Patricia Evans lives in Vancouver, Canada, where she deliberately does not participate in any of the sunny physical activities such as hiking, jogging and kayaking popular there, preferring instead to hide in out of the way coffee shops where she can think. She is a recovering lawyer, who spent too long practicing family law, where she encountered situations far more shocking than anyone’s imagination could construct.

Her short stories have appeared in the on-line magazines Culture Cult, Microhorror, ScyFy, and in the horror anthology The Yellow Booke. She is a fan of “The Twilight Zone” and “Kolchak, The Night Stalker” and wishes there were more pared-down horror series like these being made. Her favorite writers are Stephen King, Barbara Vine and Mo Hayder.


by Patricia Evans


They’re talking about me again.

I know when they go into the den, all of them, and close the door, that they’re discussing me. They’re saying I’m crazy, losing it, should be put away somewhere.

I can hear the murmurs, but I’m not worried. I stopped worrying what these strangers in my home think about me some time ago. They’ve been here for six months or so. So far, they haven’t hurt me in any way. In fact, just the opposite; they seem to be very concerned. But I’m keeping my eye on them.

They keep insisting that they are my family, my husband and children, but I know they’re not and I’m working on a plan to get them out of my house; but it’s hard to know exactly what to do. Since my accident, my thoughts wander and I can’t really concentrate on much, but I know one thing for sure. My home of thirty years or more has been taken over by strangers.

I sit quietly on the old red-and-gold patterned sofa and pick at the snags in the cover. Snowflake, our cat, jumps on the couch and starts stretching and clawing at its cover, so I pull her onto my lap. She’s a new cat bought for me by the strangers.

At first, I thought she was bought as a spy to watch me, but now I think Snowflake is on my side. When we’re alone, I tell her all about my suspicions that my family is not real. She sits on my knee and listens, her green eyes wide. It’s exactly as if she is a person, taking in what I am saying. Her ears twitch with interest when I explain to her about my fears. Sometimes, I think she nods in agreement.

She doesn’t meow often but when she does, it sounds like human speech. I feel that if she tried, she could talk to me. She’s skinny and completely black, not in the least bit like a fluffy snowflake. When I asked Jonas the other day how come she was called Snowflake, he said, “Because she’s so black. Remember, Mom, we thought it would be a joke to call her that.” He rolls his eyes and gives me a look of quiet contempt. I know he’s trying to behave like a normal obnoxious teenager, but he doesn’t convince me. If he were really my son, he’d know that Snowflake was named after the white cat I had as a girl.

Soon they all come out of the den. They move through the living room in a phalanx, walking in step, but their movements are tentative, unnatural, almost as if they’re wearing someone else’s bodies. Maybe they are. They look just like my family in every way, but I know there are strangers inside their heads. They sit in a circle round me, to make sure I can’t escape, so that I will have to listen to them.  

“Mom,” the one who calls herself Marnie says, “we’ve been talking. We really think that you should go and see someone again.” 

She stares at me with those serious, dark brown eyes, just like the real Marnie. She even has the crooked canine tooth that Manie is so self-conscious about. In fact, she’s so convincing that I almost believe…no. The others nod in unison, as if they’re really concerned.

By someone, I know they mean a doctor. I know they hope that finally some doctor will say I’m crazy enough to be put away somewhere, get me out of their hair.

“I’ve already seen doctors,” I say. “You know what they all tell me: I have crabgrass syndrome.”

Jonas sniggers. He always does when I say “crabgrass syndrome.” With his blue eyes and long blonde hair, he looks just like my son, but I know it’s not him.

“Crabgrass, crabgrass. Can’t you remember it’s capgras,” Jonas says. He looks at me with that condescending expression he uses all the time. I would be hurt except this isn’t the son for whom I spent hours in labor giving birth. I don’t care what this one thinks.

The man who says he’s my husband, Frank, comes up and puts his arm around my shoulders. At first, I objected to him doing things like that, but now I play along with him, although I’ve made him sleep in Marnie’s old room. He’s a big man with the same strong hands and bald spot as my Frank. He’s wearing the blue fleece zip up sweater I bought for Frank two Christmases ago. I wanted to get him out of the baggy, old-man cardigans he likes. He wouldn’t wear it for a long time, but now it seems he’s in it all the time, and he’s bought another one in grey. My Frank wouldn’t change like that. He always loved the old man cardigans.

“Listen, honey, we think it’s time for you to see another doctor. Perhaps this one might be able to help, you know, give you some kind of cognitive therapy.”

I look into the familiar blue eyes, but I’m not deceived.

“I’m not seeing one of those psychiatrists again. All they do is talk.”

“This one is a neurologist and highly recommended,” he says.

Recommended by whom, I wonder. I’m sure the family physician they’ve found for me is in on the conspiracy. Still, perhaps a new doctor might listen to me, so I decide to give it more one more chance.

When I say yes, the strangers look at each other and smile. Marnie and that other woman who says she’s my daughter Cassie, leave to go home to their husbands, but I don’t think that’s what happens. I know my sons-in-law and they would not be deceived by these women. I think they just go away for a while and return after I’m in bed. I’ve often heard the murmur of their voices when I can’t sleep, when they’re supposed to be at home with their families, but they’re never there the next morning when I get up.


I sit, waiting for our trip to the neurologist. I’m resigned to going but I know that it will make no difference. I am caught in this nightmare and nobody wants to let me out.

The others are in the den again, probably talking through their strategy with the neurologist. I must have dozed off for a moment, but I am awakened by Snowflake suddenly running up to me, jumping on my lap and kneading me. I read somewhere that this is a way of marking territory, so I think Snowflake is claiming me as her own, trying to protect me.

I bend over and stroke her, to cement the bond between us. As I do so, she says, “Be careful of those people you live with. I know all about them.” I should have been surprised by her speaking but I’m not. I knew all along she could talk; she just hasn’t chosen to do so until now.

“What do you know about them?” I ask.

“They want to hurt you and steal everything from you. I’ve just heard them talking about getting rid of you. They’re dangerous. You should do something about them.”

I was going what ask what I should do, when Frank comes in, to say that they are ready to go. He smiles at me, and says, “Talking to Snowflake again? Is she answering you back?”

I am not going to let on that the answer is yes. This is a secret between Snowflake and me.

They all come with me, Frank, Marnie, Cassie and Jonas. The doctor is a middle-aged woman with dyed blonde hair. Her office is fixed up nicely, with soft beige leather couches, dark red carpet, and pale blue walls. The office smells of her light perfume, and not that antiseptic smell I’ve become familiar with in doctors’ offices.

We’re having an inquest on my many neurological tests. I sit on one of the couches; she sits behind a light-colored desk.

“Now, Mrs. Brothers, or can I call you Judy?” She doesn’t wait for my agreement, but carries on. “According to your records here,” she points at the big file in front of her, “for the past six months you’ve been convinced that your entire family has been replaced by strangers.”

“That’s right.” I tell her. “One day I woke up, my husband was gone, and he’d been replaced by that man who says he’s my husband.”

“You first thought this in the hospital after the accident.”


“And then you realized that all of your family was gone and their place had been taken by strangers?”

“Yes, yes.” Hasn’t she read my records? “That’s right.” I speak loudly, emphasizing every word. “I have never seen any of those people before. Here, look at this.” 

I pull out my wallet with a picture of my family in it. They’ve gone through all the old shoe boxes of photographs, and exchanged all the pictures of my real family for others which show them, together with me, as if we were a family. They don’t know I have this photograph. I’ve had it in my wallet all along. It shows my real family.

The doctor looks at it. “Yes, this is clearly you, with a man, two young women and a teen boy, but they look just like the people in my waiting room. Can you give me any explanation as to why you think this is your family, as opposed to the one waiting outside?”

“I just know they’re not my family out there.” I’m frustrated and angry. Nobody ever believes me. How can I make her see that the people in her waiting room are complete strangers?  

“Yet, Frank and the rest of your family say you are their wife and mother.”

“I don’t care what they say!” I shout. This is just the same nonsense that all the doctors have told me. None of them ever listen to me, but I’m the one who knows. Why can’t they see that?

The neurologist looks at me over the top of her glasses. They’re fancy—dark green with Swarovski crystals along the top, like those cats’ eye glasses that were popular years ago.

“Judy,” she tells me, “I know you find it hard to believe, but you’re suffering from Capgras syndrome, as a result of the brain injury from your accident. Capgras syndrome is why you believe Frank and the rest of your family are imposters; people who have taken the place of what you call your real family. In your case, it was caused by a brain injury that created cerebral lesions in the back of the right hemisphere, where our brains process facial recognition.”

“That’s what the other doctors told me, but I know it’s not true. They are different people.”

The doctor looks at me for a short time, then says, “I’m just going to talk to your family. I’ll be back in a minute.”

She leaves the room, and I stand close to the door and listen. I never used to be like that, suspicious, but since the strangers moved in, I’ve had to keep my wits about me and look out for myself. Even more so after what Snowflake told me.

“Have you noticed any other changes in her behavior since the accident?” I hear the doctor ask through the door.

“Apart from the obvious fact that she can’t remember who we are? She’s forgetful, and sometimes she stumbles over words. She seems to have difficulty in concentrating on more than one thing at once,” says Frank. “Oh, and she’s talking to the cat. I hear her talking to it, and then she looks at it as if it’s answering her. It makes her look crazy.”

“Well, Mr. Brothers, lots of people think their cats talk to them, and sometimes they even talk back. I do that sometimes. It’s not really a sign of mental incapacity. Otherwise, she seems to be normal, although usually patients with Capgras syndrome remember voices. She ought to recognize you as her family when you speak. Still, it’s probably all part of the brain injury. Apart from her Capgras, she seems to function pretty well. I think you just have to take her home and hope that the condition dissolves over time as her brain heals.”


When we get home, I go to bed. There’s no point in any further discussion. The visit to the neurologist has confirmed that I’m trapped until my family can find some way to kill me. I begin to cry and shake in terror at the inevitability of it. For the first time, death feels real instead of just a future threat.

Snowflake jumps on my bed and stares at me. “Are you crying because you’re scared?” Snowflake asks.

“Yes—those people are out to get me, just like you said. After the visit to the neurologist this afternoon, I know there’s no way out. No doctor believes me. They have me under their control and I think they’re going to kill me. What can I do?”

I didn’t expect an answer but got one. 

“You have to get rid of them first,” says Snowflake. She stares at me with her solemn eyes.

‘How can I do that?  I can’t make them leave. They say they live here.”

“Kill them.”

“Don’t be stupid. I can’t kill them. They’re younger and stronger than me.”

“Just think of them as prey. We cats hunt our prey quietly, waiting patiently for the right opportunity, when the prey is lulled into thinking there is no danger. When do you think that might be the time for you?”

I can’t believe when I answer her, “When they are asleep. But only Frank and Jonas sleep here.  Cassie and Marnie live somewhere else.”

“It doesn’t matter,” says Snowflake. “Once you’ve got rid of the fake Frank and Jonas, and the real ones come back, the other imposters will be scared of being found out and then they’ll disappear.”

I start to laugh at my fantasy dialogue with Snowflake, but then begin to think about it. I only have to wait until Frank and Jonas are asleep. Both are heavy sleepers so they would never know I was coming.


Later that night, I check both Frank and Jonas’ rooms. They are in bed, both breathing heavily.
I go downstairs, cautiously, and once in the kitchen, I pull some knives out of the knife block. A couple of them look big and sharp enough to do the job.

Snowflake, who has followed me downstairs, sits at my feet and purrs loudly when she sees the knives in my hand.

I say to her, “I don’t think I can do this.”

She says, “Yes, you can.  It’s the only way out of your situation. Nobody will care if the fake Frank and Jonas go missing. They’re not even real people.”

Not even real people. Of course.

I go upstairs. The first not-real person I kill is Frank. It’s easy. He’s asleep on his side, with his head back.

A sliver of light from a crack in the curtain lets me see exactly where to push the knife into his throat and quickly pull it across. He gurgles and jerks; the blood flows out of him onto the pillow. I leave him and go to Jonas’ room.

This is more difficult as he is sleeping on his stomach. Using his long blond hair, I pull his head back and quickly make a slit in his throat. Like Frank, he gurgles, but can’t offer any resistance. I’m surprised at how easy it is to cut throats. I didn’t think I would have the strength to do it, but it was no problem.

I turn to Snowflake and say, “There, that’s done, and it wasn’t difficult. I’ll just leave them here.”

Snowflake gives me a loud meow of admiration and follows me as I leave Jonas’ room. Although it was easier than I thought, it has made me tired, and I decide to go back to bed.

When I wake up the next morning, the house is still. I can’t find my housecoat so I pull my winter one out of my wardrobe. It’s chilly anyway, and it feels good. Then, I look in the clothes hamper and see my pale pink summer housecoat in there. There seems to be a lot of dark stains on it and I don’t remember from what.

I go downstairs. Snowflake, desperate for food, runs to me and meows. I stroke her for a few seconds and find there’s sticky stuff on her fur that adheres to my fingers. I look at them and see a red stain.

I clean Snowflake and feed her, then I start the coffee. The clock says 7.30 a.m. Why aren’t the imposters up by now? I go to wake the man who says he’s Frank.He’s lying in bed with the covers over his head.

I pull them back and see the ugly gash in his throat. There’s blood all over the bed. I run into the boy Jonas’ room. Like Frank, his throat is cut. On the floor is a large knife that I recognize from my kitchen. It’s covered with blood.

I go downstairs and call Snowflake. She moves sinuously towards me, tail in air. Her luminous green eyes are huge, almost moonlike in her tiny black face. She stares at me without looking away. She’s expecting something of me, but I don’t know what. I start to ask her what’s the matter, but stop. It’s silly asking her—she’s only a cat.

I try to work out what has happened to the people upstairs. Then it comes to me.

My real husband and son must have come back in the night to kill the strangers. Now, they’ve gone to do the same to Marnie and Cassie. Soon, they’ll be back and our family can return to normal.

I sit, with Snowflake on my knee, and wait for Frank and Jonas to come back.