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If You're In China

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Even before Carol Anne was born, Diane knew she was special. All her kids were special, of course, and she’d enjoyed her pregnancies with Dana and Robbie just as much as she did with Carol Anne. But there was something different about the way Diane felt as Carol Anne grew inside her, a connection so strong that she could sense it in a way she hadn’t experienced with the other two.

When she told Steven about it he’d just laughed and said the hormones were getting to her, then he’d ducked to avoid the dish towel she threw at him on his way out of the kitchen. But it didn’t matter that he didn’t believe her; she could tell how special her daughter would be, and eventually he’d see that she’d been right all along.

Diane hadn’t been sure how she’d do as a mother, in the beginning. Dana had surprised them, back when she and Steven were first starting out in the tiny, cheap apartment they’d moved into after they got married. Steven had just started his first sales job, and Diane was still finding her footing as a wife when she went to the doctor and he confirmed that she was going to have to learn to be a mother as well.

She’d been terrified: of pregnancy, of being alone with a baby all day, of Steven’s reaction. But he’d been thrilled, and in the end his enthusiasm had been contagious. It had settled her nerves some, at any rate, and by the time Dana came along, she’d been more or less sure she wouldn’t do any lasting damage to her baby.

For years it was just the three of them, Steven and Diane and Dana in their little apartment, and then a bungalow in a decent neighborhood where Steven felt okay leaving them while he was working his way up the company ladder. They never talked about waiting to have more kids, though they worried plenty about how they were going to keep the water and the power on in the early days.

But once Steven was settled with the real estate company and making more money, it was easier for both of them to relax, and when Robbie came along they started talking about a bigger place. They moved into the house in Cuesta Verde just after Diane found out she was pregnant for the third time, and even though she spent most of her pregnancy trying to set up a new house with two kids underfoot, she still knew that there was going to be something different about her youngest.

When Carol Anne was born she was perfect. Ten little fingers and ten tiny toes, a head covered in soft peach fuzz, and wide blue eyes blinking up at her as though she knew exactly who Diane was. Maybe she did; she’d been listening to Diane talking to her for nine months, after all, and if Diane had felt the connection with her daughter, then Carol Anne must have felt it too.

She was in a hurry to be born, making her entrance into the world before the ambulance even made it to the house. By the time the paramedics reached them, Carol Anne was in her arms, eyes still closed and screaming as though she wanted the whole world to know she’d arrived.

Diane spent hours just staring at her after she was born, and Carol Anne always looked back at her as though she understood exactly what Diane was thinking. Sometimes Robbie would abandon whatever toy he was playing with to watch Carol Anne too, and the three of them would curl up together on the couch or Steven and Diane’s bed, silently communicating with one another.

Steven insisted Robbie was just interested in his baby sister because she was stealing Diane’s attention away from him, and he was probably right. Robbie was still a baby himself, after all, just three years old and into everything. Still, that didn’t explain the way he sometimes stopped right in the middle of whatever he was doing to crawl up on the bed next to Diane and Carol Anne, or the way he watched her watching him with that steady gaze of hers.

Sometimes Diane thought the two of them were actually conducting whole conversations with those looks, that even though Robbie could barely talk and Carol Anne couldn’t utter a word, they somehow understood one another. Every once in a while Diane caught herself thinking Carol Anne could understand Diane, too, that she could watch her mother and know exactly what was going through her mind.

Whenever it happened Diane just laughed and shook her head to chase away the crazy thought, told herself that Carol Anne was just a smart, inquisitive baby, taking in the world around her. Still, there were moments when the house was quiet and it was just the three of them, Robbie staring at his baby sister with his chin propped in his hands and Carol Anne’s wide blue eyes open and blinking back at him, when Diane could have sworn there was something more than just normal infant curiosity there.

As Carol Anne got older and learned to crawl, then to walk and finally talk, those moments happened less and less often, and Diane slowly forgot about them. When she did remember she laughed to herself, smiling at the idea that Carol Anne was anything other than her perfect, smart, beautiful little girl.

But there were still moments every so often, when Carol Anne would go quiet and stare off into the distance, as though she was seeing something none of the rest of them could. When she got like that she could spend hours alone, playing by herself and sometimes talking to nothing as though she really thought there was someone else there.

“She’s just got a hell of an imagination,” Steven said on one of the few occasions when Diane had been concerned enough to voice her fears aloud. “Lots of kids that age have imaginary friends. She’ll get over it once she’s in school.”

And he was right, for the most part. There were still moments here and there when Diane was reminded of what a special little girl her daughter was, but most days she was just a normal, happy-go-lucky kid. She was popular at school from the moment she set foot in kindergarten, she teased her brother and sister just as much as they teased her, and she kept Diane and Steven on their toes.

Diane still wasn’t sure what woke her on the night she found Carol Anne out of bed, kneeling in front of the television while Steven slept in the chair beside her. Whatever it was had woken Robbie and Dana too, and for a moment as she came down the stairs, Diane thought maybe Carol Anne was talking to Steven.

But it was obvious as soon as he sat up and looked over at her that Carol Anne wasn’t talking to her father, or anyone else the rest of them could see. Afterwards Steven insisted that it was just Carol Anne’s overactive imagination at work again, and Diane tried to believe it. That was the logical explanation, after all, but when the kitchen chairs started rearranging themselves and Carol Anne insisted it was the TV people making them move, it was impossible to deny that she really was seeing something the rest of them couldn’t.

It was a shock, seeing the furniture moving on its own, then watching her kids slide across the kitchen floor as though they were being pulled by some invisible force. Diane was afraid at first, and when Carol Anne confirmed that it was the TV people making it happen, she was even more scared, but at the same time, she wasn’t all that surprised.

Maybe it should have surprised her to hear Carol Anne communicating with people the rest of them couldn’t see. It scared her, definitely, but after the initial shock wore off, she had to admit that if any of them was going to talk to ghosts or whatever the TV people were, it would be Carol Anne. She was just so full of life, sunny and sweet and lighting up every room she entered. It made sense that people would want to be around her, whether they were still alive or...not.

When they took Carol Anne, Diane blamed herself. She was Carol Anne’s mother, and it was her job to keep her kids safe. It was her job to tuck them in and kiss them goodnight, to feed and clothe and love them and make sure that nothing bad happened to them. The fact that they’d taken her little girl right out of her bed, spirited her away where Diane couldn’t hold her or comfort her, made her furious. She was terrified, but she was angry too, outraged that there was something uninvited in her home and she couldn’t do anything to stop it.

Diane wasn’t willing to accept that, not when her daughter’s life was at stake. It took some time to find the right people to call, but finally she found Dr. Lesh and her team. Diane had no idea if they’d believe her or if they’d think she was insane, but she knew the police couldn’t do anything for them, so Dr. Lesh and Tangina were her only hope.

And there was nothing she wouldn’t do to get Carol Anne back, no matter how crazy it seemed to Steven or anyone else. Not when she could feel Carol Anne still in the house, hear her frightened voice and sense her presence just out of reach.

She wasn’t surprised when Tangina told them all that Diane was the only one who could reach Carol Anne. In a way she was glad, because it meant she hadn’t imagined the special connection she shared with her daughter. But even if Tangina hadn’t said so, there was no question that Diane would be the one to tie the rope around her waist, to ignore Tangina’s and Steven’s protests and go after Carol Anne.

“Don’t let go,” she said, glancing over her shoulder at her husband one last time.

“Never,” he promised.

She did her best to smile, then she tightened the rope, squared her shoulders, and went after her daughter.