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Opening scenes – introduces protagonist, world/setting, voice, and inciting incident. 

1 - Time Will Not Tell

The last thing Alila Illi desired was ending up in an asylum to rot alone with no family to save her.

Stepping out of the elevator, she wished for the thousandth time that she could not feel people’s pain. It was getting harder to keep her mouth shut, swallow the hurt, and not blurt out to strangers unsolicited advice about their poor health. Especially when they didn’t even look sick.

Alila stood in the lobby of her suburban apartment building and checked her watch, 8:30 a.m. Perfect. Her local coffee shop would be almost free of people.

“Have a blessed day, Ma’am.”

The cheerful voice behind her startled her. Slowly turning her head toward Lincoln, the middle-aged doorman, she stared at him. It was the second day in a row he greeted her, which never happened. A troubling surprise . . . although she didn’t mind Lincoln. He must have been the healthiest man on the planet because he never triggered her curse. If she could sell his secret, she’d be able to retire on a private island.  Since he'd probably never share it—not with her anyway—, she preferred to be ignored. Any friendly attention could make her give away her secret. The less she dealt with people, the less she’d be forced to diagnose.

Tightening her knitted scarf around her neck, Alila took a deep breath and stepped out. The crispy air, carrying the sweet smell of shedding leaves, revigorated her. With a smile playing on her lips, she jogged to her tiny brown car and drove to the closest shopping center. After parking in the empty lot, she did a quick check to confirm nobody was lurking around.

Today was a good day. Whistling, she headed to the coffee shop. As soon as she entered, the ground coffee aroma and its hint of vanilla filled her nose, and for once, she decided to spoil herself. After all, she’d just made a major sale online the day before, a first. Up until last night, she was broke.

“Good morning, I’d like one of the syrupy drinks. I have no preference, any will do. And a cheese Danish. And a blueberry muffin.”

“Is that all, Ma’am?” the barista said in a monotone.

She expected no smile from him as usual. But she didn’t mind his indifference. No harmful wave emanated from his body now, and she didn’t have to stay a foot away from him. Plus, Alila’s composure rarely fluttered and especially today, a rude dismissal wouldn’t spoil her mood. “Yes. Thank you.” She handed him the cash, and only then did she notice she was short. She’d ordered way more than her usual plain coffee. “Sorry.”

He sighed while she dug in her purse for her business credit card. She had finally paid off her always maxed-out card the night before and could use it today for a business meal. With a victorious toothy smile, Alila flaunted her card before handing it to the impatient barista who swiped it a few times in brusque movements.

“It says declined.” His voice dripped with annoyance.

A frown creased her forehead. “It can’t be. Can you try again?”

“I did. Twice. Do you have another one? Or any more of your one-dollar bills?”

Alila’s breath caught in her throat. Dread spread in her chest, and she ran out of the coffee shop, leaving the barista calling Ma’am. Her bank was in the same shopping center. Keep your stores close, as any recluse would say. Exactly three minutes later, she pushed open the glass entrance door of the small branch containing an ATM at the door, two closed offices, and a counter with three men behind it.

Alila rushed to the first teller and only remembered her mistake when a sharp pain flared in her right wrist. She clutched it and immediately took a few steps back, away from the counter, until the pain and numbness faded away. Stupid mistake. She stared at the teller’s right hand, tightened in an obvious, black wrist brace. She was usually more careful than that.


“May I help you?” The teller squinted and looked her over slowly with obvious disapproval from the tip of her boots to her beige overalls, black long-sleeved tee, black wool scarf, and short dark hair she wore in a tomboy haircut.

Keeping her distance, Alila shrugged his reaction and stretched her full lips into a forced smile. “I’d like to speak with Ms. Ronn about my business credit card balance. I paid it off, but the transaction didn’t go through.”

The short man frowned. “Do you have an appointment? Ms. Ronn is not coming in today.”

“No, but she told me she’s always available around this time.”

The teller shook his head. “Not on Mondays.”

Alila repressed a snort. “A good thing it’s Tuesday, then.”

“Hmm, sorry, Ma’am.”

Why did everybody call her ma’am? She was only twenty-five for God’s sake, and she didn’t look a day over twenty-three.

With two fingers, the teller tapped the small calendar on the counter. “Today is Monday, September 2.”

“No, your calendar is wrong. That was yesterday. Today is Tuesday.” The other two tellers behind the counter whipped her way. With a resigned sigh, Alila found her phone and brandished it. “Look at the date. I’m telling you, it’s Tues—” Her eyes scanned over the screen, and she froze. Impossible. The date on her phone was also wrong. It read Monday. She gaped at it for a few seconds.

“Ma’am, are you all right?”

Alila didn’t answer. She walked back to the ATM that she’d passed at the entrance door. Hands shaking, she pulled her debit card out of her wallet, and after three attempts, inserted it into the slot. Her available balance caused a chill to run down her spine.

“No, it can’t be.” Her heart sank to her feet, and all she could do was stare at the screen.

Alila shoved her phone, card, and wallet into her bag and hurried outside the bank toward her car. Maybe the sale hadn’t been completed yet. No time for a nice walk in the park while sipping coffee and enjoying nature. Thankfully, her spot across from her apartment building was still empty. She parked and quickly entered her building. The red number on top of the elevator was stuck on seven. Unable to stay immobile waiting for it to crawl itself down six floors, she headed toward the stairs and took them two by two up to the fifth floor.

Despite her shaking hands, she got the key in the lock on the first attempt and pushed her white wooden door open. Letting it close by itself, she quickly took off her shoes and put slippers on before going into her small office. Still up, she bent on over the desk and turned on her computer. Her eyes and fingers scrolled down the touch-screen faster than her brain could process the information, but the result was there. The sale hadn’t been completed.

The bundles regrouping funny mugs, shirts, scarves, and socks she had made for Halloween and listed last week were all still available. A retail shop had liked all her different designs and ordered dozens of each style, thrilling her. It was the first time she’d earned two thousand dollars at once, and it was money she was in dire need of. Now, it was gone. Or worse, it seemed to have never happened at all.

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