I. Hopetown

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Standing at a broken old sign on the side of the road, a young woman with dark hair smiled reluctantly as she swept her hand across the moss-covered piece of metal.

"Hopetown welcomes you." The words that fell from her lips were bitter and tainted with sad memories of long ago. "I doubt they'd be very welcoming." 

The piercing caw of a raven made her jump in her skin. Where she'd stopped her car was silent. No other traffic travelled the tree-lined roads at such an early hour in the morning. She preferred to travel when no one else did, it saved her time and patience.

Turning back towards her car she saw a raven sitting on a branch jutting out over the road, it looked devious and malevolent, just waiting for her to let her guard down so that it could strike.

"Yeah, I'm going." She sighed and walked back to her car. Climbing in she closed the door, started the engine and saw the welcome sign for Hopetown illuminated in her headlights. "I am not happy being back here." She protested out loud and though there were no other souls travelling with her she felt a heaviness that never left her.

Pulling back on to the road she journeyed into Hopetown and marvelled in awe. 

Despite the roads being dimly lit she knew things had changed considerably. Buildings stretched out further from the town centre. Where there were once lush paddocks a grain and wheat were now homes and businesses. 

Catching sight of the bright lights of a gas station she quickly pulled in and parked her car next to one of many petrol bowsers. Climbing out again she noted how new and modern everything was, surprising considering Hopetown was a backwater little place. At least that was how she remembered it. 

Walking towards the building to pay for the gas she would put into her car she was greeted at the doors by an attendant who looked a little flustered at having to deal with someone so early in the morning.

"Oh, uh hey cool car you've got there. What gas you need for it?" He seemed more asleep than awake as he peered at her through drowsy eyes.

"Fill it up with premium please."

"Wicked," he grinned and nodded his head, "Jem, inside, will take your payment."

With a slight nod and a gentle smile, the pair separated as the man, though he looked like an awkward teen, walked towards her car.

Hearing a screeching cry and squawking birds had the woman turning back towards the station forecourt with a scowl spread across her face. "Let the man fill the car or I'll stuff the lot of you and mount you on my dash!"

Eyeing her car she saw a pair of ravens sitting on the roof, their menacing eyes trained on the man before both birds looked towards the woman who stood at the doors of the store. She made a flicking motion with her hand and watched as the birds hesitated then flew off into a grove of trees nearby.

Watching as the man laughed nervously before grabbed the nozzle at the end of the petrol hose and walked towards the car.

The soft ding that sounded when she set foot through the open door had her looking around. When she caught sight of the other store attendant she smiled, "you guys have any hot pies ready?" Her question was crude and impolite.

The woman behind the counter wore a dark grey button-down shirt that looked sizes too big for her. The peeling sticker on her name badge read Jem as she nodded her head and motioned towards a warmer beside the counter, "in there." She responded just as impolitely. "You new around here or something, never seen you before."

"I was born here, grew up near Greenacre Farm. Feels like forever since I've been back."

"You know that place is pretty much  a full suburb now?" The woman being the counter added.

"That's why I'm back. Got a few things to sort out so I can sell it." Picking a pie from what was on offer the woman also grabbed a chocolate bar and a pack of Tic Tacs, "can I get some tobacco as well?"

Turning from the counter Jem rummaged through a cabinet behind her before producing a pouch of tobacco, "It's a real shame what happened to their sons."

"You know that story?" The mysterious woman responded with a hint of a grin.

"It's like an urban legend around here. Some think it happened, others don't. I just like reading about weird things."  Tallying up everything on a small cash register Jem didn't  even look up before enough money was tossed in front of her.

"Keep the change." She smiled warmly and picked up her purchases.

"Hey, so you're the only one in your family left?" Jem asked quickly. "What's your name?"

"You could say I'm the last one." Her smile faded however as she stuffed what she could in to her pockets. "My name is Sabela."

The store clerk nodded her head and smiled, "cool name! Welcome back to Hopetown. Can't say it's a great place, but it's decent."

Enthusiasm was contagious but Sabela just nodded, the sour persona she had returned suddenly. "Thanks. Maybe I'll see you around." Despite her words she felt otherwise.

Hearing a piercing call from outside she looked to see a congress of ravens sitting on her car, there were seven ravens to be exact.

"If you'll excuse me," she turned and walked out of the store as Jem asked her many questions in quick succession. "I've got some ravens to stuff."

Seeing the man who filled her car run back towards the building she met him st the door.

"Dude, those are some weird pets you have there." He laughed nervously before ducking inside.

A deep scowl descended over Sabela's face as she walked back towards her car.

"The harder you push me the more I resist." She spoke loudly, seemingly to no one. The ravens scattered as she reached her vehicle but one defied her presence and looked at her before it cawed loudly.

"Norwin, we're back in Hopetown so relax. Let me figure this out. I'll find a way to undo the curse." She turned towards the raven and nodded. It stared at her, seemingly contemplating her words, before flying off.

Sabela signed deeply, "the quicker I'm rid of the lot of you the better."

Note - this is a short story loosely based on the Seven Ravens fairytale

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Note - this is a short story loosely based on the Seven Ravens fairytale. The story will only be 5k words long so chapters will be super short.

Chapter length - 1,086


Dedicated to calmwolf thanks for challenging me to write a short story!

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