The Mysterious Box
by Eric J. Krause
The two men stared at each other across the table, poised to reach for their pistols. The box sat in the middle, beckoning to both. The only thing that kept blood from being shed was that neither knew if the secret contents were worth dying for. They'd dug it up out near Boot Hill that morning while hunting for gold, and since the vibe screamed powerful riches, neither had been willing to share.
"Why don't you boys play cards for it?" the bartender said. He had no idea what was going on. If they hadn't been so focused on the box and each other, they may have turned their ire on him for the contempt in his voice. Instead they both nodded.
"Five card draw, blackjack, or high card?" the first asked.
"Two outta three high card," the second said.
"Aces high or low?"
For the first time since taking their seats, they tore their eyes off the other and the box and looked at the bartender. "You got cards?" one asked.
The bartender held up a pack, but didn't toss it over. "Only if you both promise to forget about your guns. At least here in my joint."
They nodded, and the cards landed on the table with a thwack. The first man opened the pack and gave it a few quick shuffles. He passed it across the table and the second guy shuffled the deck to his satisfaction. He placed the cards in the middle of the table, right next to the box.
"Who deals?" the first asked.
"I'll cut, you deal."
They looked at the cards, the box, and then at each other. "Fine," said the first.
The second cut the cards, and the first placed one before each.
"Two out of three, aces low," The bartender said, now as caught up in this business as either man. "Turn 'em over, boys."
The first man had an eight, and the second a three. They glared at each other as they took turns shuffling again. Once the deck stood ready in the center of the table, the first man cut the cards, while the second dealt them out.
"Do it," the bartender said in a strained whisper. The first man had a ten, but the second sported a queen.
"All tied up," the bartender said. Neither noticed the pair of six-shooters in his hands. Two loud pops ended the game before a winner could be declared.
"Sorry, boys, but if you two want that box so bad, it's gotta be something good." Before charging out to take control of the mystery, he listened for any commotion outside. None sounded, so he holstered his guns, vaulted over the bar, and grabbed the box. It was nondescript, wooden, and about a foot long each way around. It felt empty. He flicked the latch on top and pulled it open.
A strange red dust rose out and encircled him. Before he could move, it landed on every part of his body and soaked into his clothes, his skin, his hair. A compulsion overtook him, and he whipped out his guns faster than he ever before had and peppered the wall with precision accuracy.
He holstered his guns again and looked into the box. All he found was an old, tattered paper. It read: "You are now the best shot in the land. Use your power well, and it will bring fame and fortune. But prepare yourself for challengers. They will come fast and furious."
The doors to the saloon swung open, and the bartender jumped and grabbed for his guns.