in Columns Published in the Asheville Citizen-Times

When Things go ‘Chirp!’ in the Night

Asheville Citizen-Times 12/12/2015 – Ted Alexander, Columnist –

Unexplained chirping in the middle of the night is enough to drive one cuckoo.(Photo: Pearson Scott Foresman/Courtesy of

Chirp! My neighbor, Thelma, enjoys a few cocktails or some wine every evening. After a while she can’t remember if she locked her car. Over the course of two or three hours, she’ll walk outside several times and press her remote to make sure the vehicle is secure. Chirp! Last check is usually around 9 o’clock.

It was much later when I heard it again.


I glanced at the clock. Almost 2 in the morning. Thelma must have awakened and wondered again if she’d locked her car.

A minute later, another chirp, followed by quiet. OK, now she’s now gone back to sleep.


Wait a minute. That wasn’t Thelma, it was the smoke detector. I climbed out of bed, walked to the garage and carried the ladder into the house.


The former homeowner, Albert Einstein, had placed a smoke detector on the ceiling immediately inside the bedroom door and one just outside the same door — 2 feet apart. Being a genius myself, I had never taken one down, and as a result couldn’t tell which was making the noise.

I waited.


I still wasn’t sure. I stood on the ladder next to the hall smoke detector. I heard the chirp again, but was 99 percent sure it came from the bedroom. I moved the ladder next to the bedroom detector, climbed up and listened.


Now I was 100 percent sure the sound was from the detector outside the door in the hall!

I also noticed that I had an audience. Howdy, our dog, was sitting on the end of the bed watching my every move. “Lie down,” I stage-whispered. He didn’t move a muscle and continued to stare, confirming the wise choice I had made to spend $200 for dog-obedience school.

I decided to make an executive decision. I’d replace both batteries and be done with the problem. I had a sleeve of nine-volts in the drawer. I changed each one, placed the ladder back in the garage, shoved the dog to the middle of the bed, got in and closed my eyes.

Chirp! Chirp!

You’ve got to be kidding me. I looked out the window. It wasn’t Thelma. Her lights and the house lights were still out. It was the two smoke detectors.

I got the ladder again, replaced the new batteries with new-new batteries and slipped back into bed.

Chirp! Chirp!

Cuckoo! Cuckoo!

The smoke detectors and the Black Forest clock.

I walked back into the living room.

Ding! Ding! The mantle clock joined the chorus.

I’m beginning to lose it.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

From the front window I watched the newspaper delivery truck back into the driveway.

Hearing the truck, Howdy jumped from the bed, barking, and barreled around a corner of the wood floor, the front paws digging in for traction as the hind legs skidded sideways and out of control.

“Go back to the bedroom,” I ordered in my firmest obedience-school voice, pointing in that direction.

He lay down.

Chirp! Chirp!

I’ve got to do something about the smoke detectors.

Da-Ding! I glance at my watch. My cell phone just received a message at 2:15 a.m.

Whoosh! It’s responding to someone I probably didn’t even know.

Bong! The grandfather clock strikes the quarter-hour.

Chirp! Chirp!

I’m about to lose it. I scramble to the top of the ladder, unscrew both smoke detectors from the mounting brackets, detach the wires, take the two down, and using a magnifying glass, read the nearly indecipherable instructions imprinted on the backs. I discover that the test button has to be reset before the new battery is inserted. I remove the batteries, hold the button down on both smoke detectors for 20 seconds. I insert the batteries, reattach the wires and screw each into their brackets.

Back on the floor, I stand between the two, looking up, wild-eyed and deranged, daring either to make the slightest hint of noise.

Nothing. All quiet. A miracle.

I jump into bed and close my eyes.


I hit the floor running, ready to rip the smoke detectors out of the ceiling with my bare hands, then grind them up with my teeth. I arrive with a screeching halt and quickly realize the sound is from neither one. I head back to the bedroom and stare out the window to discover a new pattern — Thelma checking her car at 2:30 a.m.

I cover my head with the pillow. The house could collapse around me and I wouldn’t care.

My wife wakes at 6, sits on the side of the bed, stretches, then removes her earplugs. She taps me on the shoulder. “How did you sleep?” she asked. Not waiting for a response, she added, “I dreamt a wild sparrow was trapped in the house last night.”

“I’m not surprised,” I said, stumbling to my feet and plodding to the kitchen. “This place is for the birds.”

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. His second novel, “After & Before,” came out in October and is available at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café and online book retailers.

Ted Alexander lives in Asheville. Contact him at

Learn more about the author and the novels online at