The Institute: A Novel
“King has a way of subliminally drawing in his reader to believe a horrific and chilling premise as quite possible.”
King again sends his "Constant Readers" on a roller coaster ride of fear when innocent children become the object of this suspenseful journey and are used as lab rats in almost the same manner with which Hitler coerced his minions to do his bidding by prodding minds and performing atrocious experiments.
It is during the summer when Tim Jamieson relinquishes his Delta ticket on a flight from Tampa to New York to a federal officer who needs a seat on the packed plane. In return, he receives $2,000.00, a refund on his fare, and a room at a local hotel. Deciding to keep the cash and hitchhike his way up north, he gets as far as DuPray, a Podunk town in South Carolina, where he plans to stay awhile, not in any hurry to leave. A mishap on his job as a Sarasota cop had given him the choice of resigning or being dismissed, so he chose the former. Now, he’s untethered and unsure of how and where to start the rest of his life.
While in this sleepy township, Tim applies for and is offered a position as a "night knocker" with the police department, which basically involves walking around after dark checking stores and businesses. In addition, he takes on part-time employment at DuPray Storage & Warehousing, thinking maybe he'll stick around a while.
As Tim settles into his new life, we rewind a few months to April in Minnesota. Twelve-year-old Luke Ellis is abducted from his home after being drugged. Luke is a gifted child and at his young age is already offered scholarships at two well-known universities. When he awakens one morning, he believes he is in his own bedroom. Everything is the same, but, strangely, his window is not there. He thinks, What the heck? and stumbles out of bed in search of his mom and dad. When he opens the door, he realizes he is not at home, but in a strange, school-like setting.
Glancing around noticing a young girl sitting on the floor in the hallway, he is perplexed and asks her what this place is and why are they there. Unable to comprehend he was kidnapped he also questions his parents’ whereabouts.
The girl introduces herself as Kalisha, "Sha" for short, and informs him he is in a special place for kids gifted with telepathy and telekinesis; this is where they are to be tested. Befuddled, Sha takes Luke to the playground outside to meet some others. This area is enclosed by a ten-foot chainlink fence with nothing visible but woods.
He learns he is in Maine and greets Nick, who is cocky; wise-cracking George; shy Iris; and glittery Helen. Their ages span from as young as 10 to 16. Sha tells him they are now residents in the "Front Half" in "The Institution" where different tests are performed based on their skills. When the "teachers" and doctors are completed with them, they are moved to the "Back Half." From there who knows what happens next. Home? Back with their parents? Or are they disposed of?
The director of the facility is the malevolent Mrs. Sigsby whose only purpose is to evaluate these children for their special powers; she doesn’t care how they are treated. Back in his room, Luke notices a laptop, and is summoned by her via the computer:
"When his computer's IM chime rang, he shook his head like a boy emerging from a vivid dream. According to the computer's clock, it was almost 5 PM. He clicked on the balloon icon at the bottom of the machine and read this:
"Mrs. Sigsby: 'Hello, Luke, I run this joint, and I'd like to see you.'
He considered this then typed:
"Luke: 'Do I have any choice?'
The reply came at once:
"Mrs. Sigsby: 'No J'
[Luke ponders] "Take your smiley and stick it up your—"
Mrs. Sigsby does not tolerate insolence without dire consequences. If the subjects behave, they are rewarded with tokens to use at vending machines and even to purchase cigarettes and wine, though they are all underage.
Luke mind is superior, and he finds ways to do some sleuthing on the laptop going through "back doors" so he is not caught. He wants to notify the news media of this place, considering it is a well-known secret to the public. After he undergoes many grueling tests that include painful injections and exhausting interrogations, he gains enough courage to search his hometown newspaper. He becomes traumatized to learn his parents have been murdered, and the police are looking for him, considering him their killer. Overwhelmed and angry he strategizes his escape no matter what. But how can he break out of this prison-like facility and where would he go? He's miles from home, and he's terrified.
One by one children depart from the Front Half given no chance to say goodbye to their friends. As new ones appear those remaining surmise their companions are taken to the Back Half. The youngest test subject to arrive is ten-year-old Avery who is so horrified, Sha takes him under her wing. Next twins Gerta and Greta show up, also befuddled, but when Harry is introduced to the group—not only is he a bruiser but a kid with a huge chip on his shoulders—commotion arises. Soon he is put in his place; the twins take to him like ducks to water.
The kids relay the horrors they experience during the testing and the cruel treatment they receive from the staff. They distrust everyone, but Sha and Luke semi-bond with Maureen, the cleaning lady. She befriends Luke insisting she can be trusted but stating he must be extremely careful when talking to her and not to meet anywhere near where cameras and or audio equipment can spot them. Luke likes her and offers her much-needed financial advice, though with each passing day he ascertains her health is deteriorating. He hopes by helping her, she, in turn, can offer a means to flee.
Once a compassionate and obedient child, Luke soon becomes cynical and arrogant. What does he have to lose? He already lost his parents and figures when these brutal adults finish with him, they'll kill him, too. Avery, the most gifted student with the ability to read minds, spends time with Luke, and they discuss plans to flee and attain help for the others.
At the beginning of the novel when we meet Tim Jamieson we are then suddenly segued to Luke when he is abducted making one wonder what Tim's role is in this tale. It is not until about two-thirds of the way through where Tim reappears. Though the basis of this story is somewhat improbable, King has a way of subliminally drawing in his reader to believe a horrific and chilling premise as quite possible.