T HE NEXT DAY IT HAD stopped raining, but a thick white fog had lowered over the house.
«Im going for a walk,» said Coraline.
«Dont 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 doesnt get lost-itll bring on her shingles if she does, youll see,» said Miss Forcible. «Youd have to be an explorer to find your way around in this fog.»
«Im an explorer,» said Coraline.
«Of course you are, luvvy,» said Miss Forcible. «Dont 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 Coralines 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 dont like the mist much, either,» admitted Coraline.
The old man leaned down, so close that the bottoms of his mustache tickled Coralines ear. «The mice have a message for you,» he whispered.
Coraline didnt know what to say.
«The message is this. Dont 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 mothers 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 Ill 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
written on it in one corner in slightly wiggly letters. She grunted and passed it to her mother.
«Mm. Very modern, dear,» said Coralines 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.
«Im bored,» she said.
«Learn how to tap-dance,» he suggested, without turning around.
Coraline shook her head. «Why dont you play with me?» she asked.
«Busy,» he said. «Working,» he added. He still hadnt turned around to look at her. «Why dont 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 Forcibles 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, its you, Caroline,» she said. «Angus, Hamish, Bruce, down now, luvvies. Its 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, theres 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 cant retire you from the stage.»
«Now, Miriam, we agreed,» said Miss Spink. Coraline wondered if theyd forgotten she was there. They werent 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.
«Ill read the leaves, if you want,» said Miss Spink to Coraline.
«Sorry?» said Coraline.
«The tea leaves, dear. Ill 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. «Dont 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 didnt say,» said Miss Spink. «Tea leaves arent reliable for that kind of thing. Not really. Theyre good for general, but not for specifics.»
«What should I do then?» asked Coraline, who was slightly alarmed by this.
«Dont 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.
«Whats 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. «Theyre 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 familys 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 didnt sound like a bad thing. Not really.
Coraline went back upstairs, her fist closed tightly around her new stone.