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Short story – Reddit writing prompt

Hi hi!

Remember a long time ago when I mentioned Reddit writing prompts? Here’s a short story I wrote yesterday in response to one of those prompts. Enjoy!

Short story by Jenna Anderson.

          It all started the day after the game. It should never have happened – we had one of the best defensive lines in all of college ball. But somehow, someone got through. I got the ball out and we won the game, but that hit was it for me for the season.
          I came to while I was lying on the ground, but the rest of the day is a bit unclear. The concussion wasn’t too bad, thankfully. That’s one good things about playing quarterback: fewer hits to the noggin, as long as you’re playing with a good team.
          Anyway, where was I? Right – when I woke up the next day with a throbbing headache, I took the pain pills my medic gave me and went for a walk – the rules were to avoid screens and anything that would tax my brain too much. I was grateful the concussion wasn’t worsening . The university loop was the perfect walking distance. It wasn’t too far and I also didn’t have to make decisions about which way to go. Just follow the loop and I’d be back at my dorm within half an hour.
          As I walked, wearing my dark sunglasses to help protect my eyes, I noticed something the team medic had not warned me about. Campus life flowed around me – students and teachers rushing to get to class, people reading on the grass, students laughing and cracking jokes. Nothing different from how the campus had been just one day before – except now, each person had a number floating above their head.
          A group of blonde girls were walking on the path toward me. As I watched, I noticed the numbers above their heads were changing! The one on the left went from a 6 to a 7, and her friend’s number jumped from 20 to 22. They passed me and I turned to stare at their backs as they walked away. The numbers were still there. I realized I’d stopped walking and probably looked really creepy, so I turned back around and kept walking.
          Turns out, the girl with the 22 was the highest number I saw that day. Most people’s numbers ranged from 6 to 11, although many were lower than 6. Several people had an 0 floating mysteriously above their hair. Numbers seemed to have no bearing on the type of person someone was, but I had no idea what they meant.
          My ‘ah-ha’ moment happened that same day. That afternoon my buddy came over, bearing pizza and beer for his fallen teammate. The number above his head was a 3, but I didn’t mention it to him. I was still hoping to return to the field that season. We started chowing down and shooting the shit, talking mostly about football. He was in the middle of telling me about the final play of yesterday’s game, since I had obviously missed it, when his phone rang.
          “Just give me a second, dude,” he said, before tapping to accept the call. “Hey Mom, what’s up?”
          I took a giant bite of my pizza – pepperoni and mushroom – and chewed on it while I waited for him to end the call.
          “Don’t worry, Mom,” my friend said. He paused. “Yes, I’m actually working on it right now.”
          The number above his head changed to a 4.
          “Yes!” he said. “I won’t do anything else until it’s done.”
          Boom. 5.
          “I’ll talk to you later. You too. Bye.” He hung up the phone and turned to me. “She was asking about that paper we have to write for sociology. Like I’ve wanted to think about that with the game coming up.”
          The numbers above people’s heads, those numbers indicate another lie someone has told. It took me less than six hours to figure out what the numbers meant. With a bit more time, I learned that the numbers reset each day at midnight, and they changed instantly when a lie was told. A person’s number would change when they spoke a lie or if they wrote one. Writing fiction or telling a story that the audience knew was untrue would not change the numbers.
          But you don’t care about all this, do you?
          The day you want to hear about, the reason I’m here, was several years later. I’d learned to use the numbers to my advantage, and wound up working as an independent investigator. I worked mostly in corporate embezzlement, with a bit of other work thrown in. My freelance work was lucrative, and all I had to do was to get someone talking – as soon as I knew whether someone was lying, the evidence was it was easy enough to track down. Not a bad career for a college quarterback who got hit in the head.
          That day started like any other. I went to work, I came home, I had dinner with my wife. We met two years after my football accident and have been together almost since the day we met. That night, though, things were different.
          “I have to go on another business trip,” she said, between bites of rare steak. The number above her head, which usually hovered around 4 depending on whether she’d spoken to her sister that day, moved from 2 to 3.
          I swallowed the grilled green beans I’d been chewing. Suddenly my mouth was very dry.
          “Really?” I said. “It seems like you just got back from Washington.”
          “I know, I know. But I really think we’re close to getting this account signed this time,” she said.
          I began to breathe again. Her number stayed at 3.
          “Well, you are the only one for the job,” I said, and smiled at her.
          “It’ll be me and Philippe, actually,” she said, with the 3 hovering above her head. “I wish I was going alone. I can’t stand that guy.”
          Boom. 5.
          That night, as I laid awake in bed, I tried unsuccessfully to think of any other reason she would lie to me about her colleague. Why she would say she had to go when she didn’t. Why she would volunteer the information about disliking him if she didn’t have something to hide.
          That night was the night I got out of bed, went to my office, and called my lawyer to write up divorce papers. And then sat down at my desk and did an internet search for therapists specializing in concussion recovery.
          And yes, I know you think I’m crazy. My wife thought I was crazy when she found me sitting at the dining room table in the morning with freshly-printed divorce papers. But her number jumped when she told me she wasn’t having an affair, that she still loves me, that there’s never been anyone else. Her number reached the highest I’d seen it since I’d known her, and in my hurt and anger I made the mistake of telling her about the numbers.
          I know that’s why I’m here. Feel free to test me all you want. I know you’re going to keep me here and do a bunch of tests, but sooner or later you’ll realize that nothing is wrong and you’re going to have to admit, just to yourself, that maybe, just maybe, I’m telling the truth. You won’t even have to tell me whether you’ve changed your mind – not outright.
          I’ll already know.

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Recipe to try: garlicky shrimp zucchini boats

I was catching up with my brother and he told me about this recipe. He was more enthusiastic about a recipe involving zucchini than I would have expected from any younger sibling of mine!

So he sent it to me and I’m adding it to my list of things to try:

Garlicky Shrimp Zucchini Boats

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Magic at a stoplight

Sometimes when I’m driving and have hit a stoplight, I get this strange feeling. There is no moment we can go back and recapture, but sometimes sitting with the red light shining above me, this seems especially clear.

It’s a moment like no other, me sitting in my car and the others waiting at the light with me, both beside and around me and across the intersection, their lights blending into mine.

Tonight on my way in to work it seemed especially magical. I stopped at the red light and watched a weathered man take his turn to cross. He carried two heavy plastic bags and seemed as if he’d been fighting for a while. My heart ached for him.

Crossing the other way was a young woman, maybe a student, crossing the street with her phone to her ear. Her pace was somewhere between a wander and a stride. I wondered if she had anywhere to be that night. It didn’t seem like it.

A cyclist crossed quickly, from my left to my right, toque on his head. The risks of cycling on the road flashed around me and I hoped for his safety.

Then the light changed, and the vehicles across the intersection moved forward and past us, while those of us waiting at the light moved forward ourselves. The moment was gone; the magic was over. .

Sometimes when I’m waiting at a stoplight, my imagination runs wild.