Calcifer's Cave

By Lana Semakova

I was on the hill, taking polaroids of the sea of tree tops below me to send to my friend back home. Before I left, she had asked me if I could take a photo of them right before winter started, while they were still that perfect shade of sunny, emerald green. I slipped the best one I managed to get on the back of her postcard. It was a long way down before the first mailbox I had spotted. As I walked down the curved and twisted path, the wind would brush the tightly wound scarf off my neck. One of the times that I  leaned over, I noticed a cosy opening in the wall’s curve, as small as a bear’s nest. It looked a lot like something I had only seen in mythology books; Calcifer’s Cave; where the flame ignited by the first snowfall.

I pondered if there was anyone in it, or around it and whether I should keep walking. I  looked around for any artefacts someone may have left behind. There was nothing and no one around me but the dark, setting sun. Gazing down at the distance between my feet and the distance below me, I noticed a soft contrast against the emerald; slow and agile, snowflakes that were melting in the air. As if coordinated, a hot, clementine-coloured light sparked in the darkness of the cave. I walked around the curb, approaching it cautiously. Under the roof, a little flame willowed in the centre of the blackness. A red dancing rabbit, in front of a cold and lonely audience, me. I leaned against the opening of the cave, watching it, mesmerised. It was warm and bashful, I couldn’t help but stay there for another moment. I was about to turn around and continue my trek, when I heard a translucent whisper: 

“It’s too dark for you to wander down alone at this hour. It’s much too cold for you to leave.” 

A gust of warm wind washed over me. If magic was telling me to save myself, I would listen. I took a sip from my bottle of water. There wasn’t much left, but I wouldn’t stay there for long. I  set my bag up against the rock, which was now painted a red ochre from in the flame’s shadows. I sat down next to it, and watched it delicately, as if I were approaching a rare animal. It whistled to me once more;

“I will keep you warm for as long as you need. Rest your head,” It crackled pleasantly and reminded me of home. 


“Thank you, I’ll only stay for a night.” I said, laying down on the cold surface.

From this view, the cave was the ideal lookout spot. Lying here, I would be able to notice the sun at the rise of dawn and deliver my friend’s postcard in the morning. She would be happy to receive the card. I smiled to myself and peered at the flame. The longer I watched it, the more it seemed to split into two images and three and four, until there were multiple red wavering spots around me; they were heating my hands, my cheeks, and my eyes. The images grew languid while my body seemed to sink.  That night, I slept well. The rabbit danced in my head. 

I woke up at noon the next morning. The fire in front of me looked like it had bloomed into a larger size and was glowing like a hypnotic cherry gauze. How peculiar. At least I was warm.  I lazily got up and walked towards the blue open air of the newly settled winter. As soon as my foot stepped on the snow,  a piercing breeze sifted through my chest. I had forgotten winter. I heard a familiar whisper: 

“Come back inside. It’s cold this morning,” 

“I need to send a postcard to my friend,” I said to the fire.

“She won’t want to check her mail in this cold. Stay a little longer,” it told me. 

I walked back inside and crossed my legs in front of the heat. It probably was too cold for her to go outside. And maybe she had forgotten about her request, anyway. If this was true, I could rest for a moment longer. And maybe the mailbox would be taped shut by ice. It could be frozen, unlockable, impossible to quarrel with at this point and it was winter’s fault. Over the days and nights and lazy dawns  that I was there, I collected a plethora of explanations about why I shouldn’t leave. I could have written them in my journal, but my sluggish hand couldn’t find a reason to.  It felt although the flame was inching closer towards me. The cave became a contradiction, a place of guilt and safety, of warmth and isolation, of the flame and me. I looked at the colour outside of the cave, how beautiful it all was. Then the rabbit lulled me to sleep. 

I woke up to a terrible smell of burning paper and thick ink. The edge of the postcard was gingerly crumbling under the feet of the red dancing rabbit. As if splashed with ice, I rigidly pulled the card out of the fire, threw it under the stream of the remaining water in my water bottle and waited for the remaining little ember to shut down into grey smoke. I couldn’t bear to look at it. Half of the polaroid was wet and the other had turned into ember. The smoke trailed from the residue to the outside of the cave, merging with the translucence of winter sunlight. I looked back at the dark rocks around me and the rabbit, now tame, in the centre of the area. I wondered why it had tried to burn my post card and how much further it would have grown in the cave had I not woken up. 

“Stay a little longer. The card is gone anyway.” the fire told me quietly.  

“Goodbye rabbit,”  I said, putting on my backpack. I wrapped the scarf around me three times. I took my first steps back into the world of snowflakes and overexposed skies. I had forgotten how it felt to have a long passage ahead of me and have faith that I could make my way down. My cheeks were still and rosy like a winter flower. Cradling the wet paper in my mittens, I let it turn into a fragile slate of frost in the raw winter air. I got to the bottom of the mountain, and then to the first needle of the first pine tree, and then to the first mailbox that I assumed were filled with postcards of other cold travellers. There were separate lines of footsteps going to and fro from the box; memories of other people who were making it through the snowfall for the sake of connection. 

I looked back at the cave. It was still glowing with a bouncing red shadow, perhaps waiting for the next visitor. The post card was late, withered and half missing, but at least my friend would have a reason to check her post for my message. With that thought, I opened the mailbox and dropped in the post card.  

Calcifer’s cave is an analogy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD). To learn more about this topic, click the link: seasonal-affective-disorder 

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