Christmas Hiatus: Cursed Roll

The blog is on hiatus for the Christmas season. New stories will return in January. Here’s one from the archives:

She found him in his workshop, hunched over a vice with small chisel in hand. She set a cup of tea down on a workbench and peered at the objects his fingers were prising carefully from the vice.

“What are you making?” she asked.

“It’s a wedding present for Ricky and Anjia,” he said. He extracted a small wooden cube from the vice and held it up to the light. “Three handmade dice.”

It was made from dark birch. Rounded edges, numbers of tiny holes drilled into each side. She took it carefully from his fingers, and set it gently down on the workbench.

“Did you test it?” she asked.

He looked surprised.

“I didn’t mean them to be played,” he said. “It’s just for decoration.”

She shook her head.

“If you give someone a die, they are going to roll it. Let me have the others.”

He extracted the other two and placed them next to the first. She picked them up, rolled them around, and let them fall gently onto the workbench. Three fours. She tried again. Three fours. It happened the third time, and the fourth.

“That’s very clever,” he said. “How are you doing it?”

She shrugged. “I’m not doing anything.” She tried again, and again, and yet again. Three fours each time. “Where did you get the wood from?”

“Out in the woods, near the old temple.”

Suddenly she felt very uneasy. Her skin prickled.

Something, somewhere, was watching them.

“We’re in trouble,” she said.

“Trouble?” he said. “What do you mean, trouble? I just foraged some wood, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re tricking me.”

She shook her head, both to disagree and disrupt the fearful quivering that was beginning to surge upwards into her neck. “Please,” she pleaded. “We have to do something. Perhaps take the dice back to woods?”

“It’s nine o’clock, it’s dark outside,” he said. “We’re not going to traipse around…”

He broke off. Over on the workbench, the cup of tea she had brought him was fizzling, popping, boiling and bubbling. Then a low growl emanated from the doorway, and they stood, rooted in fear, as a large lion with sickly green fur plodded heavily into the workshop.

Big, round brown eyes searched their faces, before settling on the dice that lay where they had fallen. The lion bared its teeth, letting saliva drip onto the floor, then roared.

They felt their skin constrict, tighten around their bones and then pull inwards. They cried out as searing pain shot through compressing muscles, joints scraped and twisted, nerves sizzled and scorched. Their bodies were pulled inwards and they shrank, down and down, folding and collapsing and grinding in upon themselves. Dents appeared on all sides of their misshapen, shrunken bodies.

The lion came forward, knocked the dice off the workbench onto the floor where the victims lay. Together they saw their broken, contorted bodies were no larger than the dice.

The lion scooped all into its mouth. Its tongue rasped over their burning skin, rolling them and the wooden cubes between decaying teeth and gangrenous gums. Then the lion spat the contents of its mouth onto the floor.

They bounced and rolled, bumping into the dice and each other, then came to rest. She looked over to where he lay, his body contorted into the shape of a cube. The dents in his skin were a pattern that matched those on the dice, and those on her own twisted form.

The lion stood over them, thunder in its throat. It observed, draw back lips and hissed.

“Five fours,” it said. “A winning throw.”

The lion coughed, and its victims felt their forms crack and unfold, expanding. Skin stretched, bones sprung outward, cries of pain flew as nerves blazed once again. Then two more human shapes stood unsteadily before their torturer.

“What are you?” she asked of the lion, shaking with horror.

The lion’s maw twisted with some unfathomable humour.

“I have played the great game,” it said. “Now I have won. For millennia my pieces were trees, their fate set in stone when I placed them upon the game board, and they took root.” The lion’s chest began to shake with laughter. “You interrupted my move, you gave me power over humankind. Now you are my pieces, and I have won.”

Outside, the ground shook and split, the air boiled away, and the world was returned to the box.

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