Coraline, p.4
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       Coraline, p.4

           Neil Gaiman
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  Coraline backed away. She turned and hurried into the drawing room and pulled open the door in the corner. There was no brick wall there now—just darkness, a night-black underground darkness that seemed as if things in it might be moving.

  Coraline hesitated. She turned back. Her other mother and her other father were walking toward her, holding hands. They were looking at her with their black button eyes. Or at least she thought they were looking at her. She couldn’t be sure.

  Her other mother reached out her free hand and beckoned, gently, with one white finger. Her pale lips mouthed, “Come back soon,” although she said nothing aloud.

  Coraline took a deep breath and stepped into the darkness, where strange voices whispered and distant winds howled. She became certain that there was something in the dark behind her: something very old and very slow. Her heart beat so hard and so loudly she was scared it would burst out of her chest. She closed her eyes against the dark.

  Eventually she bumped into something, and opened her eyes, startled. She had bumped into an armchair, in her drawing room.

  The open doorway behind her was blocked by rough red bricks.

  She was home.


  CORALINE LOCKED THE DOOR of the drawing room with the cold black key.

  She went back into the kitchen and climbed onto a chair. She tried to put the bunch of keys back on top of the doorframe again. She tried four or five times before she was forced to accept that she just wasn’t big enough, and she put them down on the counter next to the door.

  Her mother still hadn’t returned from her shopping expedition.

  Coraline went to the freezer and took out the spare loaf of frozen bread in the bottom compartment. She made herself some toast, with jam and peanut butter. She drank a glass of water.

  She waited for her parents to come back.

  When it began to get dark, Coraline microwaved herself a frozen pizza.

  Then Coraline watched television. She wondered why grown-ups gave themselves all the good programs, with all the shouting and running around in.

  After a while she started yawning. Then she undressed, brushed her teeth, and put herself to bed.

  In the morning she went into her parents’ room, but their bed hadn’t been slept in, and they weren’t around. She ate canned spaghetti for breakfast.

  For lunch she had a block of cooking chocolate and an apple. The apple was yellow and slightly shriveled, but it tasted sweet and good.

  For tea she went down to see Misses Spink and Forcible. She had three digestive biscuits, a glass of limeade, and a cup of weak tea. The limeade was very interesting. It didn’t taste anything like limes. It tasted bright green and vaguely chemical. Coraline liked it enormously. She wished they had it at home.

  “How are your dear mother and father?” asked Miss Spink.

  “Missing,” said Coraline. “I haven’t seen either of them since yesterday. I’m on my own. I think I’ve probably become a single child family.”

  “Tell your mother that we found the Glasgow Empire press clippings we were telling her about. She seemed very interested when Miriam mentioned them to her.”

  “She’s vanished under mysterious circumstances,” said Coraline, “and I believe my father has as well.”

  “I’m afraid we’ll be out all day tomorrow, Caroline, luvvy,” said Miss Forcible. “We’ll be staying over with April’s niece in Royal Tunbridge Wells.”

  They showed Coraline a photographic album, with photographs of Miss Spink’s niece in it, and then Coraline went home.

  She opened her money box and walked down to the supermarket. She bought two large bottles of limeade, a chocolate cake, and a new bag of apples, and went back home and ate them for dinner.

  She cleaned her teeth, and went into her father’s office. She woke up his computer and wrote a story.



  She printed out the story and turned off the computer. Then she drew a picture of the little girl dancing underneath the words on the paper.

  She ran herself a bath with too much bubble bath in it, and the bubbles ran over the side and went all over the floor. She dried herself, and the floor as best she could, and went to bed.

  Coraline woke up in the night. She went into her parents’ bedroom, but the bed was made and empty. The glowing green numbers on the digital clock glowed 3:12 A.M.

  All alone, in the middle of the night, Coraline began to cry. There was no other sound in the empty flat.

  She climbed into her parents’ bed, and, after a while, she went to sleep.

  Coraline was woken by cold paws batting her face. She opened her eyes. Big green eyes stared back at her. It was the cat.

  “Hullo,” said Coraline. “How did you get in?”

  The cat didn’t say anything. Coraline got out of bed. She was wearing a long T-shirt and pajama bottoms. “Have you come to tell me something?”

  The cat yawned, which made its eyes flash green.

  “Do you know where Mummy and Daddy are?”

  The cat blinked at her, slowly.

  “Is that a yes?”

  The cat blinked again. Coraline decided that that was indeed a yes. “Will you take me to them?”

  The cat stared at her. Then it walked out into the hall. She followed it. It walked the length of the corridor and stopped down at the very end, where a full-length mirror hung. The mirror had been, a long time before, the inside of a wardrobe door. It had been hanging there on the wall when they moved in, and, although Coraline’s mother had spoken occasionally of replacing it with something newer, she never had.

  Coraline turned on the light in the hall.

  The mirror showed the corridor behind her; that was only to be expected. But reflected in the mirror were her parents. They stood awkwardly in the reflection of the hall. They seemed sad and alone. As Coraline watched, they waved to her, slowly, with limp hands. Coraline’s father had his arm around her mother.

  In the mirror Coraline’s mother and father stared at her. Her father opened his mouth and said something, but she could hear nothing at all. Her mother breathed on the inside of the mirror glass, and quickly, before the fog faded, she wrote

  with the tip of her forefinger. The fog on the inside of the mirror faded, and so did her parents, and now the mirror reflected only the corridor, and Coraline, and the cat.

  “Where are they?” Coraline asked the cat. The cat made no reply, but Coraline could imagine its voice, dry as a dead fly on a windowsill in winter, saying Well, where do you think they are?

  “They aren’t going to come back, are they?” said Coraline. “Not under their own steam.”

  The cat blinked at her. Coraline took it as a yes.

  “Right,” said Coraline. “Then I suppose there is only one thing left to do.”

  She walked into her father’s study. She sat down at his desk. Then she picked up the telephone, and she opened the phone book and telephoned the local police station.

  “Police,” said a gruff male voice.

  “Hello,” she said. “My name is Coraline Jones.”

  “You’re up a bit after your bedtime, aren’t you, young lady?” said the policeman.

  “Possibly,” said Coraline, who was not going to be diverted, “but I am ringing to report a crime.”

  “And what sort of crime would that be?”

  “Kidnapping. Grown-up-napping really. My parents have been stolen away into a world on the other side of the mirror in our hall.”

  “And do you know who stole them?” asked the police officer. Coraline could hear the smile in his voice, and she tried extra hard to sound like an adult might sound, to make him take her seriously.

  “I think my other mother has them both in her clutches. She may want to keep them and sew their eyes with black buttons, or she may simply have them in order to lure me back into r
each of her fingers. I’m not sure.”

  “Ah. The nefarious clutches of her fiendish fingers, is it?” he said. “Mm. You know what I suggest, Miss Jones?”

  “No,” said Coraline. “What?”

  “You ask your mother to make you a big old mug of hot chocolate, and then give you a great big old hug. There’s nothing like hot chocolate and a hug for making the nightmares go away. And if she starts to tell you off for waking her up at this time of night, why you tell her that that’s what the policeman said.” He had a deep, reassuring voice.

  Coraline was not reassured.

  “When I see her,” said Coraline, “I shall tell her that.” And she put down the telephone.

  The black cat, who had sat on the floor, grooming his fur, through this entire conversation now stood up and led the way into the hall.

  Coraline went back into her bedroom and put on her blue dressing gown and her slippers. She looked under the sink for a flashlight, and found one, but the batteries had long since run down, and it barely glowed with the faintest straw-colored light. She put it down again and found a box of in-case-of-emergency white wax candles, and thrust one into a candlestick. She put an apple into each pocket. She picked up the ring of keys and took the old black key off the ring.

  She walked into the drawing room and looked at the door. She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.

  She went back into her bedroom, and rummaged in the pocket of her jeans. She found the stone with the hole in it, and put it into her dressing-gown pocket.

  She lit the candlewick with a match and watched it sputter and light, then she picked up the black key. It was cold in her hand. She put it into the keyhole in the door, but did not turn the key.

  “When I was a little girl,” said Coraline to the cat, “when we lived in our old house, a long, long time ago, my dad took me for a walk on the wasteland between our house and the shops.

  “It wasn’t the best place to go for a walk, really. There were all these things that people had thrown away back there—old cookers and broken dishes and dolls with no arms and no legs and empty cans and broken bottles. Mum and Dad made me promise not to go exploring back there, because there were too many sharp things, and tetanus and such.

  “But I kept telling them I wanted to explore it. So one day my dad put on his big brown boots and his gloves and put my boots on me and my jeans and sweater, and we went for a walk.

  “We must have walked for about twenty minutes. We went down this hill, to the bottom of a gully where a stream was, when my dad suddenly said to me, “Coraline—run away. Up the hill. Now!” He said it in a tight sort of way, urgently, so I did. I ran away up the hill. Something hurt me on the back of my arm as I ran, but I kept running.

  “As I got to the top of the hill I heard somebody thundering up the hill behind me. It was my dad, charging like a rhino. When he reached me he picked me up in his arms and swept me over the edge of the hill.

  “And then we stopped and we puffed and we panted, and we looked back down the gully.

  “The air was alive with yellow wasps. We must have stepped on a wasps’ nest in a rotten branch as we walked. And while I was running up the hill, my dad stayed and got stung, to give me time to run away. His glasses had fallen off when he ran.

  “I only had the one sting on the back of my arm. He had thirty-nine stings, all over him. We counted later, in the bath.”

  The black cat began to wash its face and whiskers in a manner that indicated increasing impatience. Coraline reached down and stroked the back of its head and neck. The cat stood up, walked several paces until it was out of her reach, then it sat down and looked up at her again.

  “So,” said Coraline, “later that afternoon my dad went back again to the wasteland, to get his glasses back. He said if he left it another day he wouldn’t be able to remember where they’d fallen.

  “And soon he got home, wearing his glasses. He said that he wasn’t scared when he was standing there and the wasps were stinging him and hurting him and he was watching me run away. Because he knew he had to give me enough time to run, or the wasps would have come after both of us.”

  Coraline turned the key in the door. It turned with a loud clunk.

  The door swung open.

  There was no brick wall on the other side of the door: only darkness. A cold wind blew through the passageway.

  Coraline made no move to walk through the door.

  “And he said that wasn’t brave of him, doing that, just standing there and being stung,” said Coraline to the cat. “It wasn’t brave because he wasn’t scared: it was the only thing he could do. But going back again to get his glasses, when he knew the wasps were there, when he was really scared. That was brave.”

  She took her first step down the dark corridor.

  She could smell dust and damp and mustiness.

  The cat padded along beside her.

  “And why was that?” asked the cat, although it sounded barely interested.

  “Because,” she said, “when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s brave.”

  The candle cast huge, strange, flickering shadows along the wall. She heard something moving in the darkness—beside her or to one side of her, she could not tell. It seemed as if it was keeping pace with her, whatever it was.

  “And that’s why you’re going back to her world, then?” said the cat. “Because your father once saved you from wasps?”

  “Don’t be silly,” said Coraline. “I’m going back for them because they are my parents. And if they noticed I was gone I’m sure they would do the same for me. You know you’re talking again?”

  “How fortunate I am,” said the cat, “in having a traveling companion of such wisdom and intelligence.” Its tone remained sarcastic, but its fur was bristling, and its brush of a tail stuck up in the air.

  Coraline was going to say something, like sorry or wasn’t it a lot shorter walk last time? when the candle went out as suddenly as if it had been snuffed by someone’s hand.

  There was a scrabbling and a pattering, and Coraline could feel her heart pounding against her ribs. She put out one hand…and felt something wispy, like a spider’s web, brush her hands and her face.

  At the end of the corridor the electric light went on, blinding after the darkness. A woman stood, silhouetted by the light, a little ahead of Coraline.

  “Coraline? Darling?” she called.

  “Mum!” said Coraline, and she ran forward, eager and relieved.

  “Darling,” said the woman. “Why did you ever run away from me?”

  Coraline was too close to stop, and she felt the other mother’s cold arms enfold her. She stood there, rigid and trembling as the other mother held her tightly.

  “Where are my parents?” Coraline asked.

  “We’re here,” said her other mother, in a voice so close to her real mother’s that Coraline could scarcely tell them apart. “We’re here. We’re ready to love you and play with you and feed you and make your life interesting.”

  Coraline pulled back, and the other mother let her go, with reluctance.

  The other father, who had been sitting on a chair in the hallway, stood up and smiled. “Come on into the kitchen,” he said. “I’ll make us a midnight snack. And you’ll want something to drink—hot chocolate perhaps?”

  Coraline walked down the hallway until she reached the mirror at the end. There was nothing reflected in it but a young girl in her dressing gown and slippers, who looked like she had recently been crying but whose eyes were real eyes, not black buttons, and who was holding tightly to a burned-out candle in a candlestick.

  She looked at the girl in the mirror and the girl in the mirror looked back at her.

  I will be brave, thought Coraline. No, I am brave.

  She put down the candlestick on the floor, then turned around. The other mother and the other father were looking at her hungrily.

nbsp; “I don’t need a snack,” she said. “I have an apple. See?” And she took an apple from her dressing-gown pocket, then bit into it with relish and an enthusiasm that she did not really feel.

  The other father looked disappointed. The other mother smiled, showing a full set of teeth, and each of the teeth was a tiny bit too long. The lights in the hallway made her black button eyes glitter and gleam.

  “You don’t frighten me,” said Coraline, although they did frighten her, very much. “I want my parents back.”

  The world seemed to shimmer a little at the edges.

  “Whatever would I have done with your old parents? If they have left you, Coraline, it must be because they became bored with you, or tired. Now, I will never be come bored with you, and I will never abandon you. You will always be safe here with me.” The other mother’s wet-looking black hair drifted around her head, like the tentacles of a creature in the deep ocean.

  “They weren’t bored of me,” said Coraline. “You’re lying. You stole them.”

  “Silly, silly Coraline. They are fine wherever they are.”

  Coraline simply glared at the other mother.

  “I’ll prove it,” said the other mother, and brushed the surface of the mirror with her long white fingers. It clouded over, as if a dragon had breathed on it, and then it cleared.

  In the mirror it was daytime already. Coraline was looking at the hallway, all the way down to her front door. The door opened from the outside and Coraline’s mother and father walked inside. They carried suitcases.

  “That was a fine holiday,” said Coraline’s father.

  “How nice it is, not to have Coraline any more,” said her mother with a happy smile. “Now we can do all the things we always wanted to do, like go abroad, but were prevented from doing by having a little daughter.”

  “And,” said her father, “I take great comfort in knowing that her other mother will take better care of her than we ever could.”

  The mirror fogged and faded and reflected the night once more.

  “See?” said her other mother.

  “No,” said Coraline. “I don’t see. And I don’t believe it either.”

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