The Devils That Have Come to Stay
It’s 1848 and gold fever isn’t the only pestilence racking California’s Sierra. Hillsides are ravaged for gleaming metal. Waters bubble with slime and bloating fish bellies. Children sicken, men prey on the weak, and only the most callous thrive. Tending bar in a shantytown is easier than mining, but the barkeep is struggling without his beloved wife Joanna. Months ago she took the stage home to tend her dying mother, but the old woman’s passing is slow and tortured.
An Indian, disfigured by illness, comes in for whiskey, and feathers lie scattered below his stool when he leaves. Soon the bartender sees the Indian strewing gold like seeds; returning that which was stolen from the earth. When the ground swallows the nuggets, the bartender wonders if the world has become one with the ether. Nevertheless, when the Indian says he is walking to Sutter’s Mill, near Joanna’s home, the bartender goes with him.
Pamela Difrancesco’s The Devils That Have Come to Stay explores the nature of greed and brutality. Its witness is never named, leaving this reader feeling slightly unmoored. It’s appropriate, for the bartender can never trust what his eyes show him. Difrancesco’s acid Western is an intriguing combination of Jack London and Stephen King. It raises more questions than it answers, but it will keep you reading.