It was 4 in the morning. Laya still had four more chapters to cram. Her deteriorating concentration made it difficult to focus. She poured herself a hot cup of coffee and got back to studying 'Centric Occlusion.' The look on her face was hard to miss. Her eyes were groggy from lack of sleep and her hair, unkempt. She had this characteristic head tilt coupled with an innocent frown everytime she tried to think or understand something. Her frameless spectacles were completely out of shape and unclean that people often wondered how she still saw through those. She was in her final year of dentistry. She loved all her subjects. Orthodontics fascinated her. But today was the first exam of a month long exam series to come.She dreaded this month. Laya was a girl, no different from any other. She had a decent up-bringing , with all the luxuries that her parents could afford. She was utterly cute and well-behaved as a kid. She was adored by all her relatives and neighbors. There was only one thing that separated her from the rest - her dreams. This naive little kid fantasized a world full of dolls-dolls of different sizes and types.Jumbo-the blue teddy elephant, Ivy-the innocent little squirrel, Ludo-the tortoise and many more. She named each one of her dolls and talked to them like they were real. Every time she wanted a break from her mundane life, a break from all the hectic academics, a break from everybody, she would retire to her world of dolls. As she grew older, the dolls had to be removed to make room for her books. But she clung on to one particular doll - her favourite. It was Candy, the white pup. Candy was arguably the first gift that she received when she was 2 years old. She owned many other dolls after that but this one remained her favourite. Laya took Candy with her to the hostel. 6 AM: After 2 more hours of non-productive studying, she decided to take a power nap for twenty minutes. She was so exhausted that she fell asleep on her desk, over the glazed pages of her books that were about 4 inches in thickness. Little did she know that this ten minute nap would extend beyond 8:30 am.Her exam was scheduled to start at 9:15 AM. Her roommate - an MBBS final year -just assumed that she didn't want to be woken up until 30 minutes before the exam. So she quietly slipped out of the room to the dining hall leaving the sleeping damsel to herself. Distress awaited. 6:45 AM: As Laya slowly drifted off to the deeper phases of sleep, she found herself slip away into darkness. This wasn't normal. She tried her best to walk away from it. But the darkness was intense and there was something very powerful about it. Laya panicked. She had to come out of the swiveling darkness. She had to come out of it for good. She tried to shout and kick and scream but her fatigued brain failed to send her the required efferent impulses.Soon she was engulfed by the monstrous darkness. But the darkness didn't last long. Laya found herself in another world. A familiar world but a complete contrast to the world she knew. Familiar because all her childhood dolls were there, beckoning her. It was different because these dolls were moving on their own. Waves of wonderment crashed over her while she stood there rooted to the spot. It was surreal. And then she noticed a human - a girl who was almost of the same built as hers - with her hair tied up in a messy bun(Laya's characteristic style in the hostel). As the strange girl slowly turned to face her, she was terrified beyond the capacity of rational thought. It was her doppelganger. The only difference was that the doppelganger looked beautiful with a pleasant smile plastered on her serene face while Laya's facial muscles twitched in sync. Laya looked funny but not pretty. She stood still staring at her doppelganger. Her mind was a whirlpool of emotions, cascading and canceling each other out. “What are you doing with MY dolls?” she exclaimed, her anxiety getting the better of her. “I am doing what you abandoned. I’m giving these lifeless dolls life. I am doing what you were supposed to do – only you neglected it when you decided you loved your career more.” The smile never abandoned her beautiful face. “Look how happy I am. Come with me.” She diligently obliged. There was something about her doppelganger which made her irresistible. Laya wanted to know her secret. After all the unhappiness, she felt she deserved to know. The doppelganger opened a door and Laya followed silently. Beyond the door stood everything she cared about as a kid. All her dolls, her childish books, her little tea party kit she arranged just for the dolls, even her orange belt in karate she was so proud of. “Look at everything you left behind. Don’t you want them back?” the doppelganger teased. “They belong to me now. You never came back to claim them. It’s all mine now.” The continual smile on her doppelganger’s face bothered her. She already knew the right answer but her counterpart planted fresh doubts in her mind she had fought so hard to ignore. Thoughts formed but no words could come out. Her doppelganger started singing. The words weren’t clear at first so she decided to concentrate. But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew All the things you’d say, they were never true, never true And the games you’d play, you would always win, always win And the doppelganger started to scream. 8:40 AM: "But I set Fiiiiii....iii...iire to the rai..iii..n," cried her phone at around 8:40 am that woke her up with a jolt. It was a call from her mom. You know what they say about mothers - they are the guardian angels sent to the planet to look after us. There’s something mysterious about the connection that triggers something off in the mother when her child is in trouble. Laya loved her mom. But she was racing against time. She was doomed. All she could manage was: "Hello amma. Late already. Call you later. Bye." and cut the call. Her mom knew her daughter too well to take any offence to that. Cursing herself and fearing the worst, Laya quickly changed into her uniform, draped the hideous 'dupatta' around herself and sprinted towards the examination hall. A series of what-ifs were playing in her mind, nibbling away happily at the miniscule amount of confidence that she had in herself.