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By Lucy Rumble

Capgras syndrome: the knowledge [no wait – I read that wrong] the delusion that someone you love has been replaced by an imposter. Possible complications include violence and homicide. Cause unknown. 


        The diagnosis stared back at me in apathetic print from an NHS-branded letter, posted three weeks late and half-sliced through by my unsteady hands. Capgras: it sounded lethal. I turned the page over, expecting to see an invitation to a follow-up appointment or the number for a specialist therapy clinic – but it was blank. Apparently, the so-called “professionals” thought it wise to let a young woman with psychotic delusions and a penchant for murder walk around unchecked. Luckily for them, I had no intention of killing the thing. A part of me wishes I had, though, or at least that someone had thought me capable of doing so; maybe then they would have listened.

        There was a thing living in Cedar Grove Care Home, you see, that was claiming to be my nan. It had replaced her five years prior. I don’t know how or why, but it showed up one day and set up shop inside her skin. I used to pray she was dead. Terrible, I know, but I couldn’t bear to imagine her stuck behind those glassy eyes in a timeless gloom, screaming into silence, her hands striking shuttered lids and tangling in the crimson goo of the thing’s latest infection.

        Still, I continued to visit the thing claiming to be my nan in case some part of her was left. Even if just one cell remained, I thought, it held hope of her remembering. Hope that my voice might permeate her cage and bring comfort through the echo of its familiar tones. Hope that my knowledge of the imposter would keep her spark alight, fierce as ever, and she would persevere. Maybe, if it knew it couldn’t win, the thing would give her back. Daring to dream, I sat by her side each Sunday, watching that sagging sack of flesh and brittle bones slouch in the oversized armchair that used to be hers, humming along to the wrong tune of her favourite Disco Greats.

        For five full years I watched as those things took over the care home. Those skinwalkers, ghosts, ghouls, spirits, whatever they were, infested relentlessly. They poisoned aging minds with unknowing and paraded around in their gloried prizes of skin. They persisted with disturbing vitality, pushing the human body to a point of decay I would have thought impossible. Their movements were the same each day: repeated staccato steps taken across the sunken carpet of the hallways, lacking purpose, turning at the end just to tread back again and start their pacing anew. Their lives were one big show: a pretence born from mimicry, constructed from glimpses behind the scenes of human life which failed to convincingly capture its meaning. They spoke in primitive tongues, laughing like chimps at every other word and spitting syllables from their lips in broken chords. The imposters shared those confused rambles deep into the night and grew ever angrier in their delirium.

        Amongst all this chaos, I’d pull my nan aside and urge her to remember the time before, willing her to take back control. I used to squeeze her hands and hug her close, pulling back with smiling love to meet that blank and hollow gaze I’d grown to dread, her eyes grey in their façade. I remember the way her lips bunched up tight with disgust at my touch, and I would recoil from the frail grip of the thing, frightened at what her body had become.

        Most couldn’t hack it. I know it wasn’t Capgras, otherwise we’d all had it and everyone else seemed too… normal? There was no grand hysteria, just connections growing cold as children couldn’t bear to see the faces of the ones they loved change into someone they’re not. I watched a lot of families come and go from that dreaded place, and the ones who remained were much the same as me: angry, bitter, drained from it all. And when the things finally started to leave, I could tell they were still haunted by visions of the ghouls, merging into the person who came before, blurring the lines between. They missed it then, the thing that looked and sounded just like her, their anger washed away by the regret of not loving it – her – better.

        The thing that claimed to be my nan is gone now too, and I just want it back.

Lucy Rumble is an emerging writer from Essex. Her poem 'My Nan, Remembered' won third place in the 2023 Tap Into Poetry contest, and her work is currently upcoming in Crow & Cross Keys, Schlock! Webzine, and Needle Poetry, among others. When she isn’t writing, she is trapped in the dust and darkness of an archive (or her mind). Find her on Instagram @lucyrumble.writes or at

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