Chapter 1:

It felt like no matter how far I reached I would never be able to reach it.

It seemed so bright, so blindingly bright.

Compared to my dark spot. My quiet lair. My lonely circle.

Me. And just me.

The bright light surrounding me, mocking me, but drawing me in. I reached out a hand, but stopped midway.

I could feel the heat of the light, and my fingertips tingled. I put my hand down on the cold dark floor.

Better to be cold alone than to be burnt alive.

It’s better this way.

It’s better this way…

I blinked, staring up at the ceiling, at the y-shaped crack etched on it. It took me a few moments to realise that I was, indeed, awake. The house was still dark and quiet, the air was cold as tap water in the early morning. The darkness of the house seemed neverending, silent and lonely, in a sense. I fumbled around for my phone and switched it on, the screen immediately burning my retinas. It was 5.06a.m. Wonderful. I woke up way too early, again, two hours before my alarm. I sighed inwardly, annoyed. If I kept this up there was no way I would be able to stay awake throughout school.

Unfortunately I was already fully awake, and there was no way I was going to waste time trying to get myself back to sleep. I pushed my blanket off and all the remains of my exhaustion out of my system, the cold early morning air raising goosebumps all over my arms, and maybe if I squinted hard enough, I would see mist when I exhaled, but it’s Singapore. After folding my blanket neatly on the couch, I went on to do my morning routine.

It was still cold as I studied. My desk light was the only light in the house while I studied. Page flippings, pen clickings and yawns from me were the only sounds in the house.

It was just me, alone. Or at least the only one awake.

“Marie?” My mother’s soft and tired voice startled me, and stopped my train of thought of maths equations. What was she doing awake? “You should really go back to sleep, instead of studying, Marie.”  

“I’m not tired, Mum, don’t worry.” I tilted my head down to my maths textbook as I pushed down a yawn that was building up.

“It’s 5.45a.m.” 

“And, it’s an hour or more before I leave. I will study a bit more and go to sleep again before I have to go, okay?” I finally looked at my mother and mustered up a smile. She didn’t seem convinced, but sighed and ruffled my hair anyway.

“Why can’t you wake up with the sun? The sun is a star too,” my mother jokingly lamented and wrapped her arms around my neck, kissing my cheek. I rolled my eyes and patted her arm. 

“Just because I have ‘Starr’ in my name doesn’t mean I should become one with stars.”

“You’re no fun, Starr Eyes.” She kissed my cheek once more and ruffled my hair again. “Go back to sleep soon, yeah?”


I never went back to sleep.

The pavement blurred under my feet and I couldn’t remember when I left my house. The sky was brightening up to a light shade of blue as I walked along the sheltered pathway next to the empty playground near my house. More and more cars were on the roads, their engines louder than the most severe of thunderstorms. I fished my earpieces out of my pocket and plugged it into my ears and phone, scrolling through my playlist for the perfect song to distract myself from the outside world.


I stopped scrolling, then shook my head. I’m too tired.

Squeak squeak.

This time I stopped in my tracks and scanned my surroundings. But despite the bright daylight, no one other than me walked the sheltered pathway I took everyday of the week to and from school. I glimpsed at the clock on my phone. My bus is coming soon. I should go.

Squeak squeak squeak—

I ripped out my earpieces, beyond exasperated. The squeaking sound felt like it was right next to my ear. I glared at the playground but then noticed something on the playground floor.

A pair of pink, toddler-sized shoes with yellow stars on the floor. I blinked, and suddenly it wasn’t there anymore. My eyebrows furrowed. Am I still asleep?

Then, a slow creak to my left. I fiddled with the straps of my school bag as I turned my head. There, sitting at the swings with her back to me, was a little girl who couldn’t be older than 10. She was swinging ever so slightly back and forth, the swing’s chains slowly creaking.

I rubbed my eyes and squinted closely. She was hunched over and looked like she was…shivering? Her shoulders were shaking, like she was cold. 

“Hey!” I wanted to shout out to her, but my mouth went dry when I opened it. A blurry memory seared through my mind. I fumbled and tried to grasp on it, but it slipped out and it was gone as soon as it came. 

“Are you alright over there?” My voice only came out as a mumble as I walked forward towards the girl. She was still swinging, still shivering, still…cold? 

I reached out a hand, and blinked.


The girl was gone.

The empty swing creaked back and forth, and stopped. 

I could feel a few pairs of eyes look up at me as I entered my classroom, but regardless, my classmates returned back to their usual conversations. Talking, laughing, doing last minute work. I lowered my head, song still in my ears and went to my seat, which was at the front of the classroom and was mostly empty compared to the back of the classroom.

There were two people at the whiteboard, doodling on it and giggling away. It was the twins Clarence and Klarene, the most artsy and most well-liked kids in class. You could even say that they were the most popular in the whole cohort.

I sat down at my seat and cranked up the volume of my music to drown out the usual classroom noise. But even as my phone warned me about the dangers of turning my music too loudly, I could still hear the giggling of my classmates, the random screams and shouts. I clenched my pen and opened my books, trying to focus.

The incessant squeaking of the marker against the whiteboard sounded…too loud.

Squeak squeak squeak squeak—

“Would you shut up!” I slammed my pen down before I could stop myself. The silence was instant, sweeping over the classroom like dark clouds. My earbuds slipped out of my ears and dangled limply around my neck.

It felt…cold. 

“I—” A lump formed in my throat, and the words were stuck. The twins looked at me as if I had a bloody knife in my hands. They hastily pushed each other past me to the others at the back of the classroom, maintaining a safe distance from me like I was a wild bear about to pounce at any moment. I didn’t dare turn to look behind, afraid of meeting the dozens of pairs of eyes that burned through my back. I slowly sat back down when my legs felt like jelly all of a sudden and stuck my earbuds back in, but I couldn’t hear the music anymore. All I heard were the whispers.

“Man, what the heck was that.”

“Jeez, uptight much?”

“What’s with her, all she does is shout at us.” 

“She was going to snap again eventually, typical.”

The air was thick and suffocating. I lowered my head as I tried to take in deep but subtle breaths. 

Why am I always like this? I thought I had finally managed to control my emotions, but they always get the better of me. In the past, and till now. 

The class slowly went back to normal, noisy as it usually was, except for the very obvious tension between me and my other classmates. Like a thick, unwavering brick wall separating the back and front of the classroom, where I was.

Where I sat, alone. 

Away from the noisiness, the liveliness, behind me. 

Get a grip. I had not done a single question yet, and it was almost time till assembly and flag-raising.

“Falling asleep, aren’t we?”

A voice jarred me back to full consciousness, and I shot my head upright from my desk. I didn’t even know I was falling asleep. I looked down at my book and saw a messy pencil squiggle, a lame attempt to write a ‘g’ half-asleep. 

I rubbed my eyes and looked up to see who woke me up. It was Ms Hopp, my English teacher, standing over my desk with her usual, cheery smile on her face. But her face suddenly turned serious as pulled up a chair and sat down next to me, clasping her hands like a doctor about to tell a patient that they have cancer.

“Clarence and Klarene…” Ms Hopp began.

I sighed and picked my pen back up. “I’ll say sorry to them later.”

“Why not now? Aren’t they your friends?” 

I almost let out a laugh. “Well, that’s news to me, Ms Hopp.”

“But you used to be friends with them.”

“Really?” I scoffed softly under my breath. “Because the last time I checked, I never was.”

The school bell rang before Ms Hopp could respond. I closed my books and stood up for flag-raising, not looking into Ms Hopp’s eyes. She lingered for a moment, and went to the teacher’s desk.

“School, please have a good day.” I blinked, and realised the school anthem and pledge was over, though I barely even heard it. I quickly sat back down.

I really need more sleep.

“Good morning class!” Ms Hopp bounced to the front of the class, a big smile on her face. “Today we have a new classmate that will be joining us today! He should be here any moment.”

As soon as she said that, the classroom door burst open. An incredibly tall boy, who looked like he ran around the whole school twice, stood at the doorway. 

“Please tell me this is classroom 4A.” His voice sounded comically defeated.

“Yes it is. Please come in and introduce yourself!” 

The boy walked in, giving a wave to us and a big amiable smile with no shame.

“Hello! My name is Obi. I am 17 years old.” A few murmurs behind me. “Yes, I know I’m very old.” 

“Well, Obi, that is a downright insult to me then,” Ms Hopp joked. A few quiet sniggers around the classroom. I let out an amused breath and rolled my eyes. 

That was when I felt Obi staring at me, I looked up at him, and thought I saw him avert his eyes. Maybe that was just me.

“Thank you for introducing yourself, Obi. Please take a seat behind Mabelline.”

Exhaustion started to creep up on me and my eyelids felt slightly heavy. I suppressed another yawn and rubbed my eyes, trying to keep awake as Obi walked past me. Then I heard a very tiny jingle. I perked my head up, and glimpsed at a small bell on Obi’s bag, bouncing and ringing about softly, probably no one could hear it, but I could.

But that wasn’t the only thing that caught my attention. It was what was attached to it. 

A gold leather star, with the initials M and O on it, a little black star between the two letters.

Where had I seen that before?

Lessons, after lessons after lessons. My eyelids felt as if stones were holding them down as I suppressed the umpteenth yawn. Though there were only three periods, it felt like an eternity before lunch period finally came.

The rest of the class lingered around in the classroom, and eventually filed out of the classroom to go down to the canteen. Thus, it became quiet again, with me alone, studying.

At least that’s what I thought.

A face suddenly appeared in front of me and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was Obi, with a big grin on his face. 

“Hello, Marie!”

“Hello, Obi…”

“You’re not going for lunch?”

“No.” I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and focused on my assessment book. Or at least, I tried to. 

Obi continued to stand beside me, hanging around, watching everything I do, making me slightly uncomfortable. I was about to lift my head up to ask him to leave me alone when a voice, or rather two voices, made me freeze.

“Hello, Obi!” It was Clarence and Klarene. I immediately ducked my head down, pretending to focus on my assessment books. They stood just behind my chair. “Wanna go to lunch with us? We could show you around the school.”

“Yeah, sure!” Obi replied. 

I let out a bit of breath in relief. 

“Can I invite Marie along?” My stomach dropped back down and I gulped, dreading the twins’ response. 

I felt them hesitate for a second, pondering and wondering if they should bring the ticking time bomb along with them. 

It was an easy decision.

“Sure! If Marie agrees?” I thought my heart stopped right there, and I wished I was right. I slowly looked up from my book and awkwardly made eye contact with them. Three pairs of eyes waiting for my response. 

“Ah um…” My mouth felt dry. Nice going, Marie.

“Please, Marie, the more the merrier!” Obi pleaded, clasping his hands together. Clarence and Klarene smiled with no signs of regretting their decision, that or they hid it incredibly well. 

“But you used to be friends with them.” Ms Hopp’s words from earlier in the morning sounded through my head.

I clenched my sweaty hands. If I agreed, I would have to go with them, and it might end up awkward or worse, not to mention that I would not have the time to study. 

But if I disagreed, they wouldn’t be able to do anything, right?

“You should apologise.” I thought I heard a little voice in my head whisper.

I huffed inwardly, might as well do it now. Or I know it would eventually eat me on the inside.

Like last time.

“Yeah, sure. I’ll come along.”

“Cool! Let’s go then.” 

They walked out of the classroom, with me in tow to switch off the lights and fans. I looked back for a moment, into the classroom. Dark, quiet, empty. 

Just like my dream.

I thought I saw something, or someone, flicker at my seat.

“You coming, Marie?”

I closed my eyes and let out a breath. It’ll be worth it.

“Yeah. Right behind you.”

And stepped into the light.

Bridget Gan Charm Lan (Class of 2025) wants nothing more but a life of writing, chocolates, and their reader’s tears. From haunted killer dolls, to sickeningly romantic couples, Bridget wants to use their stories to uplift people and communities that may not get as much representation.