Kiki's Replacement Service
Jiji and Lily were sat on the rooftop of the bakery with their kittens. Lily was resting her head on Jiji's paw while the kittens played a little bit apart from them. One of their babies slipped on the roof tiles and began to slide off the rooftop but Jiji caught him before he fell. Jiji strained himself slightly as he pulled his child back up, realising that pretty soon the baby cats would soon be all grown up. Lily went over to him and nuzzled her head against his as she noticed his expression. Their tender moment was interrupted by a crash that startled them both. Kiki and Tombo had landed in the courtyard behind the bakery, accidentally knocking over some of the garbage cans by the rear door to the kitchen. After skidding to a halt on the grass, Tombo immediately stepped away from the broom. Kiki threw it to the side and immediately began pacing. Her fists were clenched together and her teeth were grinding hard enough to be heard.
"Did you see him?" Kiki finally spoke after a few tense moments of pacing. "Did you... see... him?" Her tone was suddenly very uncharacteristic. She was short, almost angry. Tombo wondered what would happen if a witch were to get really mad but soon pushed these thoughts from his mind when he took into account how Kiki was acting. She was uttering strange, short remarks. "Who is he?" "Did you see that hair?" "He must think he's so great!" She stopped and looked to Tombo so suddenly it made him jump. She began stomping toward him. "Why did you have to tell him that we were going to see him?"
"Well we were until you suddenly started acting weird," Tombo backed away instinctively. He had never seen Kiki like this. "Kiki, are you alright?"
"Why does everyone keep asking me that? I am fine!" Kiki's shouting suggested otherwise but Tombo did not push the issue. "Gosh! Don't I have a reason to be a bit upset? I leave for a few weeks and it's like you've all forgotten about me and replaced me. With a boy!"
"Kiki, I didn't forget about you," Tombo said quietly. Kiki's expression softened almost instantly and she sighed.
"Tombo, I'm sorry," she said hugging her friend, speaking into his shoulder. "I don't know what's come over me."
"I'm sure you'll feel better after a good night's sleep," Tombo embraced her back. The two stood there quietly for a moment before Kiki stepped away from the embrace. She smiled at him, silently thanking him for not being angry with her. The two then parted company, Kiki retreating upstairs and going straight to bed. Jiji, after watching everything with Lily, licked her on the cheek and then went inside. As Kiki climbed into her bed, Jiji joined her and let out a quiet meow. He then curled up next to her pillow and the two fell asleep.
The following week did little to improve Kiki's mood or offset her feelings of being replaced. A few townspeople had come to the bakery to say hello over the few days but the conversation added up to little more than small talk. People who were once her friends now felt like strangers. She felt that she lacked that personal touch with her customers. There was little energy or excitement directed her way. Everyone's attention was on Xavier.
Kiki had learnt more about him over the next few days. It would be a challenge not to as everyone was talking about him. Everyone was speaking of the new witch Xavier who had come from the north just under a month ago. The land to the north was a very cold place high into the mountains. Xavier came from one of the more remote cities where witches were very rare. Male witches were almost unheard of the world over. The last male witch was Orion, the one who could see into the future. Orion's days were long since over and Xavier seemed eager to fill the void.
But why here? Kiki thought about this during the quieter periods in the bakery. Why did he have to come all the way to Koriko? There were surely hundreds of other villages, towns or cities that had no witch present. Why did he have to move in on Kiki's place like this? She rested her head on the counter as she thought about Xavier's motivations, becoming more and more frustrated. The customer door opened and Kiki looked up. It should have come as no surprise that Xavier walked through the door. However it did surprise Kiki and she fell off her stool. Xavier immediately ran over to her.
"Are you alright?"
Kiki knew that if someone asked her that question one more time she would lose her mind.
"Sure," she hastily stood up. "What can I get you?" Xavier eyed Kiki with an unusual expression.
"Well I actually came here to see you."
"Oh, I'm sorry but I'm working."
"Yes, I know. That's why I came here because I wanted to see you." Xavier paused for a moment, his blonde hair gently moving in a light breeze. "I thought you had a delivery service?"
"Oh I did, I mean I do! It's just... you know not everyone knows I'm back yet so I guess I'm just waiting before I take on anymore clients."
"I see," Xavier paced around the empty shop floor, glancing at the various products without really looking at them. "It smells great in here."
"You get used to it," Kiki shrugged. Xavier nodded and a moment of silence fell on both of them.
"What are you doing here?" Kiki asked suddenly. The question came out a lot more directly than she had meant it to sound. "I mean... what brings you to Koriko?" Xavier smiled at her.
"I'm doing my training. I came here for the same reason you did." Kiki frowned slightly. "I like this place. It's very different from up north. The air here is fresher; more clear. You've not been taken over by the machines like we have."
"How come you became a witch?" Kiki asked as suddenly as her previous question. "I mean from what I hear everyone up north uses machines as easily as I use magic."
"We do," Xavier nodded. There was suddenly glumness to his tone and darkness in his eyes. "Being surrounded by all that technology is alright for some people but it's not for me. I wanted to do something different; I wanted to become a witch rather than work inside one of the offices. I guess I wanted to be unique."
"Well you've captured the hearts of everyone in this town," Kiki told him, resting her chin on her fist.
"Just as you once did." Kiki went to say something else but stopped, losing the words. She simply wet her dry lips and sat back in her chair. "I really hope we can be friends, Kiki."
"Well I'll have to get to know you first, won't I?"
"Everyone in the town knows me and they like me."
"I think for myself." Kiki had no idea why her tone was so volatile and she was surprised that she was sounding this way. Xavier sighed and brushed his hear from his face.
"Alright. You win." He held up his hands and moved to the door. "I'll let you come to me."
With that Xavier left the bakery. The gentle wind outside suddenly became a lot more blustery.
The sky was cloudy and the winds were strong. A spell of bad weather had fallen over the town with very little indication that it would be going any time soon. Jiji and Lily spent their days inside Kiki's room while Kiki herself was inside the bakery, working. Osono often shot concerned glances at the girl when she thought that she was not looking. Each time Osono did, she slowly became more and more worried about the girl. Kiki had not been in this kind of a flunk since she had lost her powers for a brief period that one time. Kiki was still in full control of her abilities, not that she had any chance to use them in this weather. Osono could not put her finger on what was wrong but she was fairly sure that it had something to do with the new witch in town. She looked at it from Kiki's point of view and could understand how she may be feeling forgotten or replaced. She did what she could to try and make Kiki feel better.
Kiki caught Osono staring at her every time she did it and interpreted her frequent gestures of kindness for ones of sympathy. Everyone in town was beginning to irritate her slightly and so she asked Osono if she could take the rest of the day off. She knew that she would accept; it was not as if they were particularly busy. The strong wind appeared to have a negative effect on the customer base. Deciding not to fly, Kiki walked and took the bus to where she wanted to go. In no time at all she was knocking on the door of her good friend Ursula. The painter who still lived in the middle of the woods opened her door almost at once and looked shocked to see her.
"Kiki?" she gasped. "It's so great to see you!"
It took them about an hour for the two to catch up. Ursula told Kiki everything about her life; she had managed to sell a few paintings to a small gallery in a nearby town. She had even received a few commissions for some pieces but she was invoking the artist's right to do it when "her muse permitted". It did not take long after the third cup of tea was finished that the conversation drifted toward Xavier.
"You only come and see me when you've got problems," Ursula grinned, setting her empty cup down. Kiki looked slightly off, as she had done for the entire visit. Now she knew why. "So tell me about this Xavier guy."
"What's there to tell?" Kiki shrugged. "He's replaced me. That's pretty much it."
"Oh come on now, Kiki, don't you think you're exaggerating?"
"I go away for a little while and now everyone has just forgotten me. The only people who still seem to care are Osono, Tombo and Jiji." She paused and sighed dejectedly. "One third of the people who still like me are an animal who can't even speak!"
"I still like you," Ursula pointed out. That changed the fraction into one quarter. Kiki ran her hand through her hair. She looked weary. Ursula leant forward. "Do you think you maybe feel intimidated by this guy?"
"Well don't I have a reason? He's better than me at almost everything."
"But he isn't you, Kiki," Ursula told her, holding her hand firmly. "He may be the hottest thing in town right now but he is not and will never be you. You still have your friends and family; they're the most important thing that anyone can have."
"I guess," Kiki breathed, not sounding entirely convinced. The wind outside rapped more branches against the windows. Some of the objects inside the house began to shake slightly. Ursula got to her feet and moved over to the window, making sure that it was tightly shut. She stood by the window, leaning against the ledge as she looked up into the sky. Through the trees she could see the dark clouds up ahead.
"A storm's coming." Ursula looked over to Kiki. "You know just like this storm will come and go, so will this Xavier kid. Everyone will get bored of him and then come back to you because you're special, not because of your powers but because of the kind of person you are. You're funny, kind and cheerful. People will come back to you because of that, not because you've got great magical power."
"I do," Ursula nodded. "But they won't come back if you keep sulking around like this. You think the town has changed? Well you've changed too. Everyone changes but you just need to hold on to what's best in you and let go what's the worst. Right now you seem to be holding onto the worst."
"Thanks, Ursula," Kiki smiled for the first time in what felt like ages. Ursula smiled, shrugging the comment off humbly. She looked out of the window again and bit her lower lip.
"I think you should stay here tonight; the weather's getting quite bad."
The two girls stayed up to a reasonable time, chatting and laughing. The wind howled in the background the whole time. Occasionally it started to rain but it did not last for very long. When they finally went to sleep, Kiki felt happier than she had done in all week.
When her eyes open she knew that she was still asleep. Kiki was dreaming. She climbed out of bed but saw that there was no floor. She was in the sky, floating above Koriko. She was not falling or flying, she was just there sat on the edge of her bed suspended in mid air. She got off the mattress and her feet were supported by some invisible force that kept her up. She looked around and saw that her bed had disappeared. Kiki decided to move forward, walking over Koriko.
The clouds were gone leaving nothing but glorious sunshine. There was no wind, instead only whispers. They were the whispers of people although Kiki could not quite make out what they were saying. They seemed to be light-hearted and cheerful so she did not worry. She felt quite relaxed. She looked down and saw the beach. She still felt relaxed as she saw the people on the sand running away from the edge of the water. Looking over slightly she saw a huge tidal wave making its way toward the city. She felt an odd indifference when she saw the wall of water crash over the beach and plough through the streets, crushing buildings and sweeping people away. Kiki felt nothing.
Kiki did feel a pain in her forehead when she suddenly woke up, sitting up and smacking her head against a lamp. She was trembling all of a sudden. Ursula, having heard the bang, looked over to Kiki and turned on the light, inquiring what was wrong. Kiki could only look at her, breathing heavily.
It took moments for Kiki to get dressed and storm out of the cabin, leaving Ursula without even saying a word. She ran through the path in the dark woods, the wind howling at her as if warning her to stop. Branches fell from trees and flew at her but Kiki managed to avoid them; all that time riding her broom into things had developed her agility. Kiki emerged on the main road and looked in each direction but saw no vehicles. She started running toward Koriko. After about ten minutes she turned around when she saw the lights of an approaching vehicle. She waved for the driver to stop and thankfully he did. Kiki climbed into the passenger's side and yelled for the driver to get to town as fast as he could. The man recognised Kiki but she looked very different with her hair blown all over her sweaty, dirty face.
It did not take long to arrive in town and Kiki leapt from the vehicle without even closing the door. The strong winds managed to do that for her. She looked up and saw the time on the clock tower; it was just past five in the morning. Kiki ran as fast as she could to the town hall and ran through the doors so suddenly she startled the night porter awake. In a dazed state he did not understand the request when she said that she needed to see the mayor. Slamming her fist on the desk the second time made the point clear enough.
"Kiki," the mayor said with the confusion and slight annoyance clear in the sound of his voice. "What can I do for you?"
"Mr Mayor, a tidal wave is about to strike the city!"
"I beg your pardon?" The mayor rubbed the weariness from his eyes as Kiki told him what she had seen. "I see..." There was a moment where the only sound that could be heard was the wind outside.
"We need to evacuate the people by the coast immediately!"
"Yes, yes, we could..." The mayor went over to his telephone. "Or we could ask Xavier to see if he could help stop it?" He lifted the receiver and dialled a number. The mayor had Xavier's home number? Kiki suppressed the sudden surge of anger that swelled in the gut and looked out of the window. Her face fell and she stepped toward the door.
"I think it's too late for that," Kiki cried, running out of the room. The mayor glanced out of the window and the telephone fell from his grasp as he saw what Kiki had seen. In the distance, a huge tidal wave was heading toward the city.
The alarm began to sound.