Orion’s Rigel — A Short Story

by Daniel Poirier

“Hey Jess, there’s your star.” I was pointing southwardly up the night sky.

“Which one is it again, Al?”

“Follow my finger, Jess.” I extended my arm next to his left cheek. “See the three small stars banded together? Well, Rigel — your star — is the bright one just below those.”

“Oh yeah, I see it! How did it become my star again?”

Depiction of Orion as warrior
from Uranographia by Johannes Hevelius

I had told him a few times already but it was always worth repeating. Besides, I needed to tell him again since he obviously didn’t fully accept the “gift” the first time, or he wouldn’t be here now. The star’s brightness was fading; it needed a soul, a spark; it needed Jesse.

“Remember after we met, we glanced at the sky and I told you to pick a star — any star — and that I’d give you that star to keep forever?”

“Oh, I do now. It was really cold that night.”

“It was,” I replied. It must have been minus 25. We were making our way home from ice fishing. Jesse had glanced up in awe. “Wow, will you look at all those stars!”

A spectacular view. The firmaments eased time which seemed to stop altogether, while the orbit’s dome receded into a black carpet from which protruded the brightest of diamonds. The Milky Way — a bright swinging powder mat — loosely peppered the backdrop of nearby stars and distant galaxies.

Here we were again, this time on a humid summer evening, heading home from trolling in Jesse’s boat.

Jesse and I stared at Rigel, the star representing the Hunter’s left foot also known as the Mariners’ star. Fascination twinkled in his eyes. Though his mouth was of serious stance, his cloaked smile was evident through the purse of his lips.

“It’s good to have your own star, Jess, and you picked a good one, too. Rigel’s a constant; it appears throughout the year. Mariners since ages ago have depended on it for that reason. And whenever you spot it, you’ll feel more, um… grounded. And hey, whenever you spot it, remember me, ok?”

“You going somewhere, Al?”

“We all do, Jess.”

We walked home. We had been neighbours for a few years and had gotten along since day one.

But Jesse should not be here.

Once inside, a sense of sadness took hold of me. I was concerned for Jesse, his family. Would they be able to manage without him? A wife and four kids, his the only income providing for them.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt this type of concern. Earthly friends. Damned loneliness.

Jesse is Rigel. To see both is… unnatural.

But I had no choice. I needed to complete the Orion constellation, and the Hunter needed its left foot. It had lost its brightness; it needed a soul — Jesse’s.

For millennia, I have been assigning souls to stars. In the guise of “giving” stars to humans, I take souls, sending them to the heights of space to become immortal. In the beginning, there were only a handful of stars, which were naught but the earth’s neighbouring planets.

The knock on my door was unexpected. It was late, and I was about to retire.

It was Jesse, looking faint, shiny beads of sweat above his temples and eyebrows. I suspected that he only had a matter of hours left. He had accepted my gift and was on his way.

“Al, do you have a star of your own?”

“As a matter of fact, Jess, I don’t.”

“Oh, good,” he said with eagerness. “Then I’m sharing Rigel with you. That way we’ll both remember each other whenever we see it.”

I held my breath. Was this my time as well? Could Jesse have the power of soulstar-giving?

That was a year ago. Jesse died of heart failure that next morning and Rigel has been shining brightly ever since.

I’m staring at the stars, now with my new friend Rebecca. A wonderful soul. Another friend. And tonight I must complete the Musician’s constellation. I will name her Lyra.
If Rebecca accepts my gift.

Then again, they eventually always do.

Orion’s Rigel was produced by Daniel Poirier for the 2012 French River Story Mill writing course, which was offered through the French River Cultural Industries Council.

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