Walter swept aside a dusty blanket and sneezed. Balancing the torch under one arm and covering his mouth with the other, he leaned down and picked up the box.
"Die." He read the game title and turned to his wife, Salma. "Here. Look at this." Walter passed the battered board game to the woman behind him.
Something bounced inside.
Ignoring the offering, Salma flashed her own beam around the empty cellar and shivered. "Come on. It's cold down here." The wind blew louder below the house. And there was an acrid stench of dead mice. She sniffed and hugged herself.
Undeterred, Walter turned over the new find. "I wonder why it was left here." There were no other pictures or writing on the damp cardboard. Just the one word in blocky, capital letters.
Salma wrinkled her nose. "What an awful name for a game. I wonder what it's doing down here…" Her voice trailed off as she drifted back to the hospital A & E. Bleeding. She shoved the memory aside and squeezed her husband's arm. "Put it down, Walt. Let's break in our new home."
Walter watched his wife's back disappear. He recognized the glaze whenever it passed over Salma's eyes. This move was a fresh start.
He blew more dust off the surface and shook the box. An object thudded inside. Someone had shredded one end. He tilted the package and a shiny emerald die tumbled onto his palm. Remembering the jewel in Romancing the Stone, he pushed up his glasses for a closer inspection. It was heavy like a pebble with triangles rather than dots on each face. He twirled it in his fingers and watched it glint in the torch light. He grinned, "Cool!" and then jumped as he heard his wife's call. "Just a minute, Sal!" He peered inside the soggy cardboard. It was empty. Walter frowned and heard a wine cork pop above his head.
Slipping the die into his jacket pocket, he sneezed again and left the cellar.
They sat on sealed boxes and toasted their new home while rain lashed at the kitchen window.
Walter and Salma couldn't believe their luck. They had needed to leave London. That day at the hospital had changed everything. And after a fruitless six-month search, they had finally bought the home of their dreams, and well within budget.
The old farmhouse had idled on the market ever since the previous owners had died in a freak fire. Investigators had suspected arson but never uncovered evidence. The lackadaisical estate agent had offered this explanation for the building's low cost. Death didn't sell. With expansive views over the valley beyond, a spacious back garden and a picturesque stone inn within easy walking distance, the property provided the perfect escape from London.
Throughout the searches, they had expected structural problems or other complications, but everything had run like clockwork. The estate agents in the nearby village hadn't even accompanied them on any viewings. They had stipulated on every occasion that the couple were to pick up and return the keys to their office. Salma had found this arrangement strange, but Walter had reasoned they weren't in the city anymore. He had shrugged and concluded, "People trust each other outside London."
Now, Walter drained his plastic cup and topped up Salma's. He stared into his wife's eyes and felt a sudden, overwhelming love surge through his body. Blinking back tears, he croaked, "New beginnings." He was also starting to feel light-headed.
The windowpanes rattled in their frames.
Salma smiled at her husband and raised her wine. She replied, "New beginnings." They leaned into each other's arms and rocked together. Wiping away a tear, Salma nestled her head into Walter's shoulder and felt something pressing into her side. "What's that?"
Walter remembered and pulled out the die. "This was in the box. Have a feel - it's quite heavy." As he dropped it into his wife's hand, there was a thunderclap outside. The oak door shuddered behind them, and Salma flinched.
The die bounced from her hand and thudded to the stone floor.
Six tiny triangles twinkled up at them. Lightning streaked across the kitchen and Walter grinned. "Maybe it's your lucky night." Salma peered down at the emerald shape.
"I don't like it." She said.
"What do you mean? It's only a die." Walter reached down and scooped up the cube. "I think it's kind of cool. Maybe it's worth something." He tossed it and watched it land in his lap.
There was another thunder boom outside. Relentless rain whipped and stung the panes.
Six triangles stared back at him. "Wow. Six again!"
Salma frowned. "It might be rigged or something. You know. Like one of those dodgy ones cheats use. Put it away, Walt."
Her husband gulped more wine and stared at the sparkling number. "Let's see if we get another six." His eyes widened and, for an instant, he believed the die was the answer. Their future happiness hinged on the next throw. Lightning flashed across his face and Salma noticed dark hollows behind his lenses. Like a skull. She tensed.
"I mean it, Walt. Stop messing about with that thing." Walter gawped at the cube and then felt Salma's hand on his shoulder. The spell dissolved. He shrugged and downed the remainder of his cup. Thunder punched the farmhouse again.
"Ok. I'll get another bottle." He stumbled up and the die rolled from his leg. It skidded across the kitchen floor and bounced against a cupboard.
The lights blinked out. Salma screamed.
Walter squinted through the pitch darkness and fumbled for a torch on the side. "It's OK, Sal. I'll check the fuse box. I think it was in the cellar. Here." He hugged his wife and handed her the other flashlight. "I'll just be a minute." Walter turned and headed for the door.
Salma watched him leave and sprayed her beam around the cold kitchen. It caught the glittering die. Like a pocket goblin, it sneered back. She mumbled, "I told him not to play around with that bloody thing." And then shook her head at herself. "Don't be silly." She pursed her wine-stained lip and stared at the cube.
There was a thud beneath her feet and Walter's muffled curse. "Are you alright, Walt?" Silence. Salma hesitated. She peered down at the floor and then at the gleaming thing opposite her.
There was still no light.
"Sod it." She lurched off her makeshift seat and approached the die. Torch in one hand, plastic cup in the other. She paused, sipped some Malbec and squatted beside the emerald.
Six triangles winked back at her.
Preserving the weak torch battery, Salma sat in darkness and waited. And waited. She shifted on her seat and called, "Walt, are you OK, darling?" No reply. "Walt, you better not be messing around!" But there was no steel in her voice. Only an underlying tremor.
The windows clattered again in their frames. More lightning flickered across the kitchen.
Salma shivered in the dark and pulled her cardigan tighter. She flicked on the beam and stood up. The die still lay where it had landed next to the cupboard. She peered at the object, shuddered, and headed for the cellar steps.
Hesitating at the door, she stood in silence listening. But she only heard the wind baying below. She gripped the handle and edged the gap wider. Total darkness lay beyond. "Walt, are you alright?" No response.
She angled her torch at the stone steps and began her descent.
As Salma moved deeper into the cellar, she noticed the temperature rising with every footstep. She stopped midway down the steps and sniffed the humid air.
There was the stench of rotten pork frying.
She gagged, covered her mouth and nose, and shone her beam to the bottom. "Walt, what's going on?!" She almost screamed the last word. The wind bellowed a response. Her vest was clinging to her back.
She pressed further into the heat.
Salma's eyes were stinging as she reached the cellar floor. Still protecting her nose and mouth with one arm, she aimed the torch light across the room.
In the far corner, there was a figure shrouded in smoke. He was hunched over so she could only make out Walter's bald patch in the faint light. He was rocking from side to side. The fetid frying smell was unbearable. Too late, Salma felt Malbec erupt from her mouth and nostrils. Coating her arm, it gushed onto the dusty floor.
Woozy and face flushed with sweat, she edged closer to the fuming man. As she crept towards him, she heard a sizzling noise mingled with steady murmuring. "Walter?" Her voice was a strangled whisper. Through burning tears, Salma held the trembling beam on Walter's bald patch.
For the second time, vomit exploded from her mouth.
Her husband's head was bubbling and crisping. Like a gas flame was cooking his scalp from within. He continued rocking and mumbling.
Salma shrieked and snatched at Walter's arm but immediately recoiled at the scorching pain in her hand. Wrapping it in her cardigan, she grabbed her husband again, but the searing heat was too great.
Oblivious, Walter's lurching and rambling maintained its steady rhythm.
Salma's heart pounded in her ears. Gagging on the pungent smoke and fetid meat smell, she shuffled closer to hear what he was saying. There was a popping noise as Walter's scalp blistered. She flinched but leaned nearer. Through scalding tears, she sobbed, "What is it my love? What are you saying?"
She frowned and craned her burning neck into the furnace.
And then she heard.
"Three sixes summoned Him… Three sixes summoned Him…Three sixes summoned Him…."