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

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1. Chapter One

"I'm tellin' you, boys, you're makin' a big mistake." Wyatt Callahan sat on his knees with his hands behind his head, staring down the barrel of a Colt revolver. Nothing he wasn't used to. He exhaled sharply, "And will you stop pointin' that damn thing at me!?" He'd been hot on the trail of the Whitton twins, two infamous outlaws wanted by the U.S. Marshals in West Elizabeth, the nearest county. Wyatt was only a day behind them when he was stopped by the Marshals themselves.

"How do we know you ain't in league with them Whitton twins?" the young man interrogated, clicking back the hammer of his revolver.

"'Cause I'm huntin' 'em, you damned fool," Wyatt replied flatly. He moved his hands from the back of his head. The young Marshal kept his gun trained on Wyatt, and the older of the two stepped down from his horse, placed a hand on the young man's shoulder.

"He's telling the truth, boy," the man explained. The boy didn't like that. He holstered his revolver and spat on the ground, turning and walking away from the two older men. "But that still don't excuse the fact that we don't welcome bounty hunters in these parts. We don't like it when civilians take the law into their own hands. We're going to have to fine you, son."

Wyatt chuckled. "I ain't payin' no fine, sir." He rested his hand on the revolver at his hip.

"Then you'll have to stay in the jail back in town," the marshal replied, resting his hand on his own gun. Wyatt's eyes flashed down to the man's hand, and then over his shoulder to the younger marshal, who was watching the two of them closely.

"Alrighty. Looks like you got me then, Marshal," Wyatt stood, tossing his hands into the air. The Marshal took a step forward, closing the distance between them. As the Marshal reached out to grab him, Wyatt quickly gripped his wrist and spun him around, simultaneously drawing his pistol from his holster and pressing it against the Marshal's throat. "Not a step forward, son," Wyatt warned the younger man, whose hand whipped down to his revolver. Wyatt clicked the hammer down on his own.

"Think about what you're doing, boy," the older Marshal began at the sound of Wyatt's gun.

Wyatt reached down with his free hand and unholstered the Marshal's revolver. "Throw your gun away," he commanded to the young boy. He did as Wyatt said, pulling his gun from the holster and tossing it a few feet away. "Always good to see the law." Wyatt quickly pushed the Marshal away and made a dash for the nearest horse, hopping onto the saddle and commanding it to go. The horse took off in a full gallop away from the two Marshals who stood dumbfounded, shooting blindly at him. Wyatt smirked as he rode off in the direction he was traveling. Back on track, he thought.

He traveled for what must have been hours through the vast expansion of dirt before he caught up to the Whitton twins' gang. They were hiding out in Riverweed Basin, a dried up river valley in the middle of the wilderness that spanned outward in a maze of different paths. Instead of trying to navigate the convoluted land, Wyatt rode to the top of the basin. He located a small party of bandits that were going through a stage coach down below. A woman stood just outside the small cab, shouting at the group of men robbing the stagecoach with two armed men standing just behind her. The two guarding her were identical.

The Whitton twins, Wyatt thought to himself. He smirked and reached down into his horse's saddle holster, pulling his Winchester Repeater from it and clicking the lever action down to load a round into the chamber. There was barely any wind around him, and there would be none deeper in the valley. That was genuine luck. In the west, the sun mingled with the horizon, which would give a slight glare in his eye. Wyatt squinted just barely and readied himself. He couldn't kill the twins, and he reckoned that the woman must've been important as well if she was giving orders. Three targets. Alive if he wanted the full payment. Easy enough.

#

Before they even left, Charlotte knew this wouldn't go as smooth as they hoped. The entire task was a risk, and she wasn't supposed to go, but insisted until everyone was sick of her talking and just wanted to get rid of her. On board with her and her brother was a small chest, concealed in a seat cushion on the inside of the stagecoach. It held a few things—things a lot of men would kill to get their hands on. And that they did. Her brother was slumped back on the driver's box, a bullet shot straight through his head. Charlotte was long past crying, more because the two men guarding her, twin brothers, told her she'd have the same fate should she cry or act like anything was wrong. So she stood there, jaw clenched tightly, fighting tears while the men tore apart the carriage. She had herself completely under control until they shoved her brother from the high seat to search beneath him. That's when she started shouting at them.

"Stop it! Just leave us alone!" She shoved in front of the twins, who remained in place but stiffened slightly, hands readying their guns just in case she did something they didn't like. One of them reached out to rest his filthy hand harshly on her shoulder. Charlotte whipped around, glaring, and snapped at him, "You search the damned coach all you want. But don't you touch him." Tears blurred her vision and the heat of rage clouded her judgment. The girl wiped the salty water from her eyes, using every fiber of her being to keep her feet planted on the ground and not launch herself on him when he smiled disgustingly at her and gestured for one of their two 'henchmen' to search her brother's body as if she told him to do so, just to unnerve and upset her further.

Fortunately, the man didn't get the chance.

A bullet tore through his hand, sending his gun flying. The man bent forward in pain, gripped his hand (or what was left of it) and let out a loud, angry growl.

Charlotte took her opportunity and turned to open the coach that one man ran out of to fight the fire of his unseen enemy. He and his partner, along with the twins, spun in slow circles, searching for the source of the gunfire. Charlotte reached out for the handle sticking off the door, when a biting feeling slashed her hand. It was grazed by a bullet, burning off a layer of skin from the bottom of her palm, not enough to cause any severe damage but enough to hurt.

She made a noise and jerked her hand back, and she tried to rip her focus from the pain of the missing chunk her other hand gripping the door handle. She pulled it open and stumbled into the asylum of the wooden asylum, closed the door and locked herself in. She dug through the single cushion that was split open but had yet to be torn to pieces until she pulled out a chest about the size of a vase and as heavy as a stack of books. The fingers of her good hand twisted into her hair for the key, then pulled it out, causing her blonde hair to tumble over her back and shoulders in a mess of curls. She turned around the combination lock until it clicked, then jammed the key into the lock. She sighed in relief upon seeing all of its contents in check.

Charlotte closed it again, tucked it under the bench and wiped off her face, just then realizing she had been crying. She folded her hair back up, stuck the key back in to hold it together and took a breath. The girl cradled her bloody hand in her good one, trying to get ahold of herself. She went to her knees to look out the window to see what was happening, only find a rugged man with a gun in one hand and rope in the other going up the few steps of the coach. She ducked under the bench where a knife was stowed and pulled it out. It made a scraping noise against the metal holding it against the wood, sending a shudder across her fair skin. Charlotte pointed it in the direction of the door.

It flew open, pieces of wood sent flying around them as his foot broke the door and made contact with the coach's floor, and the man's gun pointed at her. Her eyes widened in terror and she struggled to keep steady hold of the small knife. "Keep away," she said in a low voice, laced with a British accent that came out a little more afraid than she wanted. He had a rough appearance; he was dirty with brown hair, some gray mixed in it. Despite the age his hair suggested, his face was hard and young. The bit of skin that showed was tan from what she assumed was being out in the wilderness so often. He wasn't from anywhere like she was. Her fingers tightened around the handle, holding it out a little further. "I mean it."

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