About The Book
A man wakes up in present-day Alaskan wilderness with no idea who he is, nothing on him save an empty journal with the date 1898 and a mirror. He sees another man hunting nearby, astounded that they look exactly alike except for his own beard. After following this other man home, he witnesses a wife and child that brings forth a rush of memories of his own wife and child, except he’s certain they do not exist in modern times—but from his life in the late 1800s.
After recalling his name is Wyatt, he worms his way into his doppelganger Travis Barlow’s life. Memories become unearthed the more time he spends, making him believe that he’d been frozen after coming to Alaska during the Gold Rush and that Travis is his great-great grandson. Wyatt is certain gold still exists in the area and finding it with Travis will ingratiate himself to the family, especially with Travis’s wife Callie, once Wyatt falls in love. This turns into a dangerous obsession affecting the Barlows and everyone in their small town, since Wyatt can’t be tamed until he also discovers the meaning of why he was able to be preserved on ice for over a century.
A meditation on love lost and unfulfilled dreams, The Ancestor is a thrilling page-turner in present day Alaska and a historical adventure about the perilous Gold Rush expeditions where prospectors left behind their lives for the promise of hope and a better future.
The question remains whether it was all worth the sacrifice…
Chilkoot Pass and a Tagish Village
August 20th, 1898
George warned about the perilous Chilkoot Trail, but I didn’t believe until I actually faced the thirty-five-hundred-yard climb up its steep white slope. Prior to reaching its base, the greatest difficulty was the fifty-pound rucksack on my back. But the breathtaking country makes up for its weight. Snow-capped peaks and proud evergreens, fields of green-jeweled grass, the pine aroma outside of Dyea and the calm blue waters with etchings of mountains reflected. One of them being the Chilkoot. Despite its outward beauty, it stands before us harsh and unremitting. George and the two guides woke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, already ahead of me toward its base. There is no way I can turn back.
Even in the summer season, the snow is packed thick with layers of iced boulders. The wind cuts like knives. The glacier majestic yet seeming like it might dislodge at any second and come crashing down. My mackinaw coat rimmed with sweat. My rucksack digging into my back. Two miles up, we reach a flat area where we can rest. I can vaguely spy the summit, yet my legs betray my excited brain. No longer able to stand, I take to crawling, inching over boulder by boulder. I can’t feel my hands and there are pools of ice water in my boots. I reach the summit on all fours as an animal, no longer entirely human.
August 21st, 1898
The ice on Lake Lindeman has broken up enough that a boat could pass through. After a breakfast over a fire of beans and jerky bacon, we set to work with the guides on a canoe. First, we make a saw pit, take the bark off logs, then place them on top. George holds one handle of the jag-toothed six-foot whipsaw, while one of the guides clasps it from below. Then they switch and me and the other guide take over. We finish come nighttime and paddle across, the lake still, barely lapping, the surrounding world ours alone. No sign of man, but we know that’ll change once we close in on the Klondike. For now, we’ll travel and pan in spots we think might produce gold. From everything I’ve been through to get here, I’m thrilled to no end!
August 22nd to September 3rd, 1898
The next few weeks prove to be a blur of disappointment. The gold we find no more than dust. The loneliness settling in. The guides speak to each other and George occasionally but not much to me. I miss Adalaide and Little Joe terribly, having left them for well over a month now. I wonder if Little Joe has gotten over his chills. If Adalaide waits for a letter that I am unable to send. I swear once we hit a town that will be the first thing I do. I think of mornings spent in bed cuddling with them both, a fire roaring. George tries to keep my spirits up, but he is unsuccessful. Once the grip of depression has you in its vice, it won’t dare let go.
Having always been a good rifle shot, I spend the time honing my skills. I can hit a bobbing duck or a goose that we can roast over a spruce fire. Salmon are caught with netting, and clams and bottomfish just from digging. So we eat okay, trying not to cut into our preserves too much. As we near September, the weather takes a turn. Our tents barely keeping out the chilled rush of winds that howl throughout the nights. My dreams even cool, icy realms devoid of sun, a blue-cheeked Little Joe shivering, my bones brittle enough to snap. What a fool I am to think I could strike it rich in the Yukon. The only thing I’ll bring back home is frostbite, if I survive.
One morning we wake and the Injun guide who spoke no English is dead. We put pennies over his shut eyes and drift him out on one of the lakes, holding our hats to our hearts. “He had a sickness in him,” Kaawishté says. It’s the first he’s spoken to me in days. He has jet-black hair that sweeps down to his shoulders, his mouth in a permanent frown the shape of an umbrella, broad shoulders with hands the size of pans. He could break my neck with barely a twist.
“What was the sickness?” I ask.
He looks at me like I’m a dunce for not knowing. “He was never a believer. That’s why the chief chose him to go. He wanted him out of our tribe.”
“And you?” I ask, as the question hangs in the air. I’m nervous to hear the answer. “I am our future.”
He pivots so he is no longer looking directly at me, the conversation ended. George shrugs and I think about how I represent my family’s future as well. Each day I wonder if I should turn around and head back. I know George does as well. I’ve heard him murmuring in his sleep. But not Kaawishté, even the death of his tribemate doesn’t hasten his determination. Rather noble.
September 4th to September 30th, 1898
The next day, Kaawishté decides we must find a settlement in the area to replenish our supplies. Without realizing, we’ve come low on beans and flour and simply eating fish or game does not reward enough sustenance. My belly has sunken in, ribs poking through, my tongue flush from dehydration. George and I agree.
After floating upstream for days, we come across a Tagish village. George replies that he only knows Chinook and won’t be able to understand, but Kaawishté reassures us. He’s spent some time with the Tagish, knows of their ways. We’ve no other choice but to have him lead. As we plunge into the ice waters of Nares Lake, we hear a cannon that makes me think of when I first arrived in Sitka and the steamboats were setting off. At first, I wonder if we’re being attacked, since the boundaries between American Alaska and the Dominion of Canada are fuzzy at best, but the noise keeps mutating, drawing closer, headed straight for us. Across the channel, the thunder from a herd of pounding caribou, thousands of them, roaring through the earth, their fur shimmering, galloping a fierce beat as they charge as a united front. The raw mystique of their power brings tears to my eyes, not from sadness like I’ve felt so far, but at the awe that nature inspires. I had only destinations in mind from the start of my journey, but I must breathe in the entirety of this adventure, for we only live one life.
About fifty miles from the herd lies the Tagish settlement, which hugs the banks of a channel that curls around two lakes. A small clan, no more than twenty or so families with two large community houses and a strip of tiny log cabins in a crescent shape. A woman as old as the hills greets us, barely able to stand, yet her voice throbbing with authority. Kaawishté tells us the Tagish women make the decisions for the tribe while the men are off hunting.
With slight difficulty, Kaawishté explains our situation and the elder tribe woman receives us sweetly. Kaawishté says that they will house and replenish us but we must work for the trade. First, we are joined by the men finished with their hunt and are served caribou tongue. They laugh as I spit out its sharp hairs. Over the next week, I hunt with the braves and they are impressed by my rifle skills. When we kill an animal, the carcass is given to the entire village as the women work to dry and smoke the meat. I feel like I’m part of a family for the first time since I’ve left my own.
“Their way of life,” George says, gnawing at a dried piece of Caribou skin. “It has its benefits, yes?”
“When was the last time you really spent among white men?”
George shakes his finger. “Not since I was young. I’ll head into Juneau, partake of alcohol and a few modern luxuries, but all I need is a taste. I’m entirely full.” “Yet you leave your family?” I ask, wanting him to justify me deserting my own. “Kaawishté spoke of being the future of his tribe. I am the same. We’ve fallen on hard times. Even though we do not require much, the land has changed and does not provide like it used to. The gold will help us settle somewhere more prosperous.”
“My son is sick,” I say, because I’ve barely spoken of Little Joe since we began our trek. “What does he have?”
I shrug. “He’s always cold.”
George tosses away a sour piece of caribou. He tugs at his mustache. “Maybe that’s actually the secret to longevity.”
“What do you mean, George?”
“Our bodies are all very different. What might kill one causes another to survive. I am saying he may not be as sick as you think. Have faith.”
“I don’t have faith.”
“Well, I don’t subscribe to God like you may think. But I do believe in my own gods, in the teachings elders have passed down. You should let the Tagish do a ritual to you. You may come out of it enlightened.”
The next day I follow a moose on my own, a wickedly fast animal that the hunting party has been after all week. It has been teasing us but could feed the village for a month, so I’m determined to be victorious. I shoot from a far distance, while the Tagish people cry at its defeat. They dance around the collapsed moose with a high-pitched chant that their ancestors have sung to bless noble warriors. It’s then I’m allowed into the men-only tribal dances where we dress in wooden masks and painted caribou robes, telling of the ancient myths. Kaawishté explains that George and I will be initiated. We are surrounded by Tagish braves, draped with caribou cloaks and yellow raven’s beaks placed over our heads. The shaman dances and chants around us, then we are handed a dark potion that tastes of blood and tart berries. We migrate into the woods.
“You will stay here,” the shaman says in broken English. “But you must not eat or light a fire. An animal spirit will speak to you. Every Tagish has an animal as a guide in their life. You need to discover which is the animal that watches over you.”
“How long does that take?” I ask, but George and Kaawishté shake their heads. You do not question a shaman. The shaman walks off in silence, and George and Kaawishté disperse from my sight. I am alone.
A light snow begins to fall. My mackinaw coat keeps me warm along with gloves made from rabbit skin and a rabbit-fur hat that covers my ears. For what feels like two days and nights, I wait for the raven to speak, the most esteemed of all spirits, or even the eagle. Sweat pours from my face and armpits despite the cold. I assume this is from the potion I drank. A storm pushes through, snow falling in dizzying flakes. I’m unable to walk, a sitting target for the blizzard. The snow piles on, covering me with its icy quilt. I fall into a deep and dark sleep, wade through a dream. It’s the realest dream I’ve ever encountered. A wolf with glacier-blue eyes locks me in its gaze. It speaks with a powerful, calm voice, the words in Tagish but I’m able to comprehend.
“I am your protector,” the wolf declares. “My spirit will guide you to your future.” I awake and dust off my snow blanket. The Tagish spoke of their reverence of the raven and the eagle, so I’m disappointed to be visited by a wolf. When I return from the village, George and Kaawishté are there.
“You’ve been gone long time,” Kaawishté says.
“A couple of days.”
“No, eight nights,” Kaawishté corrects.
I’m baffled and reply, “A wolf came to me in my dream.”
“No dream,” the Injun guide says.
“What animal came to you both?” I ask.
Kaawishté responds the raven while George talks of the eagle.
“I wish one of those came to me.”
“No, wolf is very good,” Kaawishté says. “Represents wealth.”
When I blink, I see gold nuggets in place of their eyes.
It’s time to leave soon and I am given a name by the tribesmen upon my departure, Kahse, which means seeker. I’m unsure if that defines me as a prospector or someone who has now sought a new way of thinking, of living too. Will I take what I’ve acquired here back home? Will it enrich me and my brood?
I decide I will take it to mean both.
Seeker of gold and what truly matters.
About The Author
Lee Matthew Goldberg
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE DESIRE CARD, THE MENTOR, and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the 2018 Prix du Polar. His Alaskan Gold Rush novel THE ANCESTOR is forthcoming in 2020. He is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box. His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, The Millions, Cagibi, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press, Monologging and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City. Follow him at leematthewgoldberg.com
Where You Can Buy It
The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg is out now in both paperback and ebook and can be found here:
- Amazon US: https://amzn.to/3n24ztn
- Amazon UK: https://amzn.to/348RfuM
- Waterstones: https://bit.ly/30n2Ipc
- Barnes and Noble: https://bit.ly/3l0APvb
- Kobo: https://bit.ly/30n34My