There was no God in Price’s Landing. There was the saloon, where even the liquor bottles had nothing left to give. There was the schoolhouse, long since abandoned by the schoolmarms and bright-eyed children, sometimes used on Sundays for worship service when the weather was bad and flooded the church. Horses grazed outside the small cemetery, the only place in Price’s Landing where no one spat or swore. There was an inn, and a general store, or at least the remains of one, but no God anywhere to be found.
When William Walsh rode into town that Tuesday, the dust of the trail mingling with the low, dusky clouds behind him, he wasn’t looking for God. He was looking for Marie, the sweet, shy girl who had worked at the Inn ever since she and William were young. A pale, Irish face, freckled and easy to blush, but with straight, dark hair that cascaded down her back, her pride and joy. After three years away from Price’s Landing, making his fortune, William had finally decided the time was come to find Marie and make her his wife.
As his horse slowed to a stop outside the cemetery, William heard the church bells start to peal. He looked over at where the old church stood, and saw the whole building shudder with every strike of the bell, chips of plaster and paint raining down from on high. William’s heart sank into his boots. Well, that certainly ain’t suitable for a wedding, he thought to himself. Guess me and Marie will have to get married outside of town. He hitched his horse to a tree, a few paces down from a jet-black mare, and strode into the town proper, marveling at the way the place had fallen to shambles. This had been his home. He’d turned from little Billy into William here, a boy to a man. Now he wandered past the shells and corpses of a childhood long ago abandoned, looking for the only thing in Price’s Landing worth salvaging: his sweet Marie.
One of the horses at the cemetery gate gave a low whinny, and then another joined in; soon, all the horses were neighing and stomping the ground in alarm. William turned to face the abandoned saloon as the doors, stiff and creaky on their hinges, shot open. Standing on the steps of the old saloon was the entity no man, woman or child south of Cape Girardeau wanted to see with their own eyes.