Carlina could not believe this was actually happening. She had watched the movies and read the books about people being able to time travel but she didn’t really think it was true. As an executive at a public relations firm in Chicago, the lead singer of a popular club band and a part-time palm reader, she certainly ran in the kind of circles for such an experience if it was even possible.
And, now, she believed it was.
Having explored her inner world in so many ways over her 38 years of living – scads of psychotherapy, meetings with a shaman in Mexico, exploring past lives under hypnosis, dropping acid, attending week long meditation retreats and even trying Ayahuasca in the Amazon, Carlina was in search of her best and purest self. In perpetuity. Despite the deep inquiry, or perhaps because of it, her image of herself was one of confidence and accomplishment in everything she endeavored to do.
She felt that others respected her and thought she was super intelligent, insightful and fun to be around. Her self-esteem was well intact.
When she met a strange but intriguing fellow at a party one recent Saturday night, she couldn’t help but wonder if his unusual proposal could be for real and if so, well, how could she pass it up.
“Hey. Who are you and why are you here?” The man approached her after Carlina noticed him staring at her from across the room.
Dressed in an odd mix-and-match outfit that was one part Versace, one part flea market finds draped across an extremely fit body for a man his age, he stood before her with a beautiful, thick black mane pulled tightly into a ponytail. He was Euro-bohemian and otherworldly all at once.
“I’m Carlina Stack. Who are you? And why were you staring at me so overtly?” Carlina was known for her direct way of communicating.
“Oh, lady. I’m on your vibe. We have things to talk about and no time to waste. Well, time. That’s a whole thing, now isn’t it. People don’t know. Think life is linear when it’s really circular. You didn’t answer my question. Why are you here,” he said again, eyeing her to see if she was catching his drift.
Carlina studied him carefully to discern his true nature. This was something she prided herself on, her intuitive ability to read others, something she fine-tuned through her work as a palm reader.
“I’m here for Alice’s birthday, like everyone else, of course. She’s one of my best…” Carlina started.
“No, no. Why are you here. What is your purpose. What are you here to do in this life?” he probed.
“What are you talking about, I don’t even know you, we’ve just met and you act like…” Carlina began. She paused a minute noticing him deeply staring into her eyes. She considered his words for a minute.
“I do agree with you about time, though. What are you exactly getting at?” she asked with all sincerity.
“What if I told you I time travel. To the past. To the future. And I’ve taken a few people with me, interested parties who are truth-seekers …. it is the only way to find the absolute, you know. Traveling through time, it gives us the whole picture, not just the dribs and drabs of fleeting moments that we’re barely paying attention to. I’ve seen my whole life, lady. What about it. You want to try it?” he said, staring at her with a glint of knowing in his eyes.
To Carlina it sounded like he had some new drug he was peddling and she had already been there, done that. But this WAS different, she felt, as she looked him up and down, assessing this odd stranger. From the ground up, she took in his stylish, lace-up shoes that came to shiny black points at his toes. His loose-fitting gray trousers that hung off his perfect hips.
Encasing a perfectly sculpted torso and shoulder girdle, he wore a black and red T-shirt with an image of a UFO and something written in Sanskrit underneath it – clearly a custom printed shirt by some local artist, she thought. He wore a gorgeous stone of turquoise in each pierced ear, a gold nose ring and what looked like a bit of black eyeliner to accent his brilliant blue eyes. And that hair. Was that the hair of a man of 70, she wondered, though it looked neither manufactured nor dyed.
Carlina met his eyes again as her gaze reached his face and felt a kind of spell cast over her. An uncanny familiarity in his visage. A karmic connection. Breaking the moment, she looked around the room to ground herself. It seemed like no one was even aware of them, like they were almost invisible. She scanned the room for her friend Alice, whose birthday they were all gathered here for, but could not find her. She needed some sort of acknowledgement that this guy was real and connected to this group in some way.
“Don’t look away. I’m Here. I’m Now,” he said and with that her eyes met his again.
“What exactly are you offering? I mean, I’ve been in the rear-view already, know all about my past lives and relationships and struggles and all that, so that’s nothing new,” she said in a smarter-than-thou way to the man who was unmoved by her sass. “What’s your name, anyhow?” she asked.
“No matter. But you can call me Sage.”
“Oh, brother, ok, ‘Sage’, like I said, what are you selling and why should I buy it?”
“I’m not selling anything, Miss Carlina, I just know your antennae are up for this experience and I’m willing to be your guide.”
“Hey, how do you know my name?” Carlina asked.
He flashed a knowing smile, revealing the tiniest but sexiest sliver of a gap between his two front teeth. “I know you because we’ve been together in the future. And I know there is stuff you need to see, to hear, to know about yourself if you ever hope to be the fully formed person you have been striving to be. And to steer you clear of all the gunk you’re letting get in your way.” With that he lightly touched her hand and walked away.
Carlina felt frozen in time. She watched the mysterious stranger dissolve into the crowd and then, looking down at her hand, discovered a piece of paper folded up neatly in fours resting in the palm of her hand. She looked around for a place to set her wine glass down so she could open the note, a note smelling vaguely of exotic oil and herb.
Sage Traveler. Best Past Lived. Best Self Forward. Always in the Present.
415-845-1111, the note said, in a perfected hand-written script. Carlina couldn’t take her eyes off the note. Just then, Alice appeared with a bottle of champagne.
“Hey, sweetie, where’s your glass? Have some champagne to celebrate ME!” Alice said with a flourish of her free hand. She was as bubbly as the contents of her bottle.
“Hey, Alice. Who is that intriguing older man that I was just talking to…Sage something. I think he’s from San Francisco? His phone number is, anyway,” she said reaching for her wine glass and draining the last swallow to make room for Alice’s pour.
“Girl, I don’t know half the people here!” she said as she filled Carlina’s glass with expensive French champagne. Nothing but the best for this crowd, Carlina thought as she eyed the label while Alice tipped the bottle up to her lips to catch the last of it.
“Oh, well, hmmm, I was just talking to him…he’s captivating really. Kind of strange, but in a good way, ya know what I mean?”
“Sure, honey. Hey, I’ve gotta go get another bottle, these folks are insatiable! Come with me to the kitchen. You can tell me more about your mystery man,” Alice said.
And the two trotted off together to find more champagne and edibles for the crowd that seemed like it had doubled in the last few minutes.
The day Carlina decided to dial the number on that little slip of paper, it was one of upheaval at work followed by a scrape with her brother on the phone over politics and she just felt worn out. Why does everything seem in turmoil all of a sudden, she wondered, as she sipped a warm cup of chai at the kitchen table of her Lincoln Park apartment. She remembered the stranger’s note she had placed prominently in a small hand carved bowl on her bedroom dresser that held sacred tchotchkes from all over the world.
Holding her cup in both hands, she stood and casually ambled into her bedroom to get the note, sitting down on the sofa across from her bed to ponder it a bit.
“I’m just gonna call him. That Sage. What could that guy be all about?” she said to herself out loud.
The voice on the other side of the phone was clearly him. She had pressed the number impulsively on her cell phone and waited. It was as though he was expecting her call that very minute, so nonchalant and open, he was. So receptive.
“Well, I was just wondering …. I had this really crappy day and it has me in a funk. Could we talk some more about that ‘time travel’ thing you mentioned? I mean, are you for real, dude, or was that just some new kind of pick up line or what?” Carlina asked with a little laugh.
Silence on the other end made her feel uncomfortable but as soon as he spoke, she felt right at home with him. He explained how real he actually was, how serious. And he asked for her seriousness as well, a commitment to taking this journey together with deep faith, fearlessly, with open curiosity. In a few minutes, a plan was made to meet in a neutral place to discuss things further.
They met on a Saturday afternoon in a nearby park and when Carlina arrived at the very specific and magnificent tree he had described to her on the phone, she wondered for a moment what exactly she had agreed to. Sage was standing under the tree waiting for her, a pink woolen blanket with various things laid out across it at his feet. His bare feet.
“Hello. I made it. Aren’t you supposed to have some kind of capsule for us to climb into or something,” she said with a nervous laugh, “What’s all this?” she asked, waving her hand in the direction of the blanket.
“Let’s sit,” he simply replied.
Carlina kicked her slides off and sat down on the blanket, watching the nimble man slip effortlessly into the Lotus position. He smiled at her and said, “First tell me how you see yourself. Then tell me where on the Orbital Continuum you wish to go…how far in the future, I mean.”
Orbital Continuum, Carlina thought to herself. This guy is really something. But she was one to explore the depths in all ways possible, so she took a deep exhale and dove in head first.
“Well, I think I’m really smart. Always the smartest person in the room. I grok things that most people don’t ever even see. I’m deep. I mean, really deep. I seek the truth. And, ummm. . .well, I think I have good friends, I’m someone people look up to for advice because I’m so smart. My siblings always listen to everything I have to say because I know so much more about things, everything, than they do. I’m just more evolved and I think they see that and want to learn from me. Well, maybe not my brother right now, but that. . .that’s a whole long story. And, let’s see, I’m a hard worker, I climb the ladder and succeed. I have integrity at work, I mean I always put my best foot forward.” She stopped talking and waited for some kind of a response from Sage.
“How about your best self. Not just your foot,” was all he said.
While Carlina pondered his comment, Sage pushed a book forward across the blanket closer to her and opened a small satchel that sat in front of his crossed legs, extracting a small blue bottle, holding it in his hands and up to his heart.
“You say you are a truth-seeker. How do you do with the truth when it’s not what you thought it should be. Not what you want to hear. I’m saying this because we’re heading there and you have to be ready,” he said, turning the small bottle around in his hands like a precious talisman. “It’s not a question. It’s a caveat.”
Sage instructed her on what would happen next. They would have her read a few passages from the book while they sipped on the contents of the bottle together. This worried her momentarily but she’d bought the round-trip ticket and it was time to get on board. He placed the book on her lap with pages marked with colorful strips of cloth. He opened the bottle and handed it to her telling her first just to smell it, then take a very small sip.
Carlina took the bottle from his warm hand, sniffed it just above its rim which immediately caused her face to scrunch. It smelled awful! Worse than her sister’s backyard compost pile and then some. Certainly, it could not be palatable enough to consume. He nodded to her and said, “Small sip,” and nodded again. She put the blue bottle up to her lips and took the smallest taste. It didn’t taste anything like it smelled, in fact it tasted like. . .nothing.
Cleaner and clearer even than water. She looked at him with surprise and he simply lifted the book from her lap as he took the bottle from her hand and told her to read the first passage. She noticed there was no title on the cover, no identification of a subject or an author, just a blank off-white cover.
As she began to read while he handed her the bottle back and forth between them, Carlina could feel herself slipping away from the present reality and drifting towards somewhere else. Falling into a deep trance, she set the book aside and lay on her back as the sun grew dimmer on the horizon.
Carlina sat across from Alice at their favorite coffee house two weeks after she met Sage under his magical tree.
“Alice, it was the most important place I’ve ever been to in my life. My future,” she said, after sharing the whole story of her time travel with Sage. She told Alice how she fell asleep and woke up to herself walking the streets of her neighborhood as an older woman in her 70s. Everything had changed but was somehow the same, too. She told Alice about hearing the voices of those she worked with talking about her in the past tense in derisive tones, how she had been a know-it-all who no one wanted to listen to with her crack-pot theories and ideas. “Good riddance,” they’d shouted.
All the people she thought respected her actually thought she was an annoyance and wanted little to do with her. Merely tolerated her.
“At one point, I was in a room with my family and my brother was there telling everyone how sad he was that he hadn’t spoken to me in decades, after ‘the big falling out’, and how I just didn’t understand how to respect others boundaries. That he had tried telling me repeatedly that all my self-discovery pursuits were fruitless gunk and how I missed the point altogether. He said he wished I could see myself the way others see me, that it would be a gift. An opportunity to turn the tide. But most importantly, he said if he could turn back the clock and make things right with me, convince me how to really love, he would,” she explained.
“Then at the end of it I woke up and it was dark out and Sage drew me into his arms and we just laid there in the dark under the stars for a while. His last words to me were to ‘find the light’.” I haven’t seen him since. I’ve tried calling him but his number seems out of order or something…”
A dampness came to Carlina’s eyes then and Alice said, “What is it, Car, is it for real this story? What does it all even mean?”
“Just that. Find the light. I need to learn how to love. I can put my best self forward and undo that terrible narrative of my future if I really want to. Now. That’s what Sage told me. He said love is all we are. All we have. All that is important. Without it we’re just dust.
He said, Love. It’s in me. It always has been. I just need to coax it out. Let the sun rise brightly within me and when it sets, it will set over calm seas.”
© 2020, Mary Corbin
Best Self Forward is from the “Ephemerata” collection. Featured artwork: “Memory Whisper” – painting by Mary Corbin. No reprints without permission. This story was also published in Chance Encounters, Dec. 2020.