Comfort in Numbers

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📅 Published on January 20, 2014

"Comfort in Numbers"

Written by

Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

Ever since I was young, I have lived thinking in numbers. I was brilliant with numbers, so that was what I stuck to doing. I excelled in my math classes all throughout my childhood, so much so that many of my math teachers gave me advanced lessons to keep me on my toes. But it was never a problem with me. I could fix the errors and solve the problems, but that was only a small part of how my brain worked.

I am always counting things. Everything, to be exact. I can’t go throughout the day without numbers rolling through my head. When I wake up, I count my fingers and toes. In the shower, I count the square floor tiles. At breakfast, I count how many pieces of cereal are on my spoon before placing it into my mouth. On the way to town, I count the amount of cars I pass.

Some of you may think that this little habit is strange, but it has always been a part of who I am.
I always remember these numbers as well. In fact, I can tell you right now that there are exactly thirty socks in my drawer; fifteen pairs if you want to count them that way. I know that there are eight eggs left in the carton in my fridge. Six pieces of bread in the box, eleven icons on my computer desktop, three freckles on my hand… This list could go on and on.

Remembering all of it is a curse and a blessing. It helps me keep track of where everything is and how I manage most of it, but the downside is that it comes with very acute paranoia. While I can obviously remember all of these numbers, I constantly worry about them changing without my knowledge.

I once kicked my old high school friend out of my house when she didn’t tell me that she had taken one of the seven pieces of gum I had left in the packet. Seeing that there was only six, knowing that one of my life variables had changed without my permission, made me tense.
There wasn’t much social interaction in my life. People were too hard to count and keep track of. They moved too much, changed too much. They made my numbers unstable and I could never keep track of all of them. So, for the sake of my sanity, I worked from home and lived in complete isolation. Some of my family said that I wasted my talent away by picking a safe job, but I didn’t need them in my life. Cutting contact with them reduced an equation that had too many changing variables.

I live in the country, way off the road surrounded by field. I would’ve secluded myself further by living in the forest, but I feared that I would go nuts trying to count all the trees. It was hard enough to prevent myself from counting the blades of grass in my lawn; I didn’t need the additional distraction.

When I needed food or anything else, I paid the couple that lived five miles down to go to town and get my groceries for me. They had three children and two dogs.

Very rarely did I ever venture into town myself, and when I did it was very brief and hastily done. Trying to distract myself from all the things to count nearly drives me insane, but I managed. I’ve always managed.

The solitude helps. It keeps my habit in line. I have my things to count, I am aware when they change, and I don’t have constantly unreliable variables in my life. Everything is normal.

Until that one day.

I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t true, that I was miscounting, but that was impossible.

I never miscounted, ever.

When I went to pour my cereal that morning, I noticed something horribly wrong. I had exactly eight of each piece of silverware in my drawer. Eight forks, eight spoon, eight butter knives, eight, eight, eight, eight! But when I was counting my spoons, I was one short.

Immediately perturbed, I combed the entire house for the missing spoon. Within my search, I also found that one of the five beads on my curtain drawstring was missing, one of my thirty socks gone, and two pieces of the six pieces of bread I had had mysteriously disappeared.

I felt heat rising to my head and my vision hazing. My numbers were wrong, someone changed them. Someone had gotten into my house and changed them.

Many people would not jump to conclusions at losing such small, easy to misplace or forgettable things; people lost things all the time, but not me. I never lost my numbers. They were what kept me in order. I had control over my numbers, no one else. I did not like anyone messing up my numbers and changing them. They were mine.

I searched for hours trying to find these missing things. I checked every single place in my home, even the most unbelievable ones. I even called up that family five miles down and asked if one of their three children had touched anything the last time they had been delivering my groceries, though I knew I had counted these things after that. They hadn’t, or at least the parents didn’t believe so.

I had been searching so fiercely that I had almost skipped my time for working. Though I didn’t want to give up on looking for these lost numbers, I forced myself to sit down and start working at my computer. Though whole time I edited reports, I thought of my missing numbers. Usually I would keep track of word count and add up all the errors I corrected, but I couldn’t pull my thoughts away from my disturbing findings.

Not only was I completely off-balance, I was worried for my safety. It was obvious that someone had come in and taken these things. Why or how, I did not know. But my house was no longer safe. I was no longer safe. And, apparently, neither were the numbers that made up my life.

After my work was finished, I resumed looking for these missing pieces of my life. I hadn’t eaten breakfast, had skipped my lunch, and I skipped right over dinner to look for my numbers. I checked the same places over and over again, hoping that I had skipped something.

When midnight hit, I had searched my house exactly thirty-seven times. The last twenty-one times included a full sweep around the front porch of my house. All of those times had come up completely blank. My numbers were gone, stolen.

Shaken, I fell into my bed, exhausted, at one twenty-six in the morning. The weather outside had turned from a decently cold day, to a windy turmoil constantly howling in the background. I curled up beneath my covers in discontent. I closed my eyes and began counting in my head to try and lull myself into sleep. My numbers popped into my head, I was discontent thinking over how they’d changed.

Just as I had begun to fall asleep, I heard my old house groan against the wind pushing outside.

My eyes snapped open, and I began to count the amount of creeks it made.


When daylight shined through the window, I was still staring at ceiling. The wind died down after an hour, but I had kept counting. I could hear it in my head and I had to keep counting. Everything needed to be counted. How many times I blinked, breathed, moved. It needed counted. Everything needed counting.

My alarm clock suddenly went off, but I didn’t even blink. The numbers in my head started over, counting the amount of beeps going off in the background.

I got up, but I didn’t turn off the alarm. I kept on counting as I collected clothes for the day. My whole face twitched when I saw that one of my shirts was missing, along with one shoe from a pair. It was becoming harder to breathe, I was seeing red. But, I was still counting.


I walked into the bathroom, my arms clenching violently after seeing the fake plant in the hallway suddenly had thirty-five leaves instead of thirty-six. I slipped into the shower, starting over once again to start counting shower tiles as I ran shampoo and conditioner through my hair.


When I had finished my shower and had clothed myself, I was drying my hair in front of the mirror when I saw him. He looked just like me. Made of twos and fives, just like me. Two eyes, arms, legs, ears, feet, hands… Five fingers, toes… His face was like mine.

Leaning closer to the mirror, I saw him lean in as well. I watched as he grinned at me, twenty-eight adult teeth gleaming in the mirror light. He winked, and plucked one of the two toothbrushes I had sitting on the counter, stuffing it into his pocket and disappearing.

Hissing in disbelief, I looked down to see that brush gone. My head was spinning, and I quickly started counting the light bulbs in the hallway lamps as I stalked my way through the house. The more I walked around, the more I saw missing. Each missing item made my mind spin, and I had to start counting again.


I saw him again the kitchen, but he was different. He was no longer made up of twos and fives. A third arm from the shoulder, four fingered hands, one hand, and one grinning mouth.

Hands clenching, I swung for him, only to smash my hand right into the reflective surface of my refrigerator. Howling in agony, I spun around to look for where he’d gone. He was quick I had to give him that. Quick and a changing variable. I hate him.
When I saw that he was nowhere to be found, I decided to just fix myself some breakfast in peace. I counted out my granola bars, which were in a basket where that man had been standing. I was furious to see that two of the fourteen bars were gone. I left the kitchen after that, too disgusted to eat and besides, I wasn’t even that hungry.

I saw him again when I sat at my computer, staring at me from within the blank monitor. He didn’t have a mouth this time, or a nose. Just two wide eyes staring at me. I could see the smugness in their depths. He liked what he was doing to me.

Giving an angry yell, I picked up the monitor and threw it across the room. It gave so easily, I was surprised. Only to become more outraged when I saw that the chords that connected the monitor to the tower were gone anyway, stolen just like the rest of my numbers.
Trying to quell my pent up fury, I began to count items sitting on my desk.

Some were gone.

I tried four different hiding places in my house. I needed to hide from him, hide somewhere he couldn’t steal my numbers anymore. I just wanted to count. I needed to count, but he wouldn’t let me finish! I needed to finish counting, something needed to be stable.

I barricaded myself into my small, cramped spare bedroom closet. I had nothing in there, nothing he could steal. The only thing it had aside from the walls keeping it together was the single mirror built into the wall. I leaned against it, wrapping my arms around my knees.

Rocking myself slowly, trying to breathe again, trying to keep my head clear, I began to count the number of wood planks making up the floor.

When I ran out of planks to count, I began to count my fingers and toes.
Nine. My ring finger on my left hand was gone. Not severed, just gone.
Some toes were missing, as well. I was not constant, I was losing more of my numbers. Losing myself.

I turned towards the mirror and saw him again. He had no eyes, no limbs. Just one, single, large grin. He was smiling at me, knowing what I was thinking. I craned my head back slowly, watching him do the same. Once I was back far enough, I rammed myself straight forward, smashing my head against the glass of the mirror.


I could feel five glass shards in my face. I felt my head throb four times before I began to slip under. The three crashes of shattering glasses played in loop through my head. Two times my vision blurred before going black. And only once did I smile, knowing that I had finally solved the biggest equation of all.

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