The Shadow of Michael Scott
Michael Scott went to study with the Devil in his round tower somewhere in the depths of the Ettrick Forest. No matter how long you try and no matter where you seek, you will never find that tower, unless Auld Hornie himself wants you to, and then, it would be better for you not to seek it at all.
Michael knew that he would learn almost everything he wanted to know in the Devil’s Academy, but that there was a frightful price to be paid. On the day of graduation, all the students in the Devil’s Tower would receive their diplomas, but the last man through the door would find himself unable to leave. He would have to serve the Devil for all eternity.
None the less, in spite of this, many came to study at the hidden tower.
“You understand my conditions?” Auld Hornie asked Michael Scott when he came to apply for a place at the Round Tower.
“Aye, I think so,” Michael replied: “but I understand that the teaching here can change a man profoundly?”
“No doubt,” the Devil answered him.
“Change him out of all recognition, mebbe?”
“Some would say so.”
“So then, let us say, the last thing in the shape of a man to be at your doorway on the day of graduation is to remain as your servant for all eternity?”
“I agree to these conditions,” said Michael, and made to shake the Devil by the hard and leathery hand. Auld Hornie kept his hands by his sides, however.
“It is enough that we agree,” he said, and Michael was accepted into the company of those who would know the secrets of the world and of mortal men.
Michael excelled at his studies, but he was particularly gifted in Arithmetic and Astronomy. He would often be seen either at the top of the tower, or in the precincts around it, watching the sky and the movements of the heavenly bodies, and making notes on a small slate tablet that he always carried with him.
At last the day of graduation came. Those about to receive their diplomas were full of the most urgent mixture of hope and fear. If they were able to avoid being the last man out, they could look forward to a life of respect and even riches, perhaps serving a king with their expertise and arcane knowledge. Michael, however, was calm, and hummed a tune in a light voice as he put on his robes.
Auld Hornie stood on the podium with the scrolls before him on the table. He called out each name in a sonorous voice that grew hoarser and more fearsome as the morning went on. The graduates were becoming ever more nervous, and one was even whimpering quietly as he sat on his stool.
One by one, they went up to receive their diplomas, but the door was sealed until the last graduate had the document in his hand.
At last, the final diploma was handed to the last student. He returned to his still, and sat, waiting with all the others for the door to open, and the scramble for the door.
“You have done well my bonnie boys,” Auld Hornie said, his voice now a harsh, growling whisper; “but remember that the last one of you at the door must remain with me for ever.”
Slowly, the door of the Devil’s Tower creaked open, and shafts of sunlight poured into the shadowy chamber. It was like the breaking of a spell. The graduates rose as one man and made a dash for the door. There was struggling and fighting, but at last the crowd managed to clear the doorway, and each man was running from the tower, hardly daring to look back.
All except one man: Michael Scott. When the heaving mob of fighting, cursing and sobbing men had cleared, he strode with an unhurried pace to the door.
“One moment, Michael Scott,” said the Devil from his place on the podium; “I think there was a bargain between us made at your enrolment into the company of this tower?”
“Aye, I mind it well,” said Michael: “the last thing in the shape of a man is how it went, was it no’?”
“Just so,” said Auld Hornie.
“Aweel,” said Michael, pointing at his shadow that lay across the floor from the threshold where the bright sunlight shone, “there’s your mannie!”
As he skipped away from the tower to avoid the slamming of the door, Michael could hear the laughter ringing through the tower, up through its upper chambers and out at the roof to fill the forest all around.
But from that day onward, even in the brightest sunlight, Michael Scott never cast a shadow, for it was the last thing in the shape of a man at the door of the Devil’s Tower. Michael’s shadow was serving the Devil for all eternity.