The sun had begun to set behind the Rockies in an explosion of yellow, orange, and red hues across the sky. There was just enough light available for the six men to bring the wagon up to the abandoned cabin. Two had ridden on the wagon while the other four were on horseback. Two of the riders had an additional horse led by a rope behind them. As the driver of the wagon halted the horses, the younger, Carl, lept down and ran into the cabin. Slowly, lanterns began to illuminate the aged, wooden structure. The Coy Gang often used the dilapidated cabin as a hideout to sort through their ill-gotten gains. It was out of the way and nowhere near well-traveled roads.
“Alright, let’s get it unloaded,” said the largest of the group. The gargantuan figure crawled off of his horse and walked up to the back of the wagon. They called him, “Big John” because of his size. He stood a foot taller than most and was as wide as two men. In this particular haul, the gang robbed the original owner of the wagon while seizing its contents. Though robbed is a light term Carl insisted on using considering they put three bullets in the man.
Each member began unloading the various crates and barrels from the wagon, save for one. It was a much larger crate and weighed quite a bit more than what it appeared. Dave, who often wore a red scarf around his neck, thought it could be full of goods that might fetch a few dollars in Denver. Big John and Billy, the obvious two stronger men in the gang, hoisted the long crate off the wagon and carried it inside. As they neared the center of the room, Billy stumbled over a sack of wheat and lost his grip. The large wooden box hit the floor of the cabin with a loud crack from the panels underneath. For a moment, Big John thought the crate would go through the floor.
“Ya idiot. If something’s broken in there, we’re gonna have problems.” John exclaimed putting his half of the crate down. One thing John wasn’t known for was his pleasant demeanor. He had a vicious anger streak about him and wouldn’t think twice about hauling Billy behind his horse.
“Well, who the hell put this sack here in the first place?” Billy replied standing to his feet. He picked up the sack and flung it towards Carl, the one who brought the wheat into the cabin.
“How we gonna open it?” asked one of the men through his chewing tobacco. Will had an especially large wad tucked in his cheek, which made it difficult to shut his mouth all of the way.
“Well, it looks like it’s been nailed shut. Carl, find me a pry bar, would ya?” Jesse, the self-proclaimed leader of the gang, asked walking into the cabin carrying the last few sacks from the wagon. He was the smartest of the group and often the most level-headed. Dropping the sacks nearby, Jesse gently tapped the side of the crate with his boot. Whatever was inside, the box was, indeed, heavy. The rest of the gang stood around the crate, eager to see what treasures were inside.
“Maybe it’s gold,” Dave said in an almost giddy tone. His expression was one of instant excitement at the thought of finding such.
“Mo-ron. Why the hell would they transport that much gold on the back of a shit wagon?” Will replied looking over at Dave with an eyebrow raised. As Dave looked down at his boots from embarrassment, Carl entered the cabin holding onto a long metal pry bar.
“We’re about to find out.” Jesse interrupted taking the bar from Carl. Sliding the narrow end of the bar under the crate’s lid, he gave a push downward in an attempt to force the lid open. It held fast and wouldn’t budge.
“Here, let me try.” Big John said walking over to the bar. He put all of his weight behind pushing the bar down to the point where his face was turning red.
“Billy, help him before his head pops,” Jesse ordered taking a step back. Billy grabbed what he could of the bar considering John had smothered most of it with his bulk. The two pushed with all of their might resulting in a loud creak from the lid. It was starting to give.
“Ain’t like no nails I’ve ever seen,” Will said while spitting tobacco juice onto the floor. Then, with an instant release, the lid flew open from the crate and stood upright, still connected to the other side of the container. Billy and John both landed on the floor with a great deal of force still holding onto the metal bar. A shadowy mass quickly arose from within the crate and paused as though it were looking at Jesse. It resembled a man wearing what appeared to be some kind of cloak. Only, it was more shadow than human. It didn’t seem to have any legs, though the cloak flowed down seemingly blown by some unknown, supernatural breeze. The four standing gang members all drew pistols as the shadowy form quickly made its way out the door. From the outside, the neighing of frightened horses could be heard as they quickly scattered in all directions.
“Carl, you were supposed to tie up the horses!” Jesse called out running to the door. From what the gang leader could see, one of the horses lay on the ground while the others disappeared into the night. The shadow figure rose from the horse and disappeared around the other side of the cabin.
“What the hell was that, Jess?” Carl asked coming up from behind.
“I don’t know. But it’s not friendly.” Jesse turned back towards the crate as the others were staring inside the box. The desiccated remains of a man had been laying on the bottom holding onto what looked like an egg-shaped stone. He had been wearing garments similar to what Jesse had seen regarding the war almost one hundred years ago. Intricate markings covered the surface of the stone laden with silver and gold. Most of all, it looked ancient and valuable. Billy, making his way to his feet, reached into the crate to grab the stone egg. As he tugged, he realized the body had a firm grip. Putting one hand on the chest of the remains, he ripped the egg up and out of the crate with everything he could muster. The bones of the fingers wrapped around the stone broke like dried, thin tree branches releasing a gut-wrenching crack while flying in multiple directions.
“That was a bit nasty,” said Will spitting another wad of juice onto the floor. Being as nervous as he was, he began chewing the tobacco faster. Faint laughter erupted from all around, then grew in volume. It was a hideous sound and reminded Jesse of the time he visited his brother in an asylum on the East Coast. It sent chills down his spine. The pistol in Dave’s hand began to show evidence of his nerves as it began to shake about.
Then instantly, the laughter fell silent.
Billy stepped away from the crate, the stone egg in one hand and his Colt in the other. He cocked the hammer of the pistol back, ready to fire. After a few moments, the shadowy figure emerged from the doorway and began quickly moving about the cabin. All six men opened fire, riddling the surrounding walls with bullets as the shadow moved about. None were able to hit the creature as it seemed to taunt the men. Again, it retreated out the door with an unnatural speed. Fueled by anger, Big John dropped his revolver and picked up the iron pry bar. The gun was out of live ammunition and John was possessed by a feral rage. He would beat the creature to death. The massive man charged out the door in pursuit of the shadow being.
“John, wait!” Jesse called out following behind. From just beyond the cabin’s porch, Jesse watched as the shadow creature plunged its hand into Big John’s chest. The big man let out a blood-curdling, high-pitched squeal as his mass slowly began to decrease. It was like the shadow being was draining everything out of the big man. Jesse stepped back into the cabin and slammed the door shut.
“What happened, Jess? Where’s Jon?” Dave asked as he finished reloading his revolver. The gang leader looked back, his skin pale from what he just witnessed. Stepping away from the door, he raised the barrel of his pistol towards it.
John’s screams had silenced abruptly, and the sound of his body hitting the ground could be heard in the cabin. All five of the men pointed their guns at the door, ready to obliterate anything that walked through. Without warning, the shadow quickly appeared through the aging wooden planks of the door. The cabin, again, filled with the sound of gunfire and smoke from gunpowder. The shadow quickly moved about the cabin with blazing speed. Finally, it stopped directly in front of Billy, who was still holding the egg. Billy raised his pistol and shot directly into where the creature’s face would be. The bullet passed through the shadow striking Dave in the chest.
“Dave!” Will called out running over to the wounded man. Billy dropped the stone and began reloading his pistol. The shadow then disappeared through the door.
“We can’t hurt it! What are we gonna do?” Billy yelled trying to feed live rounds into the revolver’s cylinder. Will ripped open Dave’s shirt to see the wound. The bullet had passed through his lung and out his back. His clothes quickly became saturated with blood as Will took off Dave’s scarf to use as a bandage. Coughing up blood, Dave looked up at Will while grabbing hold of his shirt.
“If I die, shoot Billy in the face.”
As Dave was being tended to, Jesse walked over to the crate. The inside was not like anything he had ever seen before, outside of the asylum, that is. The crate had been lined with some kind of dark purple cloth. Running his fingers across the fabric, he could feel what felt like a metal mesh underneath. Pulling out his knife, Jesse made a small slit in the lid’s fabric. The cloth was covering thin, silver strands. Taking a closer look at the lid, he ran his fingers across its surface. The texture wasn’t right. It had a similar feel to wood, but not quite. Moving the lid slightly, Jesse also realized the crate’s materials made up the majority of its weight. It was similar to oak but much heavier.
Carl walked over to the stone egg and picked it up. He marveled over its beauty, seemingly getting lost in the gold and silver markings on its surface. Holstering his pistol, Carl ran his fingertips across the smooth surface of the egg. Jesse looked up from examining the crate and looked back at Carl in time to see the shadow creature appear from behind the young man.
“Carl!” he yelled pulling his revolver out of its holster. The young man looked behind him and saw the hollow outline of the being and its cloak. Out of reflex, Carl doubled up his fist and struck the creature in what the young man assumed was its face. It let out a high-pitched screech and disappeared back into the cabin’s walls. Looking back at the remains of the crate, Jesse let out a sigh.
“Whoever holds the stone can touch the creature?” Jesse asked himself.
“Nah, cause I was holdin’ it when I shot Dave,” Billy replied pulling his second revolver from his hip.
“But you weren’t holding the bullet. Carl just punched it in the face.”
“So, what does that mean?”
“It means I’m gettin’ the hell outa here. I’m done with this shit!” Will yelled standing up from Dave. Instead of his usual calm demeanor, he had become frantic. Forcing past the remaining men, he opened the door and ran out into the darkness.
“Wait, Will!” Jesse yelled running to the doorway, “Remember what happened to John!”
Moments later, the screams from Will echoed throughout the landscaped.
Jesse bowed his head as he knew Will was gone. He looked over at Dave, who was still coughing up a fair amount of blood. Walking over to the wounded man, he knelt down beside him.
“Ain’t walking away from this one, am I?” Dave managed to force out. His body had begun to shake as he was losing a lot of blood. Jesse shook his head and looked down at the floor. He had known Dave the longest, and although he wasn’t the smartest man in the gang, he was still good company.
Carl stood where he was after striking the shadow creature. He was partially frozen in place by fear but was drawn to the stone he still held. As his eyes continued to explore the surface of the stone, he heard a voice calling out to him from outside.
“Carl…help me up,” The voice called towards the cabin, “I can’t move my legs.” It was Big John.
“Hey, guys, John’s still alive!” Carl yelled dropping the stone egg.
“There’s no way,” Jesse said almost to himself. He looked back to see Carl running out the door. Jesse stood to his feet and slowly walked towards the door. Then it happened; Carl let out a scream of agony. By the time Jesse made it the rest of the way to the doorway, he saw the shadow creature hovering over the body of Carl who was now resting atop the body of John. The creature seemed to look up at him for a moment and then disappeared into the surrounding darkness.
After a few moments, the gang leader walked over to the stone egg and picked it up. He looked back at the crate and began to ponder its construction. Could it be some kind of jail for the beast? Is that why it can move in and out of the solid walls of the cabin but not the crate itself?
“I know that look, Jess,” Dave said between gasps.
“If I can grab it, I can force it back into the crate,” Jesse replied walking towards the finely crafted box.
“No.” Dave forced himself onto his feet, though his balance was all but gone. “Gimme it. I can do it. I’m dead anyway.”
“Are you up to grabbing and holding onto the thing?”
“Jesse, I’m not gonna make it out. Let me buy you guys some time.”
“Alright.” Jesse said solemnly, “Hold onto the stone. When it comes for you, grab it and fall back into the crate. I’ll close it in.”
Dave stood near the opened crate, holding onto the stone egg. His balance was fading and it was getting harder to keep his eyes open. He felt cool and dizzy, but he was determined to help his best friend.
“Dave…I need help!” called a voice from outside. It was Carl.
“It’s not Carl, Dave. Stay there. Carl is gone.” Jesse whispered from behind the crate’s lid.
“Dave, please.” The voice begged. Then all was silent.
His grip on the stone egg was starting to weaken. Dave didn’t know how much longer he could stand upright. After several agonizing minutes, the shadow creature appeared from the doorway. It hovered in place facing Dave, perhaps contemplating how long it would take for the man to bleed out. With amazing speed, it charged the wounded man. Dave wrapped his arm around what he thought was the creature’s neck and pulled it back into the crate. Jesse slammed the lid down on top of the two. Muffled screams from Dave could be heard for a few minutes, and then nothing.
“Can it get out?” Billy asked looking down at the closed lid.
“God, I hope not. Let’s get the hell out of here.” Jesse replied running out the door. Billy followed closely behind him.
Birds sang morning songs in the trees all around the Georgetown Express building. It was time for the daily packages to be delivered to all sorts of destinations, and two laborers lifted the heavy crate onto the back of a wagon. The wood creaked from the weight, and the contents slightly jostled around a bit.
“Good morning, Thomas. Where did they finally find the crate?” a portly man said walking up behind the laborers. Henry was in charge of the stables across town and often supplied the horses for couriers and wagons.
“A posse found it and the remains of the gang that killed poor Eldon. They hired a tracker and found it at the old Harrison place.” Thomas replied. He was a tall, lanky fellow who didn’t have much muscle mass to his frame. Henry picked up a nearby clipboard and adjusted his glasses to read the clerk’s scrawling.
“Well, this mister…Smith will be glad to get his crate, I suppose. Any idea what’s in it?” the portly man asked putting the clipboard down.
“The instructions were clear not to open it. Besides, after the story the posse told about the bodies at the cabin, people ‘round here think it’s cursed.”
“Bah. Cursed crates.” Henry laughed walking past Thomas to enter the building.
“George and Jack will make sure it gets to this Smith fella this time.”
The sun had long gone down over the horizon by the time the wagon arrived. The night air took on a brisk temperature but was still comfortable enough to make a late-night delivery. The manor stood like some defiant sentry shielding what was left of a thriving plantation behind. Few cotton plants remained on the grounds as overgrowth from nearby woodlands began to reclaim the landscape. The grounds were in disarray and unkempt as the apparent ravages of time had long taken their toll. Where once stood a finely crafted gate were the remnants of iron and wood. Only a single lantern illuminated from one of the second-story windows of the dilapidated building. A darkened figure stood in the window overseeing the arrival of the rickety, old wagon.
“Whoa, t’ere.” the driver called pulling on the reigns. The horses came to a slow stop just in front of where the gate once stood. George had been making deliveries throughout most of his adult life. He has brought goods and packages to some odd places, and an abandoned, run-down manor was nothing new to the older gentleman.
“This can’t be the place,” Jack, the younger man, said sitting next to George. Both men looked over at the manor, which held an ominous visage as if to warn stragglers not to stick around too long.
“Aye, lad. Tis is where t’ey told us to bring it ta,” the driver replied looking back at the much younger man. George had seen his fair share of the workings of the world. His leathery face was creased with age, and his eyes were in a constant state of being bloodshot. His sight wasn’t what it used to be, which is why Jack was often sitting next to him on the wagon.
“Come, let’s get ‘tis t’ing off ta back.” the driver ordered getting to his feet. The two men slid the well-crafted crate off the back of the wagon. Old wooden planks creaked as the weight shifted. Once the crate was unloaded, it was as if the wagon itself let out one last groan of relief. Being as heavy as it was, the crate hit the ground with a hollow thud. Whatever was inside made a shifting noise from the sudden movement.
“What do you think is in there?” Jack asked standing to his feet. “It’s awfully heavy.”
“Prob’ly not’in’ we care ta know about. Come, we’re paid ta drop it off not ta carry it up.” The two mounted the wagon, and the driver lashed the reigns to start the horses moving.
Before long, the figure from the window emerged from the large doors of the manor. He was dressed finely in a long coat and top hat. A woolen shawl was stretched across the front of his face, as thin puffs of steam radiated as he mumbled to himself about hiring more competent help next time. If it had been a fragile package, the man would have confronted the courier. He walked with a slender, black cane while holding a miniature skull handle made of the purest ivory. The steady rhythm of the wooden shaft striking the stone walkway echoed throughout the grounds. Nearing the crate, the figure stooped down to feel the lid. His gloved hand stroked the fine craftsmanship of the wooden cover. Grabbing the lid, he lifted it up to reveal the contents. A shadowy figure emerged and then vanished into the darkness. In its place were the desiccated remains of a couple of men, one of whom was holding onto the egg-shaped stone. The dark figure picked up the stone and brought it closer to his face. Pulling back the shawl, he revealed his own grotesque appearance. Much of the flesh had long rotted from his jawline and part of his nose was missing. His left cheekbone was clearly visible and polished to an unnatural cream color. One eye had long ago turned a milky white while the other was as crystal blue as the calmest of Caribbean seas. As he brought the stone closer to his face, the silver and gold runes began to emit a faint yellow light.
“It’s about damn time,” the figure said with a smile, “and the moral of the story is you never touch another man’s crate.” He said looking down at the figure with a bullet hole in his chest. The figure let out a gargled laugh as the runes flashed brightly for a moment and then faded back to their embossed nature.
About the author
I am the owner and operator of several blogs including WriterSanctuary.com. As a freelance writer since 2012, I have covered a range of topics and completed over 8,000 projects for clients. Follow me @WriterSanctuary on Twitter.
Very well written. Keep up the good work!
Original narrative & well developed characters