I woke up to a ray of pleasant sunshine. The cold air has faded and it feels like we’re getting closer to spring. But first of all, I’m surprised by the fact that I’m awake. I can move my hands. I can move my legs. Oh, and my vocal cords quivered, and my voice came out. I am a Shanghai doll. A doll made by my master, the magician Alice. I never woke up of my own volition until just yesterday. I was always only able to move under the control of Alice. But now I can. I’m moving at my own will.
But meanwhile, let’s find Alice. Thinking that it would have been a little harder to find her if she had gone out, I opened the bedroom door, saw her and immediately recognized her. She had no soul. Alice’s soul was no longer here. As I approached her fearfully, I noticed that she was breathing, so she didn’t seem to be dead. But where did her soul go, then? I’m able to move by myself, but it’s meaningless if the person I want to tell that to doesn’t wake up. It’s sad.
Alice said that she always wanted to make an autonomous doll – that, I saw up close. If she cast a spell on me, I would be able to move like an autonomous doll to some extent, but I wanted to be able to think and move at my own will. But I kept failing, and I had given up a bit recently.
And yet, that’s exactly what I’m in right now. Maybe she got into some kind of trouble and used her magic on me before she lost her soul, but if that’s the case, I should only be able to think as I’m programmed to, and I don’t need to worry about how she came to lose her soul; the right thing to do would be to just work hard to get it back.
I couldn’t do it, I didn’t know what to do, my mind was blank. I stared at her lifeless face and even felt like I was going to cry. Gaining a will means gaining feelings as well. I stood there for a while, confused about what it’s like to feel something for the first time, and muttering my expectation, wondering if she will wake up soon.
I heard knocking on the door. I was apparently asleep and in light despair at the unchanged view from before I woke up. I hear a loud voice calling out for Alice. It’s that rascal Marisa Kirisame. She must have come again to ask for something – food or information. I first thought about ignoring her, but then figured that she might be able to do something about the situation, so I headed for the door.
“Aliiiice? Are you hooooome?”
Marisa is screaming. She seems to have grown up a bit compared to that time she forced her way in as soon as she found out that the door wasn’t enchanted. Yes, yes, I say, and open the door. Again, I’m confused by the trembling of my own vocal cords.
“Oooh, it’s a doll. Thank you for opening the door. Where is Alice?”
“I’m not just a doll; I’m the Shanghai doll. Alice now is…. wait”
“That’s surprising. You’ve learned to talk normally.”
“There was an irregularity involved in that as well. Come inside.”
I lead Marisa to the bedroom as she looks at me curiously. When she saw Alice lying on the bed, Marisa made a swallowing sound.
“Heeey Alice, are you still sleeping? Wake up!”
“You dummy, she can’t wake up. Look closely.”
I explained the situation to Marisa – that I am not being moved by Alice’s magic right now, but by my own will. I suddenly woke up a while ago, and although I’m confused, it should be a blessing for Alice, who wanted to make an autonomous doll, and when I tried to tell her, Alice’s own soul had gone somewhere else, and I didn’t know what to do.
Marisa nodded, as if on purpose, but after hearing the end of it, she suddenly had a pondering look. There was a bit of silence, and then she slowly opened her mouth.
“That’s the thing. I hate to say it, but it’s not you.”
“What do you mean?”
“So, if you’re soulless and you’ve got a soul, and Alice’s soul is gone, then her soul must have been put in your vessel.”
Marisa said that that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
“But I’m not Alice.”
“That’s the thing. If Alice’s soul is inside you, you shouldn’t have been born with the will to be a Shanghai doll.”
She makes a thoughtful gesture, saying that I’m just like Alice in the way I speak and all that. It’s natural. I’ve been by Alice’s side since I was born, and I’ve lived for her, as a Shanghai doll made by her. I remember her fingers and the gentleness with which she mended me. This impatience and sorrow I have now are mine. They aren’t hers.
“Anyway. I can’t see the color of a soul, but Patchouli can, so I’ll bring her to you.”
Apparently, Marisa can only see the presence or absence of a soul. She said that she would call Patchouli to work out that if my soul were the same color as Alice’s, then it must be hers. Feeling a slight chill in my heart, I said please, and Marisa smiled, thinking that the way I said it was really just like my master.
In the end, that day, Patchouli couldn’t make it, and it was decided that we would meet again at a later date. When I asked her what was going on, since she is a shut-in, Marisa said she couldn’t go out because she had a ceremony at the mansion, and she couldn’t give me any details. But she told me that it wouldn’t take that many days and that she promised to be there. Unlike Marisa, Patchouli is a decent person, so she will not break her promise, right?
When Marisa took the trouble to come back, tell me that and say “see you” as she left, I was a little grateful for her.
That night, I had a dream.
I was on Alice’s lap, enraptured by how good it felt as she brushed my hair.
“Your hair is beautiful. Combing them makes me calm.”
I loved the sound of Alice’s quiet voice. When it was tinged with joy I was happy, and when it was tinged with sorrow I was pained. Earlier, I found out that she had failed her experiments with autonomous dolls once again and had brought me to her lap to calm her mind.
Don’t make a new doll – I’ll be your autonomous doll. I realized that I had thought that way, and now “I” was watching this scene as if I were watching a video. Giving a soulless doll the will to become an autonomous doll is completely different from creating an autonomous doll from scratch, and it’s not what she wanted, but I had the wrong hope.
I look up at Alice and see her smiling quietly. I have to get this smile back. The me who thinks this way is the Shanghai doll and should not be Alice. There is no way that this soul belongs to Alice.
Tears are flowing from Alice’s eyes. She opens her mouth, but I can’t hear her words. I’m crying too. I stretch my hand, but I can’t reach her. Alice, oh, my dear Alice.
The dream ended there and I suddenly woke up. It’s like I’m really human, and I need sleep. I’m just a doll and this situation with my soul in it is like an accident.
Alice, who was sleeping next to me, didn’t move at all. Anxiously, I check her breathing again. Thank goodness, she is still alive. No oxygen is coming into my body, no carbon dioxide is leaving it, my body is not alive. How is it possible for a soul to sprout from nothing – from zero? I don’t know. I can’t wait for someone – Patchouli, Marisa, or anyone else – to tell me.
A few days later, Marisa arrived with Patchouli. You have a terrible complexion, Marisa said, which seemed like harassment. How could my complexion, being a doll, possibly change? More importantly, Patchouli is the one who looked at me and is worse-looking, even though she is not really healthy in the first place.
“Thank you for your time, Patchouli. I’m sorry, I mean, you had to go out. You look pale; are you all right?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. It’s okay. You’re… a doll. You’re both a Shanghai doll and Alice.”
“What… do you mean by that?”
Patchouli looked at Alice and then at me. Then she started talking with a sad tone.
“…your soul is a mixture of colors. It’s like a yin-yang ball. One of them may be yours, but the other one is, well…”
I lowered my eyes. I said it myself before she said it.
“It’s Alice’s, isn’t it?”
She nodded. My eyes wobbled, but I had to be firm.
“I take pride in being Alice, but what does that mean?”
“I can only guess that… Alice’s soul is asleep. And while she was sleeping, it entered your body. …It was taken in by a strong will.”
Was it the moon sage who said that puppets that can be manipulated have a spirit – a soul? Was it Reimu who said that things in human form have a heart? Patchouli continued.
“Controlling a doll means that Alice temporarily gives it her soul. When the magic is broken, it should come back to her… but in your case, it seems to have remained in your body for some reason or another and grown a little bit.”
I don’t understand what she is saying. I think part of it is simply that it’s difficult, but I don’t want to admit it. Because it doesn’t make sense. I’m not Alice.
“Anyway, you’re saying that Alice’s soul is in this thing, right? Can’t you manage it on your own?”
“It’s hard… like I said before, her soul and their souls are so beautifully mixed together that it’s not easy to separate them. It’s going to cause some kind of harm.”
“Besides, you know,” said Patchouli, and then she stumbled. Marisa hurriedly supported her and sat her down on a chair.
“That was bad timing. I’m pretty tired right now after all the rituals up to yesterday. If I had the magic power, I could have done a bit more, though.”
She lets out a deep sigh. I still don’t understand, and I throw things at her that I can’t help but say.
“I’m not Alice. I’m a doll made by her. What do you mean that ‘her soul has been taken in by a strong will?’ I didn’t want to be her. I just wanted to be the autonomous doll she longed for.”
Tears spill out. Just like a human being. Marisa squeezed. Patchouli just gave a pitying look.
“I’m not an esper, so I can only guess,” she prefaced, and then spoke again.
“It’s possible that her desire for you, and no one else, to be an autonomous doll, has synced up with your wishes.”
Alice wants me to be her autonomous doll? Really?
“…Well, that’s never been said, and most of the experiments she was doing were all about creating autonomous dolls from scratch.”
“It’s more difficult to put a soul in a vessel afterward than to make it all from scratch. Alice had to follow the order.”
It’s not funny that my will drew Alice’s soul to me. I don’t want a life that can only sprout if I am entrusted with someone else’s soul like that. The idea that I want to be an autonomous doll myself is ridiculous. I’m sure it was just right for me to be able to move around a bit with the magic Alice gave me.
The two of them appeared to be blurred by the tears that flow incessantly. Interrupting the long silence, Patchouli stood up.
“Anyway, I think my magic will return to normal in a week or so, and then we’ll work on a strategy again. Maybe your souls can be carefully separated from each other as well, if we are very careful… though I don’t want to overdo it.”
There wasn’t much more of her in my ears. As Marisa supported her and left with her, I lay down next to Alice as if my batteries were dead.
I didn’t want to be Alice. I just wanted to be by Alice’s side. Patchouli had said that, but what if my soul didn’t separate well? I don’t know what the harmful effects are, but I don’t want Alice to be in trouble because of me.
I look at Alice’s face as she sleeps quietly. It’s as if she’s dead. No matter how much of a witch she is, if her soul doesn’t come back, her body will soon rot away.
Patchouli’s guesses were certainly only guesses, but they were convincing and spot-on. But I didn’t know what exactly to do, so I just had to pray to God. Please, let me separate my soul from Alice’s, wake her up, and put her soul back in her body. I don’t need my soul that has sprouted anymore.
I prayed day after day. I slept like a human, woke up, and despaired for Alice, who continued to sleep the same way. Six days passed and her breathing began to weaken and I became impatient. She was weakening faster than I had expected. What, just what can I do to help? I have to think of a solution that I can offer immediately when Patchouli comes. First, I take a deep breath and calm my mind.
The most important thing for me is for Alice to live. The whereabouts of my soul and becoming an autonomous doll are of secondary importance to me, of course. Yes, Alice’s soul, now mixed with mine, is sleeping. If it’s because it’s in my vessel, then taking out this soul and putting it into Alice’s body will wake her up. If there were no need to separate them, the risk would be reduced, and Patchouli could do that much. In that case, my consciousness would fall asleep. That’s fine. My soul was born from Alice’s soul in the first place, so it would only return to its original state. But just be careful, and have my consciousness never wake up of its own accord again, and-
I gently stroked Alice’s head.
“And that’s everything.”
“So… you’re okay with that?”
Marisa said. It’s strange that she had an unexpectedly painful look on her face. When I said it was fine, Patchouli nodded. Eight days had already passed since then. It seems they were enough to recover her magic power.
“I think that’s the best thing, too. Although it’s sad.”
“Oh, why? I’m just a doll.”
“Once your soul has sprouted, you weren’t just a doll. I don’t know what’s going on in your self-consciousness, but as far as we’re concerned, we’ll deal with it.”
“Well, well, then, it’s not a problem, since I’m just a plain doll, and after my soul has been removed there will be a shell of me.”
I explained my thoughts to both of them. Patchouli seemed to think generally the same thing after trying to find a solution that would cause as little damage as possible, and she said that all that was left was for me to agree with her. Of course, I agreed.
“I’m sorry. I’m… not good enough.”
“That’s not true. This is enough.”
And then I told her that I wanted my vessel to be burned once my soul was removed. I’m sure Alice wouldn’t be able to do it, and I didn’t want it to be burned by her.
“Me? Well, yeah, Patchouli is doing the ritual.”
I look around the room. There are dolls lined up that look like me. They don’t move, they don’t have facial expressions. But deep down, maybe there is a soul that is sprouting.
“…Things that have a human shape are easy to inhabit, huh? That’s right.”
I told her to tell Alice to make regular doll offerings from now on as well. I’m one of the oldest dolls Alice has made, and I’ve been with her for quite some time. Just because I happened to be the one who woke up this time doesn’t mean that the same thing won’t happen with another doll in the future. Because we’re all controlled by a piece of Alice’s soul, and we all like her and want to be useful to her.
“Yeah, you asked for it.”
I lie down next to Alice. I miss hearing your voice again. I wanted you to brush my hair. When I think about it, I feel like I’m going to have one unrequited desire after another. I shake my head and brace myself. Patchouli holds up her hand and begins chanting.
“Thank you both so much. Much obliged.”
They barely laughed when I told them that Alice would probably give them a lot of thanks for this.
I have my most beloved Shanghai on my lap and I comb her hair. Today I failed to experiment with autonomous dolls again. Someday I want to make her sprout a soul and talk to her with her own thoughts. I’m researching for that every day, but it’s not going to be easy.
I sigh and Shanghai turns around. I let out a pathetic voice in surprise. She shouldn’t be able to move because she doesn’t have a soul right now. Shanghai, on my lap, reached out to me and told me not to cry. I have tears in my eyes.
“I love you, Alice. I will always be there for you. Forever.”
And so I woke up. The light was dazzling and I could tell from the fact that I was thirsty that I had been asleep for quite a while. Marisa, who was by my side, was surprised and then immediately showed a relieved expression.
“Good morning. You slept pretty well.”
“Good morning, Alice. I don’t have to explain… what happened to you, do I?”
I nodded at Patchouli’s words. I could see everything – all of it. My soul is now mixed with Shanghai’s soul. They say it’s like a yin-yang ball, but in time it will be the same, because it was originally one. But Shanghai will not disappear. I’m sure that, like me, she’ll see me now with a dreamy sensation. I put my hand on my chest. She will always be here, sleeping. Forever.
“…It was a good dream.”
Her vessel must have already been burned. I wanted to burn it with my own hands, but if that’s what she wanted, I had no choice.
“I’m sorry for all the trouble I’ve caused you. Both of you… thank you.”
Marisa laughed with an ugly look on her face as I said that. Patchouli staggered to her feet because she had used a lot of her magic power. Then they said in unison.
I think I will be indebted to these two for a while. Oh, dear. I sighed and thought of her.