TILDA RILEY


By Michelle Ross



London 1890.

Tilda Riley had been filled with dread at the thought of climbing the staircase after everything that had happened, but she was tired and she had to make it to her bed.

Eventually Tilda reached the landing. The flame of the candle which she held in her hand, flickered vigorously. She stopped and looked over at the door where it had all happened and shivered, she would never look at that room in the same way again.

Before Inspector Johnson and Constable McGuire had left, they had made sure she wasn't too distressed, but Tilda wasn't distressed about being in the house alone. She was independent, she had never married, much to her disappointment, so she had never relied on anybody but herself. She had informed Inspector Johnson and his Constable that she would be fine.

Now back in her room, Tilda lay in bed, the candle on the small side table still flickering away; everywhere else in the room was dark, every corner was still. She reached over and blew out the candle and lay there listening to her own heartbeat.

* * *

The next day Tilda made haste tidying up the kitchen. She thought back to the day before. She had told the inspector that it had been around 3 o'clock that afternoon when she had heard the front door open and then slam shut again, later going up stairs to be faced with the grizzly scene. Tilda had told how she had heard the man's footsteps running away from the house. The Constable had made notes of everything she had said.

It was cold in the kitchen. Tilda lit the stove for warmth. She sat down at the small table by the door and picked up a pack of playing cards which lay at the side and tried to focus on playing a game of patience. She had to try and keep herself occupied.

There was a knock at the door.

Leaving the cards spread out on the table Tilda walked down the hallway to answer it.

"Theodora!"

"Hello Tilda," a short round woman wearing small spectacles replied as she stepped through the door without invitation.

"I've just heard the news, terrible business. What must you have gone through?"

"Well I..."

"So I thought I may be able to help," Theodora announced.

"Help...How?"

"Well, you won't be able to rest will you dear? Not with a murderer on the loose and well...there is sure to be a restless spirit around now isn't there?"

"No Theodora! Not again," she told her assertively.

Theodora had held a sťance at Tilda's house when another of Tilda's lodgers had died of consumption two years previous. Reluctantly, Tilda had agreed that Theodora and two of her Spiritualist friends, Mr and Mrs Fisher, could come round for a sitting.

Tilda and her guests had all sat around the table in the drawing room while Theodora had attempted to put them all in contact with the dead tenant. During the sťance, they had all heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Tilda had rushed to open the drawing room door but had found no one there.

Although Tilda had put the noises on the night of the sťance down to imagination, it had all been a bit too much; she swore she would never let Theodora hold another sitting in the house.

"Are you trying to tell me you slept well last night?" Theodora asked.

"No. But that's just because..."

Tilda and Theodora both jumped as they heard a loud knock at the door. Tilda went to answer it, relieved to get away from her excitable neighbour and her otherworldly plans.

Tilda was surprised to find Constable McGuire from the previous day standing on the doorstep.

"Come in Constable."

"Thank you Miss Riley, I just need to ask you a few more details about the deceased, Albert Grayson."

As they entered the kitchen Theodora was sat at the table playing patience, unawares that they had entered through the door.

"This is my friend and neighbour Mrs Theodora Wingate," Tilda announced.

"Please to meet you Mrs Wingate." McGuire said.

Theodora jumped up from her chair when she saw the Constable.

"Have they got him? Have they got the murderer?" Theodora asked excitedly.

"We're close to catching him," McGuire said, turning to Tilda. "The man who visited Mr Grayson has been recognised by one of your neighbours as Thomas Mathews, a book maker from the East end. We have been to the home of Mr Mathews but can find no trace of him; we have our men on the lookout for him so there is no need to worry."

Tilda turned to the Constable "Thank you for letting me know Constable. Would you like some tea?"

* * *

That night Tilda sat in her armchair and tried to relax. She was beginning to regret the fact that she had yet again agreed to let Theodora perform another yet sťance in her drawing room, but Theodora could be very persuasive, and Tilda knew she could never really call up the dead, so she knew it would do no harm. Besides, she wanted people to know she wasn't frightened, no one would guess she wasn't herself if she went along with everything.

Tilda picked up her embroidery. She could hear the sound of street carriages travelling up the road which made her feel less lonely. Looking up towards the window, she noticed how dark it was getting, the darkness made her shiver.

Later that evening, while pouring coal onto the grate, Tilda heard a noise outside the living room door. Placing the coal scuttle on the floor, she walked into the hallway, on seeing that there was nobody there, she let out a sigh of relief. Then suddenly, there came a bang from behind her, Tilda jumped, her heart racing.

A picture of a snowy landscape with rolling hills had fallen off the wall and had landed in the middle of the hallway. As she lifted the picture up, Tilda realised that the glass had partly shattered and a wet red substance had seeped onto the image of the snow which was prominent within the scene, as she examined it closer, Tilda realised it was blood.

There came a loud bang on the door.

"Who`s there?" Tilda shouted, her whole body shaking.

"It's just the police again Miss Riley, I was just passing on my rounds and thought I would check to see if you were alright."

Tilda poked her head through a gap in the door to see Constable McGuire standing in front of her.

"Yes, I`m fine," she told him trying to remain calm, "Is there any news on finding Mr Mathews?"

"No, not yet,' he told her aware that she seemed a little nervous. "May I come in for a few minutes Miss Riley?"

Tilda was hesitant for a few seconds but eventually opened the door wide enough for McGuire to step inside. As he stood in the passageway he looked down at the broken picture.

"I had an accident; I never liked that picture and I was taking it down when I dropped it." Tilda told him, sucking her middle finger making out that she had cut herself.

"Well never mind, we'll just get it outside and into the dustbin," McGuire told her, kneeling down to lift it up.

With McGuire outside, Tilda opened the front door and walked into the kitchen. She lit the stove to heat the kettle. A minute later Constable McGuire came back and entered the kitchen. Taking his helmet off and placing it on the table, he looked down and then looked at Tilda, puzzled.

"I thought I had taken these back to the station!" McGuire told her scratching his head.

Tilda swung round and was shocked to see Albert Grayson`s belongings lying on the table, three pounds and two Shillings, a photograph of an attractive middle aged woman and a small address book. Tilda knew that the Constable had taken the belongings away with him the previous afternoon, she had seen him take them, along with Albert Grayson`s clothes, and she had seen him walk out of the door with them all.

"I could have sworn...Never mind, I must have left them behind." McGuire said, still looking confused.

Tilda turned around, her body shook nervously.

* * *

After Constable McGuire had left, Tilda sat down at the kitchen table, she tried to relax. She thought she saw something flicker on the wall in front of her. A feeling of fear came over her, but she told herself she was being ridiculous.

Suddenly Tilda was flung violently backwards in her chair. She found herself gasping for breath. She couldn`t believe what was happening to her. Then an image of Albert Grayson appeared on the wall. He was grinning at her, his eyes bore into hers. Then as quick as he had appeared he seemed to melt back into the wall.

Tilda jumped up and ran upstairs to her bedroom where she locked the door behind her and sat on the edge of the bed, unable to move.

* * *

Tilda jumped as she heard a bang from downstairs. She realised it was just the door knocker.

A voice sounded through the letter box.

"Tilda...Tilda it's me, Theodora and Mr and Mrs Fisher!"

It was then that Tilda remembered about the sťance, only now she had realised that she had made a huge mistake in agreeing to let it happen. She would have to go down and tell them she had changed her mind about the whole thing. She made her way to the bedroom door, turned the key in the lock and slowly opened it.

Clutching the banister Tilda warily made her way down the staircase. Finally she reached the front door to find her visitors standing there shivering with the cold.

"Had you forgotten we were coming dear?" Theodora asked as she barged her way into the hallway followed by Mr and Mrs Fisher.

Tilda's guests walked towards the drawing room, Tilda followed reluctantly behind them.

Inside the room Theodora confidently lifted the potted plant from the middle of a large round table and placed it on the side board. She opened a drawer and pulled out a cream coloured laced table cloth, walked over to the table in the middle of the room, threw it in the air and spread it out.

"We need a candle Tilda, do you have one?" Theodora asked.

Tilda went over to the small table next to her armchair. She lifted up a candle stick and a box of matches. She walked over to close the curtains as she knew that would be Theodora`s next request.

Theodora lit the candle and placed it in the middle of the table. Everyone sat down, knew the routine; they were all to hold hands. Theodora sat facing the window clenching the hand of Mr Fisher on her left side and the hand of Mrs Fisher on her right, while she faced a nervous Tilda.

"Tonight I will try and contact Albert Grayson who was brutally murdered in this house yesterday." Theodora announced.

Theodora let out a breath, and then her eyes rolled up to the ceiling.

Tilda squirmed about in her seat; she felt her heart pound and her hands start to sweat.

"He's here; Albert Grayson is standing by the curtain." Theodora announced.

As the rest of the sitters turned their heads towards the window they could see a misty shape, it was the shape of a man, a man that Tilda recognised as the same height as Albert Grayson.

The figure moved closer to them and hovered over the table. Tilda froze. Then the figure faded away. Everyone let out a sigh of relief. They loosened their grip on each other's hands, all except Tilda, who was still staring at the spot where she knew Albert Grayson had stood. Then she realised that every one else was looking at her.

Theodora composed herself, she closed her eyes and all hands were secured tightly together again.

"He's still around us, he wants to give us a message," Theodora announced.

Tilda held her breath and waited for Theodora to speak again.

"'He says..." Theodora`s eyes started to glaze over and a shocked expression came over her face.

Theodora glared at Tilda.

"What is it Theodora? What is he saying?" Tilda asked slowly and warily.

"He's gone," Theodora replied, now staring at Tilda with a look of disbelief.

Theodora broke hands with Mr and Mrs Fisher.

"Time to end the sťance now I think," Theodora said, still glaring at Tilda across the table.

* * *

As Tilda stood on the doorstep waving her guests off, Theodora looked back at her over her shoulder then turned again and walked on with her nose in the air.

Tilda went back inside and closed the door behind her. It was dark inside the passage; the only light was from the candle which flickered from the table in the drawing room through the open door.

As Tilda walked into the drawing room she took hold of the candle stick and as she turned she saw Albert Grayson was staring straight at her.

"What do you want Albert?" She asked nervously.

"Why did you do it Tilda? After all these years, why had you not moved on with your life?" he asked her.

Tilda ran out of the drawing room and up the staircase. She quickly made her way into her room, fumbled with the key and turned it in the lock. She put her ear to the door and listened for footsteps. Had Albert Grayson followed her upstairs?

She cursed herself, she was being ridiculous, and Albert Grayson was dead. She had made sure of that herself.

* * *

Tilda had waited until Thomas Mathews had left the house that afternoon after threatening Albert Grayson over money he had owed him, then, Tilda had taken the knife, opened Albert Grayson's door, saw him lying there on the bed and stuck the knife into his heart. She had left him to bleed to death.

Tilda had told the police all she had heard between Albert and Mathews knowing they would put two and two together; they would be looking for one man in connection with Albert's murder, no one else.

It had torn her apart when Albert had left her for Daisy Braithwaite and went to live in the North, so she couldn't believe it when he had knocked on her door needing a room. They had both stared at each other unable to speak. Albert hadn't expected her to open the door; she had lived a few miles away when they had known each other. Tilda, in return, had never expected to see Albert again, but there he was, standing there in front of her.

That night Tilda and Albert talked for hours. Albert told her about his life, how he was now a clerk for a shipping company and Tilda told him how she had run her lodging house for many years.

As they talked they seem to get closer, she told him that there had never been anyone else for her. Then, she didn't know what came over her, but Tilda invited him to stay with her for good. Albert had stared at her unable to take in what she was saying, eventually he spoke, but his words cut into Tilda's heart once again. Albert told her that he didn't want her, that he was just passing through because of his job, that he was still married to, and still loved Daisy. He wanted Tilda to understand that he just needed a room for a few days.

Tilda agreed to let him stay and showed him to his room. He had hurt her all over again, but this time, somehow, she would make sure he wouldn`t get away with it.

* * *

Now Tilda sat on the edge of the bed staring at the door. Suddenly she jumped; there was a banging noise from downstairs, she realised it was coming from the front door. Someone had come to save her.

Tilda quickly went to unlock the bedroom door and ran down the stairs.

As Tilda opened the door she saw Inspector Johnson and Constable McGuire standing next him. Behind them, bobbing up and down was Theodora.

Tilda stood back to let them all in.

"Tilda Riley, we are here to question you further about the murder of Albert Grayson," the Inspector told her, the words echoed in Tilda's ears.

"Yes Inspector I know," she told him, leading them all into the drawing room to confess all.


Michelle Ross lives in the North East of England. In her previous job she worked as an education assistant but would ideally like to become a full time writer. She has been writing for the last fifteen years and has previously written for the National trust, 'Ye Olde Witches Brew' magazine and she also writes film reviews. She is currently working on a crime novel set in Victorian England titled 'Mourning Deceit.'


Copyright © 2011 Michelle Ross. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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