By Randy Romero
I don’t know her anymore.
She looks like my mother.
She has her voice. She has her ocean blue eyes and shoulder-length chestnut hair with auburn highlights. She has all her mannerisms and expressions down pat.
But she’s not my mother.
She’s a fraud, a phony, an imposter. I can’t prove it, yet. But in time, I will expose her. I will get Julie and my dad to see the truth…
Miranda Langermann hummed a little tune in the master bedroom as she folded clothes fresh from the dryer and laid out her husband’s things for the next day. Russell Langermann, or Russ as he preferred, had a meeting with his publishers first thing in the morning. He had to look professional, or at the very least, presentable. Jade was in the next room, her ear pressed against the wall.
Her mom was never this upbeat or cheerful. Jade couldn’t remember the last time she heard her hum or sing a song. Miranda didn’t even like to turn on the radio in the car. Something had been off about her for a while now. She wasn’t her old self.
She was calm and collected. Not quick to anger. She didn’t lash out at Jade as much as she used to. And her sister, Julie, was an angel who could do no wrong. Jade’s mom was benevolent and lively and the exact opposite of the woman who had raised her.
She would hum and sing and dance around the house. She would clean and fold laundry with a smile instead of a frown. And every day, she took a ride into town, alone. Sometimes to the supermarket. Sometimes to the salon. Other times, she would come home empty handed, with no explanation for her absence. But every day, at twelve noon, Miranda was out the door and in her car without saying a word. Jade couldn’t help but wonder where she went, what she did.
She wanted to tell someone, anyone. But Julie wouldn’t understand. Not at her age. Not without proof. And her father would have her locked away in the nearest mental hospital if she ever suggested the idea that her mom had been replaced by a carbon copy.
She couldn’t tell her friends, couldn’t tell anyone at school. Her teachers would tattle on her, probably advise her parents to hire a shrink or have Jade talk to the school guidance counselor. No, Jade couldn’t tell a soul. Not her best friend, Annabelle. Or her favorite teacher, Mrs. Benson. So Jade bit her tongue and bided her time.
At dinner, we go around the table and talk about our day. That’s what normal families do at dinnertime, so my “mom” says.
Spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. The sauce splattered around my plate reminds me of the old man’s body splattered across the pavement, and I have to look away before I let go of the food that’s already in my stomach.
Russ Langermann helped himself to a piece of garlic bread, a guilty pleasure he couldn’t pass up. He offered some to Jade. She declined politely, her response brief and muted.
Jade had always been closer to her dad than her mom. Jade and Miranda had the chemistry of bleach and ammonia. They were a toxic mix. She got along much better with her father. Always had. Jade shared her dad’s affinity for horror movies, even at a young age, and his passion for reading and writing. She also shared her dad’s dark hair and pallid complexion. While her mom went to tanning salons and beauty parlors, Jade and her dad went to baseball and hockey games or late-night screenings of old horror movies.
Miranda went first, though her story was less than captivating. She talked about her day, which consisted of grocery shopping and getting her nails done. “Can you believe the price hike!” she exclaimed. “I paid eighteen dollars for a single ribeye. But on the other hand, I was able to get a nice family pack of pork chops for just fourteen bucks. And don’t even get me started about the chicken. Twenty dollars for a frozen pack of drumsticks. Ridiculous. And guess what? Clarissa doesn’t work there anymore. Between you and me, I heard she was drinking on the job.”
“Drinking what, mommy?” Julie asked. She was young and inquisitive and couldn’t help but ask.
“Oh, nothing, sweetie,” her mother said and smiled at Russ. “She was drinking juice.”
“She got fired for drinking juice?”
“Yes, because she didn’t pay for it,” her father said, thinking on his feet. He was relieved when Julie didn’t follow up with another question.
“Then I got a French manicure and heard all the gossip at the salon. Sally, the woman who does my nails, told me all about her neighbors’ son. The kid’s eighteen years old and he’s already in rehab. Painkillers. The mother’s devastated, and I don’t blame her. But at least he’s getting the help he needs. Sally also knew about Clarissa getting fired. I can’t say I’m surprised. She hears everything down at that salon. And oh, I heard Mrs. Benson is set to retire next year. I wonder who the school is going to get to replace her.”
Replace, Jade thought. Just like you replaced my mother.
It wasn’t just her mom’s change in behavior. It was a gut feeling that Jade had. An undeniable but indescribable feeling. She didn’t just think it. She didn’t just feel it. Somehow, she knew it without truly knowing it. This woman, this replacement, was not her real mother.
Jade was quieter than usual that evening. She stabbed blindly at her plate, eating without looking. She didn’t want that image of the old man in her head anymore.
“Sure you don’t want any garlic bread?” her father asked.
“No thanks,” Jade said, almost a whisper.
“How about you Julie?” He asked, and Julie was happy to accept a slice to dunk in her sauce. Jade’s stomach churned at the innocuous sight and she looked away before she thought about that poor old man again.
Russ helped himself to another piece and tried to make more conversation. Jade’s father always said it was important to have an open dialogue. Of course, an author would say that. But Jade didn’t want any of her quotes or teen angst ending up in one of his novels.
Russell Langermann, horror author of such classic titles as Chop Shop and Sanitarium, was always looking for new material, new ideas, new characters. And Jade was not looking to contribute to his work or be fodder for one of his books.
“Jade,” Miranda called out to her daughter. No reply. “Jade. Earth to Jade.”
Jade snapped out of her trance. “Yes, mom?”
“Can you pass the grated cheese. Please.”
Jade passed the grated cheese and resumed eating, keeping her head down, but her eyes up.
She hardly noticed her father or sister at the table with them.
Jade watched Miranda carefully out of the corner of her eye. She’d been watching for weeks, studying her, waiting for her to slip up and expose herself, even going as far as to get herself grounded so it wouldn’t look suspicious if she was home every single day after school or on the weekends.
Who are you? Jade wondered. And what have you done with my mom?
Russ took a turn, sharing the mundane details of his day. “Well, I certainly had a productive day. I finished the first draft of my latest manuscript. I talked to my agent this afternoon and he says my publisher is ready for me to submit it. Two weeks before the deadline, too. I’m pretty impressed with myself. I have a meeting with them tomorrow.”
“That’s wonderful, honey,” Miranda said. “I knew you would finish it before the deadline. And I’m sure your publisher is going to love it. Absolutely love it. And I already laid out your clothes for tomorrow.”
“Thanks, sweetheart. But it’s just the first draft. They have to proofread it and then they’re going to want me to hear their feedback. It’ll be a few more months before I submit the next draft.”
“Well, I know I can’t wait to read it.”
“You’ll have the very first copy,” Russ said with a warm smile. “So Jade, how’s school?”
“Fine,” Jade said.
“How was that test you took on Friday?” her mom followed up.
“Got a 98,” she said, keeping her answers short and sweet.
“Not the loquacious type, huh?” her father quipped. “Do you know what loquacious means?”
“Yes,” Jade replied. Jade was fourteen and exceptionally well read. Whenever she came across a word she never heard before, she’d scribble it down in a notebook and look up the definition. No Google searches, either. She did it the old fashioned way, with a dictionary or thesaurus.
“How about you, Julie?” Russ asked. “How was school today?”
“Great!” Julie exclaimed. “We’re learning the multiplication tables. And this Thursday is show and tell. I have to find something to bring into class.” Julie was so young, so innocent. The very opposite of what Jade had become in such a few short years.
“Why don’t you bring in my old Walkman,” Russ suggested. “Kids nowadays have never seen anything like that. It’ll blow their minds.”
“Yeah, right,” Julie chuckled. “I’ll be the laughingstock of the whole classroom.”
“Hey, it might seem funny now, but Walkman’s were all we had when I was growing up. Until the Discman came out.”
“The Discman,” Julie repeated and started cracking up.
“You want to see my old CD collection after dinner?” Russell asked.
“No thanks,” Julie said, shaking her head. She took a sip of her Coca Cola, gargling before she swallowed. She took another sip and let out a tremendous belch and giggled. She didn’t know any better at her age. Her father thought it was adorable and giggled along with her; her mother was cross.
“What do we say?” her mother asked.
“Excuse me,” Julie said, still giggling. Jade almost caught a glimpse of her old mother and was expecting her to lash out at Julie. Instead, Miranda’s irritation quickly passed, and dinner resumed.
“What about you, Jade? Do you want to see my CD collection after dinner? I’ve got all the hits. Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones. Your old man knows how to rock.”
“No,” Jade said, poking at her food. She was suspicious of everything, even her own mother’s cooking.
“You know, you’ve been so good lately,” Miranda pointed out. “And I feel terrible about grounding you. Maybe tomorrow, after your appointment, you can take a ride with me and we’ll get our hair done.”
Who are you, and what have you done with my mom?
Jade had a whole catalogue of wild theories to answer those questions. Was she a body snatcher? An alien who had assumed the form of her mother? A shapeshifter? A doppelganger? Something not of this earth? A hideous, grotesque monster hiding behind a façade of human flesh?
“That would be great,” Jade said through gritted teeth. “May I be excused?”
“Sure,” Miranda said. “Don’t forget to finish your homework.”
“Already done,” Jade said, getting up from the table and never looking back at her family.
“Is it just me or is she acting strange?” Russell asked.
“She’s always strange,” Julie said and giggled.
“It’s not just you,” Miranda said. “Something’s going on with her. I can sense it. Maybe I should talk to her.”
“No, let her be for now. We’ll deal with it when the times right.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Miranda agreed. “I’ll try to talk to her doctor tomorrow when we go to her appointment. Privately, of course. I’ll see what he thinks about the recent change in her behavior.”
That night, sleep evaded her. Jade got up around midnight and crept into the hallway. She passed Julie’s bedroom, the door slightly ajar, a night light shining in the corner of her pink bedroom. She passed her parents room on the left, the door closed. She slipped down the stairs and went to get a bottle of water from the fridge. Jade had grown suspicious of everything, and only drank from unopened water bottles. If the seal was broken, she’d leave it or dump it down the sink.
To Jade’s surprise, her mother was still awake, enjoying a glass of wine at the kitchen table.
“Oh, Jade, what are you still doing up? You scared me.”
Her father was asleep. Julie was asleep. This was the perfect opportunity to confront the thing that had taken over her mother.
“I scared you? That’s hilarious. I’m onto you. Don’t think for one second that you’re fooling me. I know what you are. I just can’t prove it. Not yet. But mark my words, I will expose you.”
“Jade, what on earth are you talking about?”
“You’re not my mother!” she shrieked.
“You’ve lost your mind. Go to your room. We’ll discuss this in the morning.”
Jade turned her back to walk away and heard a hiss. Not a whisper, but a hiss, like the sound a snake makes just before it strikes. “Sleep tight, Jade,” it croaked, in a voice that was anything but human.
Jade’s entire body spun around in an instant. “What did you just say?” she asked, a tremor in her voice.
“I didn’t say anything,” Miranda said innocently, her voice returned to normal.
“I knew it! I knew you’d show your true form sooner or later. I’m not going to let you hurt dad or Julie or me. I’m going to put an end to this, right here, right now.” Jade moved faster than Miranda could’ve imagined, reaching into her nightgown, and drawing a pair of scissors.
Russell heard the muffled commotion from upstairs. He was half asleep when he stumbled into the kitchen and saw all the blood. Julie stood on the landing of the staircase, quivering. “Go back to your room!” her father cried.
Jade stood indifferently over her mother’s body, clutching the bloody pair of scissors in one red hand.
“Jade, what did you do? Why, why would you do this?” He didn’t bother to wait for a response. He rushed to call an ambulance, but it was already too late. Miranda Langermann was gone.
“I did it for us,” Jade whispered. “She wasn’t really your wife. She wasn’t really my mother. Not anymore. She was…an imposter.”
“Recent scans revealed that the patient, Jade Langermann, is currently suffering from a form of brain damage referred to as Capgras syndrome. It’s a rare condition that severs the connection between your visual cortex and the emotional center of the brain. However, the link to your higher cognitive areas often remains intact. For example, facial recognition. You can look at your own mother, see that she looks identical to your mother, but something will feel off. You’ll be convinced that she’s not the same person. An imposter, if you will.
An individual suffering from Capgras syndrome may form an elaborate theory or fantasy to further perpetuate these delusions. And once they do, it’s almost impossible to convince them otherwise. In most cases, the sufferer becomes increasingly paranoid and isolated, and sometimes lashes out in violent ways. What we’re looking at here is nothing more than a tragic accident that could’ve been averted with a proper diagnosis.
Something like Capgras syndrome is more common among people with neurodegenerative conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. But it can also be brought on by traumatic brain injury. Several months ago, Jade was involved in a bad car accident with her father. An elderly gentleman blew a stoplight and collided with them at an intersection. The man was ejected from the vehicle. Russ Langermann was treated for cuts and minor bruises. Jade suffered a concussion, but no other apparent injuries. It would appear that Jade’s injury was more severe than thought, because our tests have confirmed that the accident is what triggered this rare syndrome.”
“Will the patient recover, Doctor Moss?” one of several medical students asked. They had all formed a tight semi-circle around Moss outside of Jade Langermann’s room, taking notes and listening intently.
“There’s no timetable for Capgras syndrome,” Moss replied. “No way to determine if the patient will ever truly recover, or if she’ll remain like this indefinitely. Right now, it’s not looking good. See for yourself.”
They observed Jade through an unbreakable glass window. The door was secure, but Jade could still see them through the glass.
“They’re all imposters!” she screeched. “Mom, dad, Julie, Annabelle, Mrs. Benson who teaches history at school! They’re all cheap imitations. Don’t let their appearances deceive you. They’re all monsters. Monsters! You’re not safe around any of them! They’ll kill you all, kill every single last one of you!”