The Box

"When we first broke into that forbidden box...we knew we had discovered something as surprising and powerful as the New World when Columbus came stumbling onto it." Ken Kesey


5. Chapter Five

Wyatt looked back to Charlotte. "You ever fire a gun before?" he asked as he pulled out a silver pocket watch that was chained to his vest and clicked it open.

“I have,” she answered with caution and a slight nod, following next to him as he began walking quickly toward the stables. The sun was lingering over the horizon and darkness was seeping through the remaining colors, more in the east than the west.

"We should go after them fake soldiers now. Who knows how far they got up the road? But first we gotta get you a horse."

The owner of the stables wasn’t there when they arrived, so Wyatt snuck in, disappearing into the shadows of the big wooden building like the sunset into the night. Horses were something she was plenty familiar with, but hadn't ridden in a while. There was really no need, as the town was small and she had no reason to leave it.  He was back out in seconds, pulling a strong, brown horse by the reins onto the street. "Come on,” Wyatt said and stopped with the horse right next to her. “Time to mount up.”

Her hand brushed over the horse’s muzzle, then she turned to look at Wyatt and found his hand offering to help her up again. “I can do it,” Charlotte reassured him and mounted the horse. If they were caught, they’d be hanged for stealing these horses. She looked down at him and gave a small, quick smile so he would go around and get on his own horse. He did, walking in front of both horses then digging into one of the saddle bags. She didn’t bother trying to see what he was doing on the other side of the horse since the darkness was quickly thickening around them, so she just kept her eyes on her hands. Something touched her arm and she jumped, surprised to find Wyatt on his horse with a gun extended to her. Her hand absently lifted and took it, and her eyes remained locked on his.

“Don’t use it unless I tell you,” he ordered. “It’s gonna be completly dark soon, so make sure you’re careful with it.” She stuffed it in the waist of her skirt before taking off behind him. Her face still stung from where John hit here, and she assumed there was probably still a faint mark there that wouldn’t disappear completely for at least another hour. They started down the street, their horses’ hooves clacking like a stick against a gated fence. Charlotte glanced over her shoulder at Blackwater as the terrain switched from stone to dirt. It didn't hurt so bad to leave the city a second time.

The two of them rode for some time before they came upon the fork in the road where they were robbed. Wyatt stopped at the center of the road and then turned to face Charlotte on his horse. "We need a plan.”

"I agree,” she stated, “but I don't think you want me coming up with any plans. I don't do this sort of thing, Mr. Callahan."

"Alrigh' then," he replied. He leaned on the front of the saddle and thought for a moment. "We ain’t gonna charge right in. We should set up some kinda diversion, and then sneak up on 'em from behind. Only problem is I don't know what my diversion is gonna..." His eyes fell to Charlotte and he nodded slightly. "You ever hear them Indians before they go and make a kill?" he asked.

"I…Yes,” she answered slowly, "I have. Why?” Charlotte reached up and stroked the horse just above the saddle. It was immensely cooler than it was earlier, and the sun was completely gone. Wildlife, as Wyatt mentioned earlier, would be emerging along with the darker night crawlers out of the city; refugees, bandits…people who were just bad in the truest sense of the word. This was the first time in the entire day that she wished she could have been home. The first time in weeks—months—that she actually wanted to be in Blackwater. Being with this man was dangerous to her, and while that was exciting, it was just as terrifying. She had an idea of what she was getting herself into. Not much of one, but it was an idea all the same. She pulled her brows together and looked at the man, waiting for an answer she wasn't sure she wanted to hear.

"We should ride around 'em in the dark and make noises like them Indians. Draw 'em away from the stagecoach. Or at least spook 'em.” In the distance, Charlotte could see a newly formed orange light, most likely where the fake soldiers set up their camp for the evening. She could hardly see Wyatt reach into the saddle bag of the horse and pull the second stolen revolver from it, then point off into the distance. "You ride that way and start makin' the noises, and I'll come up from behind.” He pressed his heels into the horse’s abdomen and set it trotting into the darkness, off the beaten path. "And don't get too close!" he warned as he vanished.

Charlotte nodded in obedience and turned the horse away, not saying another word about it. She would have made any other sound before the one he wanted. And it pained her to do so.


Wyatt rode around the perimeter of the camp the soldiers had set up, dismounting the horse he had stolen and crouching beneath some of the nearby brush. He kept his eyes on the men as they sat around the fire, all fiddling with the lock on the wooden chest, trying to open it.

"Well, why don't we just shoot it off, boss?" one of the men asked.

"Because, dumbass, we don't wanna damage the contents," the 'captain' replied. Wyatt kept low and hidden until he heard Charlotte starting to make the sounds. The captain stopped fooling with the lock and stood, holding his repeater close. "What the hell was that!? Get up, you imbeciles! It’s the damn heathens.” he whispered angrily. The rest of the men stood up, all looking in the direction Charlotte was calling out from. Wyatt slowly approached the camp and drew his revolver, which contained three shots. One for each man.

"Naw, Captain. It's just me," Wyatt said, aiming his revolver straight ahead. His first shot rang out, tearing through one of the men's heads before he could even turn around, spattering the man beside him in blood that looked black in the orange glow of the fire. A bullet whizzed past Wyatt’s head and he glared at the captain, who fired the shot. He stumbled back at the ferocity in Wyatt’s eyes. Wyatt responded by putting a bullet in the blood-sprayed soldier’s throat, effectively drowning him in his own blood, and then turned his revolver on the captain, who tossed his rifle to the ground and dropped to his knees.

"Please, sir! I'm a military man! The law will be after you!" the man warned. Wyatt pulled back on the hammer of his revolver, loading the bullet into the chamber.

"You ain't no damned soldier, and there’s no law ‘round here. No war, neither. No one's gonna be lookin' for a dead thief." With that, he pulled the trigger, blowing a hole in the center of the captain's forehead, killing him instantly. Wyatt looked at the three corpses on the ground before him and scowled, spitting on the ground near them. "Come on out!" he called to Charlotte. She appeared from the line of darkness slowly on her horse. She slipped off, carefully stepping around blood, splattered and pooling, and corpses as she made her way to Wyatt.

The wooden chest was in the center of the three men, and instead of going to Wyatt, she changed her path to it. Dress already filthy, she bent on her knees in front of it and scoffed when she saw the notches dug into the lock in feeble attempts to open it. He watched her as she pulled it close and picked it up with her good hand and looked back at him. "I guess this means we have to go back to Blackwater, doesn't it? For your bounty?" Charlotte asked over the soft crackling of the dead men's fire, voice a little shaky from the stress of the gunfire. She cleared her throat softly and took a breath. "I’m sorry I got in your way, Mr. Callahan. This didn’t have to happen. This wouldn’t have happened if not for me." She turned over her shoulder and walked back toward the horse, slipped the wood chest in the saddle bag and got ready to mount. The rest of her mind looked elsewhere.

“Hold on, ma'am. I think you're forgettin' someone," Wyatt said, gesturing with his head toward the stagecoach. “Name’s Jesse…” he trailed off and raised his brows, lips twitching into a microscopic, quick smile.

“You’re wonderful at consoling people, you know?” he heard her ask as he made his way over to the coach and pushed the cloth door to the side. The smell that radiated out from the coach was enough to knock a grown man to the ground.

Wyatt turned away and groaned. "Damn...Twins are dead. They musta bled out all day," he explained. He whistled loudly and his previously stolen horse came trotting from the other side of the stagecoach. "Ah, there you are, girl. Glad to see you're okay.” He gently patted the horse on the side of its neck, and then went to the side of the saddle and pulled a short shovel from two of the numerous ties, recalling the reason he put the shovel there in the first place so many years ago. He quickly tried to think of something else. "Where do you wanna bury him?" he asked Charlotte, planting the spade firmly into the soft earth. He turned back and dug into the saddle bag, retrieving a bandana from it which he wrapped around his face to block what he could of the smell of rotting flesh that cooked in the sun all day. "Somewhere nice, I imagine. Where no coyotes'll be diggin' him up." Wyatt looked at her, then walked over to the stagecoach and tore down the makeshift cloth door. The scent of the rotting dead gave him a headache, and made him turn away and groan in disgust again.

His eyes fell on Charlotte, who was covering her mouth with her bandaged hand over her good one. She coughed lightly under them and took a step back, barely lifting them to answer his question. "I don't know anything out of the city. Of course he deserves to be somewhere nice, but...I don't think there is such a thing unless you ride north or east an entire day." She coughed again from the scent wafting around them, her eyes watering from what he assumed was both the smell and the sense of sadness that came with it. That was her brother rotting in there, and the dead scent of the decay of someone so dear to you was perturbing; the scent of anyone rotting was. It took him a long time to be able to bear it long enough to do what needed to be done and not vomit. Some men would never be able to accomplish that. His eyes caught a small glimmer of sweat on Charlotte’s pale forehead in the light of the fire.

"Well, I suppose we could ride him into town and get ‘im buried there, but the way your ex-fiancée was talking about this, he probably wouldn't be too happy to find your brother dead.” He made his way to the front wheel of the stagecoach and broke two of the spokes away from the wheel while he continued, "And you still haven't told me what you got in that box.” He tossed them to the side, then leaned forward into the stagecoach, holding his breath as he unlaced the boots of the two Whitton twins. "I know it's more than a will and a gun. You got two different posses runnin' your coach down," he explained. Wyatt laid the two pieces of wood across each other and tied them with the shoelaces, forming a cross. "And I know it ain't coincidence." He grasped the spade firmly, pulled it out of the ground, and walked about ten feet away from the fire.

"Honestly, Mr. Callahan," she began as he dug the first bit into what would be her brother's grave, "it's not my place to tell you.”

"Alrigh'," Wyatt replied. It wasn't his business anyway. All he needed was evidence that the Whitton twins were dead in order to collect his reduced bounty. He dug deep into the ground until blisters began to break apart on his palms and he couldn’t see over the edge of the hole. He lifted himself out of the grave and looked to Charlotte, who was sitting on the ground right next to the fire. He tipped the end of his hat and she gave him a small smile in reply, and then he headed toward his horse, digging into the saddle bags and pulling a pack of rolled cigarettes and a book of matches from it. He struck a match against his shoe, lighting it, and held it against the end of the cigarette. Then, he tossed the match on the ground and stomped it out. Wyatt puffed smoke from his cigarette as he removed Jesse's body from the stagecoach and slid into the grave, careful to be respectful to her brother and lay him out as decently as he could. He climbed back out and looked at Charlotte. "Would you like to say some words, ma'am?" he asked.

Charlotte stood up, not bothering to brush any dirt from her dress and kept her eyes down on a hat resting in her hands. He couldn’t remember seeing it before and wondered where she got it, then realized Jesse was wearing it when he put him in the stagecoach. She must’ve grabbed it.

She walked next to the grave at the side perpendicular to ther one where Wyatt was standing. The girl peered in the grave and was clearly moved negatively by what she saw. “It doesn’t look like him anymore,” she pointed out and took a step back from the view of his body in the dark hole. She extended the hat to Wyatt so he could climb in again and place it over Jesse. He took it and arranged it neatly over Jesse’s hands, which were crossed over his torso, then climbed back out and looked at the girl again. "Thank you," Charlotte said sincerely with her eyes on the parts of Wyatt’s face illuminated by the glow of the dying fire, "for everything." Charlotte shook her head after that to tell him there was nothing more she wanted to say.

He just tipped his head down respectively and wrapped his hands around the shovel again, then started tossing dirt in over her brother’s body. Charlotte bent down next to Wyatt and scooped up a handful of dirt, letting it fall effortlessly between her fingers and mix in with the rest of the dirt over Jesse. There was no expression on her face save a hard one clearly put there to keep herself from breaking down. Wyatt pressed his lips into a hard line and watched her, pausing his burying until she was done standing over the grave. She took a deep, shaky breath and turned over her shoulder. She sat right at the edge of the fire and stared into the mesmerizing glow. Wyatt watched her move, then went right back to his work with the spade in hand and cigarette held between his teeth.

It was like she refused to react strongly about anything—to react at all about anything—and that was commendable. There would be time for emotion, and that wasn't while she was under so much stress. She would never recover from a breakdown in her situation. It was after she got that little wood chest where it needed to be that all the emotion in her would take control. And that was when her brother would really be at peace, too.

Once the grave was filled and flattened, he jammed the makeshift cross into the ground, marking the man's grave. He turned to look at Charlotte, who was still staring at the fire. He made his way to the bodies of the three dead soldiers and, one by one, piled them into the stagecoach. After he loaded the last one, he removed the two bandanas that the Whitton twins were famous for wearing around their necks, ripped one in half, and then shut the door to the stagecoach and unhooked the horses from it, setting them free. “Go stand on the other side of the horses,” he ordered Charlotte as he went back to his horse and shoved the bandanas into the saddle bag. He dug around it until he found a bottle of whiskey, stuffing the ripped piece of bandana down the neck of the bottle and lighting the end. Wyatt threw the flaming bottle at the stagecoach, igniting it in a mess of raging flames. He turned to his horse and stepped into the saddle, throwing his leg over and watching Charlotte follow suit on her own. He grabbed the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it toward the flaming stagecoach. "I can take you to the next town. It's where I'm headed. Small place called Armadillo."

She replied to his offer with a nod and followed just barely behind him on her horse. The muffled sound of the horses' hooves against the dirt was the only sound around them except an occasional howl or bark that was far enough away for Wyatt not to pull out his gun. Charlotte didn’t say anything more. She wasn’t the type to make uncomfortable conversation, which was good, because he wasn’t, either.

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