Amber

By Saffire Raynius

This story was written to satisfy my own intrigues for Spirited Away. I didn't write it for anyone else. If you respect that and still manage to like it, then please leave a review. Drawing is my strong point rather than storywriting.

Miyazaki owns Spirited Away. The story, however, is mine, with a nod of gratitude to Ruaki, whose wonderful writing inspires me, Gregory MacGuire, who made me see Oz in a new light, and Flamebyrd for writing unique and thoughtful SA fanfiction-- something I am trying to work on.


One; fire and water

"Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow."
- Langston Hughes

The creek shed a weak, shimmering light on the sandy shrubbery leaning over it. Over the years, long grasses had filled in the spaces between sand-weeds and cattails, but they still did not deter the occasional litterbug. It seemed to the girl who tended to it like the remnant of some glorious landmark, forced into a trickle by the oppression of a society bent on greed. Then again, people said Chihiro read too much into these things.

A quaint wooden bridge creaked over it as she sat down. If she closed her eyes, would the painted towers of cheap condominiums cease to rise beside her? Or would the water take her by vertigo, find some wicked way to slip her through the cracks of the bridge and claim her as his own?

His?

Chihiro shook her head. There was nothing that really gave her the impression this particular creek was male, and yet some playful part of her being insisted otherwise. Perhaps it was the same itch that pushed sailors to call ships female. Her friends would dismiss the idea as strange.

The teen grasped the bag of trash and began to walk. Every bottle or scrap of plastic she picked up, every pop can or crudely forgotten newspaper, made a difference. She had a responsibility to take care of the park; she lived a minute's walk down the dirt path. It was cool and safe beneath the trees, and the babbling of the swift brook a few feet away from her was comforting.

Chihiro's thoughts wandered to what she was going to do for the rest of summer break. She had a huge assignment due the day she returned, but like a good, hardworking student, she already finished it. The girl was so deep in her thoughts that she barely registered the boy who bumped into her.

"Oh! Excuse me!" Somewhere in the back of her mind, she was perplexed at how cool his arm felt against h-Chihiro took a step back. She had to. The boy was taller than her, first of all, but his eyes, his eyes! Slanted, wide and expressive, and an irresistible, exotic shade of green. They belonged to a magazine cover, a vision, not the boy standing before her. She couldn't help but feel a little intimidated.

The boy seemed to register something Chihiro didn't. And somehow, her name fell on his lips. "Chihiro?" The question was tentative, unsure. It only made her feel strange and apprehensive.

Her eyes narrowed. "How do you know my name? Have we met?" It was rather upsetting to have someone she didn't know call her by her first name. Something about the boy seemed keenly familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. By looks, he had to be in her grade or the one above her. However, his old-fashioned Japanese clothes made him look like he just came back from the New Year's Festival.

Chihiro's fierce look didn't deter him at all, though his soft smile began to fade. "You already know the answer to that question." His voice was intense, even when quiet; it masked some inner excitement, some inner drive toward something she couldn't name.

"What?"

"You don't remember me?"

Still, nothing registered. The teen's face was completely blank. "I don't know you, I'm sorry," she told him, evidently perturbed. "Can I help you? Are you lost?" His response only made her feel uneasier.

"No. Are you?" His eyes were deep and enchanting-and they threatened to pull her in.

Chihiro shook her head and walked past him. "I'm going home now." She didn't like the personal way such a strange boy addressed her. Maybe it was one of those high society girls playing a trick. But there was something undeniable about the way he looked at her and the strange thrill she felt when she set her eyes upon him. Chihiro teetered on the edge of some great discovery, some shining revelation, as long as she dallied in his presence.

He did not follow, but she felt his eyes.

Her mom questioned her about anything when she came home looking troubled, but Chihiro simply shrugged it off and continued about her day. Chihiro continued her daily visits to the creek despite the unnerving encounter with the boy. She didn't see him again, so she preferred to forget it happened.

A week later, however, Chihiro woke up to the stench of burning plastic and acrid smoke. She threw her curtains open to see what was the matter, if perhaps a house burned down the street, but the suburb was quiet. She flew down the flight of stairs to her parents' bedroom, screaming all the way, "Mom! Dad! There's a fire!"

But even as the words left her mouth, she realized how dead her house was. No smoke, no fire, no signs she'd anything but dreamed the whole ordeal. Her father stumbled out. "What's going on, Chihiro?" he asked through a yawn.

"It's three A.M.," her mother stated from somewhere nearby.

Chihiro felt her face turn hot. "I-I thought I smelled something burning." She moved aside to let the tall, comforting hulk of her father past.

"I'll check on it. You just go back to bed."

"Alright…"

The burning smell seemed to fade as soon as she reentered her room. This only bothered her more. She didn't nod off until the sun threatened to peer over the horizon, afraid some unknown force was playing tricks on her nose and her memory. As soon as she began to slip into the darkness, her mind fancied a world of chilly water, and a soothingly familiar presence brought her to the surface so she could breathe again. No one noticed the pale flash as it stole away from her balcony.

Chihiro gagged on her breakfast, catching her mother's attention. "Mom! Mom! The news! Look, that's where we used to live!" She could hardly believe it. The apartments next to the filled in river from her childhood were smoldering ruins. There was nothing left, nothing left at all.

"A four-alarm fire last night caused over five million yen in damages…"

Chihiro gave her mother a meaningful look. She didn't seem to catch it and dialed a friend on the phone instead. There was no possible way she could have smelled the fire… No way whatsoever. Fumes just didn't travel that far and her parents hadn't mentioned anything. Chihiro tried to convince herself it was just a coincidence, just an unrelated half-dream. She didn't believe it.

"The cause has yet to be determined. The fire department suspects it was accidental. Thankfully, there were no deaths involved…"

Something didn't sit right about the incident. She felt they were inexorably connected: her inability to sleep, that fire smell, and the apartments' burning down. The strange meeting with the pale boy all but escaped her memory.

She did not see him that afternoon, nor the one after, nor the one after that. In fact, she did not see him until midsummer night's eve one week later. A fresh breeze filtered through her gauzy curtains. Chihiro could not scream, would not. She lay enraptured in that strange state of half dreaming, entranced by the ghostly figure on her balcony. He slipped across the threshhold without a sound and set something cool and smooth beside her bedroll. She tried for a glimpse of his eyes, but the moon refused to catch them. And then he was gone.

Chihiro could not say for sure that he had even been there. Shouldn't she have cried out? After all, he was a stranger-- no, a stalker at that. But something deep within her chest protested there was truth in every sharp angle of his thin, graceful fingers, the iron of his jetsam gaze.

She rubbed her thumb and forefinger across the stone's surface, and wondered.


A clue, a memory, and many joyous returns . . . +2

And also, something less jumpy. Coming soon in chapter two!

-- Saffy