The Vacant Room

Written by: Linda Alley

Another old mansion converted into cupboard-size flats. Another smelly stairwell with creaky steps. Another skeletal cat glaring at me through smudged windows. Hey, I'm allowed to complain. This is viewing number seventeen. Permanent residency in the hostel dorm with nine other people (bed bugs not included) is starting to look pretty good.

Experience has taught me that doorbells never work so I lift a hand to the knocker. I think it's supposed to be a lion.  It opens immediately. The woman standing there is around sixty and wearing a long woollen coat with clogs. Why didn't I hear those on the floorboards?

“Marie? I'm Tamara Wilton. I've come to see the room.

She nods, smirking as she glances at my right hand. It's wrapped in a now rust-covered tissue. Come on! My last tetanus shot was at primary school.

Inside, I can make out a kitchen at the end of the passage. The other doors are closed. There's a jumble of shoes in the hall: sneakers, boots, high heels and tiny pair of pink sandals. The ad didn't say anything about kids...

I turn and Marie is standing right behind me.

“So who else lives here?” I ask, taking off my gloves.

"A Polish waitress and a young man from Australia. They are not home at the moment.”

“Oh?” I say, glancing at a dim light coming from under one of the doors.

Marie follows my gaze and takes my elbow, urging me through the doorway on our right.

“This is your room.”

I prise myself away from her, pretending to examine the view out the window. It's a multi-storey car park. 

There's a single bed and a battered wardrobe leaning into one corner. The curtains remind me of giant lacy hankies. A spider's busy adding more crochet to the window.

“It's a bit small,” My rehearsed answer comes out just as I realise that it's one of the biggest rooms I've seen so far.

I expect the usual spiel. You Antipodeans expect too much. You won't find another place this good in London. And there's even carpet in the bathroom...

“It's £100 a week. No smoking, no pets, no children.”

“I'm sorry but...”

The phone rings.

Marie holds up her hand and leaves the room.  I glance out into the hallway just as the kitchen door closes behind her. There's still a light coming from under the door of the next bedroom. I tap very softly. No answer.  OK, now don't tell me you wouldn't do the same. The door handle turns too easily.

There's a coffee table with a small lamp. That's it.

A photo's lying face down by the lamp. I turn it over. It's a shot of a market. Camden Town, I think. There's a girl with shaggy brown hair tucked under a red beanie. Her head's bending over a display of antique rings.  A New Zealand keyring dangles from her backpack zip. It's me.

by Linda Alley  NZ

Writers: Ken Burns, Tracey, Donna McT, dannyo77, Ray Stone, jlabrum, Kalli Deschamps, Elle, Dana Cariola, Suraya Dewing


This is really good Linda. I like what you've started with.
Mystery, Suspense, lots of questions, and my kind of genre and writer. Linda loves descriptive work and creating interesting characters. I look forward to this serial as it develops. Great starter, Linda.
The setting up of the scene is fantastic. The ending caught me completely by surprise and took my breath away and sent a shiver up my spine. Loved it!
What a chilling end to your preface. Great job. Where will it go from here?