The Sunday Serial: Episode 1 – The Arrival

In the first episode of The Tab’s Sunday Night Serial, Sarah recieves a mysterious knock at her door… But is it merely a disorientated drunk or will the visitation lead to something altogether more life-changing?

cambridge unviersity cliffhanger episode 1 intrigue l'étranger murder mystery sarah livingstone Sunday night fiction Sunday night serial the arrival the stranger whodunnit

Sarah wasn’t anything like a fresher. In fact, she was so far from being a fresher that she had tutted that evening as she looked at the queue for the bar. She had wanted a pack of salt and vinegar McCoy’s but had decided that the long wait would have made her angry, and that, at her age, she should be keeping an eye on her salt intake.

Having degraded mid-third year due to particularly violent resurgence of cystitis, Sarah now found herself taking her finals at the age of 23. Some of her childhood friends were now married. Others had had children, or worked at Goldman Sachs, or both. A few others, however, were re-watching the first series of Breaking Bad in their parents’ home in a town suffixed –ampton in an attempt to forget the £23.50 they had been loaned by Susannah two weeks ago during a night out at the local Walkabout. Sarah repeated this last fact to herself aloud, and it made her feel better for a while.

It was week two of Michaelmas and Sarah had had time to get to know her fellow corridor inmates. It seemed, at least, that a small, self-sufficient community was mid-blossom. Everyone, quite cleanly, had their own room, their own function, and their own IKEA-bought wok.

First, there was Cassandra, the corridor matriarch, who would often sit with a mug of hot Ribena in the gyp room in wait of a troubled pasta-maker whom she might comfort, or a sexually edified Marm-spreader whom she might congratulate. When in her room, she enjoyed waltzing between her scent-candles in a wardrobe of various silk robes (all emerald) whilst occasionally pausing to complain about Proust on her iPhone 5s.

Then there were Jamie and Sam; the resident betrothed. They had met at adjacent treadmills in the college gym, progressed to holding each other’s feet during up-and-twist crunches and now sat for hours on their mutually bought beanbag discussing marriage, children and kitchens with kitchen-islands. Said talks had revealed a mutual desire for a house in the country, with the opportunity for weekend city breaks. He would work as a consultant; she as a music therapist. They would have a dog named Luke and an upright Steinway with Christmas duets stored in the stool.

Completing the ensemble was Jan, the placid CompSci with wonderful abs yet poor hygiene; and Emma, ex-ticket seller for Big Fish Ents turned workaholic with phobia of accidentally biting into the stick in the middle of ice-lollies. There was also Trevor who hadn’t been sighted for over a week, but whose distant grunts during Tuesday night Bake-Off counted as signs of life enough to not worry the porters. Some say he kept a pet spider in there. Others say it was a woodlouse, that its name was Jerry, and that he fed it hot dinners once a week.

The night that the stranger arrived was a devastatingly banal one. It was raining outside – yet not enough for it to be exciting or for it to feel cosy under your duvet – and the corridor toilet was blocked again with fluey tissues. The Wi-Fi in Y block wavered as Sarah refreshed 9gag with half-closed eyes, and someone outside was whisper-swearing at their bike lock.

stranger

The silhouette moved slowly through the college. At first, Sarah thought nothing of it, passing it of as that of a disorientated reveller on his way to the vending machines.

But then there was something its clothing. It wore a well-tailored, elegant tweed lounge suit overlayed with a spotless trench coat. Its head bore a top hat and its front pocket a pocket-watch. There was a private urgency to its walk. Curiously, it wore no shoes, and its feet and lower trousers had been ravaged by mud and brambles.

Sarah turned back to her work, and forgot about it with a swig of her Schweppes tomato juice. She swapped her black Berol for her red Berol and added the words “pathetic phallacy indicates use of cliché” to her pre-essay spider diagram.

Suddenly came a knock upon the door so urgent that Sarah let out a small whimper in spite of herself.

Before she could even say “Come in!” the door burst open to reveal the silhouette previously seen crossing the quad.

“You have to hide me,” it said. “You have to hide me now.”

Sarah, who had grown accustomed to this kind of behaviour on a Saturday night, rolled her eyes and made to get up in the hope of chasing this bore. Yet something in the silhouette’s eyes told Sarah that this was far more than a game of Sardines gone wrong, or the result of a disastrous night at the ADC bar.

“There’s a washing basket in the cupboard…” began Sarah. “Hide yourself in that for now. I’ll lock the door.”

Who could the eerie visitor be? Has Sarah finally broken her string of Tomato-Schweppes and essay Saturdays? Will the corridor matriarch ever deviate from emerald? Come back for more next Sunday…