The good you do for others is good you do yourself.
I suppose this proverb suggests that you should help others as much as you can because it will eventually serve yourself. I'm not going to disagree and say that it's wrong to help others out of greed for a reward.
However, you should always keep in mind that the "good" you do for others might occasionally backfire at you and those around you.
You should always think it through before you force your help upon someone.
Well, if I told her that, she would surely tell me to follow that advice myself.
Immersed in our own little world, we spun together a clumsy story that would replace the dreams we could not have.
We would escape from the west and the east and go somewhere far away where no one knew us.
We would be surrounded by lots of puppets that we would wind up every morning and live happily with.
I would learn the craft of tailoring and make pretty clothes for them, and on nice days, I would take them for a walk.
"Do I get none?" he would sulk. "Of course I'll make your clothes first," I would reply.
"You can't take all of them with you at once," he would worry. "Then let's decide on an order so that there won't be any quarreling," I would reply.
And one day we would become human and have children and give them puppets for their birthdays every year, we said as we weaved this ephemeral fairy-tale.
A dreamlike tale it was that we raved about, indeed. A tale as valuable and as fragile as a dream, that would never come true.
"Would you... say my name ten times?" I asked him from the other side of the firmly locked door.
To alleviate the fear.
To hear his voice while I was still able to.
To bid farewell.
"And as soon as you have called my name ten times, you will forget about me. Its a... command!"
He remained silent for a while, but eventually he started calling my name.
"Swallowtail," he said, fulfilling my wish.
"Swallowtail," he said, savoring the name as much as he could.
"Swallowtail," he said, fighting against the tears.
"Swallowtail," he said, bracing himself.
"Swallowtail," he said, trying to comfort me with all his might.
"Swallowtail," he said, clearly.
"Swallowtail," he said, dearly.
"Swallowtail," he said, tenderly.
"Swallowtail," he said, as if it were a dream.
That day at the Tsukumodo Antique Shop turned out to be as uneventful as ever.
There was nothing as boring as waiting for customers who didn't exist to begin with; it made therefore perfect sense that I would grow listless with time. Aah, I can't stop yawning...
"Tokiya, you mustn't yawn at the counter," said our serious salesgirl with reproachful look. "What if a customer walked in?"
"Yeah... that would surely be a shock...! For me, because it would be our first customer today."
"That's not what I'm talking about."
"Oh, you're right. He'd be the first customer this week."
"No, that's not what I..." Saki suddenly cut off her sentence, her cheeks twitching and her eyes slightly wet with tears.
"Look! You're yawning, too!"
"I'm not," she denied my claim without batting an eye.
"But you clearly stifled a yawn just now."
"I did not yawn if I stifled it. And that's just because you yawned first, Tokiya."
"Don't make it my fault."
"It's a fact," she countered.
"Either way, what if a customer had entered the shop? Would you have been able to attend him properly while stifling a yawn?" I asked, probing into her cheap excuse.
"Uh," she groaned. "I... I wouldn't act like this if there was a customer."
"Neither would I. That's why it's okay to yawn as long as no one's around." With these words, I yawned profoundly, making use of my hard-earned right to do so, and stood up.
"Where are you going?"
"I have to pee. I guess I'll wash my face while I'm at it. You should wash yours, too."
"...How careless of me," she said with mortifying regret for her showing the slightest sign of yawning. At least, that's the impression I got from the air around her expressionless face.
Suddenly, just when I had set my first foot into the living room behind the counter, I noticed a suit case in a corner of the shop. I remembered seeing Towako-san taking it with her on her last purchase trip.
"I told her to clear it away, but she wouldn't listen," Saki sighed.
"Who cares? This whole shop is sort of a storeroom, anyway."
Thud, she hit me.
"How can you call our shop a storeroom? Is that how an employee should behave?"
She could say whatever she wanted: with the complete absence of any orderliness on the shelves, labelling it a storeroom was perfectly valid. I hadn't said anything wrong.
"If you disagree, why don't you stow that suit case away?" I suggested.
"She'd be angry with me if I even touched it, wouldn't she?"
The purchases Towako-san made were always Relics, and some among them worked special powers just by touching them. In fact, we had once come across a statue that would kill anyone who touched it. Ever since, we were forbidden to fiddle with any of her purchases... even though Towako-san had the bad habit of putting them somewhere and then forgetting about them.
That being said, all the articles from her last purchase a few days ago turned out to be fake; there was no real need to be over-cautious. Just a quick look, I thought as I pulled the suitcase toward me and opened it without further ado.
"It should be empty," Saki explained. "The contents are all on the shelves. See?"
She was right. All the fakes Towako-san had purchased on that trip were already put up for sale.
However, I then noticed something in a corner of the suitcase; it was a transparent case that was about 10cm all around.
"What's this?" Saki asked as she curiously leaned forward.
"You sure you wanna look? Aren't you at work?"
"It's fine. After all, this might wind up being a new product in our sortiment, right?" she justified herself, countering my ironic remark with unexpected flexibility. She must have been bored, too, no matter what she said.
I placed the case on the counter. It was a perfectly ordinary case by the look of it.
Inside was a key with a string twined around it. The string was transparent and became almost invisible depending on how it was lit. The key on the other hand was not an ordinary key but a wind-up key, as seen in toys and music boxes. The bow part was designed to look like wings but was dirty and rusty.
"Now what do we have here?" I remarked while raising my head and noticed that Saki's gaze was still fixed on the case. "What's the matter?"
"There's a voice..." she whispered. "A voice... I can hear a voice... What is it? What do you want to tell me...?" she asked someone who was not there as if in a fever.
"Hey, Saki? What's wrong?"
I have a real bad feeling about this, I thought.
I reached out for the transparent cube in order to return it into the suitcase, but Saki was quicker: She picked it up and tried to open it.
"Hey, stop it! Saki!"
My voice didn't reach her; ignoring my warning, she opened the lid and clutched at the key—and abruptly yanked her hand back as if retreating from an electric shock.
"What's..." I started but I had to stop mid-sentence.
Saki was crying.
Tears were rolling down her cheeks, dripping from her chin to the floor.
"Why?" she asked with a calm and sorrowful voice. "Why didn't he call my name ten times?"
From afar I heard the sound of something being wound up—the sound that served as my alarm clock.
One of my gears was set in motion and passed on the rotation to the adjacent gear, which in turn ignited another one.
I slowly opened my eyes.
"Good morning," said my master with a gentle smile on his face. He was the most skilled puppet-maker in West Town and said to be the second coming of the famous puppet-maker Automaton, despite his young age of about 20 years.
A long time ago, there had been two legendary puppet-makers in these lands. One of them was Automaton, an expert in making automated wind-up puppets, and the other one was Marionette, an expert in making puppets operated through wires.
According to the lore, their puppets were much akin to real humans, comprehending their respective masters' words, acting thoughtfully, and supporting their masters' as servants and as friends.
However, those two puppet-makers as well as their creations had long since gone lost, making it impossible to learn the truth, but there was nobody in this country who did not know of their story.
And my master was said to be the second coming of that legendary Automaton.
The puppets my master created had the reputation of acting like real people—just like Automaton's. They understood his words, acted thoughtfully, and served him.
Yes, I was one of them.
They called me Swallowtail. My black hair was softly curved like the face of the western sea and my eyes were black as the night sky when both people and puppets were in deep slumber. I was clad in a sleeveless dress, which transitioned from yellow to black, and a wavy skirt, both of which my master chose for me. The thing I loved most about my appearance, however, was the large ribbon on my back that looked like wings. He once told me that he had modeled me on a butterfly he had seen in a foreign country a long time ago.
"Good morning, master."
My morning always started after greeting my master. The first thing I would do is waking the other puppets.
Picking up the valuable wind-up key he had entrusted me with, I headed to the storeroom and the other puppets sitting on the racks.
There was a small hole on their backs. It was my task to put the key into those holes, and wind them up. When I rotated the key, the puppets started to move as if life had been breathed into them.
I loved the pleasant sound of winding up a spring.
"Good morning. Such beautiful weather we have today; it will be a wonderful day," said the baron as he lifted his hat.
"Good morning. You're one minute late today," complained the clock man in passing as he came out of his window, as strict about the time as ever.
"Good morning. I want to sleep some more..." said sleepyhead while rubbing his eyes.
"Good morning. I will perform the finest dances today," said the dressed-up ballerina as she performed a pirouette.
The other puppets, too, had life breathed into them when I wound them up: The soldier puppet started to march with his rifle, the children dashed away merrily, and the orchestra commenced their music play.
When applied, this key will let a puppet act as if it were alive. So please wind them up everyday—
This wind-up key was a valuable instrument of my master's that could breathe life into wind-up puppets.
And these puppets were valuable memories of his childhood. Even though unlike me, they were ordinary wind-up puppets, my kind master did not forget about them.
I continued to wind up many more puppets, all of which wished me a good morning me once awakened. The more springs I wound up, the better I felt—almost as though I was winding up myself.
"Good morning everyone."
It was the start of a new day.
I was shaking in disbelief after I had heard her out.
I had heard of stories about souls or wills dwelling inside of objects, but dealing with an actual case was hard to believe even for someone like me who had grown accustomed to supernatural antiques. Even more so if one of those souls or wills had supposedly changed its host body.
To make a long story short, the soul of its previous user had indwelt that wind-up key and had jumped over to Saki.
With Saki's mouth and Saki's voice, she had told me various things.
Her name was Swallowtail. Apparently, she had served and looked after a famous puppet maker, although I don't know when and where that was. The wind-up key was the tool she had used to put his puppets into motion and an irreplaceable memento for her.
However, I hadn't found out the important stuff yet.
"Why didn't he call my name ten times?"
What did these words mean? What would I have to do to make her leave Saki's body?
As unbelievable as an incident like this is in real life, stories like this can be found in movies, books and whatnot en masse—including what happens to the victims when a foreign soul takes them over.
I wanted to question her more, but as soon as she had finished, she suddenly passed off. Like a puppet whose mainspring had come to a halt.
For the time being, I picked up Saki—or Swallowtail, that is—and carried her into her room. I had to ask her more questions once she was awake again.
Suddenly, I noticed that there were black stains where Saki had touched the wind-up key.
That key was really dirty, it seemed...
I was making purchases. Master had given me a list of chemicals to buy for him. I had never heard of any of them, but he told me that he needed them for his puppets.
That day, something unusual happened.
Hearing my name being called, I looked around but there was no one.
"Upward, I'm up here."
My gaze was pulled up by the voice's words. A boy was sitting on the wall, who had a remarkable, carefree smile on his tanned face. Happy that I finally noticed him, he waved at me.
This is what they call 'hitting on someone'—there's no doubting it!
I quickly looked ahead again and stepped away.
"Eh, hey there!" He jumped off the wall and landed right in front of me. How acrobatic, I thought. No, I shouldn't be surprised but rather get away from here.
"I was looking for you, Swallowtail."
He was speaking to me like to an acquaintance, even though I didn't know him.
"Um, have we met somewhere?"
"Huh? Swallowtail? Do you not remember me?"
"You must have gotten the wrong person."
Ah, or the wrong puppet maybe?
"The wrong person? What's your name?" he asked me.
"I'm Swallowtail. The attendant of the western puppet maker."
"Attendant? Of the western...? But isn't that the famous puppet maker from West Town?"
"Famous?" ...Well said, young man, I thought, unable to suppress a content smile. No servant who isn't happy when her master is praised. "It seems that you have done your homework. Yes, you're right. I serve the famous puppet maker of West Town."
I had originally planned to run away, but having revealed my identity, I had to protect my master's reputation.
"...I see. I must have... confused you with her."
"Did you understand at last?"
"I'm Spider. Please forgive my rudeness!" he apologized as he shook my hand.
"Spider? That's a peculiar name, and we don't often see the kind of face you have around here."
"Yeah, I have only just arrived from East Town."
I wasn't surprised to hear that my master was also well-known in East Town. As I indulged in a satisfying feeling of pride, I became curious about what they said about my master.
"Could you tell me more about you?" Spider asked.
"Sure. If in return you tell me about my master's reputation in East Town."
I then questioned him about the rumors of my master and the reputation of his puppets in East Town. The rumors had spread far it seemed; Spider could tell me all kinds of things.
In return, I also told him about myself, about the work I usually did as the attendant of the puppet maker from West Town.
Before I knew it, much time had passed.
Oh no, I thought, I was in the middle of making purchases.
"Okay, I have to go."
"Already?" he objected.
"I'm in the middle of making purchases."
"I see. That's a shame. Can we meet again sometime?"
"Yes, if time permits, let's chat again. I would love to hear more about East Town."
We bid each other goodbye and parted ways.
"Ah, before I forget!" Spider suddenly said after taking a few steps and turned around to me. "I'm Spider. The attendant of the famous puppet maker from East Town."
What had I done.
Of all people I had chatted with the servant of my master's archenemy, who was a puppet maker of comparable skill. The puppet maker of East Town was a woman and said to be the second coming of Marionette.
I felt mortified for having asked her attendant about my master's reputation in East Town.
Besides, why hadn't he told me who he was right at the start? I was dead-sure that he had been teasing me and was laughing at me behind my back.
When I returned home in a bad mood, however, someone suddenly clung at me.
"Help me," a girl begged in my arms.
"What's the matter?"
"Help me! Or else I'll be..."
"Come on, don't trouble me!" said a sturdy man who stood behind her. I knew him; his heavy build and bear-like face made him seem scary, but he would look like an innocent child when he smiled.
Upon realizing that the man and I were acquainted, the girl pushed me away and tried to escape, but he caught her in the blink of an eye. Before she knew it, she had been thrown into a wagon.
"She's the new...?" I asked the man.
"Yeah, she's the new slave."
In this country, slave dealing was established in law. Parents could therefore sell their children without any penalty, and slave traders could buy children off their parents without any penalty. Among other things, the man before me was also involved in slave trade.
"Oh boy, why are people always so stubborn?"
"Everything would be so much better if there were more of my master's puppets, wouldn't it?" I suggested spontaneously and was quite fond of this idea. That being said, it appeared to be difficult even for my master to build puppets of my level. Even the legendary Automaton had in his entire lifetime only once succeeded in making a puppet that couldn't be discerned from a real person.
I was fairly proud of being special.
"Yes, indeed. Why don't you tell him that we would love to see more of them?" he agreed with a laugh, unfolding his face to a child-like smile.
"No, I'm sorry. If he worked even more than he already does, he would surely collapse."
Besides, I want to stay special.
"Hm? Come on, you just don't want him to lose the time that he now spends for you, ain't I right?"
I felt blood running up into my head because he was spot-on. I looked like a spoiled child!
"Joke aside, is your master at home right now?"
"Yes. He is in his workshop. Please follow me." With these words I led the man to my master.
I was aware of the bad reputation that came from associating with slave drivers but I didn't personally think that bad of the slavery law. Families could survive thanks to the money earned by selling their children, and the enslaved children were given work to do. Although it was of course deplorable for families to be torn apart, I was convinced that if the children found a good master to serve, they wouldn't mind it in the long run.
...Or was it because I was a puppet that I could think like that?
Again my morning started to the mechanic sound of being wound up. My master welcomed me with a smile when I returned from the dreamland, and then I started my routine of winding up all the puppets.
"Good morning. What beautiful weather we have today; but it would seem to me that it is cloudy in your heart. What is the matter, my dear?" greeted the baron as he lifted his hat.
"Good morning. You're 3 minutes late today," complained the clock man in passing as he came out of his window, as strict about the time as ever.
"Good morning. I want to sleep some more..." said the sleepyhead while rubbing his eyes.
"Good morning. Strange... I feel so stiff today," said the pretty ballerina as she performed a pirouette. However, today her pirouette wasn't nearly as smooth as it used to be.
"Miss Ballerina? Are you feeling unwell?"
"Yes... Maybe I have caught a cold?"
"Shall I notify master?" I offered.
"Yes, please. If time permits, I would be thankful if he could take a look."
After I had finished winding everyone up, I asked my master to take a look at the ballerina, but he told me that he was busy and would deal with it the following day. He was a very busy man.
I was again making purchases when suddenly I heard my name being called from above like the day before. Paying no heed to him, I walked on.
"Hey, Swallowtail...!" Spider groaned as he jumped off the wall and landed before me.
However, I still ignored him and passed him by as if he weren't there to begin with.
"What a bummer. That means I'll have to dispose of the sweets I've brought from East Town, huh."
My feet stopped against my will.
"You would absolutely love them, Swallowtail."
The candy Spider gave me came in a rich variety of colors, made of melted sugar that was then colored and hardened. It was the first time I tried this type of candy, but the taste was accompanied by a faint feeling of nostalgia. They were sweet and delicious.
"D-Don't think you can tame me with some candy!"
"Of course not. You stayed to listen to what I have to say, right?"
I had originally planned to leave right away, but if I went now, it would seem as though I had only been after his candy.
"O-Of course!" I replied boldly. "Because it would be mean to ignore you!"
"That's good to hear. By the way, how do you like the candies?"
"Is it the first time you had some?" Spider asked me.
"Yes. I haven't even seen them before."
"Is there a problem?"
"No no. I was just surprised that they are unknown around here."
"Yes, but we do have similar candy made of honey. They are just as delicious!"
"Then I would love to taste some," he replied.
"Fine, I'll bring you some in return next time."
"Sure," I said in return and only then noticed that I had just made an arrangement to see him again. He had twisted me around his little finger even though I had been so cautious of him at the beginning
I stared closely at him.
"What's it all of a sudden?" he asked startledly.
"What is your aim?"
"My aim? Well, I wanted to talk with you."
"Um, about what kind of place West Town is?"
"Then take a look around. You are in West Town, after all."
"That's not what I mean... maybe I should say that I'm interested in the puppets of the west?"
"Did the puppet maker of East Town perhaps send you to spy out my master? I'm as silent as a grave!"
"No, that's not it! Besides, if I wanted to do that, I could just buy one of his puppets, no?"
"Good point," I admitted.
"Moreover, it's not like I don't know how the puppets here differ from those in the east. They're all designed to be wound up, right?"
"Those in the east are operated via wires if I'm not mistaken? I have never seen one, though."
"Oh, you're right. We do it just like this," he explained as he took a small puppet out of his pocket that had the face of a friendly jester. There were a total of ten wires attached to the puppets head, hands, feet, shoulders and hips, which seemed like an unaesthetic sight to me.
After he had slipped on the rings that were connected to the wire ends, he bowed—and the puppet followed suit.
With a charming smile on his face, he started moving his fingers as if playing an instrument and the puppet responded! It lifted its head, moved its legs around—it performed a particular dance.
So that's how you operate puppets with wires, I thought as I watched his performance.
The ballerina we had at home would only spin as she made turns on the platform she stood on, but his puppet carried out any number of movements if he shook fingers accordingly. I really loved the dances of our dear Miss Ballerina, but the dance Spider and his puppet performed was so special and funny that I couldn't keep myself from laughing out.
Driven by my positive reaction, Spider put his back into it and displayed an even keener and more complicated—and funnier—dance.
After his show had ended, I clapped my hands together and applauded him.
He gave me a broad smile in response. It was not the playful one he would usually show me, however, but a slightly embarrassed one.
That smile of his erased what little had remained of my original caution of him. There was no longer a wall between us, and the distance had shrunk by a large deal.
However, that felt in no way disagreeable. If anything, I felt at home.
I woke up in the morning and stood up to carry out my daily routine. Taking my dear wind-up key with me, I headed to the workshop and went about sticking the key in everyone's back and winding them up.
"Good morning. Oh dear, it might be raining today. Think twice before you hang out the laundry!" warned the baron as he lifted his hat.
"Good morning. I can't believe my eyes: You're on time today," said the clock man in passing as he came out of his window, leaving me aghast at his impudence.
"Good morning. I want to sleep some more..." said sleepyhead while rubbing his eyes.
The ballerina was supposed to put her every-morning dance on display, but the ballerina did not budge. Suspecting that I hadn't wound her up enough, I twisted the key a few more times, but it had no effect and she didn't perform a dance.
"What is the matter, my dear?", and "What's the trouble?", and "What's wrong...?" inquired the awake puppets uneasily.
"The ballerina just won't dance for us even though I have wound her up."
My words triggered a commotion among the puppets.
"I can't move my body," breathed the ballerina feebly.
I dropped everything on the spot and dashed off into my master's room.
"What's the matter, Swallowtail?"
"The ballerina... the ballerina...!" I stammered, but still he guessed what I was trying to say and immediately headed to the workshop where he started to examine the broken dancer girl.
He would be able to mend her, I was sure.
He would make her dance again, I told myself.
He was the number one puppet maker in town; there was nothing he couldn't do.
"Oh, that's beyond repair."
My hopes were crushed with gruesome ease.
"She's full of rust inside, you see, there's no way she can move anymore. Ah... do we have a leak?" he noted as he looked up at the ceiling. As predicted by the baron it had started to rain and water dripping from above had created a small puddle where the ballerina had been placed until a few moments ago.
It had been raining occasionally for the past few days; the rain must have been corroding her during that time. I hadn't noticed at all.
"Do not fret, Swallowtail," my master comforted me as he stroked my head, "I will make a new one for you."
"What's wrong, Swallowtail?"
I was sitting unprotected in the pelting rain when Spider approached me. Although we hadn't made an appointment or anything, I had somehow known that he would come.
"What's with that puppet?"
"It's Miss Ballerina. She stopped moving..." I explained. I told him that I had been aware of her bad condition since the day before, and that I hadn't taken the proper measures to prevent this outcome. That I was sure my master would have changed his mind had I been more insistent.
"But you informed the puppet maker of the west about her, didn't you? It's his fault that he didn't repair her in time."
"Don't talk bad of my master. I should have told him more properly. But he seemed so busy..."
"Don't blame yourself, Swallowtail," the ballerina said in my hands as to comfort me. "It's not your fault that it rained, and our master was just too busy after all."
She did not budge while she was talking—even though she used to perform beautiful pirouettes—and her words were accompanied by a high creaking. I would never see her lovely dances again, and that thought filled me with sadness.
"What did the puppet maker tell you to do with it?"
"He... told me to dispose of her because he would make a new one for me."
A broken wind-up puppet was of no worth; as deplorable as it was, it stood to reason to throw it away.
"It seems the west and the east are the same in that respect. Once something loses its value, they throw it away."
"In the east, you must know, puppets are thrown away as soon as their wires become torn. They could easily be fixed, but hardly anyone bothers to do that."
Suddenly, I was struck with an idea.
"Say, Spider, would the puppet maker of East Town be able to repair her?"
Astonished, he looked at the ballerina and me for a while.
"Are you sure...?"
"Yes. Anything is better than throwing her away."
Spider accepted the ballerina from me.
"Okay. I'll see what I can do."
On the following day, I was waiting for Spider for the first time since we had met.
Impatient as I was, I was there a good deal earlier than appointed, just to be even more impatient because I still had to wait.
I was thinking back at the broken Miss Ballerina.
If my master said he couldn't repair her, then it was unthinkable that anyone else could pull off the feat. Not even the puppet master of the east. Somewhere inside, however, there was another voice that bore faint hopes that the other puppet master would actually succeed.
Spider had said that he would see what he could do, and I found myself believing him. Believing that he would do something about it.
Suddenly, something dropped into my view, before my lowered gaze.
I startled up and saw a dancer girl spinning; the ballerina was dancing in front of my eyes. Following the ten wires that were attached to her body with my eyes, I found fingers moving around wildly, and going up a little more, I found Spider's smile.
"I asked my master to repair her. Sadly, it was not possible to remove the rust inside."
The ballerina danced around in accord with his finger movements. While her dance wasn't as spectacular as that of Spider's other puppet and while she couldn't be wound up anymore, she was once again delighting me with a charming performance.
She had been reborn as a puppet of the east.
"Here you go," he said as he put her on my hands.
"Thank you so much... Spider..." I muttered and quickly slipped on the rings attached to the wires. "Welcome back, Miss Ballerina. I'm afraid I can't wind you up anymore, but I can let you dance now instead."
I tried my best at moving my fingers and making her dance. Though different, she performed a wonderful dance.
"You're good. You don't seem at all like a beginner."
"Yes, I'm surprised myself."
"But didn't you say you hadn't even seen one of our puppets until I showed you mine? I wonder why you are so skilled?"
"I have no idea. It's like my fingers moved of their own!"
Maybe I know how to operate a puppet because I'm one myself? I suspected. In the heat of the moment, I tried even harder to make her dance.
"Stop it!" cried the ballerina desperately.
"Miss Ballerina? What's wrong?"
"Stop it, please stop this madness."
"But why? You can still dance like this! You won't end up in the trash!"
"You don't get it. I want to dance myself, not be controlled by someone."
"Have you forgotten, Swallowtail? We are mechanical puppets! Puppets that were designed to operate on their own! I wish you would have just thrown me away instead of turning me into what I am now. I wanted to die as master has created me, as a puppet of the west."
The ballerina, now with strings that made her look like a puppet of the east, was weeping as though she were lamenting the end of the world.
As I lowered my hands and let them dangle, her body also started to dangle loosely in the air. I was shocked to see her like that when she would normally always be graceful as a swan.
"What are you doing?" someone suddenly said to me from behind.
I spun around. It was my master.
"What brings you here?" I asked him. It was very rare for him to leave the house; more often than not, he would only move between his room and the workshop.
"Someone told me that you were doing something strange outside, so I..." he stopped in mid-sentence and contorted his face.
"I take it that you're the puppet maker of the West Town?" Spider said, greeting my master.
"Yes? Is there something wrong?"
My master was visibly surprised when he saw Spider. It looked, however, like he had mistaken him for someone. "No... m-more importantly, what do you think you're doing?" my master asked as he pointed at the ballerina that was dangling from my hands.
"Ah, you see, master, it's our Miss Ballerina, I had her..."
"I can tell. What I want to know is why there are such foul strings attached to one of my puppets!" he fulminated, forcibly snatched her away from me and threw her to the ground. The ballerina's arms got bent and her arm fell off. He didn't stop there, however, and stamped on her, producing a clattering sound of breaking parts below his foot. When he finally moved his foot away, there were the beheaded remnants of what used to be the ballerina.
"Don't ever do that again, hear me? And don't get involved with this guy, either! Come, we're leaving!" thundered my master in a burst of anger and left straightway. I hurriedly followed him, not even getting around to saying goodbye to Spider, but I couldn't walk side by side with him like always.
I had thought that everyone would be happy. I had thought that my master would be delighted to see the ballerina dancing again, let alone the ballerina herself.
But I hadn't made anyone happy except for myself. I had saddened the dancer girl and angered my master.
I had been mistaken entirely.
That day, the gentle master I had known disappeared.
He stopped calling me "Swallowtail" and started referring to me as "traitor" instead. I was locked into the storeroom in the basement and could neither do the household nor wind up the other puppets.
I thought of it as a punishment for the shameless act of having the ballerina repaired without his consent by his rival, the puppet maker of East Town, of all people.
While I could live with it because I had to atone for what I did, I was lonely not being able to talk with the others. I spent my days pondering about how I could get my master to forgive me, but I remained unsuccessful.
One day, he showed up in the basement—for the first time since he had locked me in there.
I had faint hopes that he had come to forgive me. That he would smile at me and accept my apologies.
What he said to me then, however, differed vastly from my expectations. The first thing my master said after entering the room was:
"I decided to sell you off. The merchant is coming this evening. Wait outside."
That moment, something inside me split apart.
Perhaps I had passed out in shock; next I noticed my master had already gone.
He hadn't forgiven me. No, he wouldn't forgive me: What I had done was not to be amended.
I stood up lifelessly.
I didn't want to put my master out by making him come all the way here to fetch me. I didn't want to bother him any more.
I left the basement and headed to the entrance, but there I stopped. He must have gone to the workshop, I thought, seeing that he wasn't in his room. I went inside and opened his safe. The wind-up key my master held so dear was inside. I was reluctant to take it without his permission, but in the end I picked the key up and headed back to the storeroom.
I wanted to say goodbye.
The room was dark and engulfed in complete silence. I went from puppet to puppet, put the key into their back and wound them up.
"Good morning. Oh, is it raining today? Your cheeks are wet with raindrops, my dear," said the baron as he lifted his hat.
Yes, indeed. It seems to be raining today.
"Good morning. No, no, it's not morning at all! What has gotten into you that you wake me at this time?" complained the clock man in passing as he came out of his window.
I'm sorry. But worry not; starting tomorrow, someone more reliable will come to wake you up.
"Good morning. I still want to sleep some more..." said sleepyhead while rubbing his eyes.
Sorry for waking you up at this unusual time. But it's going to be the last time, so bear with me.
I also wanted to wind up the ballerina; I wanted to see her dance for a very last time. However, she was not to be found anymore. Nowhere in the world.
Because of me.
"Why is it raining only into your eyes?", "What do you mean by a more reliable person?", "The last time?" the baron and the clock man and the boy asked simultaneously with the other puppets.
"I am resigning from my position, everyone."
That was the best way I could put it. I just couldn't bring myself to be more accurate and tell them that I was going to be sold or thrown away.
"We will miss you."
"I'm will keep the time to myself if you're not the one winding me up!"
"No! I don't want this to be the last time!"
They all regretted our farewell; they were sad about it. I was deeply moved by their kindness, but even more than that I was sad.
I'm such a silly. Why would I want to turn one of them into a puppet of the east when they are all so wonderful?
Please forgive me, Miss Ballerina.
Please forgive me, master.
"Please forgive me everyone. Farewell."
After a final apology I left the basement for good.
There was one more person whom I wanted to say goodbye. Whom I wanted to give thanks for everything, and apologize for the mistake I had made.
At the risk of having the door slammed in my face, I headed straight to the workshop after I had left the basement.
I heard something.
The sound of my master's working.
The sound that I had been so fond of.
The sound that I would no longer be able to listen to.
I stopped in front of the door to the workshop and peeped inside, wanting to fix this sight indelibly on my mind in case he refused to talk to me.
I gazed at his back.
I was here to bid him farewell, but I knew that if I were to step forward now, I would cling at him and beg for his forgiveness. I couldn't do that. I wasn't allowed to.
"Thank you for everything," I whispered in an inaudible voice and turned away.
It was then that I heard a feeble voice from behind me, from inside the workshop.
Is there someone else inside besides my master? I wondered as I peeped once again through the door crack.
All I could see was my master and an unfinished puppet he was working on, which already resembled a real human in every aspect and thus was probably nearing completion.
That must be my replacement, I though. Please take good care of him in my stead! Don't be so foolish as I was!
After silently bidding farewell to the new puppet, I turned away again to leave once and for all.
However, I couldn't help overhearing the groaning of the puppet.
"Please... sto... p... it..."
I froze on the spot.
"You can still talk? It seems that I underestimated your willpower," my master said softly and reached for a tool.
It was a syringe.
Unfamiliar as I was with the art of puppet making, I had no idea what he would use a syringe for. That sort of tool was meant to be used on real people, after all.
"This is what you get for being a bad girl."
My master inserted the syringe into the puppet's arm and injected the liquid inside.
"...Ah...aa..." the puppet breathed. "H... elp... me..."
I was as if struck by lighting: I knew the puppet's voice!
"Who is it?!" my master yelled as he spun around. He had heard my gasping in shock.
The door opened before I could even think of escaping.
Never before had I seen such coldness in my master's eyes as in that moment.
After he had cautiously looked around and confirmed that we were alone, he pulled me into his workshop and slammed the door.
"Didn't I tell you to wait outside? Why do you keep getting in my way?"
"M-Master? This girl, she is..."
Before I could pose my question, I was slapped and fell to the floor, banging my head against the leg of the bed and rattling the girl puppet's head from the bed.
Our eyes met.
There was no more doubting it. It was that girl who had sought my help the other day and was sold by her parents.
Why is she here? I wondered. No, why is my master giving injections to humans?
As a bunch of questions arose, there was a certain thought that came slipping through between them. No matter how much I tried to ignore that thought, I couldn't keep it from surfacing. At the same time, my subconsciousness tried to put a lid on that doubt in order to protect me.
But it was too late.
The puppets created by the puppet maker of West Town act like real people—
Once cast, those doubts didn't disappear anymore.
"Did you turn people into puppets all along?" I asked him, feeling the temperature in the room drop rapidly.
"You're a bad girl. I wanted to leave your disposal to others, but it seems I can't do that anymore. Don't let her go."
When I tried to flee, someone suddenly seized me from behind. Turning my head as much as I could, I could see that it was the girl who had just been turned into a puppet.
"Thank you very much," she answered him.
She was acting as though she had really become a lifeless puppet. Perhaps, the drug inside the syringe had the effect of numbing the mind. So that's what those unknown chemicals were for!
"Master, why do you do such a..."
"We puppet makers strive to imitate real people as much as possible. Our reputation is defined by the resemblance of our work to real people, and therefore, we keep honing our skills toward absolute resemblance. One day, however, I came to the realization that there is no value to puppets themselves if their defining quality is their humaneness... I realized that I could just as well use humans from the get-go."
"Tell me: What do you think about the puppets that I made in my youth, those in the storeroom?"
"They are wonderful."
"And that's what they also told me back then. But how do they resemble real people when they can only do a set of predetermined actions and look nothing like a person? They're trash," he countered.
"So you decided to make puppets using humans?"
"Hm...? What is it with that reproachful glance? Don't look at me like that!" he shouted as he produced a handgun.
I tried to escape, but I was still seized.
"And yet again you make me go through all this..." he muttered, thumbing back the hammer of the gun and aiming at me. "You're an evil woman."
An instant before he pulled the trigger, someone suddenly broke through the door and came to my rescue.
It was Spider. Taking full advantage of the momentum, he bumped into my master, spun around and knocked the girl seizing me over. I almost fell to the ground, but he caught me.
"I'm sorry. I should have come to your help sooner," he apologized as he held me in his arms. "But I had to learn the truth behind his trickery." Spider's eyes were fixed on my master who was struggling back on his feet.
I called our first encounter back into my mind; he seemed to know me, and called me by my name. I also recalled my master's disturbance upon seeing Spider a few days ago.
"You already knew us after all, didn't you, Spider?"
For a split second, he gave me a desolate look.
"I've been here once before—together with my own master, the puppet maker of the east. I wasn't here for long…but let's save that for another occasion," he explained and whispered into my ear, "You must flee."
The girl was still lying on the ground. This was our chance to escape.
"Go!" he shouted and I ran off. I'd thought Spider would follow me, but instead, he ran in the other direction to my master.
"Don't stop!" he yelled back at me without turning around. I had already turned around to him, however, and therefore witnessed the smile glued on my master's face and saw how his mouth formed a sentence.
"I command you to stay put."
That was all that he whispered. However, his words were like a curse to Spider and caused him to halt on the spot.
"You stand no chance against me," he guffawed as he approached Spider. Spider had no other choice but to stand still and wait for him, just as though put under a spell. "Weren't you told to go home? I didn't expect to see you again here. Although, I have to admit, you obeyed that order just fine in a sense. Anyway, I shall dispose of you here and now."
He aimed his handgun at Spider.
He's going to be killed! I have to do something…but what?
"Let me ask one thing before you get rid of me."
"That wind-up key. When you wind up a puppet with that key, it will act like a living being, correct?"
The wind-up key...? I slid my hand into my pocket and touched the key. That's it. With this I can...
"Did she tell you about it?" asked my master suspiciously.
"Just answer my question. But that wind-up key..."
"Master!" I shouted at the top of my lungs.
He looked at me and was dismayed to recognize what I was holding in my hand.
"Please let go of Spider. If you kill him, I will run away and throw this key away somewhere."
The wind-up key was my master's treasure; it was so valuable to him that he would store it in a safe. His attitude changed at once.
"W-Wait…I got it, so give it back to me," he said as he slowly approached me, leaving Spider behind.
"No, Swallowtail! Flee!"
"Tch!" My master clicked his tongue and pointed his handgun at me.
I had made a mistake. I should have ordered him to throw away his gun first.
I was frozen on the spot as his finger operated the trigger—but in the nick of time, Spider bumped into him from behind and fell on top of him.
"Tch! You can move already?!"
My master was faster at standing up and started to beat him with his fists—over and over, like in a fury.
Spider is going to die, I feared. I must help him—
"I'll make sure you won't move for evermore!" my master said and searched his surroundings with his glance.
He didn't find what he was looking for; for it was already in my hands.
I pulled the trigger of the gun I was holding with both my hands.