Psycho: Sanitarium by Chet Williamson tells the story of Norman Bates's time in a mental institution during the 23-year hiatus between Robert Bloch's original Psycho and the sequel that sees Bates go on a killing spree in Hollywood (Available April 12, 2016).
The original Psycho novel by Robert Bloch was published in 1959 and became an instant hit, leading to the smash movie only a year later, which brought Norman Bates's terrifying story into the public consciousness, where it still remains (proven by the success of the tv series, Bates Motel). It took Bloch 23 years to write another Psycho novel, revealing that Norman had been in a mental institution the entire time. In that sequel, Norman quickly escapes the sanitarium and goes on a killing spree in Hollywood.
But what happened in that asylum during those two decades? Until now, no one has known.
It's 1960. Norman Bates is in the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane and it's up to Dr. Felix Reed to bring him out of his catatonic state.
But Norman and Dr. Reed have obstacles in twisted fellow patients and staff members who think of the institution as a prison rather than a place of healing. And the greatest obstacle is the building itself, once a private sanitarium, rumored to be haunted. A wild card appears in the persona of Robert Newman, Norman's twin brother, taken away at birth after the attending doctor pronounced him brain damaged. As Robert and Norman grow to know each other, Norman senses a darkness in Robert, even deeper than that which has lurked in Norman himself.
Soon, murders begin to occur and a shocking chain of events plunge us even deeper into the deranged madness inside the walls of Psycho: Sanitarium.
“How’s that?… How’s that, you godforsaken monster?”
Myron Gunn, the head attendant, shoved the doughy man down onto the bed with all his prodigious strength. The man’s head hit the padding on the wall, and his face twitched, but that was the only reaction he made. His stubby-fingered hands fell to his side, his head drooped on his thick neck, and his gaze locked once again on the floor.
“Whatsamatter, Nor-man?” Myron said. “Did you bump your little head? Maybe Mama can help, huh? Mama kiss it and make it better? You wanna let Mama out, huh? Yeah, I’d like to meet her—like to put a little fear of God into her.” A small cushioned chair sat under a table with rounded corners, and Myron pulled it out and perched on it, leaning toward the man, who sat silently and still.
“I know what you are, you miserable little faker,” Myron said softly. “You and your double-identity crap. You’re a killer. Satan got into you, boy, not your dead mama. Satan made you what you are. He made you a murdering monster.”
Myron leaned still closer, lowering his head to try and see the man’s eyes, to actually see the monster in them. Maybe, he thought, he could even see the Devil.
* * *
That October of 1960, the State Hospital for the Criminally Insane housed a collection of monsters. Murderers and rapists and men guilty of torture and mutilation all lived within its thick stone walls. Every patient there posed a danger to society, and every patient there would probably leave only in a casket, if he wasn’t quietly buried in the small cemetery on the hospital grounds.
Although they were called patients, the residents were really all inmates, prisoners. This wasn’t the kind of facility to which one committed oneself, or was committed by one’s family or loved ones. It hadn’t served that purpose since it had been known as the Ollinger Sanitarium, which had closed its doors over forty years earlier. The courts committed these present patients, with the understanding that while they were too sick to execute or place in a regular prison, they were also too sick to ever walk free again.
The courts made such a decision in the case of Norman Bates, who had the deaths of four people on his hands, or at least four of which the state was aware. The swamp near the Bates Motel hadn’t been thoroughly dredged after the discovery of the car that had belonged to Mary Crane, Norman’s third victim, and rumors spread that there were other cars and other victims sunk deep below. Still, there were no unaccounted-for disappearances in the area, and the four murders Norman had indeed committed were enough to lock him away for the rest of his life.
The first two victims, Norma Bates and Joe Considine, had died twenty years earlier. Norman had poisoned his mother and her lover when he learned that his mother was planning to sell their motel and run away with Considine. Norman didn’t like that. He loved his mother. He loved her so much that he couldn’t bear her absence, loved her so much that, after the law accepted his staged scenario that Norma and Joe had died together in a suicide pact, he couldn’t let her go. So Norman, who counted taxidermy among his hobbies, had disinterred Norma’s corpse and preserved it, keeping it in the old house next to the motel, treating his mother as though she were alive, allowing her to dominate him in death as she had in life.
Mother was the one who killed Mary Crane when she came to the motel. She killed her because she knew that Norman was attracted to her, that Norman wanted her, and Mother couldn’t allow that to happen, couldn’t allow that filthy bitch to seduce her boy.
What Mother hadn’t counted on, however, was that Mary Crane had stolen money from her employer, so much money that they sent a detective on her trail, a man named Arbogast, who snooped around and learned that Mary Crane had come to the motel. He almost found Mother, but Mother found him first and killed him too.
Then more people came, too many—Mary Crane’s sister and the man Mary was going to marry, and Mother tried to kill them, but the man was too strong, and he caught her, and then the police took her away, took them both away, her and Norman.
* * *
And it was she and Norman now, together, sitting in this little room, listening to this man say terrible things about her and her boy, taunting them, trying to make Norman talk to him. But she wouldn’t let him.
She was in charge now, not Norman. Not that bad boy who had read those filthy books and peeked through a hole in the wall at those bitches, and told them, actually told that prying, nosy doctor before she had been able to take over, that she had killed those people.
Still, he was her son, and she loved him, and she would do what she had to do to keep him safe, even if he lied about her. And if the only way to keep him from lying was not to let him talk at all, well then, that’s what she would do. She would talk if she absolutely had to, but there was no point in talking to this big, stupid man who kept telling her and Norman about God and the Devil. She knew his kind. He talked about God, but he had the Devil inside him. He liked hurting people, and he liked hurting Norman. And she would do nothing to make him hurt Norman more. She would be as quiet as a mouse.
* * *
“Cat got your tongue, Nor-man?” Myron Gunn turned his head sideways and leaned in closer until his face and that of Norman Bates were only inches away. “Mama don’t want Norman to come out and play? Huh?”
Myron bumped his forehead against Norman’s nose, and Norman winced. A small whimper escaped him.
“I believe that’ll be enough, Mr. Gunn,” came a voice from the door. Myron Gunn looked up and saw Dr. Reed standing in the doorway, a clipboard in his hands.
“Oh, hi, Doc,” Myron said, slowly getting to his feet. “Just making sure Norman was settled in okay. He doesn’t seem to like his weekly physical very much.”
“Thank you for accompanying him back,” Reed said, “but bringing him to his room is all that’s necessary, as you well know.”
“Absolutely, Doc,” Myron said, still as assured as he had been with Norman. Dr. Reed didn’t scare him. He’d been at the hospital too long and was too sure of his place to back down to a relative newcomer like Reed, and a pretty boy to boot. Reed was a good name for this guy, since he was built like one. Myron would just like to see Reed try and manhandle some of the bigger patients the way Myron did. Those sick sons of Satan would have him on the ground before he could blink. No, Reed could complain about Myron’s little love taps to the patients as much as he liked, but Myron was here to stay.
Myron stood up and patted Norman Bates gently on the arm, relishing the man’s second wince. Then he sauntered past Reed, brushing the thin doctor’s shoulder with his own just enough to put him off balance. “Sorry, Doc. Tight quarters,” he said as he continued down the hall.
* * *
Myron Gunn, Felix Reed thought, was just the kind of man who gave the state hospital, and state hospitals everywhere, the reputation for brutality and callousness that it bore. There were too many people like Gunn in the mental illness profession. If it was Reed’s decision, he’d have dismissed the hulking fool immediately.
But it wasn’t, so he just sighed and pushed back his annoyance. He didn’t want Norman Bates to read any hostility in him. He stepped farther into the cell and looked at the patient sitting on the single bed. “Hello, Norman,” he said. “How are you today?”
None of that chirpy “How are we today?”—not for Norman Bates. Norman’s whole problem was that he was a we already, a multiple personality. Dr. Goldberg, the hospital superintendent, had sent Dr. Steiner to deal with Norman shortly after he had been captured, and Steiner had determined that three different people inhabited the man.
There was the adult Norman Bates (whom Steiner, not too cleverly, Reed thought, called Normal), the man who ran the motel and lived in the real world. There was the child Norman, the little boy who couldn’t bear to be parted from his mother. And finally and most disturbingly, there was Norma, the mother herself, whose death the child Norman would not accept. Norma Bates, the one personality of the three that dominated the host body in times of crisis. Steiner had called Norman’s multiple personalities “an unholy trinity.”
Reed hated the term. Unholy was as judgmental a word as could be imagined. In truth, there was no holy and unholy, no good and evil. There was only sickness and health. Norman Bates had been very, very sick. And it was the job of this institution, this hospital, to make the sick well again, to make the wounded whole, like the fabled balm in Gilead “to heal the sin-sick soul,” if Reed had believed in the concept of sin, which he didn’t. Still, the words of the old hymn resonated in light of what he had to do.
Norman was Reed’s patient now. He’d had to beg Goldberg to allow him to treat Norman. Goldberg had discussed it with Steiner, who was Reed’s superior only in terms of seniority, and Steiner had agreed. Nicholas Steiner was a good man, more temperate and kindly than Dr. Goldberg. In a way, Steiner seemed relieved to have Reed on the case, and Reed suspected that he’d seen something in Norman Bates that he didn’t like. Something deep and dreadful, or else why would he have used the word unholy?
As shorthanded as the hospital was, it was unusual for a single patient, and probably one who would never be released, to receive individualized psychotherapy on a near daily basis. But Norman Bates was an unusual case, the most pronounced example of multiple personalities any of the doctors, including Dr. Goldberg, had ever seen. It was this aspect of the case that had helped Reed to convince Goldberg to allow him to take on Norman as a pet project. He had stressed repeatedly to Goldberg that this was not mere schizophrenia but a far more uncommon case of multiple personalities, and at last Goldberg had grudgingly acquiesced, as long as Reed continued to perform his other duties.
Felix Reed’s treatment had barely started, and as yet had brought about no response from the patient. After his initial interviews with Steiner, Norman had gradually grown quieter, responding at first only in monosyllables, then saying nothing at all. It was almost, Steiner had suggested, as if he realized he had said too much already, and Norma, the dominant aspect of the three, had shut down all communication. Now Norman was almost beyond amnesic fugue, approaching catatonia, in which the patient ignores external stimuli until strongly pressured to respond.
Reed sat on the chair. “Norman?” he said, putting a hand on the man’s shoulder. Norman said nothing. Gently, Reed took Norman’s face in both hands and lifted his head until Norman’s eyes, staring undeviatingly straight ahead, looked into his own.
There was intelligence there. Reed could see it. Norman saw Reed’s face, he heard his words, Reed was certain. But he didn’t respond.
“I’m here, Norman,” Reed said softly. “And I’m going to be here for you. Whenever you’re ready to talk to me, Norman. Whenever you’re ready to share your thoughts. Because I know that you want to do that. You want to come back. You’ve been away for a while, and I understand that. You had to go away, to get things in order inside yourself. But you can’t do that alone. I want to help you. And so does Nurse Marie, and Ben, and Dick. We all do. We want you to come back, Norman. We’re not going to hurt you, understand that. We want to help. We want to help you feel better, about yourself, about where you are and what you might have done.
“But we’re in no hurry, Norman. We can take our time. As much time as you need.”
Reed heard a footstep and the slight clearing of a throat. He turned his head and saw Marie Radcliffe, the ward nurse, standing in the doorway with a tray of food in her hands.
“I can come back,” she said quietly.
“No, that’s fine. I imagine Norman must be hungry.” Slowly Reed let the weight of Norman’s head down on the thick stalk of his neck until the man was once more looking at the floor. Reed stood up and saw, in the hall just behind Marie, Ben Blake and Dick O’Brien.
Usually the attendants, all of them male, brought meals and fed patients in Norman’s condition, but when Norman hadn’t responded well to the attendants, Reed had thought a gentler presence might be more effective. With Goldberg’s reluctant approval, Reed had asked Marie to feed Norman, and the results had been good.
Just the same, two attendants were always present when Marie fed him. He seemed docile, but patients could be unpredictable, as they’d found out just a week before when Elvin Bailey, a predictably placid man who had murdered his wife and two young children ten years earlier, erupted and took a student nurse to the floor. The attendants had pulled him off and subdued him, and the girl had only a few bruises as a result. Reed had to give the girl credit, since she was back at work the next day.
“Come on in,” he told Marie, picked up his clipboard, and edged past her out the door, stopping next to the attendants to watch Marie’s procedure.
“Hello, Norman,” Marie said as she set the tray on the table. The dishes were all plastic, as were the utensils and the tray itself. The drinking glass was tin. “We have meat loaf tonight. With mashed potatoes and gravy, and carrots with butter. And chocolate cake for dessert.”
As she talked, she put a hand under Norman’s arm and lifted the big man from the bed. It didn’t take force, just direction, and Norman obeyed. Reed found himself wishing he could do the same thing with Norman mentally as Marie did physically, but it wasn’t so easy.
Marie guided Norman until his bulk was seated on the cushioned chair, the tray in front of him. “Would you like to feed yourself today for a change?” Marie asked, holding out a plastic spoon. There were no forks. Anything sharp wasn’t permitted.
Norman didn’t respond, didn’t look up.
“All right then,” Marie said. “I’ll be happy to help you. Here we go. Shall we start with meat loaf?”
Reed couldn’t help but smile, just a little, at the way Marie wheedled Norman into opening his mouth by delicately tugging on his lower lip, the way mothers often did when their children were reluctant to try something new. “Have a nice dinner, Norman,” he said, nodded to Marie and the attendants, and headed toward his office, wishing that tugging on a man’s lip could make him speak as easily as it could make him eat.
* * *
Norman liked the taste of the meat loaf. He liked the taste of nearly everything when Nurse Marie fed him. The meat loaf wasn’t as good as Mother had made, but it wasn’t bad. It was softer. It fell apart in his mouth more easily. The mashed potatoes weren’t nearly as good as Mother’s. Hers were fresh, and had some lumps in them. There weren’t any lumps in these, and Norman thought it was because they were made from some kind of powder. The gravy made them passable, though, and the carrots were fresh and not overcooked. They crunched a little when Norman chewed them, just the way he liked carrots.
Nurse Marie was talking to him, but he tried not to listen to her. If he listened too closely or, even worse, if he tried to respond to her, to thank her for feeding him, or to tell her that the meat loaf was good or he liked the cake, Mother would get mad and yell at him. He hated it when she did that. It was too quiet in here, and there wasn’t anywhere else he could go to get away from her.
Nurse Marie put down the plastic spoon and picked up the paper napkin. She touched it to Norman’s mouth, dabbed either side of it, then wiped it. It felt good when she did that, when he felt her fingers through the thin paper trace across his lips as though he were kissing them, and when they were just under his nose he inhaled, trying to get the smell of her flesh into his nostrils. He did it again now, and there was an audible sniff, which he hoped Nurse Marie hadn’t noticed, and then …
Norman froze. He stopped chewing and listened, fearing the worst.
“Norman?” he heard Nurse Marie say. “Is anything wrong?”
In spite of himself, he was about to answer, to open his mouth full of carrots and tell her, even though he knew that would be a big mistake. But it was already too late.
Yes, Norman … is anything wrong?
Mother. She was angry. She knew that Nurse Marie’s wiping of his lips had made him have bad thoughts. She knew. Mother knew everything.
Is anything wrong, Norman? Why don’t you tell the bitch? Tell her how much you like having her touch you! Maybe you could dribble in your lap and see if she would wipe it up! You’d like that, wouldn’t you, you dirty boy!
Stop it, Mother. Please.
Then you stop thinking that way, Norman. It was those kinds of thoughts that made you kill that other girl, wasn’t it? You couldn’t have her in your dirty way, so you had to kill her, isn’t that right?
No, Mother! You killed her, not me!
You wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t wanted to, Norman. Don’t you blame me.
“Norman?” he heard Nurse Marie ask again. “Aren’t you hungry anymore? Have you had enough to eat?”
Norman didn’t answer, but he started to chew again. He chewed the carrots, and the crunching sound was loud inside his head, loud enough to drown out Mother, and he swallowed.
Crunch away, but I know what you’re thinking, boy. I always know.
It was only a whisper in his head, but he heard it clearly. He was finished eating now. He thought Nurse Marie had said something about chocolate cake, and he liked chocolate cake, but he didn’t want Mother to get mad again.
That was it, wasn’t it? Mother had gone mad and killed the girl, and Norman had let her. He tried not to think about it, because his thoughts were never his own. So instead he thought about books he had read when he lived at home with Mother. He let the eyes of memory roam over the spines on the bookshelves in his little bedroom, and there were Von Hagen’s Realm of the Incas, Murray’s The Witch-Cult in Western Europe,Ouspensky’s A New Model of the Universe.
They were books that had expanded his horizons beyond the house and the motel, books that made him think there were things beyond his knowing, that magic could exist in the world, and that people who seemed unimportant and powerless could be stronger than anyone could imagine. Curses could be cast, spells woven, the dead brought back to life.
And that last he had done, hadn’t he? Mother …
In brief seconds, Norman had a nightmare vision of an open grave, an open casket illuminated by the glint of a flashlight and the full moon, a face, once loved and dreaded, now sunken in, hollowed out, with pits for eyes, lips curled back, yellow teeth grinning.
He had been mad too, hadn’t he? He must have been to have done what he did.
He forced his mind back to the bookshelves, and there were the books on taxidermy, but better not to think of them. No, there on the bottom shelves, beneath Huysmans’s Là-bas and de Sade’s Justine … those few books without names on the spines, the ones he would page through when Mother was sleeping, those with the pictures that made him feel …
But no. Better not look at those either. Mother was never sleeping here.
Was that her again?
Norman, do you want …
Mother? Or …
“… some cake?”
Nurse Marie. Oh, God, yes, Nurse Marie. And he did want some cake, in spite of Mother. He opened his mouth, hoping that Mother wouldn’t speak aloud out of it.
* * *
Marie Radcliffe finished putting the last bite of chocolate cake into Norman’s mouth, then efficiently wiped his lips and chin one final time. “There now,” she said as she stood and picked up the tray, “that was good, wasn’t it?”
“He liked that cake,” said Ben Blake from where he was standing against the padded wall, his arms folded. He smiled as he watched Norman, and the smile got wider when he looked at Marie.
“There’s extra back in the kitchen,” Marie said, “if you boys are hungry later.” Giving them both a nod, she left the cell with the tray.
Ben and Dick O’Brien got on either side of Norman Bates and lifted him so that he stood, then positioned him over the bed and let him sit. “There you go, Norman,” Ben said. “We’ll turn the lights off, and you can go to sleep whenever you like.”
They left the cell, making sure the door was locked behind them, then Dick pressed a switch that turned off the lights inside. Ben slid back a several-inch-wide slot in the door so that the light from the hall would provide Norman with the equivalent of a night-light should he need it, and together the two attendants walked down the hall toward their next charge.
“Got ten minutes,” Dick said. “Grab a smoke?”
“Sure,” Ben replied. “Maybe a coffee too.”
There was no one else in the break room. They got two coffees from the machine, lit their cigarettes, sat, and looked through the wide windows. It was already dark outside. The time change had occurred a week earlier, stealing another hour’s worth of sunlight, and the moon shone upon the fenced-in stretch of lawn that was used as an exercise yard for the patients. On the other side of the chain-link fence that was topped by concertina wire, pine trees grew so thickly that they smothered the moonlight as soon as the beams touched them.
“Halloween’s coming,” Ben said. “Your kids excited?”
“Hell, yeah,” Dick said with a chuckle and a plume of smoke. “Gettin’ their costumes ready for trick-or-treat. I told Marge they just oughta wear the outfits the patients wear here—hard to think of anything scarier than some of these freaks.”
“That’s the truth,” Ben said. “Tough to believe, looking at some of these guys, that they did what they did. Bates, for example.”
“Yeah. Seems gentle as a kitten when Marie feeds him. But when you think about what he did—not just killing those people, but digging up his mother and … Jesus.”
“Pretty sick,” Ben said. He took another puff. “I know I’d behave if Marie fed me.”
“Aha. I thought your mind wasn’t just on your work when she’s around. You should ask her out.”
“I did. We have a date next weekend.”
“Well, good for you, Benny boy. She’s a good-looking woman. And nice too. Sometimes I think she’s too nice for this place. You never know when these characters are gonna explode.” He inhaled deeply and let the smoke come out, watching it as it burst against the window. “I always think they go a little funny this time of year. Maybe it’s Halloween, or the weather, I don’t know.” He paused, then said softly, “Maybe it’s the ghosts.”
“Seriously. You’ve heard the stories.”
“Ah, Dick, you get those stories around any old building, especially one that’s got a history like this.”
“Yeah, but there were ghost stories way back when it was the Ollinger Sanitarium,” Dick said. “The patients saw ghosts all the time.”
“Maybe that’s why they were in a sanitarium. Look, our patients see things, don’t they? But did you ever see any of the things they do?”
“Okay, you got a point. Still, where there’s smoke—”
“There’s less than a minute left of smoke before we get going.” Ben laughed, then sucked down the last half inch of his Lucky and butted it out in the metal ashtray. “Finish that smoke and down that coffee.”
Dick emptied the contents of the cardboard cup down his throat and extinguished his Camel. “Yeah, time to feed the next nut…”
Copyright © 2016 Chet Williamson.
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Chet Williamson' s parents took him to see the film of Robert Bloch's Psycho when he was twelve, and he has been a reader and disciple of Bloch ever since. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Playboy, and many other magazines and anthologies. A collection of his stories received the International Horror Guild Award. He has twice been a final nominee for the World Fantasy Award, the MWA's Edgar Award, and six times for the HWA's Stoker Award. He has narrated over thirty audiobooks.