Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

News & Features » October 2015 » “Nothing You Do Can Ever Be Undone” by Jamison Crabtree

“Nothing You Do Can Ever Be Undone” by Jamison Crabtree

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, Jamison Crabtree trails Richmond’s haunted grounds.

Nothing You Do Can Ever Be Undonejamisoncrabtree
by Jamison Crabtree
Oregon Hill, Richmond, VA

The light dripping out of the few remaining lit windows coagulated in the humidity. From the playground, Rachael watched as the houses went dark. The small bag at her feet didn’t move at all and shadows turned to wax against everything they touched. Unlit porches and the bricks buckled in the sidewalks like crowded teeth and the weatherworn all shined with night.

She rocked the swing back and forth without lifting her feet. Enough to get the air moving but not enough to make the chains call out. The train below had stopped for the shift change. She knew that it would continue on at 2:47; she could make her way down the slope then.

From where she sat, she could see the traffic on the Lee Bridge. Beneath the suspension bridge leading to Belle Isle was empty. No night fishers. No drunk kids. And, most importantly, no police.

During the Civil War, the Confederacy used it as an open-air prison. Close enough to the shore but far enough to make escape impossible, prisoners would try to swim free in their desperation to escape. Inevitably, the undertow or the current or, in the winter, the frigid water would take them.

Starvation and disease and exposure rose up from the ground, dragging the bodies of soldiers into shallow graves that grew deeper with every passing year. If you had to bury something, this island filled with bodies where not even the dogs are allowed to dig, was the place to do it.

Stonework slabs that supported the old rail line jutted up out of the river. Rachael couldn’t look at them without thinking of a lie one of her exes told her.

They’d been watching a rescue helicopter that they’d later learned was searching for a kayaker who overturned, swam to shore, then, for some unknown reason, swam back out.

As they stared at the searchlight skimming the water, Rachael’s then-girlfriend had explained that beneath the river was an enormous mansion—windowless and cold and filled with rooms so tall that the ceiling vanished. That its stairwells descended into the core of the earth.

“Those were never connected to anything,” she said, “they’re the chimneys for all that darkness. It’s where the night lives.” And all the dead who drowned in the river would live there alongside the night, together forever, listening to the water.

The horn blasted the same note three times and the train began to move. There was no ceremony to it—only habit. She knew that once the train started, it didn’t matter if she was spotted; there was a schedule to keep.

Rachael picked up the bag, hopped the fence, and began climbing down towards the bridge.

The transients who called the island their home slept, hidden safely underneath the ruins. And even if one of them saw her, no one would bother her. The interior of Belle Isle was covered in old trenches and older trees and even older ponds. If anyone came, it’d be too late—she was safe; five steps into the woods was all it’d take for her to disappear completely.

There wasn’t much left to do. One step. Two steps. The stars were not bright at all, nor the moon. Three steps. The clouds glowed, but they were not bright either. Four steps. Five, and then six.

She knew the trail by heart; she followed it without a light. In her black dress, anyone who might have looked in her direction wouldn’t have been able to tell her from the oaks or the sky or the river; they’d only retain the faintest, briefest memory of rose hips and lilac.

She looked in the bag—it was all there; everything and everything was still. Removing the shovel, she dug. Insects paused, listening to the sighs of the ground as it slowly opened.

Surrounded by trees, it was impossible to make out any details, but her imagination filled in the gaps.

A face was opening beneath her. She wasn’t so much burying the bag as giving this impossible mouth a tongue. When she was done, she covered the hole; and a hole, once covered, was never anything at all. She walked back through the woods to the edge of the river. Her reflection in the water made a hole in the sky.

She took one step. The insects had forgotten her, and returned to their sharp songs. Then another. She was going someplace new.


JAMISON CRABTREE is a Black Mountain Institute Ph.D. fellow at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. His collection of poems about movie monsters and grief, rel[am]ent, was awarded The Word Works’ Washington Prize and published in 2015. He currently lives in Las Vegas, where he works as the Director of Education at The Writer’s Block, a community-focused bookstore.


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: Oct 19, 2015

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