Church folk say you see a light when you die.
I see that light, but I don't think I'm dead. The blood spilling out of a hole that wasn't there before makes me pretty sure I'm still alive.
Gutshot. Not even the common decency to shoot a man in the chest.
The light is the sun, and my sunglasses are in my truck. My goddamned truck. The one heading west on Highway 119 right now. The one carrying two guys, a gun, and the last run of my moonshine.
I understand the appeal. All cash. No taxes. Can't blame them, but they'd make more in the long run as my bootleggers. Probably needed a score to get them out of whatever trouble they got into. That's what I get for working with someone new.
As for me, I'm left to stumble my way down and die on the side of the road.
I can't do that. I've got a barrel of the finest mash in Harlan County. If I die, all I leave is a barrel of vinegar.
I can hardly walk by the time I reach the still site. The mash is too heavy to pour, even when I haven't just been shot, so it goes in one bucket at a time.
I'm drenched with sweat by the time I finish. The last thing I want to do is start a fire, but I need to get this boiling. Rush this part and I'll scorch the shine. I won't ruin my last run.
I'd use buckets to collect the shine, but I can't guarantee I'll be around at the end of the run so I use a barrel. It takes fifteen minutes of kicking away dirt with my feet to angle it in there just right. A jolt of pain shooting through me with each kick.
Nothing to do but wait and patch leaks with an oatmeal paste. I wonder if this stuff works on bullet holes.
Maybe when someone realizes I'm missing, my still hand Ricky will come looking for me. He's the only other person that knows where the still is. He built it and helped me lug it out here.
I could trust Ricky. An apprentice metalworker, journeyman moonshiner, and master carpenter. I taught him everything he knows, but not everything I know.
I wish I had a jar now. I could use a few swigs. That isn't something I do, but today, I'd make an exception. Just enough to numb the pain, which has settled to a dull roar.
I don't have the strength to sit so I lie down, resting my head on a log. I wonder how many people celebrated with shine from that old still. How many drowned their sorrows.
I roll my head to the side, watching the clear liquid trickle out of the spout.
I close my eyes and listen to it pour.