‘No one will ever know,’ said my friend that day in 1959 ‘and it was an accident.’
I expect that is what lots of murderers plead, but we were only ten years old. To this day I have no idea who he was, but I’ll never forget the look of surprise on his face, then the look of terror.
‘Be careful girls’ said my mother as we set off that sunny day.
We liked to watch the aeroplanes, then we would go exploring; Stanwell Moor, Colnbrook village, farms, fields and streams. We were free to wander the western edges of London Airport as long as we didn’t go near Perry Oaks.
My aunt and uncle had lived in Heathrow Village, till they were evicted during the war, but my parents lived out their years on the farm under the flight path, wedged between the runways. Up until the last it was like living in the country except for the ranks of landing lights.
‘Stay together, don’t talk to any strangers and be back at teatime.’
He must have been a stranger, because no one noticed he had gone. For weeks we expected the police to turn up, looking for someone’s husband or father… or an escaped convict, after all he did act strangely.
‘You two girls out on your own? Have you ever seen a water vole?’
I nudged my friend, we turned to walk away, but he followed and what he showed us wasn’t a water vole. We wanted to run, but we were trapped on the edge of a bank that descended steeply. He was blocking the footpath that led back the way we had come.
‘Count to three then rush past him’ she said.
What happened next happened so quickly; it could have been any one of the three of us that went in; did we push him or did he slip? We had strayed into the forbidden territory, Perry Oaks sludge works and as he slipped under we knew why our parents feared it.
Looking back as a teenager, an adult, I realised he was a flasher, a harmless loner perhaps. But had he followed us? Would he have murdered us? Two missing girls and every stretch of water would have been dragged, but his body was never found. We never told a soul, we didn’t want to get into trouble for being out of bounds; or that’s what we told ourselves.
My friend’s family took her off to Australia, we lost touch. I wondered if she ever told anyone, for years I half expected a policeman to knock on the door.
Then came the planning enquiry, five long years. We prayed the development would be turned down, no one wanted the upheaval and destruction, the removal of the last farm. But that is not what I dreaded.
Digging, draining, what would they find; a body preserved like peat bog man? When Terminal Five Heathrow opened, I knew at last that no one would ever know.
‘Terminal State’ is one of the Flash Fiction Tales featured in