“I’ve just had a horrible thought,” said Carl, keeping his voice down.
The adjoining corridor, the turning point in the staircase, led up to more student rooms and the kitchen. They hung around there out of convenience- you open your door and, more often than not, you’ve got company.
But now, having the doors open all the time was a hindrance of sorts. Whenever they went up to the kitchen, just as they turned the corner to step into the communal area, there was a strange odour.
It might have been a familiar one: Andy couldn’t place it, but there were tones that reminded him of… well, something bad.
Heather was easily unnerved, but Carl needed to spit this out.
“That smell upstairs…” he said, voice low, “…well- I’ve not seen the Chinese girl in a while…”
A collective shudder ran through all of them.
Heather, gasping, was the only one to voice her fear. Her Liverpudlian accent was more noticeable than usual. “Oh, Carl, don’t even say that. Oh my god.”
Carl looked across the faces of his housemates- Andy, thinking, maybe… Heather thinking, I hope not…
Carl already saw the BBC bulletin on the Scandal of Salford University Accommodation in his mind… How will Moira Stewart handle this situation?
“Has anyone seen her this week?” Andy asked.
“Her mates haven’t called in ages,” said Carl. “I hope I’m wrong… I mean, y’know… I’ve not even seen her, like, cooking in the kitchen or anything.” Carl, trying to rationalise, acted older than 21. But his maturity wasn’t without weakness. “Go and knock on for her, Heath.”
Heather’s expression said it all- Why the fuck me? It’s your theory.
Carl stepped forward and nodded Heather up. Andy watched them walk up the stairs and out of sight, but not earshot.
A faint knock.
The faint, high-pitched timbre of a female oriental voice flittered down the staircase. Relief started to leak through the cracks of tension. So if it’s not the rotting corpse of a reclusive Chinese immigrant student, lain undiscovered by ten other residents in a Salford flat, Andy thought, what the hell is that smell?
The strained, inaudible and seemingly overly polite conversation that Heather was managing to pull off was drawing to a close. The door clicked shut. Heather staggered down the stairs, leaning on the banister and stifling an outburst of laughter. She took a breath, mouth wide open.
“She’s cooking fresh fish in her room!”