From Incubus by Janet Elizabeth Jones
Caroline drank down the deluge of emotions around her, soaked up the haggard feelings like gravy. Serene and resolved, she ignored the contorting shadows in her cabin, the dance of darkness with his coy mistress, light.
Emotion throbbed from the people who'd come to ask her help. She tasted the mother's fear, the father's skepticism and the sheriff's impatience. But there was also John's unwavering faith in her and Dash's tranquil, canine contentment. With a steadying breath, she opened herself to take in the emotions of those who lived beyond her cabin.
She swam in a sea of human nature. Greed, hope, lust, love, devotion, angst, gratitude, lust again. She sampled and plucked at every thread of feeling that came to her, like a harpist feeling for the right string. The chord she sought was abject terror. She found it in varying flavors, in every nook and cranny of the night, terror mixed with sorrow, rage and hatred. But what she was looking for was pure terror in a tiny package of confusion named Megan Feinstein: five years old, blond hair, green eyes, freckles, a Barbie flashlight with dead batteries and a tendency to stray from her parents when they weren't looking. Megan was lost and alone.
Caroline knew how that felt.
She weeded through the stream, her stream, and let it flow in, out and away from her. All the while her inner wall of mental protection trembled, threatening to fall and leave her open to the tide of humanity where she could lose herself. She shored up her protective barrier with the reminder that these emotions were not hers, and chanted the words of her familiar safeguard over and over.
I am Caroline. The emotions within me are my own and no one else's. These other emotions exist beyond me and are not mine. I am Caroline…Caroline… Caroline…
Her concentration snagged on a wave of hot confusion.
Caroline hesitated. It seemed there were two people out there who were drenched in the sort of fear she was fishing for, not just one. Both felt lost and abandoned. Both were in pain and needed comfort. One was small and female. The child pulsed like a star. That was Megan. But the other? He was more like a supernova.
His confusion and pain yanked Caroline in his direction. She drew back with an inner wince but couldn't close him out. She pushed him to the back of her soul and followed Megan's thread of fear instead. The child's fear painted a picture of her in Caroline's mind. She was a spark of life huddled under a pine, crying for her mama.
Caroline opened her eyes. "Take the Fletcher trail east about a half mile, Sheriff. She's a few yards off the path, on the left."
The sheriff flushed red-purple and cleared his throat. "Thanks, ma'am."
The child's parents leaped up from Caroline's sofa and caught her hand in theirs with simultaneous thank-yous. Caroline flinched, gutted by the onslaught of their gratitude and disbelief, but she forced a smile.
"Glad I could help. You can thank me best by not mentioning me to anyone. Okay?"
They offered her money—people always did—which she refused. Not that she couldn't use the cash. But people who got paid for services rendered were less anonymous and not nearly as forgettable as she needed to be. The couple left, taking their whirlpool of emotion with them.
But anguish lingered. The man lost out there in the night radiated agony in all directions. He was haunted by loneliness that was deep and old.