Scientists claim that fraternal twins are nothing special, that they share nothing different from that of normal brothers and sisters. The miracle of their birth has them coexisting together from the moment of conception, but still scientists stubbornly claim that it is the identical twins, the ones that come from the same egg, who are the ones who are unique. Fraternal twins, especially those which are not of the same sex, tend to be overlooked as nothing particularly extraordinary. Just a normal brother and sister who do not have a special connection, or special language or even a special bond that unites them against the rest of the world. Now in most cases this could indeed be so, but as always there are the exceptions to the rule; sometimes identical twins will share no special connection and in rare cases a bond will exist in fraternal twins. This is a story about one such pair of exceptions, a brother and sister, who could not be separated by even death itself.
I have been following the story of the McNealy twins now for nearly 7 years. During that time I have managed to interview several fascinating people from a small town called Maple Vale, and somehow pieced together a remarkable story that unfortunately no one from Maple Vale will ever regard as factual.
My name is Sean Achias, and I must admit that the McNealy twins have fascinated me since the first time I heard of them. The Twins’ story captivated me so completely that for damn near two years I put my life on hold, just to pursue the truth about their existence; and I must confess that the McNealy twins have, over the years, become almost an obsession of mine.
* * *
Everyone who has lived in Maple Vale has heard the story about the birth of the McNealy Twins. It is a story that has been recounted about a million times, to the point where everyone has added their own little tidbit, so that it can take up to as much as an hour to tell now and isn’t even remotely accurate anymore. Susan Tanner was a nurse on the graveyard shift at the Innisfail hospital on the 2nd of March 1970, and since she was the original teller of the story, her account is probably the most accurate you’ll ever hear.
“Mrs. McNealy and I went to school together; her name was Bernadette Close back then. She married Kevin McNealy basically the minute they left school and they say she was already pregnant when they tied the knot. (Not that you can tell with twins because they usually always come at least 3 weeks early.) Anyway I remember Kevin rushing his wife into the delivery room, soaked to the bone because of the fierce storm that night. His mother (the bossy old bat) was screaming for the doctor and her mother was patting Berna’s head through her contractions. The prospective Grandfather’s where joking in the waiting room with horror stories of their own children’s births, and every available nurse was called to help assist Dr Winterbottom because it was his first and last multiple birthing. I was just out of nursing school myself, so this was the first any birth for me and I was so nervous that my hands shook constantly for the first ten minutes. Kevin was made to wait outside and take the disruptive older women with him so the doctor could have complete concentration for his task. I held Berna’s hand through most of the event, and the first one came out quickly and almost painlessly at exactly 11.43pm. She was like an angel, the most perfect and beautiful miracle I had ever seen. It was like time stopped for all of us then, every heart was lost from the moment we saw that angelic face. The two other nurses and I laughed and cooed with delight as we bundled her up in the soft pink blanket and placed her in the humidity crib. Nobody wanted to put her down.
We had forgotten all about the storm with the excitement of the births. I remember that just as Berna experienced a new contraction that the tree not 20 yards from the window was struck by lightning and the roar of thunder was almost deafening to our ears. Nobody heard Berna’s cry of pain, when the latest contraction ripped through her body, but we all saw her face.
HE eventually arrived at 12.34am on the 3rd March. He was smaller than his sister was and he did not appear physically deformed in anyway. Still there was something about him that made my stomach churn with revulsion and I remember thinking if there lays the angel, then here lies the devil. Berna hemorrhaged then, badly, and I had no chance to ponder over the babes, as we fought for the life of one of my oldest and dearest friends.
She recovered, barely, and was left too weak to breast feed more than one of her children, and I remember her saying that she only had one. She denied the existence of the boy that she believed almost robbed her of her life and so the care of that child fell to me.
And when I fed him for first time, in those early hours of the morning, I realised what it was about him that made my skin crawl. It was his eyes. Black soulless eyes that looked right through you. I had been told, you see, that all babies are born with blue eyes. All that is to say, except him.”
Bernadette and Kevin McNealy registered their baby girl and named her Angela Gracie on Monday 9th of March and both mother and daughter were able to venture home that very morning. The McNealy boy however, stayed behind, because the doctors felt him still too young and small to venture into the world. Mrs. McNealy was advised to see a psychiatrist because she was suffering from baby blues, but Mr. McNealy simply told the doctors, that everything would be fine once she was home again.
Of course everyone in the town has their own story about the McNealy twins. Mrs. Winifred Carpenter, a now retired teacher from the Maple Vale primary school, taught the McNealy twins in grade 2, and was more than willing to share this particular story about them with me.
“Angela was literally the life of the classroom from the moment she stepped in the door. She exuded sunshine and happiness from her very fingertips it seemed, and smart, oh she was certainly the brightest child I ever had the pleasure to teach. Everyone in the school adored her. She befriended a little girl called Belinda, an orphan who came to live with her great Aunt a month into the school year, and they became inseparable. My first impression of Angela’s brother, “TR”, as he had liked to be called, was that he was nothing but her shadow. Someone quiet, sullen, a straight C student who never made trouble and never participated in anything. On sports days he would stand in the field and watch as the balls ran right past him, and he never moved, not even to retrieve the fleeing balls. He followed his sister everywhere, and even though he didn’t join in the children’s games, he never seemed to stray very far from her sight. I thought, like everyone else, that he adored her, and when I first heard about what happened I didn’t believe them, until I remembered that one day back in April of 1977.
It was unusual to see Angela slinking into class behind her brother, in fact I had never seen her do it before, and she never did it after that day. I noticed another remarkable thing that morning; it was the first and only time in my life I ever saw TR smile, although I am told that he smiled once when the police came to take him away to the institution. I even heard tell that he had a smile on his face when they eventually found his lifeless body, but I can’t say whether that was true or not.
Anyway, as I was saying, Angela didn’t pay any attention during class that morning, not once did her hand rise up to ask a question or give an answer and the whole mood of the rest of the students was affected because of it; except one. In fact it was the only student that never spoke in class, TR, who answered all my questions that morning. After the morning break I took them to play softball and when it was Angela’s turn to bat, she simply passed the bat to her brother and sat down again. And when TR slogged the ball far beyond the outfielder’s reach, everyone stared at him as if he had grown another head, or been possessed by someone.
I was on lunch duty that week, and as I was making my trip around the school that particular day, I was drawn to an out-of-bounds area where I heard shouting and screaming. I found Belinda ringing her hands and crying over the twins fighting. On the ground not far from them was a dead bird in a grave that had not yet been filled. When I separated the twins, they continued to scratch and kick as if clawing their way back to continue the fight, and I saw in their eyes something I had never seen before; complete and utter hatred for each other. I know that brothers and sisters fight, I had a brother of my own, so when I thought about it later in the staff room I reasoned with myself that what I had seen was the result of an overactive imagination. As for the bird, both Belinda and Angela claimed they had found the poor creature and were merely giving the animal a proper burial and nobody had anything to say about how the fight started.”
When I began my research into the twins, I was surprised at how many people had an opinion or a story about them. I was inundated with offers from people clamoring for my attention, and I was amazed at how many of them could blame a little boy for every disaster that ever happened in the town. I spoke to Mrs. Pringle who is convinced she saw the McNealy boy slinking around her former next door neighbours (the Godfrey’s) home on the night that it burnt to the ground. Mr. and Mrs. Locke believed that he was also involved in the vandalism of their home when they had been away on holidays, and his own parent’s believed that he killed Angela’s pet cat Tinkers. Twenty-seven families in total blamed him for their pets’ disappearance or death, between the May of 1977 and the August of 1978, after they found the mass grave with over 50 animal skeletons not 100 meters from where Angela’s body was discovered. From all accounts the townspeople believed in the mythological idea of twins when it came to the McNealy pair, one good and one evil, one nice and one mean, one loved and one hated.
Of all the people I talked to though, I was extremely disappointed that Bernadette and Kevin McNealy (who changed their names when they left town) were reluctant to speak to me about that part of their lives, and only agreed to give me one afternoon of their time to speak about their twins. Kevin and Bernadette McNealy quite honestly admitted that they indeed favoured their little girl over her twin brother. At first the McNealy’s resented their baby boy because right after TR was born Bernadette almost lost her life. Anyone that has ever been in a delivery room could tell you about the miracle of birth, the joy, or the profound sorrow, depending on whether or not the child survives, and of course the panic when something goes wrong. According to every pessimist in the world, however, things will often go wrong, and in the McNealy’s case this proved remarkably true.
The doctors informed Bernadette and her husband that it would be a miracle if she had another child, and while Kevin tried desperately hard to accept the fact that his ideal ‘half a dozen’ children would be limited to two, Bernadette freely confessed to me that she was afraid to care for a sickly boy who she’d been told was not likely to survive. Once it became clear that the boy would survive, Kevin told me that he tried everything to feel love or joy for the solemn little bundle that was his son and in time Bernadette had eventually accepted that she had a son. But loving the McNealy boy, as his parents would gladly disclose, was almost impossible. He cried. He cried nearly all of the time he was awake, and when he wasn’t crying he was staring off into space, completely cutting the surrounding world around him off.
He was an unreasonable little boy, he never wanted to play ball with his father, never smiled or laughed, or joined in with anything. The McNealy’s knew there was something wrong with him, the tantrums he pulled, and the self inflicted cuts to his arms were all warning signs, that according to the boys’ therapist should have been taken more seriously. The problem was though, that the McNealy’s didn’t know what was going on, and they were afraid to find out, afraid it would reveal them to be bad parents in some way.
Octavia, Kevin’s mother, was one family member who was all too willing to speak to me, whenever I could spare the time, telling me about how her son and daughter-in-law left Maple Vale only weeks after their son had been committed for killing Angela and Larissa. According to Octavia they had been unable to bare the gossip any longer, and as far as she knows, have never returned. Every year though, the locals say, on the girls’ birthdays, fresh flowers are placed in front of the McNealy girls’ two white markers that no one will admit to putting there.
I have heard many stories from Octavia, of how Angela’s toys were broken, the time she fell down the stairs and swore that her brother had pushed her, and the many times he had hysterical tantrums for no reason, destroying rooms in his wake. I asked Octavia what he was like when he had these fits, but she claimed she had never witnessed him during one, seeing him only after the fit was over and the damage done, when he had gained control again. In fact the only people that had ever, it seems, witnessed these terrifying events were his sister and her best friend, Belinda Matthews.
I began to track down Belinda, who moved away from Maple Vale with her great Aunt, not long after the McNealy’s left. I knew that she had been the only witness to the crimes, and these events had upset her so much that her Aunt felt it unhealthy to remain in Maple Vale, but for the life of me I could not find her anywhere. In the end it was fate, the mysterious design which stepped into my life with capricious whim and guided Belinda to me. She had been reluctant to speak to me about the case, but had a few questions of her own to ask me, so we found ourselves together one Sunday afternoon over coffee, discussing her accounts of the McNealy twins that were documented when she was young.
“The rages always began the same. He’d start off screaming in this high-pitched manner that was almost inhuman. I’d stand there with my fingers in my ears trying to block out the noise and I’d watch him as his face turned red and the veins in his neck popped out. He’d start smashing things then, like his grandmother’s porcelain clock, his mother’s cherished figurine’s, his father’s reading glasses, Angela’s toys or school equipment, and then finally he’d turn on himself. He’d scratch his arms, tear at his clothes, and one time he even threw himself against the brick fireplace and managed to knock himself unconscious.
Angela would cry and try to grab at him, and he’d always mumble how he hated being Angela’s brother, that he’d never be anything else besides Angela’s twin, and when he eventually calmed down, he’d sit in the corner, and put like a mask on his face as if nothing had happened. And Angela, poor Angela would rock herself in the middle of the room, sobbing over the latest episode.
You have to understand that Angela was delicate. She didn’t like loud noises or fights, she preferred peace and laughter, and it always upset her that her brother had no control. She often stuck up for him, made excuses for him, or coddled him, and when I asked her why she did this, she told me that he was her responsibility, and that she was all he had in the world.”
She also told me that her experience with the twins had left her unable to form any close friendships again, but that she had eventually become adjusted to her new life, which included a new name (something she was adamant about not revealing) and her very own dog. Belinda was insistent that she would not talk about the night that Angela died, and told me that if I really wanted her account of that night, to read the police statement she had given over 20 years ago. I asked her why she was uncomfortable speaking about that night and she told me that she still had trouble trying not to feel responsible about what happened in August 1978.
“…I didn’t tell anyone about the animals I didn’t want to get into trouble for knowing. I’m sorry.”
“Did Angela know about the animals?”
“Yes. But we were afraid. And Tinkers was there.”
“Who is Tinkers?”
“Did T.R say he wanted to hurt you or Angela like he hurt her cat?”
“But you were afraid of him?”
“Did T.R ever say he wanted to hurt Larissa?”
“No. Larissa loved T.R. I don’t know why Larissa is dead. I don’t know why Larissa is dead. I don’t know why Larissa is dead.”
“Did you ever see T.R hurt Larissa?”
“No. They were afraid he’d hurt Larissa, they kept him away from her, but she loved him and wanted him all the time. Mrs McNealy said he was getting better, and that he wouldn’t have to go away after all.”
“Where was T.R going away to?”
“I don’t know.”
“And did you believe he’d changed?”
“I wanted to, more than anything. I don’t know why Larissa is dead. I don’t, I don’t, I’m sorry.”
“Did Angela believe he’d changed?”
“What did she tell you?”
“A Twin always knows.”
“What happened Thursday afternoon.”
“We were late getting home. We were playing and T.R got home first.”
“Did T.R often get home first?”
“And did their grandmother often leave T.R alone with the baby?”
“No. An adult always had to be at home with the baby.”
“Why was that Belinda?”
“Cause of T.R.”
“So the family was worried about leaving the baby alone with T.R then?”
“What happened when you got to Angela’s house Belinda?”
“The baby was crying, and Angela was screaming, make it stop make it stop, why doesn’t it stop!”
“And where was T.R?”
“I didn’t see T.R. I didn’t know where he was.”
“Did you go to find him?”
“No. We went to the baby’s room.”
“Was she still crying?”
“Yes… No… I don’t remember.”
“Was the door open or shut?”
“Open. Always open.”
“Who went into the room first?”
“Did you go in straight away?”
“No. I was afraid.”
“Why were you afraid?”
“I don’t know.”
“Could you see T.R?”
“Yes. He was standing over the crib. And they were fighting and Larissa was screaming. I think. I think Larissa was screaming. And I ran into the room and looked into the crib, and Larissa wasn’t moving. And they were shouting and throwing things at each other.”
“What did you do next?”
“T.R was very angry. I was scared. He hated Angela very much. He hated Angela. And I ran. I didn’t want them to find me. And I hid in the tree and he found her and he…”
“And he what Belinda?”
“I tried to warn her, honest I tried. But I couldn’t speak and then he hit her again and again and the blood and she cried and he screamed and kept screaming.”
“How long where you hiding Belinda?”
“I don’t know?”
“Did he know you were there?”
“I thought so, maybe. He started speaking after a while. I thought he was speaking to me, but he was scared and then he started crying. And I thought if I just closed my eyes it would all go away. Auntie said T.R was going to be put away. Where is he going?”
“Don’t worry child, he won’t come looking for you.”
Belinda Matthews’s testimony put the McNealy boy in an institution, or mental facility if you prefer, for 18 years, and he was only released when his Doctor, Arthur Fiddler and two other independent psychiatrists announced he was stable enough to return into the community. Dr Fiddler was unable to discuss his patient’s progress, but he did offer one piece of information for me. T.R McNealy had begun writing in journals since the year of his sisters’ deaths, and he had never gone anywhere without them. Those journals were my only link to a boy nobody alive really knew, and the problem was they were harder to locate then I thought they would be. Nobody had ever found his journals, and one summer whilst holidaying from university I searched without avail, before I decided the task was hopeless and I may as well give it up. I told myself for all I knew they could be buried in someone’s garden, and then inspiration struck. I found myself traveling back to a particular clearing in the woods that I had spent so much time at in my dreams during the last few years, and I knew before I found the bag buried in the site where the mass grave had been years before, that I would find the journals of the one tormented soul that called to me in my sleep.
* * *
Well I have begun this story with as much background information as I’m willing to give. So I’ll leave you here now, to walk through these pages alone, without someone to guide your way, as I had to do on this very journey myself. I have only one piece of advice to give you, and that is “though assumptions can be made, do not be fooled by first impressions.”
And I’ll see you again on the other side; if you make it.