SPIRITED AWAY: CHIHIRO'S RETURN
CHAPTER ONE: STROKE OF LUCK

Chihiro sat at small, cluttered desk in her one room apartment in downtown Tokyo. One hand braced her chin as she looked out of the window at the only view she had - a red brick wall across the alley. Her other hand wide, felt tipped pen, hovered over a sketch pad but never touched the paper. She'd been working on an illustration when her mind had drifted back to the subject of her art - the Spirit Realm and her time spent there. Kamaji was her current object of fascination. A roughly sketched portrait of him at the bellows marked the page in front of her.

What were her ethereal friends doing now? Was Lin still working at the bath house? She'd wanted so badly to leave and see the rest of the world. Had Bo grown up? He was such a large baby...he might have been meant to stay that way. Was No Face still with Granny? She certainly hoped so. He'd been so sweet and she knew no one at the bathhouse would allow him in. What about Kohaku? Surely Yubaba hadn't harmed him for aiding her.

No doubt Kohaku had forgotten all about her by then, she realized with a sigh and set the pen aside knowing she wouldn't finish her work that day, but she remembered him clear as if it were just yesterday they'd said goodbye.

"Will you be okay?" She didn't like the way Yubaba had looked at him before he led her away. She may not have been completely evil, but she wasn't good the way her sister was.

"I'll be fine. I've got my name back. Thank you, Chihiro." He smiled at her. It was a strange thing to get used to, his smile. Before he had always looked so stoic and unemotional, his face expressionless, but since she remembered his name and they had fallen out of the sky in a shower of water droplets, he seemed unhindered and prepared to show his beautiful smile to the world - or maybe only to her. He tugged her hand, leading her down the steps towards the riverbed. "You have to go, hurry before Yubaba changes her mind. Do not look back until you've crossed the riverbed. Your parents are waiting for you there. Goodbye Chihiro."

Come with me! She wanted to shout, to beg, but couldn't. It wasn't possible, even she knew that, but she didn't want to give him up. He'd been such a good friend to her. This was twice now he'd saved her life, once when she'd fallen in the Kohaku River and then when she had first found herself lost in this world. "Will I ever see you again?" She asked, feeling the tears starting to well up.

"Yes, I promise." She had embraced him and held him to her for a moment before pulling away and nudging her in the direction of the riverbed. "Now go."

He had not intended to keep that promise; she knew that now. He probably couldn't keep it. He was a river spirit without a river and she was a human - a living, breathing human. It had been her first infatuation, a childhood crush, but it was over and she had since moved on, though she hoped that he was telling the truth about Yubaba. The thought of the old crone hurting her Kohaku made her shiver.

Well, she would keep him the only way she could; in her memories and in the stories she now wrote, documenting her time in the Spirit World. Of course, what for her was a memoir of a short time in her childhood was nothing but a fictional children's story to everyone else. A story she hoped to share with children across the world in the form of a published book. She'd sent the first draft, complete with illustrations, to several publishers months before and had yet to hear back from any of them. They'd obviously not seen anything special in her writing and had tossed out her work without even bothering to send a declined letter.

The phone ringing brought her out of her thoughts and she stood, stretching before climbing over an overstuffed chair and finding the cordless receiver under a pillow.

"Moshi-moshi," she greeted cheerfully.

"Is this Ogino Chihiro?" The voice on the other end sounded impatient. Chihiro frowned and confirmed that it was she who was speaking. "This is Koneko from Ikimizu Publishing. I'm calling regarding your manuscript."

At that, she fell into the chair next to her. "Ah, yes, thank you. What can I do for you?" What a coincidence that they would call just as she was beginning to give up hope.

"One of our editors has read the draft and wants to meet with you. Can you be here at nine o'clock tomorrow?"

"Yes, yes, of course. I will be there - gladly."

She rattled off an address that Chihiro managed to scribble down on a discarded pad and then gave her the name of the editor she would be meeting with; Komayaka Lin. It wasn't until after she'd hung up with her that she had a chance to think and realized she didn't recall sending the pages to Ikimizu Publishing. In fact, he couldn't remember having ever heard of them.

However, excited about the prospect of being published, Chihiro decided not to dwell on it. Perhaps one of the companies she had sent to had been bought out by another or had simply changed names and buildings. There was always an explanation.


At exactly nine o'clock the next morning Chihiro entered the revolving doors of Ikimizu Publishing. A waterfall and coy pond next to the receptionist's desk made a tinkling sound that was almost drowned out by the soft music that drifted down from wall speakers. "Ogino Chihiro to see Komayaka Lin," she told the woman at the desk. "I had an appointment."

The woman never even looked up from her computer. "Elevator's to the left. Komayaka-san's office is in on the third floor, number 104. I'll let her know you're on your way."

Chihiro shrugged and shouldered her purse, taking in a deep breath to calm her nerves as she made her way to the elevator. She'd gone to great care in picking out her outfit the night before and she hoped she made a good impression with her would-be editor. She'd chosen magenta tank top with a lighter pink, sheer top embroidered with roses over it and matched it with a black skirt that hung to her calves with a little pink underskirt showing. She'd chosen magenta colored kitten heels and pulled her hair back in a pony tail in the hopes that she could look her age - a young 24 - and yet still put on the air of a business woman.

As soon as the elevator doors opened she was greeted by an older woman with dark brown hair pulled back in a pony tail at the nape of her neck. She wore a ivory colored jacket over a coral shirt with ivory colored pants. Her expression was not one of welcome.

"Ogino-san, I assume? I'm Komayaka Lin, Cheif Editor here at Ikimizu Publishing. I've read your rough draft - and it is rough - but it just might make an interesting book for young readers." She stepped aside and let Chihiro step onto the floor and then turned on her heels, walking quickly through an open reception area towards a closed door which she opened once the younger girl had caught up with her. "Children's fiction is not a genre we've eve really been in, but the company president is interested in starting. She liked the idea behind your story and asked that I meet with you."

At that Chihiro could have fallen over. The president of the company had read her work? Had requested that she have a meeting? She couldn't believe her luck! She just might get published after all!

"Sit." Chihiro planted herself into an uncomfortable, straight backed chair while Komayaka sat at her own desk chair. "As I said, your draft was rough and will have to have work done to it. We have a junior editor who will be in charge of making corrections and changes. Of course, any alterations to the plot will have to go through you so the two of you should be working together for a few weeks. One thing to be said, however, is that the illustrations were exactly what we would have been looking for. Our art director was extremely impressed. You will have a chance to meet with both the junior editor and the art director later, but first we need to discuss your contract."

"My contract?"

Lin looked at her, her brows furrowing. "You do wish to have your story published, do you not?"

"Yes, but I -"

"Then you will have to sign a contact which will stipulate how much percentage we get of the dividends and how much you will make; how long you have to turn in a draft of the second and subsequent editions; how much advertising you will initially get; so on and so forth. Our lawyer will explain the details to you. Is there a problem, Ogino-san?"

Chihiro blinked, digesting it all. She was being offered a contract - as close to a career in writing as a person could get. It was obvious that she wasn't going to get any other offers...what was the harm of at least looking over their contract, seeing what they were willing to give her? "No, there's no problem, Komayaka-san."

"Koneko, buzz Boira-hito and let him know that Onigo-san is here and ready to discuss our agreement."

Chihiro sat back in her chair not sure what to feel. Well, here goes nothing... she thought trying to settle the butterflies that fluttered in her stomach.


Glossary:

(1) Ogino, it seems, is Chihiro's family name - though it is never mentioned in the movie and I don't recall ever having seen it on any websites.
(2) Ikimizu - Means "spirit water" because I wanted it to tie into the fact that she worked at the bath house in the Spirit Realm
(3) Komayaka Lin - Means "friendly companion" though her first impression might not exactly seem like it. I've seen it spelled Lin and I've seen it spelled Rin (when reading credits to Spirited Away at so I'm going with Lin.
(4) Boira-hito - Means "Boiler Man" and you can probably guess the first name...