Fundament Shell

The Last Midnight Star

Gather 'round, young'uns. No, no automat for supper; no noodles. Tonight is something special: corn pone and chitlins. This here's history on a plate. Now, don't give me that look before you even taste it. If the world's fixing to end again, it's time you had a meal from our family's past while you hear about it. About how the Rigby clan survived the last time the world went dark.

Now the Rigbys, we didn't always squat on the edge of the City. A long time back, we came out of a place that was old and wet, hotter than the fires of Perdition—so your Gramma's gramma and her pappy before her have said. It was also a place where the Devil roamed, giving folk their heart's desire.

And I know that last part is true, because your ancestor—Sean Rigby was his name—he came to a crossroads one midnight, drunk and feeling the fool, and… he saw her. Standing there, checking the time and looking cool as no other in the sweltering August heat. Tall as cottonwood in bloom and wearing a smile across her lips that stopped short of her eyes. Some say the Devil is a man with a pointy beard. Others say the Devil's a terrifying beast with claws and a tail. But Sean? He knew right then. The Devil was a lady.

The Devil bent down close to him, setting her eyes on his wayward soul. Her voice was honeysuckle-sweet as she said, "I know you, Sean Rigby. I seen you sweat and sob for a scrap of land you can't even rightly say is your own. I seen your family fight to save a name that's more precious to you than gold. Well there is a reckoning coming, Sean Rigby, one that will wipe all lands and all names—high and low—clean from this Earth. I alone can whistle up the way to protect one of these things you hold dear, if your family will owe me… a debt."

Old Sean was already a sinner, but a man with nothing will fight to keep what little he has. He figured that alive and in the Devil's pocket was better than dead, so he shook her hand. The Devil opened her eyes—one, two, three—and pointed him to the last star in the sky, far to the south. She said, "That's your star, Sean Rigby. Follow it each night, when it's the last star hanging low, and sing to it. You sing, 'Al Eck Ruk Nam, Shu Nam Eck Ur,' until you call that star down to Earth. You do that, and your family will endure."

The Rigbys did as they were told and walked south. Each night they sang, and each night their star sat lower and lower. And when it finally fell, they were safe beneath the Traveler.

But now, children, I give you the same dire warning that's been handed down to me: the Devil hasn't come back yet to take what's hers… not from Sean, or any other Rigby what survived him. But a debt's a debt. So you learn and remember that song, children… and steer clear of crossroads once the sun sets.

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