CROSSROADS #6 The Mission of Santo Uriel

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Westerns  |  House: Booksie Classic

Can the most vile, stone cold killer without soul or conscience stumble upon redemption even when he's not seeking it? Hoyt Maddox, a man with no remorse or regret, faces such a circumstance when he comes across the remote Mission of St. Uriel. Is it another embassy of faith for lost souls or, as Hoyt Maddox believes, is there more to it? He aims to find out, but at what price?

Welcome to Texas, the mid-1880s, and a tiny incidental desert hamlet named Crossroads. It's a little known, seldom spoken of frontier town, snugly nestled beneath majestic mountains along the southwestern border between Texas and Mexico, and morally poised between virtue and corruption. It's a mundane community barely on the maps of this vast region, a unique shade of gray in this harsh black and white world. It's a tiny society unto itself where the sublime sometimes means the surreal. It is a place where wandering souls come for a variety of reasons. For some it's to seek a better life away from the increasingly modernized mayhem of progress. For some it's a place to hang their hat before moving on to their destiny. Still for others it's a sanctuary from the past, a last chance of sorts to start anew.

So welcome, my friend.  Welcome to a town where last chances meet new beginnings.  Welcome to a town on the edge of the American spirit, where the unimaginable is cultivated from the seeds of the human condition. Welcome to a town where the past and the present roll the dice with the future hanging in the balance.

Welcome... to Crossroads.

II=====II=====II=====II====== II=====II=======II======II

CROSSROADS

“The Mission of Santo Uriel”

By LW Thunder

II=====II=====II * PROLOGUE * II=====II=====II

What makes a man evil? Is it the deeds he does during his short sojourn here on Earth? Is it the way his mind plans and schemes that deems him malevolent? Perhaps it's his predilection towards the choices he makes in his life which always involve wicked consequences? Is it a genetic code in some men's DNA which was corrupted somewhere in time and evolution? Indeed, what is it that makes a man evil? What causes a man to make decisions and execute actions so heinous that they are shunned even by their fellow malcontents?

These are but mere questions which, upon further examination, may never be answered for when a man sets out in this life he faces many tough decisions, each with a consequence either purposeful or unintentional. Most make the best decision for a favorable outcome even if not in their favor.

Some men make hasty judgments and cling to regret and remorse in the aftermath of those choices. Then there are those whose moral compass is just a little left of center. Those individuals who seem to lack the sense of right and wrong God has harnessed the rest of us with and make their selections based solely on one constant factor: self-gratification.

One such man is Hoyt Maddox.

He is an outlaw of the highest order and bears no tolerance for laws and rules. He is a godless man with a black soul stained from years of killing and debauchery that would make The Devil himself blush. His views such topics as God and religion with a concentrated contempt usually reserved for horse thieves and cardsharps. He feels that this world is nothing but an empty canvas, ready to have him paint his story in bright colors, independent and free from the constraints of a mere mortal conscience. Yes, Hoyt Maddox is most definitely an evil man and now he's on the run once more.

It's become a way of life for him over the last seventeen years of his heinous existence. During said time he has satiated his hunger by taking the lives of countless innocents in the name of greed, jealousy and just plain malice towards his fellow man. He was once described by a man as being "morally bankrupt and spiritually insolvent, just a plain wicked killer".

That man was John Wesley Hardin.

Maddox' trail of wonton carnage has cut a bloody swath from Georgia to California and the whispered tales of his despicable deeds pale in comparison to the appalling reality of his butchery. He now he finds himself drifting along the border of southwest Texas and Mexico, once again trying to outrun the long arm of the law. Today however he has wandered onto a path which will bring him into a direct penance for his crimes. It's a collision course which will see our Mr. Maddox on target to collect his ultimate remuneration for past sinful deeds and that righteous recompense will be remitted in full... right here... at Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER ONE * II=====II=====II

"I'm telling you it's him!" says Bill Longley to Marshal Rory Benson.

Now Rory's not one to tangle with before finishing his morning cup of joe but he calmly puts his mug down on his desk and grabs his gunbelt from the rack behind him.

"You were sure? I mean last month you were certain you saw Trigger Jack Crowe over a Miss Didi's, remember?" says Benson as he cinches up the belt.

"Well that fella looked just like him"

"That fella was 70 yrs old! Trigger Jack's about forty at best!"

"Yeah...well... he did have that scar down his face, didn't he?"

Benson sighs and shakes his head as he grabs his hat. He reaches back to the desk and retrieves a folded parchment, which he tucks into his breast pocket.

"Okay Bill, let's go get this killer" says Benson sarcastically as the pair leave the jail.

They walk across the street and down to Mooney's Last Chance Saloon. They pull up short at the front door. Longley peers over the swinging doors and scans the room.

"There he is! Over there in the far corner! That's him I tell ya! Right here in our town! You gotta do something Marshal!" says Longley in hysterics.

"Easy Bill, let's not go off half-cocked." says Benson as he takes a turn peeking into the barroom. His eyes find the man in question, seated at a corner table drowning himself in whiskey. He squints hard trying to recognize the man's features.

"Wait here" says Benson, his tone very businesslike as he steps thru the doors. He pauses briefly, looking around the room. He tips his hat to a lady who saunters by, enroute to another lucky customer. He glances over at his target that has now pulled his hat down over his eyes and placed his feet upon the table. His right hand hangs down at his side, invisible to Benson's stare. The marshal makes his way over to the table and stops in front of the man. There is an awkward silence which seems to get louder as each second ticks by.

"Can I help you, friend?" says the man never moving more than his lips.

Benson reaches into his breast pocket and pulls out the folded piece of parchment. He unfolds it and glances down at it then over at the stranger.

"This you?" says Benson laying the parchment on the table beside the half-empty whiskey bottle.

""Nope" says the man without as much as a twitch.

"You sure? Take a good look from under that hat and make certain, friend." says Benson with a little more base in his voice.

"I said it ain't me" says the stranger.

"How do you know? You never even looked at it"

"I know because I ain't on any wanted poster, lawdog. Now leave me to my bottle"

Benson takes up the parchment and tucks it back into his shirt pocket.

"Well then... I guess it's my mistake. Sorry to bother you, Mister...?"

"You aren't sorry yet but yer gonna be if you try proddin' me again" says the stranger as he pours whiskey into a shotglass.

"Yeah well, enjoy your stay," says Benson as he tips his hat to the man. He slowly turns away, sliding his right hand down to his sixgun as he does, keeping the maneuver from the stranger's sight. He takes two steps and then...

"One thing mister- "says Benson as he turns back to the man, slowly drawing his pistol from its holster.

BLAM!

Benson spins around and crashes to the floor. The stranger now sits at the table with his glass in his left hand and a smoking Colt .45 in his right. He pushes the brim of his hat back to reveal his steely stare. Benson is on the floor writhing in pain from a bullet wound to his right shoulder. He's lost his gun as it lies on the dusty floor a few feet from his reach. The stranger stands up flipping over the table and sending his bottle and glass to the floor. The action sends the bar's patrons scattering to the street as if the place were on fire. The man slowly walks over to Benson who is clutching his bloodstained shoulder looking up at the man in a twisted look of both anger and pain.

"You couldn't jus' walk away, could ya lawdog? Naw, guys like you... you got that piece o'tin pinned to yer chest and ya think yer the gawdamned world's judge and jury. Always gotta do the right thing." says the stranger. He kicks aside the rolling bottle of whiskey. He bends down and picks up the parchment, unfolding it as he keeps his gun trained on the fallen marshal.

"Well ya see what doin' yer job's gotten ya this time? It's gotten you killed. Fer what? All I wanted was to wash out the trail dust, get a good night's sleep an' I'd be on my way but no... you had to play the hero an' drag out that damned wanted poster. Hell, it ain't even a good likeness fer crissake!"

The man crumples the poster up and calmly drops to the floor beside Benson. The stranger then squats down so he's almost eye-to-eye with the injured marshal. Then he smiles.

"Well Mr. Lawman, all yer gonna get fer yer justice is six feet o'earth and a wooden marker that says ya died at the hands o'none other than Hoyt Maddox!"

Maddox stands back up and levels his sixgun downwards at Benson. Benson puts his hand up in front of his face bracing for the shot. Horrified faces of onlookers blot the big front window. Time seems to slow down as Maddox cocks back the hammer on his pistol.

CLICK!

The sound seems to echo throughout the empty saloon. Benson edges his way towards his own gun lying just a couple feet from his hand now. If he could just stall just a little longer...

Maddox follows Benson's path keeping pace as he sights down the bore of his six-gun. If possible, his smile seems to get wider as he stares at his prey like a cat toying with a mouse all the while both knowing the final outcome that is inevitable.

Benson is now mere inches from his gun and he gropes for it. Maddox shifts his shoulders as if trying to get a better sighting on the sprawling marshal. Benson mishandles his gun and it drops further from his position. Maddox winks as his trigger finger begins to squeeze... Benson's eyes widen in horror his hand still fumbling to find his gun...

BLAM!

Pieces of the barroom's ceiling rain down around Hoyt Maddox who covers his face from the debris. As the smoke clears, Maddox wheels around to the cause of the blast and sees saloon owner Hank Mooney standing behind the bar with an eight-gauge shotgun at the ready, a deadlock bead on the killer.

"Make no mistake, I ain't no gunhand, mister, but even at this range I'll take my chances with ol' Betsy here. Now back away from the marshal!" barks Mooney.

Maddox chuckles under his breath and shakes his head.

"Well now, barkeep... I think what we've got here is a Mexican standoff."

Benson turns to find and grab his six-gun.

"Uh-uh-uh" says Maddox wagging a scolding finger. "Now yer friend over there, he might get me with the blast from that scattergun but not b'fore I drop you where ya lay, lawdog."

"I said back away...NOW!" bellows Mooney.

"Okay, okay, easy there barkeep. Don't get twitchy with that cannon" says Maddox as he slowly begins to bring his hands up. He gradually backs away towards the side entry door, keeping both hands visible but still toting his Colt in his right hand.

"Now I think it's only fair to tell ya both that I don't usually forget a face and you two? I'm gonna enjoy planting you both in the ground, cuz I will be back... some warm summer's night when yer sittin' at the dinner table... or comin' outta church or closin' up for the night you'll turn around an' I'll be there. Mark my words, fellas... Hell itself couldn't keep me from coming back here and seein' that true" says Maddox now with his back to the door. He reaches around behind him and turns the doorknob and quickly ducks out.

"Rory! You okay?!" shouts Mooney.

The marshal quickly retrieves his six-gun, holsters it and runs to the side door. He slowly opens it wary of any gunfire that might come his way. Peeking his head out the door, he looks both ways for a sign of the retreating outlaw. With Maddox nowhere in sight Benson quickly dashes down the boardwalk, gun now drawn. As Benson approaches an alleyway suddenly Maddox on his horse dashes out knocking the wounded lawman to the ground. Benson recovers and manages to fire off a couple shots at the bandit to no avail. Benson, his right side completely covered in blood, collapses onto the dusty boardwalk. Within seconds Hank Mooney and Bill Longley are at his side.

"Let's get him over to the doc's" says Mooney.

The pair lifts the unconscious marshal up and carries him to Doc Bensen's office.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER TWO * II=====II=====II

"H'yah! H'yah!" Maddox hollers into the ear of his galloping steed. He glances behind him half-expecting to see a posse or at least the marshal hot on his trail. But there was no one there. No marshal, no barkeep, no posse. No one. After about a mile or so he slows his horse to a canter then to a walk. He takes off his hat and wipes his brow with it. Returning the hat to his head, he laughs afterall he's back in familiar territory now.

Once again Hoyt Maddox is on the run.

"Well fella, looks like we're back on the trail again!" he says into his pinto's ear. "Let's head fer ol' Mex! H'yah!"

And with that Hoyt Maddox points his pony towards the border and a chance to once again outrun the clutches of the law. It's a well-known story to Mr. Maddox by now and he has come to savor the role he plays in this tragedy known as his life. It's been so long since he's been home.

He pauses in thought for a moment realizing that he's been on the run so long that he can't remember what or where 'home' even is. A wave of melancholy sweeps over him as he thinks back past all the running, the killing and the mistakes of his life to a little simple home in Oklahoma. In his mind's eye he walks up to the home's front door and opens it. Its modest interior is lit by the flickering light of a large fireplace located on the wall to his right. He steps inside and looks toward the hearth remembering its warmth on his face. He walks over and picks up a picture of his mother and father He smiles. It was the last picture taken before they died. A tear forms in the corner of his eye as he places it back upon the mantle.

He sniffs the air and catches an intoxicating scent. He turns around and walks towards the kitchen. There on the table is a berry pie a slice already cut out and placed upon a china dish. He dabs a bit of the berries and licks it from his finger. That was the best pie in all of Oklahoma as he recalls. It was rivaled only by the fried chicken he'd have on Saturday nights. A gentle hand touches his shoulder. He turns and sees her.

It's his wife Maryann.

She smiles softly and kisses his cheek.

"Aren't you going to eat your pie? I made it just the way you like it, with a lot of sugar" she says with a sly grin.

CLUMP.

The noise distracts him momentarily. She calmly strokes the side of his face to refocus his attention on the delicious dessert before him.

"Are you back to stay?" she asks looking into his eyes.

He begins to answer when…

CLUMP.

This time he knew he heard it. It sounded like a heavy footstep just beyond the firelight in the bedroom. The door was ajar and nothing but darkness lies beyond. She places both hands on his face, forcing his gaze back to hers.

"I'm so glad you're back, darling. It's been so long since I've felt your touch. Please tell me you're done with those men you've been working with. They're nothing but trouble, I don't care what it pays to run them cattle, you said you'd quit and come back to me. Tell me you've come back to stay" There's more of a sense of anger now in her tone.

CLUMP. CLUMP.

He jerks his head sharply towards the sound. This time his hand reaches down for his gun. He draws it out and cocks the hammer back as he walks around Maryann and towards the darkened room. Each second that ticks by seems like an eternity as he walks to the door. His hand reaches out to push the door open.

CRASH!

Something strikes him in the back of the head and shatters. He staggers a bit and turns to see Maryann, her eyes ablaze with anger, standing there, a knife in hand.

He tries to utter the word 'Why?' but it doesn't come. Instead there's a loud blast.

BLAM!

Pain shoots thru his left shoulder spinning him down to the floor. He looks up to see Maryann on the shoulder of another man whose gun is bearing down on him. He tries to raise his pistol as Maryann kisses the man on his mustachioed cheek.

"Good bye darling" she says with a wicked grin.

Then there is only blackness.

Hoyt Maddox shakes his head as if to loosen the thoughts from his brain as he snaps back to the present. He stops his horse and unties his canteen from the saddle-horn. As he took a sip he realized that the sun is beginning to set and this was not a territory to be caught out in after sundown. He rubs his eyes and squints out towards the distance.

"Well now fella, looks like our luck's startin' ta change" he says with a grin. In the distance he could see an adobe structure with candle in a window. The pair saunters up to the building, noticing that there doesn't seem to be a lot of activity. Maddox ties up his pony and walks over to a large iron door. Above the door is an iron cross.

"Wonderful" he says sarcastically. He looks for a doorknob or knocker but finds none noting to himself that it seemed odd for a mission not to have one on its front door for weary travelers to ask for sanctuary. He bangs on the door with a heavy fist and waits. There is no answer so he bangs again.

"Hello, hello in there!" he barks.

BANG! BANG! BANG! He hammers once again on the metal door. Then there comes a voice on the other side of the door.

"Go away! There is nothing for you here! Go now!" the voice says urgently.

"Please… I'm thirsty! I'm lost and I've traveled a long way… I need water!" says Maddox in a voice trembling in fake fear. "PLEASE!"

Your name?" says the voice beyond the door.

"Wh-what?" stammers Maddox.

"Your name, what is your name?" asks the voice again.

"My na-.. Maddox! Hoyt Maddox!" barks the outlaw, "Now please open this door!"

There is a long pause. Then there is the sound of metal turning on metal and finally the door slowly swings open. There stands a smallish man in a friar's frock complete with rope belt and balding head. He smiles a shy grin as he eyes Maddox up and down, his gaze finally settling upon the sixgun now pointed at his gut.

"No! You mustn't…!" he says in a panicked voice.

"Back it up, padre! Now!" he says shoving the gun into the holy man's stomach. The man raises his hands and backs up as Maddox forces his way in. He quickly shuts the door behind him and glances around. It appears to be a small dwelling with a central fireplace. To the left is another iron door with a metal brace bar to keep it secured. There is a large wooden cross on the door. To the right is an adjoining room that appears to be bed quarters. Around the corner from the fireplace is yet another room that appears to be the cooking area. In front of the fireplace is a large rocking chair a small side table upon which sits a burning candle. As his eyes adjust to the low lighting, he can get a good look at the man. He is a smallish man in a friar's frock complete with rope belt and balding head. Around his neck is a heavy golden chain with an amulet. A ruby appears fixed at the medallion's center which reflected the firelight. It catches Maddox's eye as he holds his gun steady on the holy man.

"What the hell is this place?" he asks poking the man yet again with the pistol.

"It is… it is…" stammers the fearful man.

"It's what? Speak man!" hollers Maddox.

"It's a… holy place," says the cleric.

"Kinda like what… a church or something? Don't look like any church I ever seen. Where are the pews? The alter?"

"Our sanctuary of worship is in the other room," he says motioning to the secured iron door.

"S'gotta be the smallest church ever built" says Maddox as he grins at the man.

"You need to go, now, please!" begs the man. "You can't stay here. You'd be in danger..."

Danger. The word grabs Maddox's attention. He furrows his brow holding back an angry outburst in favor of a stern measured tone.

"Okay here's the lay out, padre. I just need a place to get some sleep and maybe a bit to eat and some water. Tomorrow I'll be on my way and we'll both have a story to tell our friends. Sound fair?"

"No! You mustn't stay! You need to leave before…"

"I said I'm stayin' the night now get that thru yer bald head! Got it?"

The cleric nods.

"Good," says Maddox again eyeing the ruby medallion. "Look… I don't wanna hurt ya, padre, really I don't. I've been ridin' all day an' I just wanna get a bite and rest. That's all. I'll be outta yer hair…"

Maddox catches himself as he looks at the holy man's bald head. The holy man's eyes then meet Maddox's and he smiles slightly.

"...ah, I'll be gone at sun up, comprehende?"

The cleric nods and smiles.

"Now then, padre… what have you got for grub in this place?" asks Maddox as he slides his Colt back into its holster and smile.

 II=====II=====II * CHAPTER THREE * II=====II=====II

"Padre that was a downright good meal" says Maddox rocking back in the rocking chair as he sucks out a few specs of food caught in his teeth. "You got some more of this wine o'yers? Break out another bottle, friend."

The smallish man gathered up Maddox's plate and headed to the kitchen. Maddox notices a worn leatherbound book open on the small table beside the rocking chair. He spins it around and picks it up.

"What the hell is this?" he says glancing thru the book. Each page has a single name on a single line. He reads the last page which has three names on it:

Josiah Cloventon.

Peter M.D. Carson

His eyes widen as he reads the last name on the page...

"Hoyt Maddox?" he says puzzled. "Must be some kinda register or somethin' like a hotel"

He slams the book shut and places back on the table just as the cleric returns with another bottle of wine. He hands it to Maddox who quickly snatches it from his grip with a wicked grin.

"So what's yer deal, padre? You got a name?"

"My given name has long since been cast aside. My name in His service is Joshua. You may call me by that name if you wish" says the little man.

"Well…Joshua…exactly what is this place? I mean this is the smallest prayerbox I've ever seen."

"This is the Mission of Santo Uriel" says the man.

"Santo…Uriel?" Who the hell is that?" laughs Maddox.

"He is an angel of the Lord" says the cleric.

"An angel? Well hell, I ain't never heard of him so he can't be an important one," scoffs Maddox.

"He is one of the nine angels who will inherit the earth upon the Day of Judgment" replies the man.

"One of nine, you say? Who're the others?"

"Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Gabuthelon, Beburos, Zebuleon, Aker, and Arphugitonos. They will rule at the end of the world."

"If it's the end of the world then there won't be much fer them to rule now, will there?" says Maddox. "You believe in all o'that hooey, padre? The end of the world, angels, The Devil himself?"

"Yes, I do believe in it all. When you've seen what I've seen you come to believe in The Almighty and his word as truth. In my life I've seen the ugliness in mankind's soul, so black and deep in sin that there often never seems to be a way to redemption. I just happened upon my salvation much the same way you have"

"Salvation? Me? Hah, padre you got yerself some sense o'humor, I'll say that" says Maddox taking another tug off the bottle."Y'know what I think? I think I'm the gawdamned Devil, whaddaya think o'that? Heh,heh,heh"

The cleric stares at Maddox and shakes his head in silent condemnation.

"We must all stand ever vigilant at the door of Armageddon lest it come

and with it the end of days. You do well to heed my words."

Maddox takes another hearty swig from the bottle, never taking his eyes off the cleric.

"So…what, you stand guard watching fer Ol' Scratch ta show up with his fire an' brimstone?"

"I am a…guardian... of sorts, yes" says the cleric reluctantly.

"Well if he ever comes a-callin' on Hoyt Maddox he's gonna get find himself on the wrong end o'the barrel, padre. You heed my words."

The smallish man's eyes twinkle in the firelight's glow.

"How'd you come to be out here in the middle of nowhere? I mean, how long has this place been here?"

"I've been here… a long time, a very long time" says the man."I was once like you, my friend, a lost soul sailing upon the black sea of sin and strife. I had no regard for my fellow man or the sanctity of life itself. I treated others as a means to acquire personal gain. That was until I happened upon this… place."

The cleric paused as if recalling from deep memory.

"As for this parish? I was told it was built many, many years ago, exactly when has been lost to the sands of time. The story, as I heard it, says it was built at one of seven gates as an outpost to guard against those unrighteous. Think of it as a… a holy fort in The Almighty's military, if you will"

"Seven gates, eh? Seven gates to what?" asks Maddox.

The little man's face glows as he stares into the crackling fire.. He smiles and glances at Maddox before answering.

"Why Hell, of course" says the cleric with an unnerving finality in his tone.

Maddox glares at the man part in disbelief and part in trepidation. He shakes his head as if seeking to shake away the words of the cleric from his ears.

"Hah! Well padre, me an' the good Lord, we got ourselves a mutual understandin'" says Maddox mockingly. "I don't bother him and he leaves me alone. It's a profitable arrangement an' I aim ta keep it that way."

"No soul is beyond salvation, brother" cautions the cleric.

"Oh, I'm pretty certain mine is, padre. Do you know who I am?"

"Names mean nothing here. To The Lord you are but a troubled soul. Salvation is yours for the asking same as any man" says the man.

Maddox holds up the small wine bottle he'd been drinking from, it's effect finally starting to dull the outlaw's harsh demeanor. He inspects the bottle as if he were searching for his soul inside it.

"The sins of my soul are plentiful, padre. I'm afraid I might just welcome the end of this world if only to put an end to my miserable existence."

There is a long pause and both men ruminate over those words spoken by Maddox.

"You got a bed, padre?" asks Maddox.

"Yes. In the back room" says the cleric pointing to the room off to the right.

Maddox makes his way to the bedroom door but pauses as he reaches for the doorhandle.

"You a peaceable man, padre?" he asks standing stoic.

"Violence is not the way of The Lord, my friend" replies the man.

"That's good to hear cuz I wouldn't want you to get any wild notions while I'm restin' but just in case, I think you should know…"

Maddox turns his head and their eyes meet.

"I'm a light sleeper" he says placing his right hand on his pistol for the cleric's notice. Maddox closes the door behind him.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FOUR * II=====II=====II

Blackness. The empty void of sleep.

Out of the endless darkness comes a familiar face. It's his wife, Maryann.

"Why Maryann, why?" he asks.

She reaches for his face with her hands.

"Why? Because I wanted a man who would provide and keep me" shes says sweetly. "But what I got was a man who would rather spend his time with cows and cowboys than being a devoted husband. So in lieu of you always gone I found me a man who wanted to hold me, to make me the center of his whole world."

"Who?" he moans.

Maryann steps aside and a new face comes forward. It's the handsome face of a moustached man with dark wavy hair and brown eyes. The stranger smiles a wicked grin as he speaks.

"Where's my manners? My name's Robert Lanton and I'm the man who's going to make Maryann the happiest woman in the world…"

Suddenly there's the cold feel of a gun barrel at his temple.

"...by killing you."

"NO!" shouts Maddox slapping the gunhand from his temple.

BLAM!

The action causes the gun to fire but instead of putting a bullet in his temple and it strikes him in the right cheek.

The darkness returns.

A faint light begins to flicker in the blackness. It comes into clearer view now displaying a busy barroom. Thru his eyes we can see a table of men playing poker. He walks up to the table and to the back of one of the men seated there. The other men all look up at Maddox which in turns makes the man turn in his chair to see him as well. The man's face becomes wrought with fear. It's Robert Lanton. He fumbles for his sixgun but is too slow.

BLAM!

There is now a bloody hole in Robert Lanton's forehead. His eyes roll back in his head as he slumps to the floor. Maddox quickly surveys the other men at the table. Another reaches for his gun but he too gropes frantically allowing Maddox to squeeze off a round into his chest. The man falls over backwards in his chair from the impact. Maddox looks at the remaining four men.

"Anyone else?" he asks calmly.

The men just stare wide-eyed at the smoking gun in Maddox's hand.

"No? Good call, gents" he says as he begins to back his way to the door. He dashes thru the door to find himself in a hallway. He quickly recognizes it as being in his home. He hears the faint voice of a woman singing. He slowly makes his way down the hallway and to the kitchen. There at the stove is wears a big cooking apron as she stirs a large pot on the stove and sings. She suddenly pauses.

"That you dear? I'm in the kitchen" she says continuing her cooking. Maddox steps out into the kitchen now as she turns her head and sees him.

"Oh! Hoyt! No! No!" she screams as she slowly backs away from him. "Don't do this, Hoyt! I'm sorry! Oh god, I'm so sorry, Hoyt! Don't do this, Hoyt, I'm…"

BLAM!

The bullet tears thru her gut. She slowly sinks to the floor, her back against the cabinets leaving her in a sitting position. She gasps for air before finishing her sentence.

"I'm… preg-...pregnant", she strains to finish her sentence. Her head slumps to the right as her chest heaves a couple of times desperately tryingt to fill her lungs with air to no avail. Finally her heaving ceases and her eyes stare blankly out into the distance.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER FIVE * II=====II=====II

Lightning flashes thru the window as Maddox wakes with a start, sitting upright in the bed as the thunder begins rolling.

"Damn thunderstorm" he mutters as he rubs the sleep from his eyes. His breathing is labored as if he'd been running. He gathers his wits and breathes a deep sigh. He runs his fingers run over the scar on his right cheek. His thoughts return to his dream, He holds his head in his hands as he realizes that if there was one moment in his rancorous life that he would like a second chance at, it would be that instant in which he decided to murder the only woman he'd ever loved. From that very moment until today his life has been a rapid series of falling dominoes, one tipping over the next, in an endless parade of murder and running from town to town only to see each result in the same scenario. Tonight, Hoyt Maddox feels tired of running and just wants to rest. He lies back down and closes his eyes.

The silence is broken by a faint moaning. Maddox grabs for his revolver and sits upright.

"What the hell was that?" he says under his breath. He swings his feet to the floor and slowly opens the door. He peers thru the cracked door and sees the cleric shutting the big iron door and replacing the metal brace bar to lock it. Maddox startles the man as he speaks.

"What was that?" he asks curiously.

"Oh, Mr. Maddox, you gave me a start. Did you have a good rest?"

"Never mind that, I wanna know what the hell that sound was"

"It was nothing, nothing. Just the wind" says the man as he stokes the fire.

"The hell you say" says Maddox. "Didn't sound like any wind I've heard"

The sound comes again causing Maddox to clutch his gun tighter. He stares at the door intensely.

"Padre, who's in there?" he asks.

"There is no one else here but you and I" the man assures.

"I'm thinkin' you may not be tellin' the truth here, padre. Now I asked you who's in there an' I wanna know right now!" he says pointing the pistol at the man. "Open the door!"

"Now, now, there's nothing in there that..."

"I said you open that door up now or you'll be reapin' yer six feet o'earth tonight!"

"Alight, alright. I'll open it" says the man reluctantly. He slowly walks over to the door and lifts the heavy metal crossbeam from it's cradle. He slowly pushes the door open. Maddox squints trying to see into the darkness in the room.

"Gimme that candle!" barks Maddox. The little man hands him the candle and Maddox put it in front of his face as he steps into the room. He can make out a table and chairs in the center of the room. As he gets closer he can now sees seven large candles in the middle of the table. He lights the candles which brightens the room considerably. He can now see the room fairly clearly. On two walls are cabinets, presumably housing dishes and glasses. There is a sink with a small handpump. On the outside wall is a window that has been painted black so as to block out any chance of seeing thru it. On the wall to the right is another iron door. Instead of a metal brace to secure it there is a large wooden crucifix placed on it's side into the brace slots.

"What's in there?" asks Maddox impatiently.

"That's just the pantry. I store vegetables and dry goods in there away from the fire so as not to dry them all out and rot them."

"A pantry, eh?" says Maddox suspiciously. "Open it up. Now."

"There's nothing in there but …"

"Padre, I'm really beginnin' to hate repeatin' myself. I ain't gonna ask again", interupts Maddox.

The little man seems to heave a big sigh and then looks Maddox directly in the eyes.

"No" he says, his voice no longer wavering but firm in his conviction.

"What?" says Maddox in disbelief.

"I cannot open that door" says the man stoically.

"What do you mean you can't open it?" says Maddox as he takes a step backwards and stands in a ridged ready position now. "Remove that cross and open the gawdamned door!" commands Maddox waving the gun at the cleric.

The little man just stares at Maddox, his hands folded in front of him.

"What's in there that you won't open it up? What's worth dying for padre? Hmmm?" says Maddox in a wide-eyed stare. "Oh, I get it now. I should have known. Missions, churches they always have some treasure like a gold cross or alter. Maybe a strongbox full of gold from your patrons, hmmm? So you got someone in there guardin' the goods, right?"

The man continues to stare at him motionless. Maddox stares intently at the man, the gold medallion hanging around his neck glimmering in the candlelight.

"That necklace yer wearin'…that's gold, ain't it?" says Maddox waving the gun at the medallion. The cleric doesn't answer but merely stares at the outlaw. "Well I think I'll start with relievin' that necklace from yer possesion. Hand it over!"

"I don't think you want this, my friend" says the cleric.

"Padre, I'm gonna say this once more and then I'm gonna drill you right thru the belly if you don't do as I say. Now... I want that hunk o'gold 'round yer neck so you either hand it over or I'll take it offa yer dead body. Yer call."

The little man nods reluctantly and slowly removes the necklace. He hands it to Maddox who grasps it in his free hand and looks it over. On the front of the medallion is a likeness of the little man and on the back is an engraved cross. Maddox quickly puts it on, never removing the cleric from his sight.

"Okay padre, now let's see what's behind this door" says Maddox sliding over to the doorway. He removes the large cross brace from the door and begins to open it slowly. There is the same moaning as he does so.

"What in the hell...!" he says in a hushed tone as he sticks his head inside the door,

THUD!

Maddox collapses to the floor. Before the darkness takes him, he sees a huge hand holding a silver candlestick. He tries to see the face of his assailant but his world goes black.

II=====II=====II * CHAPTER SIX * II=====II=====II

The world seems to slowly fade in as a painful throbbing awakens Hoyt Maddox. He cups a hand over the back of his head and feels no hair where the blow struck him just a huge lump and a small gash, painful to the touch. Thru the foggy haze he can see blood on his hand.

"What...what happened?" he stammers out.

"You back amongst the livin', friend?" comes a voice from the fog. It wasn't a familiar voice and Maddox squints in an effort to focus on the figure walking towards him.

"I never thought you'd show up" says the figure.

Maddox swings his feet around to the floor. He is sitting on the cleric's bed. The figure stands in front of him but still not clearly defined due in part to Maddox's injury and the room's low lighting.

"What... the hell... happened?" he asks rubbing his head and eyes. "Where's the padre?"

"It takes a little time to get accustomed to it but you'll be fine in a bit, amigo" says the figure.

"Get used to what? What the hell are you talkin' about?" he asks as he slowly reaches down to his holster only to find his gunbelt missing replaced by a rope belt.

"Don't bother lookin' for your guns, you won't be needin' them anymore" says the man.

"That so? An' why is that?" says Maddox stalling for time until his vision clears up. Maddox can now discern that the man is taller than the padre so he's clearly not the cleric. Maddox decides not to let on that his vision is getting better as he engages in more conversation with the man.

"I've been waiting a long time for you, Hoyt Maddox. Oh yes, I know all about you. You're a killer without conscience or discrimination. You're on the run from the law and your past deeds. Your bloodstained soul has led you here where you'll fulfill your purpose on the way to your redemption, my friend."

"I'm sorry, do I know you, friend" says Maddox sarcastically.

"Me personally? No. My reputation? Maybe. You see we have more in common than you might think. We traveled in the same circles, ya might say""

Maddox's vision is now clear and he sees the man standing in front of him is not the cleric. The man before him stands about six foot four or so. He's wearing a long black frock coat and a black flat brim hat. He has a pencil-thin curled mustache in the Van Dyke style. His eyes are dark and not clearly visible at this distance. Maddox notices that the man is wearing his gun belt. This greatly angers Maddox but he tries to keep his composure. The man steps a bit closer. The candlelight illuminates his face revealing black eyes and a long scar across his face cheek to cheek and over the bridge of his nose. Maddox has seen that scar before.

"I know you."

"Thought ya might when yer eyes cleared" says the man as a wicked grin crosses his face.

"You're Pete Carson...'Mad Dog' Carson, my father told me he'd seen you kill a cardsharp in Abilene back in '36. But...but you were fifty-five or so back then. That'd make you...can't be..."

"An even hunnerd. Why is that hard to believe?"

"Because you died in the hills o'Colorado in''41. Story I heard said you was cut down on a mountain by some lawman name o'... damn..."

"Tolbert. Calvin Tolbert" says the man with a smile.

"Yeah, yeah, Tolbert, that's right!" says Maddox wide-eyed.

"Yeah well, Tolbert wasn't quite as virtuous as the stories made him out to be. A couple hundred dollars can buy some men's sense of justice, my friend. Never did find a body, did they?" says Carson giving a telling wink.

"No, come to think of it, no, they didn't" says Maddox shaking his head which he notices is now kind of cold on top. He looks around for his hat.

"No, they didn't. I left them frozen hills and made my way down here. I stumbled across this mission and the padre one night. He told me a tale of Hell, fire and brimstone. Somethin' about guarding a gate and Ol' Scratch himself. I didn't believe him. Instead I robbed him of his golden necklace and sealed my fate. I've been here ever since, waiting... waiting for you, Hoyt Maddox."

"Me? Why me?"

"Because your name appeared in The Book", says Carson as he points to the leatherbound book on the nightstand. "It was how I knew which one you were among all the lost souls who venture by here and I've been waiting to see you for a looong time, amigo. Ya see you're the next sinner in a long line of evil men whom the Good Lord has...deputized, so to speak, to work for Him. Bad men like you and I are recruited by the Almighty to guard against the coming tide of evil on the other side of that door" he says pointing towards the kitchen area.

"That's the padre's job not mine" says Maddox indignantly.

"The padre, heh, heh," chuckles the man. "You still don't get it do you?"

"Get what? What happened to the padre? You kill him?" asks Maddox.

"The padre? Heh, heh...here. See for yerself" says the man as he opens the drawer to the small side table beside the bed. He removes a small hand mirror and gives it to Maddox. The outlaw raises it to his eyes and gasps.

"What the hell kinda joke is this?!" Maddox barks in fearful anger throwing the mirror to the floor, shattering it into pieces. Hoyt Maddox now sports the physical appearance of the former cleric complete with his face, stature and clothes.

"No joke, amigo" says the man turning away from Maddox and towards the door. "This is how men like you and I pay penance for all the evil we've done in this world. It's the cost of saving our souls, Hoyt Maddox, our last chance for salvation. Within the walls of this mission is one of the seven gates to Hell. Your mission is to stand vigilant and secure that gate with the power of The Almighty. Of course, you had to accept this mission of your own volition."

"I don't ! I don't accept this at all!"

"I didn't finish. You accepted this when you willfully took that medal of Santo Uriel and placed it around your neck. You were told not to take it, were you not?"

Maddox sits there dumbfounded at the situation.

"That's right" says the man fixing the hat on his head. "Don't worry, there's an infinite supply of water and food provided by... Him. You'll want for nothing here as you serve your duty. Ya might get a little lonely now and then but Sister Angeline stops by. She's a little long in the tooth but she's a real... comfort... and beggars can't really be choosers after all, even The Good Lord won't deny a man companionship out here."

Maddox looks at his reflection in one of the shards of mirror on the floor. He sees the balding cleric's face yet again.

"This isn't me!" screams Maddox.

"Sure it is," says Carson. "At least until the next recruited sinner comes a-callin'"

"What's to stop me from just walkin' outta here?" Maddox says sharply.

"Well now... lemme jus' make the rules crystal clear about this here lil mission. Rule number one is you can't leave this mission. Period. If you try you'll be put right back inside."

"I don't believe you!" shouts Maddox as he runs to the front door. He throws it open and runs out. Suddenly he's standing back in the bedroom doorway.

"H-how is that possible?!" he says in astonishment.

"Dee-vine intervention, amigo" says Carson with a smirk. "Rule number two is that amulet is a tether to this place and it cannot be removed by you in life or death. The only one who can remove it is the next recruit and he has to voluntarily take it as you did. Rule number three: immortality is a by product of your mission here, Maddox. You don't age while in charge of the mission."

Maddox stands there in the doorway staring blankly at Carson.

"It's very simple, Maddox. The only thing standin' between us an' Armageddon as foretold in the Good Book... is you. Well, you and the other six missions scattered around this mudball. You fall short on your duty an' evil shall most surely find its way up here an' life as you know it shall be wiped from this earth by the armies of Lucifer. That clear enough fer ya?"

Maddox shakes his head in disbelief.

"My personal advice to you?" says Carson as he turns to leave. "Accept your fate. Guard the gateway with your life and deliverance shall be your reward"

"Where are you going?" asks Maddox his voice cracking under the strain.

The aged outlaw pauses in his tracks and cocks his back to the side.

"I'm tired, amigo" he says with weariness in his tone. "I think it's time fer me to go home."

And with those words the man known as Mad Dog Carson walks out the front door for the first time in decades. A white horse trots up to him and he mounts it. He wheels the horse around and tips his hat to Maddox. He then heads off at a full gallop and seems to disappear into the night right before Maddox's very eyes like a ghost. He glances up to the heavens and sees a bright star in the night sky. It seems to twinkle as if dancing solely for him against the ebony canvas. Behind him he hears a sorrowful moan coming from the other room. He leans his head back slightly as the moan fades. He looks again out into the night's eerie darkness. Once more an eerie moan is heard from beyond the door.

He smiles a somber grin.

A solitary tear runs down Hoyt Maddox's cheek as he lowers his head and slowly... closes... the door.

II=====II=====II * EPILOGUE * II=====II=====II

Redemption, salvation, deliverance, these are all words which are synonymous with saving one's immortal soul, that is of course, assuming one wants to be saved. Hoyt Maddox lived his life without a purpose, preferring instead to squander human life as easily as one would crush an insect beneath their boot heel. He might have continued that path of wickedness if not for a not-so-chance meeting with fate. Few outlaws are presented with such a direct opportunity to save their soul and are instead condemned to pay the eternal price for the sins of their iniquitous existence. After all who better to guard against the hordes of Lucifer than the vilest, most ruthless men of our time?

There is no doubt that Hoyt Maddox earned his place upon that list of recruited sinners entrusted with protecting the very world they sought to pillage and plunder. It is a job we trust he and the rest will focus on with the same passion and enthusiasm as they did for their previous evil endeavors. For should they ever fall short then salvation shall be only a fleeting memory lost amidst the ashes of a world lost to darkness and decay.

Until that time, the world will go on in its naivete and life will continue to be a unique and miraculous thing... even here... in Crossroads.

II=====II=====II * THE END * II=====II=====II


Submitted: May 08, 2021

© Copyright 2021 LW Thunder. All rights reserved.

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