The Magic Coin


The Magic Coin - a short story by Robert Burton Robinson
GENRE: Suspense/Fantasy. LENGTH: 4,601 words. SYNOPSIS: Her husband kills her and takes control of her magic coin. Then he realizes that he doesn’t know the magic words. Without them, the coin is useless. He must find someone to help him, because he believes that once he knows the magic words, he can have anything his heart desires—as long as he possesses the coin. But does he truly possess the coin? Or does the coin possess him?

A guy called me up and said he would pay me to write a book about his wife, who had learned witchcraft online—which would have scared me away if I actually believed that witches were a real thing. He claimed she could perform magic. Not tricks. Real magic. Yeah, right. This I had to see.

I knew there had to be some logical explanation for the wife’s so-called magical powers, but my bank balance was quickly approaching zero, so I agreed to meet with him and his wife.

I figured I could write something up in a couple of weeks. Easy money. Or so I thought.

**********

I’m not very good with directions, so I depend heavily on my Garmin to get me where I need to go. But for this trip, the thing was just a worthless piece of junk sitting on the dashboard. Google Maps was no help either. Both of them were telling me that Crenchwall Lane did not exist, but the man on the phone had explained that it was off the main highway, across from the old water tower, so I was able to find it the old-fashioned way.

When I saw the little dirt road, I understood why modern technology had failed me. It looked more like a private driveway than a public road. There was a street sign—but it was made of wood instead of metal like the other signs along the highway.

It was already getting dark, and because of the tall pine trees lining the road, it looked like I was about to drive off into a black hole—as though vehicles that went in never came out. However, I’m a fiction writer, so my mind runs wild sometimes, imagining horrific scenarios based on little, if any, rational thought.

I brushed aside my silly fears and pushed forward, but after driving a couple of miles down the one-lane path, the tree trunks began to close in on me until there was no more than a foot of clearance on either side of my car. I had assured myself when I started down the road that I could turn back at any time. I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I realized that the proximity of the trees would not allow me to turn around.

I couldn’t back my way out either because I had no backup lights. Why had I never taken the time to replace those bulbs? Maybe there would be a clearing up ahead, I thought. Maybe I would finally reach my client’s house. It would have been a lot smarter to wait until morning for our meeting. Why had the man insisted that I come that night?

I’d been meaning to get my car battery changed. It was already past its expiration date. I picked up my phone. One bar. Great. If the engine died and I couldn’t re-start it, I’d be lost out there in the middle of nowhere, with no way to see or call for help. I felt my chest begin to tighten.

Then it dawned on me. This was all a cruel joke. A prank. There was no magic wife. What a fool I’d been. The man on the phone had sent me down some abandoned road in the dead of night. He was probably somewhere across town laughing his butt off.

I spotted a light up ahead—and a clearing. Maybe this was it. There was a mobile home—looked like a 1970s model—with an old Nissan sedan and a rusted-out pickup parked in front of it.

This couldn’t be right, I thought. Whoever lives here can’t afford to pay me anything. And besides, if the wife could perform magic tricks, wouldn’t she have waived her magic wand and zapped them into a mansion? And she could have turned these junkers into a Mercedes and a brand new Dodge Ram.

It had been one big waste of time and gas. I turned my car around and was about to get out of there when the trailer door opened and a man stepped out. He was wearing a faded Willie Nelson T-shirt, jeans, and crappy-looking boots. He waved at me and flashed a big grin as he walked down the steps.

He looked like trouble, and I had a strong urge to jam the accelerator to the floor and never look back.

He walked up to my window. “Mr. Robinson, I was afraid you weren’t coming. I’m Cody Crenchwall.” He smelled like he’d been drinking beer all day, although he didn’t seem drunk.

This was worse than a prank. “Uh, I’m having second thoughts about this job. My schedule is pretty full. I shouldn’t have agreed to—”

“You think I ain’t got no money. Well, I can’t say I blame you. You take a look at my trailer and figure old Cody ain’t got two nickels to rub together. But this is just our weekend getaway place, man.”

“I see.”

He saw me glance at his old pickup.

“And I ain’t crazy enough to drive the Lexus out here.”

“Hmm.” It didn’t smell right, and I was about to bail—no matter what he said.

“But if you’re still worried about it, a little deposit ought to make you feel better.” He reached into his shirt pocket, took out a check, and handed it to me. Five hundred dollars.

It did make me feel a little feel better, though I would have preferred cash. “It’s non-refundable,” I said.

“Of course. Now, come on in, and let’s get started.”

I killed the engine and stuffed the check into my billfold as I got out of my car and followed him into the trailer.

**********

The inside of the trailer looked even worse than the outside. And it stunk—like somebody had been making smoothies out of beer and rotten eggs.

Empty beer bottles were strewn across the kitchen counter.

“Take a load off.” He offered me a rickety-looking kitchen chair. There was a stack of magazines and papers in the seat. He pushed them off to the floor. “Want a beer?”

“No thanks.” I sat down carefully, half-expecting the creaky old chair to collapse.

He opened the fridge and took out a bottle of Budweiser.

I looked around. “Where’s your wife? I can’t wait to see some of her magic.”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, well, Debra ain’t here right now. Had to make a trip into town for some groceries. Can’t let her old man go hungry.” He patted his beer gut.

His explanation seemed odd to me, since I had assumed that the Nissan sitting out front was his wife’s car.

“But we can get started without her.” He sat down, twisted the cap off his beer, and reached into his pocket. He took out a silver coin and handed it to me.

It was about the size of a silver dollar. The Latin words pecuniam magicae, on the face of the coin, meant magic money or money magic, I thought—although it had been a long time since high school Latin. It looked like something you might get in a magic kit.

“What do you think?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“Does it look special to you?”

I examined it more closely. “Not really. Should it?”

“Debra used that coin with some magic words to make a million dollars.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Do you believe me?”

No, I didn’t believe him. He had a crazy look in his eyes, and I was pretty sure I knew why. “A million dollars…so, where is it? Where’s the money?”

“It’s in her private checking account—that I didn’t know she had. She ain’t supposed to have her own bank account. I control the money in this household.”

“So, you never actually saw the money?”

“Yeah, I saw it—online, in her account. And I want to know how she put it there.”

“Then why not just ask her? I’m sure she’d be glad to put money in your account too—if it’s that easy.”

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you? We’ve been married for twenty years. I let her go to nursing school, and then I let her take that job at the hospital—even though she’s got to work a lot of nights. I put up with a lot for that woman, and now she won’t give me squat.”

“She walked out, didn’t she?”

His initial reaction gave it away, but he tried to recover. “No, no. Like I said—she’s up at Walmart. She’ll be back in a while.”

I spotted a black purse on the coffee table in the living room, and he caught me eyeing it. He stood up without a word, walked over to a kitchen drawer, and pulled out a revolver.

I threw my hands in the air. “Whoa, wait a minute, man, what are you doing?”

“You ask too many questions, Mr. Robinson.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“Oh, you’re gonna help. You’re gonna figure out the magic words Debra used with that coin. You’re gonna make me rich.”

How was I supposed to do that?

“Give me your phone.”

I took it out of my pocket and handed it to him. “It’s a new iPhone. I just got it last week, so please be careful with—”

He dropped it on the floor and stomped it with his boot.

It was inevitable, of course, that something like that would happen to my phone—since I didn’t buy the insurance.

“And don’t bother trying to make a call on my home phone either. It’s disconnected.” He opened the laptop that was on the kitchen table and pushed it in front of me. “Now, I want you to find them magic words. Debra found them out there somewhere, so I know you can find them too. But I better not catch you trying to talk to somebody online, or you’re gonna be joining my lovely bride.”

Obviously, she was not at Walmart. I could only imagine what he’d done to her. Probably involved an ax or a chainsaw.

And I definitely did not wish to join her.

**********

I searched the Internet for two hours, and my clothes were drenched with sweat. I knew I’d never find any magic words. I might as well have been looking for a genie in a bottle.

Cody was sitting on the couch in the living room, which was separated from the kitchen by only a four-foot-tall divider. He slammed his beer bottle down on the coffee table. “What’s taking you so long? You make up stories for a living. You know all about this magic crap. You’re just stalling.”

“No, I’m really not.”

He stood up. “You already found the magic words, didn’t you? You’re keeping them for yourself.”

“What? No. Believe me, I will tell you when I find them.” If I had already found the magic words, I would have turned him into a rock.

He came over to the kitchen table with the revolver. “Take off your shoes and socks.”

“Why?”

“‘Cause you’re taking too long. So I’m gonna start picking off your little piggies one by one. That ought to speed you up.”

I held up my hand. “No. That would stop everything. I wouldn’t be able to think at all. So if you’re gonna start shooting off body parts, you might as well just kill me right now.” I couldn’t believe I’d said that.

“You don’t think I’ll do it?”

I gritted my teeth. “I want you to do it. Go ahead, tough guy. Cap me in the chest! Then you’ll never get your money.”

Cap you? You been watching too much TV.”

“Either kill me right now or back 0ff and give me some space. I can’t think when you’re pointing that thing at me!”

“No kidding. You’re talking like a maniac. Okay. Fine.” He stepped away from me and tucked the gun into his waistband. “Happy now?”

“No. But that’s better.” I went back to searching the web. “So, you actually saw Debra perform the magic with this coin?”

“No, but I heard her do it. She was sitting right there at the kitchen table, and she didn’t know I was listening outside the window.”

“So, what did she say? Tell me her exact words.”

“If I could remember the magic words, I wouldn’t need you!”

“Just tell me what you do remember. Anything and everything.”

“How’s that gonna help?”

“I won’t know until you tell me. It may not help at all. But it might.”

“Okay. She said some words that sounded like a foreign language, and then she said ‘Put one million dollars in my secret checking account.’ Then she started yelling, ‘I’m rich, I’m freaking rich!’”

“I ran inside and said, ‘We’re rich!’ But she told me I wasn’t getting a dime of it. I pushed her out of the way and saw her bank account on the computer—and sure enough, there was a new deposit: one million dollars.”

“Where did the money come from? Did you see?”

“I don’t know. She said she was leaving me. I told her she was gonna put a million in my account too, and then she could go wherever she wanted. But she wouldn’t do it, man. Can you believe that? That’s all she had to do.”

“And if she had…”

“That’s right—she’d still be alive. Stupid old hag.”

“So, you…shot her?”

“No, I didn’t shoot her. I was trying to talk some sense into her when she fell down and cracked her head open on the corner of that coffee table.”

“She tripped?”

“No, I pushed her, man. All right? I pushed her. But I didn’t mean to kill her. And then I went back to the computer. I figured I’d just transfer the money to my account. But her account had already logged off automatically. So I tried every password I could think of—until I got locked out.”

“It was an accident, though. And that’s what you’ve got to tell the police.”

“Hah! You’re an idiot if you think I’m gonna turn myself in.” He pulled the gun out and pointed it at me. “And if you don’t hurry up and figure out how to get me some of that magic money, you’re a dead man. Do you understand me?”

“Yes.”

I was a dead man.

**********

At around midnight, Cody got up from the couch and walked down the hallway. It was his third trip to the bathroom. He said, “Don’t get any stupid ideas.”

But I’d already had several stupid ideas. The first time he went, I considered sending an email for help, but by the time I worked up the nerve to do it, he was already coming back.

The second time, I stuffed the magic coin into my pocket, thinking that if I somehow managed to escape, the coin would be proof of…what? I wasn’t sure.

The third time, I was gonna make a run for it. I figured I could probably make it out the door safely. But then what? Jump into my car and pray the engine would start before Cody ran out and started shooting at me? Or I could sprint into the thick, black woods and hope I didn’t barrel into a tree.

I jumped up and dashed for the door. I had only taken a couple of steps when I heard, “You’ll never make it.”

I stopped cold and put my hands up. “Don’t shoot.”

He walked past me to the kitchen pantry. “If you so much as blink an eye, I’m gonna put a hole in you, boy.” He kept the revolver pointed in my direction and grabbed an electric lantern from the pantry. He turned it on and handed it to me, and said, “Let’s go.” Then he marched me out of the trailer.

“Where are you taking me?”

“To be with Debra. She’ll enjoy the company.”

“You don’t have to do this, Cody. Let me go, and you can tell the police how Debra accidentally fell and hit her head.”

“Right. And how I buried her body in the woods. Sounds kind of suspicious, don’t you think? Nah, I ain’t going to prison. The cops will never find her body—or yours. Hold it right there.” He grabbed a shovel that was leaning against the back of the trailer. He handed it to me and pointed. “Go that way.”

The woods were dense, and occasionally a branch caught me in the face, and it felt like I was bleeding. But what difference does it make when you’re about to die?

I needed a plan, and I needed it fast. How could I get the gun away from him? Was there any chance I could run away without getting shot? There was no moonlight at all. What if I tricked him into looking away and then turned off the lantern and ran. He wouldn’t be able to see me. Of course, he might get off a lucky shot. Or, I might run straight into a tree branch and impale myself.

We had walked a couple of hundred yards when he said, “This is it—right here. Now dig yourself a nice grave right beside hers.”

I set the lantern down. The batteries were getting weak, but I could see the mound of loose soil. I felt sick knowing that a woman was under that dirt.

I held out the shovel. “Dig it yourself.”

He sneered at me. “I’ve got six bullets, so let’s see…that’s one for each leg, one for each arm…”

Suddenly I had an idea. And without thinking it through, I acted on it. I reached into my pocket, took out the magic coin, and held it up. “Don’t you want to see some magic before you kill me?”

“You said you couldn’t find the magic words.”

“I lied.”

“Show me.”

With the shovel in my left hand and the coin with my right, I said, “Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit. Cody will not shoot me.”

Cody got a strange look on his face, and his gun hand started shaking. I was five feet away, so there was no way he could miss. It was not the reaction I’d hoped for. I figured he’d want to believe that I knew the magic words, so he would put the gun away and take me back to the trailer so I could produce that million dollars for him.

I wondered how long it would take me to lose consciousness. How many seconds would my brain keep working while I was lying on the ground, bleeding to death? I had to try again. “Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit. Cody will shoot himself.”

Cody’s hand began to turn the revolver away from me and bend awkwardly until he was pointing it directly at his own chest. He started freaking out. “What are you doing? Stop it!”

Had I accidentally cast a spell on him?

He grabbed the gun with both hands, trying desperately to pull it away from his chest, but his hands appeared to have a mind of their own, because they began to move the barrel of the gun all across his upper body as though it were a Ouija board. To his stomach, then up to his neck. Finally, over his heart. “Help me, please! I wasn’t really gonna shoot you! I was just trying to scare you so you’d give me the magic words.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Say the magic words. Tell the gun not to shoot me.”

It was crazy. I had no idea what was going on. “Why should I?”

He began to cry. “Help me. I’ll do anything.”

“I’ll give you the help you deserve.” Then, in a melodramatic voice, I said, “Shoot Cody through the heart.”

“No, please!”

The gun fired, and Cody collapsed to the ground.

I froze.

Then I heard a woman laughing hysterically. It sounded like she was only a few feet away from me, but I couldn’t see her. “He wanted magic, so you gave him magic.” An attractive woman stepped into the light.

I didn’t kill him,” I said. Although I wasn’t absolutely sure.

She said, “Hi. I’m Debra.”

**********

Debra and I walked back to the trailer together. I was carrying the lantern, and the batteries were getting weaker by the minute. We had just enough light to make our way safely through the trees.

“Why are you here, Mr. Robinson?”

I wondered how she knew my name. “Cody told me he’d pay me to write a story about how you had studied witchcraft online and how you could do magic.”

“And did he pay you?”

“He gave me a five-hundred dollar check.”

She laughed. “I wouldn’t try cashing that if I were you.”

It wasn’t at all surprised to hear her say that. “Well, are you a witch?”

“No, of course not.”

“Okay. But the thing that happened back there with Cody—he wouldn’t have shot himself on purpose. There must have been some external force that made him do it.”

He obviously thought it was you.”

“I wasn’t me. I just said some Latin words I remembered from high school. I don’t have any magical powers.”

“Hmm. We believe what we want to believe, don’t we, Mr. Robinson?”

“Well, right now I don’t know what to believe. Your husband told me you were dead. He said he buried your body out there.”

“Cody said a lot of crazy things.”

“So you didn’t fall and hit your head on the coffee table? And he didn’t bury you?”

She gave me a quizzical smile.

“Well, you must have really hated him, because you laughed when he died.”

“Oh, I did hate him—he was terribly abusive. But that’s not why I laughed. It was because of what you said: Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit—a wise man does not urinate against the wind.

We both laughed.

She said, “I took Latin in high school too.”

Debra was not at all what I had expected. I began to think that none of what Cody had said about her was true. Apparently he was just a mean nut case, and it was his own delusional mind that gave my words power over him. It must have been his true belief in the magic coin that caused him to shoot himself.

When we reached the trailer, Debra said, “You seem like a nice man, Mr. Robinson. Good luck.” She walked to the Nissan and opened the driver’s door.

“But…the police are gonna want to talk to you too,” I said. “In fact, I need you as a witness.”

I could see her more clearly now under the bright glow of the porch light. What was that on the back of her white blouse? Dirt?

She turned around. There was dirt on the front of her clothes too—and what appeared to be dried blood on her forehead.

I felt my jaw drop. The handle of the lantern slipped from my fingertips, and the lantern fell to the ground.

She said, “I’m sorry, but I have to go. The police won’t believe me anyway.”

Debra got into her car and drove off into the dark, narrow passageway that led back to civilization. I watched her taillights fade to black and was about to look away when I saw red lights in the sky just above the treetops. They kind of looked like her taillights. But, of course, it was probably an airplane.

I prayed the police would believe my story, but who was I kidding? Nobody was going to believe any of it.

I instinctively reached into my left pants pocket for my phone to call 9-1-1. Then I remembered that Cody had crushed it with his boot—and that his home phone was disconnected. Wonderful.

As I walked toward my car, I pulled out my keys and something fell to the ground—the magic coin.

I got a chill up my spine. Had my Latin phrase—as juvenile as it was—activated the magic of the coin? Had I killed Cody?

He had claimed that Debra had used the coin to put a million dollars in her bank account. If so, then the coin was magic, and I had murdered him. I threw it as hard as I could—deep into the woods.

Yes, I had just thrown away evidence from a crime scene. How was I gonna explain that to the police? I had no idea.

I got into my car and tried to start the engine. It turned over slowly, but wouldn’t start. I kept trying, but it was no use. Then I remembered Cody’s truck. But the tires were flat. I hadn’t noticed that before. Weird.

The lantern was still lying on the ground where I had dropped it. Its batteries had died, and there was no way I was gonna walk back to the highway in total darkness. I locked all my doors, leaned my seat back, and closed my eyes. Daylight would come in six hours.

I should have been creeped out after everything that had happened. Instead, I just felt numb. But I was fine…until I drifted off and started dreaming about the coin—out there in the woods somewhere, on the ground or resting on top of a tree branch, calling to me. No, screaming: Come rescue me now, and I will grant you unimaginable power.

But I never went out there to look for it. I told the police about throwing it into the woods, but they couldn’t find it.

They did find Debra, though—right where Cody had buried her. I watched them dig up her body.

The woman I had talked with and laughed with that night—was already dead at the time. So, who was I talking to—a ghost?

Maybe, but they still haven’t found her car.

Fortunately, the DA cleared me of all charges, although I was advised to see a therapist. I thought, Gee, I would have had the money to see one if Cody’s five-hundred dollar check wasn’t hot.

And, the police checked Debra’s bank account. The one million dollars I told them about was not there. Somebody had wired the money to an offshore account—a few minutes after I saw her drive away.

Obviously, there had been a third party involved who got away with the money, but where had the money come from? The police might know, but they didn’t tell me.

And what about my interaction with Debra that night? It had seemed so real, but of course, it couldn’t have been. She was already dead. Maybe my mind was trying to keep me from freaking out by tricking me into thinking I wasn’t out there alone, lost in the woods in the dead of night.

That was the answer that seemed to make the most sense—until I got an envelope in the mail with five one-hundred dollar bills in it, along with a note that said, Sorry for your trouble.

It was signed with the letter ‘D.’

THE END