I’m still working on my website, and trying to catch up on everything else. As part of that, I put a new short story up on my Patreon page. Which means it’s been long enough that I can release a short story here, too!
Let me know what you think!
(Sorry there’s no picture, but I don’t have time today. Sigh.)
Your Money or Your Life
A Short Story by Robin Wood
Gilbert Clarence Barnette the third peered around the pile of rocks. He could see the coach now, far down the road. Well, what he actually saw was a cloud of golden dust, but it was moving far too swiftly to be anything but the coach.
He rolled back behind his chosen cover, enjoying the thrill bubbling inside him. His father would be livid if he knew! Of course, with any luck, he never would know. But still, knowing he was doing something that would infuriate the old man was its own special flavor of wonderful. It didn’t hurt that he was risking his life, at least in theory. He might even get a haul of gold and precious gems! Not that he needed them; he had plenty of money. At least the old bastard was good for that. Ever since he learned the value of a coin, Gil had only to put out his hand, and his dad would fill it with cash.
It was the thrill he was after! He’d dreamed of being a highwayman all his life; dashing, handsome, devilish, without a care in the world. Not that he had many cares. Anything he wanted always fell into his lap. Which was why he was so bored with it all.
But this! Ah! This was exciting! He felt more alive than he had… well … ever, really.
He peeked again. The coach was clearly visible now, the horses’ legs flashing, the windows glinting as they caught the lowering sun. Perfect. In about three minutes they’d come to the bend in the road, see the deadfall he’d put out, and have to stop. It was time for him to get into place.
Grinning to himself, he adjusted the fine silk scarf over his nose and mouth, pulled his hat brim down as far as it would go, loosened his pearl handled six-shooter, and slipped into the small copse that had supplied his deadfall. Just one branch, really. Anyone could move it aside easily, but there wasn’t room to drive around it, and with no other traffic, and the road known to be safe (thanks to Dear Old Dad) he was gambling that the coach driver wouldn’t want to risk injury to the horses.
His heart pounding, he waited.
“Woah! Woah there!”
Yes! Right on schedule, the coach drew to a halt.
With a flourish, Gil drew his gun, stepped into the road, and said, “That’s enough! Everyone out of the coach! Line up!”
He had the drop on them. The driver made an abortive move toward his rifle, thought better of it, and climbed down, as the passengers debarked.
If he’d really been a robber, dependent on their pockets for his living, it would have been a disappointing catch. An old graybeard, slightly threadbare. Probably a professor of some kind. A haughty woman, who lifted her chin and glared at him with her nostrils flaring. Some fairly good jewelry on that one, but nothing really fine. A slender girl, maybe 13 or 14, who looked underfed and overworked, with her head bowed. And of course the driver.
But the looks on their faces were extremely gratifying! Pale, trembling, just the way people should look at Gil! Even the woman looked worried. He’d make her sweat just to see it.
“Your money or your life!”
This was such fun! He finally got to say it in a real robbery!
The girl looked up, straight into his eyes, with a smile that looked almost like feral triumph. “Done!” she whispered, stamping her right heel.
The world dissolved in bright white light, Gil’s stomach dropped to his toes, and then he was looking at himself, as if he was stooping among his victims. Looking right into the barrel of his gun, but just for a moment.
In stunned disbelief, he saw himself shout “Yes!” and fling both arms up, then holster the gun.
How could he be outside himself, watching? It made no sense!
Gil looked up into the face he was used to seeing in the mirror, or at least the part that showed between his scarf and his hat. His own bright blue eye winked at him. “You asked for it, you got it. Enjoy it!”
Confused, he watched the hand that had always been his go into what he thought of as his pocket, and come out with a gold coin.
“Hey!” he said. But his voice was high and thin; nothing like his voice at all. And it didn’t come from the figure in front of him.
Instead, that figure said, “Just joking, folks. Here, for your trouble.” And he tossed the gold piece to the driver. A $50 gold piece!
The driver caught the coin, as the highwayman turned on his heel with a little spring, and vanished among the trees.
“Spoiled brat.” The driver spat to the side, then examined the coin and grinned as he pocketed it. “Go ahead and get back in, folks. It’ll only take a moment to clear this.”
Gil felt someone grab his arm, and a harsh voice said, “Get in the coach, Livy, you lazy layabout.” He looked up, shocked, to see the nasty woman glaring down at him.
“No backtalk. Do as I say.” And she shook him viciously.
He would have protested, but at that moment he felt a horrible pain in his lower abdomen, as if all the muscles there had clenched at once. With a gasp, he folded over, as much as he could with the woman’s hand still holding his arm tightly enough to bruise.
She shoved him towards the door, and he found himself climbing in, and scooting over on the slick horse hair seat. His legs no longer reached the floor, and he was wearing some kind of dress made of cheap cloth. He felt sick, weak, and cold. Unfamiliar memories crowded his head.
He plastered his face to the window, and was just in time to see his body, mounted on his fine chestnut horse, riding away to his lovely, wealthy, luxurious life.