The Beast in the Cave
A man touring the Mammoth caverns is separated from his guide and his party. He’s in the dark and does not know which way to go. He fears he may die of starvation. He reflects on all the people who came to the cave in hopes that its atmosphere would provide a healing environment, but they too are gone. The man determines to try to find every possible way out that he can.
He hears a sound. At first, he supposes that it is his guide coming to find him. He shouts in hopes that the guide will hear him, but upon closer listening, the man realizes that it is not two feet that come toward him, but four. The presence feels dangerous. The man knows he has to evade it. He arms himself with chunks of limestone in hopes of deterring whatever creature is coming after him.
The creature finally comes close enough. The man throws once, and misses. He throws again and connects with the creature and runs as fast as he can away from the creature.
As luck would have it, his guide is searching for him and has been for four hours. He tells the guide all about the creature and how it had stalked him. The two go back to look at what the creature is. There they find an ape-like creature, white as can be, with claws on its hands. It looks ape-like, but it also looks human. The creature is still alive, just a bit. It opens its mouth to make noises, and that’s when they realize that the creature the man has killed was once a man.
This is really my first foray into Lovecraft and it was interesting.
As a strange coincidence, my friend is actually visiting Mammoth Caves this very weekend.
I researched a bit about Mammoth caves and it turns out that H.P. was correct in his mentioning of Mammoth Caves as a previous healing ground. A doctor, Croghan, treated tuberculosis and decided that the airs of the cave might be good for people suffering from the consumption. He built huts there and had patients live there, in hopes that the preservative airs of the cave would help their consumption.
The cave atmosphere did not help the consumption, especially not with the smoke of cooking fires staying inside of the caves. People started to die. They were laid out on a large flat rock, now dubbed corpse rock. The project was not continued after a time.
People can certainly get lost in cave systems. It does happen, and sometimes, people die in there. Sometimes, they’re never found. This story isn’t necessarily about getting lost, although, it is kind of stupid to wander off by yourself into a cave system. It’s not like there are cave maps. Well, maybe some of the more well-known cave systems have maps, but not all of them. You can get lost.
This story is about getting lost in one sense. You can get lost in caves, but you can also lose yourself. If the creature inside of the cave was once a man, what happened to it? Didn’t that man also lose his way? How long had he been there? What had to happen to him for him to turn into this strange creature?
I have to posit, that perhaps said creature was still a man. He was a man whose hair and nails had grown long. He had become accustomed to the sounds of the cave. His sense of smell had sharpened in an environment without many smells. His hearing had sharpened in an environment without many sounds. How long had he been there and how long had he survived? Perhaps he lived on bats and cave fungus, or weird bugs. Perhaps he too one day wandered away from his group and found himself lost.
In viewing this creature, our narrator, was looking at what he could potentially become if he stayed lost. Perhaps this creature, upon smelling another human being, was so excited to be found that it barreled towards it, not knowing that he would be killed by doing so. His lost state had changed him to such an extent that he was not readily recognizable as a human being.
Sure, this is a little creepy, getting lost is creepy, but getting lost to such an extent that you cease becoming what you are and become something less is the ultimate creepy.
Stay with the group for goodness sake.
Do you think people who have been lost for extended periods of time revert into some other type of being, mentally, for the period of being lost?
How would you feel if you found yourself lost in a cave?