Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Different Umwelt (Day 6: UBC July 2013)

“You must be Vernon Bates. Unmistakable resemblance! Are you and Norman fraternal twins?” The detective shook hands with the tall stranger and noted the warmth in his handshake. Norman had a clammy hand.

“No, we are identical twins. Other than our parents, no one could tell us apart. I am surprised to see how differently we have aged, and how unalike we have become. I guess I’ve had an easier life than him,” Vernon replied.

They were standing outside Norman’s prison cell, Vernon, the detective and the psychologist, watching closely. A guard walked in and offered Norman a blanket which he accepted and tucked around himself as fastidiously as a woman might have.

“How long since you last met?” the detective asked.

“I last saw Norman on our twelfth birthdays. That day Mother and Father had their first full-blown row. It made all their previous quarrels pale into nothing. Norman and I hid in the kitchen and listened. Mother raked up all the filth she could, and made a few allegations so shocking they must have turned the neighbours’ ears red. They weren’t all true, but they were colourful and explicit and they stuck.

“Father said nothing. He only dragged me by the hand and stepped out of the house, never to return. Back then, I had thought he’d just found my hiding place first. That he acted on an impulse. But then I realized that his clothes and mine were already packed into a neat little case, so I guess he must have been prepared for it. Besides I was always Mother’s favourite and Father must have tried to really hurt her, with his parting shot.”

The psychologist raised an eyebrow. “Then it could just as easily have been you in that big, rambling manor, alone and helpless and completely dominated by an overbearing mother?”

There was a pained look on Vernon’s face. “Yes, it could have been,” he said.

The detective frowned. “Why did you never bother to get in touch with your brother? You used to be inseparable, until your parents’ differences forced you apart.”

Vernon smiled sadly. “I did return. One stormy evening about seven years ago, I came by to the house. I had an insane desire to see Mother and Norman. I wanted to see how much our parting had affected her. Had it drawn deep lines of sorrow on her face? I wanted to see her expression when she first saw me. I wanted to know whether the thought of me drove her to distraction.

“I had promised Father I would never get in touch with Mother. Ever. I kept my promise. I often wondered what had transpired between them to make him loathe her so. He never told me. Not even on his deathbed. But by then I considered myself released from the promise and set out towards Bates Motel.

“When I got here, I crept slowly towards the house, wondering whether to ring the doorbell. I badly wanted to see Mother. But something of Father’s misgivings must have rubbed off on me. I crept by the bushes outside her parlour and listened.

“She was abusing him. I gathered that he had begun to fancy some girl and that she didn’t approve one bit. She nagged him. She found fault with the way he spoke, walked, talked, dressed, ate, slept. Everything. She abused the girl too, and all he did was listen. My nerves were taut, strained from listening to that barrage against somebody who had been my loyal playmate for 12 years. A man who had my face. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turned around and ran towards my car. It occurred to me then that even though Norman had no idea whether I was dead or alive, he must have wished himself in my shoes.”

“If your brother thought of you,” the detective said, “he never mentioned it. Except for the old-timers, no one even knew that Norman had a twin.”

“I wonder now,” Vernon went on, lost in his own thoughts. “Did I drive him to it? It was me she always favoured. Did I force upon him the fate that should have been mine?”

“All this is idle speculation, Mr Bates, and serves no purpose,” the detective said. “We are concerned with crime and its perpetrators.”

The psychologist chose to answer the questions. “Perhaps. And perhaps not,” he said. “You have a very different Umwelt.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“The Umwelt,” said the psychologist, “comprises the many incidences and occurrences in the environment that can affect the behaviour of a person or animal. To describe it loosely, it would mean the external stimuli surrounding us which, when it reacts with a certain kind of person, elicits a certain kind of reaction or behaviour. The same stimuli could touch another person differently.”

A tiny hope lit up Vernon’s face. “Are you trying to say that if it had been my brother that was taken and I that was left behind, these tragedies might not have come to pass?”

“I didn’t say that. Perhaps. And perhaps not. The Umwelt is a product of external stimuli as it touches your mind. The mind interprets the environment for us. The same environment may touch two people, but the reactions of each will depend on his past experiences, his thought processes, his values and mental makeup. Had you been in place of your brother, Mr Bates, you would have faced the unfortunate circumstances that have been his lot. But would you have lost hold of yourself and killed a fellow human being? That is something only God can answer.”

All three pairs of eyes drifted towards the tall figure, dressed in the clothes of the petite mother he had killed. Straining under the weight of the collective gaze, the creature that was once Norman turned to look at them.


Vernon exhaled loudly.

“You had better leave now. Thank you,” the detective said to Vernon. “There’s nothing you can do for him.”

(This short story was written for the Umwelt competition, organised by 1hw.)


  1. OMG Cynthia...what a nice piece of work...great thought and a great story. The way it has been given to much thought....Are you a psychologist...btw?

  2. that was one fast paced thriller... executed to the minutest details! loved it!

  3. Great. I have not watched any of the Bates Motel episodes. Maybe now I will.

  4. vow I loved it.. nice pace and nice narration :) :)

  5. That's some amazing thriller, Cynthia.... very impressive, very captivating!!

  6. I often wondered what we would do in extreme situations.. Easy to condemn sitting in the comforts of our environment..
    Beautifully Written and Chill Stirring Cynthia :)

  7. WOW, awesome story filled with mind boggling twists and turns. I loved it!


  8. oh wow!!
    that was fab! Loved it!!

    you write so well... :)

  9. WOW! I so love how you have written it. I am always a big fan of your writing and I will be honest in this UBC that you have started writing, this is your best post (according to me :D) I loved it!


  10. Hi Cynthia your story is sooo interesting, sooo thrilling and sooo suspecefull. Right from the word 'go' upto the end it it is gripping.

  11. it is very useful and knowledgeable. therefore, I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article.
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