"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player."
When he regained consciousness, he found himself standing in an unfamiliar place. Freddie McGoohan's body trembled with a chill that seemed to lick at his skin.
"Where... am I?"
It was a dim world. He seemed to be outdoors, but couldn't tell whether it was daytime or nighttime. A faint red light shone down on Freddie, with flagstones laid out at his feet.
A huge wall stretched out before him. It blocked Freddie's way, made up of gigantic stone blocks that were stacked in the shapes of stairs for many levels, resembling a pyramid. Each of the blocks was taller than Freddie, their width roughly the same as his outstretched arms. They were laid out upwards and across in an orderly fashion.
The difference between it and a pyramid was that no matter how high up it went, its width was unchanged. From whichever side he viewed it, the wall of blocks extended endlessly. However far up he looked, he could see no end. It seemed to stretch on eternally.
"Where am I?" he muttered once more. His expelled breath froze white, warning him that it would be dangerous to linger here. "I was on my way home from work..."
He had returned home and met with someone. They had dined together, drank wine, and then... He couldn't remember.
"Is no one else around?"
Being all alone in this desolate world was hugely unappealing.
The voice he squeezed out vanished as if absorbed into the red sky, but instead he caught a glimpse of something moving. To his right, Freddie could see something that looked like a person's silhouette. A silver rosary glinted at their breast. He ran along the edge of the wall of blocks. He wanted someone to explain to him what was going on.
But the voice cut off inside his throat. As he approached, the silhouette transformed into something that couldn't possibly be human.
A sheep. It was a sheep.
It stood on two legs, staring straight at Freddie with red eyes containing oblong pupils that made it hard to tell where he was looking, turning his head restlessly. The two horns peeking out from his head resembled those of a demon.
He fell on his backside. The chill from the icy stone floor crept up through his abdomen into his core.
"Get up. I can't talk to you like this." The sheep was definitely speaking in human words. It twitched its nose as if sniffing Freddie's scent. "You reek of woman."
"Woman... Oh. I..."
A fragmented memory came back to him. A woman with long hair like a waterfall of gold. She always bragged about it. Tapping away rhythmically at the keyboard whilst humming the same old phrase. Her name was...
"Stella. Where is she?"
Freddie, standing up, approached the sheep. His eyes must be so bloodshot that they were the same red as the sheep's.
"Where am I? Let me go home to her."
"Shut up." The hand he tried to grab onto him with was roughly shaken off. "I dunno where we are. There is one thing I do know, though." The sheep looked up, raising its hoofed front leg in the direction of the wall and looking up at it. "If you wanna get outta here, you've gotta climb that thing."
"By 'that', you mean this wall?"
He looked up again. It was tall. For Freddie, who was an indoors person, the idea of scaling these stone blocks felt like being ordered to dive the Mariana Trench without a diving suit.
"That's impossible." He shook his head in despair.
The sheep stamped his foot in irritation. "Don't give up so easily. Look. The other guys are desperately climbing up there."
Now that he'd said it, he could see squirming things here and there on the giant stone blocks. As his eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, he could tell that it was a flock of sheep.
Tens of sheep just like the one in front of him were grabbing onto blocks and climbing them level by level. They looked like barnacles clinging to the stomach of a whale, making Freddie feel sick.
"Well, what're you gonna do? Are you climbing up there or not?"
His answer was the same. He had no rock climbing experience. Freddie was no more than a humble game maker who spent his days in front of his computer monitor.
"Then you can stay here for the rest of your life. I'm off."
The sheep cracked its jaw and turned back to the wall, abandoning Freddie.
"Wait. Don't leave me behind."
"Shut up. Here, you've gotta look out for yourself. You don't get the luxury of hanging around."
"You can't hear that voice?"
Lifted on the cold wind, he could hear something in the distance. It was a woman's voice, like a scream or a sob.
He turned around in bewilderment. There was nothing on the other side of the blocks - literally. The ground came to an end no more than a few yards from where Freddie stood. It was another dimension, like a black hole, which even sucked in the light. The voice was coming from inside of it.
"Help me. Help me."
Pleading and hatred. Jealousy and passion mingled within the shriek. The moment he heard the voice, Freddie felt something fraying inside his heart. No. I don't want to be here. Somebody, let me out.
"You get it, don't you? It's some kinda terrible thing. If you don't want it to catch you, you've gotta climb that wall."
Without waiting for Freddie any longer, the sheep grabbed onto a stone block and began to climb. He couldn't understand how it was able to climb with its hoofed sheep legs, but everything going on here was completely absurd.
"Don't leave meee!"
The voice became conspicuously higher, and something leapt out of the abyss. It was a straw rope - no, a tentacle. He didn't have the time to make a clear distinction, but in any case it was something the colour of a candle, with something like a long cord flecked here and there with red speckles dangling down, wrapping itself over and over again around the torso of a sheep that had been clambering up the block wall a distance away from Freddie and the other sheep. The tentacle took the shrieking sheep with it, being swallowed back up by the abyss at the same speed from whence it had sprung out of it.
"Hel... Gbuh, gehagf..."
The sheep's screams suddenly trailed off on the other side of the darkness. He could hear the sound of flesh being torn. There was a bursting noise, like the sound of a balloon popping, followed by the sound of slurping. For the first time in his life, Freddie felt all of the blood in his body run cold.
The next thing he knew, he was frantically grabbing onto the castle wall. It wasn't a question of whether or not he could climb it. If he didn't, he would die - just like that poor sheep.
"Yeah. That's it."
He couldn't hear the words of the sheep who had first spoken to him. All he could think of was simply getting out of there.
"Help me. Help me." He had to go somewhere he couldn't hear the voice. "Why did you abandon me?"
It doesn't matter where, just so long as it's a place away from this spine-chilling voice. Save me.
He put his right hand on top of a stone even taller than he was. He dragged himself up, putting his entire body weight on his arms, similarly to the way he had when doing chin-ups on the horizontal bar as a child.
Finally, he had managed to climb the first level. As he scaled the wall of piled up blocks, he noticed that some were missing here and there. There were rows with an empty space exactly the size of one block. Even still, though he didn't know exactly how it worked, the top portion never seemed like it would collapse, managing to maintain an unsteady balance.
Fortunately, the sheep Freddie had spoken to earlier had gone on ahead. He observed his actions, and found that as long as he grabbed onto the same spots it was not too difficult to clamber up. Thanks to this, he was able to climb high up in a shorter length of time than he had anticipated. The woman's voice that made him shiver gradually grew distant, before eventually vanishing entirely.
Still, he couldn't be complacent. As long as he couldn't turn back, the anxiety pursued him everywhere. He wouldn't be at peace until he had climbed the whole way to the end.
"That's the way. Good job."
Cheered on by the voice of the sheep with a rosary, Freddie fired himself up once more and looked up. He should have climbed quite a way, and yet the stair-shaped stone blocks seemed to continue infinitely. The black wall towered above, a red world as its backdrop.
Finally, he could no longer find a stable foothold. It was hard to tell them apart by their appearance, but some fragile blocks were mixed in with the others, the bottom falling out and the whole thing crumbling if carelessly climbed onto.
Freddie barely managed to get out of danger by swiftly moving to another block. As he climbed, the arms with which he supported his body began to grow numb. Could he really make it? The unease that crept into his heart seemed to multiply like a malicious virus with each breath, expanding and engulfing Freddie and scattering doubts within him.
"Don't waste your time dwelling on it," came the sheep's voice from afar.
"Help me... Help meee..."
He could once again hear the voice that had fallen silent for a time. Each time he heard the pleading voice that seemed to curse him, he felt as if needles of ice were planted in his back.
"Don't stop. Climb."
He pulled out a block on instinct. His shoulders were heavy. Sweat dripped into his eyes. It stung horribly, like a wound that'd had salt rubbed into it. His vision blurred, the grip of his fingers loosening, but he couldn't wipe his hands. Dammit. Why is this happening to me?
"Just a little further. There's enough space here for you to take a breather. Just stick with it until then." It was the sheep's voice.
Just a little further. If it was just for a little bit longer, he could endure it. Wiping the teary eyes into which sweat had dripped, he could see the sheep several feet above him. Just as the sheep had said, there was a level, landing-like area amidst the levels of blocks that were stacked into a pyramid. If he could make it there, it seemed as though he would be able to have a short rest. Summoning the last of his strength, Freddie began to push.
"Good. Just a bit more."
The sheep reached out his hand. Freddie extended his own right hand in an attempt to grab onto it, but a sudden tremor ran through the block wall.
"I won't forgive youuuuuuuuu!"
A woman's shrill scream echoed loudly, causing the wall to resonate. It swayed slowly from side to side, but it was enough to knock Freddie off balance. The hand that had been just out of reach grasped empty space, fissures appearing at the same time in the block he was standing on. His eyes momentarily met the sheep's, and Freddie discerned the hopelessness in its face.
He felt his body floating, then suddenly being dragged downwards. He fell. Falling, falling, falling, falling, endlessly falling. Along with a scream like a slender thread, Freddie plummeted into the depths of the abyss. His vision went completely black, the next moment exploding into deep crimson.