Chapter | 4
bathhouse's interior still looks pretty much the same.
The first floor was where the bath tubs where located, the second served as a giant restaurant (if that's what you could call in), and then the top floor belonged to Yubaba.
What lay between the third floor and Yubaba's floor I didn't know.
Below the first floor there were the servant’s quarters that were divided into male and female, along with the kitchen. Even further below the kitchen was the boiler room and the rooms where they stored the food.
I knew all this based on prior knowledge, and a certain female spirit. Without Lin's help the first time around, it would have been a bit harder to find my way from the boiler room to Yubaba’s floor.
First I had to sneak past some women walking past the boiler room, and then up the first flight of stairs I could find.
This put me in what seemed to be a little gathering room with three exits.
I recalled that the one to the left took you to the sleeping quarters for the female workers and that obviously meant that the one to the right led to the men's sleeping quarters.
This left me with the entrance in front of me and since I had to keep moving until I at least reached the baths, I took off running through the door and down the hall.
At the end of this hallway was a large room with many elevators, made to allow workers to get around easier.
I could somewhat remember how to operate them, so I took the first one I could ride alone.
I found it strange that the workers didn't seem to sense my presence when I was around, but at least it meant that the herbs Kamajii gave me were working.
I stood there in the elevator for a few minutes trying to remember how to operate it when I heard voices heading my way.
In a desperate attempt, I grabbed the handle and pushed in to the bottom and then all the way to the top. For some reason I felt that these elevators worked the same way one of those old telephones with the circle dial did.
The elevator groaned loudly, almost as if complaining, but started to ascend none the less.
Finally I reached the top floor and made quick work of the space left to the door that led to Yubaba's room, or more like apartment.
Standing silently for a few moments, I tried to collect myself by taking a few deep breathes and running my hands through my tangled mess of hair.
After I was able to pull my fingers through my hair without it being caught, I slowly put my hands on the door to push it open.
A memory sparked in my brain and I pulled my hands away, remembering that the last time I had tried to push the door open, the door knocker was extremely mean to me.
"Ah, I see you have gained some respect over the years," the door knocker said as if reading my mind.
I stared at it for a few moments before answering. "Yes, I'm sorry for being so rash the last time."
Being mean to a door knocker seemed like a new kind of low to me so I just went for another strategy- charming my way into the apartment.
It still seemed like a long shot, but since Yubaba wasn't expecting me this time I had no other choice if I wanted the door to open.
"Apology accepted, but I should probably inform you that Yubaba is away, along with Haku. They should be back within a few hours," the small Yubaba-doorknocker said, her eyes rolling around aimlessly.
“Who’s looking after the bath house then?” I asked, trying not let the new information bother me.
Not what I was expecting, but it was fine, if not better.
"Thank you for telling me this, would it be an inconvenience if I went in to say hello, I have missed Zeniba a lot," I asked in the most mature voice I could muster.
As a response the door swung open and I thanked the doorknocker as I walked inside. The inside of apartment still looked exactly the same as it used to, plush rugs and beautiful art works adorning the walls.
The only problem was that I had no idea how to get to Yubaba's office form the entrance.
The previous time I wasn’t exactly in the right state of mind to remember how I got there, I was a bit preoccupied with being terrified that I would fly straight into a wall.
As if on cue, the rug beneath my feet started to move, wiggling to get out from under me.
I took a step back and the carpet pulled free, moving forward at a speed I could keep pace with. And so I found myself in front of a set of heavy wooden doors.
I pushed the double doors open and stepped into the room.
The room was as dimly lit as ever, only a few lamps were turned on and the fire was burning as well. Sitting in front of a spinning wheel next to the fire was my favourite of the two twin witches- Zeniba.
She might as well not have been related to Yubaba, because of how different they were. Where Yubaba was cold and only after power and money, Zeniba was kind and generous. She had helped me when I went to her to return the seal that he had stolen.
Zeniba looked up from the piece she was spinning and our eyes met, sending a new wave of nervousness through my body.
"Yes, may I help you?" she asked in her kind voice and something inside me clicked.
Tears started flowing down my cheeks and my legs gave out beneath me. I hit the floor with a dull thud and buried my face in my hands. I wasn't sad because she didn't remember me, I was sad because something in her voice reminded me of the kind of love that I haven't been given in a long time.
Not the kind of love my parent’s gave me, that was because I was their daughter, or at least I used to be their daughter before everything changed.
"Oh, I'm sorry, have I said something wrong?" Zeniba asked as she rushed over to see if I was okay.
"N-no, you said no-nothing wrong. I'm sorry for just b-breaking down like this," I managed to say between gasps, the type that sent your whole body rocking.
Once I had calmed down Zeniba extended a hand to help me up and I took it without hesitating.
"You most likely don't recognize me, but it's me. Chihiro," I said as she helped me to stand up again.
"I came back."
Zeniba stared at me for a few seconds before she pulled me into a hug, the kind your grandmother gave you.
I snuggled into her and let myself go for a while, forgetting about all my problems.
"It's a miracle, how did you get back? Oh never mind all that, I missed you so much after you left dear little Chihiro," she said to me as she held me.
"Although-" she said as she pulled me away from her, but still keeping a firm grip on my shoulders "-you don't seem to be so little anymore, you have grown up well. How long has it been? Six, seven years?" she asked as she led me to the nearest chair and sat me down in it.
Clicking her fingers, another chair popped up next to mine and she sat down as well.
"Seven years, I'm turning seventeen soon," I said once she was seated firmly next to me.
"I really can't believe it's been so long," she said after a brief silence.
"Would you like some tea? Something hot to relieve the stress."
I nodded and she once again clicked her fingers.
A round table appeared, holding two tea cups and a pot with tea already in it. The aroma that filled the room was enough to make my stomach growl when I realized that I didn’t eat anything before I left my house.
"I see we're a little hungry too," Zeniba laughed and a plate of sandwiches appeared on the tabled next to my cup.
Trying not to look too greedy, I took one of the sandwiches from the plate and bit into it. It was amazing, like nothing I had ever tasted before.
I wasn't exactly sure what was on it, and frankly, I was a bit scared to ask, so I just kept my mouth busy by eating sandwich after sandwich, savouring each bite.
I didn't know how it happened, but before I knew it the food and tea was gone and I felt so full that I could have died right there and not minded.
Zeniba sat patiently the entire time while I ate my full before she asked me another question.
"Now tell me, how did you get here? You should have forgotten everything after you left the spirit world last time."
This statement caught me a little of guard since I remembered everything as bright as day, so I told Zeniba exactly what I told Kamajii.
After I had finished, a large yawn escaped from between my teeth and I tried to hide it.
Zeniba smiled brightly.
"It seems that you are tired as well, would you like to go to bed? I can have one arranged in no time,” she said, stroking my hair.
Sleep did sound amazing, but I was too scared that if I went to sleep then I would wake up back in the human world. No, I wanted to make this last a little longer. I at least wanted to see him before going back to my normal life.
"No, I'm fine. Just a little warn out, but I'll be great once the food kicks in," I said, giving my most convincing smile.
It seemed to work since Zeniba smiled back at me while getting up from her plush chair.
She was about to say something to me when I big commotion erupted from somewhere in the bath house.
"Oh dear, it seems that we have a little problem. Just stay here for a while and I'll be back," she said as she walked to the door.
Once she was outside I waited a few minutes, but my curiosity got the best of me and I silently followed the way she had gone.
The noise was coming from the baths.
From what I could tell something was happening on the far side of the room, where the slide doors had been opened onto a balcony that went out over the water below.
I was standing by the railing on the floor above, but since I couldn't see very well from there, I went down one of the elevators and pushed my way to the front of the crowd.
This would have been hard had Kamajii not given me the herbs; there where so many spirits who wanted to see what was happening.
Once I reached the front it took me a while to realize what was happening before my eyes.
On the balcony were three men, a little girl and an older woman. The three men where obviously guests and the child and woman workers.
The three men all looked the same, with big white masks over their faces (mind you, this could also have been their faces), black bath robes and greenish skin showing where the robe didn't cover up.
I didn't know who the little girl or the woman was, but one of the three men had the girl by the back of her uniform and the woman was pleading with them to forgive her.
The woman was going on about her, I assume the little girl, not knowing how the tokens worked and that she didn't mean to give them the wrong water.
The three men where obviously very angry and they didn't seem to even care that it was a child that they were hurting.
Things seemed to be going from bad to worse before Zeniba arrived at the scene.
Where had she been? I left the office after her and was standing there a good five minutes before she arrived.
By now the little girl was wailing loudly and the woman also looked like she was about to burst out in tears herself.
“Honoured guests, my I ask what the problem is?" Zeniba asked the men, obviously trying not to aggravate them any further.
Than man holding the little girl spoke up.
"The problem is that this wretched little beast gave us the wrong bath water and after we told her to fix it she said there was nothing she could do!" he yelled, spit flying everywhere from the mask- which was his face after all.
"I see, and I will of course compensate you for your loss. How about we step into my office and talks about this, no casualties are needed to resolve this problem," Zeniba told the man, but he didn't seem to be buying it.
"It is kind of you to take pity on this girl, but we believe that punishment is needed to gain results and if you don't plan on doing so then we'll have to do it ourselves," the man next to the one holding the girl said, crossing his arms over his chest.
Zeniba didn't seem to know what to do since she's never had do handle a situation like this one; Yubaba was the one who knew what to do.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw two people walking over to the railing one floor above me, but I didn't think much of it. Probably more guests who came to see what was going on.
I turned my attention back to the three men when the one who hadn't said anything started talking.
"Maybe we would consider letting her off if we could have something in return,” he said, a mischievous grin spreading over his face.
“Like say… you," he continued, pointing at the woman who was on her knees, a steady stream of tears now flowing down her face.
"Me-eme?" she asked, but her words came out slurred.
"Yes, we will let the girl down if we can have her," the man holding the girl said to Zeniba.
"I am sorry, but that is out of the question. This woman is contracted to me and she shall not leave," she said with a stoic expression; she was getting irritated with these men.
The only thing was that Zeniba didn't know how these men operated and for some reason my body went into action mode, ready to pounce if needed.
I glanced again at the people above me, noticing that they were closer to the railing, most likely to get the best view of the action as they could from above.
"Well, then we'll go ahead and punish this girl as we see fit," the man said, walking over to the railing.
It was an extremely long way down and there was no chance of surviving a drop like that, but the man didn't seem to care if the girl died.
I gasped as he swung her over the railing, her whole body struggling against him.
My entire being seemed to take fire, the urge to do something overwhelming me completely.
I looked around at the people standing around me, but they didn't seem to be planning on making a move to stop the man and his merry band of idiots.
"Okay then, it seems that we won't be coming to an agreement any time soon," the man said and he let go of the girl, but not before I had shot forward.
I sprinted past the other two men, reaching forward to grab the girl’s hand.
After I had torn past the two other men I jumped forward onto the railing and grabbed the girl's hand, swinging her around and throwing her onto the deck.
It was for this reason that I ended up falling through the air.
I guess you could say it was unfortunate that I was able to save the girl since my method caused me to go spinning down myself; head first to what I assumed was my death.
All I could think was that it seemed to make sense that this was how everything was going to end. There's always a catch when you get something that you searched for, for a very long time and just when I found it, it would cause my death.
Luckily I heard you die instantly when you hit the water below, especially from the height I was falling.
I just about closed my eyes when I saw another figure being thrown over the railing, but it was hard to make out who it was since my hair was now covering my entire face.
I tried to pin it to the sides of my head, but even through squinted eyes it was hard to see above me.
I figured they threw the girl over after I took the plunge, but the person was moving too fast to be a little girl; almost as if the person was flying faster than the gravitational pull of the earth- if that theory did apply in this world.
My brain snapped back into action and I extended my hand forward, arching my back so that I could reach the person who was now almost within touching distance.
Then my breath caught in my throat and my entire body went limp, because there he was.
His name escaped my lips.