Rose got an early start, throwing her camping equipment in the back of the company car while the morning was still that blue-grey color it gets right before dawn. Punching coordinates into the GPS and slurping on a cup of coffee that was already too cold, she set off. It took about three hours until she arrived at her destination, a place that looked to have few visitors, judging by the lack of trash or old campfires. Beautiful spot. Why were these places always beautiful?

She pulled the car over onto some low grass at the side of the road. She could hear the river and guessed it was just over the rise about 30 yards to her left. After double-checking her coordinates with the file, she got out of the car, grabbed a blanket from the trunk and started for the river. When she got to the river’s edge, she hiked the riverbank for several hundred yards in both directions. It was unlikely that she would sight any evidence, but she wanted to check, to do a good job. Doing this work was changing her life, and for the first time she could remember, change was okay. She was unsure where she was going, but wanted to continue, wanted to explore what was next. Unusual for Rose.

Returning to the GPS coordinates, she half walked, half slid down the riverbank. The grass and weeds were damp still and the water was about five or six feet in front of her now. This was where it had happened. Rose paused to do an internal check. The feeling was strong, pulsed inside her, a slow, steady second heartbeat. It frightened her, a foreshadowing of what was to come. She thought about going home and crawling back into bed, but Community Power & Electric didn’t pay her to sleep, and sleeping didn’t pay the rent. And she couldn’t go back to the streets.

She was a Consistency and Continuity Modulator for the power company, a misleading name for what she did, but then the title was intended to mislead, and anyway, she couldn’t think of any circumstance in which the subject would come up. People wouldn’t believe what she did for a living, but then she didn’t socialize much with anyone, and besides, she was legally barred from talking about her job. It said so in her employment contract.

It all started with the rape and the beating, which led to the hospital, which led to the shelter, which led to the expectation that she get a job so she wouldn’t be homeless again. At the shelter, she was one of the most employable since she wasn’t hallucinating, talking to herself or addicted to drugs. Social workers love a potential success story, and they were all over her to get a job and “make a life for herself.” She didn’t want to disappoint them, so she allowed herself to be maneuvered into an interview appointment.

Taking the referral and applying at the power company had seemed the path of least resistance. The company was so big it hired continuously, thus reducing the chance that she might have to go through a second interview with another potential employer, and Rose thought it a good prospect for some low-level job, something she could easily walk away from later. And while she didn’t really care if she lived or died, she knew she couldn’t go through another beating like the one she had received, couldn’t be vulnerable on the streets again. She didn’t recall the rape much, but that two by four coming in contact over and over with her body; she thought it would never end. There had to be an easier way to die.

So she was here, in some shabby clothes and ill-fitting shoes she had mindlessly chosen from the thrift shop. The interviewer–a Ms. Wysocki—was the picture of fussy perfection, which intimidated Rose, but then, most things intimidated Rose. With her history and lack of skills, she was far from the ideal candidate. Anxious about the interview, Rose retreated from the present, allowed herself to become distracted, and spent the first few moments of the interview searching Ms. Wysocki’s head for even one hair out of place. She found not one.

Rose was a bit taken aback by how much testing was required for even the most menial of jobs. Skills testing, personality and IQ testing. Once Ms. Wysocki had carefully scored her tests and assessed her worthiness to become a janitor—the only job Rose expected to be offered—she requested that Rose complete yet another assessment–something they called a sensitivity evaluation. There were questions about Rose’s interests, likes and dislikes, something Rose never thought about. They asked how she got on with people. She usually didn’t, as she avoided people; being around them made her nervous, dizzy sometimes. They wanted to know about her moods, whether she was overly sensitive, that type of thing.

Rose thought the questions were way too personal and considered it odd that they asked not a single question about her spotty work history. She thought maybe it was because, referred by a homeless shelter, they expected she would have a less than steady employment record.

Rose left the interview with no clue from Ms. Wysocki as to whether she had done well, so assumed she hadn’t. The day following her interview, she decided it had been a waste of time, but then one of the staff at the shelter came to tell her she had a call. She heard the well-modulated, unemotional voice of Ms. Wysocki offering her a job and Rose agreed to return the next day to process her acceptance, complete the contract and arrange for training.

It took a while for Ms. Wysocki to explain her job responsibilities, and why the company needed to hire people like her. Rose was skeptical about both the problem described by Ms. Wysocki and her ability to handle it satisfactorily, but hey, that’s why they train you, she thought. Many months later, Rose would recognize that she was highly qualified for this type of work, but at the time, she was oblivious.

She was a bit disappointed that the position was not the nowhere job she expected, but that was just life, she guessed. Oh, fuck it, at least she wasn’t homeless anymore. And the pay was pretty damn good. She could travel the entire country, alone in the car, and would often be gone for days at a time. There was a lot to like about the way things had turned out.

Rose took one step and was almost to the water’s edge. She spread the old blanket, knelt and then sat with her legs crossed. This could take a while. She never knew how long it would take to make contact, but usually it was a day or more, so she would set up her campsite and wait patiently, staying until contact occurred, and then working toward connection. Rose waited for days when necessary. Occasionally, nothing happened, despite research indicating the need for intervention.

She was far from any city or town, but far from a city was the point, wasn’t it? It was on her to solve the company’s problem out in the middle of nowhere, a problem caused by someone who had tried to solve their own problem by traveling to a place out in the middle of nowhere. I’m going to stop thinking about this now, Rose thought, knowing she was purposely distracting herself from what would likely happen in the next few hours. Contact, connection, regression, release. She forced herself to think only about contact. The rest scared her silly. Always did.

She reached out and dragged her fingers through the water. Colder than expected for June, but this was hill country. She laid back with her hands under her head, feeling the damp through the blanket, looking up at an azure sky filled with marshmallow clouds. Before drifting off, she realized the pulsing inside her had disappeared. It was gone. Just quiet. This happened occasionally. Nothing to worry about. It wasn’t like she could miss it. Time to rest and gather her strength.

She sat up with a start to a profound silence, a quiet which enclosed the semi-wooded area around her. The birds and other creatures had hushed. She looked to the sky for a raptor. Nothing. She stood up and did a full turn, looking for movement. Nothing. Not a branch moving. Not a cricket chirping. Absolute stillness. Silence. Dead silence.

Shit! This happened sometimes just before contact, and it usually meant forces so turbulent as to make her fear for her sanity. Or maybe it was her soul she feared for. Rose never really could separate the two when she had to deal with a disruption higher than a magnitude five, and her supervisor had told her this job was a magnitude seven. There was danger here. She would try to pace herself, maintain her stamina, but that wasn’t always possible. She sat down, took some deep breaths and attempted to dispel her anxiety. They did not come if they sensed tension.

A bit calmer, she stood, walked to the water, bent and started to draw her fingers through the cool liquid again. She didn’t usually have to emphasize her presence to obtain a response, but this lake had been the end place, so it couldn’t hurt to literally disturb the waters. It was kind of a way to say she was here. Abiding.

Her hand jerked back reflexively as she heard the scream, followed by another and another, endless, aching pain. The sobbing, desperate cries, “Maaaamaaaamama!” No other words, just the plaintive plea for her mother’s arms. They were all young, but this one, Rose knew, was barely a toddler. There would be few words, only the most sorrowful of emotions. She leaned forward again, placing both hands in the water, and this time she left them there, as a sign of her commitment. Each scream penetrated Rose like a blade; each sob took her breath with it, but Rose would not leave her now. She could not.

Her hands began to numb from the cold, but Rose instinctively lowered her torso half in and half out of the inches-deep water, willing herself not to withdraw from the shock of the cold on her skin, finally resting her chest on the bottom and letting her arms and hands float in front of her. The shallow water allowed her to turn her head to the side for air. The screaming had subsided and there was now just the sobbing, breathless sobbing alternating with gasps for air, the weeping of an inconsolable child.

When she began slipping into hypothermia, Rose got out of the water, stumbled up the bank, sat and wrapped the blanket around her shivering body. After a minute or two, she walked to the car for a change of clothes and thought to herself that it had been a good first session. The true danger lay ahead, but this was her job and she was good at it. And the little one needed her.

Returning to the riverbank, she whispered, “I’m here, you can come to me. I will wait as long as you need me to.” Rose sat for a long time, sending her energy and her voice out onto the waters of this place of death.

After hours with no response, and aching from sitting for so long, Rose pitched her tent and crawled inside. She was exhausted but everything inside her was vibrating like a hummingbird’s wings, and the second heartbeat had returned and was quickening, as though it were attempting to keep time with her trembling body.

The small, one-person tent felt snug, her sleeping bag soft against her skin an embrace of sorts. Confining, but in a good way, a protective way. Rose felt like it was only this confinement that would keep her from shattering into a million shards of glass, because right now, there was very little holding her together. She thought it ironic that she had spent her entire life avoiding this level of intensity.

The moon had set when she first felt her presence. The air inside the tent was thick, still, and had dropped in temperature. Rose felt like she was breathing water. Her limbs felt heavy as the spirit child slowly moved closer, pausing, then starting again, as though she was not sure what to do. Experience had taught Rose she could survive these encounters but keeping her fear under control was a struggle. Each connection and regression was unique, created from the horror the child had experienced, so there was no predicting what would happen. To either of them.

Small, chubby fingers, cold as snow, brushed against her arm, seeking her warmth. She whispered, “Closer, little one, closer.” And the spirit child inched nearer, now nestling between Rose’s arm and her side, then finally relaxing her frigid cheek onto Rose’s breast. The child became warmer as Rose’s body absorbed the iciness.

And so they stayed for a few moments, or perhaps, thought Rose, it was for a thousand years. Who could tell? Alone in the wilderness with a spirit who, while not having survived long in this world, was the product of perhaps a hundred lifetimes, each closing and then beginning once more. Rose and the child floated through the night, Rose’s energy exploding from her cells to embrace the spirit child, their atoms mingling in a graceful dance, the spirit child gradually merging with Rose’s life force, essential to the penultimate phase. By dawn, connection was complete.

All of Rose’s spirit children had died young, before their lives had expanded significantly, when their world was still pretty much the person who smiled down at them, fed and cared for them, held and kissed them and kept them safe. That was the breadth of their meaningful experience, and all they wanted or expected. And then came the day when their lives became nothing but horrendous pain, pitiable wailing and weeping for the one who had protected them, the thrashing, searching little hands reaching out in vain to find the one who would rescue them, only to touch the evil that would be their end. They all died agonizing deaths.

And when it was over, there was no understanding of what had happened to them, of why they had not been protected, of why they had been abandoned by the one who smiled. They did not know they no longer existed, and because of that, they could not move forward to whatever waits for us all. And their spirits, consumed by psychic pain beyond comprehension, became rooted to the place of their death, an invisible, endless fireball of screaming terror.

This is what disrupted power flow and conductivity. It was Rose’s job to heal these spirits enough to release them from their hell and back into the universe which had created them. She had to absorb the spirit, take the child back in time, through their death, back to when a smile was their world; back to a time before their bodies and souls had been abused and discarded like garbage.

The child was within her now, warm and protected, and Rose felt full. This was what Rose sought, what kept her doing this work. She felt real, genuine, not the usual echoing emptiness that was her day to day being. She had discovered this on her first assignment when, unsure of what to do, she remembered instructions during her training that she should follow her instincts. She couldn’t ever remember having instincts before.

Her normal stance in the face of an unknown experience was to tense up and try to get through it, not to actually experience it or learn from it, perhaps because she had never actually cared in the least if she got through anything. Whatever happened to her she accepted, with no thought or desire to influence the outcome. She acted only when she had to, and then only when someone else placed an option in front of her. But on her first assignment, something changed. Based on nothing tangible, she had decided what to do, and the result—opening herself in hope of positively influencing the outcome—had led to feeling. It was as if a light had shone upon her. She awakened.

She took a few minutes to absorb the beauty around her. She watched a green-winged teal dunk under the water for a snack, and a hawk circling slowly, searching for an unlucky rodent. There were six or seven bird calls she could hear, and she focused on them, relaxing and trying to stay in the moment. She spied a white-tailed jackrabbit dashing across some low vegetation about ten yards away, into the safety of the taller grasses.

Rose sang to the spirit child within her, a song from before she was alone, humming when she could not remember the words. When she felt calm and somewhat energized, she gathered her blanket and walked back toward her tent. She thought how nice it would be to have a fire tonight, and she hiked to the forest fringe and gathered wood for a campfire. Some people are excited by fire, but it had always calmed Rose, and she thought it would be appropriate to have earth, wind, water and fire accompany the transformation of life tonight.

Once the fire was going, Rose made some tea and had some supper. It was just a stale granola bar, but she didn’t require much, and her mind was on the night ahead of her.

She sat next to the fire and began to talk to the child, “You probably don’t understand my words, but listen to the sound of my voice. Hold on to the sound, listen to my heart beating with yours. I am your friend.”

Rose sensed the child was much calmer but didn’t know if she understood any of what was to come. She didn’t want her to be afraid.

“Look, I know I’m not you mom, or whoever it was who loved you, but you gotta go with me on this. Trust me. I’m gonna get us through this.”

Rose reassured the spirit child over and over, in a soft murmur, hoping that she was taking her deeper into her calm. Rose held in mind an image of her embracing the spirit child, an image so strong she could feel the child’s warm breath on her neck as she held her. And then Rose began.

Under the stars from which they were both created, Rose, who had experienced through the child the terrible wrong done to her, took the child backward in time, first to the time soon after her body had come to rest on the riverbank, and then to the time when she still lived in contentment, before the evil brought her to this place and cleaved the small child in two, leaving her to die alone and whimpering, until her light was permanently extinguished.

The spirit child reacted in horror, as Rose knew she would, and the child’s psychic pain permeated every cell in Rose’s body. The child shrieked and Rose couldn’t get air into her lungs. The child sobbed and sobbed, and Rose’s heart fluttered. Her head was exploding, every muscle screamed in unison with the child. Bruises appeared on her body as blood vessels burst from the pressure. This went on until moonrise, when the child began to quiet. Soon they were both still, spent. Rose needed rest, although they were not yet at journey’s end. Still aching in pain, but exhausted, she drifted into a deep slumber.

It was light when Rose awakened. The spirit child was also lightened, freed as she now was from the anguish that had held her, and she was restless for release, as most spirits who have completed their earthly tasks are. Rose was also anxious to move forward, as this was when they both could experience joy.

“Are you ready, darlin’?” Someone is waiting for you.” Now Rose created an image in her mind of the child held by her mother, who was smiling down at her. The child was laughing, touching her mother’s cheek with her fat little fingers. Rose held this image, infusing the child with her mother’s love, and cleansing the child of any remaining darkness. Then she sensed that it was time.

Rose felt like this was as close to giving birth as she might ever get. There was an ache as the child separated from her, billions of cells needing to release their grasp on the child. Rose’s body was an expanse filled with flashes of light and tiny explosions of energy, like the night sky filled with fireworks. The process took several hours, until Rose was empty once again. The child was in her arms, like she had been before the regression. Rose knew it wasn’t yet time for release. The child would let her know when the moment was upon them, the moment her final journey would begin.

During the day, the temperature climbed, and the night arrived on a balmy breeze. Rose listened to the rustling of the trees in the wind and the hoot of an owl as it called to its mate. The fireflies were out in force, blinking the ancient messages writ in their genes. Rose, on her back, gazed upward, the child resting next to her, babbling quietly. The stars wrapped her in light, and she felt the earth spinning beneath her. Shooting stars fell out of the sky and into her hands.

She held one out for the child to see, “That will be you, Starchild.”

It was time now. She did not need to tell the child it was time for her to depart. What awaited her was already calling. Only farewell remained.

“Off you go, kiddo, Rose whispered. “Write if you can.” She smiled to herself as she realized she had made a joke. Something was changing.

Rose thought she saw a faint glow, or perhaps it was just the fireflies. And then the child was gone.