The Devil You Know
by Dan Dillard
The thud was deafening. The sudden stop worse, but the seatbelt held and her airbag had deployed as engineered. It left Elerie covered in shattered bits of glass and debris. There were scratches on her bare arms and face. She checked them over absently, as if she were looking through a rack of discount clothing. Shock had rendered her oblivious to the severity of the wreck. Unaware of where she was for a few hazy moments. Most of all, she was unaware that her husband, Todd, was dead in the driver's seat.
The Crawfords had been out to dinner, but hadn't been drinking. They hadn't been fighting. They had been doing everything the right way. Still, they sat—one dead, one alive—on a back road they'd each driven hundreds of times. Todd had smiled at her, told her how beautiful she was and how much he loved her only ten minutes ago. He would never speak again.
She looked at the spider-webbed bit of windshield that was still in place, the beautiful way the crescent moon gleamed in blue off of the breaks in the glass, like facets of a diamond. Then a breeze blew through the broken car and the cold air woke her from her daze.
Elerie's breathing and heartbeat quickened. Reality gripped her on that chilly autumn evening and she screamed when she turned her head to see Todd's remains. His jaw dislocated in the most unnatural way, cheeks torn along the tooth-line like they'd been perforated. His chest was caved in, crushed by the steering column, and she couldn't tell where mechanical parts ended and her husband began.
Her seatbelt clicked open, which was surprising given the shape of the vehicle. She'd expected a struggle to get to him. She'd felt frantic and thought she would be stuck in that car. Her initial need was to get to him, to fix his broken parts, to save him. She touched his head tenderly and it slumped to the opposite side, wobbling like it was on a loose hinge. Elerie screamed again. Todd was destined to be scraped out of that car and buried in a closed casket.
Something outside the crushed SUV shifted, then it wailed in pain. What had they hit? Elerie stifled her sobs and held herself silent, staring back through the hole in the windshield. The sound came again. Not an animal as she'd first thought. It sounded like a human voice. She became frantic again. One last glance at Todd's torn face, his cyborg-like appearance, the fluids from the car and from his body mixing on the plastic and metal, and she popped the door open.
"Hello?" she called in a timid voice.
"Ohhhhh," the voice moaned.
She stood carefully, testing her legs. They wobbled, but they worked. She traced her hand along the front fender and the hood of the car, surveying its state. The bumper and hood hand been creased as if they'd struck a concrete piling. Not a man. Yet there were no trees along that road, only cornfields. It would've taken much more than a stalk of corn. There were torn bits of meat in the wreckage, black smears of what she assumed was blood on the silver paint. There were no other vehicles she could see. Only a pile of darkness some twenty yards away in the darkness.
"Be still. We've been in an accident. I'll call for help," she said.
The body moved, only slightly, shifting on the pavement. Elerie tried to dial her phone as she walked toward the man. The closer she got, the harder it became to comprehend. Her eyes fixated on the body, and fumbled the cell phone. It dropped to the ground with a clinking sound and she regarded it no more.
It was covered in hair, fur perhaps, and was wet with blood. The arm she could see was intact, but it looked to her like the other arm was at best dislocated. She took another few steps and saw one leg bent the wrong way. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that this fact was intentional. The leg was hinged opposite of ours, like a dog… or a goat.
Cold washed over her. A cold like she'd not felt. The way a rain chills you to the bone when the temperature teases freezing, but never quite gets there. She called to it again.
"Can you hear me? Hello? We've wrecked our car. I think my husband is dead. Are you alright? Can you walk?"
The creature rolled to its back, showing a face she hadn't expected. A beautiful face, elongated and with an animal's nose. Black horns curled backward from the broad forehead and tusk-like teeth protruded from the lower jaw like the underbite of a bulldog. The skin was dark and the muscles on the being's chest and abdomen were impressive, although there was a massive wound in between the nipples. His size was intimidating, possibly eight or even nine feet in height.
"I hear you," it groaned. "I wish you'd stop talking.
Elerie was mesmerized by the creature, the fact that it could speak. Nothing about it looked like something that could speak. It was an image from a movie, from a nightmare, but there was beauty there—like she had never experienced. She was at once scared, repulsed and aroused.
"I'm sorry," she said.
"Don't be. Just don't speak. It… hurts."
She took another step closer and felt her heart sink.
"Are you…?" she asked, unsure of what she was thinking. Her mind was clouded, but she didn't know if it was from the wreck, the shock, the carnage she'd witnessed, or the monster laying in front of her.
"I am," it said.
"Then, how can you be…"
"Injured? Dumb human luck. Same way most things of importance happen. Dumb human luck."
"Will you die?" she asked.
The creature coughed, blinking black, slit eyes. "Yes."
"Then what?" she asked.
"End of the world. At least the recognizable world."
It's words choked, sputtering out like air from a garden hose. "He prevails."
She looks up at the sky, the stars and the crescent moon seem slightly brighter for the moment.
"That's wonderful," she said, smiling blankly at the sky.
"Yes," it said, then laughed a deep laugh. "Light, love and all that. No competition. No surprise. No enjoyment. You might as well be a plant."
She looks back at the beautiful monster, surprise in her eyes and takes another step toward him.
"I don't understand."
"No, you don't. Prayer upon prayer for centuries have asked to do what you have done. None taking into account the truth."
"What is the truth?"
"The truth is, you will never know," it said.
Then the creature's eyes sunk into its head. The flesh pulled tight, splitting and peeling away from its bones and floating into the breeze. Within moments, there was only a pile of dust. Elerie felt her thoughts escaping her, the world escaping her. Everything softened into a comforting light. Comforting at first, then lacking any qualities at all. Then nothing at all.