Missy sat on her porch drinking lemonade. She was enjoying it, even though it wasn’t fancy lemonade, made from fresh squeezed lemons, or even the stuff which came ready made in a bottle. Her lemonade had come from frozen concentrate which she had emptied into a pitcher and then poured water into to reconstitute. But she didn’t always get lemonade and so for her it wasn’t fancy lemonade, but it was a fancy drink. Her little quiet reverie was broken by the loud alarm coming from inside her house.
Not again, she thought I should have had more time. There was no knowing when the alarm in Missy’s house would start, and she was the only one that could turn it off. She put her lemonade down rather quickly, spilling a bit of it unfortunately, and put on her headphones which were always hanging around her neck. The headphones let her keep her hearing, or at least some of it.
Jerry was sitting on the couch watching TV. Jerry had decided quite early on that he wasn’t going to leave the house when the alarm started, and pretty quickly he went deaf. So he didn’t hear Missy shut the door a bit more forcefully than was strictly necessary, nor did he hear her walk up the stairs making just a little bit more noise than would have been expected from a woman her size.
Missy went into the room where the alarm was kept. It was a big metal machine that took up the full back wall, with numerous levers, buttons, and dials of all different sizes, strewn around it in seemingly random fashion. She set about the long series of lever pulls and button presses that would turn it off. It had started with just a single button press, which she had learned quite by accident. But every so often the sequence would grow. Never so often that Missy lost track, but now it was quite complicated indeed. When she was finished, the alarm made a small *ding* and then there was a ratcheting sound like someone winding up a toy, but a little bit deeper, and a little bit louder.
Strictly speaking, Missy was not the only person who could turn off the alarm. There was no special touch, or feeling, just the ability to memorize a pattern. Nobody wanted to learn though, so it was always Missy’s job.
Missy had made the alarm when she was younger. It was supposed to have been a cake timer. Something small, useful, and predictable. Somehow while she was building it, something had gone awfully wrong indeed, and she had ended up with something not quite the opposite of a cake timer. Missy thought frequently of what her life would be like without the alarm, and sometimes she thought about taking it apart, or just abandoning it. But she didn’t. Because while she didn’t know how it worked, or why, it was hers. It just didn’t feel right to abandon it.
She did worry what would happen when she got too old to remember the sequence. Or when she went deaf. Would someone be so annoyed by the alarm that they broke it? Or would someone take it in, learn the sequence, and take care of it? Perhaps the alarm would be kind to the next person, and it would start them off easy, with just a single button press. Missy hoped so. She really didn’t like thinking about the alternative.