I work from behind a Mac screen, which gives me the freedom to wake up at any time. To rise with the morning news and a cold cup of leftover coffee. Or to sleep off a strawberry vodka fueled hangover until noon. The perks of working from home. The perks of being a writer.
I only use the clock app on my iPhone for timing my workouts. I never set an actual alarm, not even as a reminder to pop my birth control. I can remember on my own. I have a decent enough memory.
But during my lunch break today, in the middle of slicing an apple into chunks of green, beeps slipped from my phone. An alarm flashing 1:16.
I always plug my charger into the socket beside my bed and keep my phone on the sheets, so maybe I rolled over in the middle of the night and pressed buttons while I slept? Or maybe my clumsy, tipsy fingers set the accidental alarm in between Bud Lights the evening before?
I was ready to shrug it off — until I read the words that appeared beneath the numbers. The label attached to the alarm.
Eat your apple slices.
One of my friends could have swiped my phone at the bar and programmed that in as a joke, sure. But at 1:16? How would they know I was going to eat at that exact time when I usually skipped lunch altogether? And it wasn’t like the alarm went off at noon, the average time for a snack break. It went off right as my knife cut through the last slice, right before I picked up my fork to skewer the fruit. How the hell was that possible?
I pressed stop to silence the beeps. Before I had the chance to Google iPhone glitches or text my friends about how they aren’t half as funny as they think they are, an email notification eclipsed my screen. A request from my boss about completing a new assignment by the end of the day.
I abandoned my apple plate, scattering a few pieces on the floor for the dog, and booted up my laptop, bringing up Chrome and WordPress and Thought Catalog, the alarm already slipping from my thoughts.
I stayed focused on my writing until 3:04. Until my first bathroom break.
I had left my phone balanced on the edge of the sink, too far away to reach from the toilet, so I was forced to listen to the beeping for a full sixty seconds. It sounded slow motion, sped down, like it was recorded by a broken, slurring robot.
After I washed my hands and punched at the screen, I saw the label attached. It said: Change your tampon.
“Okay. How the fuck?” I said loud enough for my dog to whine through the door. He hated loud noises. “Sorry, Sammy. I’m fine. Everything is fine.”
He barked once in response.
Since it took me so long to shut off the first alarm, the next alarm went off while the phone was still in my hands. It was set for one minute after the previous one. For 3:05.
Check on your poor puppy to see if he’s still breathing.
I bolted from the bathroom, feet squeaking against the tiles as I slid into the next room. If anyone touched my motherfucking dog…
A sigh sunk from my throat. My shoulders sagged. I closed my eyes in relief.
Sammy was fine. He sat a few feet away, cocking his head at me with a white rope toy in his mouth.
No. Not a rope.
“Sammy, what is that, baby?” I crouched and he scampered over, tail wagging at record speed.
When I pulled the toy from his mouth, I flung it across the room. It looked like a severed arm with a bloodied bone poking out from the top. Not real, of course. Only a squeak toy. But not one I’d ever bought him.
Oblivious, he scuttled toward the arm to retrieve it, thinking we were playing fetch.
By the time he plopped his new toy in front of me, my knees were pressed against my chest, my nails were lodged between my teeth, and my phone was beeping again.
Bite your nails like you always do when you’re nervous.
What the hell? How many of these damn alarms were set?
I tapped on the clock icon to find out. To open the app holding my alarms. I scrolled through the list of them — hundreds of them — each attached to a different message.
The first few contained a list of things that I had already planned on doing. Text your parents. Bolt the doors. Draw the curtains. Lock Sammy in his crate.
I scrolled down, skipping some alarms, but my eyes catching key words: hide, scream, knife, kicking, stabbing, blood, pulse, death.
No matter how badly I wanted the details, I wanted to read the conclusion first. If I knew the outcome, maybe I could prevent it.
When I reached the last label, meant for 11:59 that night, it said: Feel Sammy lick your cheek as your cold body turns into a corpse.
“Okay, perfect, great.” I raked my free hand through my hair, ripping a few knotted clumps out. “Okay, umm, maybe we can just…”
My phone froze. The touch screen stopped working and so did the buttons. Everything faded to black and then — a pop of white. The apple logo. Signs of the phone restarting.
Before I had the chance to reopen the app, the alarm sounded. Instead of beeping slow and robotic like before, it sounded small and high pitched. The blip-blip-blip of a heart monitor.
It said: Change of plans. I prefer surprises.
After I quieted the beeping, I looked back at the long list of alarms. And found nothing. An empty, blank screen.
Was it over?
I sat, unmoving, unspeaking, on the floor. Sammy had caught onto my fear by now, so he sat with his head on my lap, ears perked.
A minute passed. Two. Three.
Then ten. Twenty.
When my phone screen brightened, I jumped, causing Sammy to glance around the room for danger, but it was only another email. My boss asking for an update on the assignment I was supposed to send in by EOD.
Easing back into my element with my common sense reminding me I was in my apartment, I was safe, I was being silly, I reached for my phone to type a reply.
But the second my fingers brushed the plastic, the alarm burst to life.
3:32 PM: Better find something to defend yourself with.
“Fuck fuck fuck.” I grabbed a knife from the counter, the first one I could find, the one I used to slice apples.
3:33 PM: Find a hiding space.
“This is insane.” I shuffled Sammy into my room and twisted the lock. “This is too insane.”
3:34 PM: Realize there’s nowhere to go.
I heaved the bedroom window open to stare down at the five story drop. Even if I could make it, I doubt Sammy could.
3:35 PM: Attempt to call the police.
I pressed the 9 and one of the 1s when…
3:36 PM: Realize your phone battery is going to die from so much alarm use.
“No no no no.”
I saw the red flashes in the corner. Stood frozen as my phone shut down completely. Faded to black.
Forcing my muscles to move, I skidded toward my wall to jam the charger in, trying once, twice, three times to get it right — and then heard the doorknob rattling.
Not the front door. The bedroom door.
When it erupted open, the lock bursting, a faceless figure stood in the threshold, knives clutched in both gloved hands.
I wanted to use my own knife, with a blade half the size of his, to fight my way to safety. I wanted to make it out of my apartment alive.
But the alarm had already told me how my story ended.