Kirk lived in interesting times. The millennials were at last changing their ways. The zombies that moved through shopping malls, buying things that wouldn’t give them happiness for more than 2 days, the pills-popping, self-anesthetized junkies flipping TV without even seeing it, bored out of their wits, fighting to stay conscious, had been replaced by the primal animal that had been lying dormant inside humans for too long — savage, violent, delighting in gore. Violence and crime had become a way of life, of entertainment, of making a living in more ways than one.

Kirk was a writer, specializing in horror writing. Not the scary type of horror, but the gory type of horror. Blood, torture and rape were his elements, and he manipulated them expertly to feed his viciously hungry readers. “His torture and murder scenes seem to unfold right in front of your eyes, like a movie!”, screamed the critics every time he released a book. What they didn’t know was, that was exactly what happened.

Kirk was from a generation of writers gifted by the Gods of Literature. Old mythological figures like Shakespeare, to relatively modern legends like Milton, Frost, George Martin and others were looked upon with reverence and counted amongst the Gods. Kirk’s gift was exactly what the critics exclaimed — he could see what he was writing in front of his eyes. No, it was more than that, it was almost as though he were physically transported into his own story, and, like an all-powerful director of a movie, had the power to dictate and look firsthand at what was happening. Needless to say, the emotion translated to words like no other writer’s, and his books sold out. That was the secret behind the passionate gore in Kirk’s books.

One night, peacefully asleep in his victorian mansion, Kirk dreamt of a long, winding, never-ending staircase. His shoulders were heavy with something, so heavy that he could barely move under the weight. Yet, even as he moved, the staircase showed no signs of ever ending. It seemed to go on and on, and the only thing Kirk knew was that he had to follow it through to the end. Waking up the next morning, Kirk didn’t give much thought to his dream, and like every day, ground his coffee beans, prepared himself a hot breakfast, and sat down to write.

Unusually though, he found himself unable to write. Something seemed to be clogging his thoughts. When he tried to slip into the scene he was writing as he always did, all he could see was the staircase, and all he could feel was the burden on his back and shoulders. “No!”, he shouted, and got up from his chair. It was alright, he wouldn’t write today; what was the big deal? He was probably tired and stressed out from the continuous writing and publishing. A day of rest would do him good. And so he went out, shopped and ate well and relaxed and slept off early.

That night, he again had the same dream. This time Kirk woke up worried. And, confirming his fears, he found himself unable to write once again. A writers’ block was the biggest fear of best-selling authors worldwide; in this day and age, nobody could wait for a block to clear before pushing out the next book. Readers were an eternally hungry specie, and they constantly demanded more, and if you didn’t sate their appetite, they’d tear you apart with criticism and eat YOU whole.

And so, the next day, after another night of dreaming the same dream, Kirk sat down to do the only thing he could think of: try and write about that staircase. Maybe it was an omen from the Gods of literature.

The slip into the realistic dream happened almost instantly the moment Kirk started writing about it. He was back there, trapped on a never-ending staircase with the heaviest of burdens on his shoulder. He moved up the staircase, huffing and puffing with the effort. Quite unlike his dream though, after a few steps, he chanced upon a landing.

He could see the silhouette of a few people on the dimly lit landing. As he moved onto the landing the torches suddenly glowed bright, and, with a shock, he realized that the setting was a familiar one; it was a scene from ‘Wither’, his novel, which told the story of a young man who faded away from life after a harrowing gang assault. The current setting was of the assault which was about to happen. As Kirk stumbled onto the scene, to his shock, the gangsters moved towards him and took hold of him firmly. One of them kicked him in his gut, one in the crotch, and he fell to the ground, paralysed with pain. With another shock, he realized that this was exactly what happened to Edward, the victim of the assault, in ‘Wither’.

Now as they dragged him towards two poles and tied him between them, Kirk became aware of a melancholic, sad voice, reciting all-too-familiar words: “..they dragged him to the poles and tied him up. One of the mobsters brought out a pair of nails and hammer, placed the nail against his palm and brought the hammer down..”; the narrative was verbatim from the novel! The next few words were lost amidst the bloodcurdling scream that came out of Kirk’s mouth. When he finally stopped screaming, he could hear the voice again, “..another one of them pulled out pliers, and with an evil grin, went up to him, lovingly opened his mouth, put the plier in, and..”, a pain impossible to imagine racked Kirk’s tooth. He could feel something twisting it, trying to pull it out, and the tooth resisting till the end, until it was ripped out forcibly, raising the pain and the volume of the scream by a few decibels. The narrating voice was by now completely drowned in his screams. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw one pull out a lighter, another one a napkin and a bottle of water. He went completely numb, and fainted with the words, “..he seemed to lose consciousness; but that wasn’t going to stop this particular pack of hyenas..” ringing in his ears.

When he came to, he could vividly recall exquisite rivers of pain unleashed by several more tools, and he found it a surprise that he was still alive in spite of going through all that torture. Slowly, he tried to get up, every movement sending a jolt of agony through his broken body. He heard footsteps coming near, and looked around in fear; as far as he remembered, there was no more torture after Edward came to, in ‘Wither’. The footsteps didn’t belong to any of the gangsters though. It was one of the modern Gods of literature striding towards him in all his glory; George R. R. Martin, the most notorious assassin of his most popular characters.

“Up you get, sonnie, up you get. There’s some way to go,” said George cheerfully, beckoning Kirk to stand up and get moving. “Where am I? Why is this happening to me? How do I get out of here? Why can I not pull myself out the way I generally do?”, asked Kirk, quite clearly shaken to death by what had just transpired.

“You’re in MY story now Kirk. You used the gift bestowed upon you to kill and slaughter and torture my own true-born children, the characters. Remember Kirk, they will be much more my children than you lot of authors ever will be, gifted or not. You’re here to repent for that. And repent you shall, in full. You won’t die on the staircase, Kirk, no. Where’s the fun in that? Now get up, keep moving, and I’ll see you at the top of the staircase.” With these words, Martin disappeared, leaving Kirk to drag his mutilated body up the stairs.

Surprisingly though, the burden on his back and shoulders seemed to have lessened a great deal. He continued up the dark stairs, coming across another landing a few stairs up. This one, too, was dimly lit, and it didn’t even light up when he reached the middle of it. Slightly hopeful that there was nothing sinister lurking on this floor, he continued shuffling along the platform to reach the next flight of stairs, when the hope was cut to shreds, just like his hamstrings, from behind. It was the ancient guild of Assassins, who attacked stealthily, incapacitating their enemies first, and when the opponent was outnumbered, making a sport of him before killing him. The voice! It had been reading all along, but fear and hope had turned Kirk deaf to everything but his own breathing and blind to everything but the next flight of stairs. Groaning, Kirk fell, realization immediately dawning upon him; another scene from one of his own books, ‘Rogue’. One of the Assassins, who turns his cloak over to the staunch enemy cult, is captured by his erstwhile Brothers and tortured and let go alive as a lesson to others thinking of betraying the Order of the Assassins. As Kirk had anticipated, each one of his captors carved the symbol of the Assassins on to his skin with their blade; his belly, arms, across his chest, wherever they could detect patches of skin not yet marred by blood. They penetrated just enough to make him bleed like a pig, but not enough to puncture any vital organ, just as he had written in his book, for his own pleasure and thrill and that of millions of vicious people around the world.

When they were through with him, like Patrick, the Brother who betrayed the Assassins, Kirk, too, had to crawl. And so he crawled up the next flight of stairs, creeping slowly towards the next awaiting horror.

Yet again, his burden felt much lighter than before, though his crippled body compensated for the ease in movement he might otherwise have had. Slowly making his way up the stairs, he came upon the third, and what he imagined might be the final, landing.

As he crawled towards the flight of stairs leading up, he was kicked from behind, turned over and had his hands tied. This time, he did not need to hear the voice to know what was to happen to him. He had known this was the final step all along; a scene from another of his books, in which a widow went through a horrible rape at the hands of her own relatives. Kirk couldn’t bear to think about all the ways he’d brutalized the widow, and hence, how he himself was about to be brutalized.

Closing his mind to all sensation as he heard his captors approach, Kirk wept. For the widow, for himself, for the whole, sick world whose lust for gore could never be satisfied. It was only dimly that he felt the sharp knife enter him at unspeakable and unthinkable places in his body, ripping out whatever was inside, lacerating him, cold hands groping him hungrily, trousers unzipping one after the other.

Kirk didn’t know how long he lay like that, enduring mutely whatever was happening to him, crying bitterly. He only realized long after they were done with him that he was alone on the landing again. Mentally preparing himself to look up the stairs, sure that he’d be unable to stand it if there were another landing, he let his glance climb. He seemed to have reached somewhere near the top of the staircase.

As if confirming his suspicion, the burden on his shoulders vanished entirely. Crawling ever so slowly up the stairs, he reached the top of the staircase. There, he found George waiting for him, a smile on his face. There was a door on the other side of the staircase, probably leading right out of this dark, horrible place.

“You made it, son. Go right on.” Too broken by the events that had unfolded, Kirk said nothing, just wept and wept. George waited patiently for him to stop weeping. Once he did stop, and took stock of his own body, he realized that all the wounds and fractures, all the pain, everything was gone. He was whole again. He moved towards the door, slowly and hesitantly at first, then running, howling with tears again. He pushed open the door at a run..

..and was falling into infinity, with no end in sight, no thought in mind except for one: that he should have seen this coming when George had told him Kirk was in his story now. The terrifying certainty of what lay below was confirmed sooner rather than later, as Kirk impaled himself on tall spikes that lay at the bottom of the ditch and died instantly.

From boon, money and fame to a horrific and unforeseen death — Kirk’s life, it seemed, was going to be the most horrific story of all.

His last thought before he hit the spikes was a rather famous quote by one of the most powerful Gods of literature, the mythical Shakespeare: ‘These violent delights have violent ends.’

At the top of the stairs, George sighed and moved away.