The Thing Inside the Cave

📅 Published on February 9, 2022

“The Thing Inside the Cave”

Written by Jeff Provine
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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It awoke to the sounds of bootfalls on rocks.  Voices followed.  Someone had come into its cave again.

It listened.

“Matt!  Look out for the camera!”

“I’m looking!  I’m looking!”

“I could put that in my bag, you know.”

“And let it get crushed by your two tons of gear?  No, thanks, Dave.  I’ve got the camera!” “Yeah, but I–”

“Dave, you’re distracting me!”

There was a crash of spilling rocks, splashing water, and then a string of swears.  Some of the words it had heard long ago, and some that were new.  The thing wondered how long it had been since it last woke.

Now it crept from the shadowy crag between the boulders where it nested.  It was invisible and intangible, yet cold to the touch.

It felt thin, just a wisp of what it once had been, but now fresh fools bumbled into its cave.  Now was the time to feed once more.

It listened to their prattle as it slipped through the cool, wet air of the cave.  The stream bubbled up from a spring deep inside the mountain and had carved out the rock for millennia to widen a corridor leading deep into the shadows.  Even the thing inside the cave was a newcomer to the stream, despite its own centuries.

It skulked around the edge of Cyclops Rock, the enormous boulder that sat in the middle of the cave. The stream swam around the rock’s feet, nibbling away at the earth beneath it.  Cyclops Rock still stood, its indention staring out like the socket of a long-dead mythical creature.  The thing settled in the darkness behind it, peeking at the trespassers.

There were three of them, two young men and a woman, all just now coming to adulthood.  One of the men wore a huge knapsack on his back and thick spectacles.  His hand clutched a torch of tamed lightning.  The other man, towheaded and lanky, carried a small black box carefully in his hands as if he held treasure.  The woman was in the lead, carrying an even smaller box that glowed.  They wore strange clothes, so much shinier and smaller than the last people it had seen.

“Okay, guys,” the woman announced.  “I’ve lost my cell phone signal!  You think that’s deep enough that we should be hearing something?”

“Yeah, ‘cause it’s afraid of cell phones,” the towheaded man said.

“No, I meant,” she began, but she seemed to change her mind.  “Never mind.” “Jess, don’t let him get to you.  Today’s one of Matt’s jerk days.” “Thanks, Dave,” the other male said.

The thing felt itself smile.  Young people, so full of life, they were the perfect prey.  It wafted to the top of the rock for a better look.

The young woman froze.  “Y-you guys feel that?” It stopped and pushed close to the rock.  The people knew when it was in the room with them.  It could see their faces go green and their hairs fray out like a frightened dog’s scruff.  It imagined their blood running cold, and it smiled again.

“Feel what?” the man with spectacles asked.

“I don’t feel anything except water in my shoes,” the towhead said.

She shook her head.  “No, seriously.  Guys, it got colder suddenly.” “Probably just a breeze coming from inside the cave,” Spectacles told her.

“A breeze from inside the cave?” Towhead asked.  He rolled his head back with a scoffing cough. “You know how caves work, right?  They’re just big holes in the ground!”

“No, that’s not true,” Spectacles said.  “There are little pinhole entrances all over the face of the mountain.  When that kid got lost in here back in the 1960s, they said he finally found his way out through a side vent.”

The thing closed its eyes.  It remembered the child: cold, crying, his clothes muddy and torn.  He had wandered into the cave exploring, not even knowing the story of the thing.  As soon as it revealed itself, the child believed.  And it fed.

The child’s wails had echoed through the cave for two days.  It had taunted him, scratched him and pinched him in the darkness, but the boy was just a morsel on his own.  How much more there had been once it led him back to his people to tell the tale and show the marks.  Many believed then, and a whole new generation of bell-bottomed youths came to the cave.  Like every generation, though, the trickle of visitors gradually disappeared as some new interest seized their attention.

“Matt, your camera’s on, right?” the woman asked in a soft, breathy voice.

“No.  I don’t want to waste the battery.”

“Turn it on,” she said in a whisper.

“Why are we whispering?” Towhead whispered back.

“Because I think I saw something.”

“Where?” Spectacles blurted.  He turned his torch up to shine on Cyclops Rock.  “There?” The thing scurried away from the light.  It would do no good to be seen so soon.  As it went back into the dark, it threw dirt and pebbles.  They splashed into the stream below.

“What was that?” the girl cried.

“It was probably just a rat,” Towhead told her.  “I guess I could’ve filmed that.” “I don’t think it was,” the woman told him.

The thing grinned through the darkness.  The woman believed; she could sense it there with them.  The others were aloof.  It needed to draw them deeper into the cave, where the walls grew closer.

It slid down the back of Cyclops Rock and settled into the stream water.  Its feet splashed, kicking water this way and that, making as much noise as it could.  All the activity was draining.  Its stomach practically growled.

That I heard!” Towhead announced.

“Whatever it was, it’s going back that way!” Spectacles called.

The trio fell in behind it, splashing up the stream with more noise than it could make.  It hurried ahead as fast as it could, scratching the walls to keep their attention.  They kept on like this until it came to the old campsite.

There the thing threw itself out of the water.  Its nebulous body ached with hunger, but it forced itself to burn a little more energy and crawl into the shadows beside the cave wall.  It settled into a heap to rest just as the young explorers splattered up from the stream.

They followed its wet footsteps up the grimy bank to where the old campsite sat.  It had rested there for decades, moth-chewed bedrolls still wrapped up as they had been left.  Pots and broken glass jars circled the firepit, now just a little more than a smear of black carbon amid the bat droppings. Overturned scientific equipment was loosely scattered, picked over by the explorers the thing let this far into the cave.  A half-rotten leather bag still had its patch for Renfrow College.

“Look at all this stuff!” the young woman called.  “This must be the expedition from the 1920s!” Spectacles’ light settled on an overturned Brownie camera, still attached to its wooden tripod.  “I wonder if any of this stuff is valuable?” Before anyone could answer, he picked it up.

“Whoa,” was all the towhead could say.  “I’m firing up the camera.  This is good stuff.” His little black box came alive with its own light.  The thing ducked lower.  It knew the kind of device this was.  A clear image of it might cause a surge of interest for a moment, but then they would stop caring, and it would be left to starve.

The young man swirled from one item to the next.  It wondered how he got a picture at all.

“Are you filming?” the woman asked.

“Yep!” Towhead said.  He leaned his camera over the bag with the patch.  “I can’t believe they left this all just sitting here.”

“They ran out of here, remember?” spectacles said.  “After one of their crew drowned right before their eyes!”

The thing felt warmth roll up its back.  The young people shivered and stepped away from the babbling spring.

The woman took out her glowing box.  When she held it to her face, it lit her as if she were sitting beside the campfire, preparing a ghost story.

“Okay, guys,” she said.  “I brought up the Wiki page on the cave ghost before I lost signal.  Matt, you want to film me reading it?”

“I guess,” Towhead said.  He moved the camera and held it up toward her.  Its light cast a huge shadow against the cave wall behind her.

“Okay,” she repeated.  She cleared her throat.  “So, the story that the spirit of a pirate-witch haunts this cave dates back all the way to the early 1700s.  Strange things have happened ever since her death, though the rumors ebb from time to time.”

The thing felt a little stronger as she read and the others listened.  It was good to hear the story.

Her thumbs danced over the glowing box, casting shadows on her face.  “Capturing ships from the Caribbean to the north Atlantic, she was one of a number of famous female pirates such as Grace O’Malley, blah blah blah…here we go!  It was widely believed that she used divination to discover the courses for victims’ ships and had the power to manipulate the weather and cut the wind out of the sails of her prey.  Some said she could even conjure storms.  This very cave was used as her treasure trove, and her crew mutinied when she revealed its location.  They left her chained inside, hesitant to kill her since she swore a curse that anyone who entered the cave would be haunted.”

Towhead snorted.  “Why would she curse the cave after they stole her treasure?” “Maybe she had something more valuable deeper in the cave?” Spectacles offered.  He shined his light upstream into the deepest recesses.

The thing shook its head.  Only a few ragged bones and rusty bits of iron were back there.  Even it did not like to go that far into the shadows.

“Anyway!” the young woman called.  “In 1743 during the Great Awakening, John Wesley and George Whitefield preached a dual sermon in front of the cave, banishing the evil that was believed to be within it.”

The thing gave a little laugh.  There was such a wealth of belief in those days.  It was so strong then.  Some days it could even reach out into the town, driving a pig herd mad to eat its own flesh or sour the milk before it left the udder.  The distance was exhausting, but it made so many people believe.

“What was that?” Spectacles burst out.  His light flew around the cave.

It slithered a little further under the rocks.

“Dave, calm down!” towhead called.

Spectacles’ light continued its erratic search.  “I swear I heard something laugh!” “You’re creeping me out!” the young woman yelled.  “Put your flashlight down!” The thing felt much stouter now.

Spectacles stood hugging the old photographer’s stand, and the woman continued.  “There are countless tales of the cave.  People have disappeared in the area pretty much every decade.  There was a rockslide in 1887 that is blamed on the witch, and of course, the case of Jeffrey Trimlow, eight years old, lost in the cave for two days in 1968.  He came out covered in scratches and told everybody it was the ghost.”

“Probably just rocks,” Towhead muttered.

The thing sneered at him.

“But the best-documented case was in 1927 when the expedition from Renfrow College spent three days in the cave.  They intended to spend a week, but it was cut short when one of them drowned in the stream.”

“Drowned in that?” Towhead asked with sing-song disbelief.  “It’s like eight inches deep!” The others hummed and agreed.  Then the cave turned quiet.

The thing bristled with anger.  It had been angry then, too.

There had been seven or eight of the explorers then, all camping in the cave and setting up their strange machines.  The thing had obliged them: scratching some, making noises, and even knocking over a tent in the middle of the never-ending underground night.

Their belief was strong and filling, but it was cold and passionless.  Anything it did was meticulously measured, turned into fact without faith.  At last, the thing couldn’t stand them anymore. When one of the older ones with a gray mustache bent over to fill his kettle from the stream, it shoved him into the water.  The man struggled and fought, but it held him with all its strength.  The air gurgled out of his screaming mouth, and water filled his lungs.  One of the others tried to go into the stream to rescue him, but the thing knocked him away, flat onto his back.

Then they all believed with hot conviction, and they fled the cave, carrying the story with them. Townsfolk and lawmen, faces it could tell were descended from trespassers of the past, collected the body in a tremoring crowd, armed with guns, sage branches, horseshoes, and mirrors.  There was a long time before anyone came again.

“And now we – Matt and Dave and I – stand in the very spot,” the woman said.  She made her voice sing like a widow’s wail.  “Today, we are going to try and capture video evidence of the ghost.”

After a pause, she asked, “You guys ready?”

“Uh,” was all Spectacles could say.

“Yeah, go,” Towhead said.

“All right,” the young woman said.  She cleared her throat again.  “I’m calling out to the captain of the ship Circe, the pirate-witch Hecate Pearce!”

The thing shivered.  It was happy to borrow the name.

Spectacles stammered.

“What?” she asked.

“You said the name weird,” he said.  “I think it’s pronounced hay-ka-tay.” “Well, I think it’s heh-kate.”

“Listen,” he said.  “I took two years of Latin, so…”

“But she’s not Roman!  She’s a witch!”

The two fell into arguing.  Towhead laughed.

The thing growled.  No one heard it.  The story was powerful; that was the whole reason it had come to this cave in the first place.  Now these adolescents were squabbling over details while their belief dwindled.  Now was time to act.

It crept low around the wreckage of the campsite, slipping around behind Spectacles and into the long shadow behind the young woman’s mud-riddled boots.  She had her hair drawn back behind her head, dangling like the tail of a pony.  It reached up and yanked.

She screamed.

The glowing box fell to the cave floor.

Towhead and Spectacles gave matching yelps that echoed against the stone walls.

It felt a wave of belief flood out of them, and it drank deeply.  It felt stronger than it had when the men carrying torches had searched the cave for the girls the thing had enticed in from the woods on the slope of the mountain when the rocks fell.  When the men said it might have been a bear, the thing cut a cryptic word “Hate” into the flesh of the older girl.

“Are you okay?” Towhead called.

“Yeah, I…” she began, patting her own head.  She stopped and pointed at him.  “Keep filming!” “What happened?” spectacles asked, his voice shaking.

“Something pulled my hair,” she said.  Her eyes were wide even in the dark.  “Did you guys see anything?”

The thing let out a long, low groan.  It began softly and pushed the sound louder and louder until stalactites rumbled.

Spectacles shrieked and held the century-old Brownie camera to his chest.

“Oh man, oh man!” the young woman cried.  “Did you get that?” “I’m recording!  Shut up!” Towhead told her.  Suddenly he started laughing.  “I can’t believe how awesome this is!” The thing bristled.  They were just using it for amusement.

It charged past the young man with spectacles, shoving him in the chest.  He made a hurking gasp and tumbled through the ground.  Past him, the thing began tossing old sleeping bags and pots into the air.  The clamor boomed through the cave.

“This is insane!” the woman screamed.

The thing stopped and fell back into the darkness.  The last pots finished their skittering over the pebbles.  Quiet overcame the cave.

“Whoa,” the towhead said.

He and the woman stood dumbfounded for a moment.  Spectacles squirmed on the ground, taking in gulps of wet cave air.

“Think she’s mad at us?” the woman asked.

The towhead shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Do you think we could get her to do it again?” The thing growled again.  It was not some plaything.

“Did you hear…”

It charged out of the darkness, screaming as it swooped.  The humans ducked and squealed.

It grabbed the box out of the towhead’s hands and threw it into the stream.  As it hit the water, it flashed, and then it went dark.

“My camera!” he shouted.  He flung his fists into the air.  “You suck!” The thing welled up what energy it could muster and roared, “GET OUT!” “M-maybe we should,” the woman said.  Her mouth continued to move, but her voice had given up.

The towhead stood without saying anything.

“Let’s go,” Spectacles whispered.

At last the others nodded and followed him down the stream.

The thing wondered if it had gotten all of the belief out of this lot as it could.  It could slink back to its resting place and hibernate, feeding off all they had given it.  Yet that belief might dwindle.  It had to seem real to them and haunt their dreams for a lifetime.  The expense of energy would be great, but so would the feast.

It moved silently forward, ducking behind outcrops of rock to keep them from ever seeing it straight on.  Nothing killed belief like seeing reality.

“Do you think it’s following us?”

“Shut up!  I don’t want to think about it!”

The towhead was in the rear.  When the thing came behind him, it grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted, pulling him up to the rocky ceiling.

The boy gave a cry like a bleating goat.  The girl screamed, too.  The one with spectacles pulled himself free from his knapsack and dashed out into the stream, following it down and all the way out of the cave, abandoning his friends.

The woman stayed, standing with shaking knees.  “P-put him down!” It felt itself smile.  Of course he would.

The towhead suddenly grabbed onto the edge of Cyclops Rock.  The thing pulled, but he held tight, fear giving him strength it doubted he’d ever had before.

With a grinding series of grunts, Cyclops Rock began to falter.  The rocks acting as its foundation snapped and cracked.  The boulder rolled forward with a long groan.

The towhead slipped out of the thing’s grip.  He held tight to the rock, flipping upside-down as the cyclops rolled onto its skeletal face.  The towhead was being pulled underneath.

“No!” the woman screamed.

When the rock settled, the thing slithered down and peeked through the crack.  The towhead was there, unconscious but alive in the eye-socket crater.

The thing came out and found the woman on her knees, pressing her face against the rock.

“Matt!” she cried.  “Matt!”

Even in the darkness, it could see tears streaming.

The thing floated absently near the roof of the cave.  It could easily leave the boy; the woman would go for help.  If they weren’t distracted, the rescue party might make for good eating as well.

Yet the woman wouldn’t leave the towhead.  The thing might have been a spirit taking the guise of a long-dead witch, but it had a heart.

It would take a great deal of strength to move the boulder, but the encounter had filled its belly with an overflow of belief.  Summoning up all the will in its power that people had given up through their nightmares and unspoken creeds, the thing reached out in the darkness and pushed on the boulder.

It did not move at first, but gradually pebbles began to pop, and rocks cracked again.  The thing pushed harder and harder until it felt sore and weak.  The boulder settled back to where it had been.

The thing pulled itself on top of the rock and rested.  The young woman was still weeping and pounding at the edge of the rock.

A dead boy would bring lawmen, those suspicious, disbelieving men of facts.  They might blame nature, and all the belief would disappear as people ignored it.  The thing would starve.

Yet it couldn’t move the boulder.  Things like it, living forces of myth, couldn’t give giant displays all the time.  It was too exhausting.  People became used to it; they lost their belief.  Instead, it had to be cunning and hint and cause people to create their own fears.

The thing thought, Why not move the rock by hints, too? It slid down the side of Cyclops Rock away from the weeping woman.  The stream was splashing around the boulder’s edge, redirected by the shuffling stones.  The thing dug deep into the grimy soil.  Gradually the water moved closer to the rock, finally around it to where the new foundation lay.

The young woman gasped and held her head as she watched its work in the meager light.

The thing dug on, pulling stones out and carving out swaths of wet earth.  After a few minutes, the rock began to groan again.  It leaned more and more until at last it rolled, falling squarely on top of the thing.

The weight of a stone couldn’t kill it, even one as massive as Cyclops Rock, which now sat looking blindly into the cavern instead of its watchful socket staring out at the entrance as it had for years before.

The thing clawed at the soil to find a way out.  As long as someone believed, it would go on.

It didn’t know how long it took to escape from under the rock, but the young woman and the towhead were gone.  The man wearing spectacles had dropped his knapsack, and the black box the man had called a “camera” sat ruined in the stream.

All was quiet.

The thing slipped back into the crevice where it would sleep and dream of the people, visiting them in their nightmares to feast.  They would surely tell others and bring much belief in the ghost of the pirate-witch.  The thing in the cave didn’t matter what they called it, as long as they gave it the faith to live on.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Jeff Provine
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Jeff Provine

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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