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Spirited Away 2: Chihiro's Return

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I keep dreaming of something I don’t remember. I never remember the dream when I wake up, but the feelings are always the same: fear and excitement. Sadness and joy. Hatred and love. When I wake up, something always feels wrong. Like I’m missing something from my life.
It used to happen a lot when I was a kid, but I haven’t had this type of dream in a while. This time, something kept repeating in my head.
“Will we meet again somewhere?”
“I’m sure of it.”
A voice that sounded familiar, yet I couldn’t name.

“Maybe it’s memories from a past life,” my friend, Asuna, suggested as I recounted my mysterious dreams in art class.
I shrugged, not sure what type of answer I was looking for.
“Ah, the famous dragon is back,” she observed, looking at my canvas.
I smiled lightly. I hadn’t even realized that I had spent the last half hour sketching him. I had certain recurring characters in many of my pieces that automatically appeared when I didn’t know what to paint. Such as a frog, a man with six arms, a creepy white masked character, and this dragon. All my best pieces had the dragon. Something about the dragon gave me comfort, like he was an old friend. I had been drawing him since I was a kid.
“Anyway, Chihiro, I found something that I think you might like,” Asuna turned towards me, “there’s a shrine just outside the city--about an hour by train--that is said to have connections to the spirit world.”
“‘Connections’? That doesn’t really say much.” I replied, trying to find the right color for his eyes.
“Come on, aren’t you like really interested in this stuff? Spirits and gods and all that? You’re always drawing them.”
I admittedly did have a strange fascination with the supernatural. Spirits, demons, gods, and all that. I even took a course on it recently.
I sighed lightly, blowing my newly cut bangs to the side, “Yeah, I guess.”
The prospect did excite me, but Asuna always had the tendency to pick out the sketchiest spots. Incidentally, they were always just that. Sketchy. We had never come into contact with anything supernatural.
“Perfect!” She beamed, apparently taking my answer as a yes, “We’ll go tonight. Masaki and Hanae are coming too.”
“Wait, tonight? I’m working.”
“Why are you working on a Saturday night?”
“They needed me to cover a shift.” I answered matter-of-factly.
“You’re such a hard-woker, Chihiro.” she sighed, “Whatever, we’ll just go after your shift ends.”

My shift ended at 9, barely leaving us enough time to catch the last train there. “We’ll just spend the night at an inn nearby,” Asuna told us.
I don’t see this ending well, I thought to myself as I rushed out of my work clothes. Asuna wasn’t stupid or anything, but she was just a little… well, crazy. While she has ignored my warnings and lead me into bad situations before, most of her escapades have been harmless and fun. So I figured I wouldn’t waste my breath trying to talk her out of this. I just had to be cautious.
Plus, I knew that she was really doing this to cheer me up. I gazed at the withering pink flowers sitting on my desk. My parents had given it to me two weeks ago before, when I left home for my second year at university.
How come I can never receive a bouquet of flowers out of pure romance?
I gripped my chest, trying to push back the strange feeling. It was this weird feeling, like something was missing. Was it homesickness? I knew Asuna could tell I was feeling a little off. That’s not to say I don’t like my university or anything. I love my school and all my friends, but Tokyo isn’t like where I lived. All the buildings make the city feel kind of… suffocating. I have a tough time dealing with change, so it can be a little overwhelming. But I’ll admit that most of the time I spend here is fun. I don’t regret moving here, but I do feel a little lost sometimes.

The train ride was closer to two hours, and we arrived at the small town near midnight. Having come just after work, I was worn out. Everyone else seemed to be, as well.
“So, how far is the inn?” Masaki yawned.
“The hotel? We’re going to the shrine first.” Asuna informed him.
“But it’s almost midnight. Isn’t it safer to go in the morn--”
“You’re more likely to come in contact with them around this time.” I told him, my interest in the supernatural overpowering my fatigue.
Masaki sighed and I asked the man working at the station if he knew of any abandoned shrines nearby. He shrugged and said there was an old shrine about a fifteen minute walk north of here.
I gulped. Fear and excitement.

The streets were pitch black as we walked, making me thankful that we brought flashlights.
“Is this it?” Hanae shone her flashlight on a faded out sign reading “Fukkatsu Shrine”.
“Probably.” Masaki said, going on ahead of us.
It was an overgrown, winding path, with the occasional ruined stone statue sprouting out of nowhere. They gave me the creeps. I once again had the feeling that this was a really bad idea. I clung lightly to Asuna’s arm.
“You’re so cute, Chihiro,” Asuna giggled, “You love this stuff, yet you get scared so easily.”
“I’m not scared, I just...” I grumbled.
“What are those?” Hanae asked, pointing to a pile of stone houses on the ground.
“Houses for guardian spirits.” I answered without missing a beat.
“You sure know your stuff, scaredy cat.” Masaki teased.
I looked back at the pile of stone houses. Something about them was oddly familiar. I shook off the creepy feeling of déjà-vu and walked on ahead.
As we went further up the path, I began to hear the sound of water. There must have been a river below.
We were all lightly panting, and I took my lucky elastic band off my wrist to tie my hair up. I’d had it since I was a kid. My mom found it for me while she was sorting through my old things and gave it to me before I left for Tokyo. She said it must be magical to have never broken.
It was as I was thinking of my lucky elastic band that I realized somewhere along the line I had separated from the group. My heart immediately began beating like crazy. I hated being alone in unfamiliar environments.
“Asuna?” I called.
Nothing but the sound of the river.
“Masaki? Hanae?” My voice wavered.
Faint rustling.
I shone my flashlight up ahead. There was a figure standing by a tree near the cliff. My panic slightly subsided, and I ran forward.
When I finally reached the tree, no one was there. I circled around with my flashlight, hoping to see any movement, but there was none. My feet were dangerously close to the cliff’s edge, and I had to keep myself from slipping.
“Chi-” whispered a voice to my left.
I jumped. But there was nothing.
“Hi-” whispered the same voice, from my right.
A shiver went down my spine.
“Ro.” whispered the voice from right behind me.
I whirled around and came face to face with a demon. Tall, white, with black soulless eyes and a smile that stretched a little too far.
I inched backwards, and fell.