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Hell by Jennifer B

Word count 2,261

A Reverend Root Story

Reverend Timothy Root was proud of himself. He’d stood up to the notorious Johnny Madrid in town today, running the vile man from his community. He’d received congratulations from all the citizenry from pats on the back to offers of money and other adorations. As he readied for bed that evening he smiled smugly at his achievement.

Finally, after several weeks of preaching the sins of that hated man, Green River was rid of him. He sighed satisfactorily.

His wife Elizabeth softly patted him on the shoulder, gently reminding him that he should get to bed soon—he had services in the morning. Root frowned. He didn’t want this day to end. It was his day to bask in glory and he’d done so, but he wanted more. This felt so good, so gratifying, he wanted more of it.

What else could he rid the town of?

He focused on one scourge after another but none had the glamour of the monstrous Johnny Madrid. Madrid, with his terrifying reputation, had been the prefect target. None other would be so grand. His eyes flew open at that thought. What if his first achievement would also be his greatest? What if all he had left was sloppy seconds, lower-rate problems, or worse—nothing at all? What then? 

He would be reduced to a laughingstock. “There goes the man who rid us of Johnny Madrid,” they would say, followed by a “and look what he’s done lately—harassed men with long hair? Focused on women’s fashions? What a joke!” His self-satisfaction turned to self-humiliation. 

Root stepped away from the mirror, not liking what he saw. No, that would not be his destiny. He was fated for greater things. He would not be reduced to such inconsequentials like that. Madrid was his first achievement; it would not be his greatest, he vowed.

He padded to his small office where he looked at the papers on his desk: his notes for his sermon in the morning. They detailed his deed, and with near-perfect humility, cited the involvement of others: Buck Addison, Mack Conner and many well-respected citizens who had taken part, no matter how small, in ridding the town of Madrid.

Yes, it was displayed magnanimity, and excellently so, making him even more heroic. The humble preacher who rose to the calling of his people. It was perfect. Never mind it was full of half-truths and fudged quite a bit on the facts. He knew he could deliver it and they would not only believe it, but embrace his words as Gospel.


Sunday services began in the usual way, with singing, but Root had selected hymns of glory, of battle to set the mood. When the music ended, he stepped up to the pulpit.

There he saw each pew filled, with more standing in the back. Yes, just about the entire community was here. He noted with satisfaction that the Lancer family had been displaced. Their normal pew—second from the front on the right—was filled with small children. The Lancers were left on the sidelines, standing even, far in the back. That was where they belonged.

“My fellow Green River citizens,” he began. His voice boomed, his smile beamed. He was in his element, his adoration continued. Yes, it was perfect. He was perfect. No one could touch him now. “We gather today to celebrate the end of an era. The end of rule by the gun. The end of Johnny Madrid in our community. 

“He is gone!” the minister continued, his voice ringing louder. “Ran out of town! Out of the San Joaquin and back to the squalor of Mexico where he belongs. You have done this, my friends. You called upon me to assist you and we, together, along with Almighty God’s mercy, have rid this town of that vile scum who dares call himself a human being. We have been delivered!”

His voice rang through the small building, echoing off the walls, causing spontaneous interruptions of “Amen!” from the congregation. He closed his eyes and basked in their glory once more.

“Just what’s this you’ve done, preacher-man?”

The small soft drawl managed to override all the glorious shouts of the people. The congregation fell silent at once. Root opened his eyes and saw Johnny Madrid standing quietly in the center aisle. He startled.

Madrid was dressed as usual, in a faded red shirt, the hated concho pants and yes, he wore his gun, low on his hip, his right hand barely brushing against the handle of that specially-made Colt. Root lifted his eyes to the gunfighter’s face. Madrid was smiling. Not broadly as he himself had been moments before. No. This man’s smile was inscrutable, barely there, but it had the impact of a thousand bricks. Root was floored.

“Wha..what brings you here?” was all he could say.

Madrid took a step forward, a small, sensuous step, slightly swinging his hips. Root instinctively fell back, to maintain the same distance. “That all you can say, Reverend? You a man of such eloquence? What brings me here? Why you, of course. I’m here, in this church, because of you.”

The congregation gasped. Root hadn’t ran Madrid off, he’d invited him into their church! Their sanctuary! 

“I most certainly did not!” Root replied indignantly. He squared his shoulders.

“Yep, preacher-man, you did. You see, when you thought you ran me off, well, that was the invitation. Engraved, even. On fine parchment paper. And now I’m here. I’m callin’ you out, preacher-man.” He reached around his back and retrieved the pistol that had been stuck in his belt. He tossed it toward the minister. “Catch!” he smiled, his eyes sparkling menacingly.

Root’s hands instinctively drew together and grasped the weapon as it arced down. Gasps from the women made him realize what he’d done. He dropped the gun with a thud. “No,” he lifted his head defiantly. “I will not stoop to your level. And most certainly not in this house of God.”

Madrid smiled again, broader this time, and shrugged. “Then you will die a coward. Everyone knows that when someone challenges you to a gunfight you have two choices, preacher-man. You can fight like a man or die like a coward.” He turned toward the crowd. “See your ‘savior’ now? Does he look so grand now?”

Root glanced around nervously. He saw his people nod in agreement. Madrid was turning them around! His crowning sermon, his great achievement, was slipping from his fingers. “No!” he shouted. “I will fight you. I am not afraid.” He reached for the dropped Colt and stood proudly. “I have God on my side.”

If Root was expecting Madrid to cower in fear, he was sorely disappointed. Madrid only showed a bored disinterested look, as if God was not impressive enough to faze him. Root swallowed. What kind of man was this who didn’t fear God? What had he done, accepting this devil’s challenge? But he’d had no choice. He could not be branded a coward!

“Johnny, this isn’t fair.” It was Scott Lancer. He’d maneuvered his way through the crowd and now stood behind Johnny Madrid. “The minister is no gunman. You’ll cut him down in seconds.”

“Will I?” Madrid parried, his smile returning. “It seems to me that if anyone’s getting the short end of the deal, it’s me. After all, he has God on his side. All I have is my Colt.”

Scott frowned. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

Johnny nodded. “That I do, Scott. That I do.” He raised a hand and pointed into the air. “I tell you what. I’ll turn around.” He faced the back of the church, away from the minister. “Surely this is fair, is it not?”

“You’re going to draw on him and not even look?” Scott asked incredulously.

“Yes!” Root shouted. “I agree to that.” He grinned broadly. 

Johnny shrugged. “It’s a deal then. Step aside, Scott.”

Scott shook his head slowly as he backed away. His brother would die today, he was sure. And there would be no living with Reverend Root after this moment. The man would be positively crowing after gunning Johnny down.

The congregation slid apart, making even more room for the two combatants. Somewhere a woman screamed. The silence. Complete and total silence. 

“Whenever you and God are ready, preacher-man,” Johnny drawled. His back still faced the minister.

Having had enough, Root raised the Colt. At the same time, Johnny spun around, drawing his Colt as he turned, and fanned the hammer. His shot rang true. Root fell back, having dropped his own weapon, and clutched his chest, blood spurting through his fingers. He hit the floor and landed square on his back, the life leaving his eyes. The last thing he saw was a bright light fading into the distance. He couldn’t get to it.


Root couldn’t believe it. He’d lost. Where was God? Had he been deserted in his time of need? He felt himself floating through—through what? What was this atmosphere? Clouds? Mist? No, it wasn’t anything earthly. He couldn’t name it.

“Reverend Timothy Root,” came a booming voice. Root turned his head. Head? Did he have a head? An image appeared, but like the atmosphere, the minister couldn’t describe it. He could only feel it. It felt like it was an old man, but a wise man. He felt fear, too. Not the man’s fear, though. His own. As if something terrible was about to happen.

“You are here for your judgement, Reverend,” the voice continued. It still appeared to boom, but Root now realized—realized? He didn’t have a mind—that the voice was very small indeed. But it demanded his attention.

Root would have swallowed in fear had he had a throat. Instead he waited. Waited for that small but powerful voice. “You are dead, Timothy Root,” the voice said needlessly. 

Well, duh, thought Root. Even I had figured that out. 

“Dead by the hand of a superior,” the voice continued.

Now wait a cotton-pickin’ minute, Root thought. Johnny Madrid is not superior to me. He’s evil. He’s a murderer. He’s…

“Better,” filled in the voice. “That’s right. He’s better than you were.”

No! He is a sinner!

“Yes, he is a sinner. But his sins are not as great as yours.”

Mine? I don’t have sins! I am a man of God.

The voice laughed. “You were a man, and that’s all. You claimed to be a man of God. You even lauded the scriptures, but you twisted them toward your own selfish desires. You made God look small and petty. Your arrogance abounded.”

I am not arrogant! Johnny Madrid is arrogant! Did you see how he turned away from me and still shot me?

“That is not arrogance, Timothy Root. That is confidence. And, believe it or not, it displayed humility.”

Humility? Johnny Madrid?

“Yes. By turning around he turned the tables. He had almost no chance against you. He couldn’t even see you. Yet he was sure he would defeat you. And he did.”

But why? Why was he able to kill me? I didn’t even get off a shot.

“Quite simply, Reverend Timothy Root. Johnny Madrid had God on his side.”


“Noooooo!” Root screamed. He tossed and turned, fighting the feeling of falling down, down into…..


“My heavens!” Elizabeth Root exclaimed. “Why Timothy, dear. You fell out of bed.” She reached to the floor. Her husband lay shaking, his face gaunt, his body covered in sweat. “Are you ill?” She felt his head. It was warm. “You’re feverish.”

She stopped. Root hadn’t stopped shivering, hadn’t even acknowledged she was there. “Timothy? Are you there?” She began to panic. “Timothy! You stop this right now. Wake up! Wake up, I tell you!”

Elizabeth leapt out of bed and kneeled beside her stricken husband, shaking him. He didn’t move. His eyes stared at the ceiling, fear in them. She leaned over his body, listening to his chest. His heart beat triple time. Gasping, she sat up. Her husband’s body began to convulse wildly. She stood and backed away, fearful. What was happening? 

Root’s body continued its thrashing. He said not a word, but his mouth moved jerkily, as if he was trying to speak. She saw a stain grow on his night clothing as she realized what was happening. Then her husband lay still, still as night. His eyes still open, facing up, until they glazed over. She sobbed and fell over his now-still body. “No, no, no,” she cried. “No, God. Please don’t take him. I’ll do anything. Please,” she begged. Tears stained his nightshirt.

Root gasped a long ragged breath. He sat upright, knocking Elizabeth off his body. “What? Where am I?” he said, his voice raspy.

“You were in hell,” came a soft masculine drawl. “And now you’re back, preacher-man.” 

October 2012


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