Skip navigation
text size: default | enlarged——servicing readers in 130 plus countries——110 free stories
Genre: Science Fiction
Back to Previous Page Review This Story Share This Story

Twin Killing

By: Dale Uhlmann

The tiny, headless carcass dropped from the fir tree's bare branches to the damp ground below. Its blood now added a ghastly touch to the otherwise cheery orange and green mosaic of leaves that covered the lawn this bright but crisp October 31 morning. Ceara's emerald-green eyes widened in shock at the sight of the decapitated chipmunk, a victim of the large hawk that glided overhead. Her sister Branna, on the other hand, was delighted by the carnage.

"The gods have sent us a sign," she smiled.

"Don't say that!" Ceara warned her.

In response, Branna's dark eyes, which matched the color of her hair, flashed in indignation. "I told you it must be done," she said.

"I want to go home," her sister replied. "I've never liked this place. We should have stayed where we were."

"And die?" asked Branna. "And end up like this ground squirrel?"

"Better death than . . . this!" Ceara insisted. She lowered her eyes and stared at the bulging band of flesh that connected her at the waist to her conjoined sister. Now twenty-two years old, they had gotten used to, but had still did not enjoy, being regarded as freaks ... exhibitions for others' entertainment, and for their foster father's financial gain.

Mack Wilson, German-born carnival showman, had adopted the two orphans when he had practiced medicine in Donegal, Ireland. They were indeed a rarity, the world's only conjoined non-identical twins. Although both tall, they were otherwise quite a contrast: Ceara, with her freckles and flowing rust-red hair, and Branna, with her likewise long, raven hair, and dark-blue eyes.

Ever since they were teenagers, Wilson had exhibited them in sideshows all over the world as The Twin Celts, and they would sing and dance to a medley of popular Celtic folk songs and ballads. The singing and dancing lessons had been arduous, for Wilson had been a stern taskmaster, literally cracking the whip (a bullwhip he had picked up while in Australia once), to keep the girls in line, and focused on their practices. He would work them for hours on end, without breaks. Some fellow performers had considered reporting him for child abuse, although one ever had. There had always been something about Wilson's demeanor and bearing that frightened people so much that nobody could ever bring themselves to cross him, yet they could never quite explain what that that was-just a sense of general unease and disgust that he seemed to generate in others.

The act had been such a huge success that they had recently appeared on American Idol as guest performers. But with the festival-touring season now winding down for the year, Wilson had decided that they would take a rest and rent a winter house in an Ohio town called Mansfield, where they had recently performed. There was an abandoned old penitentiary there that was said to be haunted. It was open to the public, and Wilson had wanted to some day visit it. Branna and Ceara had thought nothing of this fixation; he'd always seemed to be strangely interested in anything involving prisons, as well as military confinement camps. Recently, they had discovered something in their foster father's past that explained why.

"He must die," Branna tried again to convince her sister.

"No," Ceara protested. "Whatever he's done, it's not for us to decide his fate. Leave that to the gods."

"To the same gods of Samhain that would have had us butchered, like the sheep of Eriu? You trusted me to make the right decision then, and I did."

"Did you?" Ceara asked, again staring at their grotesque conjoined flesh.

"We're alive," Branna insisted. That's what's important. But now we have a chance to avenge what he did to us so long ago."

"I don't think I can do it," said Ceara.

"But I can!" insisted Branna.

The next day, the twins were in the custody of the Mansfield Police, and soon the whole world knew what Branna had forced her sister to help her with later that night. The major networks, as well as CNN, Court TV, and Fox News, carried the story, and soon the whole world knew all about the "Halloween Night Slaughter."

That night, Branna and Ceara had crept into their foster father's bedroom. Each twin had control of her own side of their joint body, but because Branna was the physically stronger of the two girls, she'd been able to drag their body, despite Ceara's resistance, which had resembled a dog stubbornly fighting its leash, to their foster father's bedroom. Branna had taken an ax with her. There, in a sleep so deepened by the whiskey he'd just consumed as his regular nightcap, the old man had been oblivious to their approach. He had not even felt the ax's sharp head descend onto his throat with such quickness and ferocity that his head had been severed from his body with one fell chop. During the middle of this butchery, Ceara had fainted from horror and shock, making it easier for Branna to complete her grim task.

Having severed the head, Branna, her face and clothes now blood-splattered, had drug their conjoined body to the garage to get a hacksaw, a candle, and some matches. She had then cut open the snow-white top of Wilson's severed head with a hacksaw and placed within its cavern, just above the brain, two lighted candles. She had then propped open his eyelids so that the light would shine through, and had set the gruesome human jack-o-lantern on the front porch, as a beacon, she explained later to the authorities, to welcome home the wandering souls of the dead. "Their people," she pointed out, believed the head to be the seat of the human soul.

Soon, national debate flooded the media and the Internet. The first question, obviously, was "Why?" What had been the sisters'-or at least Branna's-motive? Was she-or both of them-insane? Or were there extenuating reasons for the crime? Then came another question-who would be charged?-Branna or Ceara?-or both? Then what?

Because of the lack of legal precedent involved, the Prosecutor felt he had no other choice but to charge both sisters with first-degree murder. At their arraignment, Branna and Ceara pleaded guilty, and waived their right to trial. The speculation was that their state-appointed attorney felt that her clients had a better chance of an acquittal from the judge assigned to the case, the Honorable Kim Park, who had a reputation for being tough, but moderate, than from a local jury. Their attorney then asked Judge Park for a hearing, at which her clients would be allowed to explain their reasons for the crime. She agreed, and the hearing was set for the week before Thanksgiving. Everyone wondered what the twins would say. When they once again stood before the venerable Korean-American judge, and before a courtroom packed with local and national media, they had a most astounding story to tell.

A day earlier, on October 30, Branna and Ceara had embarked on a full search of the house to rid the quarters of every last bottle of whiskey. Their foster father had been drinking again, and whenever he did, he would habitually become more argumentative than usual-and violent. The previous night, Branna had broached the idea of ending the act, citing the endless traveling and their desire for a life of their own. Enraged by her rebellion, Wilson, who, even at eight-nine years of age, was still remarkably strong, had struck her across the face, drawing blood from her lower lip. He claimed that she and her sister were his "creations," and that they would do as they were told. The two had then resolved to find his stash of liquor while he was out of the house the next day.

Thinking that it might be in an old family cedar chest of his that he always carried with him on tour, Branna had managed to pick the lock. Once the two had opened the trunk, they had been astonished to discover, instead of whiskey, an SS uniform from World War II, a set of immigration papers, and a diary. It was that diary that would reveal the truth about Mack Wilson's secret double life, and a shocking explanation for Branna's and Ceara's existence as conjoined twins.

The SS uniform belonged to the diary's author, a man named Maxwell Wilheim. He had been a young medical officer under the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi physician and SS officer known as the "Angel of Death" for his inhuman experiments on prisoners at the infamous Auschwitz -Birkenau concentration camp. Only eighteen years old at the time, Wilheim had proven to be Mengele's most skilled and devoted pupil. As the "Angel of Death's" protιgι, Wilheim had shared his mentor's interest in the physiognomy of twins. In fact, he had conducted an operation, under Mengele's supervision, to sew two identical twin children together at their waists to create artificially conjoined beings. The children had later died of a severe gangrene infection. This mistake would always haunt Wilheim, not because of their tragic deaths, but because he felt, but for this error, he might have succeeded.

In the meantime, trying to submerge the memory of his failure in drink, Wilheim had fallen into a drunken lust, and had raped one of the Jewish inmates, a sixteen-year-old Polish girl. When it was discovered she was pregnant, Mengele had commanded him to perform an abortion on the girl, but Wilheim could not bring himself to comply. He had decided he wanted the child anyway, and so one night fled with the girl from the camp.

With the help of his family and friends, Wilheim and she forged their identities and managed to sneak passage on a ship bound for Ireland. There, on route, she had suffered a miscarriage, and had shortly thereafter died of a high fever. It was at that point that Wilheim, who had changed his name to Mack Wilson, had decided to bury his grief by throwing himself into medical research that would rectify the grave mistake that had led to this tragic downturn in his life. He had felt if he could prove Mengele's theory right, that twins could be artificially conjoined, and still live, then he could vindicate himself.

Settling in Donegal, he had, with false credentials, applied for a position as one of the village's four practicing physicians. Once the local medical board had approved his license, he had now been in a position to secretly consider possible candidates for recreating the original Mengele experiment. These, he had felt, he could select from the children who would be brought to his office.

Donegal, however, was not Auschwitz. There, he and the other SS doctors had their picks of whatever inmates they had chosen to experiment on. Here, he would have to use charm and subterfuge to carry out his plans. He had asked the children who would be brought to the office to call him "Uncle Mack," and he would give them candy, while ingratiating himself, in his most personable way, with their parents. That would, he had felt, make it easier for these largely, poor, uneducated families to accept a bogus excuse for an operation, and buy him time to spirit himself and his subjects away, following the surgery, to another country, where he could monitor their progress.

Even if he could pull such a plan off, he had soon discovered Donegal was not an ideal place for his work for another reason: the town experienced very few twin births, and these children, he had judged, were too sickly, and would likely not survive the operation. For many years, he had resigned himself to forgetting about this grand dream, and to bandaging wounds, dispensing pills, and setting fractured limbs for the rest of his life. As routine as that future had seemed, it was certainly preferable, he had told himself, to being tried and executed for war crimes. Although he had been able thus far to successfully conceal his past, he would always live those years fearful of exposure. After all, had not the Israelis still never stopped searching for Mengele himself?

One day, shortly after he had turned sixty and was considering retiring, a chance to finally realize his by-then almost forgotten dream had unexpectedly presented itself. The local orphanage had brought to his care, for a routine check-up, two ten-month-old orphaned girls, twins, named Branna and Ceara-not identical, but, because they had been, unlike many of the other local children, remarkably strong and fit, he had convinced himself he could not be too selective. But how could he get them away from the orphanage and into his custody?

After much deliberation, and obsessed with the prospect of a successful conjoined operation, he had finally decided what to do: he would adopt the girls himself, give them a home, as well as his name, "Wilson," and, after the surgery, leave Donegal with his two foster daughters. They would then begin a new existence, elsewhere, as a family.

Because of his reputation as a dedicated doctor and humanitarian, Wilson had encountered no resistance from the local court in adopting the girls. About one-and-a-half months later, Wilson, with money he had carefully saved from his practice, had closed his office and left for Brazil with his foster daughters, who had, in no time at all, become attached to their foster father, whom they called "Papa." There, they had lived an idyllic existence.

In October, when the girls had just turned one, Wilson had decided to throw them a grand birthday party, complete with clowns and balloons, to celebrate their birthday. The party would give him the cover he needed to put his true plans into operation. He had drugged the girls' lemonade with a powerful sedative that would take effect about an hour following the party. He had then taken their small, limp, unconscious bodies to the operating room basement of the bungalow he had bought. There, he had replicated the surgery he had performed, under Mengele's direction, so long ago. This time, though, he had been careful to avoid any post-operative infections that could result in gangrene. The result: Branna and Ceara had been successfully conjoined by a band of shared flesh and resected veins at their waists. In having been conjoined in this way, the girls would share a common blood supply.

They would recover quickly and adapt well to their new lives as conjoined beings. Because they had been only a year old at the time, they would not remember their previous lives as non-conjoined twins. Thus, when they had become old enough to understand Wilson's explanation for their strange condition, they had readily believed his story that they had always been conjoined twins from birth.

Wilson, however, had soon realized that he faced a dilemma. Although he had proven Mengele's theory with this successful experiment, he could never exhibit the twins before the scientific community, as much as he had liked to, and take credit for the work. His past would surely be discovered, and he could be charged with, in addition to his war crimes, fraud and child endangerment. He would have to remain content with the private satisfaction of having achieved even that which Mengele himself had not.

In the meantime, Branna and Ceara had developed into child prodigies with truly advanced musical talents. They had shown a fondness for dancing and singing to old Irish ballads that they seemed to somehow already know by heart. More astoundingly, they could sing them in Gaelic. Where their knowledge of Ireland's ancient language had come from, nobody, including the girls themselves, could explain.

Nor could either Branna or Ceara explain the strange feeling they had begun experiencing as little girls that they somehow did not belong in this time and place, and that their true home was elsewhere. They would awaken at night from recurring, frightening dreams featuring strange people wearing odd clothing, and throwing their bodies into great, roaring bonfires.

By the time they had turned sixteen, the girls had overcome their fear of these dreams and had seemed to attain some deep, inner knowledge or revelation that they were now keeping a secret from others. When no one was listening, they would speak to each other in some type of coded language, with references to "Euri" (the ancient Celtic word for Ireland), "spirit nights," "Samhain," "Beltrane," the "Summerlands," the "Dark Mysteries," the "Dark Mother" and the "Dark Father," and the "Feast of the Dead." Adults who would occasionally overhear these conversations had felt the girls were merely playing their own private game or fantasy to relieve the loneliness of a life in which Wilson had kept always kept them away from other children.

Eventually, Wilson had reached a decision. If they had real talent, why not use it? Besides medicine, Wilson had always been fascinated by show business, his parents having been cabaret performers in old Berlin. It had dawned on him that, in the twilight of his life, he could make a fortune from exhibiting them as the world's only singing and dancing non-identical conjoined twins. Critics would call it a glorified freak show, "The Old Man and His Siamese Twins," but a resounding show business success would be born.

He had devised an act in which the girls would wear shamrock-green, nineteenth-century Irish dresses with bodices and fully plaited skirts and flat leather black Oxford taps. He would be part of the act himself, and would dress like an old-fashioned showman, carrying a cane and wearing a straw boater's hat and a white sports coat and slacks, with vertical red stripes on the coat, replete with a tan shirt and a fern-green tie, both made of silk. In this get-up, he would jauntily introduce the girls on stage and accompany their performances with a replica of a Celtic harp he had for, and which he had learned to play.

Seven subsequent years of sideshow and carnival success and international fanfare had now ended in this modern-day horror story that was, thanks to the cable news programs and the Internet, turning Branna and Ceara into much different types of celebrities. Bloggers on Yahoo and Hotmail all had their opinions on what should be done with the "Butcher Twins," as did the legal and political pundits interviewed by Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, Greta Van Susteren, and, in a special one-night-only show on CNN, the recently retired Larry King. Even Oprah had an opinion.

The ongoing debate exposed moral and legal issues that no other case in the nation's history had ever done before. Everyone agreed on one thing: Judge Park's ruling would set a precedent undreamed of by the Founding Fathers. In the meantime, the questions seemed endless.

"Was Mack Wilson really an ex-Nazi?" asked some. The evidence uncovered by the subsequent police investigation seemed to confirm this, leading not a few to proclaim the girls as heroes for having brought a war criminal to justice.

Had Wilson abused them? If so, had at least Branna acted under a state of diminished capacity, and could be declared legally insane? If so, why had the two, presumably under legal advice, waived their right to trial? Evidently, their lawyer was convinced that a jury would be unlikely to accept a not guilty-by-reason-of-insanity argument.

When Harvard Law School Professor Lawrence Beck was interviewed on Court TV, he brought up another issue: Ceara had claimed she had been an unwilling accomplice, and had been unable to prevent her sister's actions, due to Branna's greater control of their joint body. What would this mean?

"Even if one of the twins had not actually committed the crime," he explained, "she certainly had known about her sister's intentions beforehand. Couldn't she have tried to stop her? Even if she couldn't, shouldn't she have least tried to notify the police?"

When asked how she could have done so if, again, the stronger twin controlled their body, Beck could only answer, "That's one of many questions Judge Park will have to consider."

Bringing up additional complications when interviewed on the same program that evening was former Chief Justice Madelyn Arnold.

"Let's assume that the Mansfield Common Pleas Court rules that Branna Wilson is guilty of first-degree murder," Arnold began. "The punishment could be either life imprisonment or lethal injection. Let's further assume that the Court rules that Ceara Wilson had been an unwilling participant, and is not guilty of the crime. The Constitution holds that no citizen can be punished for having been forced to commit or aid in the committing of a crime. If that's the case, then one twin is guilty and the other is not guilty. Now, Judge Park will be hearing expert medical testimony as to the risks of possible surgical separation of the twins. If they cannot be separated without the probability of permanent death or injury to Ceara, how would the state be able to punish the guilty sister without harming the other? That, I think, is the real issue here. It has never been addressed before in this country. That's what makes this case, to say the least, unique."

It wasn't long before the Mansfield court had to address that issue itself. After months of subsequent testimony and deliberation, Judge Park ruled that Branna was guilty of first-degree murder, but that Ceara had been coerced into cooperating, and was not guilty.

There followed testimony from several Ohio doctors who had been appointed to examine the twins. All concurred that they could not be separated without high risk of almost certain death to one or the other-or both. What would be Judge Park's next decision?

The court of public opinion remained divided. Some conservative U. S. representatives and senators interviewed on Fox News argued for life imprisonment for the twins as an alternative to capital punishment, arguing that while both would be imprisoned, Ceara (and for that matter, Branna) would still be alive, and the state would still be able to punish her sister for her crime. On MSNBC, ACLU members strenuously counter-argued that such a view was missing the point-at-issue: ANY incarceration, they argued, would still violate Ceara's civil rights. This was the point of view held by ACLU member Vincent DeFrenzi. He and a U.S. Senator from Ohio, Republican Mitchell Bernam, were interviewed on CNN, via live satellite hookup.

DeFrenzi argued, "Our nation's Constitution and entire legal system holds that 'No person […] shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law," "This Constitutionally mandated principle over-rides all other considerations, even our criminal laws. The Founding Fathers strongly believed in the principle, 'Better ten guilty men go free than one innocent man be held.' In view of that fact, the only ruling Judge Park can make is to let both twins go free."

"I disagree," countered Senator Bernam. "There are several options open to the judge that would allow her to punish the guilty sister without harming the other."

"I don't want to sound flippant, Senator," DeFrenzi responded, "But please name one."

"Well, they could build a cell that confines Branna, while allowing Ceara free movement outside of that enclosure."

"How could that possibly work, Senator? The human body-even a conjoined one-only stretches so far!"

"I'm just saying," the Senator replied, "that we should explore all options. If a special enclosure like the one I've proposed is not possible, the state could still keep both of them in a conventional cell, but Ceara would be treated humanely."

"What do you mean, Senator?" asked DeFrenzi.

"Well, they can give her the best food possible, a comfortable bed, and privileges like music, a cell phone, television, and Internet access. To make sure her sister couldn't enjoy the same amenities, guards could place a hood over her head, or stuff heavy-duty plugs in her ears."

"Senator," responded DeFrenzi, "do you really think things like a cell phone and free Internet access are substitutes for loss of civil liberties, especially for a person judged not guilty under the law?"

"Well, I have a question for you, Mr. DeFrenzi. If you're so concerned about civil liberties, what about that old man whose head was turned into a jack-o-lantern? I don't care if he may have been a war criminal or not. If we just release these two outright, without punishing the guilty party, what would deter some wacko from cutting off HIS elderly mom or dad's head? If somebody would have the guts to do the same thing to Mack Wilson's murderer-cut off HER head and stuff a couple of lighted candles inside-I'd call that 'justice served!'"

"Senator, that kind of thinking appalls me. What you've just proposed goes against everything our Bill of Rights stands for!"

"Oh, really?" answered the Senator sarcastically.

"Yes, 'really!' Senator, for an elected servant of the people, I find your rhetoric -no offense intended-utterly irresponsible!"

"Offense accepted, Mr. DeFrenzi!"

"I can't help that!" DeFrenzi replied.

Thankfully, at that point of total communication break-down between the two men, it was a time for a commercial break.

This exchange was but a small indication of the controversy over the twins' fate. The media was now comparing this situation to the Terri Schiavo case. In fact, Congress once again called for a special session, to debate the legal and moral issues involved. Liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans seemed divided along party lines, with Democrats stressing the importance of protecting Ceara's civil liberties, and Republicans emphasizing the need for a punishment that would ensure justice and deterrence. Moderates of both parties called for drafting a joint message from Congress asking Judge Park to delay any final ruling for a period of one year, so that she could listen to additional arguments from all sides. During that time, the twins would be under house arrest and police supervision. This was the proposal that both houses, after forty-eight hours of continuous debate, eventually accepted.

In spite of the Congress's recommendation, Judge Park was ready to issue her ruling. Two days following the proposal's ratification, she ruled that, while recognizing the state's right to protect itself from criminal action, she felt that the Constitution's mandate against punishment of the innocent took precedent over its legal system's jurisdiction. Since it was, she conceded, impossible to punish Branna without violating Ceara's rights, she held she had no other choice but to drop all criminal charges against Branna and set the two free.

Ceara and Branna's lawyer notified them by phone of the verdict. Branna, for one, was ecstatic.

"Do you realize what this means?" she asked Ceara in their holding cell after their lawyer had notified them of the ruling. "As long one of us says, 'I didn't help her out,' we can do anything we want, and the law can't touch us!" Her eyes widened, fired by this realization, and her words were full of a malicious delight that Ceara had never heard in her sister's voice before.

"Branna, what are you saying?"

"Don't you see? We're above their laws! There's nothing to stop us from getting anything we want and doing anything we want---even punishing anybody else who deserves to die."

"WHAT!" Ceara responded. She couldn't believe how self-righteous and ruthless Branna had become.

"Why not? Don't forget some of these strange people have even called us heroes for what we've done."

"You mean what you've done!" countered Branna.

"All right, what I've done. But this land seems to love what they call-what word did I hear?-vigilantes. That's us!"

"Branna, I want to go home," insisted he sister. "I told you, we don't belong here. This place has changed you, made you into something that frightens me!"

Branna was defiant. "I'm not going back, Ceara-I'm never going back. And as long as our bodies are joined like this, in this time and place, we're staying here! And you're going to do EXACTLY as I tell you. Nothing's going to stop me-nothing!"

Ceara wondered what kind of monster her beloved sister had turned into.

And there were many others who thought Branna was a monster. One man in particular was determined to seek the justice that he felt Judge Park had been unwilling to administer.

He was Graham McAfee. McAfee was a thirty-one-year-old man with a severe anger management problem that had already cost him two marriages and his job as a clerk at the Mansfield City Tax Department. Despite strong support of victims' rights and concealed weapons laws that many of his co-workers had agreed with, his frequent, unstable outbursts had frightened them.

Meanwhile, the local and national media readied themselves to converge on the Wayne County Jail the next day, when Branna and Ceara were scheduled to be released around 11AM. Ironically, the date would be October 31, Halloween, a full year after the infamous murder had been committed. In the crowd of spectators on that chilly, overcast morning was McAfee, carrying a semi-automatic pistol in his rear slate-gray Corduroys pocket.

Laura Fitzgerald, the twins' lawyer was the first to emerge from the courthouse. A petite, middle-aged woman with medium-length dishwater-blonde hair, she was smartly attired for the news conference that had been scheduled that morning in a navy blue cotton pants suit, burgundy wool turtleneck, and felt brown overcoat. Following her were Branna and Ceara, wearing tan suede collarless jackets and matching maroon cotton crew tops and skirts. Branna carried in her right hand a prepared statement she would read to the media.

She would never get that chance, for, as all three stood together on the top stone step of the courthouse exit, McAfee, who had been waiting patiently for his opportunity, rushed forward. He fired two shots, point-blank into the twins' midsections. Instantly, the two tumbled down the stairs in agony, landing on the bottom step, where they lost consciousness.

In the split second following their fall, Branna and Ceara regained consciousness . . . but not, to their amazement, in twenty-first century Mansfield, OH, but in what would be present-day Donegal, Ireland, on a night in the long-ago year of 1311 A.D. They found themselves standing, at dusk, in an open field surrounded by fern trees, and wearing tight-fitting, off-green-speckled linen tunics attached over their breasts with silver and gold clasps, along with, over the tops, an extra fold of linen resembling hoods, which trailed down their backs. The tunics' hems were decorated with small bells that had been sewed into the material, and they both were wearing similarly-colored pants and yellow leather shoes. They were standing in the middle of a small crowd of about half-a-dozen young women, all similarly attired as Branna and Ceara, and about eight young men, all wearing knee-length, dark-gray hooded linen tunics, along with matching oval cloaks. The men were all barefoot, for only women and Druids wore shoes in fourteenth-century Ireland.

Flanking the crowd on all sides was a contingent of what appeared to be guards. They were wearing knee-long while silk tunics and hooded cloaks of black bear fur, and carried long, sharp spears and swords.

If all this were not strange enough, Branna and Ceara noticed something even odder. It suddenly dawned on them that they could not feel that familiar bulge of waist-conjoined flesh they had long been accustomed to. Then, they looked down and found and found, to their amazement, that they were no longer conjoined, but were, once again, separate, non-conjoined beings. They glanced back up and stared at each other in stunned silence.

"What's happened?" asked a confused and frightened Ceara.

"We're back, Ceara," Branna answered, "and the way we were before in this land. The gods of Samhain have rescued us from death and brought us back home-but to what?"

At that moment, the two were startled by a rustling from above one of the fir trees. Then, from the branches, fell the tiny, headless body of a decapitated chipmunk. Its killer, a massive hawk, circled the crowd from above. Instantly, they remembered the unfortunate animal that had, on the same morning Branna had decided to kill Mack Wilson, been killed in the same way. Was this another omen? If so, what did it now mean?

As if in answer, the guards started rounding up the crowd at spear and sword-point, and led them about a quarter of a mile to a clearing, where, about five feet from a high, massive pile of dry ferns and branches, they were ordered to stop, In front of the pile stood four other guards, all holding recently lit brands in their hands. About three feet across from the pile was a massive stone slab that was a ceremonial altar; its front was adorned with drawings of the Triquetra, or triangular knot, a deer, a horse, a serpent, and a dragon, along with various runic letters. On each side of the altar stood a Druid attired in a knee-length, brownish-red silk tunic and matching hood, and holding a lighted torch in his right hand to provide light. Behind this slab stood a tall man, attired in the same kind of tunic and hood. His back was turned toward the crowd, so that nobody could yet see his face, but to Branna and Ceara, there seemed something oddly familiar about this man's build, though they didn't quite know what. Still, they assumed he must have been also been a Duid.

Fearing the worst, Branna asked a light-haired woman standing to her immediate right what night this was.

"Why, it's Samhain night," she answered, "the end of the 'Light Half,' and the beginning of the 'Dark Half.'"

Ceara, who was standing on Branna's immediate left, overhead the woman's answer, and realized what it meant. "No!" she gasped in horror.

Branna turned and faced Ceara. "We didn't escape after all!" she said. "It IS going to happen after all-here and now!"

Then, the man behind the slab turned around to face the assemblage. To the twins' astonishment, underneath the hood, was a face they knew all too well. It was that of their foster father, Mack Wilson (AKA Maxwell Wilheim). He then spoke. His Teutonic-accented voice (he had recently arrived from that area of Western Europe that the Romans called Germania) rang out over the crowd.

"It is time," he announced, "to commemorate the second great doorway of the harvest year, Samhain. The 'Light Half' is done; now the "Dark Half' begins, but the night's darkness is full of the promise of the new beginnings that we will celebrate at Beltrane, when we will again enjoy the bounty of the 'Light Half.' Now it is time to thank the gods for the harvest that will sustain us through the cold 'Dark Half.' Let us honor them with the highest gift possible … our lives. Two of you will be chosen this night to give your lives to the gods, so that they will grant us another ample harvest."

He paused and scanned the crowd. Instantly, Branna's and Ceara's beauty caught his eye.

"Ah, these two! The gods will be well-pleased with their bones once the sacred flames consume their earthly bodies. Bring them forward!"

"No! No" shouted the two sisters as one guard grabbed Branna by the right arm and the other seized Ceara by her left and dragged them towards the slab. The guards hoisted them upon the makeshift altar and tied their bodies, by their hands and legs, to the center, where they lay helpless, straining futilely against the ropes. The old Druid then raised his right hand, the signal to light the bonfire. Instantly, the four guards threw the flaming brands they had been holding into the pile of ferns and branches and set them afire. Within seconds, the flames grew high, illuminating the night sky.

Then, the Druid slowly approached, holding a ceremonial dagger he had pulled from the folds of his cloak, and that he now hoisted high in his left hand. Down went the dagger in Branna's midsection. Blood spurted from underneath the tunic as she screamed in agony. Ceara watched in mute horror. The Druid then plunged the dagger into Ceara's abdomen. Her own screams now rent the autumn night air … matched in intensity only by the sounds, at that very minute, by a man in the twenty-first century experiencing his own torment, on a parallel October 31.

"Branna! Ceara! They're dying! They're dying! Someone's got to save them!" shouted the delirious, straight-jacketed man. He was Graham McAfee, the Mansfield, OH Sanitarium's newest patient.

At that moment, a tall, stately, sixty-year-old African-American man in a lab coat, approached the bed where McAfee lay and injected a powerful sedative into his right arm with a hypodermic needle. He was Dr. Vernon Oates, the sanitarium's director. In less than a minute, the sedative had taken effect, and McAfee was quiet. Dr. Oates then instructed the nurses on duty that evening to watch the patient closely during the night, and to notify him immediately of any change in his condition.

McAfee was suffering from the most severe case of psychosis Dr. Oates had ever seen in his thirty years of clinical experience. He had been admitted about a month ago after the state of Ohio had declared him legally insane, after having been charged with the brutal murder of his elderly German immigrant foster father. The victim's name was Maxwell Wilheim. It was rumored that Wilheim had been an extremely strict foster parent-some said physically abusive. He was also a man with a suspicious past; in fact, some believed he had been a Nazi.

Whatever the truth about Wilheim's past, or the exact nature of their foster relationship, the murder had been a ghastly one: McAfee had attacked the old man while he was sleeping and had cut off his head with an ax. He had then removed the top of the skull and placed in its cavity two lighted candles, turning the old man's head into a grotesque human pumpkin, which he had then displayed on the front porch of their home.

McAfee had claimed that he hadn't killed him, but a pair of young women named Branna and Ceara. He believed that these were non-identical twin sisters from ancient Ireland whose spirits had traveled through time and space to escape sacrificial execution on Samhain, or October 31, Halloween, in the year 1311 AD. The Celts believed that on Samhain the barrier between the living and the dead was especially thin, and that it was possible for the spirits of the dead to visit the world of the living, and for the living to travel to other dimensions. This, he believed, these two had done, and that they had subsequently led a life in an alternative universe as twins conjoined at their waists by a former Nazi doctor. Then, they had somehow stumbled into this universe, mistaken his foster father for this monster, and had killed them. Afterwards, they had returned to their own time, and now were facing what would have been their original fates … unless, somehow, he could rescue them.

The doctor was convinced that because of the severity of McAfee's psychosis, this man would have to remain confined for the rest of his natural life.

In the meantime, McAfee slept peacefully, soothed by the soft, Gaelic female voices that were reaching him from another dimension.

"We made it, Ceara. The gods have smiled on us again."

"Where are we, Branna?"

"Why, we're back in this far-away future time and land."

"Can we stay this time?"

"Yes, my sister. We will never again have to face the flames of Samhain. Our new home will be in this man's body. We will be here forever … and ever … and ever …"

McAfee smiled blissfully.

"And ever . . . and ever . . . and ever …"

To top of page