I awoke fitfully in a bed not my own, in a place unfamiliar. A glow in the darkness pulsed: it was the light on my laptop undulating, an electronic imitation of slow, measured breathing. I raised myself out of bed to turn it off, my feet setting down on what felt like the two entirely separate planes of a small step.

"Warsaw, I'm in Warsaw," I heard myself muttering in my sleepy daze. "Or Krakow? No, Warsaw."

Gingerly, with my left foot the higher of the two, my toes marked out the slab of a large book. I reached down to pick it up, assuming that it had fallen to the floor from the night stand, but then I realized that there was no night stand, and I recalled that I had not brought any book into this room.

I carried it to the desk and flipped open the laptop. By its light I examined the book. It was a hardcover, a flat umber in color - there was no dust jacket. I opened it, looking for publishing information, but found no front matter or indicia.

The story - if that's what it was - began on the title page, upon which was written what I took to be the title, in black and red lettering: If You Read This Book The World Will End. Underneath was a name, scratched in a madman's scrawl: "By Neil Gaiman".

"This must be a joke," I thought. Surely a prank by someone meaning to unsettle me. But who would go to such lengths? I knew no-one here, my family and loved ones were far away. There was Mister Lem, my local publicist, but he seemed to me to be a humorless man and very business like - so who then?

I read on. To my distress, the words sounded familiar, although why I wasn't sure. The text was nothing I had ever remembered reading before, or even writing. It was like something from a dream, its logic circuitous, but resonant and therefore somehow sound. Its ...