The Twin Dolls
"I've always believed that there are things beyond the realm of reality. But as a rational person I've been taught to never jump onto an idea without having conclusive evidence. Not that I ever listened anyway."
"Mommy" a small stubby hand reached out to grab the loose ends of her mother's shirt. "Is Yuki-chan gonna be aw'ite?" she asked, droning on the 'awl' in her four year old voice as she held her prized doll, a gift from her dearly departed grandfather, tightly in her embrace. Her mother turned to her, smiling a tired motherly smile as she assured her youngest daughter that her elder twin sister will be alright.
"Go on Mayu, why don't you play with the other kids." Her mother coaxed the young child.
Mayu gave her mother an innocent look before she made her way to the small figure resting on the futon. Kneeling down she took one of her sister's cool hand in hers and slowly began rubbing it in between her own in an attempt to get it warm. "Yuki-chan, get better soon m'kay? Mayu's feeling lonwe we'ou' you." That said, Mayu reached for her sister's damp forehead, gently wiping off the sweat with the end of her kimono before leaning over to plant a soft kiss by her temple.
She looked over to the clone of her doll, neatly tucked in the sheets beside the feverish girl. "Miki-chan, keep Yuki-chan comp'nee, m'kay." She said giving the doll a small smile before she continued. "Mayu and Ayame-chan will be back lai-ter to pway."
The mother, touched deeply by the small one-sided exchange pulled her daughter into a warm hug, tears slowly dribbling down the side of her face. "Mayu-chan is such a good girl. Just you wait, Yuki-chan will be alright and the both of you can play again." She said giving the child a kiss on the forehead.
"Now go on, play with your friends, but remember don't go too far." Mayu gave her mother a toothy grin before she sped off to the entrance of their house and disappeared out the door. The mother only shook her head amusingly, though had she known that it would be the last time she would see her darling little girl she would have called her back.
It was only later into the day, when the young child didn't respond to her mother's call, did anyone suspect that something was wrong. The upset parents sent for a search party, consisting of their neighbours and a few officials alongside a couple of canines.
Not knowing the time the child went missing and exactly where she was last seen they took off into the woods in pairs, knowing how vast the land was it would take them at least a day to search the immediate vicinity. The search continued long into the night and through the rising of the sun, yet no word from the search team had arrived.
The sleep deprived mother, knowing her sickly eldest daughter needed her, pushed all her worries in the back of her mind and put on a smiling façade. As she neared the room of her daughter she heard a distinct murmur coming from the other side of the door. Curious she quietly slid the tatami door open a crack, just enough to hear the words spoken behind them.
"Awe you gunna be aw'ite?" a small, cracked voice filtered out. "When can I sees you again?" she stopped as if listening to the response of whoever was in there with her. The mother strained her ears, wondering if her child was speaking with her husband, since no one else was there aside from them.
"Yea, Imma gunna be aw'ite, but Imma gunna miss you." Unable to suppress her growing curiosity the mother gently pried the door a little wider "I loves you too Mayu."
"Mayu?" At the mention of the name the woman pushed the door the rest of the way, her eyes wandering over the room before resting on the slouched form of her daughter. Her daughter looked back at her, surprise written all over her face, her doll secured tightly in her embrace.
"Yuki, who were you talking to?" the woman asked, hugging her arms around her slightly trembling frame. Yuki let her gaze travel to the doll in her arms before she returned her attention to her mother, a look of dejection crossing her flushed face.
"Mayu says she can't come 'omes." She said slowly, she hung her head, refusing to make eye contact with her mother. She continued "Mayu don' knows weh she is, bu' she foun' a fwend. She says da 'ez vewy nice, jus' like daddy, bu' 'ez mo like Kei-nii. 'Ez says 'ez take c'ear of Mayu an' Ayame-chan."
"Mommy, don' cwy" Yuki pleaded quietly as she crawled all the way to where her mother sat with her hands covering her face as she wept. Feeling the warmth of her child's small hands feebly trying to pry at hers she pulled the child into her embrace.
"Wh-who told you this?" she managed to croak out after a while.
The child sent her doll a look before she answered "I 'ear Mayu, she tol' me. I 'ear 'er from Miki."
"Daddy!" A young chocolate haired girl squealed as she put up both her arms. Her father, a tall, lean man with short black hair, who looked to be in his late twenties, chuckled as he lifted his little girl over his head. The small girl giggled as she spread her arms wide, imagining that she was high in the sky flying through the wind as her father twirled her around.
"I'm sorry for the wait, Eishun-sama." A stout balding man called. Konoe Eishun smiled kindly at the man as he cradled his daughter in the nook of his arm. The little girl smiled broadly at her father as she clung to his button-down shirt.
"I think the little princess might take a liking to this." He said brandishing a fluffy stuffed bear from his back. The little girl squealed in delight as she tried to reach for the bear.
Eishun chuckled, gently setting his little girl down on safe ground. As soon as she felt the ground on her feet she quickly made a beeline for the stacks of toys lining the walls of the small toy store, her new teddy bear secured in her embrace.
Eishun looked on proudly as his daughter took on a serious expression while she browsed through the multiple figurines and whatnots. Finally he turned to the salesman, an old acquaintance of his father-in-law, pulled out his wallet and leafed through the bills.
"I can't thank you enough Hiroshi-san, Konoka really loves the toys here." He said handing the grateful man hefty sum for his services.
"Not at all. It's an honour for me to serve such an esteemed man such as yourself." The man replied, pocketing the bills. "You've travelled quite a way, from Kamigyou-ku am I right? Might I interest you with a cup of tea? Freshly made."
As the adults mingled Konoka began browsing through the many toys lined neatly in groups. There were some that looked funny and others that she's never even seen before. It was a child's wonderland, toys galore. If she could, she would rather spend her life in the small store surrounded with all the toy friends. She turned to look at her father when she heard him call her name and she grinned as she happily waved at him before turning her attention once again to the various toys.
"Ne, kuma-chan" she said lifting the stuffed bear "are you gonna miss your friends here?" she watched the bear intently, as if waiting for it to respond. After a while she sighed "I wish you could talk kuma-chan, I really wanna know what you think."
She turned to the rest of the toys, lifting her free hand said "I wish all of you can talk." Of course the toys, being inanimate objects, remained silent. Konoka's hand returned to her side as she sighed, knowing it was impossible. For a young girl she was very conscious of the world around her, knew what was normal and what was impossible. But she was imaginative, like all the other tots her age she likes to believe in magic and fairy tales.
With a wide smile Konoka began skipping down the small aisle, her fingers gently running through the wooden shelves as she passed. She remembered hearing her father say that they were just at the other side of the door at the back and made her way there. Her skipping stopped, however, as she heard a muffled sound from beneath the small lone countertop. Curiosity getting the best of her Konoka set her teddy down before going down on her knees. Gingerly she began crawling her way to the counter, her ear perked up as the sound became louder and more distinct.
"Hello?" she asked, the sound stopped "No, please don't stop, where are you? I'll find you."
She was greeted with silence, disheartened Konoka began backing up when the sound started up again.
"A-Ayame?" the voice asked.
"No, my name is Konoka." Konoka replied, crawling closer to the source.
Konoka nodded "Yeah, what's your name?"
The voice seemed hesitant and started mumbling something Konoka couldn't understand then stopped again. Konoka heard a deep breath then "Setsuna."
"Set-su-na?" Konoka frowned "Set... Sechan!" Konoka stated proudly.
"Eh? Sechan? Who's that?" the voice asked.
"You silly! Setsuna-chan is Sechan." Konoka smiled to herself. Edging closer she noticed a yellow crate shoved below the counter. It was full of toys, but what caught her attention was the beautiful doll buried half way into the pile.
"Sechan... Then Konoka... Kono-ka... Kono, Kono-chan!" the voice replied happily. Konoka grinned, carefully she pulled the doll out and gently brushed the doll's dirt covered face with the end of her yukata. "Ne Sechan, can you talk to the other toys?"
"Uh... I don't think so. You're the first doll that's ever talked to me."
Konoka giggled "I'm not a doll silly."
"Really?" A pause "You sure do look like one to me."
Konoka puffed her cheeks "I'm not a doll, I'm a human girl." She huffed frowning slightly.
"A human? My mommy's a human." The doll happily supplied. Konoka tilted her head, wondering how a small doll could possibly have a human mother. She was just about to ask that when the voice continued enthusiastically. "But my daddy's a crow demon. He's so cool! He can fly so high, even higher than the others!"
"Really?" Konoka asked enthusiastically, forgetting her confusion earlier. With as much gusto she quickly followed another question "Can you fly too?"
"No, my wings haven't shown yet, but when they do I'm going to fly as high as daddy, maybe even higher!" The voice stopped, there was a murmur sounding like there were more than one person speaking, then again the voice she was previously conversing with piped up, albeit a little muffled.
"Sechan? What's going on?" Konoka asked, a little apprehensive. The muffled chatter continued, as if they didn't hear her. Konoka tried to decipher the muffled sound only to give up a minute later and instead opt to crawl back to her teddy bear, doll in hand. She smiled apologetically to her bear as she picked it up.
Walking all the way to the back she stopped with a small gasp as she stared at the light at the end of a terribly long, for a young child's perspective, dark hallway. Konoka, hearing the familiar voice of her father, swallowed dryly, hugging the two toys tighter. Shaking her head she set off, slowly at first then quickening her steps at the sudden feeling of claustrophobia from the dark narrow hallway overcame her senses. "Daddy" she called out as soon as she rounded the corner. Eishun turned to his daughter, as soon as he did Konoka rushed to his side finding the warmth from her father reassuring.
"Konoka? What's wrong princess?" Eishun asked, gathering Konoka up in his arms, worry lacing his voice.
"Ah, I do apologize. The lights at the hallway suddenly burned out this morning and I haven't had the chance to run to the store." The man named Hiroshi quipped up, as if knowing what had upset the young Konoe heir.
Konoka shook her head, but kept her face buried behind the two toys, something Eishun and Hiroshi quickly noticed. Hiroshi jumped to his feet, his cup clattered on the table from the sudden movement, spilling its contents everywhere. Paying no mind to the mess Hiroshi quickly rounded the table to take a good look at the doll currently being held by the young princess.
"Ojou-sama, if you don't mind my asking, where did you pick that doll up from?" Konoka, afraid that she would get reprimanded by the kind man that supplied her with the wonderful toys she has stared at the doll guiltily. "I- I found it. Under the table. In the yellow box." She said haltingly, her grip on the doll tightened considerably. "I'm sorry." She whimpered softly, tears brimming at the side of her eyes.
Eishun sent the man an apologetic smile "I'm terribly sorry Hiroshi-san Konoka didn't mean to-" He was cut off as Hiroshi began laughing. Surprised Konoka turned to stare at the laughing man, it wasn't long after that Konoka herself began smiling, relieved that she didn't get into trouble.
"There's no need for apologies Eishun-sama. Actually I've been looking for that doll for years, I though I've lost it during my move years ago. This" he said laying his hands over the top of the dolls head. "is a very curious and special doll, only two in existence. It was made by the grandfather of a close friend of mine. A well-known craftsman of his time, he only made a pair of everything, and I swear it was like seeing a replica of one masterpiece. He gave the dolls to his twin granddaughters on the day of their birth. One, this one managed to survive a devastating fire that engulfed the family's house along with its young mistress, while the other..." he lapsed into silence, his cheery hazel eyes taking on a darker-shade as they sagged slightly , making him look a lot older "the other vanished along with its mistress, never to be seen again."
"Rumour has it that even though one of the twins vanished without a trace her sister managed to make contact with her through the doll. Her parents would sometimes catch her speaking to the doll as if her sister was indeed there. She would carry on a conversation, always having an answer to her questions and when asked who she was talking to, instead of giving the dolls name she would always say it was her sister. Of course the doctors always ruled it as merely delusion. But what am I saying? You have to forgive me, I'm just an old man reminiscing of his past." Hiroshi ended soberly.
Konoka, bored of watching the kindly man rattle off about things she really didn't care to understand, busied herself with the doll in her hand. The voices were still mumbling continuously, and by the looks of it neither her father nor the kind man can hear the nearly monotonous buzz. She tried to pick out her new friend's voice, hearing her pipe up twice but it was still too fuzzy to actually comprehend what she was saying. She tried calling her friends name in a whisper but it doesn't seem that her friend heard her as the buzzing continued.
Finally she turned to look at her father when she felt him shift her a little. "I'll pay for it Hiroshi-"
"None sense! Just take it. Think of it as a gift." Hiroshi happily bellowed, giving Konoka a smile. "The ojou-sama found it, and obviously she's taken to it, and besides I haven't any kids to give it to. I certainly will not sell it. I can't stand to know that I sold such a precious thing. It's a gift Eishun-sama and I shall not have anything in exchange for it." Hiroshi ended with finality and that was that.
Squealing in delight Konoka hugged her toys tighter. Hiroshi crouched somewhat, just within eye-level of the young princess, he smiled seeing the bright grin Konoka sent him "Ojou-sama I hope you'll take care of Miki-chan for me. She's been waiting for someone to take her home and play with her for a long time. Maybe one day you'll find her twin out there." He finished, softly patting Konoka's head.
"Kono-chan, are you still there?" the voice piped up again. Konoka began squirming, wanting to move away from the adults conversation. Thankfully Eishun understood and gently set his daughter back on the ground. Sending her father a smile she trotted over to a corner, plopping herself down to continue on with their talk.
"Sechan, what happened?"
"Sorry, daddy came back home early and he mommy were talking about something that made mommy cry. Daddy look sad too but mommy and daddy won't tell me what's wrong." Setsuna finished in a defeated voice.
"Oh," Konoka muttered, not knowing what to say. As if sensing Konoka's hesitancy Setsuna piped up "It's nothing, forget about it. Ne, Kono-chan, do you... Can- are we friends?"
Without skipping a beat Konoka eagerly nodded her head, "Of course, Sechan! We're friends. Why'd you ask?"
"eh, well... I- my friends... I don't know why but... they don't like me anymore. They all left me, and I don't know why. Ne, Kono-chan, can we be friends for ever?" Setsuna asked, the last part barely a mumble, but Konoka, as young as she was, could pick out the hope in her cracking voice.
"Yes Sechan, I will never leave you. They're just being stupid." There was a small giggle and Konoka found herself giggling along.
"Ne, Sechan, is this like a walkie-talkie?"
"Well, it's a... like- eh. Well it's something that you use to talk to someone even though we're far, far away."
"Even in the moon?" Setsuna asked excitedly "Are you in the moon Kono-chan?"
Konoka giggled, her small hands ran up the dolls hair, running her fingers through them as a makeshift comb. "No silly, no one can live in the moon. Except the man in the moon."
"Really? There really is a man in the moon!" Konoka giggled yet again.
Later into the afternoon, after bidding Hiroshi goodbye, with a hearty smile from Konoka and a meaningful handshake from Eishun, both Konoe departed in their car. The two new toys cradled protectively in the young princess's arms remained silent throughout the whole ride. Konoka peered through the window once in a while eating up the green forestry, squealing at the sight of a random wildlife they zoomed past.
After a while their car rolled to a slow stop. Eishun reached over to unbuckle the seatbelt from the squirming Konoka, laughing when they young girl quickly pushed open the door and rush out, nearly tripping in her rush. Konoka grinned wide as looked up at the long stairs that led up to the gallant, for lack of better words, mansion she calls home.
Arranging her new toys so that they were facing the mansion Konoka smiled proudly "Welcome home."