Illustrations by Robyn Ganguin

Illustrations by Robyn Ganguin

The Quest for Winter Gold

An original South Cariboo Christmas tale

Tom was sitting in the restaurant eating an early dinner by himself when his phone buzzed. For a fleeting moment, the absolutely smallest of smiles could be seen in the corners of his mouth but it was just that, fleeting.

“Merry Christmas from your dentist,” Tom’s most recent email read. Before that, his list of emails included two more Christmas greetings, one from his bank and one from his cell phone provider. Three notifications that said his bill was ready, from his bank, cell phone provider and internet provider and an email reminding him of his next dental cleaning. None of them were personal emails.

He’d finished hauling his last load of logs for the week and was eating dinner as usual. The restaurant was fairly full but the tables around him were all empty. Another gentleman was also sitting by himself checking his phone. Tom had stared at him for a bit but the gentleman never looked up from his phone.

He finished up, gave the waitress a generous tip and decided to go for a stroll down Birch Avenue past all the stores. He didn’t have any shopping to do but liked seeing all the decorations and Christmas activity.

Up ahead some young girls were inviting passersby to come to their Christmas concert that evening. Tom let out a deep sigh and crossed the road before they got to him. Even another night at home reading a book seemed better than being ignored at a big social event. He stared at the ground as they passed on the other side of the street. He kept on walking, dragging his feet a little, before noticing a cat lying in a windowsill above one of the shops. He stared at it for a while before he moved on.

Up ahead, a cashier who’d checked his groceries and had been really friendly was walking in his direction. He smiled but she didn’t notice and walked right past him.

In one of the stores, a big sign said, “Christmas lights 30 per cent off.” He opened the door and walked in. He picked up two boxes of Christmas lights and proceeded to the till.

He paid for the items, got in his truck and set off on Highway 97. On the radio, they were reading stave one of A Christmas Carol. Tom found himself envious of Scrooge who had a clerk and nephew to talk to. After a long while, he took a left turn onto a gravel road. A large red sign noted “Private property.” Another one in black and white said “No Trespassing.”

He drove down the gravel road, which had a solid nearly a foot of snow on it, for ten to fifteen minutes before a house emerged. It had the absolute best Christmas display anywhere in the Cariboo. Out on a hill beside the house sat a big sleigh with eight lifesize reindeer in front. The whole display was covered in white Christmas lights. With how dark it was outside, you could have taken a picture and it would have looked like it was flying in the night sky.

Where Tom parked his truck, old-style lanterns lit up the area.

The house itself was absolutely covered in lights from red ones along the roof to icicle lights along the window and more white lights in the shape of snowmen along the walls. The windows had little elves painted into the corners.

Right where he took off his boots, there were two little metal bowls, both empty. He went into the kitchen and put the lights on the counter beside four more boxes of Christmas lights. There was also a little bit of mail. A statement from the bank and a letter that read “thank you for your donation.” On top of it lay a little collar that read “Tigger.” In the whole house, there was not a single photograph.

He made a cup of tea, sat down in his chair and picked up a book.

Tom wasn’t sure how much time had gone by when he looked up and saw a light moving at the neighbours’ house across the lake. He grabbed his binoculars that were sitting on a shelf and looked out the window. The light was moving as if someone was walking around with a flashlight but he couldn’t see what was going on.

The neighbours had gone to Florida for the winter and in order to get to the house at all, you had to drive by Tom’s first. Furthermore, there were no other neighbours for at least five kilometres if not more. The neighbours were paying Tom a small fee to keep an eye on their place while they were gone for the winter. He put his coat back on, put on his toque and started up his snowmobile.

Driving over he couldn’t see the path he’d made the last time he went over a few days ago. Nor could he see any fresh tracks of any kind.

When he got to the neighbour’s house, he stopped outside the yard, whipped out his binoculars and took another look. The light was still moving around in the house. He took out his hunting rifle and decided to slowly walk the remaining distance.

When he got to the house, the door was locked. He looked through the window but couldn’t see anyone. He quietly unlocked the door. Inside, an old portable oil lamp stood burning on the table beside the door. He walked in but didn’t see anyone. Then, out of nowhere, he felt something hit him in the back of the head and he passed out.

When Tom woke up, he smelled of horse and was being shaken around a fair bit. When he opened his eyes, he saw kind of dirty white fabric stretched some feet above him. When he sat up, he immediately realized that he was inside a covered wagon, which struck him as really odd. Tom wasn’t sure he’d ever seen one of those, other than one parked on the side of the road in Clinton a few years ago. Certainly, there weren’t a whole lot of them left. A cold wind was howling through the wagon, making it creak, which added to the sound of fresh snow being crushed under the wheels. Tom didn’t recognize the clothes he was wearing at all.

“Ah Tom, you’re awake. Good,” said the driver of the wagon. “I bet you’re wondering what happened. Well, you fell into a time hole. That is after I hit you in the back of the head with my gold pan anyways. Put a bit of a dent into it actually.”

Tom started making his way to the front.

“Just watch your head there. You’d think with a pot hanging there like that people would know to duck. Yet, everyone seems to want to test which is harder, their head or the pot. I have to say, we don’t have any of that stuff that looks like it’s solid metal but really doesn’t hold up to anything. I sat on top of your neighbour’s wagon while I waited for you to come over and boy let me tell you, I didn’t know spurs could scratch metal like that. Though mind you, I’m not sure what good a wagon like that is anyways. It seems impossible to hook a horse up to. Anyways, the name’s Angus Nottuln. That’s a fancy town in Germany you know. So regardless of what these dusty ragged clothes may impress upon you, you’re dealing with a classy fella here.”

Tom had a million questions but Angus rattled on so quickly it was impossible to get a word in edgewise.

“Just wanted to let you know not to worry too much about the dent in my gold pan. I don’t really plan on doing any panning anytime soon. There’s a reason afterall there are fewer miners coming up than there used to be. I just drive. Some fella left the pan a few months ago. Said something about cattle before heading off. Ah, look at that will ya, nothing better than a nice sunrise. Especially in the winter. Can you just turn off the lantern there.”

Angus pulled the wagon to a halt but before Tom had a chance to move, not that he had any idea what to do, Angus had already jumped off and turned it off.

“Thanks for the help Tom,” somehow Angus actually sounded sincere. Perhaps Angus was too used to talking to himself. Tom was about to say you’re welcome but before he had a chance to do so, Angus continued on.

“You know I really like this new lantern I’ve got. Some people like to hold on to things from the past but objectively, this new lantern burns a lot longer. On a separate note, I really…”

Tom finally interrupted.

“Why am I here and where the hell are we going!?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you’re here because of your own doing. I mean I know I’m the one that hit you in the head and everything but that’s beside the point. Anyways, we’re here and I’ve got three stops to make. After that, you can do whatever you please.”

Angus kept talking for as long as there was daylight. Tom didn’t say a word the whole time. Tom could hear Angus just fine but somehow the cold wind stripped all meaningfulness from what he said. A couple of times Tom had picked up a hitchhiker while driving his truck, but after a few polite but meaningful questions, it just turned into awkward silence. Tom thought it felt very much like that. He stared off into the distance. Despite the sun being up and removing the need for the lantern, the low winter sun and overcast skies meant it felt very dark.

Tom had a lot of questions. How long were they going to be on the road? What direction and where were they travelling to? But it didn’t seem like he would get much of an answer. Besides, it would be rude to interrupt Angus.

Before long, heavy snow started falling. It was blinding Tom. He couldn’t see very far ahead and even Angus, who was sitting close beside him, seemed to disappear in the snow and darkness.

After the sun had set, a little light could be seen shimmering in the distance.

“Ah, the first of our stops.”

Angus pulled his wagon up to a large log building.

“Welcome to the Clinton Hotel,” he said.

When Tom stepped off it was right into a slushy puddle.

Angus rang the bell on his coach and a gentleman came outside.

“Ah if that isn’t Un Nut. I wasn’t expecting to see you until the 17th.”

“You know darn well it’s Nottuln and I made good headway. This is Tom. Tom, this is Al Francis.”

Al and Angus unloaded a few crates and started stabling the horses. Tom, being of no use whatsoever when it came to that, went inside.

There was a large wood stove. In front of it stood a pair of sizeable comfortable chairs. In the back, there were a table and four chairs. On a single shelf stood five books. Tom let out a bit of a sigh when he walked over to the shelf. Two of the five were catalogues, there were also two copies of the Bible, the last was a copy of Frankenstein. Tom picked the book up, sat down and started reading.

He could still feel the cold wind blowing and with little light other than from the fireplace which was more smouldering than burning brightly, he had to strain to make out the words.

He was about five pages in when Al and Angus came bursting through the door laughing.

Angus and Al went to the back table. They lit a light and started playing cards. After finishing the first chapter, it had gotten too dark to continue reading the book from where Tom was sitting. A big gust of wind came in through a crack and gave him the shivers. After contemplating it for ten or fifteen minutes, Tom decided he didn’t really have any choice other than to join them. Although he severely doubted they would have anything to talk about.

He walked up to the table.

“Have you gentlemen ever played Texas hold ‘em?”

“No, but you’re about to teach us,” said Angus. Al stood up.

“I’m going to add some wood to the fire and grab us some drinks. This could get interesting.”

Al quickly filled the woodstove, which instantly burned much hotter. When Al came back into the room he lit a second light and poured all three of them a drink.

After they’d been playing for a bit Angus interrupted them.

“Take a look at this, you’re gonna have an absolute gas,” Angus said to Tom as he pulled out a little tin and took an old piece of newspaper out of it.

The old piece of newspaper read “The Camels are Coming!” The article continued mockingly, “and after they have been disposed of, a number of trained whales will be placed on the route between Victoria and the Stikine River carrying freight and inside passengers a la Jonah.”

“We’ve seen ‘em you know,” said Angus. “I was travelling with Al over here and Frederick ‘The Barrel’ Vredevelt. Me and Al knew they had just left 70 Mile ahead of us. The Barrel, oblivious to everything as usual, had no idea. When we left, we made up this fella named George Auburn. We told him old George was pleasant enough but nearly 45 years old and had never even kissed a gal before on account of his seven-deuce hand in the looks department.”

Fred was fearless except in one department, added Al. He had never dared talk to a girl before. Angus continued the tale.

“We told Fred that one day, a couple of years ago, George heard some commotion up around the bend. George made it around the corner and, low and behold, a wagon was being attacked by a moose. Well, George managed to scare the beast off and one of the gals riding in the coach was so impressed they were married not even two weeks later. We made the tale taller still by telling him she was nearly 20 years George’s junior.”

Most people would have seen right through the whole story but not goodnatured Fred, Al added before Angus once again continued on.

“Of course none of it wasn’t true. Neither of us even knew anyone named George but after going on about it for three hours or so, Fred was well convinced. We were still talking about George when we heard a ruckus up ahead. Fred and his horse launched around the corner. The sight of the camels had spooked a team of horses and caused a wagon to go straight off the road. Fred’s horse, which was in a near full gallop at that point, didn’t react much differently. First, it reared up but Fred, for whom it was a miracle he didn’t roll off a horse that wasn’t moving at all, somehow managed to hold on. When it came down, it bolted, took a sharp turn and this time Fred went flying right on top of this old school teacher lady. She’d been riding on the wagon but had made it off before things went sideways completely. Before Fred had a chance to move, one of the camels even chewed a hole in the back of his pants.”

Tom, Al and Angus all burst out laughing.

“Of course Fred was completely flustered and turned bright red. The old lady reamed him out about going too fast to boot too. Best part is, we helped the wagon driver get back on the road and drove to the Bridge Creek House with him. Fred married his daughter not two weeks later.”

The three men kept playing and conversation, tall tales, and the occasional card trick all flowed easily until late in the night.

The next morning as they were getting ready to hit the road, Tom interrupted.

“Can’t we stay for another day since you’re ahead of schedule? It’s been a good long while since I had such a good time.”

“Sorry, I would like to stay ahead of schedule.”

Outside the cold winter wind was howling.

They spent a few more minutes before Angus said, “Time to go.”

Despite the lateness of the night before, they left before the sun was up. It was absolutely pitch black out and the snow seemed almost thicker than the night before.

After the bright and warm Clinton Hotel, the freezing temperatures and gusts cut straight through his clothing. Even with the lantern up front, Tom couldn’t make out anything but shapes and he didn’t think Angus felt like talking.

“I’m going to take a short nap in the back,” Tom mumbled so quietly, there was no chance Angus had heard it.

However, once Tom laid down in the back, he couldn’t fall asleep regardless of how exhausted he felt. Between the uneven road and the hard wagon, he was regularly receiving a cold hard thump in the back. The light of the lantern didn’t at all make it into the back.

He had no idea how long it was going to take to get to their next destination, causing him once again to feel a little lost and confused, especially since he didn’t know what that next destination was. If it had been bright out, he would have been able to tell based on the landscape, having driven in the Clinton area many times before, but in the pitch black and with everything covered in snow, it all looked the same.

Tom laid in the back of the wagon for what seemed like an eternity yet the sun still didn’t appear to be out. He wondered to himself if he’d fallen asleep at some point but wasn’t sure.

The wagon had started to move in a very stop and go fashion and from the front, Tom could hear Angus yelling. It sounded like Agnus was cursing at the horses but Tom couldn’t make out the words. With Tom not being able to offer any useful assistance, he decided to stay in the back of the wagon.

He laid there for the entire journey, alone in the dark, unsure of how much further they had to travel, how long they had travelled or where they were going. After the earlier yelling, Angus had been quiet for hours when Tom heard him loudly yell “Here!”

When he made it out of the wagon, Angus was already gone. A young Asian looking gentleman started dealing with the horses. When he saw Tom’s befuddled look, he said “You have arrived at Bridge Creek. The 100 Mile House. Your driver’s gone to bed.”

The main room in the roadhouse was empty when Tom went in. In one of the window sills stood a little wood puzzle with what looked to Tom like Chinese characters.

He sat down in a chair. There were a number of pieces in the puzzle that could be pushed and slid around and Tom started playing with them. The Asian gentleman came in not long after Tom but left the main room immediately.

The room was somewhat dark and no fire was lit, leaving it cold enough that Tom had kept his coat on.

After sitting there trying to figure it out for about half an hour, Tom knocked on the door through which the Asian gentleman had left.

“Come on in,” someone yelled from the other side of the door.

Tom went through and found himself in a small little kitchen. The gentleman he had seen earlier was making a dinner. Due to the stove, the room was quite warm and a bright light lit up the room.

“Hi, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t want to let things burn or I would have conversed a little more. The name is Reginald.”

“Tom. Nice to meet you. May I ask you what the symbols on this puzzle mean? I’m having a hard time figuring out how it works.”

“In all honesty, though the puzzle belongs to me, I have no idea. My parents left it to me when they died while I was still a baby, and I don’t speak or read any Chinese. However, I do know how to open it. You have to press all eight of these switches at the same time.”

“One person couldn’t possibly hold all of these down at the same time,” Tom rebutted.

“Precisely, you need two people to open it, which is exactly the point of the puzzle. Not everything can be done by oneself. Anyways, the meal is ready. Could you take these into the other room?”

Reginald handed Tom a stack of bowls and spoons. Tom went through the door and Reginald followed close behind. Tom put the bowls on the table and Reginald put a large pot of stew next to it. Reginald flew back into the kitchen and came back with a tray full of hot biscuits. At the same time, an older white-haired gentleman came through the door with an arm full of logs and kindling and proceeded to start a fire in a large open fireplace.

“That’s Billy,” said Reginald.

Soon all three of them sat down for a meal.

For about 45 minutes or so the three engaged in polite conversation before Angus came down from the attic and joined them.

“Phew, what a ride that was,” he said. “Haven’t seen a storm like that in almost 30 years.”

Billy whacked Angus in the head with his spoon immediately after his comment. Angus grimaced. In no time at all, Billy and Angus appeared to have an entire conversation without saying a single word that ended with Angus tilting his head towards Tom.

“It’s alright,” said Reginald, who once again noted the look of confusion on Tom’s face.

“It’s 27 years to the day that my parents died in a bad winter storm. I’ll tell you the story, but first, it’s time for some tea.”

Billy added some more logs to the fire which had warmed up the room.

Shortly Reginald came back with a gorgeous porcelain teapot and some pretty average looking cups.

“Sorry, the original cups haven’t survived.”

He poured everybody a cup of tea.

“My parents, despite being born and raised in China spoke English quite well. When they first moved to the Cariboo, a gentleman tried to sell them an old donkey but it was in very poor condition. The gentleman had been gold panning for years without any real success. It appeared he was just passing through on his way back South. My parents didn’t want to be rude and tell him that they wouldn’t buy a donkey in such a poor state so instead, they pretended that they didn’t speak any English. However, both the gentleman and my parents ended up settling near 100 Mile House. Word quickly spread that my parents didn’t speak any English. They didn’t want to be made out for liars, so they never spoke English in public.”

Reginald paused and took a sip of tea.

“Then 27-years-ago there was a really bad winter storm. A tree fell on a fence and their horses escaped. Since as far as the public was concerned, they didn’t speak any English, they couldn’t ask for help. So together they went out into the cold dark winter storm and were never seen again.”

It was so quiet in the room, you could have heard a pin drop. Even the fire seemed to have gone silent. Billy grunted.

“The next day somebody heard young Reginald here crying. It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened after that. Among all the stuff in the house, we found a diary kept by Reginald’s mom and all of it was in English. That’s how we learned.”

Angus produced a bottle of liquor.

“It’s time for a drink. To having company.”

Angus had perhaps not been entirely truthful when he had said “a drink” as soon they were all drunk and singing merrily until late into the night.

The next morning as they were packing up to leave, as Tom had done in Clinton, he asked Angus, “couldn’t we stay just a bit longer?”

“Unfortunately, we have to keep going.”

Reginald gave Tom a long hug and they went back into the dark winter cold.

When they left, it was once again before sunrise. Between the darkness and the snow, Angus seemed like nothing more than a shadow or a ghost to Tom.

Tom was stuck in his head. Though they’d had a great evening overall, his mind was stuck on the story Reginald had shared of his parents early on in the evening.

Tom felt anxious and worried now that they were back out in the cold and dark.

He felt like crawling in between a thick stack of animal furs in the back of the wagon and never coming out.

However, to Tom, Angus and the wagon disappeared completely. The sound of the creaking wagon, the snow being crushed and the horses were replaced with only the rushing sound of the wind. Tom felt like he was floating in space, pitch black with an infinite amount of snow the only thing that could be seen in any direction.

He lost all concept of time. What he had guessed to be a one day journey felt like months of disoriented drifting. At first, he felt angry and frustrated but before long all he could feel was an overwhelming numbness.

His body felt crippled. Eventually, the snow started to rise. Soon enough, Tom went from floating to having his feet stuck in what wasn’t more than an inch of snow. Slowly it started to cover his feet. Then rising to over his boots. The snow kept falling and climbed up his body. First past his knees, then up to his waste. He wanted to use his hands to dig himself out but his body wouldn’t move. It was as if it had frozen. Soon enough, his fingertips were touching the snow and it started to climb up his hands. It crossed his chest and started climbing up his neck.

Just before it covered his mouth, he managed to say “Angus.”

As soon as he had said it, he found himself back on the wagon. The snow was still falling but it had gotten much lighter. The wind had subsided and the sun was up. If he’d had to guess it was late afternoon.

“We’re nearly there. It’s not much further to the 150 Mile House.”

“Oh good,” said Tom, who despite the cold weather, felt a cold sweat, as if he was sick.

Tom made some small talk with Angus and by the time they got to the 150 Mile House, it was still light out and the snow had subsided.

Outside, a gentleman was feeding hay to a number of horses.

From the front of the wagon Angus yelled, “Ah, the best Angus has arrived.”

“The best Angus is out in the field,” replied the gentleman feeding the horses. They both laughed.

After an initial bit of confusion, Tom realized that the man feeding the horses was also named Angus. He continued feeding the horses as they drove past him.

Tom unloaded some boxes at Angus’ direction while Angus put the horses away. After it was all done, the two went inside together.

Inside there was a bustle of activity.

“I’ve got some business to take care of.”

Angus walked away.

In the corner, there were two gentlemen playing a game of billiards. Beside the table they were playing on stood an empty wood dining room chair. Tom decided to take a seat and watch the game for a bit.

The chair was hard and felt really cold as if it had stood outside for a while. After a few rounds, Tom started looking around the room. There must have been 20 or more people. Some were talking. On one table they were playing a game of cards though Tom wasn’t sure what game.

Tom sat there for a long time and slowly the room started to empty out. The card players were the first to go. A few of the tables where folks were just talking were around for quite a while but before long, only the two billiards players were left.

Finally, Tom piped up.

“Can I play the winner the next round?”

The two players looked back somewhat surprised, almost like they’d seen a statue come to life.

“For sure, my name’s Blin and this is Edward.”

“Tom. Nice to meet you fellas. What is it you do?”

“We used to be gold miners but now we’re just living the good life,” Edward chimed in before they both laughed.

Angus came back into the room and walked straight up to them.

“Don’t let me interrupt the story. Just don’t make me listen to it while you pretend you know what you’re doing with that cue stick. I’ll buy you a drink if we can just sit at a table instead.”

Blin, who hadn’t really been planning on telling a story, was quick to agree nonetheless and before long they were all sitting at a table. The gentleman who’d been feeding the horses and was also named Angus made it in as well. The whole room in fact quickly filled back up.

Blin took a sip of his drink before he started.

“When I first came up to the Cariboo. I travelled along with an older gentleman by the name of Mr. Gideon Fairfax. He had scruffy white hair and a long white beard. Mr. Fairfax was extremely poor. He was so thin that when looking at him head-on, he could have been mistaken for this cue. Me and Edward over here offered him half of our meal. Mr. Fairfax was extremely embarrassed about his poor affluence and refused the meal. So me and Edward decided that to save him the embarrassment, we’d simply leave a meal outside of our camp. Every morning the meal would be gone. Eventually, we started to notice little changes in the morning. A marker would be placed in an odd spot or our holes would be dug a little deeper. This went on for nearly eight months. During that time, we never saw Mr. Fairfax. We knew he was camping by himself. Now Edward over here isn’t good company.”

There was a small bit of laughter.

“But it’s still better than camping in the bush by yourself. So, one day, we picked up our gear and set up camp with him while he was out at work. When he came home in the evening, we all sat around the fire as equals and had a magnificent meal. Much to our surprise, Mr. Fairfax had put on plenty of weight to the point some might have called him fat. We talked for a long time to Mr. Fairfax who seemed absolutely delighted at having the company. The next morning, the imprints of Mr. Fairfax’ tent were still there but he was all but gone. When we got to our holes, a tremendous amount of digging had been completed. In both of the holes, large amounts of gold shone back into our faces. We’ve never seen or heard from Mr. Fairfax again. However, in his honour, we’ve created this song.”

Edwards started playing an upbeat tune on the piano while Blin merrily started singing. Blin’s voice seemed to have a warmth to it that filled up the room and soon enough, a dance got underway. Edward and Blin played and sang for most of the night. Angus and Tom spent a bit of time dancing as well but also talked for a long time. Eventually, Tom fell asleep on an old sofa.

When Tom woke up, the echoes of last night’s music still playing through his brain, he was lying on the floor in his neighbour’s house. The door was wide open and a cold breeze was blowing in. It was dark and any sign of Angus was gone, including the lantern that had stood on the table when Tom came in.

He was back in his own clothes and felt rather stiff.

He closed the door before he took a walk through the house to make sure everything was ok. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to him. He exited and locked the door. It was snowing as he walked back to his snowmobile. Once he got there, it was covered in a thick layer of snow and it took Tom some time to clear it off while a cold winter wind pushed and pulled him.

He slowly started making his way back. Along the way, his trail had nearly filled in and the fresh powder occasionally blew up and delivered a cold blast to his face.

At home, the timer on his Christmas lights had turned them off. His house looked dark. He parked his snowmobile and grabbed some logs. Inside he found the fire had gone out. The backup propane furnace had kicked in but only enough to keep the pipes from freezing. He found himself to have a very dry mouth and took a sip of his now ice cold tea. He started a fire before he sat down in his chair, still wearing his coat and scarf, intending to continue reading his book.

However, when he sat down, he could feel something in his pocket. He stood back up and low and behold, the little wooden puzzle with Chinese markings was in his pocket!

Tom stared at it for a while before he walked over to the kitchen counter and picked up the newspaper. He flipped to the events guide and searched for today’s date. On the schedule, it listed a spaghetti dinner and concert.

Tom added another log to the fire, so it would keep burning for longer, and went outside to get in his truck. After driving for a little while he stopped at the community hall. He was greeted at the door.

“Hey Tom, I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight. I’m so glad you came.”

“Thanks very much, Katherine. Nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Despite his earlier dinner, Tom felt surprisingly hungry. The room was warm and bright.

He filled up a plate and sat down at one of the few tables with an open spot. He said hello to the lady beside him who, smiled, said “Hello Tom” and immediately launched into conversation.

As Tom listened to her, he thought to himself, while the gold rush may be long over, there’s still plenty of gold in the Cariboo.