Once upon a time, a ka-tet of readers found themselves at tor.com on a long quest to reach Stephen King’s Dark Tower. During the journey, the author (or perhaps it was simply ka) tried to throw our hardy band of pilgrims into confusion by telling a new story.
Undeterred, their path followed the Beam until the end, and only now, when we know what is at the clearing at the end of the path, do we return to Mid-World once again, to join our old friends for The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5, if it do ya). Welcome. There be spoilers ahead.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 1
Roland begins his tale soon after the death of his mother, when his father Steven calls him into his study. After making Roland wait a while, he asks how his “teacher that was,” Cort, is doing—he’s heard Roland is taking care of him, feeding him and cleaning him. It’s clear Steven doesn’t approve of this, and his disapproval angers Roland.
Steven said it would be one thing if Roland nursed him out of love, but he is trying to work off his guilt about “the death of your mother, which was not your fault.” The official notice of Gabrielle Deschain was suicide, which no one questioned because word of her affair with Marten had spread.
It’s clear that Steven does not hold Roland responsible for killing his mother—but the wizard’s glass and Rhea. “It was she who killed your mother, Roland,” Steven tells him. “She turned you into a gun and then pulled the trigger.”
Finally, Steven says he will find someone else to care for Cort because he’s sending Roland and one of his ka-mates to Debaria. At first, Roland thinks it’s to Serenity, a retreat/nunnery of sorts in the area. The friend who’ll accompany him is Jamie DeCurry, who Roland calls Jamie Red-Hand. He’s to find the high sheriff there, Hugh Peavy, and kill a skin-man, or shapeshifter, who has been slaughtering people.
What Constant Reader Learns: It’s interesting to see a bit more of “Steven, son of Henry the Tall.” He’s dressed in mourning for his wife, and signing papers. He rarely wants the fire lit in his study. And he’s quite perceptive where his son is concerned.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 2
Two days later, Roland and Jamie led their horses onto a special train that ran as far as Debaria and not much farther. Roland gets the mystery of “diddlesticks” cleared up, much to Jamie’s amusement. He has no sexual experience but at least he knows what it is, unlike the worldly Roland.
What Constant Reader Learns: We learn a bit more about Jamie in this section (the sections of this long chapter are unnumbered, thus the awkward divisions here). He is serious-minded. Prefers bah and bow to the gun. He’s kind—when the train lurches and derails and one of the old servants falls, Jamie gets to the man quickly to help him up.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 3
Roland and Jamie rescue their horses from the derailed little train with the plans of going into Debaria for help. The engineer warns them to stay away from Serenity, the Mid-World version of a convent, because the women there “eat the mens.” The boys offer to pay for having the train and rails repaired. Roland and Jamie leave, promising the “engie” they won’t forget and leave them out there.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jamie Red-Hand gets explained a bit here. The engineer has a burned hand that’s red, and Roland notes that at least the engineer’s would get better, and Jamie’s hand, which looked like it had been dipped in blood, would always be that way. We still don’t know why, though.
I have a feeling the engie might be a future victim….
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 4
Jamie asks Roland more about the skin-man, since Roland has read the reports done by their teacher-that-was, Vannay, who believed in the skin-man stories. Twenty-three are dead, including entire families, with the victims torn apart. A witness saw a wolf that ran upright like a man. Another said it was a lion. Some cowpokes said it was a “tyger.”
Roland says the description is similar to the “old story of the boy caught in the starkblast,” the story called ‘The Wind Through the Keyhole.’
Soon they arrive at the “haci” that houses Serenity. In front of its gates sat a woman in a white dress and a hood with gullwings. She’s on an ironwood throne and Roland describes her as the biggest woman he’s ever seen, a “giantess” of at least six-and-a-half-feet tall. She shouts for the women to bring out food, and insists that Roland and Jamie stay for a meal. She promises not to eat them, although both would make a tasty snack. She introduces herself as the prioress, Everlynne.
Another woman, Fortuna, comes outside and the boys are shocked to see her ravaged face—she was a victim of the skin-man. Everlynne forces her to tell them her story.
What Constant Reader Learns: Jamie, still a serious-minded guy, isn’t sure he’s quite buying the lions-wolves-and-tygers story. He also admits to not being much of a reader. I can’t quite get a handle on his personality yet.
Interesting to see the “convent” and meet the “mother superior.”
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 5
About two weeks earlier, Dolores had gone out to close the gates, and a creature grabbed her and bit her head from her shoulders—Fortuna witnessed it. It was taller than a man, with scales and a long tail, and walked on two legs. Fortuna ran, but it caught her. Everlynne heard the screams and ran out with the priory’s old seldom-used pellet gun. Some pellets hit the beast, it dropped Fortuna, and it ran, but not before she saw its genitals, “long and curved like a scimitar, twitching and full of the black stuff that serves it for blood.”
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland and Jamie seem to have lost their appetites.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 6
As Roland and Jamie are getting ready to leave Serenity, Everlynne tells Roland to stop by when their business is done—she has something for him. She recognizes him from his mother, who had stayed at the priory a while.
What Constant Reader Learns: Hm…wonder what that could be? Hope it’s not a new wizard’s glass.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 7
They reach the town of Debaria, which bears a resemblance to Mejis—old Wild West town, in other words. Several saloons and shops line the high street. By the time they get through town and reach the High Sheriff’s office, they’ve attracted quite a few spectators who want to know if they have come to kill the skin-man (and quite a few who speculate that the boys aren’t old enough to even kill a bottle of alcohol).
Hugh Peavy, the sheriff, is relieved to see them, and he greets them with a handshake rather than the “forehead-knocking.” He admits he was hoping to see Steve Deschain himself. To ensure Roland is who he says, he asks to see a sigul, and Roland pulls from his swag-bag a small wooden box his father had given him.
When he opens the box, the sheriff tells them a story about the time, when he was a young deputy, that Steven Deschain came into town to help rid them of the Crow Gang. Roland figures he doesn’t have time to hear the story, but his knowledge of his father’s adventures is limited and this time, curiosity wins out.
Most of the townspeople followed the then-sheriff in a frontal assault on the outlaw gang, and rode into an ambush. Only Hugh Peavy stayed with Steven Deschain, who’d suggested a longer route that brought them in from an unexpected direction. He and Steven sneaked in on the gang and killed them all, except Steven was shot. What was in the box was the spent slug he’d dug out of Steven’s arm.
Hugh says once the skin-man business is done, he plans to retire as sheriff, and let the town go to ruin. Roland, who’s kind of horrified that the man’s willing to just let the town slide after he retires, asks Hugh to fill them in on what he knows about the skin-man.
What Constant Reader Learns: I always love sai King’s goofy business names. They pass the Cheery Fellows Saloon and Café. There’s also the Busted Luck and the Bider-Wee.
Ah, Roland Roland Roland. When the sheriff asks him if he knows what’s inside the box, he says no, because he hadn’t been asked to look. I would say it was a sign of respect for his father, but, yeah, it’s also a lack of curiosity on his part.
The Wind Through the Keyhole: The Skin-Man (Part 1), Section 8
They walk through the sheriff’s office into the jail area behind it, and all the cells are empty except for old Otis, er, I mean Salty Sam, sleeping off a drunk. Using chalk, the sheriff draws a map of Debaria and environs on one of the cell walls, and marks where the attacks have taken place. Most are between the town and the mines, as well as the miners’ village—the salt houses—of Little Debaria.
Jamie examines the drawing and asks if perhaps the skin-man is one of the miners, a “saltie.” The sheriff agrees, and says the newest “plug,” or shaft of the mine, is a lot deeper than the old ones, “and everyone knows there are demons in the earth.” He thinks maybe one of the miners hit one and doesn’t even know he’s been possessed.
Roland points out that there are also leftovers from the “Great Old Ones” left, what Jamie calls “artyfax.”
Problem is, it will take a while to question all the salties—there are about two hundred of them. Plus, the possessed one might not know what he turns into at night.
What Constant Reader Learns: Roland wishes he had Cuthbert with him, because he is good a deduction, or Alain, who has the Touch. But Jamie appears to be a problem-solver. It leads Roland to admit to himself (or to his audience of Eddie, Susannah, and Jake) that he hates mysteries. “I’m not good at solving them,” he says. “My mind has never run that way.” I’m not sure I would agree with that.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll continue reading “The Skin-Man (Part I).”