The Beast In The Cave
by H.P. Lovecraft
The unnamed narrator in this short story recounts an adventure that begun when he wandered off from a tour group and found himself immediately and irrevocably lost within the subterranean labyrinth of Mammoth Cave. By the time we join him, his torch has already burned out and the all-encompassing darkness is toying with his senses. He has already resigned himself to the fact that he will more than likely starve to death within these caverns, but when he begins to hear a strange progression of footfalls, he grows fearful of what else may be trapped in the caves alongside him.
The title of the story is "The Beast in the Cave", and you start with the cave so you know full well that you're going to end with the beast. The only real question is what kind of a beast is it? Lovcraft relishes in the description of said beast, languishing long paragraphs to paint a picture in our mind's eye. These sections come off like an entry from a cryptozoology fieldbook...or at the very least an excerpt from an X-Files script.
Much more tension, if not outright scares, could have been created if more time was spent with our narrator fleeing from the beast. Instead, once the beast makes his appearance, the threat is over all too quickly as we make room for descriptive prose. Maybe TOO descriptive, as Lovecraft apparently hadn't yet learned that what we DON'T see is often more frightening than what we DO see.
"The Beast in the Cave" was only Lovecraft's third story published (following the previously reviewed "The Alchemist" and the non-horror tale "A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson"), appearing in a 1918 issue of Vagrant. But when you realize that this story was written when Lovecraft was only 14 years old, any and all faults can easily be forgiven. His talent and skill are already obvious though not yet in full bloom and it's almost disheartening to realize that a 14 year old kid more than a century ago could write better than I will ever be able to.
Kids these days don't even read!
Stay tuned for more reviews in my chronological journey of H.P. Lovecraft!