Submitted into Contest #115 in response to: Write a story where a device goes haywire.... view prompt


Horror Funny Contemporary

“Alarmed” by Elizabeth Fenley

“Disturbance in Zone 16. Disturbance in Zone 16. Check Control Panel to View Trouble Zones.”

What the fuck is that? My eye pop open to discover that Sparky has decided to plant his tiny little butt an inch from my face. But I don’t say anything about the lovely view because I know it will wake up all six of the dogs sharing my bed.

That must have been one weird ass dream-- “Disturbance in Zone 16.”

That’s not a dream. That’s the alarm system. “Disturbance in Zone 16. Check Control Panel to View Trouble Zones.”

Zone 16—the open living room/dining room/kitchen/entry hall area—with all the doors and the wall of windows. Fuck.

And the Control Panel is IN Zone 16. Double Fuck.

But the dogs haven’t barked. If a neighbor ventures to their mailbox, or the Amazon truck pulls up anywhere on the street, they make a racket that sounds like we’re being attacked by zombie alien FSB wetwork teams with narrow views on civil liberties who are funded by North Korean terrorists. So how can someone be in “Zone 16” without them knowing?

Carefully, without disturbing them, I slip out of bed and grab the Glock off my nightstand. Safety switched to off, I close the bedroom door silently behind me so the dogs don’t get hurt by whatever this is. I approach Zone 16 with silent bare feet, my weapon raised the way Jack Bauer always did on 24. I tell myself I’m a badass, Bruce Willis and Yippeekyyaa Mother Fucker, and LL Cool J as the Navy Seal on NCIS LA, and Sarah Connor in Terminator 2, and Katniss in Hunger Games. I got this.

There’s nothing in Zone 16 but the light over the kitchen sink, the talking control panel, and my pajamaed dumbass with a gun I’ve never even fired—and maybe, technically, didn’t get it in a strictly legal manner.


“Shut the Fuck Up, you malfunctioning piece of shit!” I feel like shooting the control panel out of spite for waking me up—and because I kind of want to know how the gun would recoil in my hands. But that would be a bad idea.

I lower my weapon, click the safety back on and march over to the stupid keypad. Enter code, open control panel flap, enter second code, ** to Scroll Trouble Zones. It still says Zone 16 is Troubled. # to Exit. Re-enter Code.

“All Systems Secure. Communications Cancelled.”

“Fucker,” I tell it, closing the keypad cover harder than necessary. Enter Code. Flip off Control Panel. Glock by my side, I head back to bed and slip in amongst the dogs, some of whom open their eyes inquiringly, one of whom has stolen my warm spot. “Mistletoe, move over, dammit. That’s mommy’s spot. Don’t look at me like that. You all know that’s always my spot.” Zeus and Shelby are now asleep on top of the covers, so I do my best to yank up the sheet and fit myself back into this mammalian jigsaw puzzle.

Don’t look at the clock, I tell myself. Don’t calculate how much sleep you’ll get if you fall asleep right now. I close my eyes, let go of the tension in my muscles and sink deeper into my pillow with a relaxed sigh.

“Disturbance in Zone 16.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? You bastard!” All the dogs are awake now, big dogs on their feet waiting for a cue from me about what to do, little ones peering at me from the tight little balls they’ve curled themselves into. I push my way to my feet and stomp, without the Glock, down the hall the control panel while the disembodied voices play on repeat. The big dogs walk with me, more curious than anything. Is it morning? Is it time to eat? Hogan takes the opportunity to slip out the doggie door and do some varmint hunting.

I smack the control box soundly, run through all the expletives I know—which is a lot—and repeat the whole button pushing system.

Back in bed, dogs shoved out of my way and off my covers, Hogan still outside patrolling the perimeter—which would be a lot more reassuring if he was a Rottweiler/Doberman/Pit Bull mix instead of a goofy beagle/spaniel mix. He can bark and howl pretty effectively, but only at critters; he’s completely silent about people, even if the rest of the pack is barking.

Too pissed off to think I’m going to get back to sleep now, I open my nightstand drawer and swallow two little blue Valium. There. That’ll at least lower my cortisol levels. I click on YouTube and find my Fall Asleep Playlist. Ok, all set. Just breathe and relax.

“Refrigerator Door Open. Attention Required. Refrigerator Door Open. Please Close Refrigerator Door.”

Oh. My. God. It’s not open. I haven’t used it in hours. Damn thing. What the hell is going on tonight? Back down the hall, kitchen tile cold on my feet, I push on the fridge door—which is already firmly closed.

I’m barely out of the kitchen.

“Refrigerator Door Open. Attention Required. Refrigerator Door Open. Please Close Refrigerator Door.”

“No, it fucking isn’t, Hal. And I don’t want to play Thermonuclear War Games.” I open the door and slam it closed, waiting for the system to reset.

“Refrigerator Door Open. Attention Required. Refrigerator Door Open. Please Close Refrigerator Door.”

“Uggghhh, shit for brains!” Open, slam, wait.

“Refrigerator Door Open. Attention Required. Refrigerator Door Open. Please Close Refrigerator Door.”

It takes five times to get the damn refrigerator to shut up. As I pass the office in the hallway, I see the full moon dominating the sky. Well, that fucking explains it. Dismiss it as stupid superstition if you want, but ask ER staff and teachers and mothers if it affects things. Things go bat-shit crazy. Tonight my house alarm system seems to be taking it’s turn.

Back in bed, my eyes not even closed yet—

“Freezer Door Open. Attention Required. Freezer Door Open. Please Close Freezer Door.”

See? Full moon.

It only takes three tries to get this one handled. Three’s the magic number, right? So Zone 16, fridge door, and freezer door should do it. Ok, Yo-Yo-Ma, wow me with some serene “Gabriel’s Oboe.”

Apparently, the system doesn’t respect the genius that is Yo-Yo-Ma.

“Kitchen Door Ajar. Attention: Kitchen Door Ajar. Check Control Panel—”

I barely stifle a frustrated scream. All the dogs are up, running around and barking now. The kitchen door is not ajar—its knob is locked, its keyed deadbolt is locked, and the keys are safely on top of the fridge, and there’s a metal security bar wedged against the doorknob to make moving it impossible.

I smack around the control box again until it shuts up and announces that communications are cancelled.

This time I don’t bother to lie down, just sit on the bed against the headboard waiting for the next problem.

I fall asleep with my head on my knees.

I awake to the alarm blaring, blue lights flashing inside and on the front porch. “System In Alarm. System in Alarm” it repeats over the din of its own producing. I take the Glock this time and run down the hall because I have thirty seconds to cancel this or the cops will come and fine me for wasting their time with a false alarm, like it’s my fault. Or maybe I’ll get to shoot someone this time. Stirred up, the dogs run with me, and I keep the gun up, safety on so that if I trip over one of them—which happens more that I like to admit—I won’t shoot one of them, or myself.

“Communications Cancelled.”

I sit down on the bench in the dining room beside the control box. I might as well sit there and save myself some steps. The dogs mill around, finding spots on the couch or sitting in front of me so I can pet them. Sookie, my Golden Retriever mix who is also the smartest one of the six, is pacing around me nervously, panting. This is clearly freaking her out too.

“Sookie, come here, baby. It’s ok.” I rub her furry head, but she doesn’t stop panting. She goes back to pacing, staying closer to me than before. “Sookie, you’re stressing me out. Quit.” She looks at me, pink tongue hanging out, still managing to look serious and worried.

“Master Bedroom Window Open. System in Alarm Mode. Master Bedroom Wind—”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Safety off, weapon up, back to my bedroom, but this time….

There’s no one in the room. The dogs aren’t barking, but Sookie is right by my side. I check the shower and the closet—no longer feeling like Jack Bauer, but more like one of those characters who tended to die around him. Hands shaking, bitter adrenaline filling my mouth. The window is behind old, repurposed barn doors which slide on metal rails—one of the reasons I chose this house over the other hundred I saw.

But now, I’m not liking them so much. The window could be open, and there could be someone out there. Now I have to take the supporting hand off my gun. Fuck.

Holding my breath, my chest getting tighter and tighter like someone is squeezing it like a stress ball, I slide the door open.

Nothing. The window is closed. I stand there, Glock pointed at the nose and paw-printed glass. Sookie pants.

“System in Alarm Mode.” The screeching and flashing lights begin. I wait to see if there’s any movement outside the window, but there isn’t. Time to get to the control panel—again.

“Communications Cancelled.”

“Ok, you know what? I’m sick of you. It’s like you’re deliberately fucking with me. I’ve had enough.” I enter the code and press the series of buttons to deactivate the system.

“The Alarm System will cease all alarms and communications. Enter your Deactivation Code to confirm.”

“Fuck, yes. Deactivate, you fucking piece of… whatever. Code entered. Now leave me alone.” God, this is insane. I’ll call the company in the morning. “Ok, everybody, back to bed., come on.” The dogs race back to my room and jump on the bed. I stick my head through the doggie door. “Hogan, come inside. Back to bed.” He’ll come in when he feels like it.

Back in bed, I lie there staring at the ceiling. At least that’s over for the night. Except now there’s no alarm if someone does try to break in—except my canine security task force, I reassure myself. There’s no way I’ll get back to sleep, but I at least want to lie in bed and pet the nearest dog. I count doggie noses—Hogan’s still outside. Sookie is sitting up next to me, eyes fixed to the doorway to my bedroom, panting and whining.

“Hey, Sook, it’s ok. Just relax. Mommy’s here. It’s ok.” I pet her, but she doesn’t relax or lie down. I try to turn her head toward me so I can nuzzle her nose like a mommy dog and her puppy and let her lick my face, but she won’t let me turn her head. Strong neck muscles for a 70 pound dog. She’s taking this watchdog gig seriously. The big, jet black Mighty Zeus is lying on his back with one of his front legs in the air, looking hopefully at me—Belly rub, mommy?

“Oh, did I talk to another dog, Zeussy? So jealous. Yes, it’s rub your belly.” I rub and pat and scratch until I find the magic spot that makes his back leg twitch. “I found a Foot Button. Yes, I did. Does that feel good? Yes. That’s a baby boy, yes, he’s a baby, my Zeussy.” I smile at Zeus, such a big goofball, thinking for the hundredth time that whoever named him as a puppy totally screwed up. Some mighty Greek God. And it’s the beagle patrolling the back yard, not Zeus and Apollo the Dobermans on Magnum, PI. I’ve always wanted to be able to say, “Zeus, Apollo, patrol!” like Higgins. Not with this Zeus.

Sookie growls and leaps off the bed.

“What the---”

Silhouetted in the doorway, distant kitchen light enough to cast the shadow, is a tall, still figure.

Sookie leaps.

My hand searches the nightstand for my gun. Where the fuck….

October 11, 2021 13:02

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Jaime Metcalf
18:42 Oct 17, 2021

Great story. Loved it.


Elizabeth Fenley
00:27 Oct 21, 2021

Thank you. A fear I deal with constantly-- as all nightmares are built of reality. But I'm sure Sookie could handle it. Golden Retrievers are notoriously vicious. :)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply