Prompt: Look at the photograph… look into the child’s eyes
Genre: Open
Word Count: 700 words
Deadline: Wednesday 7 September 2011 – Midnight EST


By Veronica Marie Lewis-Shaw

The girl’s frightened exhales warmed the back of my hand.  She tried to push forward out of my grasp, but I held her back, in the shadows.

“Il est trop tard, enfant. Votre mére new peut pas vous aider maintenant.  Chut!”

Moments passed as my words sunk in… the girl ceased her struggling.  She collapsed helplessly against me.  I felt the hope drain out of her, like water through a sieve.  This was the worst part… these few moments.  Once again… I had to harden my heart for the task ahead.

In silence, we watched… the army truck drove away, the squeak of its ancient suspension as the vehicle bounced over the rutted road and away from the village.  As the roar of the diesel’s exhaust faded into the inky night, I led the girl out of the narrow alley and we made our way in the opposite direction that her mother was going.  Torment and unbelievable hardship lie in one direction… and only the barest promise of hope in the other.


Only if her mother believed that her child was safe would she be able to hold on to even a shred of hope… and hope was all that was going to save her and the other wretched souls enslaved in General Tjoboka’s work camps… and not just lie down and die, crushed beneath the boot heels of yet another blood-diamond despot.  And it was only their survival… and that of the rebels hiding in the jungle… that offered any hope that her country would one day again breathe the air of freedom.

None dared ask themselves if sending their children away was too high a price to pay for only the promise of freedom one day for all their peoples.  If they began to question that… and the ensuing doubt of ever seeing them again… it was only a matter of time before hope died.  And with it… their homeland.


Hours later, the jungle trail ends at a driftwood-strewn beach.  With the moonlight shining down on the rising tide, the girl and I make our way along the packed sand the final mile to the harbor.

“Another little ‘maid’ for some bourgeois French pig, Justine?”  The harbormaster’s coarse voice greets us as we walk out on to the quay.

“Better she should service the Paris elite than starve with her parents in the work camps… better for you and me, that is.  Here is your share, Henri.”  I reply, pulling a small pouch of gold coins from my robes and thrusting it at the disgraced flic now eking out a living taking bribes in the once-thriving Ivory Coast port city.

Sensing that I am in a foul mood, Henri waves us through the gate.  The clink of gold coins echoes as I lead the girl up the gangway of the rusting hulk moored quayside.  The captain is waiting when we step on to the deck.

“Un moment, s’il vous plait… mon capitaine?”  The grizzled head nods in acquiescence… he steps away.  I turn and kneel in front of the girl.

“Yvette… enfant… vous devez écouter soigneussement à moi.”  The girl begins to cry.  It is only with an effort that I do not… turning my heart inward… a stone.

“Écoutez-moi… you must try to forget your mama and papa.  This is the way it…”

“C’est la volonté de Dieu?”  Her dark, liquid eyes bore into mine.

I cannot answer her.


That was five years ago.  Five years of sleepless nights.  Five years of not always silent torment.

It is a different ship that greets me now as I walk out on the quay.  A shiny, clean ship… over the radar mast, the flag of the British Merchant Navy waves.  The railing is lined with the shining faces of happy children.

Tears well in my eyes… I search the faces.

After what seems an eternity, the gangway is lowered and the children begin to disembark.

The first child steps off the gangway… her face in my dreams a thousand times… a young woman now.  Hesitating only a moment… Yvette runs to me… arms wide… her laughter a counterpoint to the tears pouring down my cheeks.

“Sister Justine… Sister Justine!”


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/
This entry was posted in Fiction, Flash Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Mike says:


  2. Thomas Pluck says:

    Strong and true, and I’m so glad you gave us some hope. So many are dark (even mine).

  3. Thank you very much, Thomas.

    I am very pleased the story came out the way it did… I didn’t know how it would come out until I had finished. When I saw the photo on F3, I knew I wanted to write a story… just didn’t know what. I looked at the picture for a while… one sentence came to me…

    “The girl’s frightened exhales warmed the back of my hand.” Then my mind kind of blanked—tired from a long day. I went to bed.

    The next day, I sat down… looked at that one sentence… and started writing… it just came… the feeling is almost indescribable… words… sentences… paragraphs… flowing without interruption… next thing… the last line…

    “Sister Justine… Sister Justine…!”

    Thank you so much for reading and commenting on my story.

  4. Pingback: F3 Cycle 47: Stories of Lost Children | Flash Fiction Friday

  5. McDroll says:

    You are such a good writer! Painful, beautiful, gripping, sad, relief…so much emotion and description in 700 words. I love your work! Thanks so much for taking part and providing such quality. xxx

  6. Thank you very much, Fiona! Coming from a person whose writing I admire greatly, I am touched at your comments.

    When I saw the prompt, two thoughts hit me… I cannot write a story on this, it is too heartbreaking… and, I cannot NOT write a story. So, I opened a fresh box of tissues and sat down at my desk.

    Thank you, Fiona for this prompt and for your literary and monetary contributions to causes that is near and dear to us all… children and young women. Tina and I have already made our donations for this year, but these stories have moved me deeply and I have Tina that we make a further contribution.

    Thank you!

  7. Beach Bum says:

    Just covering all my bases, read this at your other site.
    Great stuff!

  8. David Barber says:

    Excellent work, Veronica. Sadness with a bit of hope. Very well done!

  9. Jenny says:

    This is really good. I loved it, and it is wonderfully written. I’ve been busy, and haven’t been able to comment on anyone’s entry yet, except yours. I tried to go to the F3 site, but something is wrong with it, it’s not showing up. Anyway, I loved this piece. You did an amazing job, like always!

  10. Jenny… thank you so very, very much! I value and appreciate your comments a great deal. Your own writing sets a bar I have set my eyes on, and to read your praise of my work gladdens my heart immeasurably.

    There are a lot of stories to read this week, aren’t there? I have only read about half a dozen, and then… like you… encountered a problem with the site. I see F3 is back up now (10 PM PST), but both the sandman and Christina call me… so, I shall try to read some more tomorrow.

    Thank you again for reading and commenting my story. 🙂

  11. Paula Pahnke says:

    The beat of my heart always finds its way to mimicking the pace of your stories; they are that addictive. Great weaving of a somber tale with a flex of hope. Love the ending. Great work.

  12. Wow! What a perfect compliment! I am absolutely thrilled that you liked the story.

    I was a little worried that people would find it too cold-hearted and exploitive of children and not finish the story… because the ending is everything.

    Thank you very much, Paula!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s