Exercise #68: Beyond Twelve

Exercise 68 Instructions

As promised, this is the list of words submitted to me to go into this story. Those with a link in their names have blogs you can visit.  I’m grateful to all of these people for making this assignment both easier and harder.  Here we go.


triskaidekaphobia (submitted by El Guapo): an unreasoning fear of the number 13.

albumen (submitted by my mother): the white of an egg

moribund (submitted by jaklumen): being in a state of dying, inactivity or obsolescence.

prestidigitation (submitted by my father): sleight-of-hand or magic.


Gilbert Harris had a problem and not an ordinary problem, though that wouldn’t have made his life any less complicated.  This morning, after making his usual breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, he’d gone to call his caregiver, Lorri Reed, to ask her to buy him some more eggs and gotten her answering service.  This was peculiar mainly because taking care of him was her only job, though she’d often complained that, at thirty-eight, he should be able to take care of himself.

The main problem with this, of course, was Gilbert’s triskaidekaphobia.  It circumscribed nearly everything he did.  For example, he’d personally counted all the steps in each staircase of his apartment building, even though his apartment was on the ground floor.  None of them had more than twelve steps, not to mention no more than twelve apartments per floor.  Furthermore, he never had more than a dozen eggs in his refrigerator at a time and he always emptied the carton completely before he asked Lorri to buy him another dozen eggs so that he never had to worry about the bad luck of touching that thirteenth egg.

Once, a previous caregiver, Madeline something-or-other, had thought she’d be able to get past his fears and, at the same time, keep from having to buy eggs every week, by buying him a flat of five dozen eggs.  He’d had a panic attack when she showed him all those eggs.  He wasn’t entirely sure what happened, but when he was finally able to be calm, there was albumen and egg yolks everywhere and his caregiver had quit.  It had taken him an entire day to clean up the mess.

Gilbert hoped this wasn’t more of the same.  He’d lost more caregivers just over his fear of twelve plus one than from anything else.  One of them had quit just because he refused to let her drive him past 12th Avenue without a blindfold.  She’d forced him out of her car and he’d had to walk all the way home again by himself, trying desperately not to think of the number of times he passed a thirteen during that long, oppressive walk.

With a sigh, he picked up the phone and dialed the nursing care service.

“Clayton Care Services,” chirped Fay Rodgers, the company manager.”May I help you?”

“Hello, Fay,” Gilbert smiled. “I was wondering if I can expect to see Ms. Reed today as usual.  I’m having some difficulty reaching her.”

“Oh, she quit this morning,” Fay replied sadly.  “She just learned her husband has cancer.  He’s moribund.  Only a week left to live.”

Gilbert frowned.  “Fay, a cellular phone might be moribund, but a person never would.”

“Are you sure?” Fay responded wistfully, “because the Word Power section in Reader’s Digest said…”

“Word Power?” he returned in disgust, “Ask me for a word next time you want to improve your vocabulary.  After twelve years as an English teacher, I should be able to do so without making you sound like a simpleton who’s trying to appear smart by reading the dictionary.”

“Okay, Mr. Harris,” Fay laughed.  “Anyway, we’ll be sending you a new caregiver just as soon as we can.”

“I hope you’ll pardon me for asking, Fay,” Gilbert added, digging his toe into the carpeting, “How many caregivers have I had from you so far?”

“Twelve,” Fay responded, “Why?”

Gilbert froze, hugging himself reflexively.  Once again, the number 13 loomed over him like a storm cloud.  What’s more, Clayton Care Services was the only nursing service in town with a telephone number that didn’t include the number 13.   If, by some form of prestidigitation, he managed to obtain a caregiver that suited his needs, that caregiver would be the fatal thirteenth caregiver.  There was no way anything good might happen as a result.

“Mr. Harris?” Fay asked, sounding more than a bit worried. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Uh,”  Gilbert stammered, “I’ll get back to you.  In the meantime, please don’t send anyone else.”

“Are you sure?” Fay responded nervously. “You’ll be all right by yourself?”

“I’ll be fine,” Gilbert assured her, knowing it was a lie. “Good by.”  He set the phone back in the charger and collapsed into a chair.

Just then, the doorbell rang.

Gilbert blinked.  He wasn’t expecting anyone, at least not any more.  There was a light rapping on the door.  It followed the playful pattern of “shave and a haircut.”  Warily, Gilbert rose and opened the door.  Standing on his doormat was a friendly-looking young man who closely resembled Lorri Reed.  He had the same eyes and the same friendly smile that she had.  Only his nose and his hair color were different.

“Hey!” he said, reaching to take Gilbert’s hand. “I’m Anthony Reed, Lorri’s brother.  I just moved into town and Lorri said you could use a live-in assistant.”

“An assistant?” Gilbert repeated, realizing that he probably sounded brain-dead when he did so.

“Yeah,” Anthony replied, “you know, do the housekeeping and shopping and take you to doctor’s appointments and stuff.  Answer the phone.  Things like that.”

Gilbert smiled, hardly able to believe his good fortune.  “You understand what that entails, don’t you?”

“Yeah,” Anthony responded amiably, “Lorri told me all about you.  She said you’re a kook, but a lovable kook.”

“Incidentally,” Gilbert added, his brows coming down in concern, “What are your feelings about the number 13?”

Anthony gave a convulsive shudder. “Ugh! Not fond of it.”

Gilbert’s smile broadened.  “Then I believe we can make arrangements to accommodate you.  Won’t you come in?”


Okay, I realize this is less than 1200 words in length.  However, I thought it came to a satisfying conclusion where it did, so if you can think of a way to lengthen it, be my guest.  You’re more than welcome.  Don’t forget to check out the links to my word contributor’s blogs.  A big thank-you to everyone who submitted a word.  I hope I have given you just payment for your help.


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6 thoughts on “Exercise #68: Beyond Twelve

  1. Works really well. Did you add to the story ending?

    There one sentence, the one about thirteen eggs, that seems a little long. Maybe break it into two?
    Other than that, it was a really good read.

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