C ORALINE 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 wasnt big enough, and she put them down on the counter next to the door.
Her mother still hadnt 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 hadnt been slept in, and they werent 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 didnt 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 havent seen either of them since yesterday. Im on my own. I think Ive 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.»
«Shes vanished under mysterious circumstances,» said Coraline, «and I believe my father has as well.»
«Im afraid well be out all day tomorrow, Caroline, luvvy,» said Miss Forcible. «Well be staying over with Aprils niece in Royal Tunbridge Wells.»
They showed Coraline a photographic album, with photographs of Miss Spinks 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 fathers office. She woke up his computer and wrote a story.
THERE WAS A GIRL HER NAME WAS APPLE. SHE USED TO DANCE A LOT. SHE DANCED AND DANCED UNTIL HER FEET TURND INTO SOSSAJES THE END.
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?»
cat didnt say anything. Coraline got out of bed. She was wearing a long
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 Coralines 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. Coralines father had his arm around her mother.
In the mirror Coralines 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 arent 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 fathers 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.»
«Youre up a bit after your bedtime, arent 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 reach of her fingers. Im 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. Theres 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 thats 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.
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
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 wasnt 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 wouldnt be able to remember where theyd fallen.
«And soon he got home, wearing his glasses. He said that he wasnt 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 wasnt brave of him, doing that, just standing there and being stung,» said Coraline to the cat. «It wasnt brave because he wasnt 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 youre scared but you still do it anyway, thats 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 thats why youre going back to her world, then?» said the cat. «Because your father once saved you from wasps?»
«Dont be silly,» said Coraline. «Im going back for them because they are my parents. And if they noticed I was gone Im sure they would do the same for me. You know youre 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 wasnt it a lot shorter walk last time? when the candle went out as suddenly as if it had been snuffed by someones 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 spiders 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 mothers cold arms enfold her. She stood there, rigid and trembling as the other mother held her tightly.
«Where are my parents?» Coraline asked.
«Were here,» said her other mother, in a voice so close to her real mothers that Coraline could scarcely tell them apart. «Were here. Were 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. «Ill make us a midnight snack. And youll 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
«I dont 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 dont 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 of you, or tired. Now, I will never become bored of you, and I will never abandon you. You will always be safe here with me.» The other mothers wet-looking black hair drifted around her head, like the tentacles of a creature in the deep ocean.
«They werent bored of me,» said Coraline. «Youre lying. You stole them.»
«Silly, silly Coraline. They are fine wherever they are.»
Coraline simply glared at the other mother.
«Ill 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 Coralines mother and father walked inside. They carried suitcases.
«That was a fine holiday,» said Coralines 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 dont see. And I dont believe it either.»
She hoped that what she had just seen was not real, but she was not as certain as she sounded. There was a tiny doubt inside her, like a maggot in an apple core. Then she looked up and saw the expression on her other mothers face: a flash of real anger, which crossed her face like summer lightning, and Coraline was sure in her heart that what she had seen in the mirror was no more than an illusion.
Coraline sat down on the sofa and ate her apple.
«Please,» said her other mother. «Dont be difficult.» She walked into the drawing room and clapped her hands twice. There was a rustling noise and a black rat appeared. It stared up at her. «Bring me the key,» she said.
The rat chittered, then it ran through the open door that led back to Coralines own flat.
The rat returned, dragging the key behind it.
«Why dont you have your own key on this side?» asked Coraline.
«There is only one key. Only one door,» said the other father.
«Hush,» said the other mother. «You must not bother our darling Coralines head with such trivialities.» She put the key in the keyhole and twisted. The lock was stiff, but it clunked closed.
She dropped the key into her apron pocket.
Outside, the sky had begun to lighten to a luminous gray.
«If we arent going to have a midnight snack,» said the other mother, «we still need our beauty sleep. I am going back to bed, Coraline. I would strongly suggest that you do the same.»
She placed her long white fingers on the shoulders of the other father, and she walked him out of the room.
Coraline walked over to the door at the far corner of the drawing room. She tugged on it, but it was tightly locked. The door of her other parents bedroom was now closed.
She was indeed tired, but she did not want to sleep in the bedroom. She did not want to sleep under the same roof as her other mother.
The front door was not locked. Coraline walked out into the dawn and down the stone stairs. She sat down on the bottom step. It was cold.
Something furry pushed itself against her side in one smooth, insinuating motion. Coraline jumped, then breathed a sigh of relief when she saw what it was.
Oh. Its you, she said to the black cat.
See? said the cat. It wasnt so hard recognizing me, was it? Even without names.
Well, what if I wanted to call you?
The cat wrinkled its nose and managed to look unimpressed. Calling cats, it confided, tends to be a rather overrated activity. Might as well call a whirlwind.
What if it was dinnertime? asked Coraline. Wouldnt you want to be called then?
Of course, said the cat. But a simple cry of «dinner!» would do nicely. See? No need for names.
Why does she want me? Coraline asked the cat. Why does she want me to stay here with her?
She wants something to love, I think, said the cat. Something that isnt her. She might want something to eat as well. Its hard to tell with creatures like that.
Do you have any advice? asked Coraline.
The cat looked as if it were about to say something else sarcastic. Then it flicked its whiskers and said, Challenge her. Theres no guarantee shell play fair, but her kind of thing loves games and challenges.
What kind of thing is that? asked Coraline.
But the cat made no answer, simply stretched luxuriantly and walked away. Then it stopped, and turned, and said, Id go inside if I were you. Get some sleep. You have a long day ahead of you.
And then the cat was gone. Still, Coraline realized, it had a point. She crept back into the silent house, past the closed bedroom door inside which the other mother and the other father... what? she wondered. Slept? Waited? And then it came to her that, should she open the bedroom door she would find it empty, or more precisely, that it was an empty room and it would remain empty until the exact moment that she opened the door.
that made it easier. Coraline walked into the green-and-pink parody of her own
bedroom. She closed the door and hauled the toy box in front
The toys in the toy box were still mostly asleep, and they stirred and muttered as she moved their box, and then they went back to sleep. Coraline checked under her bed, looking for rats, but there was nothing there. She took off her dressing gown and slippers and climbed into bed and fell asleep with barely enough time to reflect, as she did so, on what the cat could have meant by a challenge.