Birgit has an interview for a job, if she can get there.
This is a contest entry. Only judges are asked to rate this story until after January 4th. Judges, please make Nick's job easier by remembering to leave a comment alongside your rating. Only rate a story and not individual chapters.
The ravens gathered on Birgit's windowsill, cawing to one another and ducking their heads. Bright black eyes stared through the window at her, and glossy black feathers pressed close together until it seemed as though the windowsill was steeped in shadow. Their collective noun forced its way into her thoughts, an unkindness of ravens. It seemed a bad omen for her interview.
She poured the last of her coffee away in the sink, watching the dark fluid gurgle briefly in the plughole. Her stomach gurgled as well, as though echoing it, and then fluttered. She rinsed the cup, cursing her nerves, and laid it on the draining rack. It was only an interview, after all. It was only a job.
She left the kitchen, ignoring the sudden raucous cawing of the ravens. This was the first chance of a job in six months, a chance to start bringing money in again instead of watching her savings dwindle away. Once she'd thought she might go on holiday; now she hoped that she'd find work again before she had to sell her flat. She pulled her coat on, and heard stitches tear. She hadn't found the rip yet, but it must be getting larger as she heard it tearing every time she wore the coat. Another little problem; but there were so many little problems they seemed to merge into one big, insoluble one.
She looked at the front door. It had been painted powder blue before she moved in and she hated it. She'd sworn that she'd repaint it, but then she'd lost her job and buying paint had dropped down her list of things to do. Shortly after that, when she'd fluffed three interviews in a week, it fell off the list altogether. If she got this job, she thought, she'd repaint the door with her first pay cheque. Something to draw a line under this period of her life. She checked her handbag for her keys, pulled it off the coat-hook, and opened the door to leave.
When she stepped out, a raven cawed and two landed at her feet in a flutter of black, glossy feathers. They cawed as well, and one of them pecked inquisitively at her shoes. She pulled her foot back, and glared at the raven. It eyed her beadily, but didn't move out of her way.
She edged between the birds, and hurried along the narrow iron gantry to the steps that lead down to the street. On the pavement below she could see a couple more ravens, and for the first time she felt uneasy; ravens weren't uncommon in the trees near her flat, but this many seemed... well, unkind. She took the steps slowly, pausing at the bottom and looking out at the small paved square before the road. It was covered with ravens.
"Spare a penny?" said a voice nearby, and she jumped, dropping her handbag. She dropped her eyes from the ravens and looked towards the source of the voice. A hunched-over man in a black greatcoat stared at her with bright eyes, sat near the foot of the steps against a wall. "Spare a penny?" he said again.
Birgit felt for her handbag, not taking her eyes off him, and felt inside for her purse. She opened it inside the bag, embarrassed to take it out and risk him seeing how little was in there. She felt for coins, but all that she could find were two crumpled notes. She separated them out, and pulled one out, relieved to see that it was only a five, and held it out to the man.
"That is a pretty penny," said the man, taking it gently from her fingers. "And one good turn deserves another."
She looked down to close her purse and her handbag, and when she looked up again he was gone. Behind her a raven cawed, making her jump again, and she turned to look at it, suddenly frustrated by them all. To her surprise though, there was now a path opened up through the ravens, across the square to the road, in the direction of her interview. The raven that had startled her cawed again, and hop-fluttered up to her shoulder, perching there and tilting its head from side to side, eyeing her up.
"Listen to the raven," it squawked, and she felt a sudden lightness inside. She started off across the square feeling happier than she had in six months.