The first thing that hit me was the stench.
It punched its way past my nostrils and soft palate to the back of my throat, which immediately closed itself, partly to stop the foul fumes from travelling any further down, into my lungs and gullet, and partly to stop my dinner from coming up.
I clamped my nose shut with my finger and thumb, and set my lips to the tightly locked position. It was no good, though. I could even smell it through my eyeballs... and maybe my ears, too.
I looked at Mickey, expecting his face to reflect the shade of pale green I was sure was on my own face, but he looked just fine and dandy, thank you. Then I remembered that he was getting over a bad head-cold, and probably still had no olfactory senses. Lucky guy.
I realised that I would soon have to open either my mouth or my nose, unless I wanted to suffocate. Remembering what the first hit had been like, I wondered if that might be preferable. Or perhaps forgetting the entire thing would be the best option. I turned toward the window, my nostrils still in my own vice-like grip.
'' Chris!'' hissed Mickey, grabbing my elbow so hard that my fingers slipped off my nose, and I took an involuntary breath. A wave of nausea rolled up from my stomach to my throat, and I thrust my face into the gap between the window and the frame, and took a lungful of fresh night-air.
''Can't stay, Mickey.'' I said, then took another breath. ''It stinks too bad.''
''Don't be such a girl.'' said Mickey. ''You'll get used to it.'' He tugged my arm. ''I have, already.'' I wondered if he was getting any of it at all. If he was, it was well watered down. It smelled as if all the cats in the world had come by here daily for the last twenty years, with the specific intention of using every inch of floor space for their bodily eliminations. I assumed that Mrs Timmins had either lost her own sense of smell, or was immune to the vile fumes. It was horrible. No. It was worse than that. It was evil.
I breathed slowly, through half-closed lips, letting as little air in as possible, and followed Mickey, who had pulled out a penlight, and was making his way across the hallway, on tiptoe. I tiptoed too, wanting my shoes to make as little contact as possible with this reeking carpet. But then, I was coming to the conclusion that I might actually want to throw the shoes away after this. The smell had probably infiltrated into them permanently.
The door on the right probably led to the living room. Mickey turned the handle and opened the door a tiny crack, then poked his penlight through the gap, and pressed his eye up against it. I could already smell that this room was ten times more pungent, so I turned my head and took a deeper breath, wishing I could have a hose leading from the open window, or maybe a respirator. But that was plain silly. Still, it crossed my mind that what I was breathing in here could even be toxic.
I followed Mickey into the room.
I had never in my life seen so many pairs of eyes looking at me at the same time.