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I still remember the weight of my mom’s letters to me when I was in boot camp for the Navy in 2010. Each envelope was huge – a half inch thick, sometimes more. An officer would hand out our mail and I would take it back to my bunk. And when I opened those letters, every grueling thing in my life – the endless pushups, the screaming drill instructors, the brutally cold Chicago winter – just disappeared.


Because my mom sent me stories.


My favorite books were a series by a writer named Lee Child, about the insane adventures of a retired military police officer named Jack Reacher. There were so many rules in boot camp, and one of them was: I couldn’t have anything that didn’t fit in my tiny foot locker. So – no books. But my mom got around this rule by tearing out individual chapters and mailing them to me one at a time.


It didn’t matter that my instructors gave me the chapters out of order, or that they threw some of them straight into the trash just to mess with me. As soon as I started reading, I was no longer trapped inside a single room with 50 other exhausted recruits, hungry and sore and missing home.


Instead, I was out in South Dakota with the hero Jack Reacher, up to my knees in bad guys and a blinding snowstorm, traveling through life with only a toothbrush in my pocket and a bus ticket to the next town.


Even if I fell asleep after a single page, it was easier to get up the next morning and face another 16 hours of forced silence, rigid discipline, and punishing exercise.


Today, when people ask me how I went from being a Navy SEAL to telling strange, dark, and mysterious stories on the internet, my mind goes back to that winter – and that book.


It’s why I decided to take some of my stories and turn them into the book you now hold in your hands.


You can open this book and go far, far away – to the Headless Valley; to a ghost town in Spain; to the French countryside in the late 1700s, where a nightmarish monster stalks the children. Linger on the illustrations. This is a wilderness of monsters and spirits and heroes and cowards, a campfire story on paper.


My military career ended when I got injured. Today, I’m thankful for that. Because it allowed me to pursue my true passion – telling stories, like the ones that got me through boot camp.


A book is an escape, and I hope you enjoy reading this one as much as I enjoyed writing it.

John B. Allen

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