Chapter | 3
After a few minutes of joyful crying, I pulled myself up, using the wall against my back to steady myself; my legs were still a little wobbly from running from the cops and getting back into the Spirit World.
Dusting off the sand plastered onto my jean, I started moving forward, testing the stability of my legs a bit.
Once it seemed safe enough to walk, I set out on a steady stride on the small stone path that led to the town before me. I couldn’t actually see it, but I remember how close it was.
The grass was a bit taller than I remember and on some parts of the path it tickled my arms as I passed by, making my scratch furiously to stop the itching.
I pulled my backpack up high and hooked my thumbs into the lower straps so that my arms formed triangles next to my upper body.
Another breeze blew past and I inhaled the fresh air that came along with it; you really didn't find air as clean as this in the human world. And you never will since humans have destroyed it with pollution and overpopulation.
I stopped when I reached the stream, thanking the heavens that it wasn’t filled up.
I remembered how a hard time I had getting over it last time, having to use both my hands and feet to move from rock to rock.
Now, older and taller, I leaped steadily from one rock to the other until both my feet were firmly planted on the steps that led into town, if you could call it a town- it was more like a bunch of food stands put together to form one huge market.
I smelled the food before anything else.
The food. The only reason that I was forced to stay the first time around. Because my parents decided to eat the food that was for the spirits of this world, some mere mortals who believed that any problem could be solved by whipping out a credit card.
I don’t even think that they take our money here.
I wondered a lot what it must have felt like to be a pig, and every time I shuddered at the thought of not caring if I was lying in my own poop among the mud.
Then I thought hit me with a jolt.
My parents might have turned into pigs because they decided to eat the food, but me, who ate nothing, started to disappear the moment they started lighting the lanterns.
What would happen to me now?
I couldn't steal any food in fear of being turned into a pig or even possibly something worse than a pig.
But if I ate nothing then I would disappear... Or maybe he would come help me again, bring me a piece of food and tell me that I was all right, that all of this wasn't a dream.
Looking at my watch, I saw the cursors had stopped moving all together. I tried to remember how late it was when I left, but somehow I couldn’t recall it.
My eyes travelled to the sky, trying to figure out the time by examining the sun, but who ever said that time in the Spirit World was the same as in the Human World?
For all I knew it could be time to light the lanterns any minute now and then I would be stuck to face the chance of disappearing.
I hurried up the steps and past the first few food stands.
All the food was already set out and like the first time there was no person- or spirit- to be seen anywhere.
Taking things a little slower, I moved past the remaining stands and walked up the steps to the big clock that stood out from the rest of the place. It was just as big as I remembered it and according to its cursors it was already past five.
My guess about the time in this world was correct it seemed.
Now my next big worry was when they would light the lanterns. If it were normal people lighting them, then it would take a while, but with spirits doing it, it would be done in five minutes.
Still, it appeared I was safe for the time being.
For some reason my brain decided to click back into place at that moment, because I suddenly remembered what lay beyond the clock- the place where everything started.
The bridge- its red paint seemed to glow in the fading light, almost as if was calling to me; urging me to walk over to it.
Before I was able to stop myself I stepped onto the bridge.
How had I gotten all the way from the clock to the bridge without even realizing it?
Forgetting about my sudden sleep walking, I focused on the fact that the sun was starting to set; meaning that it was almost time for the people, I mean spirits, to arrive on the boat.
It also meant that it was almost time for me to start fading away.
Pulling myself together, I took off in a run across the bridge. Loud creaks emanated from beneath my boots and I kept visualizing it giving away beneath me. Luckily this didn't happen and within a few strides I was safely on the other side with the large bathhouse looming over me, looking as mysterious as ever.
Everything still felt like a dream, an out-of-body experience and I couldn't escape the paranoia that I would wake up any moment and be back in the old amusement park building.
Or worse, back in my own bed.
Well, if this was a dream then I was going to enjoy it for as long as possible, because it was the best thing that had happened to my in a while.
It was at this moment that I turned around and noticed that some of the lanterns where being lit.
When I faced to the front again I could see some activity starting to come to life inside the bathhouse- everyone must have started waking up and preparing for the guest that were soon going to start arriving.
Bouncing on the spot, I contemplated what to do next.
Going through the front entrance seemed a bit too reckless. They definitely weren't going to recognize me which meant that I would be chased out or turned to coal in a heartbeat. Since neither appealed to my better nature, I tried to think of something else.
Of course! How could I forget? The little gate that led into the garden next to the bathhouse, it was where I had gone through the last time.
A couple of figures caught my attention as they moved past the front doors and I bolted through the small gate and into the garden.
It still looked exactly the same, even the flowers hadn't changed since I hid there the last time.
I gave out a little laugh when I realized that history seemed to be repeating itself, because here I was again, crouched between the Christmas Roses, praying that I wouldn't be found.
And it seemed that my only escape would be down the stairs again; the stupid stairs that had almost killed me the last time.
Risking a look over the small gate, I saw that some of the guests had already crossed the bridge where they were being greeted by some of the woman that worked in the bathhouse.
Since everyone seemed pretty distracted, I jumped out from where I was hiding and ran towards the stairs.
I stood there for a few seconds, wondering if it was really worth all the trouble I was going to have to go through again just to get down to the boiler room.
I took a deep breath, sent out a silent prayer and started to descend down the stairs, my heart beating in my stomach.
I was half way down the stairs when I heard voices from above me.
Two women were standing at the top of the stairs, clearly gossiping about something juicy. Luckily, for some reason, they didn’t seem to notice me, even though I was standing right in their line of sight.
I jerked my hand up in front of my eyes, inspecting it carefully, but I seemed to still be visible and not fading away. And with the noise going on behind then they couldn't hear me either.
It’s now or never, I thought.
I took a few deep breathes then started running down the steep steps. At least this time I seemed to have more control over the speed I was running.
Nearing the end of the steps, I started to slow down, putting my arms out in front of me to stop myself against the incoming wall. The impact wasn't too painful, but my palms where a little scratched up from where the granite pressed into it.
I looked over my back to see if the women at the top had heard or seen me, but they were chatting away.
Silently I turned the corner and leaped down the last few steps before I reached the big metal door that led to the boiler room.
It was then that I thought of the possibility of the boiler man not remembering who I was.
I actually never thought of the boiler man until this moment, I only went down there on pure instinct.
Brushing a few strands of hair out of my face, I pushed the door open. It was heavy and I had to put all my weight into the push to get it all the way open.
The moment I set foot inside I started to choke, steam filling my lungs and leaving me breathless for a few seconds.
After my breathing returned back to normal, I closed the door behind me.
Tentatively I made my away across the tiny area with the metal geysers- the ones that let out all the steam that was suffocating me.
I leaned against the wall for a moment, trying not to worry about what could happen to me if the boiler man didn't recognize me after all these years.
Finally I pulled myself together, stepping out from behind the wall and into the boiler room where the boiler man, Kamajii, was sitting in the middle of the room in his huge wooden box that qualified as his sleep place and work place.
"Kamajii," my voice came out faint. I tried again when he didn't hear me.
"Kamajii," I repeated, my words coming out stronger than the previous time.
The boiler man turned to look in my direction, his six limbs never stopping what they were doing.
It struck me for the first time how much he did look like a spider, with his big beard and black glasses that covered his eyes.
"A human, now how did you get here?" he asked, confirming the thing I feared the most.
He didn't recognize me.
I must have frozen, because Kamajii was waving one of his hands in front of my face, calling. "My dear, hello?"
"I'm sorry," I let out after waking up. I took a step back in surprise.
"Don't you recognize me?" I added when my mouth unfroze. And then my mouth went into overdrive.
"Well, I guess it makes sense that you wouldn't recognize me after all these years. I mean, if you compare what I look like now to what I looked like the first time I was here then even I wouldn’t have been able to recognize myself since a lot of things have happened and as to how I got here, I don't know. I ran away from home and now I'm here," I said, but stopped when I realized that Kamajii was staring at me with a glazed over expression, the one I get when my parents start yelling at me.
"Sorry," I whispered, covering my face with my hands.
Luckily, I was mistaken about what was going on in Kamajii's head, because he caught on after my little outburst.
"Sen, is that you?" he asked me.
I lifted my face out of my hands; hope blooming in my heart as if Kamajii had called me by my real name.
I had forgotten that the spirits here only knew me as Sen and not Chihiro- the name that Yubaba, the witch that runs the bathhouse, gave me when I first signed a contract to work for her.
Luckily my contract was broken when I broke the spell on my parents which meant that I didn't have to go by Sen anymore now that I was back.
"Yes, but my real name is Chihiro, remember?" I couldn't recall whether I told him my real name or not so I just assumed that he called my Sen because that's what everyone called me.
I mean hell, even I forgot what my real name was after a while.
"Yes, of course, Sen was the name you got when you signed that contract," he said as he stopped working for a while, turning in his seat to face the back of the room where the wall was lined with shelves that contained herbs if I remember correctly.
"GET A MOVE ON YOU LITTLE MAGGOTS! YOU DON'T HAVE ALL NIGHT TO GET THE WATER HOT!" Kamajii yelled at the top of his lungs.
It took me a few seconds to catch on to what he was doing, but when I did, I hopped down from the platform I was standing on and crossed the space between me and the boiler man.
Once I was safely on the other side, I turned around to watch in fascination as hundreds of small black creatures started to emerge from what appeared to be holes cut into the base of the wall.
It was the soot that Kamajii had put a spell on so that it could carry coal to the raging furnace on the opposite side of the room.
Even from where I was standing behind Kamajii's little bed-desk-thing, I could feel the heat radiating off of it and since I knew how it felt up close, I didn't make any move to be put back in that situation.
After Kamajii had finished threatening the poor little soot balls he turned so that we were now facing each other.
"Well, my dear, you really have grown up to be a very beautiful girl. And it's not that I don't want you here, I just want to know why it is that you have returned?" he asked once I settled myself down on the floor next to him.
I thought about this question before I answered.
"I didn't actually plan to, I sort of ran away from home. I planned to hide away just for a little while to scare my parents, since I thought it would help change their minds about moving. I hid away in what I think might be the link between our worlds, but then I heard the police, so I slipped out through the door and now here I am," I explained, taking a deep breath afterwards.
"That is quite the little tale you have there, I don't really understand why you thought that running away was the solution? Was there now other way to work through it?" Kamajii asked.
I was about to explain to him about how unreasonable my parents where when there was a sound of rocks being thrown down a gutter.
The noise stopped as small wooden planks fell from the ceiling and dangled in front of Kamajii's bed.
I instantly recognized them as the wooden tokens that were used to order the type of bath water you needed. All you had to do was get one from the foreman, attach it to a piece a rope that was behind a hidden panel in die room with the bath in, pull the token that was now attached to the rope down, and then Kamajii would send you the water you needed.
It all worked very smoothly and I knew this because I did it once and hopefully never again.
What started with an argument with the foreman ended with me freeing a very important spirit who had been trapped in pollution from our world.
"Listen Kamajii, I'll come again later. I know how hectic things are for you when the bathhouse opens, I just want to know whether or not I should go see Yubaba?" I asked while Kamajii turned to look at the tokens.
"Yes, I think that would be a wise choice since she can't force you to sign a contract now. The only problem is that you don't want to be stopped half way there, so take this and put it in your pocket," he said to me without turning around.
While he talked his one arm moved past me to a drawer in the top right hand corner on the wall, where he removed some of its contents.
I reached out and took the herbs from him, sniffing it before shoving a handful in each of the front pockets of my jean.
It smelled sweet, almost like roses, but also not.
"You're probably wondering what that is,” Kamajii said, “It's normal grass that I charmed to smell different to everyone who gets a whiff of it, which means that no one will smell your human smell."
I removed my boots and socks, relieved that I had decided to paint my toe-nails earlier in the week.
That explains the roses smell, I thought.
I wondered what it smelt like to Kamajii, and was about to ask him, but I saw that he had stopped paying attention to me and was now hard at work with the herbs for the water.
I put my sock in my boots and placed them next to the bed before I slipped out of the sliding door, crouched since I was too tall to just slip through like the last few times.
Luckily none of the workers seemed to notice this.Then I was off; on my way to meet the witch.