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The Cave of Thith
PRESENTING A STORY FROM LOOK AT THEM NOW, by Tom Sinclair
Jon fleetwood rested his gaunt frame against the bole of the tree and scrutinized the cave from a distance. He reached into his weather-beaten knapsack and withdrew a pair of binoculars. These he lifted to his eyes and peered into intently. What he saw surprised him. Jon Fleetwood was no expert on botany, but even he knew it was strange to see such a great abundance of plant life within a cave. It grew wild and unfettered, and he could see more of the same luxuriant foliage extending back deep into the cave.
He had originally intended to spend the night underneath the huge tree, which he now leaned carelessly against, but what he had seen with his binoculars had filled him with curiosity and he knew that he would not be able to rest until he had further investigated this fascinating matter.
Hoisting the knapsack to his back, Fleetwood started towards the cave, which, he judged, was no more than a quarter of a mile away. He made his way easily across the rocky terrain, and as he drew near the cave he perceived that it was even more dense than he had imagined and took a gigantic chunk out of the mountain in which it was carved.Fleetwood entered the cave and began to inspect the plant life. There were flowers, many, many flowers, growing together in clusters; flowers of all shapes and colors. Jon Fleetwood pulled up several handfuls of these to get a look at the soil in which they were rooted. It wasa kind of fine, white powder, not at all the type of earth in which one would expect such beautiful flowers to be growing. However, nature was a strange and unpredictable thing, and in his travels Jon had learned to accept its many quirks.
He next examined one of the many large trees. It was very hard and of a deep amber hue. Its trunk was thickly strewn with branches and he climbed up the tree with the aid of these. When he was midway up, he stopped and looked about him.
Looking into the cave he saw before him the same collection of flowers and trees stretching ahead, until they melted into a panorama of glorious colors in the distance. He lowered himself from the tree and, without giving his actions a thought, began to walk into the depth of the cave that lay in front of him.
Such had always been the way of Jon Fleetwood: to wander impetuously into new fields of wonder. He had been born with a phenomenal love of nature and a simple, kind-hearted openness that had driven him out of society into the world of open fields and rolling hills in which he loved to wander.
He moved along at an easy pace which he could continue for hours and gradually the cave grew wider, until finally it opened up onto a great plateau covered with vegetation much like that which he had discovered inside the cave from which he had just emerged. Here he noticed, for the first time, signs of animal life; also, several of the trees bore fruit, and of these he was not the least bit reluctant to take. As he further explored this vast land, he noticed a lake of goodly proportions. He quickly stripped himself of his ragged clothes and entered this.
As he struck out for the middle of the lake, Jon Fleetwood was aware for one moment of a vague fear, but this he ignored. He swam with long, powerful strokes that drove him swiftly through the water.
Suddenly, however, the water seemed to come alive and Fleetwood was raised on high into the air and then he struck the water again, as though he had been dropped from a great distance. He came up, sputtering, and tried to swim but could not, the water was in such a turmoil. Treading water furiously, he looked above him. The sight that met his eyes was absolutely staggering.
Towering above him was a fantastic, serpentine beast, which resembled nothing more than a gigantic eel. It was thrashing about wildly and suddenly dived towards Fleetwood, its jaws opened wide, exuding venom.. As the jaws approached him, Fleetwood caught the scent of moldy and long-dead flesh on the creature’s breath. Frantic with fear, he dived back under the water.
The creature’s head plunged in after him. Fleetwood’s vision was distorted because of the water, but he remained alert, moving rapidly. Sheer fear drove him on, as the creature’s head lunged wildly about beneath the surface of the water. However, Fleetwood knew that flight from the water demon was useless and that he would be caught eventually by the rapidly moving head.
He decided he would risk all on one final effort. As the monster head came towards him, he dove forward to meet it. He tensed his body and was suddenly upon the beast’s neck. He encircled it with his body, locking his arms and legs around it, and in this manner tried frantically to choke the thing, which began to buck its entire body urgently. Fleetwood could feel half-vocal rumblings struggling to escape the hellish throat. And still the man exerted more pressure. His eyes were shut tight, and his body shook for want of air, but he held his breath and held onto the grotesque neck. The sea-thing was now half-mad and the entire lake must have been in chaos. Suddenly, the beast shook and was still, its body trembling as in the aftermath of an orgasm. Fleetwood let himself float back to the surface of the water and sucked in oxygen in great, greedy gulps. He swam slowly back to shore and there he fell into an exhausted sleep.
When Jon Fleetwood awoke, he found himself standing naked in a narrow glass cylinder. He was at one end of a long hall and apparently its sole occupant. He tried to move but discovered that he could neither feel nor see his body. He simply existed.
How long he stood there (was he standing?) he did not know, but suddenly a door at the end of the corridor opened and two figures entered. As they approached him, Fleetwood noted that they were both wrapped in black cloaks and had long, black beards hanging limply from their chins. They regarded him with interest. His mind formed the question that his lips could not ask: where am I? He was surprised when he himself answered his own question: the Cave of Thith. How had he known that?
The two men turned to leave, conversing between themselves in words Fleetwood could not comprehend. Assoon as the men closed the door behind them, Jon Fleetwood found himself back by the lake. Only now the entire atmosphere was different. The flowers had wilted, the trees were old and gnarled and the lake’s surface was covered with a green film. The sun in the sky was somehow colorless and there were no signs of animal life. Jon Fleetwood was then struck with such a fear as he had never known existed, a fear that smote his soul and sent his brain reeling, his heart beating and his entire body trembling. Then from across the lake Jon Fleetwood saw a great army of men, such as the two he had just seen, marching towards him on the water. He cried out in horror and leapt to his feet, panic engulfing him. He frantically snatched up a moss-covered stone and hurled it across the water at the fiends who came towards him. It fell far short of its goal, striking the water near the shore. And then, at the spot where the stone had struck, emerged the head and body of the giant creature he had killed. This was too much. Jon Fleetwood turned and bolted towards the back of the cave from which he had come.
Screaming in terror, he ran through the cave, stumbling clumsily. He heard weird and obscene chanting coming from behind. “Thith, Thith,” was what the figures screamed and the word struck Jon with terror. He scrambled through the entrance to the cave and bolted across the intervening terrain. He did not stop until he again stood beneath the tree where he had first sighted the beautiful and enticing cave. He lifted the binoculars to his eyes and gazed into them.
He saw, standing at the entrance to the cave, the black-robed figures and their serpent god. Fleetwood stood his ground, for somehow he knew they would venture no further. Then, suddenly, the figures disappeared and the flowers and trees were beautiful again. Jon Fleetwood shook his head and turned away. He moved on…into new fields of wonder.
“The Cave of Thith” is a remarkable tale, which Sinclair, not surprisingly, has labeled a favorite. Clearly showing the influences of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.P. Lovecraft, the moody story features a resourceful, Burroughs-like hero who wrestles a monstrous sea creature to its death (without a weapon, to boot!), and the mysterious cloaked figures, with the whispered, terror-inspiring word “Thith” right out of Lovecraft.“Jon Fleetwood (any relation to Mick?) was a one-off hero,” said Sinclair. “As a mix of Burroughs and Lovecraft, this one still satisfies me more than 40 years later.” The only frustrating element of the piece is that it is too short. There is so much going on, it would have been wonderful if Sinclair had turned this into a full-length novel.