Elijah and Emme Lewis were very peculiar children. Very peculiar. Twins are always weird though right? They were born on Christmas day 1981 at 12:03 and 12:05 in the morning both weighing little over 5 pounds at Lenox Hill hospital in New York. Our mother, Anne, said that their birth was traumatic. I don’t remember much, I was just a toddler myself but I do intensely remember my mother telling our father, John, that somehow something has went wrong within the labour and delivery because she doesn’t feel a bond with either of her twins. “Come on honey,” Dad said, “You’re exhausted. You’ve carried two babies around for 32 weeks then had a major operation no wonder you feel like that,”.
“No, you don’t understand,” She said beginning to sob. “When a baby is placed in their mother’s arms for the first time, the bond is instant. Overwhelming love for this life you’ve created. I felt that exact way the moment I even laid eyes on Elliot, never mind holding him. With the twins, when they were placed on my chest I felt…nothing. Worse than nothing. Dread. Like a black cloud has just engulfed us in sadness,” I remember this exchange so clearly in my three-year-old mind, as this was the first time I’d ever see my mother cry. Since that day she brought the twins home from Lenox Hill, that’s all she would do. The twins were odd babies, even the nurses said so. When they were born neither of them cried. Not even flinching. Just, nothing. The doctors assumed that something was very wrong indeed and gave them all the best medical care that money could buy. Still nothing. When they came home, still no tears. Anytime they needed changing or feeding they would just grunt but nothing like a normal baby. Elijah and Emme both grew into toddlers but their growth was immense. I remember Emme walking at 8 months old. Not toddling along like toddlers do but a full stride and a fast gait so my father had to almost jog to keep up with her. Elijah began talking when he was a year old. Not just a few words like mama or dada but intelligent often strange sentences. “The world as we know it will end,” He said. This would freak my mother out. “Why does he say things like that?”
“He’s only one years old where in the name of God do you think he’s picked that up from?”
“Have you been watching any documentaries while he’s been around? Maybe he’s copying from that,” Our parents would argue. It was definitely unnerving but no need to raise the alarm. Toddlers always babble on about crap and no one takes any notice of it. Right?
The summer of 1989 was interesting. I was about to turn eleven and being excited was an understatement. My parents were going to take us kids to the Central Park Zoo as a birthday treat and I couldn’t wait. All I would talk about was going to see the gorillas. I was obsessed with King Kong as a kid. I had all the action figures, watched the black and white movie on repeat until the VCR chewed up the tape and spat it out again. The twins never watched movies. Or cartoons. Or played outside. They stay in their bedroom, with the door closed all day. I had wondered what they do in there but anytime I knock on the door, Emme screams bloody murder so I back away gently and leave them be. Today, I was going to find out. We lived in Brooklyn, in an apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. It was beautiful. Magical even. I would lay in bed at night just glazing over the bridge drinking in every twinkling light that fell onto the bridge and glowed onto the water below. I never got sick of the view. I mean who would? Our apartment was on the top floor of our building, there was fire escapes circling the building meaning I could jump out the window, go onto the fire escape and climb in another window without being seen. It was very handy when my friends and I stole a few smokes from my mum’s handbag without her noticing. Elijah and Emme’s room was down the hall from mine so easy enough to get to. I slowly raised my bedroom window very carefully as not to make a sound. The twins are a lot of things but their hearing is perfect. So perfect Emme once said she could hear lightening in Kanas to which we laughed then the news reported a massive lightening storm that knocked all of the state of Kanas’ power out. Spooky but we didn’t think much of it. I placed my feet onto the fire escape so carefully and began shuffling across the landing. I passed my parents’ bedroom which was empty but I could see a number of books on the bedside table. Does Your Child Love You? By Dr. Smith PHD, Reverse Psychology: How to Train Your Child by Dr. Lee PHD and finally, Are Twins One Too Many? By Dr. James PHD. I knew my parents were worried about the twins’ behaviour but that’s quite a few books to try and get into their head. I began again my shuffling across to their room, keeping my head under the window sill as not to be seen. I heard it before I got to their room. A soft noise. Two voices together. As I got closer, their voices became louder and I could now hear that they were chanting, the same verse over and over again. I could barely make it out;
A te, de l’essere
Materia e spirit,
Ragione e senso;
Mentre ne’ calici
Il vin scintilla
Ne la pupilla
Now, I wasn’t one to cuss but what the fuck I thought. Is that a different language? Must be. How do eight-year olds know that? They don’t teach that in the second grade. I was entranced. In their bedroom was many hand drawn pictures crudely put up on their wall. They depicted graphic and sometimes revolting scenes. For example; A white cop aiming a gun at a black man with his arms held high as if surrendering, an awful car crash with a tiara on the dashboard and what looked like a terrible flash flood washing away someone’s home with a Japanese flag pinned to the roof. The biggest drawing that they had completed was enormous. Mum would go ape if she seen it but not even she was allowed inside their secret lair. The drawing was that of two buildings. Exactly the same layout. Very tall, would see these buildings anywhere in the skyline but they were engulfed in flames. The fire licked the walls of each building together. This was far too eerie for me. I thought I recognised those buildings but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. But why? Why are they drawing this? What possessed them to draw such crude and harrowing things? They’ve had a very normal, all American upbringing. So why the fuck are they so fucking weird? I had seen enough. I stood up to walk back to my bedroom to attempt to forget what I had just seen when I forgot where I was. Standing up puts me right in front of their window and I paid the price for it. As soon as my head breached the window sill it unleashed the demons. Both Elijah and Emme turned their heads to me with a snap in their necks. Their raven black hair shone in the candle light of the single candle they had placed between them. Even in the darkness, I could see the fear in their electric blue eyes. A fear I’d never seen before, like they were in real danger. They screamed a blood curdling scream that would make your toenails curl. I ran. I ran as fast and as hard as I could to get down the fire escape. I’m not goingback into that house with the devil’s spawn, I thought. I ran so fast until my legs turned to jelly until I reached the subway. I wanted to get away. Get away from the house. Away from Brooklyn. Away from the twins. They scared the shit out of me. Simply, what was wrong with them?
I stayed with my grandparents in Queens that summer and subsequently years after. I had told my parents exactly what I had witnessed and explained that unless they ‘fix’ Elijah and Emme then I’m not coming home. Not even stepping a toe into Brooklyn. Anytime I casted my mind back to what I seen and heard in their room, I got instant shivers down my spine and an overwhelming feeling of dread came over me, just like my mother described when she gave birth to them. My parents paid several different child psychologists thousands of dollars to tell them exactly what was wrong with their children and to provide a quick fix with a pill or an electric shock or something. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, mental health was shrouded in mystery. It was seen as taboo to talk about and you never let anyone else know you were suffering from some form of mental illness. If it’s an eating disorder, depression or whatever the twins had. You simply just don’t talk about. All the child psychologists said that this was a phase that they would grow out of. A rebellious phase. A satanic cult worshipping with a single candle, chanting in a different language, drawing buildings on fire, easy-to-grow-out of, rebellious phase. I didn’t believe it for a second. There’s something wrong with them, I just knew they were more than troubled. More than disturbed. I never went back to Brooklyn to live with my parents and the twins. Something in my gut held me back and my gut was right. Dangerously right.
It was August of 1997. I was nineteen and recently enrolled in NYU to study photography. I loved photography immensely. It was an escape for me, I was free at last. I didn’t ever need to see the twins or even think about them. Outta sight, outta mind. For my next assignment for school, I decided to photograph Manhattan’s greatest landmarks. The Empire State Building, The Statue of Liberty and finally, all around the financial district. I had an idea about a week before the assignment was due that I should photograph the daily lives of average New Yorkers. Going about their day, buying the paper, going to work you know that sort of thing. I was on Wall Street photographing a couple of traders arguing in the street about some stock market price when I got a call. It was from Dad. I was no longer close to my parents since I moved from Brooklyn all those years ago. We kept in touch every week with a 20-minute phone call on a Monday night. (10 minutes for Mum and 10 minutes for Dad) which was enough contact for all involved, so getting a call on a Saturday morning of all days was very unusual. I took my mobile out of my pocket and accepted the call. I didn’t even get a chance to say hello before he began. “It’s your mother, Elliot,” He breathed down the phone. He sounded like he had just run around the island he was so out of breath. He wheezed on, “Your mother has been stabbed son. Please come to the hospital now, she doesn’t have long,”. These words tore into me like a knife too. My own mother. Stabbed? Who would stab a 50-year-old English teacher with three kids? Maybe she was mugged, quite the possibility in every large city. I hailed a cab and sped off towards the hospital, praying as I rode in the back seat of the sweaty yellow taxi. Praying I would get to see her one last time and that they caught the bastard who did this to her. As the cab pulled up out front of the hospital, I threw a 20-dollar bill in the driver’s face and ran like the wind to room 325 where she lay. As I entered room 325, the air suddenly became ice cold although it was 100 degrees outside. I removed my Yankees baseball cap and held it in my hands clumsily. Going over to my mother, my poor mother, I could see she was close to meeting her maker. All the colour had drained out of her usually rose plumped cheeks. Her ruby red lips now had a shade of blue within the lipstick. I could see dried blood across her neck and going into her blonde hair turning it a deep shade of brown. Dad and I held her hands tightly and we told her we loved her. We held on until she gracefully loosened her grasp on us, on life. Dad and I held each other for dear life. How could this happen? My mother, murdered. Who would do such a thing? “Elijah and Emme,” Dad confirmed.
Dad sat me down in the hospital’s waiting room to tell me the story. The twins, now sweet sixteen apart from having nothing sweet about them. Screamed the house down so much so the neighbours called the police. My parents attempted in vain to calm their children down but to no avail. They were screaming about the date. Saturday, 31 August 1997. They kept repeating it. Again, and again and again. They finally permitted our parents to see the true horror that lies within their tiny apartment bedroom. They clawed at the walls to collect the drawn pictures of the car crash with the tiara on the dashboard that I had seen in 1989. They had added to this collection since. They had added the Eiffel Tower. A British flag. And two boys, looking hopelessly lost with their ages of fifteen and twelve written underneath their drawing. Mum had tried to calm them down by speaking to them in soothing tones but all hell broke lose when Mum had grabbed at the drawing and tore it in half. The twins instantly stopped screaming. Dad described their faces turning from complete and utter sorrow to intense rage. Emme grabbed a knife from her bedside table and slit our mother’s throat. Just like that. Elijah then used a screwdriver from beneath the bed and stabbed our mother right through the heart. Just like that. Then they fled. Out the fire escape and into the daylight. I felt sick. So sick I actually vomited into the receptionist’s bin before passing out in shock. I woke up later that evening in my own hospital bed, wearing a gown and hooked up to an IV. My head was banging. I thought it was all a dream at first. Mum would come bursting into my hospital room with fruit and bustling around me ensuring I’m well looked after. That won’t happen anymore. Suddenly, Dad came flying around the corner into my room, so fast he skidded to a halt at the end of my bed in front of the TV. “Son, they’ve caught them,” He began, “But wait until you see this,”. He turned on the TV to CNN news. The news anchor stated matter of fact, “Princess Diana of Wales has died tonight in the result of a major car crash in the city of Paris at the age of 36 leaving Price William aged fifteen and Prince Harry aged twelve. More on this news as we get it…” I was stunned. The news report showed a photograph of the wreckage and it was the exact same as the drawing the twins drew when they were eight. How could they know that? It’s impossible. “They’ve taken the twins to the psychiatric hospital down by the financial district. Keeping them there to find out why the fuck they did what they did,” Dad explained. He looked like a broken man. Which he was. His beloved wife dead at the hands of his own children.
I was released from hospital a few days later, in time to help arrange my mother’s funeral. Something that no child aged nineteen should have to do. I helped pick out the flowers and we arranged a date with her favourite church in Brooklyn. The day came upon us faster than we expected. Since her death everything has been such a blur. It was a hard day. Many familiar faces, many strange faces. People coming up to me all day expressing their sympathy for my family at this difficult time. Sorry to hear that it was the twins who wielded the knife. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Does that make it better? No. Straight after the funeral, I decided to pay Elijah and Emme a visit at the psychiatric hospital. As I walked in to their room in my best suit, they laughed. First time in history of time that I had ever seen one of them laugh. Or smile. It was unsettling. “Did you see Prinny Di is deady dead dead bro?” Emme cackled. She roared with laughter.
“We seen it happen. We were there! We made it happen,” Elijah sang out with the biggest grin on his face, like he’d won the lottery. Nope. There’s no reasoning with them. They have officially gone insane. What will happen is when my mother’s murder goes to trial, they will be deemed innocent by insanity and not spend a single day behind bars for their crime. It’s disgusting. Shouldn’t it be guilty by reason of insanity rather than innocent?
“Ah you must be Mr Lewis,” Their doctor called to me and took my hand. “Come into my office and I shall explain what I have found,” Found? I thought. What is there to find?
“Let me first of start by saying how sorry I am about your mother. If there’s any support we can offer-“
“I’m fine,” I snapped before he could even finish his sentence.
“Very well then. Mr Lewis, are you aware to the full extend of your brother and sister’s mental capacity?” I shook my head slightly.
“Obviously, they are very sick teenagers. Worst I’ve seen in twenty-five years of head of this department. Have you ever heard of the mental health disorder called Folie à deux?” I shook my head more meaningfully this time.
“No? I would’ve have thought not. It’s rather rare, only a few recorded cases in Europe, France mainly where the name comes from but only one other case in the US. Folie à deux is a shared psychosis. As the name in French translates to English as madness of two, the clue is in the name. It means that due to two people’s shared psychosis, together they have delusional beliefs. For example, your brother and sister keep telling anyone here who will listen that the world as we know it will end in five years. Yup, you’re nodding, I can see they’ve mentioned this world ending thing before? Yes, well that is an example of their beliefs. They also suffer from deeply distressing hallucinations such as murders, causing death and destruction throughout the world. With this particular disorder, the way that it works is that there is a primary sufferer known as the Folie imposée in this case Emme, who transmits their psychosis onto a secondary sufferer known as Folie simultanée which is Elijah. There is no cure of for this condition that we know of. All we can do it manage it the best we can. We tried separating them to see if it helped but both began to harm themselves in extreme ways in order to reunite,” Wow I thought. An actual diagnosis. Never thought this day would come. All that money my parents spend on trying to get a ‘quick fix’ has ended in my mother dead, my father devastated and the twins locked up in rooms with padded walls. “Doctor, that’s good that you’ve made a diagnosis and can help in some way I suppose but they predicted Princess Diana’s death. They used to predict the weather as kids, even when the weather girl got it wrong they always got it right. Always,” I said as my voice trialled off.
“Oh, come now don’t worry about that son,” The doctor said in quite a jolly manner, “Psychics don’t exist. Mediums don’t exist. Gee, even heaven and hell don’t exist. Even the unluckiest of man gets lucky once in a while. Look at Nostradamus and Baba Vanga. Total frauds who got lucky sometimes. Don’t worry about it,” Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. Those words rang in my ears for days. Even weeks afterwards. Should I worry? I mean maybe they are psychics in some from. The sheer detail they had on their drawings terrified me. How can someone know that? Shared psychosis that’s how. I finally, after many years, set foot back into the Brooklyn apartment. As I opened the front door, the overwhelming feeling of dread engulfed me yet again. I made a beeline straight for the twins’ room. I opened the door and the smell of death hit me like a ton of bricks. The smell of death is simply indescribable. Only thing I’ll say about it is, once you’ve smelt the intense scent of death, you’ll never forget it. The blood stains covered the carpet. Blood splattered the ceiling and exploded on the walls. I remembered their walls to be a custard shade of yellow but this had changed. Now every single inch was covered by drawings. Signed and dated by each twin who drew them. Different events, different days, different people. I began tearing them violently from the wall with such a force I ripped a few of them. I screamed and wailed like I did as child when things didn’t go my way. All my emotion of losing my mother came pouring out right onto their drawings. They kept their entire lives shut away in this tiny room built for two. All their clothes were hanging neatly in their wardrobe. All black everything. Boxes littered the space. I started throwing them open, letting the contents spill onto the blood-stained carpet. There were many, many candles. Some melted into almost nothing, some never burned at all. Thousands upon thousands of newspaper articles, weather reports, photographs. Some of my own photographs I’d taken for the local newspaper before heading off to NYU were amongst them. Searching for more, I looked under each of their beds to find diaries. Many, many diaries. It appeared that they logged each and every day of their lives in the pages of notebooks. Accurately describing events of that day but never mentioning their illness or how exactly they felt so we may never know exactly what’s going on in their minds. Perhaps that’s a good thing, would you want to know what they think about? No, me neither. I gathered everything and placed them into bin bags to take to the hospital to which the twins were detained indefinitely. Maybe the doctors can help them. Or maybe they are beyond saving.
A few years later, when I was twenty-four, I had graduated with honours from NYU in photography and landed myself a job at a semi important New York magazine. I had only been working there a few months but I absolutely adored my job. I get to go out into the city that I love so dearly so take photos of everything and anything and I get paid for it. A dream job. Mum would be proud of me. I remember the day before well. I hadn’t seen the twins in a few weeks as I was so busy with work and moving into a new apartment down in Soho to be closer to them. I know what you’re thinking. Why? Well, no one else was there to look after them. Dad had heart attack a year after Mum died and he passed on too. All three of us were now orphans by the ages of twenty and seventeen respectively. They simply had no one else to look out for them. I had to step up. Going in that day I remember the doctor telling me both of them were going through a very extreme psychotic episode and it was not safe for me to enter their room, even if I was accompanied by a nurse. They had attempted to commit suicide that day too by hanging themselves in their room with their bedsheets. They were ultimately saved by the heroic nurses and put on suicide watch for the next 48 hours. I was well aware that the time of the ‘world ending as we know it’ was fast approaching as the twins told me every time I visited. I was just nod along to please them not taking any notice at all. Emme suddenly clocked me outside their room window and body slammed herself against the window breaking her nose. With blood streaming down her face she yelled, “2,966, 19, 11, 175, 77, 93,” She kept yelling these numbers at me, staring at me intently like she’d never done before. “They both have been saying these numbers along with WTC all morning, do they mean anything to you?” The nurse who was with me asked. I shook my head. They were always coming out with crazy things like this, I just usually ignore it. After Emme was cleaned up by the auxiliaries I left for work. Not thinking anything of it.
I remember the following day well too. It was a beautiful, crisp New York day. The beginning of Autumn was always my favourite season in New York. The leaves in Central Park changing colour and falling to the ground providing that crunching sound when you stepped on them. The air was warm, not too hot but clear. A perfect day. I was going to a photoshoot in the fire station for a heart-warming story about a firefighter who risked his life to save a young girl who had now recovered and was being given a tour around the fire station. Not really a huge news story but one that tugs on the heartstrings of the readers. I picked up the New York Times from a 7/11 on my way to the fire station. The date was 11th September 2001. As I reached the fire station I heard something. BOOM. I looked up. I looked up to see that just a few blocks away the World Trade Centre, I believe it was the North Tower, was engulfed in flames. It was really smoking. Huge, billowing black mushroom clouds blew upwards making it impossible to see anything else above. The firefighters jumped into their truck and sped towards the scene, yelling an apology to me when they saw me walking towards the station. I just stared at the World Trade Centre in utter disbelief. How could that happen? People on the ground were saying they saw a small plane, couldn’t be a commercial plane, fly directly into it. Strange, I thought, if there was anyproblem with the plane usually pilots are told to land in the Hudson river. I immediately got my Nixon camera out and began clicking away. Click, click, click. Followed by the chatter of onlookers with disbelief and fear etched on their faces. Click, click, click. I heard the second plane come. I heard that noise incoming planes have. The sheer roar of the engine was deafening I knew. I raised my camera to my eye and waited for impact. I got the shot. Shot of the second plane hitting the South Tower. The second tower burst into flames just like the first one. I froze. I remembered something. The twins drew this when they were eight years old. This is the world as we know it ending. I continued to stay downtown, documenting everything. Falling debris, falling bodies, emergency personnel doing their best. That’s when the South tower fell. I ran. Ran as fast as my feet would take me. I kept running all the way to my apartment in Soho. Out of breath, wheezing and covered in ash from the building, I turned on CNN and watched as the horror of the North tower falling was unfolding live broadcasted across the globe.
The days, weeks and months after 9/11 were like a blur. Everyone in New York was in a trance. I had to pass by Ground Zero to see the twins in the hospital, still smelling the death on the air and the fire in my lungs as I walked by. I became the only photographer who got the shot of the second plane hit. Something that I wasn’t particularly proud of. One day, when I got to work. Everyone was huddled around the only TV in the office. The official numbers were released:
Flight 93,” The news anchor continued but I couldn’t hear. All I could hear was Emme’s voice. Telling me those numbers the day before. They were right I whispered. The twins were right.