The Digger’s Kiss

The heat, silence and darkness pushed upon them with equal force. It wrapped around them like a hot wet blanket, stuck to their naked bodies like a second suffocating skin.  Eighty feet above them lay the broken bodies of men amongst the shattered picket posts and barbed wire. The guns could still be heard this far down and every explosion shook the very ground that was their foul smelling earthy bed.

They had dug in teams for weeks towards the enemy lines, inch by inch, foot by foot.  But they were not alone. Now, only feet away came the sound of shovels in earth. Beyond a curtain of clay came foreign voices. They were whispered and muffled, but so laced with fear you could taste it. These were brave men, comrades, brothers, and lovers; sent below having been told to swap rifle for shovel.

He reached out and found the shoulder of the other human mole in this black hell hole. Layers of mines were stacked against the tunnel wall to their front. Behind was nothing but darkness and earth after the collapse. This far under the enemy lines no one was coming for them.  He felt the hand on his knee slowly following the contours of his thin muscular body to his face, and hold him there in the silence between them.  Tunnelling together these past weeks gave brief opportunities to be intimate. A dirty, muddy kiss, a hand on his balls or a rushed wank that never produced more than a moment’s escape from hell.  But these last and final minutes were special in the darkness. They embraced and tried to imagaine what clean sheets and warm summer breezes would feel like on their skin. The fantasy was suddenly broken; they froze in the sudden realisation of their true surroundings.

The scraping grew louder, and their oxygen grew less.  The thin wall between them would collapse and all hell would break lose. Screaming, shovels stabbing forwards, skin tearing and bones breaking.  All this in the space no bigger than a double bed. Men twisted and scrambling to kill the next man in the pitch black. Only when the screams were replaced by whimpers would the attack start again at the slightest movement.

But for now, all was quiet. The two held hands knowing their fate was sealed. Prepared to leave the world as bare as they entered. He lent forward and kissed a grit covered face.
“I love you.”
“I love you back.”

The struck match filled the cavity with a blinding, warm beautiful orange light, and the foreign voices fell silent.  Inches away, behind a veil of earth far underground, three young men picked up a trace of light. Bringing up their shovels they waited for sound to give them a direction to charge on their bellies.

The flame caught the fuse wire in a shower of sparks and ran much faster than either expected. It hissed like viper as the light snaked across the space between them towards the mines stacked like loaves of bread.

With shovels in hand they braced for the attack, and then they heard the hissing sound. Without a word they panicked and tried vainly to turn in the tunnel to escape. They pushed and twisted against the tunnel wall that seemed to heave a mighty breath.

He lent in and placed his lips upon the other man’s. They stayed motionless, locked together even as the tunnel wall collapsed and men piled in.

The last thing the panic-stricken young men saw in the blue light of the burning fuse was an act of love in a place where only death and destruction existed.  The kiss seemed to freeze time long enough for a calm to fall in the small space deep underground. The moment was broken by a wonderous bright flash that could be seen for miles as it ripped the battlefield above in two, and sealed a kiss forever.

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  1. Oh Wow – I have inadequate words for your writing. What a plot – to find love in such terrible circumstances & to know the futility of it. Very poignant.
    Lest we forget – Indeed.

  2. So good to read this masterly story again. My great uncle Joseph Hogan was very close to the explosion at Hawthorn Redoubt near Beaumont Hamel at 07.20 on the 1st July 1916.He was with the 1st Battallion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The sound of the massive explosion must have still been ringing in his ears when he was killed after going over the top at 07.30.

    • Thank you very much for the kind words. One half of my family were once coal mine owners in Newcastle but fell on hard times and then worked the pits around the time of the Great War. I often wonder how many were sent to the front to work underground whereas 20 years before a change in fortune they would have been above. To be honest, both were hell.

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