Disclaimer: Spirited Away and all of its characters are owned by Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and Walt Disney Pictures. No money was made in the production or sharing of this piece of fanwork.

The Winter of My Remembrance

by LadyLark

Chihiro always knew she was different. The kids at her new school wouldn't let her forget it.

The first year was the worst.

They taunted her with family's disappearance. They made fun of her looks, including the ponytail holder that she couldn't bear to part with.

At first, she got angry. Tried to fight back. That didn't work. The kids only increased the frequency of their attacks. The teachers blamed her for not making any effort to fit in.

She tried to make friends. She tried out for clubs. The track team. The music club. The volleyball club. The members all said no. She couldn't join. She was too weird. Then she tried the art club. There, another outcast, like herself, spoke up saying that she was welcome.

She cried in relief.

Every night she would go home and sketch, to prove herself worthy of acceptance. At first, her drawings would be simple things, poorly drawn. A river in the woods. An old fashioned building. A flower strewn path. With a little encouragement, she gradually improved.

She learned to ignore the taunts.

When the taunts failed to get a reaction, they turned to whispers.

"Stay away from her, Harada-kun. She's not normal."

"Yeah. I heard she spent her summer locked up in an insane asylum."

"I hear her whole family was locked up."

The rumors hurt worse than the insults. No one would talk to her -- not the art club, not the outcast. Even the teachers looked at her in askance.

She dropped out of the art club, but didn't, couldn't, stop drawing. Most of the time she doodled what she saw around her. But late at night with her mind nearing sleep she would sketch fantastic things: Giant babies, a multi-armed man surrounded by sootballs, a pair of old identical witches, and a boy.

Once she set his face to paper, she couldn't seem to stop drawing him. She filled sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures of the boy.

Lost in a world of her own creation, she learned to ignore the voices.

Years passed and the voices remained the same. She was the weird artsy girl. She didn't talk to anyone, preferring to spend time alone near a long dried out riverbed. She drew strength out of the pictures. They were something that were hers, that couldn't be taken away.

Until she found out how wrong she was.

She was fifteen. It was winter – cold and rainy, almost sleet. She was walking home, an umbrella in one hand her school briefcase containing her sketchbook in the other. She hummed a little tune, dreaming of the pictures she'd ink into her sketchbook. She wasn't paying attention to where she was going, walking on autopilot like she always did – her favorite route taking her beside the large river that ran through the town.

Her parents were amazed that she liked the water so much considering that she almost drowned as a child. But always felt content being by the water. Glancing at the river, she smiled at how unaffected it seemed in the cold rain. It just kept flowing oblivious to the human world around it.

She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she slipped on a discarded candy wrapper. Her briefcase and umbrella went flying as she attempted to catch herself. She landed hard, bruising her hip and her pride. Wincing as she stood up, she looked around for her belongings. Her umbrella was lying at the edge of the street rolling back and forth in and out of the gutter.

Her briefcase was nowhere to be seen,

She searched all over, but couldn't find any trace of it. She could only guess that it had fallen into the river and been swept away.

She mourned the loss. She mourned the loss of her books and notes that she had to replace. But most of all she mourned the loss of the sketches she could not replace.

She stopped drawing.

She withdrew from the world even more. She lost herself in dreams of a misty world dominated by a magnificent bathhouse. Her grades slipped. Her parents railed at her, telling her she was throwing her future away.

She didn't care.

The river called to her. She knew it had stolen her sketches away and she knew it wasn't going to give them back. It had had a taste of her and it wanted more. The thought scared her.

She didn't know what frightened her more. The fact that the river wanted her. Or the fact that she somehow knew that the river wanted her.

She avoided the river.

In February, her class took a trip to a park by the river to pick up the litter there. She stood as far back from the banks as she could, but she could still feel the waters calling to her.

Unbidden, she began to move towards the water's edge. When she reached the bank, she stared down into the swirling waters. The river burbled and gurgled at her presence. She frowned at the noise and bent over to listen closer.

Two of her male classmates took this as an invitation to grope her. She let out a yelp and whirled around to face her assailants. Her foot slipped on the mud of the bank and she felt herself falling backwards.

She caught the eyes of her classmates staring at her in shock, but no one moved to rescue her. It felt like she was in slow motion. She could hear the voices of her classmates, the sound of the rushing water and oddly a voice which seemed to say "Don't worry, I'll catch you."

The water closed over head in an icy rush. Her breath was forced from her lungs in a whoosh. She started flailing wildly, struggling to make it to the surface. Her hands waved around trying to find the surface or bottom, something to tell her which direction was up. Her feet did the same thing, kicking madly one of her shoes flying off in the process.

It was cold, deathly cold and she knew she would die if she didn't make it out of the water quickly. Her chest ached and she knew she didn't have long. She needed oxygen, and she needed it now.

Suddenly from behind, she felt two hands reach out and gently grasp her waist. She started, opening her mouth and sucking water into her lungs. She started to cough uncontrollably, inhaling more water with each spasm.

A few seconds later, her head broke the surface. She heard shouts from her classmates calling to her. She could still feel the hands on her waist, guiding her to the shore. Coughing up water, she tried to catch a glimpse of her rescuer but she only saw the river.

Her feet scraped against the bottom and her teacher waded in to assist her. She couldn't stop coughing and her whole body was shivering from the cold.

She turned expecting to see a classmate or bystander walking out of the water behind her. But there was nothing. She looked down into the water and saw the face of the boy who had haunted her dreams.

"Haku," she whispered, stretching an arm out to him.

She saw him mouth her name and reach for her as well. Her brain exploded with sounds, images and smells. The memories from that long lost summer flooded her.

In the winter of her fifteenth year, Chihiro remembered.

AN: I hate this story. I really do. I debated not publishing the thing but decided if this thing was going to give me this much trouble the least I could do is show it to all of you and have you laugh at it. This is why I hate the story.

IT TOOK ME ALMOST TWO YEARS TO WRITE! It is barely over 1000 words and I would sit at it and write maybe 20 words and then get stuck. I would open it up and it would sit there – almost mocking me with my inability to finish it.

Oh I had the first line and the last line decided on when I started it was the middle that gave me fits.

There is not going to be any follow up to this. If anything, I think I am going to eschew writing for this fandom forever. There are better authors out there anyway.

On the positive side, one more one-shot that has been languishing on my computer is done.