Winnie had loved Cirrus since forever. She loved Cirrus in Kindergarten, when she first saw them trip along behind their mother like a little bird who hadn’t learned to use their wings. Winnie loved Cirrus when they brought crystals to show and tell, their own topaz pendant swinging from their neck. She loved Cirrus through their natural hair color, through their night black phase, and through their golden elf phase. Even now that they’d settled with pastel blue highlights, burning into passing retinas like the tail end of a comet, Winnie loved them.
She’d always assumed the love would diminish over time, or at least dull to a manageable fluttering in her stomach. She thought expanding their coven to include Crescent and Yuladie would help, too – divide her attentions from the all-consuming rush of hormones that happened any time Cirrus took her hand in prayer. All she’d really accomplished by inviting the other girls was completing the transgender pride flag painted by their hair. (Crescent colored hers according to her namesake; Yuladie wore hers bubblegum pink.)
In all earnestness, Crescent and Yuladie were useful additions. The coven finally had one witch for each of the four directions, making for more effective castings. Just now, they were packing their things after invoking Tyche for aide in their upcoming Biology midterm.
Winnie was taking her time, pretending not to look at Cirrus while stealing glances from behind her backpack. Crescent finished shoving away her onyx stone and took hold of Winnie’s arm.
“Can I talk to you a second?”
Winnie tried to step past Crescent – to say goodbye to Cirrus, who already had one strap over their shoulder and seemed to be quickening with each second – but Crescent dug in with her nails. Winnie scolded Crescent with a firm “ouch!” … but allowed herself to be led aside.
Crescent graciously checked to ensure Cirrus was out of earshot before she hissed, “You have got to ask them out already.”
Winnie snatched her hand away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh please.” Crescent’s satchel slipped off her shoulder when she spoke. She caught it as it fell, an annoyed whistle puncturing her teeth. “Your aura flashes red every time Cirrus comes near you.”
Winnie dropped her eyes to fiddle with the zipper on her backpack. “I don’t see how that’s any of your business.”
“It’s throwing off our magiks,” Crescent snapped. “With an aura that bright, you could repel all the good luck we just conjured. Or worse – attract bad luck. I need to pass this test, Winnie. My parents are starting to get on me.”
“Then maybe you should study.”
“Yule and I were talking.” Crescent’s voice was suddenly very low and even. “We know it’s your fault all those beakers shattered when we tried that boiling spell last week. If you can’t get your crush under control, you can’t cast with us.”
Winnie bowed her head, letting her iron hair sweep forward and obscure her blush. “I can’t talk to them like that. Every time I try, my tongue gets all fuzzy.”
“That’s why I swiped this.” Crescent pressed something into Winnie’s palm. A small blue candle. Winnie turned it over in her hands while Crescent explained, “It’s the last of Cirrus’s set. They’ve been missing it for a couple days. Be pretty grateful to whoever found it.”
Winnie looked up to see a hint of a smile in Crescent’s eyes. The moon witch inclined her head.
“Go get ‘em.”
Clutching tight to the candle, Winnie loped off after Cirrus. Despite their best efforts to look like an elf, Cirrus was neither tall nor graceful. They’d only just made it out of the clearing and into the mess of gravestones by the time Winnie caught them.
Cirrus turned toward the sound of her call, their eyes dull with confusion – not sparkling with intrigue, like Winnie would’ve hoped. Ignoring the punching sensation in her gut, Winnie presented Cirrus with the candle. “You dropped this.”
“Thanks.” Cirrus pinched the stick of wax from her and stared at it. “I didn’t realize I packed any of these.” They slipped out a backpack strap and swung the pack around.
“While I have you here,” Winnie’s toe traced serpentines in the grass, drawing courage from the Earth, “I was wondering if you’d maybe wanna grab coffee.”
Cirrus brandished the paper cup in their free hand. “Already got some.” They turned.
“I don’t mean tonight!”
They turned back.
Winnie spoke quickly. “I meant, like, sometime that’s not witching hour. Like, outside of casting.”
Winnie gulped. “Like, maybe a date?”
A silence fell. Leaves rustled. Somewhere in the distance, a car drove past the cemetery. People died and were born in the silence. Finally, Cirrus stepped toward her.
“What’s your moon sign?”
“I…” All Winnie’s energy channeled back through her toe, into the earth. She wrung her hands. “Uh. Cancer.”
“Mm,” Cirrus grunted. Maybe their face darkened, or maybe a cloud passed over the moon. “No good.” They turned away again.
Winnie hesitated a moment before following. Her legs were longer, and made quick work of the distance. “What’s no good?”
“I’m in Libra,” Cirrus tossed off, not bothering to look at her. “We wouldn’t be a good match. I’m all calm, and you’re all irrational… We’d be a very bad match, in fact.”
Though they were physically matching pace, Winnie suddenly felt as if Cirrus were leagues ahead of her, and she was running through molasses to keep up. “Because of our signs?”
They didn’t dignify her with an answer.
“Cirrus, we’ve been friends for 10 years.” A seam was ripping inside of her. She spoke quickly, grasping desperately at its threads. “You gave me my first crystal. You do the funky chicken at my birthday party. You seem to like me fine.”
“As a friend, yes.” The word “friend” rolled so smoothly off their tongue, like nothing else in the world – not even simple words like “toe” and “pie” – were easier said. “As a friend, you challenge me to grow. In the context of a relationship, we’d just rip each other’s heads off.”
“But… we don’t do that as friends.”
“Of course not.” For the first time, Cirrus looked at her. They reached out that silky, birdlike hand Winnie had memorized for years and plucked some willow fuzz from her hair. There, in the corner of Cirrus’s mouth, was the softest, purest smile. “I like your head the way it is.”
Winnie released her breath. “But you won’t date me.”
When Cirrus didn’t answer right away, Winnie decided to press her luck.
“You won’t even try.”
Cirrus’s smile fell. They shrugged the rest of the way into the backpack and carried on.
Winnie came right along after. Cirrus’s strides were lengthening, but they was no match for Winnie at prime fast-walking championship speed. “You seriously won’t get coffee with me? Because of a sign?”
Cirrus shrugged. “We’re not in the stars.”
They wouldn’t look at her anymore. A stone sank through Winnie’s gut. She hung back, letting Cirrus go on ahead.
Back in her own room, under a pentagram-shaped canopy of black tulle curtains, Winnie didn’t take the rejection well. She sliced across her palm, bled herself into a bowl, and used the blood to draw. First, the seven-pointed star for magical energy. Then, the moon glyph for will: two crescents kissing each other, a rod between them. Finally, the curling V of Veldor. Over these, she threw her turquoise, her sapphire, her tigerseye.
“We’re not in the stars, huh?” She upended the velvet knapsack where she kept her crow bones, spilling them out amongst the crystals.
With the stage set, Winnie painted her cheeks with her blood and fell to her knees in supplication. “Astraeus, ruler of stars and planets, hear my plea!
“Take my blood as an offering. Know my stars, and align them with the stars of the Libra!”
A great wind slammed open Winnie’s shutters, whisking at the canopy until it encircled Winnie completely. She raised her chin to meet the winds.
“O god-father Astraeus, hear me!”
Everything, all around her, went dark.
A force snapped her head back and threw her mouth open, a beam of light shooting out toward the ceiling. But the light went the other way, too. It tunneled down into her like a burrowing snake. It shown through her esophagus, an artery of pure white under her skin. It spread through her lungs and cut her off from air.
Winnie reached, choking, for her throat, but her hand felt like it was far away and made of lead. She knelt there – gasping, gagging, unable to breathe – while the beam bore into the ceiling.
Then, the light evaporated. As suddenly as it came, it went, leaving only the echo of guttural male laughter.
Winnie’s eyes rolled back into her head. Tipping forward, she fell into the bowl of her own blood.
She woke to a sweltering heat. Her body was slick, her hair matted with sweat. Sounds traveled in through her open window – rumbles of thunder and crackles of lightning. Loudest of all was directly beside her ear, ringing from her phone. Winnie blinked at the time.
The display insisted it was 10AM, but the sky outside her window was still dark. Fatigued and groggy, Winnie stumbled to the window, leaving her phone ringing on the floor.
Outside was chaos. Clouds covered the sky, but the darkness was something deeper than that – like something had blotted out the sun. Lightning shot up not from the heavens, but from the ground, where the asphalt roads were boiling.
And the heat. Gods, the heat.
It was the kind of hot that made Winnie want to tear off her skin.
She staggered back to her phone to answer the call. “Crescent. Why’s sisit so hot?”
“Winnie?” Crescent’s voice from the other end of the line. “Are you drunk?”
“Nno. NyI’m not. I’mjuss tired.”
“Good! Come meet us at the cemetery. We need to find a way to fix this.”
“Christ, Winnie, didn’t you see? Some star flew out of orbit and took a bunch of planets with it. If we don’t do something in the next couple of hours we’re gonna get pancaked.”
Winnie dropped her phone. It clattered amongst the stones, the bones, and the dried, crusting symbols.
“Winnie?” Crescent’s voice cracked with static.
They gathered in their usual clearing under the willow tree. Only, none of them looked like themselves. Everyone was wearing shorts – except Yuladie, who sported lingerie under a kimono. She couldn’t abandon the gothic aesthetic even in these extreme circumstances.
Winnie was, as usual, last to arrive. Crescent didn’t comment on that this time. Only Cirrus seemed to notice. Their voice lifted when they greeted Winnie. Winnie bowed her head to hide a blush.
Everyone was panting when they settled in their circle, their foreheads beaded with perspiration. Cirrus kept chugging from a gallon jug. No amount of water would quench the dryness in their throat. Yuladie was flushed and wouldn’t stop fanning herself. Only Crescent seemed her usual, composed self: like if she stayed together, maybe the world wouldn’t end.
She wasted no time with greetings, but spread her Elven star tapestry in the circle between them. The four directions joined hands. Cirrus gave Winnie’s palm an extra squeeze. Winnie peeked at Cirrus from the corner of her eye, trying to gauge what the squeeze meant.
She couldn’t keep her guilty eyes from darting back and forth after everyone else had closed theirs. She was especially wary of Crescent. The moon witch could read auras – she must have guessed. Winnie stole a swig from Cirrus’s gallon jug and shook herself, trying to focus. If her aura flashed any kind of color again, Crescent would know beyond doubt.
They were invoking Astraeus again, begging him to divert the planet that would very soon smash through the Earth’s atmosphere and destroy them all.
He returned on the same great wind – only, it was hot this time, a furnace blast. He hovered in the middle of their circle, over the body of the Elven star, a shimmering light that shifted and vibrated each time that deep voice echoed from everywhere at once.
WHAT IS DONE CANNOT BE UNDONE, Astraeus said.
DO NOT CALL ON ME AGAIN.
In a grounded flash of lightning, he was gone. He left nothing but a smoking hole where Crescent’s tapestry used to be.
“What did he mean UNdone?” asked Yuladie. Her fanning increased velocity. Across the circle, Winnie felt the chill.
“Oh my gods,” said Cirrus. “We’re gonna die.”
There was an eerie certainty to the way Cirrus spoke, and after they did, it seemed to hit all four at once – the reality. The reality that this reality would soon cease to be.
Winnie felt Crescent’s eyes on her. She didn’t look up.
She didn’t look up until Cirrus’s shadow fell over her, bringing Cirrus’s heat with it. Adding heat to the already desert-like temperature.
“Winnie?” Cirrus’s voice was soft. “Before we die, there’s something I should do.”
Winnie glanced up – up into those brilliant blue irises, sparkling like crystals – and felt all the gravity in her give over to the gravity in Cirrus. Something inside her swelled as they kissed her.
Then, at the taste of their thin, dry lips, that same thing shrank.
Winnie sat back on her haunches. Cirrus stared at her. She stared anywhere else, trying not to think about how her first and last kiss on earth was with such a small mouth that rubbed her like sandpaper.
In the distance, lightning crackled. Then everything lifted – up, up, up. The loss of gravity began with the ends of their hair and traveled downward, until they were all floating, suspended between the thralls of one planet and another.
A hole opened up in the clouds overhead as what looked like a great marble pushed its way through. Winnie – weightless, unbound – looked over at Crescent.
The last thing Winnie saw before being competing magnetic fields pulled her apart was the image of Crescent shaking her head.