The door shut behind Freddie. He was on the outside of a black steeple that connected to the castle ramparts. It seemed as though after passing through the golden door at the top of the massacre staircase, he had found himself outside of the castle and tower. A frigid, cutting wind tore at his feet.
"So it's begun, huh..."
It was a continuation of his last dream, but this didn't come as a surprise anymore. He was more than prepared.
The spire was a cylindrical structure built from gigantic, jet black stones, with a stone spiral staircase coiled around it. Freddie stood at the base of the spiral stairs, which joined the bottom level of the tower with the top level of the fortress. Putting his foot onto the first stair, he was seized by a feeling like something was different.
He couldn't see any sheep. The sheep who had blocked Freddie's path and sometimes offered him important words of assistance were nowhere to be found. Had they all fallen? The thought filled his mind, chilling his heart. So he had to face up to tonight's nightmare all alone, then?
Freddie made a fist and punched his other hand in determination. Humans are all alone in the end, after all.
He could hear the sound of something like a foghorn in the distance. Was it coming from the top of the tower? To Freddie, it sounded like the wailing of a girl despairing at the world.
He looked up, but, as usual, was unable to see the top of the spire. The blood red quality of the sky deepened, leaving only a giant moon suspended in it like a bizarre artwork.
"But there must be an end," he muttered.
"That's right," he suddenly heard a voice say.
"No one with a name worth knowing."
Freddie looked around him in shock, and the voice continued as if observing him with great interest.
"Welcome to the Spiral Corridor. Let me start by praise you for managing to make it this far."
The foghorn went on sounding. Mingling with the sound, the voice - Freddie couldn't tell whether it was male or female, child or adult - went on speaking to Freddie.
"Stop screwing with me. Show yourself."
"I told you; there's no need for that. I am but a mere scorekeeper. Usually I wouldn't even have a reason to be talking to you, but your climbing has been so magnificent so far that I wanted to give you a word of encouragement right at the end."
The hint of teasing contained within the voice made him annoyed. He didn't know who it was, but knew that they had to be some sort of born trickster.
"Hey. I have a question for you."
"Do you believe that a relationship between a man and a woman can evolve in a convenient way?" the voice asked, ignoring Freddie's silence.
"The hell's that supposed to mean?"
"Answer me. I'm interested."
He didn't know what the point of it was, but it seemed to want Freddie to respond. He could go on ignoring it, but felt like that would simply made the other person happy, and after thinking for a while he managed to come up with something clever.
"If I answer, you have to answer my question, too. That's my bargain."
"Hmm. You're an interesting one, alright. Fine. I promise." The voice from the fog sounded intrigued. "Then let me ask you once again: Do you believe that a relationship between a man and a woman can evolve in a convenient way?"
"I do," he answered without hesitation. If he didn't believe it, the world would surely be messed up and chaotic.
"Hmm. So that's your answer." As if impressed, the foghorn sound grew more shrill. "I've taken note of it. I think I can see the silhouette of you as a person more clearly now."
"Whatever. Now it's my turn." Freddie looked up at the sky, taking a breath before uttering the words he most wanted to know. "Where is Catherine? Where is Stella?"
"That's not just one, now, is it?" said the exasperated voice. "But fine. I'll tell you. They're up there."
He looked up once more at the spire. It was shrouded in fog, and he still couldn't see its peak. What he had heard was enough, however.
"I'll climb up there. We'll leave together. I'll put an end to this weird nightmare."
"I like your spirit. Go for it, then - before 'she' starts chasing after you."
Freddie stood upon a slate floor about a square foot in size. The spire's spiral stairs continued on one side, but the other jutted out into empty air, and he could peer down from it.
A woman's shriek crawled out from the fog like hellfire.
Was it really Sophie?
"This is the beginning of the final staircase. Will you manage to scale the Spiral Corridor?"
"Screw you. I told you I would."
Paying no further heed to the foghorn voice, Freddie began to climb the spiral staircase. However, he didn't know whether there were traps along it, just like the nightmare before. He wouldn't be able to carelessly rush upwards.
He went one step at a time, always with his left hand pressed against the tower's outer wall to support himself at all times. He had to move cautiously, of course, but still went as fast as possible. Still, he soon felt that something wasn't right.
"Am I really climbing this?"
As he climbed, the top of the fortress that lay below became enshrouded in fog, leaving him with no other structure to use as a landmark. All Freddie knew was that to his left hand side was the spire's outer wall, below him was fog, and above him was an endlessly stretching, bizarre red sky.
Even the moon that hung in the sky seemed to be chasing Freddie: no matter how far he walked, its position never changed. Hovering overhead, it seemed to be monitoring Freddie's movements.
No matter how many times he went around the spiral stairs his surroundings stayed the same, making him worry that he was simply walking in place. It was like some kind of symbol of the endless nightmare.
Regardless, there was nowhere else to go. He felt his way along the spire walls, but found no sort of concealed door or secret path. Freddie's only hope of escape now was to either keep climbing, or to simply give up and toss himself into the abyss, leaving him with no choice but to keep walking.
"Where are you, Freddieeee?"
The woman was approaching the spire from below. He couldn't see her through the fog, but her malice-filled presence grew more profound.
"There you are," she said, revealing herself and sending chills running down Freddie's spine. "Don't leave meeeeee!"
Like an ascending dragon piercing its way through a sea of fog, a long claw rose up from below and attacked Freddie. He threw himself against the wall, barely managing to evade. The claw slashed past the spot where Freddie had stood just a moment earlier, digging into the wall next to his eyes and nose.
The giant hand, roughly the size of a person, scratched along the stone wall, climbing up the side of the spire. It was definitely looking for Freddie. The clawing hand blocked off his path. Just like stumbling upon a huge fallen tree on a mountain path, he would have to pass over it in order to proceed.
Freddie's tongue was squeezed against his lower jaw from the stress, but he decided that he would get past it. Grabbing onto the woman's wrist - the size of a large tree's root - with both hands, he slung his legs over to the other side as if climbing over a log.
The woman's arm was as cold as a corpse's. The damp skin was soft like a bog, from which wafted an odour of decomposing flesh that made him want to vomit. Freddie squeezed his eyes shut, trying to force the thoughts of the thing he straddled from his mind. The woman, however, would not allow it.
"Foooound youuuuuuu!" she shrieked joyously, and the arm, Freddie still sat upon it, began to twist and turn. He clung on desperately, trying not to fall off, and suddenly the entire arm was lifted up into the empty air. In the blink of an eye, the spiral staircase he had climbed drifted into the distance. Ripped away from the spire, Freddie felt like Hercules clinging to the Hydra.
Something rose, slicing through the fog. It wasn't the arm from which the claw sprouted - it was something far larger. The first thing he saw was hair, red as fresh blood. A face, too, slowly made its appearance. Her features, smothered in blackness in the previous nightmare, were now clearly visible. A wide forehead. Determined eyebrows. A narrow, pointed chin. Grey-blue eyes filled with hatred. At her white, adipocere-tinged ears glinted red butterfly earrings.
"Sophie..." Freddie murmured. He was now sure that it had been Sophie Mallow, a rock singer he had dated previously, who had been attacking him each night. "Are you dead...!?"
"Yes, I am dead." Sophie turned her huge, dull eyes towards Freddie. "And it's your faaault!"
"Wh-what do you mean? It's my fault!?"
"Yes! It's all because of youuuuuu!"
As Sophie screamed, Freddie almost slipped off the arm upon which he sat, clinging onto her wrist for dear life. She swung her arms wildly, like a spoilt child. The putrid odour of a corpse decaying in its grave relentlessly assaulted Freddie's lungs, but his fear of plummeting into the abyss won out.
"It's your fault that I'm dead, so I'm going to have you die, too."
Cracks spread across Sophie's bloodless lips and she cackled, exposing uneven teeth. She began to move her arm slowly towards her mouth with Freddie still on it. She was going to eat him. A woman was going to eat him.
Tears and snot began to dribble down Freddie's face. I'm done. I'm done with all of this. I'm getting out of here. I will get out of here.
Partly aware that he was on the verge of madness, Freddie bit into Sophie's arm. He'd rather chew on a corpse's arm than be eaten by a woman.
Freddie heard the popping sound of the woman's skin breaking, filling his mouth with filth. A feeling of intense nausea struck him. His stomach acid rising, Freddie removed his mouth from Sophie's arm and vomited. A black, unidentifiable substance spilled and spread from Sophie's body. Seeing it made him feel even worse.
Freddie had nothing left to bring up except stomach acid, but his bizarre act hadn't been in vain. Even in her beast-like form, Sophie still appeared to feel pain in her arm, for she pulled her face - on the verge of consuming Freddie - away from him. Her expression torn between hatred and agony, she flailed her arm wildly. Freddie clung on, trying to avoid being shaken off. A few seconds went by like this, with him tossed about as though in midair on a swing, before the arm crashed into the spire wall with Freddie still upon it.
The impact sent Freddie flying, but his back fortunately landed on the spiral stairs. The writhing arm sent fissures shooting through the wall, fragments crumbling and falling from above. He shielded his head with his hands and got quickly to his feet. The arm flopped down in front of Freddie, as if suddenly losing its strength, before finally drawing back from the spire.
"Now's my chance."
The path was open once more. He hurried up the spiral staircase. At this point, he didn't even have time to check for traps. He had to make it as close to the summit as possible while Sophie was still nursing her wounds.
Soon, however, he began to puff and pant. He had been neglectful of his physical health. If he made it out of here alive, he swore to himself, he was going to drop his savings on a gym membership. He'd quit smoking, too - no more drinking, either. So let me out of here.
Clutching his chest he continued to run, but finally his gait slowed. Panting, he put his hands to his knees, unable to take any more.
In contrast to Freddie's slowed movements, Sophie seemed to have regained her strength. She had briefly sunk beneath the fog, but made a reappearance now. Her torso was clad in a leather jacket, and he could see the lower half of her body that had previously been concealed by the fog.
The instant he saw it, Freddie brought up more stomach acid.
This is a nightmare.
From the navel downwards, all Sophie had was exposed entrails. In place of a pelvis and legs hung tens of what could have been either intestines or tentacles, radiating outwards, each writhing like a separate organism.
"Ms. Sophie Mallow has died after being hit by a truck that ignored a red light," he remembered hearing on the morning news.
Oh, right. So that's why she looks like this.
Freddie once again pitied Sophie, whose entire lower body had been torn away. She was a mean drunk, told lies like it was nothing and had even dabbled with drugs, but she still wasn't a bad enough person to have deserved such a death.
"Poor thing," he said, his true feelings leaking out. His eyes met Sophie's.
Sophie's gaze regained its sanity momentarily, but swiftly returned to its bloodshot hatred. She bared her fangs, spitting curses.
"It's your goddamn faaaault! Die, die, die!" She began to flail even more violently. "You're going to die with meeee!"
She came at Freddie, claws flexing restlessly and dangling entrails wriggling. These had been the things she had once wrapped around a poor sheep and used to drag him down into the abyss in a previous nightmare.
Freddie evaded the tentacles that leapt at him, beginning to ascend the spiral steps once more on teetering legs. There was no time to be complaining about how much it hurt to breathe, knowing that if he stopped now it would be the end of him.
The pink organ that flew at him with a roar brushed past his nose and slammed into the spire wall. It coated the floor with a gleaming fluid and, despite being flexible, still packed an iron punch. The tip of the organ sank into the stone wall, sending cracks running outwards.
"Don't run! Accept my looove!"
Run. Run. Run and get out of here. Climb. Climb. Climb as far as it takes. Finally, the steps that had seemed so endless began to draw to an end. Freddie could clearly hear the chimes of the bell tower above echoing in his ears.
"Christ, that's the goal!"
Instead of the silenced foghorn, he could hear a chorus of Hallelujah all around. Light flooded the bloody sky, the crimson fading and being replaced by blue. The top of the tower. A golden door came into view. Just ten more steps until the end of this dream. Nine. Eight.
"Freddieeee!" Sophie screamed. "Don't leave me!" By now, she was pleading.
Seven steps. Six steps.
Freddie ignored her and ran.
Sophie's right arm swung at Freddie's side, trying to snatch him up, but he somehow managed to dodge it. The claw fell away in futility, leaving gouges in the tower's outer wall. Beneath the golden light, the marks seemed to spell out LOVE.
...Sorry. You can't stop me now.
Three steps. Two. One. And...