Just a Little Bête Noire... by Ehren William Borg

I was splattered on the walls and soaked into the carpet. I felt like a worm in a compost heap in hell. Everything was Slayer red and there was someone standing over me wearing a goat mask, and there was a kind of stygian fog coming off of the mask. There was no way to get a handle on the visage – it morphed evilly, by turns mocking, sensual, atramentous.

A raven swooped down from an invisible rafter, descending like a sheet of cold rain, and tore at the Mask's neck with its shocking claws and black beak. I remember somewhere in the room an old gramophone was playing; I could hear something sad and sweet and a little bit sentimental, and I wanted to just listen closely to the melody and contentedly sip my highball, with necktie loosened and eyes half-closed, but the screeching of the bird engulfed everything. I couldn't think. It was getting late and I had been watching the Mask's flailing arms windmill hopelessly around for most of happy hour. I could see that he was bleeding. I sensed that soon the Mask would be overcome by the raven's relentless assault, and I thought for a moment that I might help him, that I would chase off the bird and save his wretched life, and he would be ever grateful and indebted to me, and I would finally come to know, to really know, who it was behind that ghastly mask. I tried to rise, but to no avail. I was fused to the floor, in chancery, and the sinister fog that wafted from the mask began to get thicker, and I watched it spread languidly through the room like dry ice sublimating in a Texas abattoir. I was enveloped. I heard the guttural scream of the man in the Mask and I clawed at the fog until there was blood all over me. I could taste it in my mouth.

When gradually I came to, I found myself in post-op, sprawled out in a stiff hospital bed with a pile of bandages around my head that would make Ramses' mummy jealous. I noticed that my arm was resting on a sweat-soaked hardcover copy of Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, along with most of a fifth of good bourbon. I was going for the booze when I saw that the book was a first edition, and that it wasn't in English. That baby was in the original tongue – untranslated. That's when it hit me.

Double-crossed by a Russian Existentialist gangster. I got suckered, but good. Don't get me wrong: Yuri could define the hell out of the nature of his own existence, but you damn well couldn't trust him with your sister, if you know what I mean. And he was always muttering nervously to himself that “the stone need not fight for being what it is,” and reminding you that “Man has no nature,” and spouting about Dostoyevsky and some wiseguys named Shestov and Berdyaev and Sartre... real pithy sonofabitch. And what he failed to tell me after I had paid up: the “plastic surgery” simply washes off in the sink, revealing a grinning jack-in-the-box mug that shoots at you with an unknown and unseen weapon. It shrinks you down and hollows you out, scrapes your insides, and leaves you empty as a jack-o-lantern inside.

In a moment of sudden rage, I tossed my pockets in hopes of finding a sap or a blade or a heater, but all I came up with were two lousy nickels and a stick of gum married to a ticket stub. Nothing even potentially lethal in there. After a spell, the rage gave way to a weary, grudging acceptance. Hell, I didn't even know where the sonofabitch was anyway. Probably in fucking Minsk by now. Anyway, my head hurt like hell, my legs were more or less useless, and my throat felt squeezed and torrid.

“Never mind the Russian,” I heard the whiskey bottle whisper, and its voice was voluptuous, almost cloying. “I need you right now.”

And boy oh boy, right then, it was damn nice to feel needed.


Mr. Borg was lost at sea in 1936 and soon realized that the hollows of his bones were filled with ball bearings, all straining toward a powerful but unseen magnet. Later, he became a plastic Ronald McDonald head and ruled the land with absolute authority until he was driven from the land by a mob of angry janitors.