Sunday Serial New Year’s Day Finale: Endings and Exeats
What a journey it’s been, since that fateful day the stranger arrived at The Sleepy Corridor. Embrace your NYE hangover and join OLD DAL in the season finale…
Sarah threw herself at Cassandra, and the syringe flew out of the broken window and straight up into the air. In the scramble, she managed to open the car door, using her weight to topple both of them out.
“Here, quick!” The stranger passed Sarah a plastic snow shovel which lay on the floor. “Knock her out!”
Sarah dealt the blow, and Cassandra was out cold.
At this very instant, the syringe fell back down through the air, imbedding itself in Sarah’s left shoulder. She too fell straight to sleep next to Cassandra.
“Shit!” This was all the stranger could manage.
The sound of tyres on tarmac. It was the black Clio that had been seen circling The Sleepy Corridor on so many occasions.
“I’ve got to hide you both now!” he said. The stranger, with all the strength that remained in him, dragged the two bodies back inside the house. Upstairs, Sarah’s parents were just turning off the lights and getting into bed.
The Black Clio came to a slow stop outside Sarah’s house. The sound of a handbreak.
The man and the woman turned to look at each other. She was in the driver’s seat, a fur hat full and aggressive upon her head. He wore plain white T-shirt underneath an aged bomber, and shivered slightly despite the knock-off Renault’s impressive heating system.
“So this is where he’s been all this time.” He was talking for the sake of it. The man and the women had forgotten the code for the radio after the car’s last service, and the journey had taken place in icy silence.
She could sense the tension in his sentence, and winced.
“You’ve seen this house before. I showed you the photos that Cassandra’s been taking remember? And we’ve had it up on Google world…” With this, the woman turned back to face forward, case closed.
“I just didn’t expect it to look like this. It’s bigger than I thought it’d be. It’s…”
“Bigger than our place. I know.”
The silence that followed was punctuated only by the dog of a passer-by which growled nonchalantly at the Clio before being dragged on.
The clock struck midnight. It was Christmas Day.
“Shut up,” she said.
Meanwhile, the stranger was busy bolting the front door. It was of the sturdy sort that you found at National Trust properties with thick oak with sturdy iron latches at the top and the bottom. He gazed up at it for a minute with a feeling that vaguely resembled comfort; things were finally approaching their natural conclusion, he told himself, and this door is on our side. For a brief moment he allowed himself to dream of a time without the pretence, the running, the intrigue; a time without the stranger.
A grumble from the floor jolted him back to the reality that he, the stranger, stood next to another stranger’s Christmas Tree beside two unconscious bodies. Sarah shuffled grumpily in her stupor before half-opening her eyes in the stranger’s direction. Her gaze was muddy, tired, but not confused. She knew exactly what was going on, and couldn’t help smiling.
“You’re thinking about the end of this aren’t you…”
The stranger turned around to fasten the final chain on the door.
“You’re thinking about the time when you’ll no longer be the stranger. I suppose we’ll just have to find another way for you to make sense…”
A single tear gathered weight in the stranger’s left duct, quivering under its own rapid growth before falling voluptuously. Drop. It landed on the face of the Cassandra, a vision in New Look emerald even in her state of unwake, running down her forward, taking a left at the first eyebrow and landing in her own eye socket. Here it congealed unapologetically with her MAC eye shadow which, in turn, ran down her own cheek as a thick, dark tear.
“Merry Christmas,” Sarah murmured as she drifted back out of consciousness.
A knock on oak. Panic.
The stranger glimpsed the silhouettes of the man and the woman in through the distorted stained glass of the door. The fur hat worn by the woman gave her outline the enlarged head of a Roswell specimen. The handle clanked as she tried their luck from the outside. Then the letter box; a dainty, white hand slid through, nails painted blood red.
“Just let us in. You know why we’re here. Don’t make this last any longer than it has to.” The woman’s voice was far raspier than it had been in the stranger’s memory; there was a raw desperation to it now that he hadn’t noticed any of the other times.
The stranger dragged the two bodies into the kitchen. There was a new-found urgency in his movements. He then proceeded to hastily fill a special edition McDonald’s Coca Cola glass with water and pour it over Sarah’s face. No effect. Flustered, he refilled the glass and tried again. Still nothing. Amid the noise of the door knocker clanking a second time, he sank to his knees, took a deep breath and pressed his lips to Sarah’s the way he had seen them do on Holby City.
Sarah awoke before he had even had the opportunity to make the initial breath.
“What are you doing?! I’m not dead!
“You didn’t even check my pulse or anything! The water was quite enough, I was just coming to my senses! And besides, you taste of Turkish Delight. You know I can’t stand Turkish Delight.”
“Sarah we don’t have much time! They’re here!”
Sarah’s eyes widened and she sat up with a start. “Where?”
“At the door!”
The sound of Sarah’s parents upstairs. “Sarah, who’s that at the door? What’s going on?”
“Nothing, mom!” she shouted back. “Those carollers from next door, I’ll appease them with some Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange segments…” This seemed to do it. The sound of the bedroom door closing could be heard, satisfied and sleepy.
Sarah jumped up, closing the door to the kitchen.
“Cassandra came to try to and warn me about you. No doubt they’ve been working with her all this time, using her to spy on us, on you… She’s been here before no doubt, taking photos of this house. That’s how they knew where to find us.”
“Excuse me, I…”
Sarah and the stranger jumped round to find Cassandra awake and sitting up groggily. Her voice was strident and aggravated. Sarah threw a hand quickly over her mouth – they didn’t have time to mess around.
“Cassandra, listen carefully.” Sarah prepared herself to explain. “The stranger means me no harm. How can’t you see that by now? Back in The Sleep Corridor he did our washing up, he wrote your bibliographies for you and put up with your ridiculous referencing expectations… He even bought the real fir for the corridor… It wouldn’t have been Christmas without that, I know you agree with me!”
“Yes, I do agree. We all loved that bloody fir, but…”
“Cassandra, I know you’ve been working for them.”
A look of defeat in Cassandra’s eyes.
“They should be here soon…”
Sarah nodded. “They’re here now. They’re not who they say they are, Cassandra. The stranger is not their son and he is not a criminal on the run. They’ve been lying to you. I suppose they told you that he had a gun too, that he was planning the right moment to kill me? I suppose you believed them to be innocent parents dealing with a problem child gone wild… why hadn’t they gotten the police involved then, Cassandra? Why?”
Cassandra was quiet now. Even the once striking emerald of Brand New New Look Peacoat seemed to have waned.
“Who are they then?”
“You’re not going to believe us.”
“They are us.”
Sarah sighed. The stranger put his arm on her shoulder in support.
“They are us, but in the future.”
“Or more correctly,” the stranger interjected, “we are them in the past.”
FLASHBACK TO EPISODE ONE
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.
FASHFORWARD TO CHRISTMAS EVE
“I hadn’t actually degraded because of cystitis. I had degraded for my own safety. During my second year at Cambridge I noticed I was being stalked… I noticed that the same presence I had felt watching me during my years at sixth form, and on my Gap Year, had followed me to Uni. It all got too stressful. I found myself terrified every time I had to go to the library on my own, I had to be accompanied when I needed the toilet, and I was forced to go on swaps on Sundays just so I wouldn’t be alone in the corridor…”
Cassandra stared in awe. She couldn’t believe it what she was hearing. “Go on…” she urged Sarah.
“What I’m trying to say is that I didn’t degrade because of cystitis. I degraded because I had a break down. It was the stress…”
“But who was stalking you?”
Sarah turned to the stranger, and reached out for his hand, looking lovingly into his eyes.
Cassandra grew more confused.
“During my year out of Cambridge, the stalking continued. One night, whilst I was waiting for bus, he appeared next to be in the queue. I tried to scream, but no sound came out. He urged me that all he wanted to do was talk, and said that he would explain everything on the bus ride. If, by the time we got to my stop I wanted him to leave, he would stay on the bus and I would never see him again but…”
“During the bus ride he told that he too was at Cambridge, that he too had been forced to degrade due to a mental breakdown…”
The stranger smiled, “except I also had cystitis…”
“By the end of the journey, I felt uncannily like I knew the stranger inside out. That he was the only one in the same situation as me… that he was the only one that understood me… When my bus arrived home, the stranger got off with me. I kept him in the shed at the bottom of our garden – Dad had stopped going in there due to his bad back and no one suspected a thing…”
“Yes, but… You are also in the future?”
“When it came time to return to Cambridge, there was an admin error when reinstating our names into the system…” Sarah’s eyes welled up. “When they entered our information into the system… something to do with a problem with our lost Exeat forms… the software backfired, and repeated the data. Written on the forms was that we were returning to do our finals, but that we would be doing our finals every year for the rest of all time. This backfire had happened with such force that a gap was forged in the time-space continuum, and we were doubled too. Whilst two versions of ourselves successfully completed our finals and moved on out of Cambridge, the original versions, us, were doomed to go on sitting and re-sitting our exams forever…”
“How long have you been at Cambridge then?”
“I matriculated in 1978.”
Cassandra felt she was going to faint, and attempted in vain to remove the emerald New Look Peacoat. She was too slow, and collapsed backwards onto the kitchen floor, one arm jauntily caught up in a sleeve. All that was needed was another slosh of water from the limited edition McDonald’s Coca Cola free glass.
“My coat!” She yowled.
“Cassandra listen here! We haven’t finished. Our future selves are outside the house as we speak… They think that in destroying us, they will be free to carry on living their lives as normal. I suppose they feel they would be doing us a favour… They are sick of living with the guilt that we have been in Cambridge sitting our exams for over thirty years, they are consumed by it! What they haven’t understood is that in destroying us, they will destroy themselves too! No copy can exist without its original!”
Something clicked in Cassandra’s head, and she once again jumped to her feat, bathed in cold sweat.
“The presents!” she screamed. “The presents under the tree! Did you not think it was unusual you were being sent so many gifts in the post?”
The stranger and Sarah weren’t following.
“They sent them… the future yous sent them! They’re explosives! They’re programed to go off the moment someone unwraps them!”
Sarah look in horror at the Christmas tree.
That moment the cat, whom they had forgotten to feed and put out, thought he had glimpsed something among the sparkling lights of the Christmas tree. He ran over and, not finding anything, became quickly distracted with a ribbon hanging from one of the parcels.
“NO!” Screamed Sarah, trying to shoo the cat.
As Sarah ran over, the cat only tugged harder at the ribbon, baring his bag legs in playful tug of war.
People from miles away claimed they heard the Christmas Eve explosion. Mind you, this was only so that they would have something to say during the conversations on Boxing Day.
Only one person had been found alive at the scene, the papers reported. This was a young lady of 22 currently taking her final exams at Cambridge University. “Thank the good lord!” many people had exclaimed.
No other bodies had been found at the scene. At least this is what the rumours said. No one had really known who lived in that house anyway – they had always kept themselves to themselves.
It was now NYE and Cassandra had been discharged from hospital. Miraculously she had only received minor injuries. Her emerald coat, they say, had protected her from the blast. She had been treated for shock and delusions caused by severe stress.
“I raise my glass,” declared Cassandra to the other guests at her cousins’ annual NYE party, “for Sarah and for the stranger. They were two good friends of mine, and 2014 won’t be the same without them.”
As the guests clinked glasses, and turned their copy of Bangerz all the way back up to optimum volume, no one noticed the Clio circling the block of flats…