Dark Side

Night Photography in Virginia

Central National Bank, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1950

John Mays Central National Bank, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1950

John Mays
Central National Bank, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1950


Respond to this image with short story or poem (under 1,000 words) and post it below to enter the Dark Side Writing Contest. See Contest Information page for full details.

Though the contest is now concluded, but you can read the entries below and the Winning Entries.

Creative Commons License
This work by Library of Virginia is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

8 Responses to “Central National Bank, Richmond, Virginia, ca. 1950”

  1. Rishonda Anthony says:

    The Bloody Banker

    Richmond is one of those old cities. Not as old as London or Paris, but still old enough to have plenty of ghosts. Thanks to the Nickel Bridge Killer, there are a few more ghosts in Richmond tonight.

    I used to think that murder was something reserved only for the most foul, the most evil creatures. The ones who have nothing where their souls should be. I want to still think that. But after these past few weeks, that’s been tougher to believe. How do you feel about vengeance when it’s someone you love being murdered? You feel pretty damn sure that vengeance is the only thing that matters. But how do you feel about it when someone you love is the one doing the murdering?

    My little brother and I were close as kids, but no more or less then any other siblings I guess. I got into trouble more than he did; I remember that. He liked books, science, and math. I was more of a P.E. guy. And when he graduated and went off to that fancy college, I stayed home and married Doris. Then he came home, and got a job at the Central National Bank. I was a patrol cop, nothing more than a glorified meter maid, but it was honest work, and it fed Doris and the kids.

    The first girl was found in Byrd Park, where a lot of rich children play. She was young for a hooker, maybe eighteen or nineteen. She had this yellow hair, the kind our mother used to call bottle blonde, but I think it may have been real on her. It reminded me of Donald’s freshman year at the University of Virginia. He was real sweet on a bottle blonde named Susan, or maybe it was Sally. Anyway, it didn’t go anywhere. She was rich and he was just some cop’s little brother. You can probably guess the rest.

    The next two girls were found a week later. They weren’t far from each other. One was found off Boulevard and another floated ashore during high tide on the James. They were both bottle blondes again, just like Susan. Donald and I used to spend time near that stretch of beach where the third girl washed up. It was just a few yards from Nickel Bridge, and except for the cars above, plenty private. I’d pull crabs out of the muddy water, and he’d pick seashells off the sand. If we found big enough crabs, we’d take them home to boil. I used to throw the small ones back. But one day, when Donald was about eleven, he asked if he could have a few of the smaller crabs. I tossed them his way, not thinking much of it. Then Donald pulled a hammer out of his back pocket and started smashing the crabs open, right there on the sand. They didn’t all die right away; some tried to scuttle back toward the water. But Donald chased them down and got them all. As they died, their eyes stuck so far out of their heads they looked like snails, and their guts oozed out like dark green slime.

    Later that day, I asked Donald why he did that. He said he didn’t know; he just had the idea to see what they looked like before they got cooked. But I didn’t think it was a sudden impulse. Why else would he bring a hammer to the beach? He must have been thinking about smashing them crabs open for who know how long. Anyways, I never took Donald back to that beach. And I never ate another crab after that.

    The fourth girl had her head smashed in, just like the other three. She had been attacked from behind, and there was a fair amount of blood in her hair, but you could still make out the roots, and yeah, they were bottle blond.

    It’s true I’m not a detective, but I have been a cop for nearly ten years. And sometimes you just know, especially when it comes to family. I called Donald this morning and told him to meet me here, at the bank. It had to be after dark, where nobody’s prying eyes can see. If things go down the way I think they will, I don’t want anybody saying I helped the Nickel Bridge Killer escape justice. It would cost me my pension, and I couldn’t do that to Doris. But Donald’s my brother, and I have to know the truth.

    Our mother used to say the Donald and I were like oil and water. He’s scrawny and I’m solid, he’s a successful banker and I’m a lowly cop, he’s a genius and well, let’s face it, the last book I read was in high school. But I’m smart enough to know I’m all he’s got. Donald may be a killer, but he’s still my little brother. No matter what happens tonight, he won’t forget that.

  2. Grace Robinson says:

    The Long Hallway

    He spent his life walking. The bank hallway took the sound of his shoe heels and held it as echoes even after he escaped through the doors. The marble floors and dark wood walls stared at him, day after day.

    When he walked the stairs to his apartment, all that awaited him inside was a bachelor’s supper and a radio for company. The walk down the hall to his bedroom left him waking each morning with no eagerness for the day ahead. The walk to the bank every morning gave small variety. The rainy days kept him busy dodging puddles and the sea of black umbrellas. On sunny days he walked by women sweeping their front steps, children on the sidewalk, the flower vendor and her cart at the corner.

    The flower vendor walked, too. One morning, he was walking to the bank early and saw her. She was walking from the train station, pushing her heavy cart laden with flowers. He wanted to help her, but then he would be late to the bank. His boss would not be happy to see him walking down that marble hallway at a time when he should already be at his post.

    It was raining that evening when he walked home from the bank. The flower vendor had left her post because of the rain, and her corner was empty. The walk back to his apartment was long and quiet.
    Shoe heels clicked on the marble hallway. Every day the same – men and women walked to his post to open a bank account, close an account, or ask him questions. He stood at his post, and answered their questions, and watched them walk.

    One day, a young woman walked down the hallway alone. She came to his post. He looked at her face, and saw that she was the flower vendor from the street corner.

    “I have come to open an account,” she said.

    He gave her paper and a pen. “I can help you with that. So your flower business must be doing quite well?”

    She smiled. “Yes, it is. I didn’t know if you recognized me. I see you walking every day.”

    He helped her fill out the forms, and put her money in her new account. “May I take you to dinner tonight?” he asked her, as she turned to walk away.

    She smiled again. “I would like that very much.”

    When he left the bank that evening, the long marble hallway with its heavy dark doors were like a wisp of cloud blown away into nothing. The flower vendor was waiting for him at the street corner, and together they walked to dinner.

  3. Jill says:

    They tell me that I am lonely. How do they know what I feel? I am alone, but not lonely. And if I am alone now, that does not mean I never alter that state. Alone and lonely are not irrevocably the same. Must I be uncomfortable so that they will be comfortable?

    They tell me to get out and have fun. How do they know what is fun to me? I engage in activities that give me pleasure, but those activities are often different from what they tell me is fun. Must I do things I regard with indifference so that they will understand?

    They tell me that I need to talk more. Why do they think they can tell me which of my thoughts to voice? Often, I do talk more, just not to them. When I try, they either talk over me or laugh in lack of understanding. Must I feel foolish so that they will feel accepted?

    They tell me that I think too much. Why do they get to decide the limit of my musings? In my thoughts, I come alive – am energized the way I hear coffee energizes its consumers. Must I show only the chaff of my thoughts so that they will feel equal?

    They tell me that I am different. Why does it matter? I know I am not the same as the majority, but I also know there are others like me. These others and me, we understand what it is to be us and we try to understand what it is to be them. Why must different be changed in order to be accepted?

  4. Ward Howarth says:

    Rain peppered the windshield of Jimmy’s pickup as he cruised past Central National Bank. It was going on midnight and Broad Street traffic was light. A few taxicabs, drifting. Cop cars, making the rounds. Jimmy steered his wheels toward the sidewalk just east of 3rd and parked. He killed the engine and took a deep breath.
    Out onto the sidewalk now, doubling back. Across the street, quickly, then south for half a block, every step deliberate. The focus held his nerves in check.
    Jimmy came to the office door of the bank and stopped. A look in either direction calmed him: nobody on the streets. Jimmy’s heart paused as he grabbed the doorknob and tested it. Unlocked, just like she’d promised.
    Inside fast and across the room. Then, a maze in the dark. His legs knew it from memory. Every door, every corner. Into a hallway, past the mop closet, around those old chairs.
    Jimmy spilled onto the central lobby and softened his step, curbing the echo. Moonlight poured through arched windows and flooded the room with a blueish glow. It gave the ceiling a cavernous, threatening presence, and for a moment, Jimmy felt as if he were in some sacred cathedral, not the building where he toiled over statements and figures for ten hours a day.
    His eyes circled the room, just to be sure. It was a room he never wanted to see again. Nothing moved, not even dust.
    Satisfied, Jimmy made for the stairs, his pace quickening. Soon, they’d be together, starting anew. Jimmy tingled at the thought of her: chestnut hair that curled at the end; brown eyes that brought him to his knees; skin the color of night, every touch a thrill.

    They’d met six months back. Jimmy took his lunch in a back room that day. It was newly empty from layoffs. She had the same idea. They sat across from one another, eating in silence, stealing sly look-sees. When they’d finished, Jimmy offered her a cigarette. Hesitant at first, she accepted.
    “What’s your name?” he said, lighting it for her.
    She took a long drag, savoring the rush. She exhaled to the side, careful not to blow smoke his way. “Angela,” she said, as if it were a secret she only told certain people.
    They shared their stories. He was a lowly assistant, vetting paperwork for the bank’s VP. She was a bottom rung cleaning girl, scrubbing floors on her hands and knees. They cursed their superiors and bonded over job woes. They met on the regular, trading office gossip, even sharing lunch. Soon they were meeting daily and letting their touches linger. They decided to meet after work. Somewhere out of sight, away from disapproving eyes. They waited for the right moment, the fire between them growing.
    Days later, Angela had bad news. An uncle had passed and she was leaving for a funeral. Jimmy saw opportunity and begged her to stay behind. She refused at first, the idea too sinister, but temptation overtook her. She feigned an illness and sent the family off without her. Jimmy went to her that night, rapping softly at her back door. She pulled him inside quick and they stumbled into the kitchen, tearing at one another’s clothes.
    Later that night, they laid tangled together, their bodies spent.
    “Your boss,” she said.
    “What of him?” he asked.
    “When no one’s looking, he paws me,” she said.
    Jimmy could hardly contain his rage. The next few days at work were unbearable, until a brilliant idea took root.
    “We could do it, you know,” he said to her over lunch that day. “He keeps the combinations in his wallet, on account of his bum memory. I’m sure he’d let you get close enough.”
    The idea made her retch. She tore out of the room, refusing to see him again. But the next day, his boss’ hand went too far, and she changed her mind.
    “We’re not taking all of it,” she said. “Just enough to set up somewhere nice, away from here.”
    Jimmy showed her a few pickpocket tricks and she took to them easy, her soft fingers perfecting the swindle until she could lift Jimmy’s own wallet without him noticing.

    Jimmy hit the bottom of the stairs, triggered his flashlight, and made for the vaults. Angela had lifted the billfold earlier that day and hid in the back room at closing time. They were to meet at the vaults just about now and open one together.
    Jimmy came to the first of them and marveled at its construction. There looked to be enough metal in the door to outfit a small tank.
    She wasn’t at the first vault, or the second, nor the third. Jimmy spoke her name softly and spun in a circle with the flashlight, as if he were a beacon lighting the way for a lost ship.
    No answer.
    Jimmy hurried to the back room with panic in his legs. He came to the door and threw himself inside, calling her name. A few steps in, he tripped and fell to the floor, dropping the flashlight and jamming his wrist.
    Something rushed him. Hands turned him over. Then, the flashlight in his face, blinding him. Jimmy blinked, adjusting his eyes. Blurred focus gave him a shock. Holding him down was that old lug from accounting, the one with the long coat and the fedora, the one they’d let go just yesterday.
    The geezer leaned in close. Moonshine clouded his breath. “That’s right, kid,” he wheezed. “I been on to you two. Been watching you for weeks, just waiting. Damned if I’ll sit back and let you outta here with any loot. Especially with what she is!”
    Jimmy looked over. He could just make out Angela’s lifeless face. Tears welled in his eyes. Something warm and metallic rammed his stomach.
    “You’re gonna help me with that money, punk,” said the old man. “Or you’ll get what she got!”

  5. Stephanie St.Clair says:


    by Stephanie St.Clair

    The door was smaller than Simon expected. Even with a heavy overcoat and a hat on his head, the chill emanating from it reached his old bones. His fingers glided over the cold reinforced frame while his other hand gripped the key ring safely by his side. The metal appeared to be solid. Just to be certain, he jiggled the brass doorknob. Satisfied the vault was secure, he turned and started onto the next. As the vault keeper, it was his job to make sure each cell was secured.

    “Hello?” A soft feminine voice slipped under the crack of the old steel vault door, floating up in the air until it landed in his ear.

    Simon froze mid-step. The prisoner in Cell #6 never spoke. Up until he heard her voice, Simon hadn’t even known the occupant was female. Or human.

    “Is anyone there? I can hear you breathing. Please just talk to me. It’s so lonely in here.”

    “Sorry. I’m not allowed,” he said before he could stop himself. His words echoed off the tiled floor and bounced down the empty corridor.

    A small grateful sigh and then, “But you did. It’s been so long since anyone’s talked to me. Thank you.”

    It was against the rules. But surely, a short conversation couldn’t hurt anything, thought Simon. It was the human thing to do. To offer some sort of comfort. Besides, the door was locked. The prisoner wasn’t going anywhere. He pocketed the keyring and leaned against the wall, avoiding contact with the door.

    “What’s your name?” he asked.


    “That’s an unusual name.”

    “It’s an old family name. What about you? What are you called?”

    “Simon. After my father and his father and so on. Guess you could say it’s an old family name too. So, what would you like to talk about?”

    “Anything. Everything. Nothing in particular. It’s just nice to hear a human voice. The days all run together when you can’t see the sun or moon. It’s hard to keep track. What I wouldn’t give for just a small glimpse of the outside world again. To feel the sun on my face.” A soft sigh whispered against the wall.

    “You know they won’t let you out.”

    “Even if I promised to behave?”

    “Rules are rules.”

    She was silent for a moment as if considering his statement. Then she said, “But you already broke one by talking to me.”

    He slid his hand into his coat pocket and toyed with the keyring as he spoke. “I was just trying to be nice.”

    “And you have been. May I ask you a question, Simon?”


    “Do you believe a person is born bad or becomes bad because of the choices they make?”

    “Nature versus nurture?”

    “Yes. I suppose that is my question.” Her voice dropped to almost an inaudible level. But Simon could still feel the vibrations of her breath on the door.

    “Afraid I couldn’t say.”

    “Then are you good because you are on the outside and I am bad because I’m locked inside your dungeon?”

    “It’s not my dungeon.” He shook his head as if she could see him.

    “But you are the vault keeper. You hold the key. Correct?”

    “Yes, but that doesn’t make it my dungeon. I only work here.”

    “The previous keeper said the same thing. That is before they locked her away as well.”

    “Why would they lock up the previous keeper?” This was news to Simon. But then, he never had given much thought to his predecessor.

    “If you open the door, I’ll tell you. Just a crack. Just enough so that I can see the light outside.”

    “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

    “Please just a small glimpse. It’s been so long.”

    It was a bad idea. But the longing in her voice hit a small place deep and forgotten inside him. A place which took him back to another time and another prison.

    “Fine. I’ll open it. But just a crack. Back up against the far wall and stay there.” Simon inserted the key into the door’s lock and waited as the sound of her feet shuffling drew away. Satisfied, he turned the lock and pulled the door open.

    Darkness escaped in a flash of ebony as the light in the hallway dimmed. A chilly fog slid through the inch wide space and coalesced into a vague human outline before solidifying into a young woman.

    I am Murrian.

    The icy whisper slithered through Simon’s mind as a foreign coldness crawled up his arm and around his neck. Simon tried to lift his hand to brush it away, but found his arms frozen. The strange sensation pushed its way over his lips and down his throat, finally strangling his airway. His knees buckled and he collapsed to the floor.

    “Oh, you silly man. You should have followed the rules.” Murrian bent down next to Simon’s prone body and gently stroked the side of his stilled face. Unable to move his head, he stared up at the ceiling as his heartbeat slowed.

    “If only you had asked me the meaning of my name. But then if you had, you wouldn’t have opened the door. One would have thought after Pandora’s slip up they would have trained you all better. I’m sorry our brief friendship has to end this way. But I can’t leave you alive. You see, it’s just not in my nature.”

    Murrien’s solid form evaporated and slid into Simon’s lifeless body. Sitting up, she glanced around. The light, brighter than she remembered, hurt her new human eyes.

    “Hmm. This should be interesting. I never been a man. Time to have some fun.” She stood and picked Simon’s hat up off the floor. A single twitch of a hand and the hallway lights brightened. Smiling, He strolled down the ancient hallway and out into the daylight.

  6. J.S.Lee says:

    A Private Eye Reminisces on His Failed Sojourn at the Medical College of Virginia

    This hallway reminds me of the morgue.
    Dark luminescence, like the burial-ground-turned-parking-lot of that old hospital where I first learned to stitch with catgut in formalin-fumed skins of forever…
    You know they stole those bodies, right?

Dark Side writing contest

Required fields are marked *