Once a year the whole city gathered near the reservoir. They sat along the rocks, waiting while the fire spinners marched to the centre of the shallow lake. Álfar listened as the water slapped under their feet. He waited as the smell of the fuel from the torches drifted across the cavern. Álfar strained his eyes -- blurry from long months of disuse -- to catch sight of the first sparks. The sparks would be quick and bright white, but once the flames caught they would glow a deep warm orange. The fire spinners started slowly, waving the flames back and forth waiting for the drums. Then they would gain momentum, the drums nudging the flames to whirl faster, and the flames exciting the drums into a percussive flurry. The show swelled to a crescendo when everyone jumped to their feet and stomped into the lake. The splashes of water, reflecting the flames - hung like jewels in the air. There was no other time of year when Álfar’s world contained so much colour, so much light.
Álfar was a clever and curious boy who loved nothing more than exploring the mysteries of his world. He would sneak out of his house and wander through the long abandoned corners of the city. One day when he had ventured far from home, something different caught his eye. There was a greyness, not obvious at first, but growing the longer he watched. Álfar crept closer to the greyness and the closer he crept the brighter it became. He could also hear a sound, a gentle and repetitive hush; and a smell -- a freshness, almost like the reservoir, but different, softer, and colder.
Álfar crept closer until at last he stood at the mouth of a tunnel. He could see that beyond, it opened up into a giant cavern. He knew it could be dangerous but he couldn’t contain his curiosity, so he crept out from the tunnel and into the cavern. The room was so bright that he had to close his eyes against the glare. The whole room was filled with the light of sparks, white and searing into his brain. He stood shielding his eyes, and little by little he grew accustomed to the light. He could see then that the cavern was wider and more vast than any other in his world. None of the outer walls were visible, and the ceiling - coated in soft pink stalactites - was so far away it seemed unreachable. The entire cavern was filled with water, and it moved, lapping at the lip of rock where Álfar now stood. The water was the source of the repetitive sound, but there was something else that seemed to bring the smell to Álfar. It brushed against his skin, soft like breath, but bigger and cooler.
Álfar rushed back through the tunnels to the city. He told his mother about what he had found, but she just smiled and told him he had a wonderful imagination. He told his father who laughed and asked, “How do you dream up such wild stories?” Álfar told his teacher and she told him he shouldn’t tell lies. No one believed about the beautiful unending lake in the pink ceilinged cavern.
Many days passed and though Álfar hadn’t returned to the cavern, he thought of it often. One morning he woke to the rumblings of the earth. He and his family hurried with all the rest of the town to the reservoir. Rumblings happened from time to time, and sometimes parts of the city would cave in when they occurred. The reservoir was the safest place to be. They hurried through the tunnels until they found the passage blocked. The cries from those in front told them that the ceiling of the reservoir had fallen in. The people were trapped and panicked, and the rumbling became stronger. Dust and pebbles rained down on them and they screamed in the darkness. They were trapped, and their world was crumbling.
“We must go to the cavern,” Álfar cried out. “The one with the endless lake and the soft pink ceiling.”
The people were lost and afraid, and with nowhere else to turn, they followed Álfar. He led them through the tunnels while the world shook around them. They hurried through long-forgotten passages and passes until they too saw a greyness ahead of them. They climbed into the cavern and there was the endless lake, just as Álfar had said, but the world around was dark. The ceiling, hidden in blackness, was dotted with sparks -- glowing flames, infinitely far away. Álfar and his family waded into the lake as people continued to flood out of the tunnel. The water of the cavern was different than what had been found in the reservoir, it wasn’t silky and smooth, but granular and tasted of salt.
The last of Álfar’s people ran from the tunnel just as the rumbling of the world shook the cave apart and the roof collapsed. Then at last the world was still.
The people were quiet, gazing at the beauty of the vast cavern, knee deep in the salty lake. They waited as light crept into the world. The greyness grew, and they could see the ceiling smothered in pink splotchy calcifications, just as Álfar had told them. They stood hand in hand and watched as light and colour grew all around them.
Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Blake Bronstad