Story Summary: Chihiro spends a long, hot summer in a tiny seaside community, minding an old auntie's store, but a legend whispered by locals leads the young woman on a quest of rediscovery.

Disclaimer: I do hereby disclaim all rights and responsibilities for the characters in this small tale... especially for the one whose adventure is just beginning. A grateful bow is made to Hayao Miyazaki for his many wonderful films, especially Spirited Away.

Author's Note: This will be a story in 'bits and pieces', with most chapters written for the friendly drabble competition at the Live Journal community Fanfic Bakeoff. Since entries at that community cannot exceed 300 words, expect short chapters. Yes, it might be nice if the installments were longer... but I think you'll find they don't need to be in order to get the job done. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Fisherman's Tale

When Chihiro was ten, she grew up a little, and as the years went by, that trend continued. However, leaving girlhood behind didn't necessitate the casting off of youthful fancies. Her parents had to acknowledge that their daughter was just a little... well, odd.

"Who are you talking to, dear?" her mother inquired.

"Did you know the chimney's full of soot?"

"I've been meaning to have that cleaned."

"Oh, no!" Chihiro protested. "Leave it, please? It's friendlier this way."

When she graduated, they weren't surprised that she showed no interest in university. Girls who whispered secrets to soot balls were hardly suited to the rigors of normalcy. Instead, they searched for someplace she could be useful and found an auntie needing live-in help.

"She's getting on in years, so you'll be doing most everything," her father warned.

"I'm not afraid of work."

"She lives in a fishing village; you'll take the train right to the sea."

"Wouldn't it be nice if it kept going?" Chihiro asked dreamily.

"Down the coast?"

"Across the water."

Which is how she came to live with Obachan in the tiny apartment over her market. Every morning, Chihiro picked over bushels of fresh produce while the owner sat behind the register, chatting with regulars like Gen-jiji. The eccentric old fisherman spied omens at every turn, and when he brought the catch of the day to trade for new potatoes, he also carried dire tales of sea monsters who swallowed rain clouds. "Which explains this drought!" he declared, authoritatively thumping the counter. Chihiro only listened with half an ear until she heard, "...during storms, twisting through the sky like a white ribbon."

Later, she asked, "What ribbon was Gen-jiji talking about?"

Obachan tutted pityingly. "You wouldn't know, now, would you? Our cove is home to a dragon."

End Note: This chapter was written for the Live Journal community fanfic(underscore)bakeoff and their Secret Ingredient for February 2010—Catch. Posted on February 1, 2010. 300 words.