When the rack of bells jingled behind him, signaling that someone had entered the shop, Zeke didn’t look around. Business usually picked up on Friday afternoons as people realized the random parts they needed for their home improvement attempts. A steady stream of people had been flowing through the shop since about lunchtime. That was four hours ago now, and the hum of conversation and the occasional dissatisfied customer had faded to the background of Zeke’s consciousness. With every flick of his knife against the wood, a sliver of his problems seemed to fall away. By now, with the head of the raven steadily forming under his blade, he wasn’t worrying. When the shop fell silent, and when that silence cracked with his mother’s yelp of horror, it took him a moment or two to return to the present.
“I understand that you sell many things here, Mrs. Hammer.” The stranger stood at the counter, his back toward Zeke. His face was hidden under a large and somewhat misshapen hat. “Perhaps you can help me. I need something very, very specific.” He bowed slightly. The hairs on Zeke’s arm stood up. Something about that voice, that figure, of which he couldn’t infer anything about the person underneath. Goosebumps ran down his back.
“We–we do sell lots of things here.” His mother’s face had gone white, white like the time she came down with pneumonia.. “As you can see, uh, sir, we’re a hardware store, but I can assure you we sell almost everything.” Her hands were shaking as she plunged them into her pockets and wrung the fabric around them.
Zeke set the wooden carving of the raven down but kept his whittling knife in his hand. Something wasn’t right. The air in the shop had gone stale, the scents of polish and rubber gone. Now it breathed of long-forgotten rooms and dust and–decay. He stood and addressed the man at the counter.
“Excuse me,” he said, trying to be polite and firm at the same time, “that’s my mom. I can help you, if you want–”
The man removed his hat and turned to look at the boy. His face wasn’t human. But that was the horror of it: it wasn’t human, because it was most definitely another kind of face. One with black feathers, black eyes, and a hooked beak. It was the face of a raven, a face sickeningly like the one Zeke had just been carving.
“Perhaps, young man,” said the man with the head of a raven, “you could help me find what I need. I’m looking for the eyeball of a crow, taken at midnight. I came to you since you claim to sell everything.” He glanced questioningly at Mrs. Hammer. “For a spell, you know. To fix me.”
“To fix you,” Zeke whispered at the same moment. What had that come from? How had he known what the Raven Man was going to say? And his carving…had he carved what he was about to see?
“Indeed,” said the Raven Man. His beady eyes brightened. “It seems you may be of more help to me than I thought.”