Flash Fiction: The Boy Who Wasn't There

Excerpts from interviews conducted for the documentary film of the same name

Text by Tom Ridgway

I was called to the beach at 15.15pm on Monday July 7, 2008, after a certain number of emergency calls had been received in relation to the disappearance of a small boy. Upon arrival at the scene I was walked down to the water's edge by a small crowd who described how the aforementioned young boy of approximately seven or eight years old had been seen crossing the beach before walking across the water (across, not into), and disappearing without a trace. After having taken off my shoes and socks and rolled up my service trousers, I waded into the water to the spot where the boy had been seen and walked approximately 50 yards in both a westerly and an easterly direction. (A northerly direction took me back to shore; the southerly was too deep.) I found nothing but water and sand. The coastguard and a search and rescue unit were called and they combed the beach area and the sea in the vicinity. A body was found, but it was that of a 29-year-old man stabbed three times and thrown from the pier by an irate lover in an entirely unrelated case. To this day I honestly believe that the boy never existed; it was a very hot day and as we know, heat does strange things to the British mind.

It was peculiar that I should be at the beach that day, considering my expertise in the forces of the paranormal, and I, for one, am certain that what happened was indeed a paranormal event. I had just opened the newspaper and was, I remember, reading about the remarkable match between Messrs Federer and Nadal that had played out the previous day on the hallowed turf of Wimbledon, when I saw him. My husband, a sceptic in terms of the paranormal (once the son of a Church of England vicar, always the son, etc.), says that he saw nothing out of the ordinary, but having talked to other witnesses in the wake of the event I can only say it is not I but my husband who is a delusional fool: the boy was there. Adorned in red swimming trunks and a white T-shirt he walked across the sand towards the water. When he reached the shoreline he turned towards me and then, as if he knew that I was watching him and that my research into paranormal events meant that I alone could truly understood what he was, he smiled at me. I can honestly say that I was glad when he disappeared before my eyes because a child whose smile can create a sensation that can only be described as akin to the departure of one's soul from one's body - and I am not, I repeat, not exaggerating - probably should not continue in this world. Which is not far from what I told my husband about his smile not long before our divorce in June 2015.

The wee bairn, my wife said before she died, was glowing, like a willo-the-wisp. I dinnae see him myself, but she said he was like a little fairy man, dancing his way to the sea. Then when he got there, she said, he just went poof! And he was nae more. My wife was as clearheaded as the day is long - church every Sunday, a kind word for all (except that Mrs. Thatcher) - but I remember her saying to me, "He was sorta floating across the water and then the water he was standing on was empty and he wasnae there anymore." Before her passing last year, she would often talk of that day, wondering if she had been the only one to see him. I think she'd be glad to know that she wasn't - she never did like to be alone.

Je sais ce que j'ai dit ce jour-là, mais j'avais tort. Je n'ai rien vu, rien. Ni de petit garçon, ni de disparition. Ce jour-là j'étais dans un état pas possible parce que ma femme venait de me quitter. Je n'étais pas un témoin fiable donc s'il vous plaît, laissez-moi tranquille. Je ne peux pas en parler. Je ne peux pas.*

*"I know what I said that day, but I was wrong. I saw nothing, nothing. No little boy, no disappearance. I was in a terrible state that day because my wife had just left me. I wasn't a reliable witness, so please, leave me in peace. I can't talk about it. I can't."

The witness, a Frenchman aged 46, disappeared two days after this telephone conversation was recorded and has not been seen since.

I was only eight at the time, digging a moat for my sandcastle. Dad had gone to get a drink from the coolbag so it was just me, the castle, my moat and spade. This is what happened: the moat was full of water; a little boy walked past and I suddenly felt cold, really cold; the water in the moat disappeared and it was suddenly bone-dry, like there had never been any water in it ever. If Dad hadn't returned, glass of wine in one hand, and said, "Where's all the water gone?" I think I would have thought that I had imagined the whole event. He always says that I changed after that day, that I became unpredictable, difficult and lost. (But then he would say that - it's his excuse for a self-pitying descent into neglect and the bottle.) Yet viewed from today, as an 18-year-old man, I sometimes think that perhaps he is right. Because I still feel the boy's presence now and again: a feeling of cold that cannot be explained by climactic conditions, a sense that there is something vital has been taken from me. And let me tell you: the lady was wrong, he wasn't wearing red swimming trunks at all; they were black, pitch black.

We'd been at the beach for an hour when it happened. The wife says that I'm making it up and that there was no way that the little lad could have done what he did. The missus and me never agree on much but I'm not letting her get away with this one: as I always say to her, I bleeding well saw it. I was standing there, minding my own business and eating a Magnum ice I'd just bought off one of them beach-seller lads. I was just kind of staring at the sea and thinking about, well, to be honest with you and don't tell the missus, I was thinking what it might be like to have my way with that woman from Girls Aloud, you know, the one on the telly. If someone, especially a little 'un, can get you out of thoughts as good as those then he's got summat special and that lad did. I watched him walk down the beach and it was like that tractor beam on the Death Star: you couldn't help yourself; you was dragged in. He moved towards the water and, here's the bit the wife won't believe, he began walking on it before just disappearing. Gone. No trace. It happened though, I promise you. And before you say anything: no, I hadn't been drinking and the last time I checked you can't get high off a Magnum. §