The Ancestor by Lee Matthew Goldberg
#TheAncestor @LeeMatthewG @ADRBooks @damppebbles #damppebblesblogtours
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…
About 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
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Published in digital and paperback formats by All Due Respect Books on 21st August 2020
Travis Barlow knows that the key to hunting caribou is with your head rather than your
legs. This has been passed down to he and his buddy Grayson Hucks from their fathers and their
fathers’ fathers all the way back to when both families settled in Alaska. The Hucks clan came
from Anchorage, migrating from Ireland prior to the Civil War where a ton of brothers met their
end before the last surviving one escaped as far north as he could. Travis’s history traces back to
his grandfather Papa Clifford, born in Nome but only vaguely knowing where his ancestors came
from. Papa Clifford took both boys out early on along with Travis’s brother Bobby, giving them
each a 30-06 rifle with heavy bullets to counterbalance the wind. The trick is to observe the
movement patterns of several herds before intercepting a suitable ambush point and aiming
The boys have been friends for over twenty years now beginning in the schoolyard when
they banded together to fight back against a bully that targeted both. Neither was studious and
often met the teacher’s questions with a befuddled stare, so this bully labeled them dunces and
beat the pulp out of them during recess, alternating between the two until the dunces finally
retaliated with loose bricks that nearly killed their tormentor. A month of detention later an
unbreakable bond was formed.
While others might use Sundays for religious observance, the caribou hunt has become
the men’s church, a better workout than most get and a way to put food on the table. They drive 2
out at the first hint of spring in Travis’s pickup with him at the wheel, some country tunes on the
radio, dip tucked in their bottom lips, and two six-packs of ice-cold Molson beer.
“Shit, I didn’t tell you me and Lorinda broke up,” Grayson says, spitting a glob of brown
into an old plastic bottle.
“What was it this time?”
Grayson reaches over to shake Travis, causing the pickup to veer from its lane. But there
are no other cars on the winding road to the wilderness.
“You wanna cop to pull us over?” Travis laughs.
“Can’t pull myself over. And I believe I have it in good with the other fellas in blue in
town, so I think we’ll be okay.”
“Anyway,” Travis says. “So, Lorinda. What happened?”
“Meaning, I never talk and she talks too much.”
“She’s too good for you.”
“That’s what I told her! And then, she left. She ain’t like Callie.”
“Callie got her own issues, like any other.”
“Callie’s carved from gold and you know it.”
Travis wipes away a grin, knowing his better half is the one who got the raw deal in their
“Got to give a girl credit to fall in love with a nose like yours,” Grayson says, cracking
open a beer, the froth staining his mustache.
“My mom always said I had a presidential nose.”
“Cora’s just too kind. That’s a nice way of saying monstrous.”
Travis pounds Grayson’s shoulder, hard enough for it to burn. Grayson whaps him back.
“All right, all right, Gray. Don’t send us off the road.”
The winter has been harsh so Callie forbade any hunting, mostly out of fear for the unsafe
roads due to avalanches. The cold months hit Travis harder than usual this year, being out of
work and alone most of time with their toddler, Eli. He’d had a difficult time relating to the child
as an infant, but now the majority of his days consist of every possible question Eli can ask, most
of which he has no idea how to answer. So his bones ache for springtime when he can finally feel
free and wind his way up to the Preserve. The sensation of bringing back a caribou for his family
to feast on is greater than any drug.
Though the sun shines and April’s in the air, it’s deceptively cold when they emerge from
the pickup, a little wobbly from the beers. They sling their 30-06s around their backs and look
for tracks, knowing caribou have glands between their hooves that deposit a scent with each step.
“Did I tell ya that goods store has been seized for never paying their rent?” Grayson asks,
while keeping an eye peeled for any creeping creatures.
“The one on Platen? No one ever went there. Think it was a drug front.”
“It was. Anyway, should be cheaper to have the state as a landlord.”
Travis rubs his goatee, not as a mode of contemplation but to give his fingers something
“I’m not there yet, Gray.”
“When will you be?”
“When I have the kind of funds to make that decision,” Travis says.
“We need a good fish shack, like a luncheonette. You’ve got all the hungry fisherman
who dock their boats and are tired of the Pizza Joint.”
“Fisherman don’t want to eat more fish.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. If you excel at fish, the word will spread.”
“Town’s small enough that we don’t need to do much for word to get out there.”
“So what’s keeping you, buddy?”
“Diapers are expensive. Yeah, Eli’s still in ’em. Mortgage on the house. Fuck, I still owe
my parents from the down payment.”
“What about Callie’s folks?”
“They’re pissed enough I stole their girl from California. They ain’t gonna invest in no
“No Travis’s Tugboat?”
“That was always a stupid name and made no sense. My name don’t gotta be in it.”
“There’s always police work,” Grayson says, one eyebrow raised. There’d been a time
years ago when Travis thought he might pursue that line, his dad being the sheriff and all, but he
never had the calling. He didn’t rebel like Bobby did in the stereotypical way that sons of the law
might, but he cares as much about protecting and serving the people of Laner, Alaska as he does
dancing (which he hates).
From the pickup, Travis takes out the proper clothes and gear. KUIU attack pants and
guide jackets, insulated gloves, Merino wool sweaters, bandanas, and a neck gaiter. A 65mm
spotting scope, binoculars, Havalon Piranta hunting knife, and a license should they run into any
parks department officials. They dress in silence, the start of their meditation. Puffy and snug, 5
they hike up a slope until the pickup is far away but still close enough so they can drag a heavy,
Travis spies a track first, the indentation of the hoofs sparkling clear. The scents that
caribous release draw other herds. This one’s fresh, probably from early this morning since it’s
beginning to lightly snow but the track has yet to be covered. Grayson taps his shoulder.
“Wolves,” Grayson says, pointing into the distance. Sure enough, a pack encircles a thin
band of smoke that streams toward the sky.
Travis nods and aims his gun at that same sky, lets off a few rounds. The wolves spook
and scurry away, traveling farther from the sound.
“Who lit a fire?” Travis asks.
Grayson shrugs. “Out of range from the binoculars. All I see is smoke.”
Travis squints into his own pair but can’t make out anything more either.
“Probably someone like us gone hunting at the first sign of decent weather.”
Hunting requires patience and that’s Travis’s favorite part of the sport. His home’s full of
noise; he never gets a moment’s peace. Out here, he gets to dive within—only the smacking
sound from the dip in Grayson’s lip audible. What he loves about fishing too, except fishing has
turned into something more sinister than just a day of serenity. The fish shack has been a dream
for some time, one he thought he could bring to fruition. He’d been saving all the years he
worked at the oil refinery on the outskirts of town, but when he was gutted in a slew of layoffs
no one saw coming, all those savings had to be poured into everything but the dream. Life
always hit you with a one-two punch, so of course he’d been laid off just as he had a newborn.
Callie’s tips from waitressing were barely able to cover formula after the baby refused 6
breastmilk. So fishing makes him sad now as opposed to calm. And he doesn’t think that’ll ever
The caribou arrive as the wind ramps up, making a shot more of a guesstimate. He’ll only
get off one or two rounds before the gunfire scares them. Three waddle over to their ilk’s track,
caribous rarely traveling in large herds. One could feed his family for almost two weeks between
all the cuts. To be a true hunter, you never waste a morsel.
Maybe Grayson knows Travis needs this so he lets his best friend fire the first shot. The
bullet slopes down, carried by the burgeoning breeze, and narrowly misses.
“Again,” Grayson whispers, lining up the dispersing animals in his own scope but
allowing Travis another chance.
Travis fires, the bullet careening right in the ear of one unlucky caribou. The other two
take off in distress. After a few rounds, Grayson hits them both. They fall into each other,
pressed together like they’re cuddling.
“Woo hoo,” Grayson cheers, patting a beat against Travis’s back. But Travis never
celebrates, since death is never a celebration. It brings him closer to his own mortality—that one
tiny slip could cause destruction. This feeling lingers in the lump in his throat until he swallows
and passes it on.
The caribou ran some distance, so they bring the pickup nearer. After putting away the
binoculars, Travis finally allows a celebration with a cracked-open Molson, frigid against his
chapped lips. Grayson does a touchdown dance over the dead carcasses while Travis grabs the
rope and ties them up. With every ounce of exertion left in them, they hoist two caribous into the
back of the pickup, not enough room for the third. Flurries are beginning to fall, and they cover
the kills with a heavy tarp.
“I’m gonna take a leak ’fore we head out,” Grayson says, trotting away.
“Why you going so far?”
“Okay, it’s a massive dump. Mind yer biz.”
Travis watches Grayson’s blond head become smaller and smaller until he passes behind
a snowy bank. He takes off his baseball cap and stands over the lone caribou they must leave
behind. He places the cap over his heart and gives thanks for the meals they’ve procured, not to
any type of god because he believes in nothing like that, but to the law of nature, which requires
sacrifices for one to survive. He hopes other hungry animals find the carcass and make a good
meal so its death is justified.
A twig snaps over yonder and he cranes his head but he’s left the binoculars in the pickup
and doesn’t bother to get them. It might be a critter coming to observe this funeral, nothing to be
concerned about. The sky absorbs his focus, blue like the eye of a wild and beautiful bird, blue
like the wallpaper in Eli’s room, sweet Eli who should be waking from his nap by the time he
“I must hug him more,” he says, surprised to vocalize this out loud but glad he does. That
way it’s truly out there in the world, this massive love he feels for another human being even
when the little terror sometimes makes him wish he was deaf. “I must love them all more,”
Travis says directly to the clouds, the same ones passing over Callie and his son so the essence of
his words might trickle down as vapors into their hearts.