TOUGH LOVE • by Oscar Windsor-Smith

It’s taken me twenty years to find the courage to knock on Nigel Crothers’ door, and he lives two streets away from my family home.

Heading there now I’m dreading every step, counting each familiar streetlight and paving stone, carrying with me the rusty evidence of my crime in a supermarket plastic bag and hoping for forgiveness.

Nigel had a younger brother called Simon. When Billy Logan tied Simon to a tree I thought it was only another rough game at first. Billy never did like Simon. But I always felt there was more to it than that. Now, with life experience, I can see how it really was. I think Billy did like Simon — far too much — and didn’t like the way that made him feel.

Before I moved away I used to see Nigel now and again, you could hardly help it in a place like this. Most times I found a reason not to speak, crossed the street on some important errand, or, if I couldn’t avoid talking, just said “Hi,” and scurried on. He seemed well enough — considering. Never did leave his mum’s house though. Sort of quiet and studious is how he turned out. He wasn’t like that at school before it happened, always playing stupid tricks on mates and teachers and he spent more hours in detention than most of us did, I reckon.

It didn’t happen the way they said at the inquest: “…misadventure… boys will be boys… a bit of rough horseplay that went wrong.” No, that day Billy Logan had a plan. “We’re going to get Simon Crothers,” he said as we crossed the playground heading home. At least we should have been heading home. In fact, we took a back way through the allotments off Burner Street and picked up some stuff that Billy had stashed there behind a shed. And then we went on the hunt. That really was how it felt. Sometimes Billy had this strange look in his eyes, like an angry dog, wide, staring — without feeling. When he was like that you didn’t argue unless you wanted him to turn on you. I made that mistake once. Never again.

There’s the alley where Billy had me catch Simon and tell him Nigel was waiting for him in Blackstone Park, near to the canal.

When I took Simon’s hand he asked me should he go and tell his mum but, God forgive me, I told him that she already knew. I gave Simon my most friendly smile before leading him away. Halfway there he hesitated and started to pull back. I panicked knowing Billy would take it out on me if I failed, so I told him that his brother had an ice cream for him and the little fellow almost pulled me there.

How could I have known what Billy would do? I thought tying the boy up was a joke, until Simon started screaming and Billy stuffed a filthy handkerchief into his mouth. Like I told the court, as soon as I saw that look in Simon’s eyes and his face turning blue, I ran straight home to get my Scout knife and cut him down, but I fell and hit my head and didn’t remember anything for hours.

Nigel’s mother looked at me across the courtroom. She knew. Her look has stayed with me to this day. Wherever I’ve travelled, whether I’ve slept in doss-houses or in satin sheets, her eyes were always there and her wizened suicidal finger pointing to the bushes where I hid my knife rather than confront Billy Logan.

I can’t bring Simon back but I can tell Nigel how it really was. I owe him that much. Besides, my life’s a load of shit and has been ever since that day.

This is Nigel’s door. And this is the start of a new me because, underneath the fear, I’m beginning to imagine how it must feel to be at peace.

Published in print and online, Oscar Windsor-Smith craves sufficient writing income to match the grandiose name he hides behind. He was born in Cheshire, UK, but now infests rural Hertfordshire sustained by one charitable wife and tolerated by four semi-feral cats.

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 average 5 stars • 1 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • A difficult piece to write and a difficult piece to comment on as well due to the subject matter.

    Well-written and visceral you’ve put every parent’s nightmare on the page.

  • I read the story twice in order to get the whole thing in. It’s a tough story to digest Oscar. There are many ways in which to relate to it.

  • Harrowing to read. A fine piece of complex writing.

  • ajcap

    I read it twice as well, in order to understand what was in the bag. Well written and good voice. Makes me wonder how Nigel will handle the meeting but I suspect he knew all along. A very sad story, but I remember kids like Billy Logan.

    Can’t help but think of those two British boys who kidnapped that young lad all those years ago. Left him on the railroad tracks, I believe.

    I’ve tried to sell pieces about children who kill children but, like suicides, they don’t go over well. Can works in a book, but harder to handle in short stories. This one does it very well.

  • Visceral and haunting. This one is going to stay with me. Like ajcap, I immediately thought of those two young boys who killed the toddler. Sad, sad, sad.

    Great writing, Oscar!

  • Gripping and filled with emotional impact.

    I also had to read it a couple of times to let things digest, although I have to confess I still don’t quite have all the pieces in place:

    I think what was in the bag was the old knife that the MC had hidden under the bushes. But it gets a little fuzzy for me in piecing together the chronology:

    — MC sees what Billy is doing to Simon and runs home to get the knife.

    — MC falls and hits his head and then doesn’t remember anything for hours. But does he have the knife at this point? Was he running back to Billy with the knife or still running home to get the knife?

    — MC hides the knife in the bushes rather than confront Billy. Is this immediately, or after the ‘hours later’ that he didn’t remember anything because of falling? If hours later, why even hide the knife? Or why hide the knife even if it’s not later — the knife’s not involved in the incident at all, so who cares if he has it or not? Hours later, Simon would already be suffocated, so the MC now didn’t want to use the knife to confront Billy? Is this why it gets hidden?

    At any rate, even though there are some questions in my mind, I did really enjoy this story. It is complex and compelling, and pulled me along with every word, and made me want to delve deeper and deeper into the story — what more could anyone want from a piece of flash?

    Nice work, Oscar.

  • Lynn Hudson

    Another excellent and thought provoking yarn Oscar,I really want to know what happens next and can’t work out the significance of the bag, and what is in it…is it me? Did he get back far enough to confront Billy Logan or did he fall before he got back? I know age is catching up fast so its probably me!!! Nice one Oscar…thank you x

  • Oonah V Joslin

    That took some writing Oscar and my hat is of to you. It must have been difficult to put yourself inside that scenario; to write from that perspective. It is a consummate piece of flash fiction – sickeningly accurate in its vision and its consequences. I would give it 10 if I could.

  • This story is going to stay with me for quite a while, Oscar. Well done.

  • ajcap

    I don’t think the MC hit his head at all. He ran home, got the knife, then chickened out when he had to confront Billy. Hid the knife, then retrieved it later and that’s what is in the bag. Made up the story about hitting his head for the lawyers.

    Love a story that makes us wonder about people, motives, whys and what ifs. And written well enough so that the horror of the subject doesn’t turn the reader right off.

  • @ajcap (#10): Oooooohhh! Of course! I love that — it makes perfect sense in the context of the story.

    It crystallizes so many of the loose threads into a beautiful tightly-woven whole, and gives the story added depth and even more impact.

    Kudos to you and Oscar.

  • Thanks everybody.

    I wrote Tough Love to a prompt: something about ‘a long rusted edge’. The idea triggered fragmentary memories of certain individuals in darker school days, the fear they could – and probably still can – instil and hide behind, and their likely motivations. This became entwined with shadows of more recent news stories like the Jamie B case.

    Thank you for your kind comments.


  • Mandy Pannett

    Harrowing but authentic. I’m glad to see it published here.

  • JenM

    This is absolutly excellent writing. It drew me into the story right away. Five stars.

  • very scarey
    well-written, but I was too scared to read it properly

  • vondrakker

    I haven’t commented for a while now.
    This piece deserves comment.
    It’s well done. Good hooks……AND…
    it moved me…………….
    Five great shiny bright stars for this.


  • Sincere thanks to all who’ve taken time to read, vote and comment. Your support and feedback means a lot to me.

    8) scar

  • Doug

    Ah, Oscar. As fine a piece of writing as ever. Scary. Haunting. Powerful to the nth degree.

  • Eli Katz

    So does he actually knock on the door? I think he does, but I love that the story doesn’t explicitly say so.

    Excellent piece. Really enjoyed it.

  • Thanks Doug and Eli. It is particularly rewarding that so many of you kind people have become involved in what happened in the unwritten part of the story. For the record… No. I think that’s better left, let’s simply say ajcap (#10) is nearest. 😉

    8) scar

  • B. Stanley

    Very powerful. I read it with a mixture of compassion and fury. A universal tale, well told.

  • simon b

    Powerful story. Not sure I’m convinced by the last line. He’s going to the confessional but I’m not sure he could yet imagine being at peace.

  • Gretchen

    Painful subject matter, skillfully handled. Well done.

  • Excellent. There’s a lot of authentic impact here for a very short piece. Well done.

  • Lali Fufu

    A powerful piece that was a pleasure to read. Well done!

  • Thanks again, everybody, for reading, voting and commenting.

    8) scar

  • Eilidh Thomas

    Superb story that haunts memories of the dark side of childhood.