The Cave

I am reluctant to tell this for in its telling my sanity will most certainly be questioned, as I myself have many a time questioned the sanity of my aquaintance and good friend Ness Danto, since his return from a long voyage abroad. But I must, through all this, hold firm in my belief that I examined, in every possible way, the narrative which was given to me by Ness and could not logically come to any other course of action than that of which I am guilty. Believe me when I say that my decision was not wholy based on Ness' story. For I myself had ventured into that damned and accursed place. I must now be very careful in choosing my words. The account of the events between the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth of March must not be marred by facts tinted with emotion or fancy.

A stench, that I later came to associate with rot, hit my nostrils when I was within range. As said, the pit, with a radius of slightly over three feet, gaped open on the hillside beneath Meiler Boulder. The boulder, with its worn hieroglyphics, had been standing witness, in this cold damp earth, since before the earliest Scottish record. I slipped as I attempted a not very wise fully erect descent into the brooding darkness. My eyes grew accustomed to the lack of clean sunlight as I stood listening for what Danto had reluctantly described, in a place which had only the languid dripping of water and the echoes of my own breath to offer. The contour of the grotto which Ness' digging had a week ago penetrated were indistinct, but a downward slope of the floor and ceiling could be detected, punctuated only by the anticipated stalactites and stalagmites. At the flick of a switch my lamp dispersed the desolate darkeness as shadows leaped behind every feasable corner. The warm glow of the lamp seemed out of place in this dismal world of grey.

The sloshy mud gave way, in six feet, to a floor punctuated by a myriad of cracks, slowly dispersing stalagmites, and spare rocks which had evidently fallen from the cieling, twelve feet above. I sturdily walked ever downward, as my steps grated through the millenia old stone, only to see the inklings of sunlight grow dim behind me and the shadows leap ever more vigorously ahead. The cieling seemed to get higher as the seconds marked by the rhythm of water hitting old, accursed stone, became minutes and minutes hours. An eternity passed before I had another glimpse of the cieling. This time it had a definate reddish cast (a feature that Ness had failed to note in his hurried account that had sent me from Miskatonic, in my beloved Arkham, on this doomed quest). The water was ticking, and after a brief note of the curious imaginary designs on the cieling and some of the stalagmites, I set on my way; following my friend's scribbled directions in that damned little yellow notebook to the letter. I skip a stalagmite here, note a marking there, smell this, listen to that. Bah! What good did it do me when I was scrambling and sliding through the maze of tunnels under hell itself?

Eight thousand water drips later, after stomping down through the endless arrangement of stalagmites my legs gave out and I dropped into a small grey puddle on an infinate expase of grey rocks. In my dream a mad flute-player played in the background of a hundred-thousand unheeded drops of water. And I walked tall through tall passageways of shining, black stone. And I willed open a thousand great gates to a thousand worlds. And I willed a hundred great races to rise and fall. And I feared, feared through the tall passageways of dark, black stone. And I closed the thousand great gates to a thousand worlds and ran. I ran, ran through the tall passageways of dull, black stone with fear on my trail. I ran 'till I could run no more. And my legs gave out and fear found me at last. And I slept.

I awoke to the startling sound of silence. The water drops had quieted to below my auditory range and my sturdy waterproof Citizen wristwatch had somehow quit at eleven PM. My lamp had dimmed though I could see that I was leaning on a wall of a strange supposedly sedimentary rock that Ness had described in his yellow notebook. There were symbols here (this time real and not imaginary) akin to the hieroglyphics on the Meiler Boulder. After sneezing a bit from some of the accumulated dust that I had blown off the wall I noticed the symbols had also been noted in the book. I stood and started to follow the wall to my right while the shadows veered and swerved excitedly around me. With the light at half brightness the gloom was even more apparent and my concentration, without the rhythm of the water, drifted to the smell that was becoming more and more apparent and was eminating from some unplaceable source. Twice I stumbled in the debris and the shadows jolted in the swaying light. Aeons passed and I saw the other side of the cavern, riddled with passageways. I searched for a particular one, noted in the notebook that is now but ashes spread over a stream under the clean sunlight. When I reached the entrance with the appropriate symbols the queer silence lifted and was replaced by the more terrible sound, the sound mimmiked to me by Ness. But the sound, if it could be called that, was not of human orgin nor of anything of this earth but something infinately more horrible. A black itching, scratching piping by the mad flute player of my dream. I nearly dropped my lantern and ran blindly then. But the thought of returning to the infinate grayness behind me and of what would lie beyond the entryway brought a hint of logic back to me. A hint of sanity was all I needed. This must be some form of audio-hallucination experienced by spelunkers on extensive treks in enclosed areas. I stepped bravely through Ness's passage. I stepped into a black room with a black stone in the center. This also was just as Danto described; and, I quickly noted the measurements that had been overlooked by Ness (3', 6', 9'). A curious (5" radius, 1" depth) circular depression was in the center and five perfectly straight (2", 4", 5") channels led away from it to the four corners and one of the short sides. This utterly fascinated me; and, almost all thought of the insane piping fled in my excitement. This was too symetrical to be a natural formation in sedimentary rock. The measurements were too exact and the stone too queer. It foiled all attempts made by me to obtain a sample for carbon testing that would no doubt place it somewhere in the Pleistone age. How it survived intact for such millenia was, however, beyond me. No there must have been a seal or a door before Ness stumbled in here. A combination of seclusion of this room from major fault lines and lack of moisture to erode it would probably account for it; though, still making it as hard as diamond.

I stood up and looked for passages that were noted by Ness. There were two where there should have been three. I trembled. The lamp flickered. A hint of logic crept in and I let out the breath that I had been holding for a while. Ness must have made a mistake. He forgot to mention the measurements of a find like the black stone, so anything as simple as an extra passageway could surely be overlooked without a second thought. His idiotic babblings of creatures surviving from aeons past hold no water. Where's the proof? A hard rock? A bit of wind howling through some air cavity, making noise? Bah! Logic. That was the way out.

I chose the left passage and in my foolishness walked bravely through it. Damn that accursed place with the accursed piping through the fould, black walls. eternity cannot kill that which cannot die. Nor are its foul minions stopped. Deep under the earth where only the black walls can see they breed and flourish until the stars are right and they outnumber the clean, living things of this earth and the Old Ones rule once more.

I chose the left passage and walked through it. The ancient city of Hlanith kept its secrets for many millenia until two tiny humans sought to disturb it. Now, as I stepped through the door with my flickering light, with my heart full of brave thought, I heard the piping loudly once more. And, before the lamp flickered out I saw. I saw, and once again I knew fear. I did not see the unnamable god that once ruled ehre; for, woe to any mortal which sets eyes on such blasphemy, on such utter unreal horror; though, what I did by chance catch a glimpse of was a thing too terrible for my brave thoughts and deeds and my logic. The thing was a minion of the god. A yellowish, stooped, pupilless contradiction of nature with libs, having no connection with the body, thrust out of the air at impossible angles. The jaws were open and drooling, some of the limbs seemingly involuntarily jerking. And yet the thing seemed to have some sort of intelligence. But an intelligence utterly unlike our own, hating the very matter poor, hopeless humans are made of. Seeing that my mind gave out. I dropped the failed lamp when all turned black. And slept.

But I awoke running. Running like I had never run before. Through the dark halls and passages. Tripping over stalagmites. And still I kept running. In that last moment when the lamp dropped. I must have heeded the water then; the screaming water seeping through this fould and heartless ground. I must have broken free of the mad piping and my instincts must have taken over. I do not know what happened for sure, but it is the only logical explanation left. For, I somehow scrambled out of that accursed place under Meiler Boulder, and ran screaming through the woods to my car, and home.

I found Ness the next day in his room. Rather I found what was left of him. The same prevailing odor as in the cave hung around his room as I mounted the steps. It had been a week since what I left as Ness Danto had started to rot.

The next day I took dynamite from the house cellar and headed for the Boulder. The explosive I packed well inside the cave, but I did not go further than the sunlight shone. A long fuse was set and now the accursed gate is but a heap of rubble. It is true that I was the one who set the elder sign on both sides of the gate so that those from without should not pass that way again. But I tell you that I am not guilty of the murder of Ness Danto, but of what he had become. For when I entered the room at the top of the stairs, the room that was shuttered from light on all sides, what I found there of Ness was but an empty shell. And the thing walking and drooling was the thing from the cave.

Copyright Sergey Goldgaber, April 4, 1989
(AUTHOR'S NOTE: See my home node for background a brief discussion of this story)

The Cave

In the moments before panic set in, through time and memory, Violet's entire life flashed before her eyes.

Mostly she recalled the forest beyond the wooded hillside behind her grandfather's house where she'd loved to play. There were natural springs galore and lots of brooks and streams. Curiosities abounded in those woods. That's where she'd found it.

After a long summer day of fishing and catching crawdads in that soggy old bottom, she'd been headed back toward home, back toward civilization. That day she'd noticed the cave that ran deep into the side of the hill, not for the first time; but that day it really sparked something in her imagination. She'd always wondered what was in that cave. Maybe she'd have a look for herself; what could it hurt?

Violet ran through the swampy canopy and up the hill, right up to the mouth of the cave. She leaned down, squinting, and peered inside, trying to get a better look. There was a light earthy smell filling the air around the entrance, as if the cave itself were eternally exhaling ever so slowly. She paused here, trying to decide whether to press on.

She didn't even really know what kind of cave it was. Was it a naturally occurring formation? Her grandfather had told some terrible tales about that cave. Almost every week after Sunday dinner, he would tell stories to her and all of her cousins of his childhood adventures. He told of how he and his brothers had explored the depths of the cave, searching for treasures and ancient legends. And how never again had they dared go in it, not since the day they'd found what they were looking for. "Wolves and spirits in that old cave," he'd said. "And always guarding it, they are."

She had never known whether he was genuine or if he was telling tall tales to dissuade the kids from getting into any real trouble playing in the cave. She'd played in these woods for years, explored every stream, every hollowed out log. But she had never gone inside the cave. Violet really knew no fear in these woods, except for that cave.

Before she realized it, she was inside.

"Hello?" she spoke feebly, knowing it was a stupid thing to say. If there was anybody or anything waiting for her in here, it probably wasn't going to ruin the surprise with a response.

Slowly, her eyes began to adjust to the low light. She stepped along an old craggy path, looking and listening for signs of life; signs of danger. She was feeling a little uneasy. As she walked, she peered around into the depths, but couldn't make out much. She listened intently to the whispers coming from deep within the earth. There was the faintest sound coming from below. Not so much a whistle, but a soft low howl. It sounded like –

Like a wolf.

It had to be the wind. Yes, the wind; lightly dancing through the cave and back out again with the faintest whisper. Violet's fears weren't eased much by her attempt to calm herself.

She continued on, holding her breath so that her ears would be alert to even the faintest sound. Every few minutes she would fancy she saw some quick hint of movement from the corner of her eye. She would turn violently and alertly to face the unknown thing, and then see nothing. Only shadows.

As Violet pressed on, she became aware of a thin sheen of sweat over her entire body, and then goosebumps that served only to exacerbate the feeling of dread. Dread was becoming a sickening knot in her gut.

She decided to turn back. Her vivid visualizations of her grandfather's stories flickered through her mind, like an old film strip. Her gut told her to get out of there. She turned around toward the cave entrance, now some hundred yards away. Had she really walked this far? Her nervousness had carried her deep into the cave. And now her panic jolted her. She needed to run. In an instant, flight mode took over her body, and she began to run swiftly toward the exit.

After only ten yards, Violet tripped on her own feet in her excitement. She fell to the cave floor and landed on her back, slamming her head against the limestone floor. She'd had the wind knocked out of her. She had to collect herself. She could feel her blood pounding in her temples. She took several slow, deep breaths and began to calm down. Her heart began to slow into a normal rhythm as she lay on the floor, staring at the cavernous roof above. Her night vision was with her now. She could make out a lot more than before. Her irrational fear and panic began to subside, as she sat up and started looking around.

There was enough light coming from the cave entrance to illuminate a vast area inside. This cave was massive! The limestone walls spread out before her, and in every direction, then trickled off into the darkness; into the farthest corners and depths where the light would not reach. It looked to Violet like some vast ancient, yet featureless, cathedral.

There sure wasn't much to see down here other than limestone stalactites. Except—

Down the steep incline off to her side, at what appeared to be the floor of a deeper section, and likely five-hundred yards away, there was the tiniest pinpoint of light. It appeared to emanate from the ground itself. Possibly a reflection? With her panic averted and her interest piqued, she decided to try and get a better look.

Violet began to climb down the rocky embankment, careful of the placement of each and every step. Not quite careful enough though, as about halfway down, she lost her footing and went sliding down the rock, and then literally took a tumble, rolling to a stop at the base of the incline.

After another moment regaining her breath, she stood up and dusted herself off; still a little disoriented from the fall. She hadn't been ready for that. But at least she was down here now. And it was nearly pitch black; she hadn't been ready for that either. The only light that she could make out was the faintest blue glow from the cave entrance, now far above; and this silvery pinpoint of light, fairly bright, which she guessed to be about another hundred yards away.

She approached it with caution. She fumbled through the darkness, the light becoming stronger and her steps becoming surer as she approached the source of silver light. At thirty yards the light flickered like some metallic object glinting in the distance. As she came upon it, she began to realize that that's exactly what it was.

It was lying there, half buried in the dust of the cave floor. It appeared to be a small, round, polished piece of pewter. She picked it up and examined it closely. About the size of a coin it was, but triply as thick. It perhaps once was engraved or stamped on one side, but if so the detail had worn and faded long ago. The other side was utterly smooth and polished without as much as a single flaw. Yes, it looked like a blending of pewter and alabaster, polished to a brilliant shine. But it cast the oddest reflections, tinged in blue.

"How did this get into a cave in the woods," Violet thought, still staring dumbfounded at the stone. After a few moments she managed to break her gaze, returning to the natural world. She was in a cave. It would be dark soon. She decided to head home, and placed the stone in her jeans pocket.

Instantly darkness fell on the cave. The light had been coming from the stone itself. She retrieved it and again the cave came alive with a silvery glow. Still a little taken aback, Violet decided to use the stone as a sort of lantern; she headed back toward the cave entrance. With great difficulty, she made the climb back up the rocky slope, and then up the path and into the overwhelming brightness of the forest.

Violet had bounded through the swamp, flitting between the old oak trees like the summer breeze, and up the hill into her grandfather's yard. So proud she was, wanting to show her grandfather what she'd found in his old cave.

When she reached the house, she ran straight back to the dining room where she knew he'd be. Only he wasn't. His body was there, slumped over in the chair lifeless, but he wasn't there at all.

A large, black wolf stood on the dining table, hovering over her grandfather's body, blood still dripping from its mouth. It turned instantly to face Violet, darting its menacing green eyes up and down her body, sizing her up. And then it spoke, in the voice of a man.

"Where is the stone? The silver stone; this man who lies dead before me, he is the one who stole it before, but it isn't with him now. Where is it? Do you have it? You do. I can see it in your eyes. You'll not have it for long."

In the moments before panic set in, Violet's reality melted away instantly as her mind went deep into its own cave, spiraling through time and memory. She wasn't even aware of it when the wolf tore out her throat.

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