Old Aunt Mary was the eldest of four children. She was unmarried for the first 40-odd years of her life. As a result, she was always spoiling her nieces and nephews with indulgent gifts. She was everyone’s favorite aunt.
However, deep down, she was very lonely.
Always being the spinster whilst everyone around her got married and had children took a mental toll on her. When both her parents eventually died, they left a sprawling house as her inheritance. But the void in her life became as cavernous as the empty rooms of her mansion.
Shortly after her 46th birthday, she surprised everyone by announcing her sudden wedding to Stanley, a man she’d known for only two months.
It was clear that they were deeply in love with each other. He was only vaguely younger – 39 years old – but still as charming, fit and generous a soul as Mary was. Whilst no one knew much about Stanley, they all loved and welcomed him into the family. They were also secretly relieved that Mary had found happiness after all those years of solitude.
A month after the wedding, they took the honeymoon of a lifetime, spending a year to travel across the world. Every few weeks a postcard would arrive from various exotic locations exclaiming how much fun they were having.
Everything seemed perfect until the couple returned from their trip. Living together at the mansion, Mary started to change. She stopped sleeping in the same bed as Stanley; then insisted that they have separate rooms. Before long, she was claiming to hear strange noises throughout the house: her name being called out during the night, furious scratching sounds echoing in the hallways, or mournful wails that seemed to come from the walls themselves.
The more Stanley tried to comfort her, the more terrified she became. She would yell and scream at him to stay away, and to not touch her. She would spend days barricading herself up in a room crying and babbling, slowly going insane from the filth that would accumulate and the mental isolation.
Eventually, the family got her to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with a type of paranoid schizophrenia known as Capgras Syndrome. It’s a rare condition where the victim believes that someone close has been replaced with an identical imposter. She claimed that Stanley was not her husband – but something that looked, acted and pretended to be Stanley.
Her family was faced with the difficult choice of either committing Mary to a mental institution to get the care she needed, or have her sedated and looked after at home. They chose to keep her sedated.
Throughout all this time, Stanley was clearly distraught, but still loved Mary with all his heart. He never wavered in caring for her at the bedside; feeding her and talking to her as a loving husband. Over the following year the family spent a lot of time getting to know Stanley better, as they took turns caring for Mary, and felt incredibly fortunate that he was around.
So it was a total shock when they arrived at the house one day to be greeted by a squad of police cars. The front door was plastered with police tape, and they weren’t allowed to enter. After proving that they were related to the occupants, the officer in charge relayed what happened.
That morning, Aunt Mary’s body was found at the base of an ocean cliff about a half hour’s drive away. A passing jogger had seen her car drive right up to the edge of the cliff, and saw a woman pulling a body from the back of the car. After calling the police, he then witnessed Mary stabbing a male body several times with a large kitchen knife. She then rolled the body off the cliff into the waters below, and started to laugh uncontrollably for minutes on end.
When the police arrived, she had simply turned and smiled, then jumped off the cliff to her death. They managed to recover her body, but no trace of Stanley’s was found. In all likelihood, it was already washed out to sea. The license plate of the car led them back to the house, where the investigation was now focused. They found some spat-out medication near Mary’s bed, and a broken lamp on the floor with blood splattered on the walls.
Aunt Mary had pretended to take her pills, then knocked Stanley out with the bedside lamp while his head was turned. She then dragged the unconscious and bleeding body to the kitchen where she stabbed Stanley with a knife, before dragging him to the car and driving to the cliff.
It was what they found next that puts a chill through my bones.
In searching the house that day, the police uncovered a secret cellar under a large rug. Upon opening it, they were greeted with the anguished face of a desiccated corpse on the steps, clawing at the cellar door.
The room was covered in the stench of dried human waste, and deep gouges in the woodwork where someone had desperately tried to scratch their way out of this prison. When the DNA analysis and dental records came back, the corpse was a 99% match with Stanley.
He’d been dead for months, most likely of starvation. His long fingernails were broken and scratched from clawing in his futile attempts to get out. Stanley was the thing that went bump in the night; it was his pleas and desperate attempts to escape that echoed through the halls of the mansion at night.
But solving that mystery only created a deeper one.
Who then, was that person caring for Mary, spending time with her family – and whom ultimately was murdered and thrown off a cliff – if Stanley was already dead?
Was it a twin brother? A Doppelgänger?
Whatever it was, Aunt Mary took that secret with her to the grave.
Maybe she was perfectly sane through it all, and it was the world itself that was truly crazy.
Reality is indeed creepier than fiction.