Getting Back to Oojandra
by Todd Cameron
“Have you had any dreams about Oojandra lately?” asked the doctor.
“No,” Bobby lied. Weeks ago the nine year old had already figured out that they preferred hearing lies rather than the truth, as long as they were the right lies. They all wanted to believe he was getting better.
His mother was there, seated in the chair next to him. Dr. Rutherford had very uncomfortable chairs. They had no arms and the backs were too low, covered in some sort of fake leather that was cold and clammy. Everything in the office was a different shade of blue. There were no windows and it always smelled faintly of something that was not quite Play-Doh.
Bobby’s parents had bought him Play-Doh once, but the smell and the texture disturbed him for reasons he could not define. After he had clogged the second-floor toilet while trying to flush it all away, they did not buy it for him again. For days afterward he had washed his hands over and over again, trying to get rid of that awful smell and the creepy feel of it on his skin.
The scratching of Dr. Rutherford’s pen on paper went on and on. All Bobby had said was a simple no, so he had no idea what the doctor could possibly be writing for so long. Bobby had been working hard at keeping his expression calm and his tone of voice normal; he had taught himself not to fidget or look bored. So what was the doctor writing about? Was he doing it on purpose, trying to make him lose his composure?
Something else cut through the scratching of the pen on paper, first a sigh from his mother, then a cracking sound as she rotated her head to work the kink out of her neck. She did that a lot. Bobby wondered what it was that made her neck kink up like that. Some sort of pressure kept building up inside her, requiring the kind of release the pulling of the trigger granted the bullet in a gun.
Bobby’s mother was training for her third shot at a medal in the Winter Olympics. The biathlon, her sport of choice, combined cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. In Oojandra it never snowed, so no one could make you stand for hours in the freezing cold watching how fast they could ski and how accurately they could shoot. No one could lash skis to your feet, thrust poles into your mittened hands, and tell you that you were out having fun.
In Oojandra nothing smelled of Play-Doh, there were no phones to ring, and doctors did not exist. Trying to explain to everyone where he had actually been during his coma was a big mistake. No one wanted to believe in Oojandra. Bobby was shocked by how intent everyone had been on convincing him that it all was just a figment of his imagination.
Bobby could not remember the accident, but he knew what had happened. His mother had left him in the car in front of the drugstore while she ran in to pick up a prescription. A stolen SUV, pursued by a police cruiser, had lost control on a sharp turn and slammed sideways into the parked car. He was only in a coma for nine days, but his time in Oojandra seemed more like weeks. The best weeks of his life, by far; so it made perfect sense that he would want to get back there as soon as possible.
He had spent two months recovering in the hospital. Three days after his release, Bobby finally had an opportunity to grab his mother’s car keys, bolt out of the house in his pajamas, get in the car, and figure out how to back it down the driveway into the street, where he hoped to be broadsided by a vehicle driving too fast to hit the brakes in time. Cars blared their horns, swerving madly around him, as his mother, the hired nurse, and the housekeeper ran around screaming, pulling in vain at the handles of locked doors, pounding on rolled-up windows.
Two police cars, an ambulance, and a fire engine responded to the 911 call placed by his mother. His father even showed up, leaving the office for a whole ninety minutes, although his eyes were glued to his Blackberry most of the time, thumbs punching away at the tiny keys, as usual.
They decided he was delusional and suicidal, which was ridiculous; Bobby was not crazy and he was certainly not trying to kill himself. He just wanted to go back into a coma. All the guns in the house were locked up extra tight; an unnecessary precaution because blowing his head off was not going to get him to Oojandra. Another precaution did foil his next plan though; they moved his bedroom to the first floor, eliminating the opportunity to swan dive down that long flight of oak stairs.
A door with a lock was installed in the entrance to the kitchen, where all the knives were. Surveillance cameras were linked to PDAs his father purchased for his mother, the housekeeper, and the hired nurse, to keep track of him at all times. They brought in a tutor rather than allow him back to school unsupervised. After it became clear they were determined to persist in this state of house arrest till the doctors decided he was out of danger, Bobby suspended all plans to induce a coma, concentrating instead on convincing them he was better now.
Bobby told them he had stopped dreaming about Oojandra, when in fact he was dreaming about it more and more. The dreams, however, only served as constant reminders that he was no longer there. In the dreams he was never fooled into believing he was actually ther;, the experience was no deeper than the memories sparked by viewing pictures from last summer at the lake. Bobby knew the difference very well, but the doctors kept questioning him about reality and make believe, on and on, never giving it a rest.
As tiresome as it was feeding carefully made-up answers to Dr. Rutherford, he kept his cool and got through to the end of the session without cracking, even when the doctor brought out those stupid drawings and he was supposed to tell him what was going on in them. Bobby really hated that game.
The sessions always ended with Dr. Rutherford calling in the secretary to bring him back into the waiting room, where he would have to sit with the hired nurse while the doctor talked to his mother in private about his progress. He had been behaving himself for weeks, but there was still no easing of the restrictions placed on him. Bobby wondered if today that might change.
When she stepped out of the office the expression on his mother’s face was the same as last time, and the time before that, and the time previous. Was he that bad a liar? Would they never believe him? Bobby tried to hide his disappointment when his mother took his hand without a word and led him out into the hallway. The hired nurse followed like a well-trained dog.
At the end of the hallway, the elevator doors opened; to Bobby’s amazement Tarsi stepped out. Tarsi was from Oojandra. What she most looked like was a cross between a monkey, a cat, and a stork. She moved quickly on those long, stilt-like legs. His mother missed it, apparently lost in thought, moving forward on autopilot. Since there was no gasp of surprise coming from behind him, he assumed the nurse missed it too. Tarsi winked at him as she hurried past.
Since coming out of the coma there had been no messages from Oojandra, let alone visits from its residents. Bobby had always assumed he was on his own when it came to getting back; was Tarsi here because they had given up on him returning on his own? Were they coming for him now? Was he about to be rescued?
If so, how were they going to do it? Why had Tarsi risked being seen coming out of the elevator? Had Tarsi sabotaged it? Dr. Rutherford’s office was on the fifth floor; if the elevator plummeted down to the lobby, would it be same as the impact of a stolen SUV slamming into a parked car? If only he could get back into a coma, he would never let the doctors trick him into returning to this world again.
What would happen to his mother and the nurse? Would they end up in Oojandra too, or somewhere else? Would he pass over again, leaving them both behind, dead or crippled? Bobby had never intended for anyone else to get hurt, but it was beginning to look like that would be the consequence because his parents persisted in interfering. He considered telling them not to take the elevator, but that would have just led to all sorts of questions he could not answer without admitting Oojandra existed.
When his mother pushed the Down button, the doors immediately whooshed open and they stepped into the elevator. No one else was on board. His mother pushed the button for the underground parking. That produced an urgent buzzing sound, the elevator standing still and the doors rapidly sliding open and closed over and over, all on their own. Only one of them could get out at a time, so his mother pushed him back into the hallway, dashing out herself as soon as the doors opened again. The nurse came next.
Too late, Bobby realized that he could have run for it. He would have had a head start. That must have been the opportunity Tarsi was creating for him, except he had not caught on to it in time; his mother and the nurse were never in danger. Bobby hoped his friends from Oojandra had a back-up plan that would give him a second chance.
They took the stairs down to the underground parking, his mother complaining bitterly about the inconvenience all the way down. The nurse knew to keep her mouth shut. Bobby did too; his mother appeared to have no need for anyone to corroborate her feelings of injustice. He suspected she just repeated them out loud in an effort to commit them to memory until the next time she shot target practice.
Sometimes Bobby wondered if his mother loved winter so much because to her it felt like all the snow, cold, and ice flowed right out of her. That was the world she would choose to create with a spell if she were a sorceress. Winter all year round. She would sit on a throne carved of ice, dressed in polar bear furs, flanked by arctic foxes. His father would be indifferent to the change as long as he had his Blackberry.
Down in the underground parking he glimpsed Turg leave the cover of a concrete pillar to slip between two parked cars and duck out of sight. No mistaking who it was, with that slinky-like motion, and blue faces on either end. Bobby scanned the rest of the parking lot, but did not spot anyone else from Oojandra skulking about.
His mother put him in the back seat of the Lexus they had bought to replace the Range Rover totaled in the crash. The hired nurse slipped in beside him. Mother got behind the wheel. The door handles had been removed in the back, the power locks and window controls set so only the driver could operate them; the only way to get out was if the driver unlocked the doors from up front and someone opened them from outside. On the way to the exit they drove past the parked cars Turg had ducked between, but by then he was already gone.
They had driven twenty minutes in silence before her mother announced they would have to stop at the pharmacy so she could fill a prescription for Bobby, something new Dr. Rutherford wanted him to try. The nurse knew no comment was expected of her, so she stared straight ahead and kept her mouth shut.
The pharmacy was on the next block. It was the place where the accident occurred, but it was close to home and his family had been going there for years, and Bobby did not seem to mind. As far as his mother or the nurse could tell, there was no trauma associated with that location by the boy; this time though, his mother felt uncomfortable when she saw the only parking available was in exactly the same spot she’d used on the day of the accident. She hesitated for a moment, and then pulled in anyway.
She shut off the car, let herself out, and strode briskly off into the pharmacy. Bobby was bored by it all, till he saw Tarsi peek up from the back seat of the car parked in front of them. When Tarsi could tell she’d gotten his attention she popped her head up far enough to flash him a big grin, then ducked back down. Bobby craned his neck around to look out the back window of the Lexus. Turg was looking over the dashboard of the car parked behind them, one of his blue faces grinning ear to ear at him.
Bobby was expecting Tarsi to open the front door of the Lexus to release the locks in the back, and Turg to pull the back door open so he could go with them, except they made no move to leave the cars they were sitting in, and his mother was bound to be out any minute. So what was the plan, Bobby wondered?
That was when he noticed the sound of the police siren fast approaching. There was also a screeching of tires trying in vain to grip the road in spite of high velocity and the sharpness of the turn. All of it sounded familiar. It reminded him of when he pointed the remote at the television, turning on the set and then the cable box: another world waking up, blooming in full color, motion and noise, on the blank screen.
This was perfect. It was going to happen right here, all over again; perhaps this was the only place it ever could happen. Tarsi and Turg may have even been there the first time it happened. What if the first time had not been an accident?
Bobby looked out his window. He could see the SUV losing control. He would’ve liked to have been able to tell the nurse to step out of the car before it was too late, but there was no way for her to get out, even if she heeded his warning.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
The nurse just looked down at him with a puzzled expression.
“I’m sorry my mother locked you in the back here with me.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Because this will probably get kind of weird for you.”
Bobby watched her focus shift from his face to over his shoulder, where she must have seen the SUV hurtling towards them, because her eyes went very wide and she screamed.
Todd Cameron lives in Vancouver, Canada. His previous stories: “The Horror Novelist’s Daughter,” “Veronica in Chalk,” “A Night in the Orchard,” and “Phone Calls to Outer Space” have appeared in Spinetingler, Demolition, Crime & Suspense, and Shred of Evidence. He is a cat person, not a dog person, and he is just as superstitious as any other supposedly logical person.