You know it’s a bad day when you wake up in hospital and you hear, “Mr. Turner; I’m a nurse. Do you understand me?”
It was worse when I realized I could not speak and could only nod an acknowledgement to the nurse. She said, “You’ve been in a coma.”
The advantage of no speech was that it avoided really stupid and self-injurious questions.
My hands were also too wobbly to write on a pad of paper so I had to wait for people to tell me things.
“I’m Susan, matron of the floor.”
“You have been in a coma for nearly a month.”
It was good for the matron’s ears that my voice wasn’t working; my language choices would have been questionable.
“I will advise your family and they should be here soon. Go with God.”
This left me time to think. First, when was the last time there was a matron in a hospital? Second, what was with those funky white hats? It reminded me of nurses from old 1950s Hitchcock movies.
The bigger mystery was the VGH (Vancouver General Hospital). Last I knew, I was in Toronto. Then I realized that I could not recall what I was last doing. I lived in Toronto; what was I doing being a coma patient in Vancouver?
I concentrated instead on trying to encourage my arms to move properly. It felt like I had the worse case of pins-and-needles ever. I slowly sipped on water through a straw, trying to see if I could lubricate my throat enough to talk.
Then the matron escorted my mother to my bedside.
This would not have been a problem, or a cause for surprise, had my mother not been dead these past 15 years.
I may not remember how I got into a coma, but I sure as hell remember being by this woman’s bedside when she died of cancer.
I started to choke up with tears and, fortunately for me, the matron interpreted this as happiness at seeing my mother and waking from a coma. The pure shock of someone (who was supposed to be dead) hugging me nearly caused me to faint. My curiosity refused to let me pass out. Also, even if this were the most detailed hallucination ever, it was sure a gift to see my mother again, and in good health. She seemed to have aged pretty well. By my reckoning she’d be close to 90.
If you could describe a mind as racing, that’s what mine was doing, but accompanied by the smell of burning rubber.
It was at this point I made a decision that probably saved me from long term incarceration. My friends describe me as an intuitive introvert: I shut up and think until my instincts tell me what to say and that it’ll be something good to say. My instincts were screaming at me. Something was terribly wrong, and not just wrong in a mixed-up sense, but wrong in a the-tiger-is-going-to-come-into-your-cave-and-eat-you sense.
I did have partial amnesia. My instincts told me that now would be a good time to pretend to have virtually complete amnesia.
For some reason my left hand was moving before my right. I weakly gestured for the pad of paper. On it I scrawled in bad lefty handwriting, “What happened? Is my name Daniel Turner?”
The matron immediately left my side, went to the ward desk and, I assume, called for a neurologist. As she left, she said to my mother, “Go with God.”
“And with you,” replied my mother.
The last time I heard a religious exchange of this sort was at the end of a church service.
My mother sat in the chair by the bed and looked at me. I tried to have a look of puzzlement, as opposed to panic, on my face.
“Yes, honey, you are Dan Turner,” my mother said. “There’s really not much to tell,” she continued. “You were at work and reported to the company’s nurse that you were experiencing headache and nausea. Then you collapsed. They rushed you to the hospital and they could not revive you. They’ve been working on trying to figure out the cause of your illness.”
Well, I thought, that was helpful. My right hand was starting to wake up and I tried writing on the pad with it. “Where do I work?” I scrawled.
“Molson’s Brewery,” my mother said. “You’re in marketing.”
Marketing? I thought. I’m a damned financial analyst. What the hell am I doing in a marketing job?
“I think we better wait for Lindsey to get here.”
“Your wife,” said my mother.
Shit, I thought. This was going to make the amnesia claim trickier. How could I not remember living in Vancouver – with a marketing job – and not remember being married?
What would have been helpful was knowing what did happen. The last thing I remember is picking up my buddy Dale from the office. But what date was that?
“What would be best is to lie back and rest,” said my mother. “Lindsey will be here soon.”
The humour behind needing rest after lying in bed in a coma for a month was not lost on me. However, real rest might help me remember.
I must have fallen asleep. The next thing I knew a rather attractive woman, who was crying and kissing me, was sitting on my bed beside me.
Lindsey, I presume, is what I thought. And then it struck me … I did know her. She had been in my Humanities class at university. I certainly didn’t recall marrying her, but as options went this wasn’t too bad. But where was Vera, my girlfriend?
I lifted a weak arm and put it on her shoulder. Lindsey was ecstatic and grabbed my arm with the same vigour I use when grabbing a life vest. “Honey, I have missed you so much. I’m so glad God brought you back.”
I don’t know about other people, but I have inner voices. The main one I listen to (other than the one that tells me to have more chips) is the one that gives me quiet advice. This same quiet, sensible voice was screaming: “PLAY ALONG!”
My throat was working better, so I muttered, “Lindsey.”
She was a real crier this girl. More tears came and she managed to say that my mother had told her I was suffering from some amnesia.
“How are you feeling?” Lindsey asked.
“Very confused,” I said hoarsely.
“I can imagine,” Lindsey said.
My hands were now moving better. I needed to say little and stay vague. I was trying to determine if I was insane or hallucinating or something else.
“Yeah. It’s so weird. For instance …” I had to stop and sip more water, “… I can’t shake the feeling we live in Toronto.”
Lindsey laughed. “Sweetie, we moved home from Toronto fifteen years ago!”
I smiled. “What’s the exact date?”
“December 16, 2006,” said my mother.
I was still having trouble looking directly at my mother because my memories of her being dead were pretty intense. “Beethoven’s birthday,” I said.
“Silly bear,” said Lindsey. “What a thing to remember.”
“Sorry to be a bother,” I said, “but I really have to pee.”
The doctors tested me and poked me and took blood. I was put into an MRI machine that looked more like a cyclotron at a university. What was going on?
A woman with the subtle technique of a drill sergeant conducted my rehab physio sessions. Regardless, my limbs all started to work and strength returned.
It was the local newspaper The Vancouver Star that made me conclude I was in a different universe. Nothing was right. Canadawas not really a country; it was a Protectorate of the United States of America. So was Mexicoand – from what I could tell – all of South America. The local paper wasn’t giving me what I really needed, which was a history lesson.
Culturally, this place seemed to be Evangelical Christian. There was no mention in the newspaper at all about cultural events in the ethnic communities. There was a huge emphasis on Christmas. I couldn’t help think I was in the middle of an episode of a 50s family drama.
On December 20, I got to go “home.” I was very nervous. Lindsey was being incredibly kind and I was feeling very bad for her, because she must be feeling like her husband had changed beyond recognition. The simple fact was that her husband barely knew her.
I had many questions, but I kept my mouth shut. Lindsey felt like a friend I could confide in, but when I contemplated what I’d do, were I in her situation, I laughed. I imagined saying words like “different universe” or “alternate reality.” She’d likely then say, ah hum, yes dear and proceed to phone her preacher or the police.
It was raining; at least something was the same about Vancouver. Little else was the same. Lindsey drove a Ford Taurus, which looked more like a ’67 Mustang bloated to family car status, and took us to our high rise apartment in Burnaby. I had been born in Vancouver, but had gone to school in Toronto and stayed. The Vancouver I was watching, as Lindsey drove east, was neither the one where I had been born, nor the one I last remembered visiting. It looked liked nothing had been renovated since the 60s. It was dingy, lifeless and colourless.
“Is any of this looking familiar?” Lindsey asked.
“Lindsey,” I said, “you are the best wife anyone could have. This must be so awful for you to be taking care of a man who must be acting like a stranger. I am so sorry and I am working hard to get my marbles back in their bag. However, the answer to your question is yes and no. I recognize all the street names. I bet I could draw you a map. But none of the buildings I remember. Isn’t that nuts?”
“You poor thing. The doctors are hoping that getting out and about will jog your memory.”
“Well, I guarantee you that staying in the hospital wasn’t going to help.”
Inside the apartment was worse. I really did feel like I was in someone else’s place and going though his stuff. I had asked Lindsey to give me time to re-familiarize myself and I went through my alter ego’s personal effects. The thing that startled me was the pictures from his mandatory military service. The other Daniel Turner’s posting from a few years back had been in the navy, looking for German Federation spy submarines.
There were wedding pictures where the other Daniel Turner looked very happy. I felt like I had stolen someone’s life and wasn’t even enjoying it. When I looked in the mirror, I realized that this wasn’t my body. Now that I was out of the hospital, I realized this was Dan Turner’s body, not mine. (I noticed everyone who “knew” me, called me Dan. I had started using Daniel in High School.) I was living in the body that had married Lindsey. Dan was tougher than me. More muscles. Scars.
I wished Vera were here. My girlfriend had a knack of sorting out complicated things.
Then it hit me; Vera was second generation Chinese Canadian. This of course made her as much a hockey-watching, maple syrup loving, poutine-eating Canadian as any of us whities. But, where were the Chinese in this Vancouver? In fact, where were all the Asians? Not to mention the Blacks. And the Natives.
Lindsey looked around the door to the bedroom and asked, “Do you want to go to a Carol Sing tonight at the church? There are a lot of people who want to see you.”
“A lot of people prayed for you.”
“Sure. Let’s do it. But, you’ll help me if I get overwhelmed trying to sort things out?”
It was worth seeing her smile. I could see what the other Dan loved about her.
At least the carols were all familiar. Phew. But man, this church was bleak. It was some flavour of Baptist I’d never heard of but even the Baptists from my world didn’t make the church this damn gloomy.
Oddly, at church, I finally saw some darker skinned people. They had their own area in the church, their own pews, and were separate from the rest of us. Then I remembered a word that was used in the newspapers: thrall. It just hadn’t clicked with me as to what they were talking about. I thought it was some sort of union issue or something. Then I knew: these people were slaves. How the hell did Canada – even under US control – end up with slaves?
Honestly, up until that point, I had my nerves under control. I was never prone to panic but, with the realization that slavery was alive and well in 2006, I pushed out of the pew and ran for the door.
Lindsey followed me and held me while I heaved onto the front lawn of the church.
When I went to bed, I hoped that I’d fall into another coma and wake up at home, my real home.
Of course this didn’t happen. Instead, I woke early, left Lindsey in bed, grabbed the keys to the car, and left a note for Lindsey saying that I was going downtown to the library. At first I went to the wrong building. In this reality the curved quasi Roman looking library had not been built. The library was still located at Robson and Burrard where I remembered there being a big music CD store.
One reason to go to the library was to get out of the apartment and explore by myself. The second was that there was no sign of a computer in the apartment. At the library I noticed that the computers they did have were more like the dumb terminals I used at university in the 80s. There was no sign of the Internet; in fact there was no sign of a GUI. How could it be 2006 and no one had invented a graphics board and mouse-like interface?
It was back to research the old fashioned way. I’m no history buff, so I started with the time I thought the US Civil War happened: 1850s or 1860s – I honestly could not remember the dates.
Interestingly, that war never happened. It came close, but as far as my reading could show, the Confederate States realized that secession would likely lead to a conflict they could not reasonably expect to win. In order not to lose the economic advantage slavery offered, they managed to convince Lincoln that emancipation was not in the Union’s best interests, but that enshrining Rights of Thralls into the Constitution was. This meant that fair and reasonable treatment of slaves was enforced by law. This included a rather ambitious enforcement policy as well as a better tracking of slaves, now called Thralls. They were to be treated as well as could be expected for humans of their type and to be given Christian learning and comfort.
I sat in the library shaking my head. This meant that, had the likes of Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey ever been born, they would have been slaves. Until someone could cure you of being African-American or South Asian, you were a slave and your children were slaves.
This made me wonder … was there ever any jazz?
I wandered over to the music section and it was heavily devoted to classical music. Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and company were all there. Contemporary music was limited to variations on Gospel, Folk and Christian Rock. No sign of Jazz, Punk, New Wave – not even the Beatles.
I returned to the history section and pulled out the 20th Century in Review. I got the distinct smell of propaganda when I read it – kind of like pornography: hard to define, but you know it when you see it. However I was able to glean that WWI and WWII had occurred but with different outcomes. Germany was not as crippled after the Great War, but they were not happy. In WWII, England’s near disaster in Dunkirk was in fact a total disaster in this reality. The English army was all but destroyed and Great Britain capitulated in 1944.
The USA had fought on and convinced both Japan and Germany that taking on the United States and its protectorates – as Canada, Mexicoand the South American countries were called – was unlikely to succeed. In the end Japantook control of the Orient, The Russian Empire controlled what I remembered the USSR used to be and Germanycontrolled Europe. Since then a kind of global détente occurred in which hostilities between parties was limited to skirmishes in places like (surprise, surprise) Afghanistan. However, all four global super powers were spending massive amounts of money on the military. Oddly, no one had dropped a nuclear bomb; Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not happened.
I was getting cross-eyed reading all this stuff and trying to reconcile it with my memories. So, I decided it was time for a coffee break. The startling lack of Starbucks Coffee shops was pretty depressing. At the corner of Robson and Thurlow, there were supposed to be two. There were none: only a tatty diner that served coffee, which could only be described as a brown liquid. Reheated instant coffee from my apartment in my Toronto would have tasted better.
My mind was tripping over the various differences between what I knew and what the books were telling me when suddenly I was stuck by a horrible thought. I grabbed the diner’s menu and looked it over. I asked the waitress at the counter, “Have you ever heard of a bagel and cream cheese?”
“What’s a bagel?” she replied.
“Never mind,” I said, “It’s just a word I heard and I wasn’t sure what it meant.”
I walked back to the library and confirmed my fears. None of the Jews of Europe made it out. God could only imagine what the Russians did to those that fled in their direction. As far as I could tell, there were no Jewish communities in Canada or the US. Were they assimilated? Required to convert to Christianity? There was no mention of the Holocaust in the books because the Allies never re-took Europe and therefore never found out. And it seemed likely that the Germans never mentioned it afterwards. Assuming that the Hitler of this world was pretty similar to the one of mine … It was unlikely that I’d find out.
And it wasn’t like I could ask anyone. They’d think I was crazier than I already was.
“Honey! There you are.” Lindsey had found me.
She expressed concern that I was overtaxing myself.
“I feel fine. Can we go for a walk?”
We made our way down Burrard Street to the water. I tried to walk like I owned the place. But things were familiar, yet not. “I apologize again for being so … disoriented,” I said. “This is incredibly frustrating. Some things feel normal and some aren’t. For example, I want to call you ‘sweetheart’, but I don’t remember for sure if that’s what I call you. Do I?”
“You call me lots of things,” she said with a hint of darkness in her voice. “When you are feeling good, you call me ‘sweetie’ and ‘dear’.”
“I don’t recall what I call you when I’m feeling bad, and I think that’s a good thing,”
“Strangely, you are a lot more thoughtful – in both meanings of the word – since you came out of the coma,” Lindsey said.
We were at the waterfront; there was a cold breeze off the harbour and Lindsey said she didn’t think we needed to catch cold on top of our current challenges. Then, roaring from the west, was a float plane. It looked more like an old WWII PBY Catalina than the Beaver Seaplanes I was familiar with.
Then it hit me: Buttonville.
“Do I like airplanes?” I asked Lindsey.
Buttonville, by the way, is a municipal airport in the city of Markham, north of Toronto. The last thing I remember was executing a final approach to Buttonville airport. This was on the day they say I fell into the coma.
For months and months I had promised my co-worker Dale a trip in the Cessna 172 that I partly owned. As an early Christmas present for Dale, I finally arranged time on the plane and lucked into some good weather. It was unlimited visibility when we took off and I did a pretty typical tour of the area with a sweep down by the lake, past the CN Tower and back up north of the city.
No trouble until the final approach.
Buttonville’s runway 21 was the short one; It was, according to my memory, 2575 feet long, which is plenty for a small plane; the other runway is 4000 feet and is used for the fancier and bigger aircraft. Regardless, I had done my checks:
- Primer – In and Locked
- Master – On
- Mags – On Both
- Temp/Press – Green
- Landing Light – On
- Carburetor Heat – On
- Mixture – Rich
- Fuel – On
- Seat Belts – Checked
- Brakes – Test and off
The windsock was a slightly below the horizontal, meaning the wind was about 10 knots. I was flying into the wind for what seemed to be a pretty typical landing. My passenger, Dale, was calm and enjoying the view.
I was just about to radio Buttonville Tower when the sky suddenly darkened and there was a flash like lightning, which was not normal for mid-November, and then the plane was buffeted by what felt like wind shear. We also had a couple of those nasty and sudden altitude gains and drops, which really makes your stomach unhappy.
No offence to Dale, who was really a man’s man, but he screamed like a girl.
A couple more flashes followed the altitude fluctuations. And that’s all I could remember.
I was convinced that this was my last real memory. What worried me was that my buddy Dale was on the plane with me. If I somehow got here from there, then perhaps Dale’s mind also jumped into this reality. This would be bad; Dale is black.
Lindsey was more attentive of my comings and goings. I had been told by Molson’s that I was not expected back to work until after the New Year. This was a good thing. I wasn’t ready to try and fake a marketing job in an unfamiliar world. Lindsey had taken time off from her legal secretary job.
There also wasn’t much to do at home. I tried the TV once. 6 channels. Leave it to Beaver was on its 49th season and The Dick van Dyke Show was on its 45th. I figured that the only reason I Love Lucy wasn’t on was that Lucille Ball was dead.
It seemed unfair to be misleading Lindsey, but I’d have had more luck convincing her I was from another planet than I would explaining my current theory. To make her feel better and to get me better acquainted with my surroundings, I asked her to take me on memory lane trips. This would allow me the opportunity to re-learn what this Vancouver was all about and to also give Lindsey a chance to feel like she was being a good caregiver.
The utter absence of the gay community in the West End was a bit of a shock. In this Evangelical Christian society I had to assume that the gay/lesbian scene was illegal and those with such proclivities were so far in the closet they were also likely hidden under large disused pieces of luggage. Or, as I feared for the Jews, dead.
One night Lindsey cornered me on a subject I was hoping to avoid. “Have I become unattractive to you?” she asked.
Oh crap, I thought. “No,” I said. That part was the truth. Lindsey was very pretty and I definitely felt the urge when I caught glimpses of her changing and moving about the house in less than full attire. However, my inner gentleman was convinced that to sleep with her would be sleeping with someone else’s wife. So, I avoided the issue while concentrating on trying to figure out where I was.
“Before your coma, you used to rather insistent. Now it’s like you’re some kind of monk. And, you haven’t even looked at the liquor cabinet. What gives?”
“They told me not to drink; and I’m afraid I won’t live up to your expectations,” I said. However, part of me thought this was a lie; one thing I’ve learned about my alter-ego was that Dan was pretty much a lout. I couldn’t help think that Dan Turner’s idea of foreplay was a half bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a big cry of brace yourself honey! I suspected that if I treated Lindsey well, she’d be pretty amazed.
“Why don’t you just let me show you a good time and I’ll tell you later how you did?” Lindsey ran her fingers through my hair and I tingled all down my spine. When in Rome … I just hoped that if by some miracle I ever got home, that Vera would forgive me.
We had to leave for Victoria on the 23rd to go to my family’s Christmas dinner. It was not something I was looking forward to. In my memory I have one brother. Apparently in this world I have an additional brother and a sister. This was going to be odd.
The ferry trip was like being on a WWII destroyer. All aircraft and ships had a truly drab, grey and military feel about them. And the laws against Sunday shopping and so forth were in full play. No ferries were running from 4 PM Christmas Eve until after Boxing Day. (How Canadamanaged to keep its Boxing Day tradition after its being effectively annexed by the United States was a mystery to me.)
At least this incarnation of BC Ferries knew how to make good scrambled eggs.
Victoria was the same. Somehow I was expecting the same differences that I experienced in Vancouver, but Victoria looked and felt the same. They hid the fact that their economy was driven by slave labour better than Vancouver. I still wouldn’t want to live there: the dependence on ferries and the newly wed and newly dead demographics didn’t work for me.
I tried to have fun over Christmas, trying to get to know my “new” brother and sister and their families. But the more they tried to enjoy Christmas, the more I thought of the slaves all over North America, the Jews that never made it out of Europe, and Dale – my friend in the plane – where was he?
“Dan, how are you? You are looking blue.” It was the sister I’d never known. I started to cry.
“What’s the matter?”
“I am so frustrated. I wake up from this damn coma and all I can think about are crazy things.”
“Like what?” Lindsey had heard the commotion and moved toward where I was sitting.
“Jesus didn’t have slaves.”
“You mean Thralls.”
“Thralls, slaves, whatever. Anyway, today I heard a fairly patronizing sermon about obedience. Jesus wasn’t about obedience to anything in this world.”
“But scripture says …” someone started saying
“Stuff scripture. It’s not the word of God. If it were the literal truth, there would have been some reasonable length of time between Judas betraying Jesus and His crucifixion. Somehow between a late dinner and the next morning, Jesus was tried by at least two levels of government, imprisoned, a large crowd assembled, and a long painful walk taken – followed by a lengthy and nasty death.”
This outburst kind of put a damper on the Christmas Party. I left the party and went into a room by myself. Lindsey followed me; she simply sat and stared at me.
Back at home on the 27th I went to the bank, took out as much money as I could, leaving some for Lindsey, and headed to the airport. A flight to Toronto, a rental car, then a fast drive across what I hoped would be recognizable highways to Buttonville Airport.
On the plane, which was one of the noisiest passenger jet planes I have ever been on, I drew out my final speculations on where I might have crashed the Cessna. I would need to see the actual airport to adjust for any local variations. I could not get a good map of the airport at the library. They seemed a little paranoid about access to that kind of information. On Google, I could have got decent satellite maps of the area.
That night I stayed at a truly ugly hotel near Toronto Airport.
The next morning, while driving through the outskirts of Toronto, I was shocked by how bleak it was. Growth of the city was at about 1970s levels and I couldn’t figure out why until I realized that there were many fewer immigrants, particularly from Europe and Asia. Toronto was a very colourless place, even with a light dusting of snow. The infamous highway 401 existed, but not as wide. The 404 wasn’t there at all. I drove north on an undivided highway to Buttonville Airport.
It was quiet at the small airport. On the wall they had a map of the runway, singular. When I was flying here, there were two. I spent some time trying to imagine where things might be, and made some sketches in a notebook. I remembered a lot of development around the airport. In this world, there was only bush and farmland.
Back in the car, I put on more warm clothes, drove north of the airport, parked the car on the side of the road and headed into the bush.
With a compass and map – I had to re-read the instructions on how to do this – I set up a search pattern.
I had to admire my own tenacity. I was pretty darn cold by the time I found the site. The Cessna was hidden among trees and grasses. It looked like it had skidded only a few feet. Given the airspeed, it should have left a greater mark. I took a deep breath and clenched everything from my butt to my jaw before I opened the cockpit door.
There I was. Dead. Frozen solid.
I felt horrified. But relieved. Here was the plane I was piloting, crashed in a world where Cessna 172s didn’t exist. I wasn’t crazy. But this situation was.
I went around the nose section and opened the other door. My passenger, Dale, was equally dead and frozen.
What conclusions was I to draw? Somehow my plane dropped through a hole and landed in this different reality. My mind jumped into the body of my alter ego. OK … what happened to Dan Turner’s mind? The same place we all go when we die?
Worse yet, what if the same thing happened to Dale? That might mean that he’s a slave somewhere.
I stood looking at the two frozen corpses.
There was no way back. There was no reversing the polarity of the neutron flow, or reversing my course through a worm hole, or clicking my ruby slippers a few times. This was the world I was in; like it or not.
Keeping my mind from spiralling out of control was tricky; I kept my cool by focusing on the practical aspects of the here and now. Eventually the locals were going to find this wreck and either it would be covered up, or be the most sensational news story of the century.
Perhaps the most gruesome thing I’ve ever done was this: I moved the dead bodies around enough so that I could retrieve their wallets from their pants pockets. These items would provide me with a reminder of my real past and where I was going.
The sun was setting. It was time to get back to my car and get the hell out of here. I wanted to find Dale. If he existed and was alive, I was going to free him. Somehow.
My life as a fugitive vigilante on a foreign world had officially begun.