They say that the soul chooses its own destination after death - if you feel you belong in Heaven, then that’s where you go. If you condemn yourself to Hell, your mind makes it real. I hate to imagine that it’s true. Too many mass murderers have been convinced they were doing God’s work, and too many people have struggled with crippling neuroses and taken a suicide attempt to a successful conclusion.

Kids just don’t know enough to direct themselves properly. Parents loom like gods over a developing boy or girl. The parent shapes the youngster’s entire mindset. You’re never fully human to your offspring, never completely mortal. It gets worse depending on what the child is learning. Victims of sexual predation can be convinced that they’ve been ruined for life. Their self-worth was crushed under the weight of an uncontrolled adult urge, a human sacrifice to the devil. The child who is brought up in a broken home and used as leverage or a shield can’t place blame on his sacred parents, so he shoulders it himself. These kids don’t deserve Hell, but they don’t know any better.

I’ve spoken with forty eight dead children on their way to the afterlife. Some unknown force - angels, maybe - guides the children to find me. Twenty-three boys, twenty-four girls, not counting tonight’s subject.

I keep careful notes about all the kids, like I did when I was doing social work for the living. They ask me about being dead, and about Heaven and Hell, and I have told them a great many things. I’ve tried to help them make sense of it all. And then something clicks in their heads, and they depart. Heaven and Hell aren’t the only places they can go. I know of at least one married man and one female serial killer who have been locked away, raving about ghosts and haunting and spectral forces at work against them. I looked them up. I recognized the kids’ faces in the case files. If you avenge yourself on your killer, where does that mean you went?

Tonight I got Laura. She was abused, in several ways. She seems like a bright girl when I talk to her. But I know when I look in her eyes what she’s feeling. “I deserved what I got. I am to blame. I’m at fault.” So I tell her that’s not how it is. “You didn’t deserve what happened to you. This was wrong. This was evil,” I say. She doesn’t understand. So I try something new, and when I hear myself say the words, I suddenly feel wretched.

“Maybe God just doesn’t understand Evil. He loves you, He wants you to be happy, but He just doesn’t realize what bad people are like. I need you to go find God, and tell Him your story. Make Him understand. He’s hurting too, because all these things are happening. If you see Him, then He’ll realize it. And you’ll be happy, I promise.”

She dissolves into motes of light, the way a few of the others did, and I realize where she went. And I don’t know what’s worse. The feeling that I lied to a child to send her into the unknown beyond, or the feeling that I told her the absolute truth.