Coraline, p.2
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       Coraline, p.2
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           Neil Gaiman
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  Coraline was just wondering whether or not she ought to turn on the lights when she saw the black shape edge slowly out from beneath the sofa. It paused, and then dashed silently across the carpet toward the farthest corner of the room.

  There was no furniture in that corner of the room.

  Coraline turned on the light.

  There was nothing in the corner. Nothing but the old door that opened onto the brick wall.

  She was sure that her mother had shut the door, but now it was ever so slightly open. Just a crack. Coraline went over to it and looked in. There was nothing there—just a wall, built of red bricks.

  Coraline closed the old wooden door, turned out the light, and went to bed.

  She dreamed of black shapes that slid from place to place, avoiding the light, until they were all gathered together under the moon. Little black shapes with little red eyes and sharp yellow teeth.

  They started to sing,

  We are small but we are many

  We are many we are small

  We were here before you rose

  We will be here when you fall.

  Their voices were high and whispering and slightly whiney. They made Coraline feel uncomfortable.

  Then Coraline dreamed a few commercials, and after that she dreamed of nothing at all.

  II.

  THE NEXT DAY IT HAD stopped raining, but a thick white fog had lowered over the house.

  “I’m going for a walk,” said Coraline.

  “Don’t go too far,” said her mother. “And dress up warmly.”

  Coraline put on her blue coat with a hood, her red scarf, and her yellow Wellington boots.

  She went out.

  Miss Spink was walking her dogs. “Hello, Caroline,” said Miss Spink. “Rotten weather.”

  “Yes,” said Coraline.

  “I played Portia once,” said Miss Spink. “Miss Forcible talks about her Ophelia, but it was my Portia they came to see. When we trod the boards.”

  Miss Spink was bundled up in pullovers and cardigans, so she seemed more small and circular than ever. She looked like a large, fluffy egg. She wore thick glasses that made her eyes seem huge.

  “They used to send flowers to my dressing room. They did,” she said.

  “Who did?” asked Coraline.

  Miss Spink looked around cautiously, looking over first one shoulder and then over the other, peering into the mists as though someone might be listening.

  “Men,” she whispered. Then she tugged the dogs to heel and waddled off back toward the house.

  Coraline continued her walk.

  She was three quarters of the way around the house when she saw Miss Forcible, standing at the door to the flat she shared with Miss Spink.

  “Have you seen Miss Spink, Caroline?”

  Coraline told her that she had, and that Miss Spink was out walking the dogs.

  “I do hope she doesn’t get lost—it’ll bring on her shingles if she does, you’ll see,” said Miss Forcible. “You’d have to be an explorer to find your way around in this fog.”

  “I’m an explorer,” said Coraline.

  “Of course you are, luvvy,” said Miss Forcible. “Don’t get lost, now.”

  Coraline continued walking through the gardens in the gray mist. She always kept in sight of the house. After about ten minutes of walking she found herself back where she had started.

  The hair over her eyes was limp and wet, and her face felt damp.

  “Ahoy! Caroline!” called the crazy old man upstairs.

  “Oh, hullo,” said Coraline.

  She could hardly see the old man through the mist.

  He walked down the steps on the outside of the house that led up past Coraline’s front door to the door of his flat. He walked down very slowly. Coraline waited at the bottom of the stairs.

  “The mice do not like the mist,” he told her. “It makes their whiskers droop.”

  “I don’t like the mist much, either,” admitted Coraline.

  The old man leaned down, so close that the bottoms of his mustache tickled Coraline’s ear. “The mice have a message for you,” he whispered.

  Coraline didn’t know what to say.

  “The message is this. Don’t go through the door.” He paused. “Does that mean anything to you?”

  “No,” said Coraline.

  The old man shrugged. “They are funny, the mice. They get things wrong. They got your name wrong, you know. They kept saying Coraline. Not Caroline. Not Caroline at all.”

  He picked up a milk bottle from the bottom of the stairs and started back up to his attic flat.

  Coraline went indoors. Her mother was working in her study. Her mother’s study smelled of flowers.

  “What shall I do?” asked Coraline.

  “When do you go back to school?” asked her mother.

  “Next week,” said Coraline.

  “Hmph,” said her mother. “I suppose I shall have to get you new school clothes. Remind me, dear, or else I’ll forget,” and she went back to typing things on the computer screen.

  “What shall I do?” repeated Coraline.

  “Draw something,” Her mother passed her a sheet of paper and a ballpoint pen.

  Coraline tried drawing the mist. After ten minutes of drawing she still had a white sheet of paper with

  M T

  S

  I

  written on it in one corner in slightly wiggly letters. She grunted and passed it to her mother.

  “Mm. Very modern, dear,” said Coraline’s mother.

  Coraline crept into the drawing room and tried to open the old door in the corner. It was locked once more. She supposed her mother must have locked it again. She shrugged.

  Coraline went to see her father.

  He had his back to the door as he typed. “Go away,” he said cheerfully as she walked in.

  “I’m bored,” she said.

  “Learn how to tap-dance,” he suggested, without turning around.

  Coraline shook her head. “Why don’t you play with me?” she asked.

  “Busy,” he said. “Working,” he added. He still hadn’t turned around to look at her. “Why don’t you go and bother Miss Spink and Miss Forcible?”

  Coraline put on her coat and pulled up her hood and went out of the house. She went downstairs. She rang the door of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s flat. Coraline could hear a frenzied woofing as the Scottie dogs ran out into the hall. After a while Miss Spink opened the door.

  “Oh, it’s you, Caroline,” she said. “Angus, Hamish, Bruce, down now, luvvies. It’s only Caroline. Come in, dear. Would you like a cup of tea?”

  The flat smelled of furniture polish and dogs.

  “Yes, please,” said Coraline. Miss Spink led her into a dusty little room, which she called the parlor. On the walls were black-and-white photographs of pretty women, and theater programs in frames. Miss Forcible was sitting in one of the armchairs, knitting hard.

  They poured Coraline a cup of tea in a little pink bone china cup, with a saucer. They gave her a dry Garibaldi biscuit to go with it.

  Miss Forcible looked at Miss Spink, picked up her knitting, and took a deep breath. “Anyway, April. As I was saying: you still have to admit, there’s life in the old dog yet.”

  “Miriam, dear, neither of us is as young as we were.”

  “Madame Arcati,” replied Miss Forcible. “The nurse in Romeo. Lady Bracknell. Character parts. They can’t retire you from the stage.”

  “Now, Miriam, we agreed,” said Miss Spink. Coraline wondered if they’d forgotten she was there. They weren’t making much sense; she decided they were having an argument as old and comfortable as an armchair, the kind of argument that no one ever really wins or loses but which can go on forever, if both parties are willing.

  She sipped her tea.

  “I’ll read the leaves, if you want,” said Miss Spink to Coraline.

  “Sorry?” said Coraline.

  “The tea leaves, dear. I’ll
read your future.”

  Coraline passed Miss Spink her cup. Miss Spink peered shortsightedly at the black tea leaves in the bottom. She pursed her lips.

  “You know, Caroline,” she said, after a while, “you are in terrible danger.”

  Miss Forcible snorted, and put down her knitting. “Don’t be silly, April. Stop scaring the girl. Your eyes are going. Pass me that cup, child.”

  Coraline carried the cup over to Miss Forcible. Miss Forcible looked into it carefully, shook her head, and looked into it again.

  “Oh dear,” she said. “You were right, April. She is in danger.”

  “See, Miriam,” said Miss Spink triumphantly. “My eyes are as good as they ever were….”

  “What am I in danger from?” asked Coraline.

  Misses Spink and Forcible stared at her blankly. “It didn’t say,” said Miss Spink. “Tea leaves aren’t reliable for that kind of thing. Not really. They’re good for general, but not for specifics.”

  “What should I do then?” asked Coraline, who was slightly alarmed by this.

  “Don’t wear green in your dressing room,” suggested Miss Spink.

  “Or mention the Scottish play,” added Miss Forcible.

  Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense. She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to.

  “And be very, very careful,” said Miss Spink. She got up from the armchair and went over to the fireplace. On the mantelpiece was a small jar, and Miss Spink took off the top of the jar and began to pull things out of it. There was a tiny china duck, a thimble, a strange little brass coin, two paper clips and a stone with a hole in it.

  She passed Coraline the stone with a hole in it.

  “What’s it for?” asked Coraline. The hole went all the way through the middle of the stone. She held it up to the window and looked through it.

  “It might help,” said Miss Spink. “They’re good for bad things, sometimes.”

  Coraline put on her coat, said good-bye to Misses Spink and Forcible and to the dogs, and went outside.

  The mist hung like blindness around the house. She walked slowly to the stairs up to her family’s flat, and then stopped and looked around.

  In the mist, it was a ghost-world. In danger? thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. It didn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really.

  Coraline went back upstairs, her fist closed tightly around her new stone.

  III.

  THE NEXT DAY THE sun shone, and Coraline’s mother took her into the nearest large town to buy clothes for school. They dropped her father off at the railway station. He was going into London for the day to see some people.

  Coraline waved him good-bye.

  They went to the department store to buy the school clothes.

  Coraline saw some Day-Glo green gloves she liked a lot. Her mother refused to buy them for her, preferring instead to buy white socks, navy blue school underpants, four gray blouses, and a dark gray skirt.

  “But Mum, everybody at school’s got gray blouses and everything. Nobody’s got green gloves. I could be the only one.”

  Her mother ignored her; she was talking to the shop assistant. They were talking about which kind of sweater to get for Coraline, and were agreeing that the best thing to do would be to get one that was embarrassingly large and baggy, in the hopes that one day she might grow into it.

  Coraline wandered off and looked at a display of Wellington boots shaped like frogs and ducks and rabbits.

  Then she wandered back.

  “Coraline? Oh, there you are. Where on earth were you?”

  “I was kidnapped by aliens,” said Coraline. “They came down from outer space with ray guns, but I fooled them by wearing a wig and laughing in a foreign accent, and I escaped.”

  “Yes, dear. Now, I think you could do with some more hair clips, don’t you?”

  “No.”

  “Well, let’s say half a dozen, to be on the safe side,” said her mother.

  Coraline didn’t say anything.

  In the car on the way back home, Coraline said, “What’s in the empty flat?”

  “I don’t know. Nothing, I expect. It probably looks like our flat before we moved in. Empty rooms.”

  “Do you think you could get into it from our flat?”

  “Not unless you can walk through bricks, dear.”

  “Oh.”

  They got home around lunchtime. The sun was shining, although the day was cold. Coraline’s mother looked in the fridge and found a sad little tomato and a piece of cheese with green stuff growing on it. There was only a crust in the bread bin.

  “I’d better dash down to the shops and get some fish fingers or something,” said her mother. “Do you want to come?”

  “No,” said Coraline.

  “Suit yourself,” said her mother, and left. Then she came back and got her purse and car keys and went out again.

  Coraline was bored.

  She flipped through a book her mother was reading about native people in a distant country; how every day they would take pieces of white silk and draw on them in wax, then dip the silks in dye, then draw on them more in wax and dye them some more, then boil the wax out in hot water, and then finally, throw the now-beautiful cloths on a fire and burn them to ashes.

  It seemed particularly pointless to Coraline, but she hoped that the people enjoyed it.

  She was still bored, and her mother wasn’t yet home.

  Coraline got a chair and pushed it over to the kitchen door. She climbed onto the chair and reached up. She got down, then got a broom from the broom cupboard. She climbed back on the chair again and reached up with the broom.

  Chink.

  She climbed down from the chair and picked up the keys. She smiled triumphantly. Then she leaned the broom against the wall and went into the drawing room.

  The family did not use the drawing room. They had inherited the furniture from Coraline’s grandmother, along with a wooden coffee table, a side table, a heavy glass ashtray, and the oil painting of a bowl of fruit. Coraline could never work out why anyone would want to paint a bowl of fruit. Other than that, the room was empty: there were no knickknacks on the mantelpiece, no statues or clocks; nothing that made it feel comfortable or lived-in.

  The old black key felt colder than any of the others. She pushed it into the keyhole. It turned smoothly, with a satisfying clunk.

  Coraline stopped and listened. She knew she was doing something wrong, and she was trying to listen for her mother coming back, but she heard nothing. Then Coraline put her hand on the doorknob and turned it; and, finally, she opened the door.

  It opened on to a dark hallway. The bricks had gone as if they’d never been there. There was a cold, musty smell coming through the open doorway: it smelled like something very old and very slow.

  Coraline went through the door.

  She wondered what the empty flat would be like—if that was where the corridor led.

  Coraline walked down the corridor uneasily. There was something very familiar about it.

  The carpet beneath her feet was the same carpet they had in her flat. The wallpaper was the same wallpaper they had. The picture hanging in the hall was the same that they had hanging in their hallway at home.

  She knew where she was: she was in her own home. She hadn’t left.

  She shook her head, confused.

  She stared at the picture hanging on the wall: no, it wasn’t exactly the same. The picture they had in their own hallway showed a boy in old-fashioned clothes staring at some bubbles. But now the expression on his face was different—he was looking at the bubbles as if he was planning to do something very nasty indeed to them. And there was something peculiar about his eyes.

  Coraline stared at his eyes, trying to figure out what exactly was different.

  She almost had it when somebody said, “Coraline?”

  It sounded like her mother. Coraline went into the kitchen, where the voice had c
ome from. A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only…

  Only her skin was white as paper.

  Only she was taller and thinner.

  Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.

  “Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?”

  And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons.

  “Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman.

  “Who are you?” asked Coraline.

  “I’m your other mother,” said the woman. “Go and tell your other father that lunch is ready,” She opened the door of the oven. Suddenly Coraline realized how hungry she was. It smelled wonderful. “Well, go on.”

  Coraline went down the hall, to where her father’s study was. She opened the door. There was a man in there, sitting at the keyboard, with his back to her. “Hello,” said Coraline. “I—I mean, she said to say that lunch is ready.”

  The man turned around.

  His eyes were buttons, big and black and shiny.

  “Hello Coraline,” he said. “I’m starving.”

  He got up and went with her into the kitchen. They sat at the kitchen table, and Coraline’s other mother brought them lunch. A huge, golden-brown roasted chicken, fried potatoes, tiny green peas. Coraline shoveled the food into her mouth. It tasted wonderful.

  “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” said Coraline’s other father.

  “For me?”

  “Yes,” said the other mother. “It wasn’t the same here without you. But we knew you’d arrive one day, and then we could be a proper family. Would you like some more chicken?”

  It was the best chicken that Coraline had ever eaten. Her mother sometimes made chicken, but it was always out of packets or frozen, and was very dry, and it never tasted of anything. When Coraline’s father cooked chicken he bought real chicken, but he did strange things to it, like stewing it in wine, or stuffing it with prunes, or baking it in pastry, and Coraline would always refuse to touch it on principle.

  She took some more chicken.

  “I didn’t know I had another mother,” said Coraline, cautiously.

 
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