Finally! An update! I think some of you were under the impression that the last chapter was a oneshot, but it most definitely was not. 'twas more of a prologue, in all honesty.
Anyway… enjoy! I promise things will start picking up soon!
Disclaimer: Kiki's Delivery Service is the sole property of Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, and Eiko Kadono. I claim no ownership to the characters, locations, or anything else, except the story.
Kiki had chosen a one-room log cabin in the middle of the woods far to the West. The trip had taken two days. Jiji and Zuzu had joined her. At the cabin, all time smelled of brisk, earnest rain. There was a bed worn into the wall that was covered by a taupe eiderdown quilt; a demure lilac lampshade, unused and abandoned, lay forlornly on the musty-smelling pillow. There was an iron-clad stove beside the bed.
She knew as she let her florid ballet shoe float over the threshold that she would be allowed to make no calls, to write no letters. This was the time of her isolation, the Ebony Stage of her training; she had to leave society and lose herself to the sheer white noise of her own solitude, and learn as much about herself – and, moreover, her magic – as she could.
"I like this place," Jiji stated frankly. "Nice and quiet."
"Hey Dad, how come we're out in the middle of nowhere?" Zuzu asked, his eyes protuberant.
"Better get used to it, Zuzu," Kiki muttered blankly. "For the next two years, it's home."
As the words spilled halfheartedly from her mouth, she felt a painful lump surge inexorably in her throat, and she had to swallow roughly to prevent it from making her cry.
"Don't be sad, Kiki," Zuzu implored, rubbing his head against her ankle. "It won't be that bad…"
"She just misses that kid with the glasses," Jiji grumbled, rolling his eyes. "Kiki, you can't let him interfere with your training, even if—"
"I know, Jiji; okay?" Kiki snapped, regretting it immediately. "I'm sorry; it's just… it's so… lonely out here."
"Exactly," Jiji replied evenly, hopping onto the bed. "A witch's magic can only be mastered if—"
"'If she spends two years of total isolation allowing it to consume her. I know, Jiji! We've been through this a hundred times!"
She sighed and gave up on arguing with her snarky cat, propping her broom against the wall by the bed and unslinging her bag from it to unpack. She pulled a multitude of things from it – spare clothes, toiletries, worn books of poetry, her mother's best candle, her father's radio, a tin of chocolates, and a framed sepia photograph of her and Tombo, taken moments after the dirigible accident. An impossibly wide, genuine grin was bursting from Tombo's face, and his short tufts of sandy hair were swaying in the sea air. He had his left arm hung casually over Kiki's shoulders, and his other hand was raised in a wave at the camera.
Kiki's short, dark locks were illuminated in the sunlight, and her eyes were glittering. Her hands held tightly to her upright broom. Jiji was scowling on her shoulder. Her visage was not as enthusiastic as Tombo's, but she was still smiling, softly and gratefully. Kiki remembered plummeting after him and feeling as though she were about to lose absolutely everything she had; everything she breathed for. The tears tearing across her wide-open eyes were not from the wind whipping into her face. She didn't care if she shattered into a million ragged pieces once she hit the ground, just as long as he didn't.
But even when all sound and color had suddenly bled from the world, even when she knew she was about to scream as loudly as she could, she felt her hand close tightly around his. After three seconds of a terror greater than anything she'd ever felt, she caught him, and they were floating down onto the firemen's trampoline, and he was safe. He was safe.
Kiki blinked sharply and a single, earnest tear splattered onto the photograph, just between Tombo's head and hers.
"Dad, she's doing it again!" Zuzu groaned loudly.
"Leave her alone, Zuzu," Jiji sighed, curling up on Kiki's now-empty bag. Sarcastically, he added, "she'll stop eventually."
"Kiki, why do you always cry when you look at that picture?" Zuzu asked, falling back on his rump and staring curiously at her.
"I… I just…" Kiki wiped her eyes furiously with the back of her fist, sniffling loudly. "I wish I'd… you know, written him before I left…"
"What?" Jiji screeched, leaping to his feet. "You mean you didn't tell him that you couldn't communicate with him for the next two years? How could you forget that?"
Kiki found herself unable to answer.
"Kiki," Jiji exclaimed, slack-jawed, "he's going to think—"
"I know," Kiki whispered, staring at the floor. "I know."
The days began to pass with surprising haziness. None of them seemed to remain in Kiki's memory for particularly long, Months seemed to go by in a matter of moments, but they were long moments; moments with no substance; motionless, monochrome moments. As the time progressed, Kiki's powers began to bubble and squirm inside of her, surging through her until they seemed to burst from her fingertips. There were days that she would speak only in a language she'd never heard, or draw peculiar symbols in the dirt outside. There were nights she would lay spread-eagled on the bed wearing nothing, gazing wordlessly at the ceiling, or sit unyielding before a crumpled candle, lighting it and putting it out again by merely blinking. She could tell Jiji was worried but still approved, encouraging her to work her hardest. Zuzu slept most of the time.
Kiki's hair grew longer and darker; her legs extended; her bosom began to swell slightly. There was no one to watch her change so drastically but her cats, and the oak tree outside her window. Her milky features became less dainty but still retained a certain mysterious prettiness.
Her fifteenth birthday passed without a word, then, vaguely, her sixteenth. Zuzu tried to make her a cake both times, but seeing as he was a cat, that failed to work out.
Sometimes, Kiki would sit down and write letters, saving them for the day she'd return home. What began as a few heartfelt leaflets soon turned into a cumbersome pile, tied together by pastel ribbons and bits of string. The time eventually came that Kiki's magic was a part of her rather than a possession, a hand rather than a glove, a lung rather than a breath. It was then that she knew she was finished with this stage of her training, and it was then that she knew she could depart.
In a dress she'd had to extend at least five times, and with her hair tied back with her beloved red bow, she floated out of the forest one day with Jiji and Zuzu as if she'd never been there and never would be again.
The letters felt oddly lightweight.