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


7. Chapter Seven

When Charlotte woke, the sun was a few hours above the horizon, which told her it was probably around eleven o'clock. Her eyes wandered to the wooden chest—still safe and sound. From there, she looked at the blood-wetted rag around her hand and rubbed her eyes with the clean one. Wyatt still sat on the chair, his back to her and his gun still pointed in the direction of the door. It was impossible to tell if he was asleep or awake, so Charlotte just kept quiet and looked at the back of his head. She felt slightly nauseated, probably from the tension coiling up in her from everything, along with the lack of food she had in the past day. "Mr. Callahan?" she finally whispered, not sure if she preferred him asleep or awake.

Wyatt cleared his throat and looked over his shoulder as Charlotte called his name. He wasn’t asleep. "Mornin'," he said flatly. He uncocked the hammer on his revolver and stowed it back into the holster at his hip. He stood from his seat and stretched out the stiff muscles of his back and legs, shaking them out as he turned to face her. "Did you sleep well?" he asked, reaching for the bottle of whiskey that was left on the nightstand for guests. He’s already drinking? she thought and smiled to herself when he made a sour face, and pushed off the blanket that covered her through the short night. Charlotte immediately began re-layering herself in her dirty clothes as she listened to him talk. "I can see why it's free. That shit'll peel the paint off the side of a barn," he explained as he set down the bottle. At least he was completely awake now. He smirked and gave a small chuckle. "You know, it was awful quiet downstairs last night. I think you made an impression."

"Hopefully, it was an impression I won't be regretting." She paused, looked up. "Do you think he'll be okay? I really didn't mean to..." she trailed off. "I just acted." Her fingers continued with buttons and laces until she was completely done up, her right sleeve filthy and torn up at the end. "Something like that isn't as accepted in Blackwater. I've seen it."

"Something like that ain’t nothin’ out here," Wyatt explained. "Things are different away from that town of yours. Besides, you didn’t do nothin’ wrong. He drew on you first. Technically, he drew on me. You just had my back. I guess that makes us even." He chuckled softly and took a small swig from the bottle, making another sour face. "I don't suppose you want some? A good kick in the tail will wake you right up," he pointed out. She debated it, thinking it would get her to both relax and wake up, but decided against it. It wasn’t worth the intoxication. She needed to be focused on the tasks at hand.

“It’s all yours. You probably need it more than I do.”

He gestured toward her hand and asked, "You want the doc to take a look at that?"

Charlotte's eyes fell back to her hand and she nodded. "If it's not any trouble.” She stood, took a breath and looked at him.

“I’ll take you,” Wyatt replied, taking another drink but not making as theatrical of a face.

"I actually had a question for you,” Charlotte said.

He set the bottle down where it was when they got to the room. "Oh, yeah? And what’s that?"

"I was...I was wondering if you would take me to north. To Wyoming." As soon as the words left her mouth, she regretted it. Charlotte spoke quickly to try to recover from her request. "I know it's obscenely far. And I know it isn't safe. But I'll make it worth it to you somehow. I... I'll pay you. Once I get this gun where it needs to go, I'll pay you as much as you think I should." The girl sighed, shaking her head at herself. "I'm not really sure what I'm expecting you to say to this. I anticipate a 'no', but I hope for a 'yes'."

Wyatt sighed and moved to the window, resting his arm over top of it and looking out over the town. "I'm no bodyguard," he said flatly. Saying that the distance wasn't safe was quite the understatement. Not only was there the threat of thieves, deadly animals, and the various gangs that dotted the mostly unmarked territory, but there was also the threat of disease and the dangerous conditions of a journey across the country. He turned back to face Charlotte. "You don't even know where you have to go in Wyoming," he pointed out. "And what happens once we find this...whoever you're bringin' that thing to? I suppose I'd have to escort you home.”

She made a face, disappointed and upset, and nodded. "I understand. Like I said, I'm not sure what I expected you to say." Charlotte brushed past him to the other side of the room before taking a deep breath and turning around. "If you don't want to help me, then don't help me. I've offered you what I can, and if you feel so inclined to stay, I'll go alone. I'll find someone else to take me. I'll get there."

Wyatt shook his head. "Listen, I don't know who you think is gonna help you out here. What you're carryin' there is worth a hell of a lot more to people than helping a damsel in distress," he explained, grabbing his hat from the dresser in the front of the room and placing it on his head. "If someone were to find out what it was, they'd kill you without a second thought." He looked out the window again. "Shit," he muttered, "I'll get you as far as the end of that state. You should be able to find some help there," he explained. "Land gets more civilized out that way."

A smile stretched across her face and she took a step forward to hug him, then stopped herself. "Thank you, Mr. Callahan." Charlotte glanced down at her hand, trying to keep herself and her excitement under control. She pushed the chest against the wall under the bed. "We should go to the doctor and then leave. We're already behind by a day. And I want this to be over with as soon as possible."


Wyatt led her downstairs into the saloon, where a few drunks from the previous evening remained, passed out. He pushed open the doors of the saloon and they walked two doors down the street to the doctor's office. Wyatt knew the doctor well, having been patched up multiple times himself. He knocked on the man's door twice, and he answered instantly. The doctor was near Wyatt's height and was graying, and looked as if he hadn't shaved in a few days, but still he greeted them with a smile.

"Wyatt, good to see you, boy," the man said with a slight southern drawl. "What can I do for ya?"

"Woman's been shot in the hand, Doc," Wyatt replied, taking a step aside and revealing Charlotte. "I’d appreciate it if you would sew it up for us," he explained, removing his hat from his head and covering his chest with it. The doctor nodded.

"Of course. Come on in,” the doctor said, stepping out of the doorway and allowing them inside. He immediately took Charlotte's hand and started to gently inspect the wound. "Damn. Whoever done this was a helluva shot," the doctor said, turning her hand over. "Usually, I see this kind of stuff on you, Wyatt," the doctor said. That’s because it was him, Charlotte thought.

"It was them Whitton twins," Wyatt stated, not filling him in on all the details of who really shot her.

It was quiet after that. She stared at Wyatt for a long time, not really thinking anything until the doctor poured something on her hand and her attention shifted to that. It stung, and she gasped at the unexpected pain. It started to go numb, which made it feel better but scared her a little even though she knew it was supposed to happen. The doctor started to sew the wound, so she looked away and tried to keep her hand from shaking. Trying not to look childish, she bit her lower lip to keep herself from making any noises as he worked. "How long will it take to heal?" she asked softly.

"A few days. I've cleaned the wound so there won't be any infection," the doctor replied with a reassuring smile. "How come it’s every time you walk through that door I have to do some real work? I never find myself doing more than wrapping a up a cut from a fight over a whore until you show up," the doctor stated. Wyatt chuckled and shook his head.

"I guess it's 'cause the good lord wants me dead," he replied."What's the damage, doc?"

"No damage, son. That boy Jed's been houndin' me for 'protection money'," the doctor said. "This one's on the house!" The doctor turned and shook Wyatt's hand. "Just try not to get killed on your next bounty, boy. I can't be losin' my best customer." Charlotte glanced at Wyatt. So this happened frequently? Who was she asking to help her? Wyatt tipped his hat and extended his arm to her, an oddly chivalrous gesture from what she could tell about the man, and led her back out to the dirt and hungover men.

"I wanna make one more stop for supplies. That alrigh'?" he asked.

"That's fine," she answered. "I need to go back and get the chest after. I kicked it under the bed, but I don't think that means anything to anyone here. Not that they'll mess with me. They may get a drink thrown in their face." Charlotte smiled slightly over at Wyatt, letting him lead her to wherever it was he was headed. She liked the town for its small size, its antique feel and lack of a set future. But the people were rough and without any sort of morals. And that made her nervous--especially because of what she was used to.

"You got half the town shakin' in their boots, woman," Wyatt replied, returning her small smile with one of his own. “You go get the chest. I'll meet you down by the horses.”


He watched her as she made her way across the street and into the saloon, as if she had done it a hundred times. She was more fearless than she gave herself credit for. He entered the general store and bartered with the shopkeeper for some supplies, a few jars of food and dried meat, and some ammunition. He left the shop with a saddle bag slung across his shoulder, one that he could add to the two he already had. Charlotte was waiting for him when he returned, clutching the wooden chest tightly as she had been doing since he met her. "I take it you're all good an' ready?" he asked her, throwing the saddle bag over the back of his horse.

Charlotte nodded and adjusted her grip on the wooden chest. "Yes, Mr. Callahan," she stuck it in the saddle bag on her horse, swung herself up onto the saddle, and looked at Wyatt. "I want to thank you again for this. I'll make sure to pay you with whatever I can once we get there. This means a lot to bigger things than me." She smiled briefly.

“Yeah,” Wyatt replied flatly as he mounted his horse. He looked at her for a moment and nodded slightly before digging his heels into the belly of his horse. The horse took off in a gallop. "Come along!" he muttered into the ear of his horse as they rode out of town. They made their way up the road in silence a good distance before Wyatt looked back at Charlotte, who was only a foot or so behind him. He slowed a bit so they rode side by side. "So, Miss Masen, I been wonderin' something since I found out what it is you got in that box. If it’s so important that you tried to find someone to take you right away, who you givin’ it to?" he called out to her over the muffled sound of the horse’s hooves.

            She glanced over at him and took a breath. "I told you I don't know," Charlotte called back. "I'm just delivering it. I've heard a few names of contacts in Wyoming--men who have delivered messages to and from my brother. But I don't know who exactly this is going to." There was a long pause before she spoke again. "There's something else, Mr. Callahan. In the chest." Another pause. “There's a map. Of the railroad. I don't know why it's in there, but... I thought you should know."

Wyatt kept the pace on his horse as he rode down the beaten path. "Map of the railroad? Well, that narrows down who you're givin' that box to," he explained. "Whoever it is ain't a friend of the Union. That army uses the railroad to transport their supplies to the war front. I reckon that the Confederate army wants to get their hands on that map so they can destroy the only way the Union gets their supplies out this way," he concluded. "And I reckon that whoever is sendin' these gangs after you is someone who works for the Union. They’re hopin' to stop you." Wyatt often prided himself for his skills of deduction, something that he often used when hunting a target that was on the run. He looked off to the west, where the sun was passing two o’clock and moving toward the horizon at a slow pace. "C'mon, we best get goin’. I want to get a bit farther before we set up camp for the nigh'," he said. "Yah!" His horse accelerated, leading them further toward the state line.


Eventually, they had to stop. The sun was only barely visible over the horizon, casting a pinkish-blue light over the dry land. Charlotte brushed her hand over the muzzle of her horse as Wyatt worked on making a small camp. The wooden chest sat a foot or so from the fire he started, and he was about two feet from that. She looked from her hand on the horse to Wyatt, watched him set things up for a few seconds before pulling her eyes back to the horse again. She fiddled with the saddle. The crackling of the fire was the only sound and light around them. The girl patted the horse gently, then sat in front of the fire and stared into the yellow flames. Her eyes flicked up to Wyatt every once in a while, but she kept quiet. What was there to say? She thanked him, told him everything she knew about what they were doing, and he didn't seem like he wanted to sit down and make small talk, which was okay because she didn't really want to either.
 Instead of digging up an uncomfortable conversation, she reached for the wooden chest. The lock was comfortably from the fire when her fingers touched it. It was a combination lock with four numbers, with a thick key lock, too. First, she pulled the long key out of her curly blonde hair, causing it to tumble down her back, and slipped it into the large lock until it popped apart. Instead of troubling herself with remembering the combination, she found that there was a small click and twitch from the inner mechanics of the lock once the right number was aligned at the top. So, she twisted the numbers around until there were four clicks and the top parted slightly. It was safer that she didn't know it, so if anyone tried to get it out of her, she couldn't tell them and she didn't have to lie.
Charlotte left the gun in the wooden chest and pulled out the folded map. She flattened it out on the dirt, traced the wavy line with her finger. There were a few drawn-on ‘x’s along the way, which made much more sense to her since Wyatt explained it. They were places of attack. Her lips pressed into a soft, slightly sideways line as she studied it in the flickering firelight.

"Was I right?" Wyatt asked and sat next to her, extending the jar of dried meat he was eating from to her.. "Want some?"

“I think you were.” She took the meat from him and set it on the map. “Thank you.”

"You should eat to keep up your strength. Tomorrow’s gonna be a long day." He took another bite and scooted across the ground until he was right next to her and he reached into the wooden chest. Her eyes watched him cautiously as he pulled the revolver from the wooden chest and pointed it away from them, aiming at something that wasn’t there since everything around them was covered with the thick, black curtain of night. "I ain't never seen a gun that didn't have to be made ready before firin'," he said as he spun the revolver's chamber. "You said your brother made this?" he asked.

Charlotte smiled slightly and slid the map toward him so he could see it, tracing the line again until she got to the first ‘x’. “Yes," she replied slowly, "he made it." Charlotte took a bite of the jerky and made a small face he couldn't see in the dark, forcing herself to get over the taste and just eat it. She wasn't used to this kind of food--to this kind of situation in general. She needed it, and wouldn't be immature--stupid--and go without eating. It was an acquired taste, at least, and got better as she ate it.

"Impressive," Wyatt complimented, returning the gun to the wooden chest and then eating more of the meat. She finished eating what he gave her, then folded the map back up and put it in the wooden chest, locking it tight. In the distance but not too far, Charlotte heard an echoing call. It wasn’t just an echo, though. It was Indians. She stiffened and looked toward the sound, and heard Wyatt click the hammer on his gun. "You oughta' get some sleep. I'll keep watch. It'll be alright," he said in response to her worried look. "And so will you. Them savages won't come out too far this way. They won't risk conflicting with the more peaceful tribes out here," he assured her.

"Thank you,” she said softly and stood, eyes still glued to the impenetrable darkness that stretched for miles all around them. Suddenly, fear wracked her insides, but she did her best to conceal it. "I'm not sure I can sleep knowing they're as close as they are, though. They get closer than you think." She was exhausted, but the worry within her would be sure to keep her awake. Charlotte reached down to pick up a small blanket he had set on the ground, dusting it off slightly before wrapping it around herself and sitting next to him again. The softer line of her lips from earlier hardened, and she looked at Wyatt. "Have you ever fought one? I know you're not a 'gun-slinger’ or anything. I just wondered." She chastised herself for sounding so simple, but stuck with her question.

"I’ve seen my fair share," Wyatt explained. "Some tribes are friendlier than others. More accepting of what's happening to their land. But the Sioux are the worst. They're a warrior tribe. As soon as you cross the border into their territory, no one is safe," he warned. Charlotte watched his face as he spoke the first few sentences, then looked to the fire. Its warm light was hypnotizing, and made the tiredness she already felt even more of a weight on her. "They won't attack until nightfall, but they'll be watching us all day when we have to cross their land. I know you don't think you can sleep, but you'd best try. You need all the sleep you can get if you want to stay up tomorrow night when we're in the thick of danger. We might even need that special gun'a yours." He stowed the jar of vittles away in the saddle bag, laid his readied revolver on the ground beside him when he sat, and looked off into the night, keeping watch over her.

"Goodnight, Mr. Callahan," she said softly when he was finished, and gathered the wooden chest up in her good hand. Her freshly bandaged and stitched hand slipped between the two edges of the cloth that made a door-like cover on the tent. "I'm sure we'll be fine if you want to get some sleep. I know you didn't get any last night."

With that, she ducked into the tent, where a bed was already made on the cold ground. She smiled to herself, stretched out across the small space, and adjusted the blanket over herself. It took a long time for sleep to find her, mainly due to the calling and yelling in the distance. Once she fell asleep, though, it was heavy and lasted for what felt like the entire night. Really, it didn't.

She rolled over and cringed at the feeling of the wooden chest under her, realizing that she must've been holding it when she fell asleep. There was no light streaming in through the slit at the front of the tent save the flickering of the fire. Charlotte peeked her head out to find Wyatt sitting with his knees pulled up, resting against the crooks of his arms, and his hands grasping his wrists. His gun rested right beneath him, and his head was hanging down. She could barely hear his breathing, but she heard it enough to know it was deep in sleep. At the horizon line, there was a bluish glow cast across the land all around them; it wasn't enough to give light, but it was enough to give an early feel. It was probably around four in the morning. She crawled out of the tent and went to her horse, pulled out a small blanket and rested it around Wyatt's shoulders before going back into the tent and sleeping the final few hours she could.

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