The Capgras Delusion by Pete Warner

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SUMMARY: Entry for the June flash fiction contest: "Two sides to every story."

Of the accident she remembered nothing save the cold, white impact that shredded her mind like a wood-chipper.

The doctors had said her the coma had officially lasted eighty-three days, ending abruptly when she'd sat up in bed and punched the duty nurse in the kidneys. But Elise remembered no sudden burgeoning ofconsciousness, no thump of awareness against her knuckles. Rather she'd scaled abstract soundscapes just to topple deafened into meaningless pits. She'd swam spiralling through incarnadine oceans only to be tugged down, drowning in stupor.

But eventually, she'd congealed back into the world, like the hole she'd made in it had finally scabbed over. Sitting in her hospital bed while the doctors asked her inane questions, Elise surveyed the blank walls, the cheap plastic clock, sucked in the aromas of disinfectant and despair, and feared that something important had not made it back.

"You're lucky to be here," a man was saying. "You'll have to wear a drain for weeks yet. For the blood, Elise. So as to relieve the pressure."

"I want to see my husband," she told him.

"Elise? It's me. It's Paul, love"

Except his face meant nothing. His face was just shapes and tears.

The man who called himself Paul, he'd shown her photographs, and piece by piece recognition had returned. Yes, this face, it was Paul, and this voice, that was him too. They'd watched the honeymoon video together and she remembered the island, the cocktails and the taste of spider-crab. She remembered them making love on the beach, and the way Paul went still and held his breath when he ejaculated. The doctors had been overjoyed at first. Yes She knew her husband, her sweet Paul. Of course she did.

So she screamed at the doctors to help her. To find out what this impostor with Paul's face and Paul's voice and even Paul's cologne had done with her husband.

Months later, sitting in an armchair in her home listening to the ridiculous chimes of the antique clock, she realised that what she'd lost were her delusions. The sweet, seductive flesh torn away from the fruit to reveal the bitter stone of truth.

Cuckoo, chimed the clock. Cuckoo.

More doctors, a succession of them, a.. .whatever the collective noun for doctors was... lining up to scrutinise her certainty. Collaborators in white coats and ugly sweaters. Accomplices all. The left side of her brain, they said, jarred away from the right in the accident. Time, they said, might see neurological pathways rebuild. With time, she'd find herself again.

Cuckoo. Cuckoo.

In the hallway, she took a tire iron to the damn thing, wrenched it off the wall. She was busy splintering the clock like the steering wheel had splintered her skull when the door opened. Theimpostor stood in the entrance to her home, to Paul's home, shouted at her, as if he had the right. Stepped inside, as if he had the right.

Had the audacity to look surprised when she swung the tire iron.

*****

Detective Inspector Mike Walsh was pulling into the Tesco car-park to pick up a microwave curry and a four-pack of beer when the call came through.

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