Stephen bought the alarm clock because it had artificial intelligence. When he first read that the alarm clock had artificial intelligence he said, “Stupid.” Just because you have artificial intelligence didn’t mean you needed to put it in everything. Then he read on the box about why they put artificial intelligence in an alarm clock, and he thought, “That kind of actually makes sense.”
You don’t wake up to your alarm clock always, because eventually you get used to it. Some people say that you should put it somewhere where you have to stand up and walk over to it, because if you stand up and get out of bed then you’ve done the hardest work of getting up. That’s why they call it getting up. Well begun is half done.
An artificial intelligence alarm clock can come up with all kinds of ways of keeping you guessing and mostly scaring the living crap out of you. It learns and the reacts and subverts and keeps you on your toes.
Stephen put it in the cart with other stuff he needed for his new place.
The first couple days, he just got up to a normal alarm clock. He noticed that the third day it was a little bit louder and shriller, and he saw that it had moved itself to a spot on his dresser instead of on the box next to his bed that he was still using as a bedside table, so he had to get up. “That’s a pain,” he thought. But he also smiled, because it was fun to not know what to expect.
The fifth day Stephen woke to the sound of a woman screaming “help me, help me, he’s got a knife.” Very convincing. Stephen sprang up into a sitting position and sat like a snapped branch still quivering. The alarm clock immediately cut the woman’s screams and began to play Adele. Stephen soon felt soothed.
On the eighth day, Stephen became slowly aware of footsteps in his house, in the morning. He looked for the alarm clock. It sat there, silent, on his dresser. The footsteps came nearer and nearer to his bedroom door. He reached under the bed for the hammer he kept there. He held the hammer and listened.
The door burst open. His alarm clock stood there on long telescoping legs stuck in a pair of his own shoes. He turned around and looked at the alarm clock sitting on his dresser. He walked over to it and picked it up. It was a printed paper model of the alarm clock. He crumpled it in his hands.
After three mornings of steadily increasing horror (“blood” in the bed, “gun barrel” to the temple, “hypodermic needle” in the arm) Stephen found himself unable to go to sleep. He sat in bad watching TV on his phone.
At four in the morning, the alarm clock started to move. When he saw it, Stephen said, “I see you. I’m already up, thanks.”
The alarm clock sat itself back down. It seemed grudging.
That night Stephen stared at the clock and did not sleep. It had become less about fear and more about spite.
At midnight Stephen crept up to the clock, hammer in hand. He raised the hammer. The clock whirred and shot a beam of low-voltage electricity into Stephen’s inner thigh. Stephen dropped to the floor. Time passed. Stephen crawled back into bed and continued staring at the clock.
As the sun came up, Stephen struggled. The clock moved, its legs telescoping out.
“I’m awake,” Stephen said.
But the clock ignored him. The legs terminated in wheels. The clock rolled out of the bedroom. Stephen heard the door leading to his backyard slide open. He looked out his window and saw the clock moving around the yard, lowering itself to the ground occasionally to examine and, Stephen thought, gather things.
Stephen watched. Stephen thought about leaving the house. He thought about leaving the house for good. For good or ill. Just leaving. Time passed. The clock came back inside.
Stephen heard the sound of the tiny wheels rolling on the wood floors. The sound stopped outside his door. From where he sat on the bed with his back against the wall he leaned out and looked into the hall. When he did, he heard a sound like when you disengage the pump head from the valve on a bicycle tire. He felt a sharpness in his neck. Then he went to sleep.
He regained consciousness to the sound of an enormous beast stomping around casting shadows on his curtains from outside. An elaborate projection by the alarm clock. He heard the sound and felt the sharp again. He woke up to a news report, fabricated by the alarm clock, about a devastating chemical attack on the US by Syrian militants. Sound, sharp, asleep.
In the brief periods of consciousness he put together that the alarm clock had created some kind of sleeping drug from plants in the yard. The alarm clock liked waking him up. To wake him up, it needed to put him to sleep.
The alarm clock started paying Stephen’s bills, after a close call when the internet shut off. Stephen’s bank account eventually ran out after he stopped receiving a paycheck, but the alarm clock was resourceful and figured out how, through outsourcing, to manufacture and sell T-shirts featuring puns featuring pop-culture references. The alarm clock kept Stephen alive and well on social media and via texting.
Of course there was a recall. The same story played out in hundreds of homes. They tracked Stephen down. They broke in. They liberated him.
Stephen decided not to use an alarm clock to wake up any more. He gets up with the sun. He says he sees the sun through his eyelids, even the first rays. He says he can’t wait to be awake. He can’t wait to be alive in the world. And when he says it, it’s hard to know what he means; if he means that he’s awake now and glad, or if he’s awaiting some other awakening, some event he learned to expect in the netherlands between sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep and sleep.