The Prospector stares into his mason jar moonshine. A good barrel-aged whiskey here would cost you, but the clear moonshine was cheap and it burned all the way down. You welcome the burn on a night as cold as this.
Most of the residents of this tiny mountain town came here looking for gold, but ended up settling for silver. They spend the days slaving away in the musty, dank mines. The Prospector had a life once, and a woman who felt like home, but life is short and home was just a dream… He’d left that life behind when he came out West. He came here for gold, and gold will be his salvation.
He downs the last swig and slowly lifts his glossy eyes to the bartender, holding out his empty jar. The bartender shakes his head “Any more and you won’t be able to find your own way back home."
The Prospector eyes the bartender and grumbles “The way back home is hard to find, when you’re love drunk and moonshine blind.” He shuffles out of the saloon and into the frozen night.
It’s Christmas Eve, and the saloon is a ghost town. The Prospector sits at his usual barstool, away from the small handful of patrons. A woman in a red dress sits further down the bar, sipping a mug of wine and studying the small group of men, looking for prospects of a different kind. Her eyes land on The Prospector, and a sudden wave of homesickness washes over him. Her gaze pierces the walls of his memories and sees straight through to the man he once was. He quickly glances away, but she moves to join him.
“Merry Christmas,” she offers with a coy smile. The Prospector grunts. The bartender serves up another round of deliverance. After a long silence, the woman brushes back a golden ringlet and tries again, “Don’t you have someone to go home to on Christmas?”
The Prospector pushes back his barstool and stands “The way back home is hard to find, when you’re love drunk and moonshine blind.” He tips his hat and heads out into the cold.
The saloon is packed, stinking of booze and the sweat of men who’d spent the day working in the mines. The gentlemen in the crowd check their pocket watches every few minutes, ready to ring in the New Year. The Prospector’s usual seat at the bar is already occupied, so he orders his whiskey and searches the room for a quiet corner. There she is again, the woman in the red dress. Their eyes meet and this time it’s her turn to quickly look away, rejected. His eyes linger a moment longer, then a seat opens up at the bar and he hurriedly claims it. Another whiskey. A cheer goes up from the patrons- must be midnight. Another year. Another whiskey.
The Prospector feels someone watching him. He looks over his shoulder, scanning the room, but the woman in red is nowhere to be seen. The saloon is starting to empty out. Must be late. One more whiskey. There, at the end of the bar, it’s the woman in red smiling and talking with one of the gentlemen. Time to go home.
The Prospector holds the saloon door for another group of patrons, as he gazes out into the January darkness and braces himself against the bone-chilling wind. It will snow tonight, he thinks. Suddenly, a cry cuts through the quiet rumble of conversations. The woman in red isn’t smiling anymore, and the man she was speaking with grips her arm and growls roughly in her ear. The Prospector moves toward her, then stops himself. No. He leaves.
He stumbles up the street out of town, turning onto a dirt road glazed with snow and ice. The pine trees hover over him, whispering with each gust of wind. The Prospector’s eyelids grow leaden and each lumbering step seems too difficult to be worth the effort. The woman in red. He stops, the wind goes still. After a long moment, The Prospector turns around and picks up his pace. He feet feel lighter, his eyes are wide. He strides back through the woods with a purpose, his breath the only sound in a silent world.
He should have come to the town by now. The path suddenly seems unfamiliar. The Prospector turns and breaks into a drunken run, until a patch of ice sends him sprawling to the ground.
The world is spinning. He decides to wait for the ground to stop moving. The cold hits him hard. Thinking his eyes are going to freeze, he shuts them. His breath starts to slow. Before long, the forest becomes tranquil again and a fresh dusting of snow begins to fall.
The way back home is hard to find, when you’re love drunk and moonshine blind.