Chapter 1: Gold Fever
Joshua came to a stop at yet another river bend and took a swig from his hydration pack built into his backpack as he inspects the river bend. He had been hiking along the Albino river sampling the inside bank of every river bend for placer gold. However, the amount of gold in this river was lacking and Joshua had made a decision to turn around and start hiking back if this river bend did not offer a good sample. He dumped his backpack at the base of a large birch tree and took out his pan and a collapsible shovel that he bought at an Army surplus store yesterday. He headed over to a likely spot and dug up his first sample.
To his astonishment, he struck gold literally; the very first sample he panned had revealed a full ounce of gold flakes. He had to restrain himself from immediately setting his camp and forced himself to pan a few more samples. After panning 15 more samples and finding at least nine more ounces of gold flakes. That was more than enough to convince him to stay for few days; he went back to where he left his backpack and took out a GPS and a notebook. Inside the notebook was all the coordinates of all the rich fields that he found over thirteen years. This wasn't the only notebook he had, he had six other notebooks at home in a safe. He took the coordinates from the GPS and wrote them into the notebook, and then checked his watch. It was four thirty and the sun was starting to setting.
Joshua stuffed the GPS and the notebook back into the backpack and went to find a place to put up his tent. He got lucky and found a small clearing nearby and after putting up the tent; he gathered some firewood and put it to the side. All this made him hungry so he grabbed his fly fishing rod and headed back to the river. After catching a five pound Rainbow trout and gutted it, he went back to the campsite and laid the gutted trout on a large granite slab he found nearby. He started the campfire and then he spilt the trout in two along the spine then laid them side by side. He then shifted the slab closer until it was resting on the edge of the campfire. This makeshift rock pan worked to perfection and the trout began to cook. As Joshua sat there staring into the campfire, he began to reflect on how he got his start in the prospecting lifestyle.
Thirteen years ago
Joshua was sitting at the edge of his bed fondling his grandfather's WW2 Ka-bar knife, the taunting of the cheerleaders still ringing in his ears. Just few hours ago, he had approached a childhood friend of his, Sarah Ginger, at school and asked her out to the Homecoming dance. He had a crush on her for a few years and had just managed to gather enough courage to ask her out to the dance. Instead of letting him down gently, she laughed in his face. Unknown to him, the rest of the cheerleaders were coming up behind him and had overheard him; and they immediately began to taunt him. Joshua could have easily endured the taunting but only if Sarah had not joined the squad in taunting him. Out of all the taunting, it was Sarah's taunting that broke him. Instead of stay and finish the rest of the school day, he skipped school and went home.
At home, Joshua went upstairs to the attic and looked through all the junks that had collected up there and found Grandfather's old footlocker full of his WW2 stuff. It was there that he found the Ka-Bar, once he found that, he went back to his room. As he sat there fondling the knife, although he never considered suicide up to that point, it was exactly at that point that he seriously began to considering it. Joshua was overweight, outcast and a loner and Sarah was the only friend he had. As he fondled the knife, he hesitated but Sarah's taunting voice started over again and he pressed the knife against his wrist.
It was at that moment that his grandfather chose to walk into Joshua's room. Startled, Joshua whipped the knife behind his back but Grandfather's eye, developed by his time in WW2 where the slightest movement could have meant his death, caught everything and he asked with a raised eyebrow,
"You better not be planning on doing what I think you're planning on doing?"
Ashamed, all Joshua could do was to shake his head in reply and grandfather sighed in relief and grunted,
"Good, now hand me the knife you're hiding behind your back and tell me why I got a call from the school asking why you're missing?"
Reluctantly Joshua handed over the knife and proceeded to relate the story. When Joshua was done, grandfather sat down beside him,
"Believe it or not, I know exactly how you felt, I had similar problem as you did except I was extreme skinny back then. Like you, I was a loner and an outcast; I had no friends except for books. At the time, my family and I were living in Diamond Springs, California. One Christmas day when I was sixteen, I got a book about Gold mining and a gold pan from my mother. I had just came across an old abandon gold mine a month ago and told my mother about it. Anyway, I took it with me into the mountain and tried it, I didn't succeed the first time but after some practice, I managed to pan out three small gold nuggets. That was when I got hit with the gold fever."
Joshua listened to grandfather but couldn't see how it related to him, he asked grandfather,
"That's nice and all, but how does that have anything to do with me?"
"You'll see in a moment, my impatient little grasshopper."
Joshua rolled his eyes as his grandfather continued in his narration,
"As I was about to say before I was so rudely interrupted, I got the gold fever and I started to spend more and more time in the mountain. Pretty soon, I was getting tired of using only a pan so I did more research and found sluice boxes. Back then, aluminum was rare, so I made my own out of wood. It was heavy but I carried it up the mountain every weekend. Do you know what happens to your body when you spend the next few months carrying that heavy load up and down the mountain? You develop muscles and by the time I became old enough to join the army, I was so fit that I actually passed basic training very easily."
It was Grandfather's turn to roll his eye in desperation,
"I'm going to make you do the same thing I did. When your summer vacation comes up in few weeks, I'm going to take you to my place in Alaska and you're going to learn the fine art of prospecting. You will learn how to pan for gold, and later, you will also build your own sluice box from wood and carry it yourself up the mountain every day. I guarantee you, by the time your summer vacation end, you won't recognize yourself."
"Are you sure that's going to work? I've tried every diet and exercise and nothing seems to work."
"Oh, yes. I'm certain that it'll work, you see, I mentored a few other people in the prospecting lifestyle, they were much larger than you and they lost weight. That's why I was on the plane coming here when your parent died, they called me and asked me to come down here to help you with that problem."
"That was six months ago," Joshua asked, "why didn't you tell me about this sooner?"
"You needed the time to mourn and beside I'm an old man and I have this unfortunately tendency to forget things sometime."
The smell of the trout wafted up to Joshua's nose and brought him back to the present. He smiled at the memories as he checked the trout and found it to be cooked to perfection. After letting it cool a little bit, he ate the trout slowly savoring the taste of freshly caught meal. Just as he was finishing off the last pieces of the trout, he could hear a whistling sound in the distance. At first it was just a whistling sound but it started to increase in pitch, almost as if something was getting closer. Joshua quickly stood up and began searching the sky for the source of the noise.
Almost instantly, Joshua spotted a bright streaking light which he recognized as a falling star, but instead of being high up in the sky like normal ones, this was flying extremely low. Immediately, he knew that it was going to land somewhere nearby. He continued to track the falling star and realized that it was going to land somewhere upriver. He sat down and watched as the falling star fell lower and lower until it vanished beyond the forest. He waited for the sound of the impact but strangely, there were none. Curiosity pushed him to go out immediately and try to find out where it landed but he ignored it and instead he went over to a pile of dirt he had gathered hours ago and kicked it over the fire. After making sure the fire was extinguished, he went inside his tent and almost immediately, he fell asleep.
The next morning, Joshua woke up to a heavy fog outside his tent, and he decided that the risks were too high for him to try and find the landing site of the meteor from last night. Instead, he went and drained his lizard before grabbing his gold pan and his portable aluminum sluice box. He also grabbed an empty coffee pot that he brought with him and headed to the river bend. There, he immediately set up his sluice box and started loading the sluice box, humming a small ditty his grandfather taught him,
"Down in the deep ravines
Hear that roaring sound
There the miners are a-digging
Digging in the cold damp ground."
He began to lose himself into the repeating motion of loading the sluice box and cleaning out the concentrates into the coffee pot. Sometime in the afternoon after cleaning out the concentrates from the sluice box for the sixth time, he spotted something in the water as he positioned the sluice box. Puzzled, he reached into the water and to his astonishment; it was a large gold nugget the size and shape of a chicken egg. The astonishment quickly turned into puzzlement when he realized that the gold nugget has absolutely no imperfection at all and was holding a constant high temperature. He plunged his hand back in the water still holding the gold nugget and kept it there for few minutes. During that time, the temperature of the nugget never changed. Deciding to take the gold nugget to his scientist friend at University of Alaska Anchorage later, he stuffed the nugget into his pocket and cleaned up his equipment.
At the camp, he dropped off his equipment and went out to gather some more firewood. He came back with an armful of firewood and dropped them and grabbed his fishing rod and went back to the river. It took him longer this time to catch a fish but he managed to catch a nice three pound Dolly Varden trout. He gutted it and took it back to the camp where he used the same rock he used last night to cook the trout. While the trout was cooking, he checked his coffee pot to see how much more concentrates he could gather tomorrow before the pot got full. He could already see some streak of gold flakes inside. He decided that another day worth of sluicing would fill up the pot.
The smell of the trout attracted his attention and he closed the pot and put it back in the tent before he took the rock away from the fire. After he let the trout cool a little bit, he wolfed it down in record time and then sat back to enjoy the sunset. He suddenly remembered the gold nugget and took it out to look at it some more. No matter how long he inspected the gold nugget, he knew that it could not be naturally formed but yet something in him said that it was not man-made either.
The questions of the gold nugget began to crowd his mind so he tossed the gold nugget into his tent before he got up to put out the fire. As he stood over the fire, he suddenly remembered the meteor show he saw last night and again resolved to find the impact site tomorrow. With the fire out, he then retreated to his sleeping bag. He rolled over trying to find a comfortable position when he felt something sticking him in the lower back. He reached underneath and pulled out the nugget, he dropped it on his pack next to his head.
A few hours later, as Joshua slept, a stray wind came through the tent and it was strong enough to just nudge the gold nugget so that it rolled off the pack and came to a rest against Joshua's forehead. The nugget glowed for a moment and then all of a sudden electricity surged across the nugget and onto Joshua's head where it wrapped around his head like a cap. The electric tendrils from the nugget pulsed around his head and continued for few seconds then vanished.
During the time that the electric tendrils had Joshua in its grip, he never moved almost as if he was paralyzed. But the moment the tendrils released him, he sprang up awake. Momentarily disoriented, he wondered what woke him up and he looked down and saw the nugget lying by his hand. He decided that it was the nugget that woke him up and grabbed it to put it in his pack but he noticed that the heat was gone. Groaning from a strange headache, he stuffed the nugget into the pack and took out his traveling first aid kit and took an aspirin then went back to sleep.
An hour later, the tent was filled with the sound of Joshua's snoring and as he slept, an ancient and alien consciousness went through his mind. Shifting through his memories, his passions, his regrets, and his character, the alien consciousness found his mind to be satisfactory. It retreated to the furthest corner of Joshua's mind and waited.
Unknown to Joshua, his life was irrevocably changed this very night.
Science Fiction /