The stories about Nine Mews had been circulating from as far back as 1924.
Back then the FBI, newly under the directorship of John Edgar Hoover, had intercepted a call to the Fairfield County Gazette reporting the strange findings that had appeared, apparently overnight, on a local farm. The farmer, one Hayden Swartz, had thought the items he’d found buried in among his windy tobacco plants had been no more than a neighborhood curio—the kind of thing that might get his name printed in the paper and be forgotten soon after. Fair to say then Swartz was surprised to find a posse of federal agents rooting through his crops before the journalists even arrived.
They never arrived either—the journalists. The bureau had all these newfangled ideas about contaminating evidence and forensics and, for reasons best known to themselves, they were taking particular care over the few steaming scraps of silverish metal that had made indents in the earth as though having fallen from an immense height.
Swartz watched the agents work all day; telling the odd passing motorist on their usual route to Nine Mews for groceries that it was just a load of old engine parts and he’d no idea what had got the Feds so agitated.
In truth, he half believed they were searching for his illegal still and so it was a relief when they began to pack up. Lifting those strange looking metallic objects—which had been more trouble than they were worth—and covering them in sheets of plastic before depositing each one in the backs of their vehicles.
Aeroplane parts, the senior agent had explained to Swartz. An aeroplane had malfunctioned overhead and jettisoned a piece of tail and fuselage onto the fields below. It was a mercy it happened during the night or someone might’ve been killed in the collision.
Strange, Swartz had thought, and as the agents’ trucks rolled away in the opposite direction to Nine Mews, he’d looked up into the cloudless blue sky.
Aeroplanes never passed that way.
It took more than ten years for the bizarre occurrences that took place there to begin to give Nine Mews its national reputation.
By that time—from around 1936 onwards—all but a few of the old tobacco farms, the Swartz place included, had disappeared and been paved over. In their places small mercantiles, a few notaries, a post office and, of course, the most imposing building in the whole of the Mews: the sanatorium.
Being a place that already trafficked with the strange and unusual it raised little alarm when stories began to be told about the outlandish goings on inside the Nine Mews Sanatorium.
Later, however, it began to look more like a malady of the body the inmates were suffering from than any derangement of the mind.
Insomnia and loss of appetite, the senior doctors assured the public, were common traits in the mentally unstable. But, if that was so, the patients at Nine Mews more than surpassed the stereotype.
Inmates would go to extreme lengths rather than sleep. Their insomnia was disruptive to such a degree that a level of barbiturates usually deemed excessive would be used as a matter of course to sedate and bring rest.
But the greatest puzzle was the emaciation.
Patients presented unaccountable weight loss; to the point of appearing almost skeletal.
Screens were performed for an epidemic of gastrointestinal worms, but the patients’ stools were clean. Dining was strictly supervised and—to the astonishment of staff—their charges seemed to be eating more and more every day.
It was later decided that patients must have been inducing themselves to vomit in the brief moments of privacy allowed to them.
Subsequent observations found they were not.
And the most alarming thing about the whole affair: The more the barbiturates were used—the more the patients slept—the more emaciated they became.
Aaron Crane leaned his back against a pine.
It was morning now and—Christ—last night was another night he hadn’t slept.
Every time he blinked his eyes hurt like hell. The forest was cold and deep with fall snow and all that Aaron could feel was the hard line of his jaw and his own thinning fingers on the trigger of the handgun in his coat pocket. That, and he could hear the man—a hunter by all accounts—unaware of his presence behind the camouflage of the trees; though walking steadily in his direction. Aaron listened and tried not to breathe.
There was a cracking of twigs and a crushing back of snow as the man knelt to free another dead rabbit from a snare.
Before he knew it he’d broken cover and drawn and aimed the Colt directly at the hunter’s downturned face.
“Don’t you move!”
The hunter looked up and Aaron noticed his hands tighten on his own weapon; a powerful looking Ruger that could have no doubt blown a hole in Aaron as big as a tangerine.
“You better put that rifle down, Mr.” Aaron ordered. “Otherwise one of us is gonna be a lot lighter on blood.”
“Alright, son,” the hunter was an older man, and there was a wariness in his eyes that told Aaron he wasn’t spoiling for a fight.
He rose slowly, leaving the rifle at his feet.
“The name’s Billy Thatchell.” The hunter said.
“Yeah, well nice to meet you Billy,” Aaron said, “but that’s about as sociable as I want to get with a man I might have to shoot.”
Thatchell shook his head.
“You ain’t got no cause to shoot me,” he answered. “All I got is a little hunters’ cabin about a half mile back that way…”
He pointed off northwest.
“I ain’t got no money, and as for my vehicle…hell…I don’t think you’d get her started. Ain’t been drove since July.”
“I don’t want your money!” Aaron answered, “and I don’t want your car.”
“What do you want?”
Aaron relaxed his hold on the Colt but never lowered.
“I’m not gonna shoot you if I don’t have to…”
“That’s good to hear,” Thatchell nodded.
“But I need a place to rest up,” Aaron looked down hungrily at the small scraps of fur Thatchell had been liberating from the snares. “I could eat one of those rabbits too.”
Thatchell looked at the gunman quizzically.
“What you runnin’ from, son?”
Aaron didn’t see the point in maintaining secrecy.
“Nine Mews,” he answered.
“Fall’s rabbit season in the Adirondacks,” said Thatchell. “So rabbit’s what we got.”
He put down a plate of roughly diced rabbit-flesh finished with a cupful of white rice. Then he watched as the strange gunman who’d accosted him in the woods—and who was now sitting like a guest at table— began to scoop up the food like a ravenous animal; waiting just long enough to breathe between fingerfuls.
“We do got knives and forks,” Thatchell pointed into the pantry.
Aaron waved off the comment and continued to feed himself messily with his host’s earthy fare.
“You got a name, son?” Thatchell asked.
“Aaron,” Aaron answered, “Aaron Crane.”
“And did I hear you say you was from Nine Mews?”
Aaron stopped eating and looked up at Thatchell in silent horror.
“Listen, Mr.” He spoke through half-a-mouth of rice, “I’m obliged that you let me rest up here but I’m getting sick and tired of your goddamn questions. Just you remember whose gun’s still loaded…”
He slipped his Colt onto the table between them and eyed Thatchell dangerously.
“Now if you co-operate with me a hundred percent I’m not gonna shoot you. Just let me rest up and come morning you won’t see my ass for dust as far as Canada.”
“Canada?” Thatchell frowned.
“You heard me.” Aaron went back to eating.
Thatchell took Aaron’s brusk response for an end to conversation. He leaned back against his chair and stared out of the small cabin window at the snow whipping around in the dark branches of the pines.
Then he smiled; leaning back towards Aaron.
“You ain’t gonna get to Canada tomorrow,” he said.
Aaron shrugged and kept eating.
“No, son, I mean it,” Thatchell insisted. “There’s a blizzard on that’s fixin’ to blow all night. And you need to find some route round them mountains. And you’ve got no vehicle. You ain’t gonna get ten feet.”
Aaron had finished eating and Thatchell could tell by his expression that the kid was starting to understand his predicament. Thatchell took pity.
“Listen,” he said. “I could try to get my old rust-bucket started and we could take a drive into town—”
“No towns!” Aaron’s hand touched his gun. “No towns you hear me!”
“I hear you, son, I hear you.” Thatchell held up his hands. “What is it? Are you on the run?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Aaron said tiredly, then he just stared out the window at the snow.
“Wait a minute,” Thatchell searched his memory. “Nine Mews. That’s where that asylum is right?”
Aaron looked at him and the whole story was right there in his eyes.
“Oh, Jesus!” Thatchell pointed at him. “You’re a runaway from there? From the asylum at Nine Mews?”
Suddenly Thatchell was painfully aware of the gun. Aaron sensed the older man’s heightened caution.
“I’m not crazy,” he assured him.
“Forgive me, son,” Thatchell answered, “but there’s never been a crazy man said he was.”
“I was a journalist when I first went to Nine Mews,” Aaron said adamantly. “I was working in New York…”
He could tell Thatchell still had his reservations and so he dug angrily into his coat and produced his wallet.
He flipped the article open and displayed a small white card.
“That’s my goddamn Press ID…had to swipe it back with the rest of my clothes on the way out.”
Aaron could see by now that half an explanation wouldn’t do. He leaned in across the table.
“After a week working in Nine Mews,” he said, “I started to contract the same…sickness…the inmates had. Look at my face!”
Thatchell was looking. Aaron’s facial muscles were nearly non-existent, giving his face the appearance of a talking, blinking skull.
“It started so quickly,” he said. “Just bad dreams at first. Dreams of being locked up inside some…some kind of prison…and something vital being sucked out of me. Then I’d wake and I’d feel…drained, you know, weaker, and when I weighed myself I was lighter than before. Every time I sleep it’s the same. But the dreams are realer now. So real that I know now for certain they aren’t dreams at all.”
Thatchell stared at Aaron. Christ, the kid wasn’t making a lick of sense.
For a while nothing disturbed the silence of the falling snow on the cabin roof.
Then Aaron smiled grimly. He no longer really cared if he was believed or not.
“What do you know about Nine Mews?”
“I heard the name,” Thatchell said. “When I was a boy, maybe. Kinda like a tristate ghost story. Apparently some things fell out of the sky ‘bout forty years back and old Hoover’s boys showed up and made them disappear.”
“Not just forty years ago.” Aaron’s voice was low, almost conspiratorial. “Before they put me away in the asylum, I did some digging on those old stories—ghost stories as you call them—so happens folk’ve been seeing strange things in Nine Mews since there was a town there.
“In 1893 there was this guy by the name of Joseph Hart who kept a small flock of sheep on the land where Nine Mews is now. His testimony is on public record, hell, you can read it yourself.
“He says one night he was woken by a fierce light in the sky. And, having no other reference, he reckoned it was thieves who’d cut the fences and come into the fields to take themselves a sheep. He got his rifle and he went out, but the night was just dark. He goes on to say that he’d waited out, in the pasture awhile, just to make sure no prowlers had stayed behind.
“Then it happened again. Right in front of Joseph Hart’s eyes in the dead middle of the 1890s. A light crossing the darkness over Nine Mews. He described it in amazing detail, Thatchell. Like a fuse had been lit in the sky. Like quicksilver burning.
“Then, just as quick, it fell down under the tree-line. And, though Hart never saw it again, he knew what it’d been.”
“And what was it?” Thatchell asked.
Aaron looked at him as though gauging every possible response.
“The same thing that fell into the Swartz farm in 1924,” he said. “The same thing I’m trying to get away from now.”
The snow had settled on the foothills of the Adirondacks, but it was still too deep for anyone to travel far without the aid of a motor.
Thatchell was trying to find the best way to deal with the situation. Here he was—miles from town—with an escaped lunatic from a Connecticut nuthouse holding him to ransom with stories about visitors from outer space.
“What exactly are we talking about here,” Thatchell broached the subject, “little green men?”
“For Christ-sake!” Aaron rolled his eyes at the ceiling. “No! I am not talking about little green fucking men! Ten years ago some hacks in Kentucky make up that term to sell papers and suddenly it’s all people can think of!”
“Okay,” Thatchell raised his arms placatingly. “But help me out here, son. What are we talking about?”
“Listen…” Aaron leaned forward. “Have you ever been alone and, for no reason, a sense of dread creeps up on you like something crawling on your back.”
“I don’t suppose there’s any man who doesn’t get spooked from time to time,” Thatchell answered, “but are you trying to tell me that’s got something to do with these lights over Nine Mews?”
“No,” Aaron shook his head. “I’m just explaining. That feeling. That dread. It’s an energy field. It comes into you and changes the way your body functions, right?”
“I suppose,” Thatchell shrugged.
“Well,” Aaron paused, “I want you to imagine a planet with no animals, with no plant-life. Hell, where there isn’t even bacteria. An entirely new framework for living organisms. Think if we didn’t evolve from those exact single cells that began life on this planet, what might we be now. A planet where these… energies, dread, lust, hunger are the original building blocks of life.”
“I think…” Thatchell tried to interrupt.
“No! Shut up!” Aaron touched his gun. “That planet isn’t in your goddamn imagination! It exists! It exists out there somewhere.”
He looked out at the falling snow.
“The energies have will. They think. They move. They’ve even found ways to build sophisticated crafts to carry them across interstellar space!”
Thatchell was aware that Aaron was still staring out the window. The hunter kept his own eyes on the kid’s gun; resting there under his frail and shaking hand.
“They’re here, Thatchell.” Aaron said dreamily. “They don’t need to invade. They’ve arrived! The energies! When I was in Nine Mews one of them got a hold of me. It’s holding me now…like something dreadful crawling up my back. Don’t you see, Thatchell? It’s a parasite, but it doesn’t live in the guts or the stomach. It lives in your mind! Don’t you see, Thatchell!? Don’t you see!? That’s why I can’t sleep! When I sleep it gets to eat!”
He flung his hands up and grabbed desperately at his skull-like head. Thatchell seized the moment’s opportunity and snatched the Colt out from under his unhinged visitor’s grasp.
He threw away the chair behind him and leapt from the table; pointing the weapon directly at Aaron’s head.
Aaron just looked at him. His eyes were incredibly tired.
“When I sleep it eats.” Was all he said.
“You’re just sick in the head, son.” Thatchell said pityingly. “You need help. Now I’m gonna call into town and we’re gonna get you the help you need.”
“No towns!” Aaron screamed. “They’ll find me! The doctors at Nine Mews!”
“You need a doctor.” Thatchell insisted.
“You don’t understand!” Aaron stood from the table. “They’ll knock me out with barbiturates. I’ll dream, Thatchell! I’ll dream!”
“It’s all in your head, Aaron!” Thatchell said.
“It’ll eat me, Thatchell,” Aaron replied, his skullish face was sneering and repulsive. “It’ll eat me while I dream!”
“I’m making the call…”
Thatchell moved a step towards the hallway where he kept the phone.
Aaron made a snarling, wild sound and leapt over the table. His hands were like two gnarled claws.
For the rest of his life Thatchell would regret it, but the handgun went off; blowing a hole the size of a fist in Aaron’s feeble head.
Darkness, and such warmness after the cold winds of the New York mountains.
Aaron could hear his mother’s voice and the deeper one of his father. It was like being home again when he was a little boy. They were talking—her and him—though not together; to a third voice in the room beyond the darkness.
Aaron nearly smiled at the comforting feeling of their closeness until, that is, he began to understand the words they were saying. That, and the terrible realisation of who the third voice belonged to.
“He’ll survive.” Said the voice of Doctor Cassidy.
Doctor Cassidy. Chief of Staff at the asylum.
He was in Nine Mews!
“The bullet did, however, leave irreparable damage to Aaron’s brain and there’s no telling if he’ll ever wake up again.”
A knife of white-hot terror pierced Aaron’s chest. His skin prickled with unusable adrenaline.
In the dream he opened his eyes.
The parasite wasn’t inside him, but he was inside the parasite.
He screamed into the fleshy walls of its twitching innards; that ball of corporeal energy that had landed in the tobacco fields of ‘24 surrounded him entirely; like a vast, digesting stomach.
On the interior lining where Aaron’s thin hands slipped and clawed a series of orifices the size of pinholes were opening in diameter to the size of children’s mouths.
And from the orifices a million proboscides, thin as black hairs, slid out to puncture Aaron’s skin; drinking blood and nutrients as they pleased.
B.T. Joy is a British horror writer whose short fiction has appeared within the printed pages, internet presences and podcasts of markets such as Static Movement, Surreal Grotesque, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Human Echoes, MircoHorror, Flashes In The Dark, SQ Magazine, Forgotten Tomb Press and Chilling Tales For Dark Nights, among others. He is also a practicing poet and his poetry can be found in magazines and anthologies produced worldwide. He is currently working as a high school English teacher in Heilongjiang, China. He can be reached through his website: http://btj0005uk.wix.com/btjoypoet or on tumblr: http://btj0005uk.tumblr.com/
Image by zinger