All Roads Lead To Rome


Chapter 1: A Little Wretch


The energy in Charlie’s room may be restrained, but it is palpable nevertheless. There is the eager glint in the toys’ eyes, their lingering glances at the doorway, a smile growing on some of their faces, where there previously was none. For all the years Charlie has owned you, the enthusiasm to party every night has been thinly veiled, the veneer of an insentient toy threatening to break as the clock ticks closer to midnight.

You used to facepalm at them, wondering if these toys had any remnants of self-preservation. Charlie may be distracted now, but all it takes is one closer look, and she will be horrified, thinking her toys are possessed. Assuming it is the work of some malignant spirit, no doubt – after all, the most nonsensical things sound logical when the truth is even more absurd – and what else, when the spirit-like Glamour renders toys sentient, anthropomorphising them? Till toys can now move and speak and think for themselves?  

Charlie’s curse breaks your reverie, and your nose starts twitching. Several toys do not even bother hiding their grimace as their owner aggressively hits the keyboard. You see black symbols receding with every second, till the winding paragraph of black letters reduces to only a few measly lines. And Charlie, after slamming a fist against the table, grabs a throw pillow and screams into it. 

Your nose twitches even faster. Body stiffening like a board, as if preparing to run from an onslaught of threats. Yet, as Charlie resumes typing after her little meltdown, the urge to escape disapparates, leaving you hollow and aching. It just makes you want to smash that laptop, to ruin that dastardly piece of metal beyond repair. 

For how can Charlie continue spending time with something that causes her anger? Her endless suffering? Why can’t she revert back to the self that used to play and engage faux-talk to her toys?    

There is the hint of the wisp. The build up of energy, your Glamour projecting itself out, now able to do as you wish.  

The lights flicker. Beside you, the stuffed bear and Pompompurin discreetly tug on your ears and fur, whispering out reminders and warnings, but it is drowned by the whirl of the fan, the rapid taps on the keyboard. The sight of the lengthening lines of black letters. 


The stream of power flowing from you swells and the wisps thicken, forming misty clouds of energy. Bright and raw and burning; fuelled with your frenzied emotions. You bite out a curse, grateful that humans are blind to magic—but why care about that, when your use of magic is now prominent to the rest? When your Glamour is now a stupid becon of light?  

The laptop screen flickers then, glitching. The taps of the keyboard stills, Charlie’s confusion evident, but –   

Vivi looks at you, her stitched-on smile surprisingly stationery. Tendrils of yellow drift languidly around your Glamour before unhinging itself wide, like an octopus about to devour its meal, and you feel another rush of power as your Glamour rushes out for another kick – 

Perhaps recklessness and stupidity has always been a catch. But really, won’t it be all worth it? You know others are bound to follow you, now that you are that courageous martyr. Destroying everything in your name.

Just imagine what can follow through. 

Chapter 1: A Little Wretch 

“You know Charlie is really ugly now, right?” You once overheard a lego figurine say, expression pinched. “Her dark circles and puffy eyes make her look like a ripped-off panda designed by shitty artists. And it’s all because Charlie cannot even take care of herself. ”

“More tact, Jan.” Flicking Jan on the head, Milo sighed as they let out a dramatic yowl, glaring at him in mock offence. “Charlie still is our owner. You cannot just disrespect her like that…even if Charlie resembles more of a panda now.”  

“Don’t compare her to the cute ones,” Jan had murmured, unrepentant. The image of Charlie the Zombified Panda conjured in your mind, and you had muttered Jan’s words under your breath in disbelief as you shook your head, a huff of laughter unbiddenly projected with your Glamour. 

Jan may be exaggerating then, considering Charlie was only thirteen with a relatively healthy sleep schedule. Occasionally sleeping at 2350pm due to her obsession with her phone screen, either talking to the faces on the other side or scrolling down for content. Maybe frantically scribbling on papers with printed words and symbols – apparently called homework – whilst drowning down coffee, muttering something about her stupidity. 

The toys can wait. You can wait. You have overheard Charlie and her parents talking about an increased number of subjects she would now have to take, being thirteen and all. Obviously, Charlie will need time to adjust to her new environment. The few longing glances towards the bed instead of the doorway will eventually fade. 

And then Charlie starts staying at home, eyes dazed, staring at the speaking screen more often than not. Her sleep schedule on the verge of tipping past 0200am, still because of homework and revision and these stupid, blasted screens, and –

How can something causing Charlie’s visible suffering be the ultimate triumph? Why is their hold – mere dead pieces of metal and paper, of all things – much stronger than toys? 

“Don’t project your aura on me. Pessimism reeks of shit.”

“Am aware.” With the dim light from the lamp, you see the wooden mannequin slide across the papers and move stationery about. A pen tips precariously at the edge of the table and you shove it back before it can fall, bristling at that stickman’s daring. “Not easy to be a happy-go-lucky rabbit when this whole shitshow is plain sad and annoying, though.” 

“Doesn’t mean you can add on to the mood,” the mannequin mutters irritably, and you imagine narrow eyes and the downturn of the mouth despite them having a slate of blank wood for a face. “I want to have a break. Not to have another toy at my throat for not moping around like themself. Especially -” 

“It doesn’t give you the right to dictate over my emotions, stickman,” you sneer, tuning out the mannequin’s talk on leadership and camaraderie. “Sure. Reference whatever great leader in history, because the Cabinet has to imitate that level of inspiring leadership. But we – I feel too. Give us a break.”

“My apologies, fellow member of the Cabinet.” The mannequin puts their hands up mock placatingly, and you can imagine a faux-friendly smile playing across their lip. “Leadership is most certainly hard on you nine. But it’s already been six months since the Cabinet has promised us the moon and stars, with no results to show.”

“And your point?” Your voice is sharp, hostile, radiating your fury at the mannequin’s audacity. “That I shouldn’t feel because there is no success -”

“Don’t be so aggressive,” the stickman replies mildly, and silent amusement wrecks upon your body at them acting like a pacifist now. “You wouldn’t want Charlie to think her toys are possessed, do you? And look, there’s Turnip.”

Body still shaking with suppressed laughter, you turn to see the resident illusionist staring at you and the mannequin with his beady eyes. His veneer of a wide smile only there for courtesy’s sake. Amusement drops from you like it were electrocuted, and you inwardly curse for not putting up a sound barrier around the table. 

“Be less forgetful, Beverly,” Turnip sighs, head shaking in annoyance, before wandering off to a new direction. You stare at the glistening, translucent wall of Glamour next to Charlie’s bed, and something in you aches upon seeing the wall thinner and more fragile-like. Pathetic, compared to the wall in all its glory, Turnip’s Glamour erecting something that resembles an impenetrable glass fort, with the network of tendrils holding all the Glamour in place.

You remember yourself nearly falling from the shelf when you first saw Turnip passing through that wall like smoke, too convinced the Glamour had, somehow, literally created a wall of glass. Your eagerness to fly through that wall too, just for the thrill. Your vow to master that gorgeous, masterful art of Glamouring. 

You have the power now, but not the control. Upon becoming visible wisps of energy, your Glamour seemingly has a mind of its own, twisting and dancing around with no sense of direction but to simply refuse and obey your will. The sound barrier you erect is a caricature of a dome, the network of tendrils the only thing keeping the barrier together. It looks too brittle, as though a few decibels will be enough to make your barrier fall apart. 

The mannequin at least remains silent, simply strengthening the barrier. But something within you still twinges, and you cannot help but feel this oppressive weight against you, that makes you stare at the deficiencies of yourself –  

“Then how do you want the Cabinet to improve?” Reining back your emotions to present an apathetic, cool front. “We are doing whatever we can, planning and strategizing. Trying to make Charlie free some time to play with us again.”

The mannequin snorts, and you hear the slight creak of the springs as they shake their head. “Yes. A spokesperson coming up to appease the toys with nice words, with the assurances of Plan A and B and C is enough, Beverly. It’s not. If it were, we toys wouldn’t be collecting dust! We still have enough time to let our Glamour run wild at night before shutting it off, because apparently living toys are considered Satanic or something!”

Beneath all that anger, the undercurrents of desperation are thrumming barely below the surface, on the verge of exploding into a mad frenzy. Like the hints of life threatening to spill from dead, plastic eyes; from your immobile furry suit. Your Glamour within you repressed and besieged down with a mental boulder with caution and rationality of a fellow law-abiding toy for the most nonsensical reasons, because why are Charlie’s stupid, useless pastimes and work more important than your own wellbeing?  

“So you want us to take action, Bergen.” The name feels strange and awkward even though it is your magic projecting your voice aloud, and you inwardly curse the mannequin’s naming choice for themself. “Like the madman you are. Dropping headfirst down the floor last week when Charlie is awake. How will that help? Sure, release some of your pent-up energy by being a reckless, chaotic fool. But it’s a temporary escape from the avalanche of power that wants to wreck your body, Bergen. It’s not worth it.”

“Not even when I am trying to help?” The mannequin snaps, still brazen and so, defiantly stubborn, and you would have cried, right then and there. “If I wasn’t there to make her forget to do her homework and to draw instead, she would be sleeping at two in the morning! Maybe three! Just addle her mind to make time for the toys, and she will be happily playing with you. What’s so difficult about that?”

“Do you think the Cabinet hasn’t thought of it?” you hiss irritably. “What you’re doing is only a temporary solution. Ultimately, we need something that allows toys to retain their Glamour for the long term, and that can only be fulfilled when Charlie genuinely, really, wants to play with us. Not by messing with her mind! Do you think toys only use subtle manipulation because of moral obligations?”

“The toys don’t need a decade-long solution to this!” The mannequin gets up right at your face and stares you down, forcing the weight of their Glamour on you. You snarl, nose twitching and body already tensing, and you resist the urge to run pell mell, helter skelter, away from that measly, little stickman. “All they need is Charlie’s attention! So the toys can think Charlie still cares for them! They do not care of whatever method, Beverly, or are you and the Cabinet dumb?”    

Your body twitches as you remain in position, unwilling to give them your full acknowledgement, yet doing so all the same. You instinctively think of a self-satisfied smirk, the mannequin delighted at their disparaging comment towards you. Nevermind that it is the frustration that caused them to unintentionally, unknowingly, dig into the still bleeding wounds you are licking up. 

Absently, you think of soft touches and caresses, Charlie petting your fur for stress relief. Her friends’ exclamations of your soft fur and your adorable, furry appearance, of you complimenting the colour of Charlie’s bag thanks to the light brown of your fur. 

You had to practically force your body to be still during those times. The mantra ‘Unseeing, Unfeeling’ echoing loudly throughout the petting sessions you had to endure without leaning towards the hands in comfort and relief. It is likely, you know, that most toys feed on Charlie’s care like a drug, eagerly consuming every bit like a man dying from thirst. 

“You are forcing a radical overhaul in the Cabinet’s manner of doing things. And that will require a unanimous vote from all nine.” It is still a retort, no matter what your thoughts say, and you sigh as the mannequin’s head still stares at you. “I can put in a suggestion, if it helps you to sleep, but don’t be deluded. Lower your expectations.” 

You turn towards the bed, noting that Charlie looks younger in sleep, with her furrowed brows smoothed out, dull pupils closed, the dim lighting concealing her puffy and dark eye circles. Seems more peaceful with her silence too, instead of swearing at any instant. If only she can revert back to the child that still gives a toothy smile. 

Dropping your gaze, you look at the doll loosely held in Charlie’s hand. The smile stitched onto Vivi’s face, rendering her eternally happy. Pretty, too. Age hasn’t ruined the doll beyond repair. 

Abruptly, Vivi falls, and Charlie is already turning in her sleep. You pointedly stare at slackened hands as they pull at the blanket instead, the sprawl of limbs on the floor quickly forgotten. 

Somewhere, you hear rapid sailor cursing. Vivi gets up, shaking her tiny fists at Charlie. “I’m not paid enough for this,” you hear her groan, frustrated, but you can hear the hurt. The pain at being casually disregarded and uncared for, despite being Charlie’s sleeping companion for years. 

Something in you seizes up, despite your giggle.

“Beverly. I trust you aren’t blind.” And there they are, hanging around your ear, like the devil perched on your shoulder. “Or are you that cruel? Laughing at your fellow toy’s sufferings. I have full confidence it’s really evil of you to do that. Though doing nothing is even more so, so what does that make of you?”

Evil. Somehow it is the only word that you can pick from. A word used to blame, to condemn, and all too easy to be used.

And perhaps very, very, applicable too. 

You cannot quite hide your flinch. 

Reena Wong’s writings are a culmination of inspirations. Writing online has been Reena’s (Class of 2025) goal for years just for her imagined readers’ screams of emotion to become reality. However, she lacks courage and is primarily a lurker by nature.