Today, I’m joining the blog tour for The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg. I have an extract to share with you all today but first, here is what The Ancestor is all about.
Author : Lee Matthew Goldberg
Title : The Ancestor
Pages : 348
Publisher : All Due Respect Books
Publication date : August 21, 2020
| 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. 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.
| EXTRACT |
From Sitka to Juneau
August 18th, 1898
I glow like a freshly scrubbed piece of gold upon my arrival in Sitka. The journey aboard the steamboat has been difficult, but I learned early on in life that the past must remain in the past. No use in letting it damper the wonder of my present. This will be the entry to my destiny.
Many millennia ago, gold was formed in the earth’s core and then traveled upward toward the surface into nooks and crannies as the planet shifted. Abrasion caused the rocks to loosen the gold and the waters carried it to valleys and riverbeds, down streams and creeks, of which Alaska had plenty. One could get it by mining, but us prospectors call it “placer gold” and we get it through panning. Stick a tin pan in the water, give it a good shake, hope for golden colors.
Sitka is a harbor town, a commercial and trading center of the Alaska Territory, the entryway of thirty thousand some-odd folks who lived in a state of lawlessness roughly a third the size of the US. But it holds a promise, this new and uncivilized land. The Wild West has ended, an era to be remembered on trading cards, and I know I’ll be joined by cowboys, wayfarers, journeymen, trappers, and Indian savages in my quest for dreams. I have little money in my pockets and must rely on trade and charm to get me up the Yukon where the true gold lies.
The freezing air packs a wallop, even in mid-August, a foreboding sense of what will come. Sitka Harbor overlooks ominous mountains capped with black ice that walls in the small town. Other prospectors seem to welcome one another’s arrival: shaking hands, slapping each other on the backs, showing off their gear, but I pay them no mind. A key to success in the unchartered land is to partner with an Indian guide that can take me into the crevices which haven’t been tapped yet. For the white men attempting this on their own, death will likely be their fate.
After walking some while off the main strip, I see a Tlingit settlement. Whale blubber mixed with dried salmon hangs in the air like foul cheese. They have cabins made from cedar logs scattered about, some touching each other, a few almost hidden. Soon I am surrounded by a circle of brown faces with flat noses and sunken eyes. I do my best to smile while I reach into my pocket and remove some of the money I have left. Unimpressed, they grunt at each other. One slaps the money from my palm as it falls to the muddy ground. I scramble to pick it up while they laugh and puff out their chests at this foolish white man.
“I need a guide to go up the Yukon,” I say, acting out rowing in a boat so they might understand. But they don’t care. These are not savages. The jewelry they wear intricate, their campsite filled with well-built wares like an artist’s colony. They do not need my money or anything to do with me at all. Even the children are brought over to make fun, aping the way I walk and talk. I leave disillusioned.
Back on the main strip, I debate going into an inn for a drink but then I hear a cannon announcing the arrival of a passenger ship called the Ancon with a picture of a side-wheeler. Rushing over to the dock, I ask a gentleman with a smushed face where the boat will go. He tells me Juneau and I ask him the price. It will be fifteen dollars. I only have about fifty dollars on me and figure I can’t bear to part with fifteen, but then another cannon fires and freight ship pulls in. It docks to unload some goods and I overhear two men discussing the next stop at Juneau. The Ancon takes off distracting them and I swing onto the freight, wedging between two crates. I wait, expecting to be discovered, but soon I’m in motion. We sail past green glaciers shining in the harsh light and thickets of forests that lead to dark worlds, glimmering valleys with flowers, and oozing marshes along with dark slabs of rock.
The sun wanes as we sail into Juneau, the air fresh with the tang of fish. In the late 1890s, I knew Juneau would be a prosperous place, but I’m astounded to see its boom. I hop off the freight ship on the wharf surrounded by one-smokestack steamers tied up to the dock. A light rain pours. Men in hip-length coats head down the wooden wharf to Front Street. Some with packs while others have valises, their hats pulled low over their heads. Buildings are raised on stilts with makeshift ladders leading to the front doors because of flooding or muddy streets. Hundreds of workers spill out of hard rock mines after being done for the day, the town coated in a gray mist from the smelting furnaces that seem to stretch toward the rain-forest country in a labyrinth of trees. I’m famished and thirsting for alcohol, but as the sun sinks, the artificial lights from the mines turn on, blazing the area. On my farm, I have no electricity but here the future rages. And I’m saddened. We got along fine with the sun as a guide and there would be no preventing machines and electric lights from taking over. A frontier land soon to be buried in the past and here I am getting a taste of the brand-new world. That’s progress! So my spirits become slightly uplifted.
Since so many workers are streaming out of the Treadwell mine, it’s easy to worm my way inside without anyone questioning. The place is filled with stamps that are heavy metal rods powered by a hydraulic engine. They slam down on tiny boxes like hammers. Rocks are being smashed to pieces in the hunt for gold. The floor vibrates and the continual slamming sounds so loud I think my head is going to explode. Without realizing, I whirl backward and the sleeve of my mackinaw coat gets stuck in the hydraulic mechanism in the belt of the rollers that carry the rocks. I try to wiggle out, but it’s like being in the grip of a bear. Any second the heavy metal stamp will come crashing down on my hand.
I attempt to remove my coat, but it’s impossible due to the way I’m trapped. My right arm in range of being crushed. I debate closing my fist to receive the brunt better and avoid getting my fingers severed. The stamps smash into the metal box, obliterating the rocks inside, surely about to turn every bone in my hand into a fine silt.
And then, a magic gift! An arm reaches in, grabs the sleeve of my coat, and yanks it free. I spin back as the stamp slams down. I turn to see an Injun walking away. I rush after him, figuring he doesn’t speak English, needing to thank him for saving my life. But when I catch up, I see he has a drooping mustache like the Tlingit’s at the last settlement, along with a string of green beads around his neck and a grimy hat with a salutary feather in the brim. But this is not an Injun. His eyes not sunken, his nose protruding rather than flat, his skin color pale save for the grime.
“Who do I have the pleasure of thanking for saving my skin?” I ask, extending my hand. “George,” he says, with a devilish wink. “George Cook.”
To celebrate my escape from death, George Cook takes me to a rowdy watering hole replete with singing miners, their fingertips flush with a golden gleam. A jaunty tune sounds from a player piano and a barmaid sweeps around collecting empty glasses and refilling all those who stay. George and I find a table in the corner away from the din.
“A prospector, huh?” George asks, pulling at his drooping mustache. He’s unlike any man I’ve ever met before, almost like he was raised by animals. His pants seem sewed together by a patchwork of lesser pants and his slouchy hat refuses to stay upright. He exudes a stink that’s a mix of fish and wood and mountain, but it’s oddly alluring—like he’s had adventures I couldn’t even dream of. “First time to Alaska?”
“Yep, come from a farm in Washington State. My wife and child are there.”
“Yet you were drawn to the wild,” he says, nodding as if we’re one in the same. “I have a wife and child as well. She’s an Indian and my daughter a half breed. Most like to sneer. I love them just the same. Their tribe holds wisdom that white men would be lucky to come across. They are richer than all of us combined.”
“No, with love, respect for the land, with things that matter.”
“Yet you search for gold, George.”
“I am not from there so material possessions still delight me. And gold brings promise.” “You aiming to head up the Yukon?”
“Sure am,” he says, knocking back his ale and wiping the foam from his mouth with his sleeve. “Looking to rouse a gang together with some Indians as well. Figure my knowledge of their ways can help me get the best guides to join.”
“That’s what I’m after too. ’Cept I don’t have much money.”
“They won’t want your money.” He stands and beckons. “Come, follow my lead.” We head toward the bar and when the barmaid bends over to retrieve a dropped washcloth, George reaches his long arms down and procures two bottles of whiskey. He sticks them under his coat, his eyes dancing.
“Your turn,” he says. I don’t know what to do until George—while concealing the bottles he already stole—tells the barmaid that he thinks she’s lost a button from her blouse, and when she bends over again, he nudges me and I reach down and grab two more whiskey bottles. By the time she raises her head, we’re out the door with the booty.
Juneau at night seems different than during the day, more remote, less populated. Any other prospectors either getting a sound sleep or finding ways up the mouth of the Taiya River one hundred twenty miles north so they can begin their expedition through the Yukon. George leads me to another Tlingit settlement and I worry about duplicating my same fate. The way those savages laughed and made fun of me back in Sitka still stings. George explains he’ll handle everything since he speaks their language.
A campfire blazes at the settlement. A dozen Tlingits turn from the fire, wary of the white men approaching.
“This is their kwan,” George says.
“The last kwan I was in was not so welcoming.”
“Tlingits have different units. And besides, you have me as a tagalong this time. They are at odds with Juneau, the mines conflicting with their lifestyle.”
“How do they feel about gold?”
“Gold is universal. They just don’t believe in machines as a way of obtaining it.” “Neither do I.”
Two little girls observe us warily, both with rings through their noses and necklaces made of beads and shells. They take George’s hand but not mine and lead him over to the fire where the elders sit. George waves me over too.
“I’ve been here before,” George says. “They know me. Some prospectors try to pan around their settlement, but I come for the company.”
George starts talking in Chinook to the man I believe to be the chief. The chief speaks in a low gruff while George gets animated, gesturing with his hands. Another man passes George a long pipe and he complies with a puff. The man points at me and George says something in response, which I assume to be an introduction. One of the little girls sits close, placing her cheek against my leg. She sticks out her tongue.
“She likes you,” George says. And then I see him get down to business. He loses his jokey persona and becomes very serious, pointing in various directions and acting out rowing a boat. I want to tell him that won’t work, but then the chief nods as if it’s all been decided. The chief points to two men and orders them to stand. Then he looks at George with eyebrows raised, asking: What will you give me in return?
George whips out the two whiskey bottles from under his coat and motions for me to do the same. The Injuns’ eyes all go wide, they couldn’t be more pleased! George opens the cap, takes a small sip, then passes it to the Injun on his right. The Injun sticks his eye into the bottle, then places his lips over it and chugs. After finishing, he howls at the moon, then passes it along as each Injun does the same.
We sit around sipping whiskey as one of the Injuns tells a story. He’s acting out a lot of it so I can understand some. It involves some type of animal, possibly a wolf, and the journey this wolf goes on. It’s an arduous trip filled with sacrifice and at the end I’m not sure if the wolf died because the Injun just stops moving but his eyes are wide open in shock. A lot of the Injuns are drunk, and I’m drunk too, so I tuck my coat under my head to make a pillow. But this little girl with the ring in her nose shakes her head. She leads me to a plankhouse with totem poles erected at the sides where a makeshift bed has been set up. She grunts and closes the door behind me, vanishing before I can thank her. I’m so sleepy from my trek that once I lay my head down, it’s already morning.
August 19th, 1898
I wake up to a beautiful Tlingit girl with long hair and button eyes. She beckons me to join the campfire where the tribe eats a breakfast of fish with Indian potatoes, along with greens, seeds, and berries. George has already finished and plays games with the Injun kids. When he sees me, he hurries over.
“Enjoy breakfast? When the tide goes out, the table is set. It’s an old Tlingit saying.” He indicates the fish bone on my plate, all that remains.
“It was delicious.”
“So, we have two options. One, we can have them build us a canoe, but that will take some time and we’ll have to leave the canoe at the Chilkoot Pass, since it will be too much to carry.”
“What’s the other?”
“I’ve learned that a gang of Indian braves has passed through Chilkoot and a US Navy gunboat was dispatched to apprehend them. One of the tribe members speaks decent English, better than myself. I didn’t tell you this but I’m former Navy. I think I can convince the ship to take us up the Taiya.”
“The ship is still there?” “We’ll find out.”
We leave with foodstuffs: jerky bacon, flour, beans, and some tools to build a boat once we cross the Chilkoot Pass: a two-man whipsaw, sturdy axes, iron nails, along with pitch and oakum. In addition to the whiskey bottles, the two guides loaned are paid in gold and silver from George’s pocket with the promise of many more riches. George was right that they didn’t care about white man’s paper money.
The little girl with the ring in her nose runs up, pinching my palm to say goodbye. She’s about the same age as Little Joe seems but so much wiser, like she’s lived a dozen lives already where all he’s experienced is our farm. I plan on taking him on an expedition sometime so I can watch his eyes dance. I miss him so already.
As we head back into Juneau I’m introduced to the two Injun guides, a man named Kaawishté, who was the Injun who knew some English, and one other whose name is a blur and speaks nil English.
We reach the dock off Front Street. The streets have muddied due to a sleety rain, and sure enough, the USS Pinta galley’s stovepipe rises from the harbor. George boards with me and the guides in tow and marches right for the captain. With a glint in his eye, George the showman pleads his case, tells of his military background, and how if we can get a lift to the Taiya, it would position us to begin our adventure up the Yukon. The captain, Commander Henry Nichols, USN, seems to have a wanderlust bone in his body and agrees that they could take a detour and deliver us and our supplies to the Taiya.
I’m in disbelief but George seems nonplussed. I get the sense that lucky things like this happen to him all the time. He simply has that kind of easy charm. Until he tells me, “I’m AWOL, just so you know.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I deserted the military so if I’m caught my goose is cooked. But I enjoy living on the edge of danger.”
We eye two sailors passing by as my stomach churns. About halfway to our destination, the captain comes down from his quarters to check on us. The Injuns sit across from each other sharpening their knives in case there’s trouble with the captain. The captain holds two Springfield rifles, and I think he’s about to shoot us for George’s deserting, but then he hands over the rifles along with rounds of ball cartridges.
“When ya make it back to Juneau, just return ’em,” the captain says, and walks away before we can object.
As I hold the rifle in my hands, I’m aware of the many shots I will take. The animals I will slay for sustenance, and those I will kill in lieu of them killing me. The rifle is heavy with history, alive with a sense of its future. When I look up, hours have passed and we’ve arrived at the rapid, glacier-driven waters of the Taiya River, into the wilderness now, civilization a memory.
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |
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.