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May 17, 2012 / Daniel

Bleeding Cool: A Showdown with Xenth

[2368 words, rated R]

Arthur was compelled to count it out once again.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14. Always right. Always f-, fourteen,” and backwards to be sure, “14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. One. One to fourt-, fourteen, fourteen to one. All good. All fourteen. All one. Did you hear me? DID YOU HEAR ME? I SAID ALL FOURTEEN! EVERY LAST O-, ONE OF Y-, YOU!”

Fourteen positions in a circle on the floor, carved into the wood, chipped away over weeks of work, handmade, quite literally. According to the book, it had to be done this way, or it wouldn’t be effective. Some jobs just cannot abide shortcuts.

So, as the book instructed, he had wrapped his finger off to let it die. He’d picked the ring finger of his right hand for this, in case he ever marries, he remembered thinking, that would be the finger he’d need the least. So he tied it off and let it die.

Once it was far enough gone, he went about the repulsive work of removing the dead finger and boiling it down to remove everything from the two bones he’d gotten free. The larger of the two he scrubbed on a rock until it was sharp enough to chip away bits of wood. Having tied the sharpened bone to a pencil with thick rubber bands, he was able to carve out the full design with fourteen positions.

“You and all your thirteen hounds, Xenth! DO YOU HEAR ME, XENTH? DO YOU SEE ME COMPLETING THIS? I bet it pisses you…” Arthur was gripped by some shapeless power that distracted him for a moment. He shook it off again. “There you are, you bastard. There you are. COME AT ME, YOU FUCK. Come at me, and watch as I finish this. Of all the things, you can’t distract me from this. Not this time, and never again.”

He fell into a chair in the corner and lifted a lumpy pillowcase that had been resting next to the chair. He opened it and looked inside. He was compelled to count them all out again. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14”, fourteen little clear plastic bags with one red dot inked on each. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14”, fourteen bags with two red dots inked on each. “1, 2, and 3”, three bags with no markings at all. “3, 2, 1”, “14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1,” “14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6,” he hesitated a moment, shook it off and continued, “5, 4, 3, 2, and 1.” All there.

The inked dots were all that distinguished one bag of stuff from the next. They were all clear bags, and all full of a gray-black powder that looked like powdered pencil graphite. Arthur held one of the un-inked bags up, gazed at it.

“What do you taste like, little robots, little machines?” he smelled deeply at the plastic, “If I breathe you, would you live in my blood?”

It had taken Arthur months studying the book enough to have summoned Xenth’s dogs in the first place, and months more studying how to send them back. It took even longer to find the nanopunks streetside that knew enough to put this together, and to get their hands on all the ingredients to do it. He was dedicated to his task; a man obsessed.

Arthur put the bag back into the pillowcase and set it aside, stood up, and went into the kitchen.

“I ALMOST HAVE EVERYTHING I NEED, XENTH. You’re losing this one, pal.”

On the kitchen table was a small paperboard box full of large-gauge barbed fishing hooks. He carefully pinched one from the box, and placed it on the table next to a 2×4 plank of wood. The plank was stained with reddish brown dried blood, and had a carved end that fit his hand in a custom grip.

Arthur closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He exhaled. He inhaled again. “Okay, okay, okay. Do this, do this,” he exhaled. He opened his eyes and gripped the board with both hands, dropping the stained end to knee level. “Okay. Okay. Okay.”

He clenched his teeth and yelled.

“oooooOOOOKAYyyyyAAAAGGGH!!” Arthur swung the board upward as fast and as hard as he could manage, and bashed himself on the nose with the full force of the swing.

His vision popped white when the board connected and flushed into sparkly orange and yellow explosions while the pain spidered out across his face. He dropped the board and it clattered to the floor. His sinuses filled with a warm fullness, and he rushed to the upper freezer part of his refrigerator.

Arthur took out an ice tray, which was full of frozen red cubes except for one vacant space where a cube had not yet been made. He held this under his nose and let the space fill with his blood. He watched the smooth dribble cross-eyed as the cube space filled, and he quoted from the book, “…bait of the blood from a man given to his task.”


He got the hook from the table, and placed it into the wet cube, and positioned it to match the hooks in all the other cubes.

Arthur was able to get the tray back into the freezer and close it off before he passed out.

When he woke, he was on the floor, unsurprisingly covered in dried blood around his face and neck and hands. He double-checked the freezer first; all fourteen cubes were done, made and ready. All set.

With that reassurance, he took the time to clean up, pick the blood from under his fingernails and scrub the floor and table. The work with the board was complete, so he washed that up, too.

He stepped over to a wall mirror and looked at himself, examined his partial profile, tested the bridge of his nose with an index finger on each side. It crunched around quite a bit, but probably no new breaks deeper than what he had already inflicted. He looked at his growing beard, the weird fray of his hair, but had a hard time looking into his own eyes; he felt like a stranger to himself. He forced himself to look at himself. How long had this been going on; at least a few years now, worse and worse; before he lost his job and started pulling from savings, before friends stopped calling. Over his shoulder, he could see the lumpy pillowcase next to the chair…

“ENOUGH, XENTH.” he pulled himself away from the mirror. “Enough distraction. We have business. You and I.”

Arthur grabbed the bag and went to the carved circle and started laying out the little bags of powder.

“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.” He spoke the numbers as he placed all the bags with one inked dot were laid out, one at each carved position. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.” All the bags with two dots were laid, stacked on top of the first: fourteen piles of two. In the center, he placed all three unmarked bags in a stack, one on the other. He rushed over to a drawer next to the oven and grabbed a hammer and a fist full of nails from a box, then put the hammer and one nail in the circle, and put one nail with each of the fourteen piles.

“Haven’t stopped me yet, Xenth. There’s still time, brother! Still time to interrupt me, yet again!” he taunted.

“Now it gets tight.” Arthur muttered. Now everything is on the clock, everything has a lifespan, and it’s all got to mesh like gears, or this clock won’t tick.

Arthur looked around, double-checking all the pieces, re-counting all the components. Everything looked ready. He started.

He went to the center of the circle, taking hammer and the one nail, and pounded the spike through the stack of three bags, both pinning them together on the floor, and piercing them all so they begin to mix. The pile began to churn and buzz and spill out and fold over, kneading itself to life.

At the fridge, he pulled out the ice tray of blood cubes, and twisted it to free the cubes as he rushed back to the circle.

Starting at the first carved position, he pulled out a cube by the hook eye, placed it next to the pair of stacked bags, then drove a nail into those bags. He moved to the next position and repeated.

The center of the circle churned and formed itself into a small geometric box or cage or skeleton of some deliberate shape, which had individual formations on each of the side shafts that seemed to be some sort of plug or connector; fourteen of them.

At the first carved position, the pair of bags melded together and began to push out two tendrils. One tendril grew toward the center of the circle; the other grew opposite and outward from the circle.

So far, evidently, miraculously, the nanotech was performing as promised by the people Arthur had gotten it from; forming the component pieces as planned, as programmed.

Once he’d completed the circuit of fourteen positions, he was back to the first. He took the outer-reaching tendril and fed it through the eye of the hook in the frozen blood cube, and folded it back upon itself. The tendril wove into itself, forming a permanent adhesion. This he did the full round of the circle, for the remaining fourteen positions.

Once done, he’d noticed that the geometric skeletal basket in the center had fully formed, and was clamping onto connections from all the tendrils, each connecting to its own connection plug in a way that appeared to be magnetic somehow. Again: as planned, by the programming.

“That’s the shit.” He was impressed; it seemed that for once, he had trusted in the right kind of people.

Each of the fourteen piles had finished forming into piles of strands their full length, and the setup was complete.

Arthur retrieved the book from the kitchen counter, between the regular cookbooks, and fell to his knees near the circle, opening the book up to a page marked by a clump of his own hair.

The language written in the book was one that he’d learned by reading, but was mostly unsure if he was pronouncing everything exactly correctly. It stood to reason, though, that his summoning of Xenth, the Omnitherian god of Distraction, had worked well enough, as he’d been plagued by Xenth and his pack of dogs since his experimental run through the Incantation of Calling. He was confident that his recitation skill was well enough to suit.

He read loudly and carefully, with purpose and intent. He fought at every breath to not stutter, to not waste his effort, to not succomb to the call of distraction; the power of Xenth himself.

The recitation took several minutes of time, and Arthur fully lost himself into the text, entirely focused on the purpose at hand. As he concluded, the portal, in fact, opened.

He closed the book and set it aside while the floor in the center of the circle melted away from the idea of reality. It went blurry and dreamy, spilled out with fireflies of light riding long sweeping tracers. The nanotech-formed cage began to float above the portal and pulse up and down as if breathing.

Arthur could hear, near his head, behind his right ear, the panting of a curious dog, beginning to whine. Turning, he saw no such dog, but he could hear another, and another. He had the attention of Xenth’s hounds.

He stood and grabbed the first of the frozen, hooked, blood cubes, and threw it hard toward the area where he had heard the panting dog. He did this with all fourteen cubes, laying bait for the entire pack of hounds, and one for Xenth himself.

One by one, the strands went taught against their anchors at the cage hovering above the portal. Once all fourteen strands went fully tight, they began to vibrate each their own tone, musical, but not in any scale or key that was natural to the human ear. All fourteen tones together harmonized a horrific storm of sound, which fed the portal.

The portal yawned powerfully, and inhaled the skeletal cage, swallowing it into itself to a vanishing depth. The howl of the thing was nearly deafening.

Each of the dogs had its turn to yelp and to be dragged toward the portal, slowly pulling out of Arthur’s reality, hooked in the jaw by the blood bait Arthur had crafted.

He counted all the hounds as they flushed into the portal. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen.” Every hound accounted for.

Only one tendril remained.

“IT’S DOWN TO YOU, XENTH.” Arthur plucked the tendril like a guitar string, just to hear its sickening song.

The portal strained against the power of an Omnitherian God, but the fibres in the nano cable were holding.

Xenth emerged.

He was unlike what Arthur had pictured; composed more of memory-images and thought-bits than of physical stuff, and it looked like he was hooked through the fist, like Xenth had grabbed the bait with his hand, unlike mouthing at it like all the hounds had.

The arm of Xenth slowly appeared, being pulled toward the vortex of the portal.


It crossed Arthur’s mind how long the portal would remain open, and wondered how long the cables would remain in tact.

As if he caused it, the nanotech tendril swirled into smoke, and the portal choked closed.

“D-, damn it.”


Leave a Comment
  1. Ann Ritter / May 19 2012 10:12 am

    Redneck version of “…this clock won’t tick” is “…that dog won’t hunt.” Funny.

    It may be because I’m not historically much of a reader, but in every story that I’ve read so far, I find ways that I identify with elements of it. I’m so distractable that I have to put tissue in my ears in order to keep out some of the sound of the TV whenever I read. But I’m not THAT intimidated by it.

    Seems that the ending bears out the old proverb, “Pride goeth before a fall.”

    Good story.

    • Daniel / May 21 2012 9:49 am

      Thanks! This is a creepy one. One of those that rests between the “Inland” stories and the “Those Before Us” pantheon.

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