Prompt:  Photo inspiration – old man on subway… alone and lost.
Genre:  Open
Word Count: 1000 words
Deadline: Thursday, July 21, 2011, 8:30 pm EST


By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw

(Author’s note – I met Robert several years ago… during my “dark days”.  After watching him on the train for several weeks, I finally worked up the nerve to talk to him… it was more than just curiosity.  I sensed in Robert a sorrow and a pain that I knew all too well.  I think I rather fancied us as “kindred spirits”, if you will.  Over a period of weeks, Robert told me his story… it was tragic and heartbreaking.  I have changed certain elements of the story to protect the innocents.  I hope, in my retelling, that I have maintained the integrity of Robert’s words.  VMLS)


I did my thirty and got out.  Had enough of drunk or stoned sailors coming back from shore leave, reeking of piss, vomit, and booze.  Got a belly full of oxygen thieves pretending to be men… who beat their wives or got into brawls over who was the best left-handed pitcher of all time… Sandy Koufax, as if there was ever any doubt, or tried to stiff the $10 hookers down on Harbor.  Couldn’t deal with one more “mama’s boy” complaining that his feet hurt after a twenty mile hike.

So, after thirty years of keeping the peace and trying to turn boys into men, I got out.  My wife of thirty-five years and I packed up and moved to the Pacific Northwest.  We bought a condo in Portland, Oregon and a cabin up in the Cascades.

Lily took a professorship at Portland State University, teaching English to all those bright, shiny faces full of hope and promise… our future leaders.  I settled back into my writing, grateful to at last be free of the interruptions of service life.

After my last novel, Lily offered that perhaps my character, a middle-aged P.I. plying his trade on the East Coast, might be getting just a bit tired.  I couldn’t disagree with her.  Getting out number ten in the Everett Thompson series was as painful as passing kidney stones… a none too subtle way of telling me to move on.

Ever since finishing I Kill, Therefore I Am, I had been toying with a new character… a female profiler with the FBI.  Lily was quite thrilled at the idea.  And now that we lived in Portland, where my new character was based, research for the new novel would be easier.


We had only been in Portland for about a year, when I lost Lily.  I guess I kind of lost myself too… there for a while.


Lily and I had been coming back from a Blazer game one Friday night in late October.  Fall was in full “bloom” and there was just a bit of a chill in the air.  But, it was dry… something you don’t see a whole lot of in the Northwest this time of year.

It had been a good game… we beat Cleveland by eighteen.  Folks don’t say “Portland beat…”, it’s always “…we beat.”  There is a lot of Blazer pride in this town.

We had caught the MAX up at the Rose Garden and settled in for the twenty minute train ride back downtown.  Age does have its privilege… a nice, young couple vacated their seats in the SRO car, for Lily and I.  The four of us chatted about the game as the train glided through the night.

By the time the train arrived at the Courthouse Square stop, most of the riders had disembarked.  That’s when things started to go south.  A couple of punks decked out in black leather and chains got on the train and started kicking up a ruckus.

As they passed by Lily and me, I gave them a hard look… twenty years as a military cop, I don’t take crap from punks… and the leader of the two stopped for a moment, like maybe he was going to say something, and then thought better of it.  He just stared at me… I stared back.  After a few moments, the two moved on into the next car, and I didn’t give them any more thought.

Things happened pretty fast after that, and I’m sorry to say… there are still some things to this day that I simply don’t remember.  What I do remember though, is picking myself up off the floor of the moving train to find two young girls huddled over Lily… one of them trying to stem the flow of blood from the switchblade knife sticking out of her chest… and the other one holding Lily’s head in her lap, trying to comfort her.


Lily died that night… before the paramedics arrived.  A part of me died that night too… Lily was my whole life… always had been… she was my rock.  I…

I sort of “went away” for a while… tried to sort things out… figure out what I was going to do without my Lily…


I’m back now.

I ride the MAX trains every day… the Green Line… the Yellow Line… the Blue Line… the Red Line… WES… the Portland Streetcar… watching…

No, that’s not right… not watching… hunting…

I let my hair grow out… let the beard go all long and straggly… kitted out in worn, baggy clothes from the Goodwill, I look like any of the dozens of other homeless riding the train… old and harmless… talking to myself… casting furtive glances about… nobody gives me no mind.

I see them doing their best to ignore me… pretending I’m not there.  That’s fine with me.  I’m not interested in them.

I never forget a face.  I’ll find him.  Then I will end him.


(Author’s note – About a year ago, I came across Robert’s obituary in the local paper.  I do not believe it was chance that led me that day to read a newspaper that I boycott for its hypocrisy.   A weight came off of my heart with the realization that Robert was at long last reunited with his Lily… in Heaven.  VMLS)


About VeronicaThePajamaThief

Bio: Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw Born in Lisboa, Portugal to parents of Portuguese/Russian descent, Veronica Marie and her wife, Christina Anne, call the Pacific Northwest home, where the couple are “still very much on honeymoon!” When not teaching and finishing her own studies for a Masters in Sociology, Veronica writes fiction, primarily noir - "I love dark!". Her long fascination with noir fiction prompted Veronica to try her own hand at writing fiction several years ago. She has been published in Pulp Metal Magazine, The Lost Children: A Charity Anthology, the horror anthology 100 Horrors, from Cruentus Libri Press, Nightfalls: an End of the World anthology, Drunk On The Moon 2: A Roman Dalton anthology and Gloves Off: Near To the Knuckle's debut anthology. Veronica has also appeared in the inaugural issue of Literary Orphans magazine and her horror/urban fantasy short story SOUL TAKER was recently chosen for inclusion in Lily Childs' february femmes fatales, an urban fantasy/horror anthology. Veronica counts among her mentors - Carole A Parker, Lily Childs, Paul D Brazill, Richard Godwin, Joyce Juzwik and Vicki Abelson. She is currently working on the third draft of her first novel – a memoir – as well the second draft of her first fiction novel, a fantasy novel and the publication of a collection of her flash fiction and short stories. Lily's The Feardom and Vicki Abelson's Women Who Write Facebook writing group have both been a tremendous source of support and inspiration for Veronica. Veronica’s writings can be found athttp://veronicathepajamathief.blogspot.com/ andhttp://veronicathepajamathiefwritespoetry.blogspot.com/, andhttps://veronicathepajamathief.wordpress.com/
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  1. tommysalami says:

    Fantastic… so sad, and a warning that even a stare can be trouble.
    Great job, Veronica.

  2. Thank you, Thomas. I very much appreciate you reading my story,

    Yes, sadly that is true… just a look at the wrong person… it is times like that that shake one’s faith in humanity.

  3. So sad to go so long seeking vengeance. I’m sorry that there is truth in this story. I feel like Robert wasted his life on grief. I hope he did find some satisfaction, or was finally able to forgive, he deserved that. Otherwise another good story, well written and intriguing.

    • Thank you, Mike. I do not know if Robert ever did find the man who took Lily from him, or if he did… what transpired. I do know this. In all of our conversations… in his words… in his eyes… I never once saw or heard a trace of the hatred, or the anger one would need to take another’s life. Only a deep, profound sorrow… and a love for Lily that would never end.

      I like to think… and maybe this is just the romantic in me… but, I like to think that Robert did finally catch up to that man… and I think that he forgave him. I think that is what happened… and then, I think Robert went home, laid down and went to sleep… and joined Lily in Heaven.

      Maybe I am wrong… but this is how I want to remember the man who helped me better understand death… the man who shared something deeply personal and intimate with me.

      I am honored to have known Robert.

  4. Glen says:

    An unfortunate reality is just how easily life can be lost. I like to think he found him first 🙂

  5. Teri Adams says:

    truth is indeed stranger (and oftentimes sadder) than fiction.
    I love your writing style. The langauge, the details- Pulls the reader in almost immediately. LIke Glen, I want to think he found the one who took Lily away from him. Evens the karma out, so to speak.

    • Thank you very much, Teri. I am honored by your words.

      For a long time, both before and after Robert’s passing, I would wonder what happened. Was vengeance served… was justice found? One day, I realized something. Having that knowledge would not change my feelings for Robert, and maybe… that knowledge was not for me to know.

      I can live with that.

  6. Anne Michaud says:

    I’m double sad: for the Robert of your story and the real one. Well done, Friday flasher:)

    • Thank you, Anne. I very much appreciate you stopping by and reading my story.

      For a long time, I too was sad for Robert… for what life had taken from him. When I read of Robert’s passing, I was not sad anymore… because I knew then that he had found peace at last, and that he was with Lily.

  7. Angie says:

    Oh, beautifully written. Gave me goosebumps. Especially knowing there was a hint of truth to it. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Jenny says:

    I love that you used Robert for inspiration and told his story. So sad, though…

  9. SueH says:

    When I first started reading, Veronica, I wasn’t sure whether or not your ‘Author’s note’ was a clever part of the ‘story’, to ground it into reality! But, boy do you weave a fascinating story – with the sad but salutary reminder that the ‘freedoms’ gained for us by the sacrifices of others is so frequently abused by those who contribute little to society whilst thinking the world owes them something!

    This moving and poignant tale and left me misty-eyed at its conclusion. I hope Robert found the peace he sought – I suppose we will never know if he was able to tie off that ‘loose end’?

    • Thank you, Sue.

      The author’s notes are prologue and epilogue to my fictionalization of a tragic event in the life of a heroic individual, Robert, who I met on my “travels” through this all too short life we have on Earth. The notes are in a sense, part of the story in that they provide some background… the backstory, if you will.

      The story itself has been fictionalized to protect the innocents. I do not know all that might have transpired between our last train ride together and Robert’s passing.

      I hope that justice was served. I hope that Robert found peace at least. It is my belief that Robert found forgiveness in his heart, and that he was at peace when he went to his Lily.

      Thank you for reading my story, Sue.

  10. Paula says:

    I love the richness of the back story. The way you were able to do that with such a tight word count restriction was great. I find it hard not be unnecessarily long winded. I read this several times and it made my heart heavy every time I was reminded that this was a real person.

    • Thank you, Paula.

      This was a difficult story to write… on many levels, not the least of which was the word count. I could have easily done 5,000 words, if not more. I hope that my few meager words here have done justice to Robert.

      I too am very “long-winded” when it comes to words. Writing flash has been a tremendous challenge… and, very rewarding. I have been writing flash for a few months now, and that has been a huge help in writing Robert’s story.

      Robert passed away not quite a year ago, and I had not thought of him for some time… and then I saw the photo Thomas posted. It’s been rather an emotional last couple of weeks.

      Thank you so much for coming by and reading my story. I very much appreciate your comments.

  11. Pingback: F3, Cycle 40: The Stories | Flash Fiction Friday

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