyway.

“They’re letting you drive now?” I asked.

“Well, I lost my left leg, so there’s not really a reason I can’t,” she said. “I think they were just, you know, afraid of it happening again.”

I grinned. “I guess you don’t have to worry about losing it again, huh?”

“I’d be more scared of what insurance would do to us if I did.”

Sam started up the car, and we put-putted away from the curb and down my street. I guess I lived on the “privileged” side of town, though just barely. Our house was really nothing special, just a couple stories of old wood and siding. Sam, though, lived with all the smaller houses that had been built way back in the old days of the town, but not by any of the big-shot architects that used to blow through.

We got to the theater just fine, since Sam drove safe and all. It bugged me, though, that she barely talked while she was driving. I couldn’t really blame her, I guess. We drove into town and passed her family’s church, since the Episcopal Church is on Lake Street, same as the theater. Oak Park isn’t that big of a town, but the little downtown bits were pretty nice. The theater was definitely the best part, looking like it had just appeared out of an old movie from the sixties. It still had the old-style marquees and everything.

We parked out front of the theater, and I shoved myself out of the backseat and onto the sidewalk out front. I landed square on my ass, but picked myself up before too many people saw me. Sam needed a bit of my help to get out of the car, and not just for the dress. She was getting better at it, but I could watch her and see she still had problems with the prosthetic.

She accepted my help, but still tried to do as much of it herself as she could. “I got it, I got it,” she kept saying. Still, she didn’t push me away or anything. It was kind of embarrassing, like dancing with your little sister, but I managed to help her out of the car and onto the sidewalk.

Sam smoothed her dress and we walked inside the theater. The front lobby was lousy with people in costumes. Some were shuffling out of a theater, while the rest stood in a line toward another. A kid about a year younger than me pointed us to the waiting line, and we got in behind a couple of girls dressed like vampires.

I kept fiddling with my arm tubes. “So is this movie supposed to be good?”

“My cousin said it is,” Sam said.

“Didn’t she say Die Harder was good, too?”

Sam poked me. “That was a good movie and you know it.”

“You just wanted to watch Bruce Willis,” I said.

“Well yeah,” she said, “which is what makes it a good movie.”

The theater had a little downstairs lounge area that a lot of people kept going into to get their picture taken or something. Some of them tried to get back in line, and it caused a commotion until some ushers came over and broke it up. It was really annoying to watch a couple teenagers get mad at some kids trying to hassle their way back in line. I didn’t see the point in it, but they got the kids out eventually.

Lake Theater was a real upstanding place. It wasn’t like any cheap-o theaters down at the mall or anywhere else in Chicago, but a real classic. All the rooms had fixtures on the wall and fancy chairs that felt more like a couch than a theater seat. You felt like you were going to an opera until the screen came on, practically.

We got in just ahead of the cut-off, so Sam and I had to sit near the back. Not that we minded, of course. Sitting at the back was kind of our thing. We picked out a couple seats off to the right and sat down in them. Both of our costumes barely fit, so I was glad we didn’t have to be up near the front with the other people. Sam’s skirt kept billowing up, and she’d shove me away every time I tried to help.

We had it down by the time the movie started, though. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of it, so I don’t need to summarize the film. I thought it was pretty good. Maybe a little weird, but still good. What really got me was the main guy, the skeleton. Every time I’d start to get into it I’d realize he didn’t have any eyes, and then I’d be a little freaked out. Still a pretty good movie.

The only part that really had me and Sam quiet wasn’t any part that was supposed to, but something at the beginning of the movie. The girl was a rag doll, right, so she jumps out a window because she can stitch herself together. The thing was, when she did her whole leg came off and she had to stitch it back on. I could feel Sam tense up at that part. I wanted to leave right then, to go and forget about the whole stupid movie, but she didn’t want to go. So, we stayed. I noticed that when the movie was over she was quick to limp out of the theater on her leg.

“So whaddya think about it?” I asked her when we were back in the lobby. Sam was chewing on her fingernails. She always did that when she was in public and couldn’t have a cigarette. See, she was only seventeen because she was a summer birthday, and she really looked it.

“It was good,” she said. “Real good. I thought it was going to be some dumb kid’s movie, but it wasn’t.”

“If you want to go for a smoke—”

“Did I say I wanted one?”

I laughed. “You look like you want one.”

“Well, okay, yeah.” She paused. “Want to get out of here?”

“Sure,” I said.

We headed out of the theater while everyone was still standing around and blabbing about the movie. That’s what I like about Sam. She doesn’t always talk much, but she’s really direct when she does. There isn’t any bullshit with her. Even when she called me about her leg, there wasn’t any avoiding the subject, it was that she didn’t have a leg anymore. No bullshit, that’s her.

When I walked outside, I started kicking myself for not wearing anything much under the robot costume. The tubing didn’t keep out the cold very well, and all I had on was a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt. The cold bit into my hide and I started to shiver like crazy. I always shiver. Worse, I had to help Sam all the way to the car since her prosthetic acts up in the cold. We must have looked funny, a dollar store robot helping a princess to the car.

“Want me to drive?” I asked her.

“Over my dead body,” she said. “I keep telling you, Ben, my right leg is just fine. I’ll be cool, okay?”

She managed to hobble into the car and I threw myself in the back. I felt like tearing off my robot costume right then, but I didn’t. I had only done a half-assed job, but it was still sentimental to me. Instead, I suffered silently on the car ride while Sam drove to her house. She lived in the south of Oak Park, near the main highway. The houses over there were really narrow, like somebody had chopped my house in half and dropped it down inbetween a couple others just like it. All the houses were squeezed together, too, like kindergarteners packed into a school bus. She didn’t hardly have any yard. The houses were supposed to have been built when we were a “working class” town, I guess.

We pulled up in front of her house. It was colored baby blue, which made it easy to see all the way down the street. They had a little front stoop up a flight of stairs, but otherwise no porch in front of the sidewalk.

“Your parents home?” I asked.

“They’re doing the same thing they do every Halloween,” she said. “They go over to the Davis’ for the party where they watch scary movies and get drunk with everybody else. We’ll have the house to ourselves for a while.”

“Sweet,” I said. “What are we going to do, then?”

“Pretty much the same thing.”

She grabbed a pack of cigarettes from the console of the Buick and held them while she got out. She snatched a lighter from one pocket that I hadn’t even known she’d had and lit up right in the middle of the road and everything. If she was anything, Sam was selective about her own rules.

I climbed out and stood next to her. We leaned against the car together, happy to take in the atmosphere a little bit. It was a nice day, that was for sure. Sure, it was cold, but the rest of it was pretty great. The sky had a nice cloud cover and the leaves blew around in the street from a light breeze. You could almost smell fall in the air.

Sam held her cigarettes in her hands like she was a steelworker or something, like she was choking the damn thing. All the girls I had seen held theirs like they were in Paris in the twenties, but not Sam. She took a drag and practically spat the smoke into the air.

“You ever going to take up smoking?” she asked.

“Don’t think so,” I said.

She smiled. “Good. It’s a nasty habit.”

Sam stamped out her cigarette on the ground and dragged me over to her house. Getting up the stairs was still a fight for her, even though her dad had built a sturdier railing for the front stairwell of their house. She had to hold her dress with one hand and the railing with the other to get up. I stayed behind her in case she fell, but of course she didn’t. Instead, she swung open the screen door and pushed a key into her front door until we were inside.

“So, we’ll be handing out candy, I guess,” I said.

“Oh come on, it’ll be fun,” she said.

“I guess I’ll get to show off my costume, at least.” I grimaced. “Though I kind of wish I could take it off. This thing’s giving me a rash.”

She rolled her eyes. “If as many things gave you a rash as you said, you’d be covered head to toe in hives.”

“That’s why I generally try to avoid them,” I said.

We walked into her living room and sat ourselves down on the big couch her parents bought years and years before that was tattered and frayed everywhere until it felt like your ass hit the floor. I took off my helmet and brushed at my hair until it stayed down a reasonable amount while Sam picked at the bows on her skirt. I could tell she was deciding if she wanted to keep it on, but at the same time thought it looked good. You be friends with someone since kindergarten and you start being able to tell what she was thinking.

“Hey, uh, thanks for the help today,” she said.

I shook my head. “It was no problem. I’m just glad you can walk on that thing.”

She reached over across the couch and grabbed my hand. Her hand squeezed it once, then let me go. I kind of stared at her while she did it, though she smiled back. “You’re a good friend,” she said.
That part was what surprised me the most. Now, she had barely ever touched me like that before, but suddenly here she was, grabbing at my hand. It was a freaky feeling. Her hands were soft.

I only really mention it because it was less a random event at the time, though it seemed like it, but more like a pattern. Since she had come back to school after Labor Day, she been really touchy-feely, if there was a word for it. I didn’t know why, exactly, but she’d seemed to grow more clingy after the accident. I guessed it was a byproduct of nearly dying. You suddenly become more attached to the people you know or whatever.

Anyway, the moment passed and she got up. “Alright, I think this dress is going to stay on, but I seriously need something lighter on under it besides a sweater. You’ll hold down the fort?”

“I got it,” I said, saluting. “Want me to find a movie?”

“Didn’t you say you had schoolwork to do?”

“School’s tomorrow, so it can wait. Let’s at least enjoy the holiday for a bit.”

She left the room with a twirl of her big skirt. It was really neat to have looked at, I swear it. I was always pretty jealous of how she could sew well, even if it was more out of necessity than not. She did it since she was a little kid, too. The first time I found out was in first grade when I split my jeans and she sewed them up right there on the playground with a needle and thread from her backpack. I still have those jeans.

I walked over to the TV her parents kept in one corner of the room. They were the kind of people who still thought of television as an extra accessory. They still had a good movie collection, though. I searched around inside the cabinets below the TV for a good Halloween movie. Most of what they had was either kids movies or really violent, adult stuff. I had a hard time choosing between the two. After a little bit, I decided to go with a Charlie Brown special on video instead of Halloween. I just didn’t feel like watching people get hacked apart that night.

Sam came back around the time I had the VHS all hooked up, wearing a tube top underneath the dress. She grinned at me. “Charlie Brown, huh? What, are you feeling kiddish tonight?”

“Well, I figure you’re not really supposed to be yourself on Halloween, so why not?”

“I guess that makes sense. You want a soda?”

“Of course.”

Though her parents didn’t like TV too much, they sure didn’t mind anything else. They kept their fridge stocked with soda and didn’t usually care if Sam came in smelling like cigarette smoke. They had been more strict before the accident, but since then, well, they hadn’t exactly cared much about what Sam did. She returned with a couple cold sodas and gave one to me. Her parents kept beer around, too, but I never much felt like drinking and Sam didn’t like the taste. We were supposed to be good kids or something like that, but to tell the truth I just wasn’t a big fan of being drunk.

We watched the movie, and it was good like it always was. I got a real kick out of Charlie Brown even after seeing him so much. He was supposed to be something from my parents’ generation, but I still liked him anyway. Me and Sam sat on the couch to watch it, though I kept a little more distance from her than before. It wasn’t afraid of her getting handsy or anything like that, but I guess I just wanted to be sure.

It’s not like she wasn’t good looking or anything. She was always pretty slim, not in a curvy way, but in a peppy way that made her look she was almost a cheerleader, but not quite. Her face was pretty nice to look at, too, and I was told her nose was cute. A nose is a nose to me, but she had a good one, I guess. She used to always get asked on dates by guys in our grade that were way less good looking than her, but she’d humor a few of them because she was nice like that. The offers had stopped coming after she came back missing a leg.

Near the end of the movie, the doorbell rang for the first time. Sam started to get up, but I held a hand out and stood myself. I wasn’t about to make her limp all the way to the door for a couple of snot-nosed kids. Instead, I hobbled over to the door and opened it.

There were a couple of kids out there, a boy and a girl. I figured the boy was her little brother, since he was dressed like a horse and she was a princess. Only parents made their children dress up in stupid combination costumes like that. The boy kept sucking his thumb and looking like he was going to cry, but he stayed quiet.

The little girl beamed at me. “Trick or Treat!”

“Yeah, yeah, we got a treat,” I said, reaching for the bag of candy on the floor. Sam’s parents got the real good stuff for Halloween, even a few full-sized candy bars. I was saving those for me and Sam later.

“What’re you supposed to be?” the little girl asked.

“I’m a robot,” I said.

“You don’t look like a robot.”

“That’s what I am. Didn’t you hear me?”

She pulled on one of her fingers. “Yeah, but a robot’s got flashing lights and makes a funny sound with his voice. You’re just metal.”

“Fine, I’m the Six Million Dollar Man, happy?” I grabbed a couple smaller candy bars and held them out to her. “You want your candy or not?”

She accepted it and walked off with her brother in tow. He had started picking his nose. I shut the door, but not a minute later was the doorbell ringing again. Two more kids, and two more pieces of candy gone. It was a lot more lively in Sam’s part of town than mine, so we were kept busy all night. Or, I should say, I was. Even though she kept trying to get up and help, I talked her out of it. I still worried about her leg.

“You know, I’m pretty sure I can stand in place just fine,” she said after I refused for about the millionth time.

“Yeah, but I don’t want you getting all bent up about being sore from standing up,” I said. “I can see you wince when you’re on your feet too long, you know.”

“I’m usually just wincing because I have to stand next to you.”

“Oh, thanks.” I rolled my eyes and turned to give candy to a couple more snotty kids that looked just about the same as the last that had come. They all started to blend after a while. “Besides, didn’t you say that thing rubs you the wrong way?”

She sighed. “Alright, alright, that’s what I get for complaining around you. Just try to be quiet while I watch TV, then.”

She stuck her prosthetic out on the coffee table in front of the TV like she was a cowboy putting her boot on the bar. I felt bad having to tell her no so much, I really did, but I had seen her stump before. It wasn’t pretty, and got really red if she was in the prosthetic too much, which she always was.
After a while, I turned off the porch light and shut the door for the last time that night. The little kids had cleaned us out, just about, but I had saved a couple candy bars for me and her. I hadn’t had anything to eat since a little popcorn at the movie theater, so I was practically starving when I sat back on the couch with her. I was quick to tear the tubing off and the helmet away from my head. I let out a sigh of relief and dove into a Butterfinger.

Sam liked to eat Hershey’s bars. She would take each big rectangle and break off the smaller pieces one at a time, always pausing before she ate each one. She was funny like that.

I pretty much scarfed down mine and watched the TV. It was a rerun of some old show that I hadn’t seen before, but I knew it was old. You could tell by the way the camera was, and how all the actors sounded so phony. I wasn’t much for TV, to be honest. I’d watch it, sure, to drown my life out, but I never paid much attention to it.

“So what was the work that you seemed to be so hyped up about?” Sam asked. “On Friday you couldn’t even shut up about it.”

“Oh, I mean, I didn’t forget about it, I just wanted to enjoy the weekend,” I said.

She tipped her soda to me. “Well weekend’s just about over anyway, so you might as well spill.”

“Alright, alright,” I said. “The point is that I was going to ask for your help. See, remember how I was applying to U of Chicago? They want me to write, like, three essays for them, and I need to do it by Christmas. I figured since you know all that about English, you could help me.”

She bit on her lip. “You’re still going there?”

“Yeah.”

“You know I’m going to Illinois, Chicago right?”

“Yeah.”

“They have a really good med school and I dunno... I just think it’d be good to go somewhere close. I’ve been really into medicine recently, you know that.”

I stayed quiet. When she got on something like she was, it was best to just let her talk. I’d spent most of my teenage life figuring that out, and it’d saved my skin more than a few times.

“I know, I know, you want to go to Chicago,” she said, “but will you just consider it this time about applying there? I know we said we’d be going to Chicago, but it’s just this other school is good, Ben.”

I held up a hand. “If I apply there, will you write the essay?”

“I’ll help you with it,” she said. “You have to write it yourself. But if you at least apply, I’ll help you with all the U of Chicago ones. Deal?”

I smiled and shook her hand. It was kind of a quick thing at the time, and I didn’t really think about it. Most things are like that. We had been going to go to the same college and then the accident happened and suddenly we weren’t. The accident had changed a lot of things. I felt pretty good about pleasing her, though.

She laughed. “You’re smart to accept it, Ben. We both know you couldn’t get in all by yourself.”

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