Astra peered through her telescope as a wish flew across the night sky so quickly that it was barely visible. She loved the night sky, the way it hung over her like a studded blanket, the moon bringing light and providing absolute darkness.
She squeezed her eyes shut but hesitated with her wish. The last one hadn’t gone as planned. From a young age, she’d wished upon numerous stars. Hoping they would share some of their magic with her. They did mostly, but magic came at a price. Some had gone terribly wrong. When she was too young to understand the impact, she’d wished for her parents to stop fighting. The next day her mother left. A few years later she wished for a dog. Days later a neighbor passed away and she got her wish. Not all had such big consequences, but they stayed with her. Enough that she would overthink it so much and miss her opportunity.
It was always a matter of intention and keeping it simple, but she had difficulty with it. Keep it simple.
I wish for a companion.
She formed the words in her mind and sent them out into the sparkling oblivion above.
The next morning, she opened her journal she noted down the day, time, and appearance of the star. Papers lay scattered on the table, sketches of constellations and possibilities of other galaxies. She was an astrologist even before a paper gave her permission.
If her head wasn’t filled with stars, it was filled with words. Her next installment on the night sky was due soon. The local newspaper had reached out the previous day to remind her.
Making herself a large cup of tea and grabbing a plate with two cookies, she settled into her desk chair and pulled her typewriter closer.
Her front doorbell chimed.
She frowned, getting up and sticking her head out the window.
A girl with braided red hair and a flowy dress stood at the door, tapping her foot, and glancing around.
When Astra had moved in, she would rush down the two flights of stairs to answer the door. Only to be bombarded with someone selling trinkets or lies. Being more assertive sent the hawkers away. But on occasion, someone was there for a proper reason.
“Can I help you?” Astra shouted.
The girl tilted her head up, covering her eyes from the sun.
“I’m looking for Astra Morningstar.”
“What’s it about?”
“Your article.” She held up a rolled newspaper. “I have some questions.”
Astra sighed, hoping the questions would be engaging. “I’ll be there in a moment.”
She stacked her papers and pushed in her chair. Going down the first set of twisting stairs to her bedroom. She threw a discarded sweater in her closet and puffed her pillows. Then down another flight of stairs to the kitchen and dining area.
Everything was in place. She smoothed out her dress and opened the door.
The girl’s face perked up. She was Astra’s age, with flaming braided hair. Her dark mahogany eyes pierced Astra’s like she wanted access to her mind.
“Good day, I am Hestia Flemming. I read your article and found it fascinating. I’d love to ask you some questions.”
Astra hesitated for a second. “Come on in.”
She opened the door, letting the girl step inside.
“What a lovely place you have,” she said, glancing around.
After making tea, Astra led her up the stairs. Hestia gasped as she stepped onto the landing, taking in the organized chaos, the constellation drawings against the walls, and the brass telescope.
“Wow,” she said, eyes wide.
Astra stood with her cup of tea, watching Hestia inspecting her room. It was like a child visiting a toy shop for the first time.
“When did you start watching the stars?”
Hugging her cup with her hands, Astra sat. “From a young age, I would climb on the roof to watch the stars. They were constant and comfortable.” Unlike her childhood.
“Are you interested in astrology?”
“Oh yes, very much,” she said, taking the cup and sitting opposite Astra. “But I’m afraid I lack your knowledge.”
“It’s easy to acquire if one is persistent enough.”
Hestia smiled over the rim of her cup, two dimples forming on each cheek. Much like smooth mini craters.
“So, what would you like to know?”
The next few hours were a blur of shared stories and knowledge, all of them leading back to the stars. When Hestia left, Astra was so inspired by her interest, that she wrote several articles and started on new sketches. When she needed to brainstorm ideas, she made up new constellations. Giving them a name, background, and a place in the night sky.
After a few days of constant writing and work, her pace slowed again, and she found her thoughts wandering.
Astra read through her newest piece, only half paying attention, the other half lingered on Hestia. Her questions and interest, how she listened to Astra talking about the stars. The way her eyes lingered. The way her hair shone like the sun.
The bell chimed and she was out of her chair.
Outside Hestia smiled up at her, giving a small wave.
Astra smiled back and ran down the stairs. She composed herself with a deep breath in and out. She opened the door, her smile widening.
Hestia walked in. “Yes, I’m here with a proposition.”
“So,” she said, dragging out the word, her eyes on the carpet before meeting Astra’s eyes. “I’m part of a coven.”
“Oh, you’re a witch?”
Hestia laughed. “Of sorts. Spiritual more. I believe in the power of the universe.”
Astra liked the sound of that.
“My coven’s main source of magic is the night sky.”
Astra’s heart skipped a beat.
“We have a ritual coming up, and well, we’re wondering if you would like to join us?” she said, her smile faltering for a moment. “It will take place at the Revival crater site.”
Astra was weighing the option of saying yes. She’d be able to spend more time with Hestia and meet other starry night people. But the meteor site was what made her agree. She’d been wanting to visit it for years, but it was on private property and all her requests had been denied.
“I’d love to.”
“Oh.” A shadow fell over Hestia’s eyes. “Really?”
Astra nodded, frowning slightly, surely Hestia must have known her answer.
“Well,” she said, her smile reappearing. “Then I’m happy to call you our honorary guest.”
Astra beamed, sending thanks to the star who granted her wish.
A companion at last.
As the ritual date came closer Astra became a ball of infused excitement and nerves. Excitement not just to visit a place she’s been dreaming of, but also to be in Hestia’s presence. More of her nervousness was centered around the coven. It had been years since Astra had been in a group of people.
She’d been avoiding it at every twist and turn.
On the day of the ritual a delivery came. A black box was tied together with a ribbon, a twig of lavender in the knot accompanied by a small note.
A dress for tonight – H
She smiled and placed the note aside. Pulling the ribbon, the box opened like a flower. The dress was made of a soft dark charcoal material, with long sleeves and a high neckline. It was decorated with tiny gemstones that formed a galaxy accompanied by a pentagram pendant.
Astra was in love.
Hestia met her at the estate’s gate wearing a similar dress, her gemstones forming a unique galaxy of its own.
They walked towards the house between two lines of trees. Vines snaked around the red brick building. It was late afternoon, the last of the sun rays saying their goodbyes for the day. Lanterns lit up the front of the house, casting phantom-like shadows.
The inside was welcoming, with antique furniture and heavy drapes. They walked through a short hallway and two rooms, onto a porch area.
People stood around, drinks in hands and chattering away. On a table to the side was a variety of ripe fruits, cheeses, nuts, and star-shaped crackers, organized in different patterns. Lanterns lit up the patio and the gardens beyond where several women danced and laughed.
“Ah, our special guest!” A woman held out her hands in an open gesture. Astra tensed, but the woman didn’t embrace her, she only bowed slightly and then fluttered off.
Several women came to greet her. She smiled, trying to remember their names, but forgetting.
A woman sauntered over. Her dress was more elaborate than the rest, yet no gemstones in sight, only the pendant. Her hair hung to her waist with ribbons weaved between strands. Confidence and power radiated from her posture and composed face.
“Astra, this is my mother. She is our coven leader and priestess.”
“It’s lovely to meet you,” she said.
“You as well. Thank you for having me,” Astra said.
“Oh, of course, you are our honorary guest. We’re excited to have such an achieved female with us. I’ve read your articles and they are fascinating.”
Heat spread across Astra’s cheeks.
“If you’ll excuse me. There are still some preparations to see to.” She smiled. “Why don’t you take her to prepare for the ceremony?”
Hestia nodded. When she turned to Astra there was no smile on her face.
Astra placed her hand on Hestia’s upper arm. “Are you okay?”
A faint smile appeared. “Yes, just tired I guess.” Standing on her tiptoes, she glanced around the crowd. “There she is.”
The stairs descending to the garden had a lantern on every second step, lighting up the way. An older woman stood next to a table.
“This is Astra. Our guest of honor.”
“Ah,” she said. Grabbing Astra’s hands, she let out a yelp as the woman pulled her closer. “Welcome, I hope you’ll find our ritual to your liking.”
“I’m sure I will. And thank you for having me.”
“Oh, of course! As our guest of honor, you will be making a wish on our behalf,” she said. “All we ask of you is to wish for prosperity for the coven.”
Astra’s heart skipped. Her excitement turning to stone.
“Do you think you can do that?”
Her palms became clammy, and she glanced around. searching for an escape, for a way out of the situation. But there were people all around. Astra nodded. “Yes.”
The woman smiled at her, expectation behind her eyes.
Hestia grabbed her hand and pulled her towards a table. Her thoughts of worry morphing into curiosity. On it was a variety of wire circlets decorated with several crystals. She placed one on Astra’s head.
“Perfect,” Hestia said. “Pick one for me.”
Each was unique but they all held the same type of crystals. One had rose quartz almost shaped like a heart. She placed it upon Hestia’s head.
“How do I look?” she asked.
Their laughter carried across the lawn. Astra didn’t have to force it, but the nagging tension dampened the joyful moment.
“It is time.” Someone announced, the voice silencing the chatter.
An electric current spread through the crowd. The priestess hell a bulky lantern headed down a path towards the woods and the rest followed like moths drawn to her flame.
Astra and Hestia joined the progression. Their hands brushed each other’s occasionally, sending a jolt through Astra’s fingers and a twirling sensation in her stomach.
Her heart sped as they approached the meteor site. She glanced at the woods that surrounded them and the undergrowth which coated the floor. White rocks peeked out, some looking like bones. Goosebumps broke out over her arms.
“Astra,” Hestia whispered. She gave a small tug on her sleeve.
Astra looked at her. Shadows and starlight coated her, accompanied by a frown.
“Don’t wish for prosperity.”
“What?” She’d heard her, just didn’t understand.
“Wish for anything else.” She held her stare, the intensity sent a sliver down Astra’s back. “Okay?”
She swallowed. “Okay.”
“Here,” she said, holing out her palm. “This will help with the nerves.”
Astra took the bite-size candy and placed it on her tongue. It was citrusy, with a faint tang of something herbal.
Hestia gave her a faint smile as they walked on. The anticipation Astra felt was still logged in her body, but it was accompanied by wariness.
The meteor was as marvelous as Astra imagined. The area was large, the pit deep. No plants or outside materials littered the area. Usually, equipment would be present for research purposes. But it was kept clean and natural.
The coven formed a half-moon near the ridge. The priestess pointed to a place for Astra to stand. She took her place on the flat boulder. The witches stood in front of her, the meteor site behind her. The priestess stood between them, a goblet in hand.
Astra’s heartbeat fastened. It felt surreal to be standing so close to the edge, but also dangerous. She glanced at the bottom of the site where more white stones glowed in the starlight. Goosebumps surfaced on her skin.
A simple wish, she could do it.
“We are gathered here to thank the goddess for blessing us with the stars and the moon. For lighting the way in the long nights and the short one. For lighting the way in our lives.”
The priestess held up the goblet to the stars, then took a sip and handed it to Astra. She held it against her lips, taking a breath the sweetly strong aroma filled her nose and she took a sip. The liquid was warm, fruity yet potent. It went down easily and if it wasn’t for the crowd’s anticipation for their turns, she might have taken another sip.
The priestess took the goblet and handed it to the first woman, who took a sip and passed it on. It wasn’t a large goblet, but somehow there was enough for everyone to drink from.
The stars beamed down at them, hovering with anticipation.
One by one the stars came alive, blinking at her. Astra didn’t know if she was moving or if it was the night sky that was spinning. The stars seemed closer, just out of reach.
More words were said but Astra’s focus was on the stars and the liveliness of the night sky.
The leader’s voice cut through the air. “Astra, it is time for you to touch a star.”
The priestess’s eyes glowed with eagerness. Hestia was amongst them, completing the crescent moon, a few steps from the prominent line. Her eyes bore into Astra’s, trying to convey a message.
She blinked, trying to grasp what the woman was saying.
Touch a star.
She knew it was impossible, but she also knew she wanted to try.
She pushed up on her toes, stretching out her arm towards the sky. They were just out of reach. She pushed a bit further, her finger brushing against a rough cool surface.
A wave of satisfied murmurs surrounded her.
Then everything fell away, and it was just her in the sky, holding the star in her palm. A lightness enveloped her chest and she felt suspended between time and space.
Make a wish it seemed to say.
Hestia’s voice echoed in the back of her mind.
Don’t wish for prosperity. Wish for anything else.
The last wish had gone terribly wrong, who’s to say this one would be any better.
What would she even wish for? It was so difficult to articulate a wish, to keep it simple and yet make it powerful enough to come true.
Stars surrounded her and she knew most of them. Their names. Locations. Vague histories. And characteristics. A galaxy beyond waited to be discovered, but she wanted something new in the night sky.
Closing her eyes, she made a wish.
Her toes ached and she placed her feet back on the ground. Her fingers shimmered.
The stars were out of reach again.
Silence stretched over the site.
The members looked at each other, their faces questioning. Murmurs rose again, no admiration this time. Like they were waiting for something. Her blood stilled.
“Astra, what did you wish for?”
The lightness in her chest expanded like anything was possible.
A hush fell over the witches. One of them fell to the ground.
They glanced at each other with wrinkling brows.
She knew something bad would happen. Knew she shouldn’t have made a wish. Just told them she wasn’t the right person for this.
“Take it back, wish for something else!”
Astra kept her eyes on Hestia. She’d told her to wish for something else, but if Hestia passed out next, it would be her fault.
“You know that’s not how wishes work mother,” Hestia said.
Her mother’s eyes widened. “You did this!”
Another woman fell.
“You know why,” she said, tears pooling in her eyes.
Hestia and her mother were the only ones still standing.
Astra’s chest tensed. Her mother crumbled to the ground. Hestia ran to her, clutching her mother’s hand.
Astra’s eyes bore into Hestia. At any moment she’d collapse as well.
One by one the bodies lit up, glowing from inside. Orbs of light escaped from their mouths, moving into the sky. They followed each other, making patterns, and bouncing around the night. They leaped away further in the sky, looking like shooting stars stopped in motion. They blinked a few times, forming a new shape.
A new constellation.
Astra took a deep breath as a feeling of admiration and horror twisted in her. She jumped from the boulder and hurried over to Hestia who stood glancing up at the sky, a ghost of a smile on her lips.
“Hestia, I’m sorry. I should have told you, I’m not good with wishes, they sometimes go horribly wrong.” Her eyes moved to the corpses shattered like moon rocks. “I’ve killed all these people. Your whole coven. Your mother.”
“You didn’t kill anyone,” she said, wiping away the last of her tears. “I did.”
Astra froze, Hestia’s hands on her shoulders un unbearable weight. “What do you mean?”
“I poisoned them.”
Astra’s eyes darted to the fallen goblet, the last of the liquid had spilled onto the ground. Her hand went to her throat, like she expected to pass out next.
“Don’t worry, the candy I gave you made you immune to the poison.” Astra’s breaths were coming out short and fast. “Why?”
She glanced at the ground where her mother lay. “They were going to sacrifice you.”
Astra thought she might pass out. She should have known, seen the signs. The white stones on the pathway came to mind.
Not stones, but bones.
“But you brought me here. You invited me.”
“If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. If it had been, you wouldn’t be breathing right now.” Hestia’s eyes went to her mother’s corpse. “Sometimes the only way for wishes to come true is to enforce them ourselves.”
“What was your wish?” Astra said.
“Freedom. For me and you.”
Astra frowned. “But my wish did come true. Both of them.”
Hestia tilted her head. “What did you wish for?”
She looked up at the night sky. “A new constellation and a companion.”
Hestia smiled and Astra thanked the stars and everything above.
Felicia Change graduated with a BA in Creative Writing and her work has appeared in the YOU magazine. When she isn’t carving stories of magic and madness, she is traveling, exploring museums, or on the lookout for a dog to pet.