The Devil Behind You was originally published in a crime magazine, the May 1979 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. The magazine started in 1941 and has running strong as a monthly until 2016, starting in 2017 they’ve cut back to a bi-monthly magazine. That is 75 years running!
Sure, this story is technically a crime story, but it proves how some work can straddle the line. The Devil Behind You is the story of a boy hiding out in the woods to skip church. This has become a ritual to him, his mom drops him off, he waits for her to leave, and then hangs out in the woods until the service is over, and she comes back to pick him up. Moore paints a picture of a very religious community that is cold and judgemental, hence the boy avoiding church service. On the particular day of the story the boy hears a voice behind him and turns to see a man dressed as a prison guard. Menace oozes out of the stranger and the boy asks if he’s the devil. The stranger replies “You figure that out all by yourself in a minute of seeing me when it’s taken others quite some time before they called me by that name.”
Through threats of bringing the boy to hell with him, physically threatening, and smooth talking, the stranger convinces the boy to steal car keys from the empty choir room for him. Of course the stranger keeps asking the kid for one more favor, just one more, and then he’ll let him go. The kid never gets away.
This mystery story falls in line with some of the slasher novels that were coming out in the 70s and 80s. It’s basically the tale of an escaped serial killer, and the good guys don’t win. The ‘devil’ in this story was incredibly creepy, and unsettling. When the end came all hope was crushed. The story is horrifying and disturbing.
…and that is it for The Year’s Best Horror Stories Series VIII. It’s been a fun project and I hope I was able to peak your interest in the collection, share some fun facts with you, and give a taste of Wagner’s wide ranging taste in horror. Thanks for reading.
-Jordan Douglas Smith