Short Story #27: The Sound Machine by Roald Dahl

Title:  The Sound Machine 

Author:  Roald Dahl

Short Story #27 out of 365

Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)

Date Read: 1/18/2014
Source:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.
Book cover:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur


Klausen is working on a machine when his doctor stops by to check on him and inquires as to what he is doing.  Klausen is building a machine that will allow him to hear the sounds that are at frequencies that the human ear generally can't hear.  With clear hints of mental instability, he believes he must find a way to hear these things.  The doctor leaves him to his work though not without some clear concern.  Klausen continues to work on his device until he believes it's ready.  He brings it out of his workshop (a shed in his backyard) and turns it on to listen.  He hears nothing but then all of a sudden hears a loud cry.  He soon connects it to his neighbor who is cutting flowers.  He asks her to cut one more, though he approach does not put the neighbor at ease.  He deduces that the plant life is screaming when cut.  This leads him to another experiment early the next morning.  He ventures over to the park with his machine and an ax.  He cuts into the tree and hears such a wail that it sets his nerves a rattling.  He calls the doctor (at 6:30am) and demands he come check it out.  He puts the earphones on the doctor and takes another slice at the tree.  As he does it, the ground shakes a bit and a large branch comes cascading down.  He and the doctor are not hurt but the machine is destroyed.  Klausen tries to get the doctor to admit that he heard the tree cry before it happen but he refuses to do so (whether because he doesn't want to admit it or because he didn't actually here it is not clear.  He insists that the doctor stitch up the wound in the tree and when the doctor explains that he can't, then Klausen requests he put iodine on it.  After putting the iodine on it, they leave with Klausen clearly committed to trying this again.


This was an intriguing story.  It had that darkness that permeates many of Dahl's work which I've come to enjoy.  The environmental theme was also interesting to see played with and the idea of what if we are doing harm but are literally deaf to the harm we are causing to the plant life around us.  That the doctor did not hear it may play into the idea that Klausen is crazy or it may be that rational minds refuse to follow down that path that Klausen has gone because only madness can come of it.  After all, if we knew even the plant life had some sense of life, would it change our relationship with the world any more (alas, this is doubtful if we look at our relationship with animal life). 

Finally, the most curious element of the story happens in the second paragraph.  When we are first introduced to Klausner, he is working in his shed on the device.  The device is compared to "the shape of a child's coffin."  This wording at least initially seemed to indicate something morbid and evil would occur.  One could certainly argue that it did--the discovering of the massive silent slayings of plant life over the millennia.  Yet, that it also makes one wonder about Klausner himself and what led him down this path of obsession with things that cannot be heard.
For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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