Vintage travel posters covered the walls of the small office. The Bridge of Sighs, Cinque Terre, Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat, Ayers Rock, Kilimanjaro, the Great Pyramid, Rio, Times Square. And many other famed and far off places.
Travis Kite sat across from the wan-looking woman who appeared as if ready to pass from this world, though he did not think she was ill. Her frailty was borne of grace. As if nothing tied her to the corporeal. Her blues eyes were deep and soft. And, in an instant, her very substance and stature seemed to double as she smiled and asked, “What kind of change are you looking for, Mr. Kite?”
Flummoxed by her suddenly voluminous smile, Travis took a moment to process the question.
“I’m looking to travel, not change, Ms. Carraway.”
“Fiddlesticks,” she challenged as her smile impossibly broadened. “I know travel and change to be one and the same. One cannot travel and not be altered. That is why I never ask a potential client where he or she would like to go. My agency is centered upon what a client wishes to become.”
Her last words filled the small room with anticipation. Travis inwardly squirmed. “I just want to get away. Go someplace new. My friend Leonard said you were good at that.”
Ms. Carraway nodded. “Mr. Sherman takes full advantage of what my agency offers. I hope you are able to as well. Tell me what you have in mind.”
Eyeing the posters that surrounded them, Travis considered, “You must have been to most of these places. Which would you recommend?”
“I recommend,” Ms. Carraway said as she trained her soft eyes on his, “that you tell me what’s happened to you this past year.”
Leonard had warned him that Ms. Carraway could be intense. Relentless. That the initial interview was a bit like visiting a psychotherapist, but he insisted the end result was worth the grilling.
Based on the change Leonard had undergone Travis was willing to be patient. Two short years ago, Leonard’s life had been a wreck. His marriage fell apart, and a dragged out divorce left him seriously adrift and bitter.
Then, after a trip arranged by Ms. Carraway, Leonard came back revived. He buzzed with new energy and positivity, though he wouldn’t tell Travis any of the specifics of his travels. He had explained that trying to put it into words would ruin the experience and that Travis would have to trust him with the assurance that it had been the trip of a lifetime, changing him to his core for the better.
Leonard’s transformation had been obvious. Now, Travis needed some of that same magic.
“What do you need to know?” he acquiesced.
“What brought you here?”
It was complicated. His job. His aging parents. Relationships that never lasted. He was in his early forties and life didn’t seem to be panning out. He’d begun feeling empty and unmotivated like he’d missed the bandwagon. He couldn’t possibly tell a stranger all this, and yet he spent the next half hour doing just that.
With a slight incline of her head, Ms. Carraway listened. She took no notes. Made no interruptions. Just sublimely listened. When Travis finished, she closed her eyes, and he felt like he was watching her sleep. He turned away and focused on a poster of the Panama Canal, until she stirred after a few moments.
“Thank you,” she purred. She rose from her seat and went to one of the posters on the wall. She tapped on it. “This is what you’re seeking, Mr. Kite.”
“The Taj Mahal? India? I don’t know. That’s not what I was envisioning. I have a delicate stomach. I’ve heard the food and smells can be overwhelming.”
Ms. Carraway silenced his objections with a wave of her slender hand. “This poster of the Taj Mahal does not represent a place anymore than any of these others do. They represent a change, a way of becoming. When you travel with my agency, where you actually end up is determined by your fortitude. Your will power.”
She tapped on the poster once more. “From what you’ve told me, you are seeking to build a lasting purpose. The Taj Mahal represents the portal that will take you there, though only you can determine how to reach your destination.”
“I don’t get it. How can you make travel arrangements for me if you don’t know where I’m going?”
“I don’t have anything to do with where you are going. You decided that long ago.”
Travis threw up his hands. “If I hadn’t seen what you’d done for Leonard, I’d think you were completely batty. What’s the deal here? Can you please explain this to me before I give up on the whole idea?”
Ms. Carraway’s lithe form expanded with her smile. “Did Mr. Sherman ever share any details of his travels with you?”
“No. He said it would diminish the experience. I didn’t press him, though I thought it was odd. People generally like to talk about their travels.”
“True. Mr. Sherman couldn’t share anything about his journey because you simply would not have believed him.”
Travis eyed her warily. “Where did he go?”
Ms. Carraway gestured to a poster of the Grand Canyon. “He went back to the beginning of time to watch the earth form, one geologic age at a time.”
Travis watched her closely for any hint of humor or metaphor. He saw only candor.
“What are you talking about?” he insisted. “Did you hypnotize him or what?”
Ms. Carraway gently shook her head and sat down. “You see, that’s why he could not tell you. Hypnosis would seem a most rational explanation, but it is not what I do here. Let me be frank, Mr. Kite, I facilitate space-time travel through the manipulation of branes.”
“B-R-A-N-E-S,” Ms. Carraway patiently spelled out. “The planes of existence that form the multiverse. Infinity can only be measured by possibility. Every event and decision branches into the substance we loosely term existence and which is totally unrelated to reality. Reality is a construct. Just like humans invented time to prevent things from happening all at once, reality is our way of keeping universes from colliding at decision points—which would be very messy for us.”
“This is crazy talk.”
“Not at all. It’s just beyond your realm of experience, though it needn’t be.”
“Did you tell Leonard all this?”
“All my clients need a certain re-orienting. Your reaction is quite typical,” she assured him.
“Do they require proof?”
“Of the multiverse?” Ms. Carraway’s soft eyes flashed hard for a moment. “Or their own ignorance?”
“It’s not by choice,” Travis defended.
“It is all by choice, Mr. Kite. Every choice, every action fosters a reaction in this universe and countless others. Let me demonstrate.”
She swiveled in her chair and opened a side drawer. She handed Travis what looked like a pair of thick sunglasses. “Please put these on.”
He hesitated. The glasses were heavy. “What will these do?”
“Convince you,” Ms. Carraway replied as she began to manipulate the touchscreen on her desk.
“Are these glasses supposed to teleport me somehow?”
“Only your consciousness travels, and that is all that matters. Now, please put on the glasses and try to relax.”
“I’m not all that good at relaxing,” Travis admitted as much to himself as to Ms. Carraway. Hesitantly, he put on the glasses feeling their weight sink into his temples. “I guess I can chance it.”
“Chance is a pre-multiverse concept. Like fate. Time for you to embrace possibility.” Ms. Carraway’s wispy hands plucked the touchscreen like a harp.
Travis felt the glasses lighten and then they were gone.
The evening sun still shone like it had for five billion years as Travis walked from the subway exit to his townhouse, though he no longer believed in its singular power. An hour ago he’d traveled to another earth with its provident sun and come face to face with the consequences of decisions he’d never dreamed nor made.
Ms. Carraway was right. He’d been ignorant.
She could help him travel to where all his decisions branched into new universes. No wonder Leonard wouldn’t or couldn’t discuss his journey. You could only live it. Become it.
Travis still wasn’t sure what Ms. Carraway had done. It made much more sense to believe she’d hypnotized him and implanted memories and sensations from what he’d told her. It made more sense, but he didn’t think he could shave that explanation with Occam’s razor.
The poster of the Taj Mahal, its ethereal grandeur, stuck in his mind. Ms. Carraway had given him the details on what services her agency provided in his absence and the accompanying risks. She’d been very clear about the risks. Especially that he would not be the same man upon his return. There were no guarantees. The cosmos was vast. The decisions many.
Was he determined enough to determine his own way and then make way for what would come in the ever-expanding universes?
Travis reached his townhouse, climbed the porch and glanced back at the setting sun, a brilliant dome like the Taj Mahal. He blinked it all into place and unlocked his door—to everywhere.