The Whispering Machine (a short story)

A Quick Preface

Hey party people! Thanks for checking out this short story I wrote. It’s based in truth, but…c’mon! When would I ever let the truth get in the way of a good story? (It’s rhetorical, silly.) I wrote this story for my sons, who also enjoy writing, as a Christmas present. They gave me some feedback, I fixed it, regifted it, then got permission to share it with you persons of quality. And if you dig it, check out my time travel novel. Thanks!


by Christopher Tallon

When Chris was a little boy, his mother took him to his grandmother’s house for a weekend sleep over. She picked him up after school and headed for the arranged meeting spot. After about forty minutes of driving through farms, fields, and pastures before a small town appeared—a small shopping center with a movie theater on the right side of the road, and a welcome sign just before the McDonald’s and a few local shops. They met in the McDonald’s parking lot, got food, Chris switched vehicles, and his grandmother’s car was off to her house.

Soon the land flattened out to a seemingly endless sea of cornfields. The perfectly lined rows flashed by Chris’s eyes like a strobe light. He watched the rows dash by until they—along with his grandmothers soft, quiet music—put him into a sleepy trance. Maybe, I’ll just rest my head against the side…for a…few….

.           .           .

The car turned and hit the initial bump going up the driveway, pulling Chris out of his nap by bouncing his head off the passenger side window. His head snapped forward, eyes wide, and he saw his grandmother’s house in his sleep-blurred vision.

“We’re here!” his grandmother cheered.

There was no question: they were out in the-middle-of-nowhere. But his grandmother’s house wasn’t completely isolated. It was in a small little neighborhood on the south end of the small “downtown” area, the center of which happened to begin where Chris’s grandmother’s narrow little neighborhood road fed into the main street that cut through the town center. At the corner of the main road and his grandmother’s was a walk-up ice cream shop. Further down the road, a church, another corner, then a few shops—a pizza place, post office, a bowling alley, bar, pharmacy, hardware store, and so on. At the last street corner of “town” (as the locals call it), a grocery store. Besides that…not much. For miles. In any-and-every direction.

Except farms and fields. Lots and lots of farms and fields.

For a kid from the suburbs—before the internet and personal electronic devices—a sudden and stark realization kicked in: there was nothing to do here.

.           .           .

Chris threw his stuff on the guest bed before getting some change from his grandmother for the ice cream shop. He walked down the few blocks by himself, taking his time and enjoying his treat.

Later, after a few card games with his grandmother, they had dinner and read books in the living room until the sun went down.

The shadows cast in the moonlight were pitch black. The absolute emptiness of the surrounding landscape added to the brightness of the moon, which shot a thick, gray beam of light onto the floor below the window. The house looked so different at night. How is that even possible?

In the pale moonlight, Chris felt like he was in the wrong time and place, which added to the weight of the distance between him and his family. Every rustling of wind made him squirm under the covers. Each time his eyes closed, the scraping tree branches on the side of the house offered an invitation for horrible thoughts and overwhelming feelings. He kept looking at the clock on the wall. Each tick was louder than the one before:









The tighter he closed his eyes, the harder it was to breathe. His whole body tightened uncontrollably. And then…

I can’t sleep!” Chris yelled, much to his own surprise. It jumped out of him like a hiccup before it was even a half-formed thought.

He heard a squeaking mattress, followed by slow, steady footsteps coming towards him from down the hall.

“Why not?” he heard his grandmother call from the hallway.

He waited until he saw his grandmother in the doorway looking at him holding her robe closed with one hand before he said: “Can you, maybe…stay in here until I fall asleep?”

“How about I tell you a story instead?”

“Um…I don’t think that’s gonna help, grandma.”

“You’ve got an active imagination. Let’s go with it.”

“Huh? Um…okay.”

Chris scooched over for his grandmother to sit on the side of the bed. He settled in and listened to his grandmother tell a story. It was about a mouse in Florida that lived in one of the big NASA hangars. It somehow managed to get on a space shuttle and launched into outer space. He closed his eyes and could almostsee the story as she told it. Until he fell asleep.

.           .           .

The smell of breakfast woke Chris. He marched into the kitchen in his PJs and asked, “Grandma! How did that story end last night?”

“I’m not sure. I stopped telling it when you started snoring.”

They both giggled.

“Tell me now!”

“That’s not how it works.”

“What do you mean, Grandma?”

She set her jaw and thought for a moment. Then she turned back towards the freshly cooked food. “It’s hard to explain. Let’s eat!”

Who can argue with that?

.           .           .

Chris dug into his eggs, toast, bacon, and juice while his grandmother excused herself to do some chores in and around the house. Chris saw her out the dining room window—watering flowers, pulling dying branches from the bushes, filling birdfeeders…

Chris started thinking about the story. He got all the way to the last thing he could remember before he started to fall—

He heard something on TV. Something strange, almost like radio static. But that static was talking. Like a soundless…voice.

Chris walked away from his food towards the TV room, fueled by his curiosity. He cautiously entered the TV room, straining to hear and locate this sound. Trying to make sense of what—if anything—it was saying.

But he stopped still when he saw the TV wasn’t on. He looked around for a radio, or some other source of sound like that. Maybe it’s Grandma calling to me from outside. He went to the window and looked outside. There she was, unlocking the door to the detached garage with a bag of trash in hand. Well, it wasn’t her…

No, this was definitely coming from the living room. Chris looked at the kitchen, where his plate of crumbs and last sip of orange juice sat waiting to be dealt with. Then he heard that hissy sound again behind him and turned back to the living room.

He continued to walk—more slowly this time—into the room, following the source of the sound. Which seemed to be coming from…the linen closet.

Chris walked up to the door. The sound became clearer.

He twisted the loose, fake crystal handle and opened the door.


I guess I’m just hearing th—

“I can show you…,” a voice whispered.

Chris jumped back and looked around wildly. But no one was there.

“I can SHOW you….”

“Show me what?” he whispered back, now standing on his tiptoes.

“Anything…. Everything…. I can show you….”

Chris stared up but only saw a smallish, light brown box on the top shelf.

“Whatcha lookin for, Chris?”

The whispering ceased. Chris ignored his grandmother, straining to hear the voice so he could say, “That! Did you hear that?” but it was gone.


“Huh? Oh—” he thought how he might explain what happened, but his childish curiosity took over his thoughts. “What’s that, Grandma?” he asked, pointing to the box on the top shelf.

“That?” She grinned at the box, the continued, switching her attention to her grandson, “It’s an old fashion typewriter. Heh”—she laughed, shaking her head—“I forgot that was up there.”

“Can I…look at it?”

“I don’t see why not. Here, let me get it down for you.” She grabbed a folding stepstool out of the closet and carefully made the two-step-ascent. With the box between her hands, she called down, “Here, grab this and set it on the floor. It’s heavier than it looks, but I think you’re about strong enough.” She took a deep breath and held it while she scooted the box off the shelf and handed it down to her grandson.

She stepped down, put the stool back, and said, “I’ll be right back.”

Chris looked down at the square box. It had a handle like a briefcase with a clasp on each side of the handle. He sat thinking what might be on the inside. Grandma said it was a typewriter, but Chris imagined some odd-looking, mechanical, whispering machine.

“Go ahead and open it up, Chris,” she said, catching him off guard as she returned.

He put his thumbs over the latches, but when he started to press the release levers a SHOCK! shot from his thumbnails out through the rest of his body like a jolt of sweet electricity. It didn’t hurt. In fact, it almost tickled, as though someone plucked a tightly-wound-string that connected his brain and his heart, leaving behind a soothing vibration. But the sensation was too strong to hold on. Even after the briefest touch, a surge of energy echoed through his chest and stomach. A lump formed in his throat while he fought tears from welling in his eyes. He stood staring at the box with his withdrawn, gnarled hands in front of his chest.

He looked at his grandmother.

She squinted at him in surprise, then grinned as she bit her lower lip. She nodded and— with a single, incredulous laugh—said, “You felt it already….”

Chris almost asked what she meant, but got distracted by the folding table and chair her hands, so asked, “What’re those for?”

“A writer’s gotta have a desk,” she answered.

She set him up with paper, took out the typewriter and showed him how to operate it, and instructed him to write what he remembered of the story from night prior. Then he watched her leave, and when the footsteps became faint, he looked back at it.

“Come…. See….”

“Okay…” he said, sitting down.

“Give me your hands….”

He reached for the keys. They attracted his fingers like magnets. He thought about last night’s story. The further into it he got, the more everything around him faded into blackness. Everything but him and the whispering machine, which whispered thoughts like little movies into his mind. He struggled to keep up, reaching for another piece of paper, but…he was out.

He only remembered loading up the first two or three, so he looked to see if any fell on the floor. Nope.

Then he looked at his pile of typed pages.

He typed on all of them. All. Of. Them.

He heard his grandmother in the kitchen. “Grandma?” he called.

“Oh, good. I was just about to have you stop to come eat dinner.”


He looked at the clock. Just after 5 o’clock.

“I’ll come take a look at what you’ve got, but let’s eat first,” she called.

After dinner she looked at what he wrote. Hmm-ing and Ah-ing and pointing here and there as she read through all the pages. She made little notes and corrected the spelling and grammar mistakes all writers inevitably make from time to time. And Chris spent the rest of his waking hours at his grandmother’s house writing. At night, he was too busy thinking about what he was going to write the next day before he went home to worry about stupid wind and house noises. He put himself to sleep thinking of each different way the story might go—what pictures the typewriter might whisper into his head and how he might put them into the right words….

The next day he sat by the whispering machine and it (and/or Chris (and/or the two of them)) finished the story. Shortly after, he went home.

.           .           .

Chris worried that without the whispers from the typewriter to guide him, he would be in a state of perpetual writer’s block. He asked his parents if they had a typewriter, but they only had a loud, electric one that barely worked and was covered it dust. So, he picked up a pen and old notebook instead. When he put the pen to paper and tuned everything out, the whispers came back.


Other times they didn’t. As he got older, he found that the more he wrote, the better he could hear the whispers. Until he practiced enough that he could hear them again, as good as he did when he was little. Maybe better. Which is good, because after his grandmother died, no one could find—or knew what happened to—the old typewriter.

.           .           .

Years after Chris’s grandmother had passed away, Chris took his son on a detour to an estate sale while they were walking through their neighborhood. Actually—it was his son who asked, “Can we go in there, Dad?”

“Why?” Chris wanted to know. His son never cared much for garage sales or things like this before.

His son stared at the house for a few seconds before he said, “I dunno. But can we?”

Chris shrugged, “I don’t see why not.”

They walked through the main floor of the house from room to room. His son barely stuck his head in each room before dismissing them one-by-one. Chris didn’t see much either, so he followed his son frantically through the place. Then they came to the basement stairs. His son went down without a word between them. Chris sighed and followed, “Wait up, dude!”

From the bottom of the stairs, Chris saw his son standing in front of a shelf with a smallish, brown box that had a handle like a briefcase with a clasp on each side of it. Chris knew immediately what it was but was more interested in his son’s fascination with it. He watched his son, standing completely still, staring at the box with his head turned slightly, squinting his eyes.

“Can I open this and see if it works?” Chris called to one of the vest-wearing-estate-sale-employees. They gave two disinterested nods and looked away.

“What’s that, Dad?”

“It’s an old typewriter. It’s just like the one my grandma had when I was about your age.” Chris opened the lid and choked back a few tears when he saw an old Royal typewriter in near perfect condition with its round, silver-wrapped keys reflecting light from them like it was mailed overnight yesterday directly from his childhood.

They both stared at the typewriter. Then Chris looked at his son, who was transfixed by the little machine from the past. His son leaned his ear closer to it, squinting harder. Chris watched his son stand up straight and slowly start to reach for the keyboard with an outstretched finger.

As soon as he touched it, his hand recoiled back to his chest, and he looked at his dad with awe.

Chris smiled at his son, then asked the same worker, “How much for the typewriter?”

“Meh…20 bucks,” the man said.

.           .           .

When they got the typewriter home, Chris set it on the fireplace and showed his son how to load paper, type, move the slidey-thing back when you hear bing!, and so on. Then Chris remembered something.

“Hold on!” Chris said.

“What is it?” his son asked. But Chris was already in the garage. A moment later he returned with a small folding table. His son said, “What’s that for?”

“I mean…a writer’s gotta have a desk.”

And so, it began.


Thanks Again

I really appreciate you checking it out. And if you made it this far, let me know what you thought about it online. I’m @tallonwrites on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Follow me if you want (or don’t (that’s cool (no pressure))), or just a quick hi. I love hearing from readers, and listeners of my podcast.



christopher tallon switchers

Christopher Tallon is the author of the dark, adventurous, time-travel novel Switchers.

Row row row your boat / Gently down the stream

Merrily merrily merrily merrily / Life…is but a dream

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