20140702-210113The red light flashed in the darkness.

“That one was twenty-nine seconds, the last one was thirty-two,” I thought to myself.

With every second that ticked by my six o’clock alarm inched a little closer. I needed to sleep, but I couldn’t tell if the little light on the smoke detector was flashing regularly and I just couldn’t count seconds perfectly or if the changing interval for the flash meant something. Maybe the battery was on its deathbed. Maybe it was an indicator of an internal malfunction and ignoring it I would be putting my sleeping family in danger.

I hadn’t started counting at the last flash, so I waited, staring into the blackness of the room around me. I couldn’t see a thing, those new thick curtains I had put over the window really did their job. There was no light in that room, aside from one damn flash roughly every thirty seconds. I stared where it should be on the wall, waiting.

I saw the flash out of the corner of my eye. Apparently, my eyes wandered in the dark. I then started counting off as regularly as I could in my head. Nice even seconds. Of course, I could have grabbed my phone and gotten a more accurate time, but that required light and movement, two things which would elicit unpleasant noises from the wife sleeping beside me. I rested my eyes as I counted through the first twenty, the light had yet to flash in less than twenty, so it was as safe a time as any. When I reached twenty, I opened my eyes and looked back into the darkness where I knew the smoke alarm should be.

As I neared thirty, I willed the light to blink, if it blinked right at thirty twice in a row, I could rest easily. That would mean that it was supposed to flash regularly, twice a minute and that my counting had probably just been off the few times before. Hope of getting it this time drained slowly away as thirty came and went, replaced by thirty-one, then thirty-two. As we rounded thirty-four without a flash, I started to wonder if maybe I had missed it. I was starting to panic a little when, at thirty-six the red light finally flashed out into the darkness. That had been a long one.

I started to count again. Could anxiety be making me count fast? There was definitely no small supply of anxiety.

When this one took a mere twenty-four seconds, I sighed, then caught myself. To make too much noise would wake the missus – I’d never hear the end of it.

Maybe there was a pattern to the intervals. I decided to sit out this one and contemplate the pattern. After reflecting over the previous few, and coming up short, I decided that I needed more data and returned my attention to the flashing.

Two years before, in the break room of the Smoke-Sentry corporate office, Larry turned to Bud and commented, “You know, this new model of detector I’m working on seems to work pretty well, but for some reason, something in the circuitry of the prototype is making the indicator light flash interval vary by a few seconds.”

Bud frowned thoughtfully, then took a long sip off his coffee cup.

Larry continued, “Probably already spent thirty hours trying to debug this one, any ideas?”

“Naw,” Bud said after a long silence, “just leave it, nobody’ll notice.”


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