Lachlan Channing MacRaith woke to a peculiar light shining through the curtains. It was like the light that usually greeted him on winter mornings but different somehow, subtly different. In his liminal state (of what had he been dreaming?), he tried to see what the difference was. Was there less light than usual, meaning overcast skies and snow for his morning commute? He could hear his wife showering. No. It’s not the light at all, he thought. She’s changed the duvet. But why would she buy a duvet with the same pattern the old one had? Perhaps something happened to the other one. He would ask about it.
He threw back the cover and sat up on the edge of the bed. A moment to collect the scattered pieces of himself, then up. He opened the bathroom door. The familiar sound of the shower. The familiar form of Lila’s body through the translucent curtain. “So why did you change the duvet?” he asked.
“The duvet. Why did you change it?”
“Whatever are you talking about?” She shut off the shower, reached through the edge of the curtain to grab a towel, then pushed the curtain aside. That’s when he saw, thunderstruck, that this wasn’t Lila. It looked like her but wasn’t. The imposter was shamelessly naked before him, toweling her hair. He felt a familiar pulse in his boxers. A strange, attractive, naked woman in his bathroom. She stopped, looking at him. “Are you OK?” He thought of the spy movies he had watched with his father as a child, the old ones from the 1960s and ‘70s—of the physically identical, perfectly trained imposters, the dopplegangers who set honey traps. He must be careful not to give away his suspicions. No, not suspicions. What he saw with his own eyes.
“Fine. Fine.” He turned to look at himself in the mirror. His own familiar face, but the mirror, too, was different somehow, not quite right. He remembered reading in a book of popular psychology about how people sense more than what rises to conscious awareness. Blindsight. Some sensations are not consciously perceived—they are too subtle, below certain thresholds, or not attended to—but they are processed and responded to, nonetheless, by the brain’s automated machinery. He was not consciously recognizing what was different about his surroundings, but he could tell, nonetheless, that they were different. He looked at the reflection of this woman, behind him, the one with the appearance of Lila. He would have to get to the office, to be alone, to sort this out. What had he awakened into?
The clothes in the closet and in the chest of drawers were just like his, arranged as Lila, with her care about such matters, had always arranged them. Just as he liked them. The socks just so. Who or what had done this? Who or what had gone to such elaborate means?
“Don’t forget the tires,” the imposter had said to him as he was leaving.
“The tires. The driver’s side rear definitely needs replacing. And have them check the others. They look fine, though.” All the details, just right. How would anyone know this? Know his wife and life at such a level of detail?
He drove to the office on what appeared to be the same Beltway, passing what appeared to be the same landmarks—the park, the rotary, the ludicrous dome of the Mormon temple poking from behind the roadside trees. The car he drove, much like his own, down to the minutest details—the key ring with the miniature CVS and Stop and Shop identification cards. A windbreaker very like Lila’s, thrown across the back seat, casually, as one might dress a stage set.
The drive gave him, at least, time to think. What a nightmare! Though clearly (how clearly?), he was not dreaming. There wasn’t, to all of this, the sketchiness and discontinuity of dreams. But no power or powers could recreate all this, all this stuff in its extreme particularity, and plop him down into it. Could they? They, who? He thought again of the cold war spy movies in which the Russians recreated American towns, in all their details, in which to train perfect spies. Preposterous. No, nothing like that could explain this. He remembered the binoculars that he had put into the glove compartment. He opened it. A pair just like his was there, the strap folded around them just as he had done with his own binoculars, in his own car, two weeks earlier when he and his real wife had visited the Gettysburg battlefield.
He ran through the more esoteric possible explanations: the world is a holographic simulation of the past being run by technologically sophisticated persons of some distant future, and overnight, everything had been rebooted. Impossible. He, Lachlan MacRaith, was no different. His hand, gripping the wheel, was definitely his. How did he know that? He just did. The shirt sleeve from which the hand emerged, though, was not his. It was similar, but different, though not in any detail gross enough for him to identify consciously, conclusively, definitively. Clearly, though, these were substitutes, around him—more than substitutes, simulacra.
It wasn’t until he pulled into the parking lot of the building like the one in which he ordinarily worked that this thought occurred to Lachlan: it doesn’t matter what I do, given that none of this is real. I could, for example, drive this car over half a dozen pedestrians, and it wouldn’t matter. They are, after all, as unreal, as insubstantial, as clouds—more so, in fact. No need to fight it. I should just . . . just . . . ENJOY it.
And that’s when he started grinning.
All that this decision cost him, in the end, was the continued companionship of the imposter posing as Lila. Having nothing to lose, he took the position in the imaginary country of Ecuador that his company had offered him, and he paid off the phony government officials he found there and hired fake ex-military and police to get rid of the bogus leaders of the sham resistance movement that attempted to stop the nonexistent runoff of the tailings from his company’s illusory mines into the simulated river that ran through the too-pristine-to-be-real wilderness to which the supposed indigenous and their alleged ancestors belonged, and pretty soon, he was head of the whole ersatz company he “worked” for and his picture was on the cover of a faux issue of Forbes, and there was even talk of putting him on the ticket alongside the pretend Republican candidate for putative president of the wholly, irredeemably counterfeit United States of America.
NB: Capgras delusion is a psychiatric disorder that causes a person to believe a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member (or pet) has been replaced by an identical imposter. The Capgras delusion . . . can occur in acute, transient, or chronic forms. Cases in which patients hold the belief that time has been “warped” or “substituted” have also been reported. . . .
The delusion most commonly occurs in individuals diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but has also been seen in brain injury, dementia with Lewy bodies, and other dementia.
Copyright 2006. Robert D. Shepherd. All rights reserved.
Art: Woman in Shower. Jody Lee Smith, U.S. Marine Corps [Public domain]
For more short stories by Bob Shepherd (and for essays about the writing and reading of fiction), go here: https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/category/short-stories/