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Rosa's Hope: Short, Short Fiction

Chris has written more than 300 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Manila North Cemetery

The graveyard was littered with bags of bones by children who evicted the dead from crypts for a place to live. Their dirty faces peeked out of dark, empty vaults like baby birds out of the hollow of a tree. They all fought the common enemy of poverty, but some had another, more sinister adversary who would exploit their bodies, youth, and innocence.

Rosa, a fourteen-year-old Filipino girl, sat atop a pastel blue crypt waiting for her social worker, the one person who had offered her hope, to arrive with news about her possible adoption by an American couple. She was excited because someone wanted her to be part of their family. They sent photos of their home which had a bedroom just for her, a big back yard, and a huge dining room table with a silver candelabra in the middle.


The sight of a red tam knocked Rosa out of her daydream. Her heart pounded with fear as she slid off the crypt and ran through the concrete jungle of Manila North Cemetery. The hat belonged to Cesar Long Hair, a man with long dreads who was wanted by the police. Rosa had worked for him earlier that year and wanted no part of the job that involved hours every day in hotel rooms with old men. Cesar had collected cash from the clients and gave Rosa just enough food to keep her from starving. She brought in a lot of money for Cesar, and he wanted her back.

Rosa’s parents had been killed in an earthquake when she was five years old. She had lived in the cemetery ever since. She longed for the sweet innocence of her earlier childhood when even without her parents, there were times of simple happiness. Cesar had robbed her of that. To Rosa, he was a man peddling death. She wondered if she would be forever bitter and unhappy.


She didn’t want to flee the cemetery because Mahalia, her social worker, was due to arrive at any moment. Rosa peeked over the top of a crypt and spotted Cesar. She also saw Mahalia. The two were speaking. Why would Mahalia be talking to Cesar? Then she saw something that knotted her stomach so much that if there had been anything in it, she would have vomited. Cesar held out what appeared to Rosa to be money—lots of money.

The adoption was as phony as Mahalia’s friendship. Rosa crept away and hid among the blues, greens, and pinks of the only home she could remember. She smelled the acrid smoke drifting from the burning landfill. This was where she had fled to after her parents’ deaths. This was where she would die if she refused to work for Cesar.

The corner of her eye picked up a flash of red. She jumped and ran. Rosa was fast, and Cesar couldn’t catch her. Another man blocked her path. She made a sharp right turn between two vault stacks and a hard left behind them. She knew this cemetery well and anticipated a ladder. She scrambled to the top and pulled it up behind her. Rosa dropped to her belly and waited.

She heard the footsteps of the two men stop just below her. If she crawled forward, Rosa thought she could pull Cesar’s tam off his precious dreads. She banished the thought when a hand grabbed the top edge of the vault. Rosa jumped up, and the heel of her tattered shoe came down hard on the fingers. She heard them snap like green sticks. A scream of pain and anger chased her to the opposite side of the vault stack where she lowered herself to the ground and fled.

She stayed hidden the remainder of the day thinking about her future. Her parents were dead, There would be no adoption, no move to America. She was just weeks away from her fifteenth birthday, the age the Philippine government considered to be too old for adoption. She had run out of options. Rosa was growing desperate.


A few days later, she stood on the top floor of an unfinished mausoleum. Children used the twisted, exposed steel framework as a precarious set of monkey bars. She approached them and said that Social Services was on the way to round up children to be sent to orphanages. They scattered like leaves blown by the wind.


Now Rosa had the entire area to herself. She set her worn backpack with her few belongings in it on the floor. The day before, she had contacted Cesar from a phone booth using a telephone number he had given her when she worked for him. She waited several minutes until the sound of a boot grinding on the dirty concrete grabbed her attention. Cesar Long Hair rounded the corner glancing one way, then the other. When he saw Rosa, he relaxed.

“So you are finally ready to come back to work for Cesar Long Hair?”

“My adoption fell through. I don’t have any other choices.”

“Don’t you worry, little Rosa. I will take good care of you.”

“I know. Just like you did before.

“That’s the spirit, my girl.” Cesar put his arm around Rosa’s shoulders and walked her toward the stairway. “You know, we make a very good team.”

Halfway down, Rosa stopped. “I forgot my backpack. I’ll be right back. At the top of the stairs, she disappeared around the corner. A moment later she returned with a police officer at her side.

Cesar turned to run down the stairs, but it was blocked by two more officers.

Rosa walked down toward Cesar. When she was one step above where he was standing, she looked him in the eye. “These men will take good care of you, Cesar Long Hair.” The officers led him away. She had evicted the man of death from her life, and she watched him walk away with the tam, full of dreadlocks, swinging across his shoulders like a bag of bones.

© 2019 Chris Mills


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 28, 2019:

Thank you, Genna. I appreciate your thoughts on this story. We will get the results for this preliminary round a week from this Wednesday. Then the semifinals will begin on Nov 8 for those who make the cut. Participation will drop from 3500 down to 600.

Genna East from Massachusetts, USA on October 28, 2019:

Superb imagery, Chris. This is an excellent story, beautifully written, that reflects the sad reality of too many of humanity's children who have Ceasar's waiting for them around every corner.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 25, 2019:

Thanks, Shawn.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on September 23, 2019:

I never feel ignored by the people I admire and love, my brother, Chris! I knew you are on the road. My Love and prayers to your mother and sister! They are blessed having a son and a brother like you!

Thank you for caring!


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 22, 2019:

Sean, forgive me for ignoring your post here. I am in the middle of moving my dear 86 year old mother from Indiana to my sister's house in Georgia. Thank you for your kindness and support.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on September 18, 2019:

I admire you my brother! For many things, not only your talent. Once again, thank you for your voice!

I have seen Paradise in the eyes of a child. I have seen hell in the eyes of a child!


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 18, 2019:

Liz, This story is full of some of the things I have grown to be deeply concerned about. There is so much actual truth here, it is a stretch to call the story fiction. I appreciate your kind words. Thank you for reading my story.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 18, 2019:

This is a very skilfully written and poignant piece. It works on so many levels. The reader is drawn into the story, which plays out before their eyes. You also highlight a very sad, but true situation in our world today of girls being treated in this way. I am in awe of your creativity.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 17, 2019:

Johnson, thanks for stopping by.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 17, 2019:

Linda, Thank you for stopping by and reading my story. Unfortunately, it is linked to real life

Johnson from London on September 17, 2019:

Wow really interesting article, may later be able to share other helpful information are more interesting.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on September 16, 2019:

This is a well-written story. It's also very moving, especially since it's linked to real life. Good luck in the competition, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 16, 2019:

Shauna, people like this sleazy guy need to go away for a very long time, I agree. I'll be sure to let you know how the competition goes.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 16, 2019:

Eric, I had several endings before I settled on this one. He got off easy. Dickens had a way of showing the plight of the impoverished, especially children. Nice to see you.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 16, 2019:

Ruby, this kind of story just makes you want to hug somebody close to you, doesn't it? I appreciate you reading the story today.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 16, 2019:

Pamela, Nice to see you. Since this was the second challenge out of four, this story won't be able to win the whole competition, but it could get me into the semifinals if it scores well. We will see in seven weeks. Thanks for reading.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 16, 2019:

John, Over the years I've gathered information about poverty in the Philippines. In a recent read, I learned about a 14-year-old girl who found a family to adopt her in the US. The Philippine social services drug their feet until she was fifteen. Too late. I've also read about sex trafficking in the Philippines. It is very sad. This story has happened in real life, I am sure. I appreciate you taking the time to read.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on September 16, 2019:

Good for Rosa! I hope Cesar Long Hair is sent away for a long, long time.

Great story, Chris. Let us know how you did in the contest.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on September 16, 2019:

I am sure Dickens is smiling down on you. A great story and attention to a grave human hell. I fully expected her to push him down the stairs to his death -- your ending is much better.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on September 16, 2019:

Oh, this is a heart wrenching tale that, I'm sure happens daily. I long for the simple times when this would never happen, when a child was taken care of if they lost their parents. Good luck with the writing competition.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 16, 2019:

This is a very well-written story that is about a sad life for this young girl. I did find the arrest of Long Hair to be a good ending. This story makes you think about the pkught of so many poor young children in the world. I think your story could win the competition.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on September 16, 2019:

A sad tale Chris, but the ending was satisfying. This may be fiction but it could easily be true. Well-written as always, and good luck in the competition.

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