Three Times the Willets Fire Alarm Went off, and One Time it Didn’t

I am in bed. It is Saturday night, approximately 2:00 a.m. This is the first time all day that I have been warm. The muffled sound of kids playing pool in Mephistos acts as an eerie, strangely comforting white noise as I drift off to sleep. All is right in Willets basement.

Suddenly, my ears are ringing, my heart is pounding, I am scrambling out of bed before I even know that I’m doing it. Everywhere is noise, noise, noise. I look at my roommate to make sure this is really happening, that this isn’t some kind of malicious, stress-induced hallucination. But no — she, too, is stumbling around our room trying to find socks, trying to find her slippers, trying to do anything, anything to escape this piercing, horrifying noise. It is below freezing and raining outside, so I pull on the fuzziest socks I can find by feeling blindly around my drawer, grab my winter coat, and stumble out of my room. All around me, bleary-eyed students in various states of half-dress walk like confused zombies. No one is quite sure what to do. We are told to stay inside. So we stand, scattered in the hall, as our building continues its shrieking. 

Finally, the noise ends. It has been only a few minutes, but I have aged a thousand years. I fall back into my room, not quite sure what to do. It is only forty minutes after I got into bed the first time, but I am a changed person. As I get back under the covers, my ears are still ringing from the alarm, and my insides are still in knots left-over from a panic-induced stomach-ache. The rain against the windows and the sounds of talking are no longer comforting; they are the ghosts of the building’s cries. 

I am in Sharples. It is Sunday morning, 11:35 a.m. I am talking to my friends, enjoying the luxury of fresh-cut fruit (arguably the best thing in the dining hall all week). I am tired from a disturbed and disturbing night’s sleep. But the past is the past. It is a new day. I tell my friends the story of our late night awakening. We laugh and complain together. I continue to eat my bagel. 

My friend gets a text. She stops eating her oatmeal to answer, and I barely notice. But she looks up, smirking, and tells us the Willets fire alarm went off again. I snort as if to say, “of course it did,” and shrug. After all, everything looks better in the light of day. But I feel dread creep into my soul nonetheless. I have not forgotten the incessant, inescapable screams of the night before.

I am doing homework. It is Sunday night, 8:20 p.m. I just came back to my room from dinner and back-to-back meetings. I change into my pajamas — at last — wrap myself in a blanket, sit at my desk, and open my physics book. I am tired and glad to be hidden away in my room. All I want is to get some work done and eat the ice cream that sits in my freezer, waiting for me. 

I am lost in the world of quantum mechanics when I am harshly pulled back to reality. My head is once more filled with piercing, head-splitting wails. My roommate groans and I do too. I do not want to go outside. I walk out to make sure the building is intact, and walk back into my room. I get out my noise-canceling headphones and put them on, fully prepared to risk burning rather than freeze. But, to my dismay, my headphones do nothing to dull the high-pitched whine of the alarm. I hold out as long as I can bear, and then give up. I don my coat and walk out into the night.

Around me are clustered groups of students. Many don’t have coats, a few don’t even have shoes or socks. The eerie glow of the street lamps only adds to the surreal feel of the moment. The air is heavy with defeat. A few people complain, but most have accepted this as our fate; we are resigned, this is our life now. We stare longingly at our windows, waiting for Public Safety to come rescue us, and at the stars, longing futilely for their quiet. 

The alarm eventually turns off. We make our way slowly back into the building, in a dazed, dreamlike state. I try to go back to my physics, but I can no longer focus. At some point I give up — the night’s productivity is long-gone. I eat my ice cream, shower, and get into bed. I am vaguely aware of the dull, throbbing fear in the back of mind: will it happen again?

I am in bed. It is Monday, 5:36 a.m. I turn over, confused and disorientated. I’m not sure why I am awake, but I am sure that I don’t want to be. In my confusion I start to get out of bed. Am I late for class? What day is it? Who am I? I am in that half-asleep daze unique to waking up suddenly in the middle of the night.

Slowly I remember who I am, where I am, and I settle back into my blankets. But I wonder what caused this abrupt awakening. Perhaps it was the ghost of the fire alarm, back once more to torment me. Perhaps my own fear of the shrieking, horrifying noise caused me to believe it was happening again, and woke me up despite the lack of any sensory evidence of an alarm. Perhaps it was a celebration, a kind of subconscious victory dance to prove that I had slept most of the night without hearing that noise, a deep-seated longing to be awake and hear only silence. 

Really, I will never know. But whatever the case, it is clear that the Willets fire alarm has irreparably changed me, that it has affected me in ways I don’t even realize, and that I may never again be free from the fear of the haunting, shrill, inescapable noise.

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