The Devil You Know
Mahani wiped her eyes on the hem of her shirt.
“The, uh,” she sniffed, “The demon I brought through. I mean. Sorry. The, uh, being?”
“Breep” assured Glig.
“The being. It was a Duneweller. That’s what you call them right?” She looked at him, wet streaks and red eyes. Glig nodded. Dunewellers were shy, simple creatures. They lived in the desert, burrowing down to deep water, storing it in fatty lumps on their flanks, turning it into milk for their young hiding in the rocks.
“It was so big. I never thought...” She chewed her lip, angry now. “It looked so scared. So lost. Crashing around the house, smashing its head against the flagstone, looking for a way out, back to the sand. It looked, it looked just like you did when you fell through the chimney, Glig. And I couldn’t do anything. I still hadn’t…” She took a deep breath. “ I still hadn’t learned how to send anything back, so I just opened the door and let it out into the town. And then the dogs…”
She stopped. She didn’t breath. She didn’t cry. She just fell into the memory for awhile.
“They were just doing their job. A strange creature was in their town, you know? They were too loyal, too brave for their own good.”
She rubbed her face with her hands. “It killed them all. Every single one. By the time the townsfolk had nets around it, it was nearly dead, too. But that didn’t matter. They wanted it to suffer. They built a pyre around it, tried to burn it alive. I tried to tell them it wouldn’t work. I tried to tell them a lot of things. But I was the enemy, too. They all knew I did this. They couldn’t kill me. Jude was almost ninety and I was the only healer they had, you know? But when the fire didn’t work, and they decided to just,” she shook her head bitterly, “To just cover it in lye instead, they made sure I watched.”
She looked at Glig, “I loved those dogs. I loved those dogs more than any of them. But that Duneweller was just scared, defending itself, right? It didn’t do anything wrong. And neither did the dogs. Hell, I can even understand why the town did what they did. It was a demon, right? And I was just… ” She looked back down at her stained hands. “I was just naive.”
“All that suffering, from almost nothing. From some misunderstanding, from a little mistake I can’t fix.” Her mouth twisted again, “I guess that’s why… when I saw you…”
She tried to shield her face again, but Glig stopped her. He looked her in the eyes, watched them welling up with tears, then lowered his head and scooped some mashed root into the end of his tubular mouth. He looked up at her, mouth full.
Mahani laughed, threw her arms around him, and cried into his shoulder until the fire burned down.