Monday, June 18, 2018


It's been a little while, blog people.

I've been busy, you've been busy.

I released CHAINSAW, my first novella, to rather-wilted fanfare. But that's alright, it's a part of the process. God knows I don't expect to make money or get famous. This is for me, and people who want weird stories. Those boys from CHAINSAW are coming back around again, much sooner than anyone wants to see them again, and they tend to grow on ya. Trust me.

Anyway, let's start off the summer nice and easy. How does a violent ripper of a werewolf story sound to you?  THE BEAST OF BRENTON WOODS, by Jackson R. Thomas, releases tomorrow. I would very much recommend checking it out. Alright, fuck that, let's go full-bore. Either you buy and read this book, or MY next effort will be the 900-page Smokey and The Bandit fanfic that I've been yelling at people about.

Without further ado:

THE BEAST OF BRENTON WOODS by Jackson Thomas-- A Review
Aroooooooooo! The Summer of Horror is here! Up until this point, Alien Agenda Publishing has consisted of solid novels from its head honcho, Glenn Rolfe. The dynamic changes with Alien Agenda’s first release from another author, Jackson R. Thomas.  THE BEAST OF BRENTON WOODS is the kickoff release for Alien Agenda’s busy summer, which will also see releases from Mick Ridgewell, Dave Bernstein, and more.
This review won’t be one of my standard ones. Normally I dive right into the plot and assume you’ve already read the book, spoilers be damned. However, as I recently decided while writing my review of PRACTITIONERS (available on the Ginger Nuts site), if it’s an ARC, I’m not going to give away too much. The brief synopsis and first three chapters available over at the Alien Agenda site should be more than enough of a primer for any interested readers. I’ll post the link at the end.
Alright. The BEAST. My first encounter with a white werewolf in the wild. This one is ruthless and nasty--it’d be fun to pit him against the furballs in BLOOD AND RAIN. The wolf in this story, rather, the man in the wolf suit, is a bestial creation whose bloodline contains traces of Garton’s RAVENOUS, Strieber’s WOLFEN, and even Rolfe’s aforementioned werewolf opus. Very little is explained or revealed about the antagonist of BEAST. All you’re gonna get here is blood, gore, teenagers stumbling around the woods, silver bullets, and small-town secrets.
Don’t get me wrong, though. Lean and mean isn’t bad at all, especially for a first novel. The only frustrating point? The antagonist is a little TOO much of an enigma. You’ll see what I mean, because you DEFINITELY need to read this novel. Although very little is known about this Jackson Thomas fella, his first effort reads like yellow paperbacks with trashy covers and embossed titles. Maybe some boobage in there, too. Anyway, I’m not going to draw this out any further. Here goes, both barrels:
THE BEAST OF BRENTON WOODS is nasty and ruthless. It’s a more substantial CYCLE OF THE WEREWOLF, or any of King’s other stories with small towns, smaller minds, and huge secrets. You can smell the pine trees and feel the nighttime dew coming down. The moon sits in the sky, brooding like a dark god. Was that a flash of white fur in the trees?
Alien Agenda Publishing:
Release date-- 19 June 2018. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday Review-- Michael Patrick Hicks

FINALLY!  At LAST!  I've been turned loose on my laptop, and it feels so good to put ass-to-seat and fingers-to-keys.  It's my last day off before working through the rest of the week and weekend.  As promised earlier this week, I've got a MASSIVE TRIPLE-THREAT MICHAEL PATRICK HICKS REVIEW!!!  Sorry about the caps, but it's a pretty big deal for me.  It took forever for me to get my thoughts together on this, but not for any reason involving the subject.  Life has required more attention than usual the last few days, so I had to let this gestate.  Without further ado...


This weekend was a weird one for me.  I actually got some reading done--multiple stories!  Horror of horrors!  Yes, it's true.  Thanks to a mild cold, which my baby boy was more than happy to share with old Dad, I had some down-time.  No time like down-time, for trying to chip away at the TBR Mountain that is slowly absorbing this house, room by room.  Becoming sentient.  Looking suspiciously like '80s and '90s horror paperbacks.  Smelling like old, woody vanilla.  Am I turning you on yet?  I'm a little sweaty, myself.
    ANYWAY, speaking of '80s horror and getting sweaty (King of Segue, fuckers,) let's get into the meat of this thing.  Michael Patrick Hicks.  Hell of a guy.  Hell of a writer?  Let's find out!
    Mass Hysteria was the first title of his that I jumped into, with little to no expectations of how this was going to go.  I know Mike, we chat pretty often over on Twitter, and he's a really nice guy.  I filed this info away because, as history has shown us, the nice-guy horror writers are the ones you gotta watch.  Richard Laymon and Jonathan Janz are the two immediate examples.  Nice guys, give you the shirt off their back, but their prose?  Jesus.  Brutal, merciless, humor as black as the night.
    Mass Hysteria finds the town of Falls Breath under siege from a strange meteor shower.  Something virulent has hitched a ride from space and has infected the local pets, livestock, and wild game.  The animals rise up in a frenzy of attacks, no longer concerned with observing the natural order of things.  Sheriff's Deputy Matthew Scott and his daughter Lauren find themselves thrown into the middle of this quickly-spreading panic and violence.  After overcoming vicious dog attacks, Lauren and her dad begin to discover that the virus may be able to make the jump to human hosts, which spells doom for humanity as they know it.
    I'm pleased to report that Mass Hysteria delivers in the same way that James Herbert's The Rats delivers, or Shaun Hutson's Slugs, or JF Gonzalez's Primitive, Clickers, and on and on.  Breakdown of society?  Check.  Numerous gory attack scenes, sexual perversions, twisted psychopaths stepping forward to mutilate and terrorize?  It's all here.  There were certain scenes in this novel that made me wince, and I'm fairly jaded these days.  Every time I found myself reading something pretty lurid, the author found ways to push it further and further.  I was particularly entranced by the "sex and death" scene with Lauren and Jacob.  It was worthy of early Clive Barker.  Beautiful, lush brutality.
    Let me be clear before we go any further.  You don't read a novel like this expecting deep characterization, or complex themes, or literary symbolism.  Mass Hysteria is the book you take along to the beach, or crack open along with a few cold beers on a cool spring evening.
    It got full marks from me, because it's solid pulp-splatter and it doesn't pretend to be anything more than that.  My only gripe, which I've already raised with the author, is that the ending was abrupt and unsatisfying.  I wanted about 150-200 more pages before the ride should've been over.  This story was like a roller coaster that kept going up, and up, and up, building momentum, and then we're cut off right before the big drop, before everything goes REALLY BATSHIT, know what I'm saying?  Oh well.  If that's the complaint that I've got to offer for a story, that's not much of a complaint at all.  Another tenet of the pulp aesthetic--always leave them wanting more.  Oh, and that ending scene.  What a twist of the rusty knife in the reader's soul!
    After the total madness of Mass Hysteria, the reader is treated to a bonus second story, titled Consumption.  It is a different beast than the first tale, yet they share a common ancestor.  It's the story of a world-renowned chef, Heinrich Schauer, who invites six guests to his Swiss lodge for a twelve-course tasting menu of unearthly delights.  This story was propelled along mostly by the gruesome descriptions of the chef preparing different courses from the strange monster whose flesh he has chosen.  I flew through this one, still pissed about the ending to Mass Hysteria, but I absolutely loved how when the gruesome shit started to fly, it happened so suddenly.  One moment, our characters are (mostly) fine.  The next, all hell breaks loose in a fever-dream, absurdly violent way.  I'd recommend sticking around for this one after the main feature of Mass Hysteria.
    Next up on the butcher's block is Broken Shells.  Also by Michael Patrick Hicks.  I feel like I made that clear at the beginning of this, but fuck it.  This was recommended to me by Glenn Rolfe, a fine fella in his own right, and also, pretty much everybody on social media has read this book except me.
    Broken Shells tells the story of Antoine DeWitt, shit-luck ex-convict (hey, I feel ya, brother), newly-jobless, whole lotta hyphens there, who receives a promotional lotto ticket in the mail from an auto dealership.  Five grand if he shows up to claim it!  Antoine is no sucker, but his girlfriend talks him into it, and he wants to do the right thing for his infant son.  Jon Dangle, the owner of the auto dealership, does have an ulterior motive here, but it's nothing like Antoine could ever conceive of.  Plus, I've gotta say, with the last name "Dangle," the whole time I was picturing this guy as Lt. Dangle from RENO 911!, which definitely enhanced the story-pictures in my head. 
    This novella was an interesting creature feature.  I'll say interesting because I've never come across the Ba'is in anything before, and I do love it when an author borrows from Native American legends.  Even though Hicks admittedly took liberties with his depiction of these monsters, it works.  Bug stuff and cocoons and claustrophobia, it gets the skin crawling.  Another aspect I really enjoyed?  Dangle was given more depth than the usual cardboard prop-ups that authors can get away with in this particular subset of horror fiction.  His motivation for capturing and sacrificing people was done for the greater good, but ultimately, his work is undone.  Such a balance between man and nature was never meant to be. 
    Another thing that Hicks did well with this story?  Inserting a bit of sly commentary on racism and police shootings, without being heavy-handed with it.  It was more like a slight nudge and a wink.  If you see it, then it informs everything you perceive about this character and the predicament he's in.  That was the message at the heart of this for me.  Broken Shells' verdict?  Worth it!
    Finally, I checked out the short story Revolver, framed as a standard "dystopian thriller" piece, cut from the same cloth as The Running Man, Hunger Games, etc.  Or...IS IT?  No, honestly.  I checked out some reviews of this story before I bought it, and a lot of people talked about how "shocking" this story was.  The author himself has said it lost him some potential readers, in an intro/fair-warning to the story.  It definitely whet my appetite.  I dug in.  And you know what?  It was great, and provocative, but the sad thing here?  None of it was shocking to me. 
    Hicks has said he wrote this story in a fit of anger, and it shows.  Most of the stuff he depicts in Revolver doesn't qualify as "dystopian" to me, only because it's shit that's happening more and more EVERY DAMN DAY.  In real life.  Right-wing rape-culture, reality shows that degrade and debase people while rewarding them with money and fame, and on, and on, and on.  I don't want to turn my review into a rant on what's going on with American culture and society today.  We'll get stuck in the bushes, lose sight of the forest for the trees.  Just know this: you NEED to read Revolver.  I could cheapen this part of the review and give you the standard "synopsis and a haircut, two bits," but I won't.  I'd never cheat you, beautiful readers.
    We've come to the end.  My overall perceptions/verdict/summary of the writings of Michael Patrick Hicks is as follows: a year in the stocks, followed by twelve years' hard labor.  No, I'm just kidding.  Dark humor.  I'll actually steal from myself and reprint the blurb I already gave MPH: "He's like Dick Laymon and James Herbert got together for coffee, then made a titillating snuff film with Graham Masterton."  Oh yeah.  He's not a one-note player, either, showing off in a variety of genres and writing styles.  I'd surely as shit recommend you seek out his writings, today.  Now, were you really surprised by that?  No way in hell I'd waste my weekend on reading a bunch of a guy's stuff and then write this much of a review if I didn't like what he wrote!  Ain't nobody got time for that.
    Until next time, catch me on Twitter, @TheRealJohnBend, and be on the lookout for more reviews and stuff here on my blog, along with over at the Ginger Nuts of Horror site.  In fact, just go check out the site now.  It's got a lot of great piles of words to look at!  Bye now.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Into The Pit

"It was as if everything he feared in the world had been put in this pit.  The idea of being put deep in the ground.  Irrational people for whom logic did not exist.  Rotting skulls on poles about the pit.  Living skulls attached to hunched-forward bodies that yelled for blood.  Snakes.  The stench of death--blood and shit.  And every white man's fear, racist or not--a big, black man with a lifetime of hatred in his eyes."--Joe R. Lansdale, "The Pit," BY BIZARRE HANDS.

Alright, as promised, I'm back.  I don't want to let too much time go between posts, because I know how I am with procrastination.  Today is my first day off from work in a little while--my day job is butchering meat at my local grocery store.  It's an alright job, but it can definitely siphon away my energy and much of my free time.  Couple that with raising a little boy with my beautiful lady, and well, let's just say that some days are harder than others.

Today's been a good day, though.  I got caught up on sleep, which I always seem to be lacking, and I spent my morning running errands and writing a book review for the Ginger Nuts of Horror website.  Hopefully it passes muster and I can toot my horn about it later on the blog. promised: a breakdown of THE PIT, by the immortal, hilarious, terrifying Joe Lansdale.  I've been kicking around the idea lately of doing a series of blog posts about horror and crime fiction that changed my life, during my incarceration and beyond.  This blog's first post was the seed of that idea, and I'll continue to let it grow here from time to time.  Anyway, a bit of background on how I came to read what has become one of my favorite Lansdale shorts, and also generally one of my favorite short stories of all time:

I was almost at the end of the first year of my incarceration in PA's state prison system.  My mother, always the supportive saint, would write letters and regularly accept my phone calls.  She was one of the few people that I had in my life for those three long years.  During the weekly phone calls we shared, Mom would always end with the magic words-- "Would you like me to order you any books?"

See, I had grown to rely on books during the first year of lockup.  Thankfully, the prison system allows an inmate to receive books through the mail.  I LIVED on used books purchased and sent to my little cell from Amazon.  With each novel that arrived, I was quickly discovering a vast world of horror and crime fiction that went a heck of a lot deeper than Stephen King and Lee Child.

I don't remember how I came across Joe Lansdale's name.  It was probably mentioned in one of Stephen King's many works, somewhere, and I was intrigued.  Even then, I was always looking out for the next discovery to light the fires of imagination.  So, after a conversation with my mom, she ordered me BY BIZARRE HANDS.  (A small note here: it's one of my many idiosyncrasies, but when I discover a new author, I try to read one of their short story collections first.  Preferably the first one published.  It's served me pretty well as an introduction to many different authors and styles.  It's my personal opinion that some of an author's best work is found in the first collection.  Some of the stories are early, formative stuff where you can practically see the author growing as he/she stretches out across the page.)  So, with this strategy in mind, I eagerly passed the days waiting on the mail call that would deliver BY BIZARRE HANDS to my bizarre hands.

It finally came.  And oh, Jesus, was I completely unprepared for it.

This book fucking rocked, rolled, splattered, titillated, horrified, and disgusted me.  It was everything I've ever wanted in a short story collection.  It transported me from the mundane existence of prison, right into a goddamn black hole full of nightmares.  After blowing through the introduction, I jumped right into FISH NIGHT, which I have to confess, I didn't "get it" on the first read-through.  Then, I plunged into THE PIT.  That's where, as they say, the shoe dropped.

THE PIT is one of the grittiest pieces of writing I've ever had the pleasure of discovering.  The pulp here is so thick, you can't even chew it.  It contains raw, almost-psychedelic violence, with plenty of blood and gore.  The premise is simple enough.  Harry Joe Stinton is an average redneck family man.  His car breaks down outside of the small hamlet of Morganstown.  The townspeople capture him and force him into six months of training to fight another man, Big George "the n*gger."  Might I note here, that word pops up a lot, but it's used in the context of story.  Mr. Lansdale never shys from depicting the ugly truths of life.  Unfortunately, it makes sense that a group of people who capture strangers and force them to fight in a pit for entertainment, would also have no reservations about casually tossing around racial slurs.

Anyway, Harry and Big George actually strike up a friendship during their term of captivity.  Well, it's an uneasy friendship, because ultimately, these two men know they will be forced to fight to the death.  And when the time comes, down in the Pit, George tells Harry, "Ain't nothing personal, Harry my man, but when we get in that pit don't look to me for nothing besides pain, 'cause I got plenty of that to give you, a lifetime of it, and I'll just keep it coming."

He doesn't lie.  When it's on, and the main event kicks into gear, this is some of the finest violent action-writing you'll ever find.  I was reminded of Robert Howard's old boxing stories, to a point.  Lansdale makes no secret of his affinity for and practice of martial arts.  His own fighting experience translates very well to describing what's happening on the page.  Blood splatters, eyeballs get pulled from sockets, hell, Harry ends up besting Big George because he channels the thought of beating his unsatisfying wife into the ground.  It's not a story you'll pass around the bridge club, trust me.  And you know what?  This raw intensity resonated with the incarcerated-version of me.

The more I read it and re-read it, I saw THE PIT as an allegory for my own prison experiences.  The opening quote at the beginning of this post?  It perfectly captured my life at the time.  I saw the day-to-day of prison life as an endless slog, with long stretches of boredom broken only by episodes of swift and brutal violence around me.  I absorbed Lansdale's depiction of beasts fighting for their lives, and applied it to what I was living.  Another thing: the racial current running like a thread of greased lightning through this story.  Wow.  It put me in mind of the voluntary racial segregation that most prisons observe.  You just stick with your own kind.  Outsiders aren't meant to be trusted, and somebody who isn't your people will rip you off or beat you down in a heartbeat.

It's bullshit, of course.  A man is just as likely to be stolen from or beaten down by one of his own race, than by someone of a different color.  Prison is full of these outdated beliefs.  We live in 2018, in an increasingly-progressive world, and's a different world in there, folks.  The man who has your back in the chow line today, might be coming after you tomorrow for who you associate with and how you carry yourself.

I read this story again, right before I made parole and was ready to come back from the dead.  I made it through and was on the last few paragraphs, where Harry has bested his opponent and is being led from the pit.  He walks by the MC of the event, a snake-handling man known as Preacher.  The lines that stuck with me the most: "Harry looked at Preacher. [...] Sapphire was wrapped around his neck again.  They were still buddies.  The snake looked tired.  Harry no longer felt afraid of it.  He reached out and touched its head.  It did not try to bite him.  He felt its feathery tongue brush his bloody hand."

That bit of the story, right there, that was my pay-off.  The snake that Harry is no longer afraid of, well, that was all of my worries and fears about the world.  The pit was my prison, the furnace that forged a brand-new person.  No longer did I fear most of the stuff that I used to, before I went inside.  It couldn't bite me anymore, not after I made it out of...THE PIT.

Thanks again for taking the time to read the mess that falls out of my brain and onto the page.  You can find me on Twitter, @TheRealJohnBend, and also at the Ginger Nuts of Horror website.  Until next time!

Monday, May 14, 2018


For my second post, I decided to try some flash crime fiction.  I just submitted this little fella over at Shotgun Honey.  They publish some of the best flash fiction I've found.  Gabino Iglesias just got a good one published over there today, so head over and check it out.  I definitely don't think I'm anywhere near his level of writing, or countless others, but fuck it, I'm gonna let my nuts hang on this one.  The worst they can do is say no, and the best they can do is publish it.  Either way, I'm still going to keep trying to wear out these laptop keys.

Without further ado, below is the short piece I produced, titled ANATOMY OF A STICKUP.



Any old stick-up can turn into a fuck-up.  I'm a professional.  But I fucked up.  I'm gonna break this down for you, 'cause brother, all we got now is time.
First things first, your average career armed-robber doesn't survive if he doesn't do the homework.  You GOTTA do the homework if you like eating steady.  Suss out the location, people involved, the neighborhood.  Familiarize with the ebb and flow of life around the score.  Maybe you got a hot tip that there's a high-stakes poker game above the garage down on Mercy Street?  Turns out, you know the local beat cops roll through around 11pm.  Also, there's an apartment building across the street full of old, rotting pension collectors who love to call the police at the slightest sight or sound.  Preparation here is key.  Hit the place at midnight.
Next piece of professional advice?  After you pop the door and come in, calm and cool, like a gentle spring rain, you gotta get mean.  Stay quiet about it.  Survey the room.  Notice the familiar looking faces at the table, chalk it up to old money and cheesy local celebrities.  Look, there's that sleazy TV weatherman you hate!
Grab the nearest middle-aged banker type, flip that motherfucker over, and keep your boot on his neck while you cover the room with your weapon.  If you're solid, like me, then you'll pick something solid.  Glock 17?  It's like slipping a rubber in your wallet when you hit the titty bar.  You might not need it, but you'll thank yourself later if you need to strap it on.
Keeping it steady and quiet, give the fellas explicit instructions for bagging up the cash.  You need a little sandpaper in your voice, eyeball the room like Dirty Harry, pressure on Banker-Boy's neck so his sputtering reminds the rest of the room that it can always be worse.
Another thing.
KNOW THE PEOPLE YOU'RE STEALING FROM.  I didn't do homework like I should've on this score.  Wish I did.  Far as I thought, it was a bunch of yuppies waiting to get broke.
I fucked up, right there, but you might not.
The guy to your left, the Captain America-looking motherfucker, might get angry.  He might get brave.  He might look like he's reaching inside a rumpled suit jacket for a gun.  Your first thought is fuckin'-A right, buddy.  He is.  He'll try to yank it out like a gunslinger, and he'll catch it on the inside pocket.  Your adrenaline dumps.  The action slows down.
You see the hilarious little .25 auto finally clearing the pocket.  You put Captain down with two in the chest.  The scene freezes as you look at him, light leaving his eyes now.  You're thinking-- I never killed nobody before.  This moment stretches into forever.
Hell breaks loose.  The rest of the poker gang moves as one.  A chair, a bat, something, rings your bell.  Shit gets hazy.  You fire wildly, screaming into the darkening abyss, barely hearing the click of an empty gun as doughy desk-job bodies smash into you.  Falling.  Blacking out into nothing.
You wake up.  Cuffed to a steel bench bolted to the wall.  You sit up.  The cop at the desk notices.  A smirk, the worst goddamn shit-eating smirk you've ever seen, brings life to his ugly mug.  He sips coffee, and with nonchalance, tells you that Captain America was this town's hard-charging district attorney.  That's why that motherfucker looked familiar, you realize, as Officer Ugly Mug comes and lays into you with his leather sap.  Back into nothing.
You wake up, again.  You're staring at the ceiling of a holding cell, lying on the bottom bunk of beds that led a past life as a park bench.  A scared-looking kid, sits at the small table bolted to the wall.  He smiles, all shy, and asks you what's up.  He asks what you're in for.  If he's young and naive enough to ask that question, he can be taught.  You can build a better stick-up artist.
Later that night, after the lights go off in the cell, you start talking.  Teaching The Kid what it means to be a professional.


....well, it's over, folks.  That's a relief.  I know that the use of a mostly second-person narrative is, to put it politely, unorthodox, and if any of my English teachers see this, I'm sorry.  It was a gamble and I didn't lose any fingers or toes doing it, so I'm not going to apologize any further.

Until next time, let me know what you think!!!  Oh, and check me out over at the Ginger Nuts of Horror website (posting my first review hopefully this week), and you can also follow my ramblings on Twitter, my handle being @TheRealJohnBend.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A First Post

Ah, the first post of my new blog.  I've got mediocre hopes for this thing, as I'm getting it to supplement the stuff I do on Twitter.  Also, hopefully, semi-regular entries here will help keep the writing juices flowing.  I'm gonna hopefully do reviews of stuff I'm reading, hype for stuff that I'm excited about, and maybe the occasional personal essay.

I think I'm going to toll the death knell for this blog early on, and lead with a personal essay!  Haha.  I have spoken about it in various lengths in my online presence, so some of the (hopeful) readers of this blog may be familiar with some of my back story.  I have neither shame, nor take any pride in it, but for a fair few years in my twenties, I was an outta-control heroin addict and criminal.  I used a lot of different drugs, but heroin was my love, my Dark Passenger (thanks, Dexter), and it certainly took me to a lot of dark places.  I got into a lot of trouble and ended up serving three years in the state corrections system in my home state of Pennsylvania.  It was a lifetime experience, and it helped me mature in so many aspects.  Don't get me wrong, it was shitty as hell, prison isn't meant to be fun, but I made the best of my time and learned a lot in the process.

As I sit here, typing this, I can look over my left shoulder and see my beautiful wife-to-be holding our 8-month old son.  He is the greatest thing to ever happen to me.  I know she feels the same way.  Needless to say, I'm in a different place today, on the staggering precipice of 30 years old, than I was even five years ago.

Anyway, I'll get into all that stuff another time.  I actually do have a specific subject in mind for this post.  Without further ado, I present a vignette from my past--my discovery of Dean Koontz(!) in a less-than-ideal situation:

The police paddy wagon seemed to be hitting every single damn cavernous pothole in downtown Harrisburg.  With each successive jounce, my ass would lift off the metal bench and slam into the cramped walls.  My hands were cuffed behind me, so they'd get slammed into the metal partition behind me.  Every time I hit the sides of the wagon, I'd curse under my breath and the two cops up front would laugh.  They'd say something clever like, "Taking the long way tonight, you're not in a hurry to get booked, right?"  And then chuckle like idiots.  

I was 25 years old, a few hours from my last shot of heroin, and I had just gotten arrested for robbing a convenience store with a knife.  My rationale at the time, addled as it was, was simple: I needed heroin or I was gonna get sick.  I did not enjoy heroin withdrawal.  Nobody does.  I was already out on bail from numerous burglary charges, so I reasoned, what would a little bit of armed robbery hurt?  It went smoother than expected, I got the drugs I needed, and then was spotted walking down the street about seven hours later.  Hence, the current situation involving me contorted into the back of a police wagon.

The cops finally arrived at the Dauphin County Prison Booking Center, which is a tiny building outside of the actual county jail where defendants are photographed, paperwork is completed, and bail is set before eventual confinement in the jail.  This was my first time in the jail, and I was prepared for the worst.  

I was already starting to feel like the flu was coming on--my own personal tell-tale signs that full-blown withdrawal wasn't far behind.  My eyes were itchy and watery, my nose was starting to run like a faucet, and my joints ached.  The cops hauled me out of the back of the wagon, laughing even harder than before as I tripped and ate about five feet of concrete in front of them.  They eventually picked me up and led me inside.

I won't bore you with describing the tedious process of the paperwork, fingerprinting, the setting of bail, the attempts that the police made at interviewing me concerning details of the robbery.  After I clammed up and refused to say anything to the two guys working my interview, they simply shrugged and put me in one of the holding cells until I could be transported over to the main jail with a few other guys.  They handcuffed one wrist to the bench, but I was otherwise free to move.  The cuff slid along the slats of the bench quite nicely, so I was afforded a pretty solid seven or eight feet of space to slide around in.

The holding cell was like every other holding cell in the history of crime and punishment.  Drab gray walls, filthy, suspicious stains on the metal toilet bowl--inside and out, and one, lonely, coverless paperback discarded in the corner.  You might be surprised to hear this, but books are more popular in jails and prisons than you'd think.  Everyone, even the guys who didn't finish school and can barely read, has at least a book or two stashed in their cell for long, boring nights.  I quickly slid over to the paperback and used my left foot to pry it out of the corner, grabbing it with my free left hand as soon as it was close enough.

I looked at the title page.  "The Door to December," by one Dean Koontz.  To be honest, I wasn't enthused.  I remember thinking, What the fuck, sounds like some stupid romance novel.  I had been hoping for a Stephen King.  At that point, I had been out of college for a few years and had pretty much given up reading in favor of more crude, carnal pursuits.  I had very little insight into the world of horror fiction, having only read King in my life up until that point.  I had Koontz confused in my mind with Clive Cussler, "that boat adventure guy."  I must note, not talking any heavy shit on Mr. Cussler, his stuff just isn't my cup of tea.  I'm sure he's good at what he does.  Anyway:

Having nothing else to do, and knowing it'd be at least two or three hours before I was moved to the jail, I settled in and began reading, for the first time in years.  It was surprisingly good.  

To be fully honest, I didn't finish the book, nor did I ever go back and try to finish reading it.  I barely remember its plot.  Something about sensory-deprivation tanks, a crazy poltergeist-type-thing, and a standard 80s-horror precocious little girl.  Come to think of it, the dudes who do Stranger Things might have used this novel as part of their inspiration.  I digress.  For me, and the purposes of this quickly-becoming-boring blog post, it wasn't so much about the story in those pages.  It was about my first taste of the transportation that reading can provide for a person.  

I forgot I was in that shitty holding cell, staring down the barrel at the beginning of a years-long prison sentence.  I lost myself after crossing the threshold of the Door to December, and it was a transcending experience.  I never forgot that night, and from that point on, books were my constant companion in all of the different jails, prisons, rehabs, and halfway houses that I had to journey through before I could be free again.

Well, that wraps it up.  This was pretty therapeutic, actually.  I hope you enjoyed it, if you got this far.  Feel free to leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter, my handle is @TheRealJohnBend, and I'll catch you guys another time.