Camp Monsters

The Cavern

Episode Summary

There's a cave that's off limits for campers. It's a hazard — place where people easily get lost. At least that's what the counselors tell them.

Episode Notes

To battle the summer heat we're going underground. Where things are cool and quiet. A place where you might run into something that's been trapped for far too long.

Welcome to Camp Monsters Summer Camp. Over the past few seasons of the show, we've gotten tons of suggestions on the monsters we should cover. We noticed that a lot of these take place at a summer camp. So we've collected the best of the stories you've sent — and researched a few of our own — to create our first series of legendary summer camp creatures. Hopefully you can take these episodes with you to summer camp or they'll bring you back to when you were a camper, scared of what might be lurking outside of your cabin.

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Episode Transcription

You are deep underground. There are millions of tons of earth above you, pressing down on the little cave that you slide along. But “cave” is too grand a word now-- what was a cave has dwindled to a tiny crevice… a crevice that you are trying to squeeze yourself through. Every time you cram yourself forward another inch you’re sure there’s no possibility of going any further… the cold walls press against your ribs until you feel your heart beating in the rock, and the crushing earth seems to take shallow breaths right along with you… and with every breath, it closes in… a little tighter…

But with a slow, supreme effort you pull yourself from the vise and into a larger chamber. You take a moment to rest, leaning against a massive stalagmite. And look: someone has been here before you. There’s a rope-- an old hemp rope, such as no caver has used for eighty years, tied around a boulder just ahead, stretching down into a pit in the floor. An interesting historical artifact, you think to yourself. Until... until you notice that the rope is… moving… jumping back and forth along the edge of the pit, in little spastic motions growing larger like… like something is climbing up it… nearing the top… about to emerge right in front of you. But what is it? What could be coming up from… down there?

This is the Camp Monsters Podcast.

No matter how dark the night…

No matter how fast you run…

No matter what is chasing you…

You’ll be safe, if only you can get to the campfire.

…but will you make it?

One of the nice things about caves is their constant, cool temperatures. Even on the hottest days of summer— take a few steps into a cave and the temp will drop right down. Doesn’t that sound nice? If only you could carry a cave around with you, to cool off whenever you wanted to. Well, I have some good news for you: with a YETI cooler, you can. And instead of millions of tons of solid rock, YETI has figured out how to capture the cool in just a few pounds of foam. So when you want to beat the heat this summer, and there isn’t a cave in sight-- just reach for your YETI cooler. Check it out at, or at your local REI. Thanks, YETI!

Welcome to Camp Monsters Summer Camp.  So many of you have written reviews or sent emails with great monster stories that take place at a summer camp… or in a wilderness nearby. So we’ve collected the best of the tales you’ve sent-- and researched a few of our own-- to create our first series of legendary summer camp stories. 

Normally we tell these stories around a campfire, but not this time.  Because this time we’re… underground.  And there’s no sense smudging up this clean cave air with soot, staining all these incredible rock formations. Look around: stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstone, coralloids… who knew that rock could take so many fantastic shapes? Water made all these structures: water dripping, flowing, pooling; slowly, over hundreds of thousands-- even millions of years. So what we’re seeing here in these rocks is actually… fossilized time. Time standing still. The past and the present… even the future doesn’t make much difference down here. The world rushes along up above, but underground… things linger. The millennia echo in these caves. A hundred years is half a breath away.

Marta and Lex found that out a while ago, in a chamber much deeper than this one. It was a part of the cave that they weren’t supposed to be in-- a branch of the cavern that the instructors of their summer caving camp had specifically warned everyone away from. But warnings of danger entice some people… people who think they’re up to the challenge. Lex and Marta thought they were… 

And having snuck a hundred yards or so into the forbidden tunnel, they didn’t see what all the fuss was about. Sure, that last section had been a little tight, but nothing more than they’d already faced during their two weeks at camp. Lex helped Marta up from her knees as she crawled out of the passage that they’d wriggled through. The cave here widened out into a large chamber. They’d left the chatter of their fellow campers behind-- the only sounds in here were their own movements, which seemed to echo continuously, ever fainter, so that even when they both stood perfectly still the chamber went on whispering to itself about their presence. The walls were lined with cascading layers of pale, flowing rock-- some like frozen waterfalls, others suggesting hidden galleries screened by rows of columns, or the high boxes of a dark, empty theatre… a theatre that you weren’t entirely sure was empty. The ceiling was very high, but it was up there somewhere… when they shone their lights upward they could see the sparkle of thousands of calcite crystals glinting back through the gloom.


The passage seemed to continue on the other side of the chamber, but in front of them the floor dropped steeply down until it fell vertically into the mouth of a large pit, which blocked their path. They tried the old trick of tossing a loose rock in and listening for it to hit bottom-- and when no echo returned at all, they knew that this was not the pit to fall into. There was a ledge off to one side that skirted the hole, and might allow them to pass-- but it sloped steeply and smoothly down toward the drop, and it would be a tricky passage to make. Before they tested the route, they shone their headlamps around looking for something to anchor a rope to, so that they could harness up in case they lost their footing while crossing the ledge. The obvious choice was a huge boulder off to one side that had fallen out of the ceiling eons ago, the base of which was perfect for passing a rope around.

“Did you trip on that?” Marta said, shining her light on a rope that was already tied around the boulder, then stretched across the rocky floor until it ran down the ledge and out of sight into the pit. It was nothing like a modern climbing rope-- instead of a bright nylon color pattern, it was a dull, frayed brown. An old-fashioned hemp rope, a kind no one had used in decades. It was eerie to find proof that someone long ago had been down this deep-- it made the chamber feel lonelier, somehow, even more forgotten. But… eerier still was the fact that now, as Marta shined her light on it, the rope seemed to move– jumping and dancing– almost like… like it was under tension.  Like the top of a rope always moved when… when someone was climbing up it.


“I didn’t touch it,” Lex said, as they both moved closer to the rope and stood, staring at it, hesitating.  Maybe it hadn’t been moving after all– up close it still looked stretched, like something was dangling from it, but the illusion of movement had… faded at least.  Marta tried to decide if her eyes could still detect a vibration.  That was silly– why trust her eyes?  She reached down and took the rope in her hand: completely still.  She stood up straight, pulling the rope from the ledge toward her– it came along easily, like there wasn’t even much length to it beyond what they could see.  

“Nothing to it,” Marta said as she pulled more of the rope up, intending to coil it down beside the boulder.  Lex turned her attention to a buckle on her harness, and didn’t see exactly what happened next. She didn’t see the rope in Marta’s hand suddenly tug taut, pulling her violently off her feet and onto the ledge that sloped down toward the drop. But Lex heard Marta’s shout, and the percussion of her body and gear slamming onto the steep smooth slope beside the chasm. She heard the deadly hiss of Marta’s winded form sliding down the gritty surface…

Lex began shouting, but Marta didn’t hear what she said. She’d landed badly, and as she slid toward the dark void all she could focus on were the painful, barking gasps that wracked her body as it tried and failed to breathe. Marta couldn’t get enough air, but she couldn’t stop trying either-- and every heave of her lungs disturbed those few grains of sand that were slowing her slide down the rock. Behind the sound of her tortured breaths, the quiet grind of the ledge against her caving helmet told Marta that she was still sliding… that gravity was pulling her further and further down the sandy slope, toward the mouth of the abyss.

Marta hadn’t even realized that she was still clinging onto the rope-- until it ran out of slack and helped stop her slide. Then carefully… painfully… Marta unfurled her body from the fetal position that she’d landed in. As her breathing spasms slowly subsided she spread herself out on her belly, trying to increase her surface area against the rock, trying to keep her body from sliding down again or rolling in either direction. Once she’d balanced as best she could, she knew she had to orient herself. Her caving helmet had been knocked askew by the fall, and in the darkness she couldn’t immediately tell which way was up, which direction led to safety and which to oblivion. But after a few experimental movements of her head she relocated the beam of her mis-aligned headlamp, and managed to shine it on the features around her. She found she was head downward on the slope, with her feet steeply uphill and the arm that held the rope stretched out ahead of her toward the drop-- the drop that was just inches beyond her hand. It was an unpleasant shock to see how close to the edge she’d come. 

But what was more shocking-- and much, much more unpleasant-- was when Marta’s headlamp revealed a… hand rising up out of the darkness of the pit ahead of her… a hand that suddenly snatched down toward the rope at the brink of the ledge… and took fierce hold of Marta’s hand instead.


It was… it was a human hand that rose out of the pit-- Marta saw it distinctly. But when it gripped her it felt rough and hot-- impossibly hot; scalding; something to shrink instantly away from. She tried to do just that, yanking her arm back with all the force that her awkward position allowed… but the hand from the pit held so tight to hers that she couldn’t move it at all. And her sudden reaction started her legs sliding sideways down the ledge, toward the drop. At the last possible instant she kicked one leg out and just managed to catch the rope under the toes of her boot, then-- slowly-- drag the other leg back up and away from danger. 

The rough hand that held hers was tugging desperately at her, pulling her down into the abyss with a strength that would have been irresistible had it not been for the old rope that she still clung to inside the hand’s crushing grip. Inside that grip, Marta felt the rope jumping and straining as if something just beyond the pit’s edge was trying to tear the rope out of her hand, or away from its anchor entirely, yanking it all down into the darkness… and taking Marta along with it.

She felt the rope come under its greatest strain yet, and Marta braced herself for the long fall into nothingness… but instead of that, something else slowly rose up from the edge of the pit, and into the light of Marta’s headlamp.


It was a face. A dirty, pale face, but… human at least. A man, a young man. His teeth were clenched so tightly they looked fit to crack-- the face of someone struggling past the last outposts of endurance. In spite of the cool cave air the face sparkled all over with beads of sweat, and the long-sleeved shirt that might once have been white or tan was now soaked into dark cakes of cave-dirt and moisture. He didn’t make a sound-- didn’t look like he could make a sound, heaving himself so desperately up, with the rope in one hand and Marta’s hand in the other, struggling to get back to level ground.  He didn’t say a word, but his wide brown eyes spoke as clearly as anything could: “Help me,” they said. “Help me.”

Marta’s whole demeanor changed in an instant. Having someone else to save cooled her panic-boiled mind-- everything snapped into ice-crystal focus. She didn’t wonder who this person was or why he was here, or how he’d managed to get trapped in this part of the cavern-- those questions didn’t matter-- anyway they could all be answered later. They didn’t even occur to Marta. He was a person, a human being, here, in front of her. And he needed help. All she was focused on now was saving him-- getting them both back to safety.