My dream was chirping at me.
At least that’s what I thought at first. I was lying in my bed half-awake at midnight, and some angry robotic dream bird was cheeping at me, loudly and regularly.
Then I heard it again. A piercing, mechanical tweet. And there was no denying that I was awake, not dreaming.
I didn’t panic, not at first anyway. I was still more asleep than awake and I figured the noise would be a lot more urgent if there was an emergency.
It would be sounding more than every 45 seconds if the house was engulfed in flames, right?
But as I grew more conscious, I knew that I couldn’t ignore the noise.
We have three smoke alarms in our small townhouse, two of them downstairs, less than three feet away from each other on either side of a doorway, and the third in my loft.
Although it didn’t seem possible that my mother was sleeping through the beeping, I crept downstairs to determine which alarm was going off.
It appeared to be one of the downstairs detectors and I assumed the noise meant the battery was dying or dead.
I was standing on a ladder, battery in hand, when my mother awoke.
I can’t imagine what she thought, seeing someone in a long red nightgown floating at the end of her bed, maybe that I was some avenging angel from hell? All I know is that she certainly jumped.
I replaced the battery and was headed back to bed when the chirp sounded again.
Luckily we had another battery, so I dragged the ladder back out and put a new battery in the other downstairs smoke alarm.
This time it sounded like it was upstairs, so I found yet another battery, hauled the ladder up the stairs and changed that one too.
I was beginning to wonder if the noise meant we had carbon monoxide. I even convinced myself that I was getting a headache and was mentally trying to capture the cats in order to make our escape.
But instead of calling the fire department, I decided to do a little research.
The alarms were in place when we purchased the home, so we didn’t have an owner’s manual. I climbed back up to see if I could find a make and model in order to do some Googling.
In the process, I managed to hit the test button and the alarm went off for real, screeching and blaring, most likely waking our neighbors and the entire community.
I punched the hush button repeatedly until the god awful noise stopped, climbed down and turned on my computer.
I quickly learned that these particular smoke alarms are “crap,” that the company “should be ashamed of themselves,” and I should replace them or else I was “risking death or serious injury.”
Finally I located a useless manual that didn’t even mention intermittent beeping.
A “how to” forum was more helpful, suggesting that I disconnect the power to the detectors in order to reset the sensors.
I climbed back up, only to discover the disconnecting the power meant ripping three wires out of the alarm. Wires that I didn’t know how to reconnect.
So I opted to head to the circuit box and flip a few breakers.
I snapped breaker after another off and back on while my mother stood guard under an alarm, ready to alert me when the lights went off.
(Keep in mind that this entire time, one alarm or the other let out that loud chirp.)
After cycling through all the breakers, it occurred to my sleep deprived brain that the alarms wouldn’t power off while the batteries were still in them.
So back to the ladder to remove the batteries.
On the first alarm, the one that received the initial replacement battery, I noticed that the positive and negative symbols on the nine volt didn’t match the picture on the detector.
I reversed the battery and, on a hunch, slid it back in.
Still standing on the ladder, I silently counted to sixty. Then a hundred and twenty.
The chirps had stopped.
So an hour, three new batteries, five trips up the ladder and countless flipped circuit breakers later, the problem was solved.
If only I had been awake enough to read the instructions the first time.