Darkness enshrouded him. Gasping for breath he looked around seeing little in the enshrouding dust of the cave in. The glimmering light on his helmet did little to reassure, catching glimpses of crushed bodies, rock, smashed timbers, and pervading dust.
Heart pounding, he tentatively flexed each limb. Pain throbbed through one leg where a soft oozing spoke of blood, his arms ached but not past moving. He stumbled to his feet seeking a path out, his head spinning as the tiny circle of light focused again and again, scanning the rock where the tunnel had been. He was walled in!
“Don’t panic man! Don’t panic!” he told himself as his pulse raced, and mind swirled.
“There’ll be a rescue party. They’ll dig us out…” Grimly he checked the bodies, some mere hands protruding oddly from the debris, some half buried in reddened rock. He alone was spared, his “five minute break to rest his back” had distanced him from the main impact. But spared for what? To sit alone in the darkness, a mountain of rock above and below, the only company the mangled bodies of his companions?
“They will come for me! They will dig us out.” He told himself…
Hours passed. Exhaustion, shock and the slow seepage of blood drew him into unquiet slumber. He awoke to total darkness, the battery had run out.
Panic seized him. Desperately he sought in his pocket. He kept matches for the fags they’d share after work. At last he found them. Shaking hands struck wildly against the box – nothing.
“Calm down man, take it slow,” he told himself. Slow and deliberate he drew another match across. A thought hit him. Suppose it was gas? He didn’t care; at least it would be fast, better than this, alone in the darkness. A tiny light bloomed, blossomed a few moments in welcoming warmth then died, like his hopes. They weren’t coming. They wouldn’t make it in time… Between matches he sat in the darkness trying to picture the frantic digging going on in the world above him. He’d seen it once before when he was a boy. They hadn’t got there in time then and they wouldn’t now.
Match after match glowed and died, lit when he could stand it no more as hours passed and the air he shared with the tiny flames grew harder to find. The last match gone he reclined against the rocks his breathing shallow and stilted till each breath a labor.
Then it came, a tiny glimmer that grew; a voice deep and familiar. Paddy! Paddy had gotten through some how… He reached out a trembling hand to his rescuer.
“Come on man, you’re OK now. Come with me,” the gruff voice echoed in the cavern. Strong arms propelled him to his feet.
“We couldn’t leave you behind mate.”
“But I thought you were on shift with us today Paddy?”
“So I was mate, so I was.” There was a grim smile to the face.
“The others went on ahead, but I waited for you. I couldn’t let you face this alone. Come on man we’re going home.”