The novel begins with Roland and his ka-tet arriving at a river on their journey to the Dark Tower. An elderly man who operates a ferry gets them across the river, and warns them that a severe depression (starkblast) is coming, and that they can find shelter in a building a few miles ahead. They reach the shelter just in time, and while they wait out the storm, Roland tells them of an adventure in his youth to keep them occupied: "The Skin-Man."

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