The Black Hat Society
Emily stared out the window. In the dark of her apartment behind her, a phone alarm burst to life, her favorite pop song sounding oddly melancholy on one of the grayest days of the year.
It was 9 o’clock. Not that she needed reminding–she had already been standing here for an hour. Her mug of tea sat ice-cold in her hand as she gazed out at the London street, the streetlamp shining a blurry golden as if through an oil painting.
Charles had said 9, right? Had he been sure? She knew nothing about weather, and she was too anxious at this point to go and check one of those blasted apps. Emily shivered and wrapped her shawl tighter around her. Little Mix sang as loudly as ever in the background–but for all Emily could tell, the world was as silent as that first line of the Bible she read in Sunday school. Hushed. Waiting.
“It’s okay, Baxter.” Emily reached out her leg to greet the cat’s warm body. She felt him curl around her ankle in both appreciation and worry for her. “I’ll be back soon. Just stay inside like we practiced.”
Outside, the rain was starting to pour. Her phone alarm had inexplicably gone silent in the background. Had her phone died? It was possible–these things tended to happen. It would begin any minute now.
Emily took a deep breath and stuck the tip of her nose into the cold air. A single drop of rain sliced down her face, sending a shudder through her body.
As always, she wondered momentarily if no one was going to come. If the past few months had been simply her imagination; the result of a bored and traumatized mind trying to create some relief in her life.
The thought brought her both relief and a twinge of fear. Whatever the last few months had been, she didn’t think she could successfully go back to her old self.
Then, next to the park bench, a figure appeared. A woman, her head bent downward as if in prayer, a wide-brimmed hat shielding her form from the rain. She had her hands clasped at her waist, and Emily could make out a pair of crisp white gloves in the glow of the streetlamp.
Emily let out a sigh in spite of herself. From there, although she could not see them, she could feel the presence of more women appearing across the city, the balance of power shifting as palpably as the temperature outside.
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Emily dashed down the stairs of her apartment building and out into the downpour. The rain greeted her like a lover, icy drops shocking her pale English skin and making her feel, for the first time in weeks, completely alive.
“Who are you?” called Emily, her voice clear and confident. She barely recognized herself in the rain. It was thrilling.
The woman looked up, and a pair of green eyes sliced through her. “You’re rather forward.”
Emily waited for a taxi to pass, then dashed across the street.
“I have to be. There isn’t much time.”
She stopped close enough to the woman to see a smile stretch across her thin lips.
“There never is.” She reached out a white-gloved hand. “Come with me.”
“You’re a new recruit, aren’t you?” the strange woman asked Emily as they marched through the near-deserted London streets. They passed a small pub, and though a group of girls loitered outside, laughing and putting on their coats, no one took any notice of the tall, slender woman in the black hat and purple bustle. In fact, they looked right through both of them, Emily included, as if they weren’t there.
“I had my Summoning seven months ago.” Emily quickened her pace to keep up with the woman. There was something disarming about her, but behind her stern exterior, Emily felt that she could trust her. “I haven’t learned much since then. I’m not sure how much I’ll be able to help, when the time comes.”
The woman’s green eyes landed on hers. “I see. You’re New.”
Emily stiffened. “As far as I know. I’m an orphan. I never knew my mother was one until…. after.”
The witch’s eyes softened. “And her family? You aren’t in contact with any of them?”
Emily shrugged. “My parents were kind of loners. When they died when I was sixteen, I moved in with some friends. I kind of left my childhood behind as if it had never happened.” She swallowed a sudden lump in her throat. “My mother, too.”
The woman reached out her gloved hand and squeezed Emily’s. “Well, you’re going to do her proud today. I’m Lucinda, by the way.”
A thrill shot through Emily’s veins. She wanted so badly to ask what century she was from – Victorian era, from the looks of it – but she had learned her lesson with Matilde. Not all witches took kindly to being reminded of their age.
They came to a large, circular park in the center of the city. Skeletal trees leaned like sentries around a great lawn, where benches lined the surrounding path. The rain that blurred the glow of the streetlamps seem to hover, paused in time, over the grass, leaving the air shimmering with a strange stillness.
In the center of the lawn stood a circle of women, hands clasped. Emily’s heart raced as she and Lucinda grew closer. Over the last seven months, she had only gotten the chance to know Anaia, her teacher, who she had met one rainy morning in June while waiting for the bus to work. After that first day, each time the forecast predicted rain, she waited. Sometimes no one showed. She had no idea why, or where they went. She supposed she might find out tonight.
The rain stopped around them with a strange “shlooooop” sound, like a giant slurping a smoothie, as they entered the circle. Some of the witches unbowed their heads to cast a glance at Emily. Though her heart was pounding so loudly she could hear it, she counted at least twenty women. All of them, no matter their era or country of origin, wore some kind of black hat: a playful nod, by the looks of it, to the narrow box history placed them in.
“We don’t have much time,” someone called out in a sharp voice; an Asian woman wearing an ornate outfit, woven with gold. Emily sensed some kind of distortion in the air around her. Somehow, in the air, she could almost see the soundwaves traveling toward her.
“Translation spell,” Lucinda whispered to her. “Everyone here has one on them.”
“The rain could stop any minute,” the witch continued. A wave of anxiety shot like electricity through the circle. “Anaia, do you want to kick us off?”
With relief, Emily noted the familiar emerald robes and cascading black curls. Anaia cast a wink at her as she stepped into the center of the circle.
“We have a newcomer here tonight,” Anaia boomed, her voice incongruous in her slim body. Emily’s heart jumped. “Emily Walbrick, of Hampshire. She is a young witch from the modern day. Everybody, please take good care of her today.”
Surprised whispers spread throughout the circle, and unfamiliar faces smiled at Emily.
“A new witch?” someone in shocking royal purple murmured. “This might not be the best time, Anaia…”
“Oh, hush. She’s my protegee, not yours. I know what she’s ready for.”
Emily caught Anaia’s eye and cast her a weak smile in thanks. Although, really, she wasn’t sure how thankful she should be.
The rain continued to pour around them, even as they stood within the hush of their strange, protective bubble. Above, a full moon–complete coincidence, Emily reminded herself; real witches had no connection to the moon except perhaps for their time of the month–gleamed like a silver medallion in a black velvet sky. Anaia reached into the pocket of her robe and produced a wand, tipped with a translucent orb that shone in the light of the moon.
“It will take all our collective power to rescue our sister from the clutches of fear,” Anaia continued. She lifted both hands in the air, wand held high. “It begins. Sisters, summon your power.”
A pulsing blue light began to issue from the tip of Anaia’s wand. All around her, the witches bowed their heads, their faces falling into shadow beneath a circle of black hats.
Emily bent her head and focused every fiber of her being on the courage within her: the part of her that loved the rain and the city lights in the darkness; the part of her that wasn’t stuck in the past; the part of her that wasn’t afraid to live. In return, she felt a small flicker. A faint wisp of blue light emanated from her hands, spiraling outward to join the great blue ball forming among them.
A huge grin spread across Emily’s face.
For the last seven months, Anaia had been telling her that on the first of December, they were to go back in time to rescue one of their own: a witch. This was one of the principal tasks of the Black Hat Society: freeing as many of their sisters as they possibly could from the various forms of burnings and lynchings that had persisted throughout the centuries. That is, in addition to their main task of summoning more young witches to their power. The world was getting brighter and brighter by the day–but as witches like Anaia and Lucinda knew all too well, this earth could never have enough women who were awake.
Emily thought back to Sunday school. Charles had never bought any of it. She had. She wasn’t completely sure why. Maybe, during all the loneliness and secrecy of her childhood, there was something kind of comforting about a set of rules to follow. Now, at 27 years old, she was busting them all to pieces: becoming something brand new at an age where many people stopped believing change was possible.
Her mother would have been proud, she realized.
Outside their now pulsing blue ball of light, the rain was beginning to slow. Any moment now, the most ancient spell of all would end, and the secret society history never knew would be visible to the outside world.
“Now!” cried Anaia, putting away her wand.
The witches rejoined hands and stepped together through the Time Portal.