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News & Features » August 2015 » “Heliotrope.” by Jake Falls

“Heliotrope.” by Jake Falls

Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.

This week, Jake Falls finds beauty in an abandoned automotive plant in Detroit.

Jake FallsHeliotrope.
by Jake Falls
East Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan

I used to photograph the ruin. The historic Packard Plant had become my forty-acre inspiration in the heart of Detroit. What was once the grandest and most industrious automotive facility of the early twentieth century had corroded into a sprawling wasteland, and I captured it all through my camera lens. The weather and scrappers and neglect had all eaten their fill of the colossal factory, leaving its bones a postapocalyptic movie backdrop for cheap Hollywood production companies needing the Michigan tax break, or a playground for bored Europeans wanting to explore a festering carcass trapped in the belly of a once dynamic and burgeoning city. I roamed the property to take pictures. It was such a massive compound that some days I’d walk for hours without ever seeing another human being, while on other days the plant was teeming with scrappers and kids and urban explorers like myself. Each month or two when I’d return, the fires and rain would collapse roofs and buckle walls, the vegetation disintegrated concrete, and graffiti artists would tag the plant’s hollowed face. All the while I was there to photograph its change. The decay was what made it beautiful, and its beauty was what brought me back time and time again to see my muse of East Grand Boulevard.

I found her lying alone on the top floor of Building No. 92. The Packard Plant was lifeless that afternoon. Her eyes were open but clouded over, her lips a deep purple. The clothes she had on were torn and disheveled, but the sunlight rained down on her from the massive gape in the ceiling and framed her motionless body in a silhouette of gold. Her black hair was tied back tightly, and she was young, or seemed to have been young, but her body, exposed to the elements, had begun to swell and decompose. She reeked horribly, but her face, though dirty, bloated, and a bit lopsided, was serene. She looked at peace, and the rays of sunlight highlighted her profile so well that I couldn’t help myself. I took at least a hundred pictures of her that afternoon. Once I started I couldn’t stop. Her face was like something out of a movie. I remember the ants crawling over her right eyeball when I crouched down close to take a shot. Jet-black ants on a milky-white orb while the other eye stared forward into the surrounding rubble. I drew my camera in close but never touched her. The girl’s body was strangely contorted, her right arm twisted behind her back and the fingers of her right hand perched upward in an unnatural manner. I didn’t know how she got there or what had happened to her. There was no noticeable wound, no needles or burnt spoons around the body, and she didn’t show signs of being beaten or raped. Even now, in the photos I have hanging on my walls, I can’t see anything that would suggest how the girl had died. She seemed to be just another decaying part of the automotive facility, taking on all the characteristics I found beautiful in the crumbling plant. She was decaying, but I was fortunate enough to be there, on that day and in that hour, with her rotting body beneath that opened rooftop. Who knows what would’ve become of her the next day? It may have rained, or somebody could’ve found her, or animals might have gotten to the body, but that ceased to matter when I was alone with her, armed with my Leica M7 with rolls upon rolls of film buried in my backpack. What mattered was that she was there for me, and I was there when the sun was casting its halcyon shadows down upon her, and I collected her significance through my lens. We shared a moment of mortality together in a place that was once alive and had once thrived—not unlike the girl who at one time had been alive too and may have been happy or had a family or been in love, but then, as I look at the pictures framed on my walls, I wonder if I’ll ever have the opportunity, the chance, to capture the rotting tranquility and photograph the decaying peace with my camera again. I question whether I’ll be able to replicate a moment like that with someone like her and develop that beauty for a second time in my darkroom, and sometimes I think I just might.


JAKE FALLS is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, where he studied literature and philosophy. He has finished a novel, Haunt., and has written numerous short stories. He works as a carpenter around Southeastern Michigan while his second novel, Heft., is under construction.


Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:

—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Aug 31, 2015

Category: Original Fiction, Mondays Are Murder | Tags: , , , , , , , ,