Preachers don’t stay long in the town of Ailey.
They come in often enough, shirts wrinkled from travel but cleaner than we can ever get ours. Hellfire drips from their tongues. Stray from drink, from women, from money, lest you meet the smiling man with hooves. He’ll turn you with bright words, the clean men say.
We don’t listen much to the preacher men. Our butcher knows how to cut a pig, the midwife the way to bring babies whole into this world, and the robbers on the east road know how to take. Men should know their professions, but Ailey’s never known preacher who’s met the devil.
Our devil doesn’t wait at our crossroads the way he seems to haunt others. No, Ailey knows where the devil waits. He’s in the man who runs to the road with a wife and newborn at home. He’s in the woman who eyes her baby’s cradle after her man has gone and left. He’s in the child who thrashes the dog because there’s no one else to beat.
He keeps until deep winter to claw the door, gnawing on the bandit’s stomach and speaking lonely poison to young hearts. The devil informs them their due, and waits patient as time for them to take it.
In Ailey, we know the devil, he hollers and scratches and promises. You do your best to pay him no mind and continue your business as you’re able.
Old sideways eyes has been around since man was made, no church man is gonna get rid of him with clean shirts and a sermon. The preachers learn that quick in Ailey. Sooner more than later, the devil starts murmuring in their ears too and they move their hellfire elsewhere. Some men can’t stomach meeting the devil, too scared they’ll start listening to him.