Ι clutch my Book of Shadows to my chest like a wounded animal.
I imagine my heartbeat, fast but steady, seeping through the cracked leather cover and into the old tree pulp of the pages, imbuing them with new life. I focus on that thought as I make my way to the clearing, footsteps muffled by the forest floor, my shoulder already sweaty from the strap of my satchel. It’s a warm night, but then again, all nights are warm on KOI 5554.01. This old, quaky orb we now call home has us stewing slowly in our linen clothes.
At least the weather here is consistent. At least the air is not trying to ravage our lungs.
At least the waters—
I blink away the memories and pick up my pace, eager to reach the clearing in time for the Moon’s zenith. I inhale the sweet scent of the tomato vines, almost as intoxicating as their juice. My Christian crewmates have distilled that juice into wine to serve as communion for their congregation. Each Faith Group has its own puzzles to solve.
My Faith Group is a group of one—just me and my magic and this alien Moon.
The jars in my satchel jingle as I stumble on a tree root, losing my balance for a moment. Nhất Hạnh had raised one shaved eyebrow at me when he saw me unpack them from my suitcase the first day we landed. The monk didn’t say anything to my face—bringing herbs from Earth that are not on the approved list for farming is a gray area, not exactly illegal but not common either. But I could hear him as he squelched away, mumbling about how this planet will teach us its ways only if we’re willing to listen. I’m beginning to think he was right. What use is smuggling dried herbs and datura dusts and sage bundles from Earth when we’re 700 light years away from the soil that sprouted them? And what use is sticking to the rituals of this battered Book of Shadows, rituals conceived to draw power from earthen surroundings? Even my Wiccan Priestess name, Amaryllis Belladonna, rings hollow here because my name is Lilly, and I am from Jersey.
I shake my head, sending tiny droplets of sweat flying into the night. My eyes itch.
My name is Lilly and I was from Jersey; tiny islands like mine were the first to go when the seas rose. My name is Lilly and I am from the drowned land previously known as Jersey, from a planet previously hospitable to humans. Named after a flower I will never see again.
With the Book of Shadows still in hand like a stubborn statement, I reach the clearing, my vision blurry with unshed tears.
I don’t know how long I’ve been sitting cross-legged on the warm ground.
The Moon has been hanging over my head for hours, the biggest full stop in the countless conversations of the stars. Experts were worried when KOI 5554.01 was chosen as humanity’s second chance at survival. “With a Moon four times bigger than our old one, the planet will be prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and floods.” Yet we went through with it. Even sent Faith Groups to tell people it’s okay to leave their dying Earth behind.
That’s how desperate we were.
I wiggle my toes to shake off the pins and needles from the lack of movement. The water-filled jar in the middle of my circle should have soaked up enough of the Moon’s pale violet rays by now. The first Moon Water to be created outside of Earth. I try to feel a sense of pride over this. To reach inside to this power in my core and stroke it like I would a sleeping animal. Tell it that it did good.
But my magic had been asleep long before my body was forced into chemical sleep on that ship, and it hasn’t awoken yet. I stifle a cry of frustration. I’m not so far from our settlement—if I scream like I want to, if I bemoan this feeling of missing my most vital inner organ, if I howl at this alien Moon and burn all this evidence of my incompetence, someone will hear me. I’m already the camp weirdo as it is.
Not so different from back on Earth in that regard.
I get up, peeling my linen trousers away from the sweaty skin of my thighs, missing my ritual robes and my Earthen certainty. I’m packing my stuff when a gust of wind blows out of nowhere. For a second, it feels like a good sign; like someone has finally listened. Like maybe it doesn’t matter where in the Universe I am, if my Goddess can still see me.
Then I notice the wind has blown dirt and fallen leaves into my circle.
And some of it has fallen into my Moon Water.
I make my way back to my pod in a fever dream.
My head hurts, my knees shake, my arms feel like they’re dragging through mud. My armband is glowing red, indicating increased blood pressure and cortisol levels. I shouldn’t have stayed up so late. Days last longer here; time passes more slowly. We are advised to sleep at least 10 hours every night for the first few months. Like insects trapped in time’s molasses, we convince ourselves we’re getting a bit further every day.
A flash of lilac light hits my eyes—is day breaking already?
I look up but can’t see clearly through the canopy of green. Was the vegetation so dense before? Does the forest ebb and flow, timber tides locked in a lunar dance?
It’s becoming difficult to focus. The trees seem simultaneously nearer and farther away, the way objects look underwater. I think about the seas in Jersey, how they were filled with tiny fish that pecked at my toes, and how I was not afraid.
If I tried to swim there now, my feet would stumble on human skulls.
I falter, almost dropping the jar with my Moon Water, wondering why I am still holding onto it. I swirl it, particles of dirt whirling inside, leaf litter sinking to the bottom. I burst into a sudden, mirthless laughter, as hollow as my heart. This is the Water I would be sipping from my Chalice in rituals, the Water I would use for blessings. I would anoint myself with it as part of my preparation to scry. I can’t do any of these things if the Water is not pure. I am a failure of a Priestess, a failure of a Faith Ambassador. I was only chosen for this Mission because most Pagans chose to stay on Earth. To sink with the ship.
Metaphorically, but also literally, if my own family is anything to go by.
“Hey Lilly, are you okay?”
I’m about to open this blasted jar and empty its remains on the ground when Ruth’s voice takes me by surprise. I mumble something polite and walk away. If Ruth is up, it must be time for her Shacharit prayer. But what is time, anyway, when we’re a million lifetimes away from the place that taught us how to measure it? I laugh, then try to contain my laughter and the hiccups that ensues. She’ll think I’m drunk on tomato wine. The kooky witch, out in the woods all night, drinking herself into a Moon frenzy.
KOI’s first lunatic.
I find my way back to my pod, and the door pressure seals behind me, the air-conditioning immediately kicking in. I suck in a breath of the sterile air, drop my satchel to the floor and crawl to my couch. My eyelids are droopy, and I’m still holding the jar with the spoiled Moon Water as I fall asleep.
A ray of light dances behind my eyes, bringing me to the shallow end of sleep.
There’s an awkwardness in my bones, as if everything has been disassembled and reassembled while I slept. My feet kick at my sheets like I’ve sprouted flippers overnight and don’t yet know how to swim. My arms—something about my arms feels wrong. I turn to my side, getting ready to coax my body to stand—and I come face to face with flowers.
They are purple and funnel-shaped, like my namesake Amaryllis Belladonna, only these open into mouths of five sharp points, into the five points of the Pentacle I drew last night on the clearing. Am I still out there in the woods? I reach for the reassuring pillows of the couch behind me, and bring myself closer to the flower stalks.
And the flowers reach back.
I fall headfirst into their white and golden depths, and swim in seas of nectar, sink in sands of pollen. I see everything that’s ever happened, everything that’s going to happen.
Until a wave takes me under, back into sleep.
When I wake the second time, I am seven billion years old.
And I remember every day of it.
This planet we so arrogantly call Kepler Object of Interest 5554.01 has another name.
An ancient name.
It was whispered to me in the night, when I dropped the jar of Moon Water onto the floor, my magic stirring the dirt and fallen leaves into so much more. And as I rise, separating the curtain of flowers that now circle my couch, visions of the planet’s past flicker before my eyes: the tribal wars, the catastrophic weapons, the manipulation of tectonic energy that almost split the planet. The inevitable demise of the dominant species, brought forth by themselves in a way that until yesterday I would have mistakenly characterized as human. But arrogance, I now know, is not an earthly invention.
Neither is the evolutionary restart that always follows the Fall.
I take one of the flower stalks in my hands softly, and it’s like caressing my own spine. I bring my nose to its opening and sniff the planet’s future.
A beep from my workstation informs me that it’s time for my weekly faith vlog. We are encouraged to make regular recordings for our congregations: to share our experiences here, anything that might encourage people to apply for the trip.
I laugh, and the flowers laugh with me.
I try to find an angle in my pod that Nature hasn't taken over yet; the task is growing harder by the second. Most of the wall panels are already lined with greenery, their octagonal shapes rearranging to accommodate the mutating habitat. I turn my camera on and see myself for the first time since the waters took my island, took my hope, and I left the Earth behind. My skin shines with a purple glow; my eyes are golden, like the flowers’ anthers.
I am ready to pollinate.
What do I tell these people? How do I explain that I have found ancient gods in a glass of water?
That though our earthly magic falls flat here, they can still be part of something greater?
I hit record and start talking, using my standard scripted opening. At the corner of my eye, I see the flowers looming nearer, tendrils of purple omniscience reaching out to me. I grab my wooden desk for stability, but my fingers are sinking into the soil it was before it was a tree, plunging through the recycled pulp that it one day will be.
I smack my lips and taste sweet dirt and liquified insects, chlorophyll and nectar.
I am endless.
“Just don’t be too hard on yourselves when your Full Moon rituals don’t work as intended here,” I tell the viewers as the flowers paw at my wrist like demanding animals. I pet them back. “The Moon is all wrong here.”
© 2022 Danai Christopoulou