Opening a heavy door, he saw a red world unfurl before him.
He passed through the door, the cool, thick air prickling his skin. He remembered it - the sensation; the world. The door shut behind him. Freddie leapt towards it, panicked. He turned the knob and pounded on the door, but it was never going to open.
"Doing that will get you nowhere," somebody's voice said. "Hurry and climb on up here. Unless you want to die?"
As his eyes grew accustomed to it, the extent of the world revealed itself to him. Yeah. Of course. He had wondered somewhere in his heart whether this had been the case. The tall wall of giant blocks piled high before his eyes. The moon suspended in a red sky. The sheep unsteadily, desperately clambering their way upwards. It was a continuation of the dream he'd had one day.
The door vanished, cutting off any path by which he might retreat. At the same time, he heard a strange moaning from behind. It wheezed an anguish-filled death agony. The cry, with mingled hatred and murderous intent, seared itself into Freddie's back.
He was afraid even to turn around. The only way he could escape from "it" was to climb to the top of the stone blocks in front of him. What if he fell as he climbed? As soon as the thought entered his mind, he felt as though ice water began oozing from his heart instead of blood. His eyes momentarily went dark, and he crouched down with his head in his hands. His palm brushed against something hard.
He could feel something unusual that wasn't hair on his head. It was gnarled and angular, twisting and tapered. A horn.
a horn a horn a horn a horn a sheep's horn
He snatched his hand away with a gasp. What the hell what the hell. What the hell's something like this doing growing from my head? His mind raced. His hands wouldn't stop shaking. He checked once more, timidly, but he hadn't been imagining it after all.
"Did I turn into a sheep?"
Then did that mean that the crowds of sheep scaling the wall were actually human, too?
He didn't understand. He couldn't follow the rules of this world at all. Stranded in a situation that went beyond comprehension, Freddie almost sank to the ground.
"Get up. Sitting around here won't change a thing. You'll just end up doing the same thing every night."
It was the voice again - the man's voice he'd heard at some point in the past.
"Hurry up and get climbing."
"Where? Where are you?"
His gaze wandered, stopping upon a sheep that clung to the wall to his upper right. Supporting his body with one hand, he looked at Freddie and waved with the other.
"It's still easy to climb over here. Hurry. Looks like it's noticed you."
"Fre...ddie..." came a voice from the dark abyss. "Fr...eddie..."
Thinking that an intense wind howled behind him, something leapt out, brushing against his face. It slammed against the wall in front of him and rebounded. It was the burnt door of a car. Looking like it had once belonged to a truck, he could make out the words "Pleiades Transport" in letters blackened by heat and soot.
If it had scored a direct him on him, he would've been a goner for sure.
The voice was more and more rage-filled. A presence approached. He could feel hard breathing whispering against his back.
Sensing that his life was in danger, he sprinted towards the blocks. Putting his hand on the bottom-most stone, he clung to its face by the tips of his fingers and pushed himself up.
"Don't leave me behiiiiiiiind!"
Is this some kind of joke? I can't leave you behind if I don't even know you. Stop following me around.
He desperately clambered up the blocks, somehow managing to make it to the sheep. Perhaps his previous experience had come into play, because he managed to climb quite a distance in a much shorter span of time. A landing where he could take a breather was just above.
His relief at being able to take a break was short-lived. An intense swaying began suddenly, and his hand that was clutching the block slipped.
His fingers slid from the top of the block. Before he could get back into position, his body was dragged downwards. With no footing, he went pale.
Just before he plummeted, the sheep grabbed him by the arm. If he hadn't, it would've been a one way trip straight down into the abyss.
"Relax. Don't look down."
The tremors grew even harsher, tossing Freddie, holding himself up by one arm, rattling from side to side like a pendulum. Screams flashed by as other sheep lost their balance and fell. He heard the groan of something giving way beneath his feet, floating in space.
Despite the pointed warning not to look, he had to be sure. Beneath Freddie, the entire bottom-most row of stone blocks had disappeared. The ground on which he had been standing only moments before had vanished without a trace, leaving only an expanse of empty darkness in its wake. The earth let out a rumble and the next row crumbled too, before being swallowed up by the chasm.
"Isn't this dangerous?"
The block wall had begun collapsing from the bottom. He had to climb it, and fast, before even this part was engulfed. The woman's cries echoed from the black hole.
"It's dangerous either way."
With the sheep's help, he secured his footing. By now, he no longer even had the time to catch his breath. He passed straight by the landing, beginning to climb even higher, when the sheep came to a stop and called out to him.
"What the hell? If we don't hurry, you're gonna fall, too."
"We can't go any further."
"What? What the hell are you talking about!?"
Peering over the sheep's shoulder, he saw that the blocks ahead towered two levels high, and there was no way they would be able to get up there. The sides were the same way, meaning that they were essentially stuck at the bottom of an impassable cliff.
"W-what are we supposed to do?"
Even as he stood there in his confusion, the block wall continued its steady collapse. Before long, the abyss would be upon him.
"Don't panic. There must be a way."
In contrast to the flustered Freddie, the sheep thought calmly with his arms folded. Eventually his eyes sparkled, as if he had thought of something.
"Maybe we can pull these blocks out towards us."
"What did you just say?"
The sheep was pointing at the bottom-most stone of the two levels piled before them. He ran his finger along the area where the blocks connected, testing how they felt.
"Just as I thought. They move after all."
"Wait, for real?"
"I'll pull it out. You help." Prompted by the sheep, Freddie hurried over to assist. "Aaand..."
Combining their strength and tugging, they managed to move the stone towards them with even greater ease than he had imagined.
"This will do."
Pulling out the block had transformed the cliff into a set of stairs. By climbing up the bottom stone, then the top one, they would be able to move even higher up.
"You're quite something."
In spite of himself, Freddie muttered words of gratitude to the sheep. Without showing a hint of happiness, the sheep went straight back to his climbing. Freddie, too, hurried after him.
Just what was going on, though? Clinging to the stone, he turned his head. Seeing the sheep continuing to desperately climb upwards without knowing where they were headed, he couldn't help but wonder this himself.
The wall of slowly collapsing blocks, and the cliff that blocked his path. At first glance, survival seemed impossible - and yet he couldn't shake the feeling that some way to get out of it, just like moments earlier, existed.
If there existed a being who had created this world, and their goal was to make all of the sheep fall, they would never have allowed them to take evasive measures in the first place. Or were they perhaps just enjoying the sight of the sheep struggling in their desperation?
It didn't feel like it, though. The sheep had certainly reduced in number quite a bit from the time when he first saw them, but a fair number had survived, too. If they could make it to the top, many of them - including Freddie himself - would probably be saved. Was this some kind of screening? One to separate the sheep who could survive from those who couldn't? Then...
A cull. The word that suddenly surfaced in his mind brought back previously forgotten chills. Such an ominous, dirty word. Is someone trying to kill me? He looked around him as if seeking an answer, but all he could hear was the muted irritation in the voice of the sheep who had continued on ahead.
"Don't hang about. I'll leave you behind."
"W-wait for me!"
As they scaled the block wall, changes began to occur to its orderly layout. Sometimes there were gaps here and there, and sometimes there towered cliffs like the one from earlier with nothing to grab onto. Each time they would move the blocks around to create a footing, frantically dragging out the stones. If they didn't, they would be able to go no higher.
"Another cliff, huh?"
And this time, it was three layers high. He pulled out the two blocks in front of him in order, required to form them into the shape of a pyramid.
"Hey, asshole. Get a move on, would you?"
As Freddie was working with the rosary sheep, a different sheep who had been standing helplessly in front of the cliff was shoved in the back by yet another sheep who had shown up after. The shoved sheep staggered, knocking into the block next to him. Cracks began opening in the stone block he had just been using as a foothold, and it crumbled into a pile of dust. With nothing to stand on, the sheep fell with a cry. The scream lingered, becoming more feeble, and all he could do was look on until the sheep was no more than a tiny speck.
"Watch yourself. Some of these blocks are fragile."
At the words of the accompanying rosary sheep, Freddie reflexively crouched down. It wasn't going to make him any lighter, but his fingers were weak.
"What the hell is this place?"
He had only just figured out that he could get around by pulling out the blocks, a flicker of hope that he could escape blossoming within, and now this. If someone was watching over this world, they would have to be quite a spiteful person indeed.
The fall of one of the sheep sent shockwaves through the flock of sheep, who up until then had been momentarily calm. Some sheep ran off in a frenzy, while others crouched down and ceased to move entirely.
"Get outta the way, asshole."
The sheep climbed up towards Freddie. Drool dribbled thickly from his mouth, his eyes bloodshot and devoid of any hint of reason.
"If you don't move, I'll push you off."
"Cut it out, moron."
Looking as though he was going to be shoved blindly by the hands, Freddie desperately clung to the face of the block. If he was pushed onto the adjacent block, he might end up like the sheep from before.
"I'm trying to make a foothold. Just hang on for a minute."
"Shut up. You're in my way!"
There was no getting through to the sheep in his panicked state. He reached out his arms and grabbed onto Freddie's back, trying to pull him off of the block.
"Let go! Goddammit, let go of me!"
Desperately shaking free of his grip, he swiftly created a foothold and scampered up it. Prepared for the risk of slipping, he simply wanted to get away from the sheep. The sheep, however, pursued him with unbelievable speed, grabbing onto Freddie's leg from behind.
His vision swung up, then down in an instant. He had been pulled down and slammed against the stone block. It was by good fortune alone that he had been spared from tumbling off it.
"You're not going ahead of me!"
Freddie, lying flat on his stomach, could hear the sheep's crazed yelling from behind him.
"Take it easy. You're gonna end up falling with me."
"I'm gettin' outta here. Let me outta here!"
He paid no attention to Freddie's attempts at persuasion.
Twisting around and shaking himself free of the sheep, Freddie got unsteadily to his feet. As he did so, the sheep tackled him.
He wrenched his torso away, trying to avoid it, but ended up losing his balance instead, throwing himself against the side of the block with nothing beneath his feet. The fear of falling made his hair stand on end. Just before he fell, however, he just barely managed to cling onto the edge of the block. He felt as though he were hanging from a steep cliff.
The sheep who had launched himself at him was not so lucky. Losing his target upon being evaded by Freddie, he pitched forwards and fell from the block.
Leaving a scream behind, the sheep vanished from view. Listening to the cry grow more and more distant as he plummeted, Freddie desperately climbed back onto the block. He sank to the ground and remained there for some time. He panted, his shoulders heaving. He now realised for certain that the horde of sheep was not on his side.
"So I can't trust anyone, then."
Not even the guy who spoke to me first, he thought, wiping the sweat from his brow. The high wall continued its ceaseless vibrations. It wasn't going to stop collapsing until he made it to the top - not to mention the voice that screwed with his head.
"It's getting closer again."
What the hell is that thing? It has some kind of grudge against me.
"Freddie... Where are you...?"
"Shut the hell up!"
He wasn't just going to die here. There was still something he had to do.
"Get up. Get up and keep climbing."
Slapping his trembling legs, he went back to scaling the pyramid. The stone steps might look like they went on and on for eternity, but they had to end somewhere. Clinging to this belief, Freddie began to proceed.