It had been a normal day for me, patrolling the barge and hoping for some excitement. I was the sole security guard, and had grown quite bored over the past few days since leaving port. Nothing happened on this boat, after all. Why did they even need a security guard? It wasn’t as though the crates were going to get up and walk away, after all. So as I strolled around the perimeter of the boat, staring blankly out at the waves and occasionally glancing down the endless rows of crates, I hoped, desperately, for something to happen.
It was on one of the occasions when I had paused, glancing out to sea, that something did. A huge whale leapt from the ocean, cresting barely 50 feet away from me! I stumbled back in amazed shock and struck my head on the huge metal cargo container behind me, barely noticing the pain in my awe.
The whale did not leap again, and after a few minutes I realized that the back of my head was aching, a dull, throbbing pain. I touched my skull where it hurt, and found blood on my hand. I decided that I had better go to the tiny kitchen and get some ice for my head.
It took me a few minutes to reach the kitchen – although the living spaces of the barge were incredibly small, the cargo hold was immense – and when I did it was empty. I courteously knocked on the door frame when I arrived anyway, just in case. The chef didn’t like her kitchen being intruded on without permission.
The chef called for me to enter. Her voice was coming from… where? Oh, the walk-in freezer, the door mostly but not entirely shut. I went to swing it farther open, since I needed to go in myself to get an ice pack for my head.
When I saw the chef though, I had to pause, gaping in horror. It wasn’t the chef. It was some terrible creature, a horrible beast, an indescribable monstrosity that had clearly taken the form of the chef and replaced her. What happened to the true chef? Dead, most likely. Consumed by this evil being, perhaps, or thrown overboard while I was distracted by the whale. And I had hoped for excitement!
The imitation was nearly perfect. The false chef gave me the same faint smile that the true chef would, asked what I needed in the same voice, dumped ice into a bag and handed it to me with the same motions that the real chef would have used. But the small, cramped quarters of the barge had let me get to know the small crew very well, and I could tell with a great deal of certainty that no, this was not the woman I had met scant days before. This was an impostor. I had to do something. But what?
And then I realized why I was here. I had wondered why a barge needed a security guard at all, but now it was clear. The owner of the barge, the person shipping whatever was in the crates, Mr. Capgras – he knew. He knew that the crates were valuable. He knew, surely, that there would be those who desired their contents. He knew that the crew was at risk of… this. He had hired me to protect the crew. But I had failed to protect the chef. It was too late for her.
But at least I could avenge her.
I turned and stepped out of the walk-in freezer and swung the door shut, then leaned against it as the impostor shouted. It pounded against the door, but I simply waited, pressing the ice pack against my bleeding skull to dull the pain of my wound. The real chef would have wanted it that way.
Eventually the screams stopped. That had been harder than I expected, but at least it was over now. I had avenged the chef. Now she would be able to rest in peace.
But what about the other members of the crew? The captain, and the navigator? I had better go make sure that they were all right as well. And if they too had been replaced, well…
No work of art exists in a vacuum. All things have their influences. Although it would be impossible to identify everything which influenced me in the writing of Capgras, I do wish to pay tribute to those which I am aware of as well as to those I paid conscious tribute to.
Capgras was written as part of the NYC Midnight 2016 Flash Fiction challenge. The prompt for my group in this case was a story written in the horror genre, with the setting of a barge, involving the object of an ice pack.
Capgras was named after and inspired by a disorder called Capgras syndrome, where the sufferer believes that one or more other people have been replaced with identical-looking impostors. I learned of the existence of Capgras syndrome from an episode of Scrubs (Season 8 Episode 13, “My Full Moon”).