Home > Coraline(12)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“Really, I mustn’t talk to you when she’s not here,” he said. “But don’t you worry. She won’t be gone often. I shall demonstrate our tender hospitality to you, such that you will not even think about ever going back.” He closed his mouth and folded his hands in his lap.

“So what am I to do now?” asked Coraline.

The other father pointed to his lips. Silence.

“If you won’t even talk to me,” said Coraline, “I am going exploring.”

“No point,” said the other father. “There isn’t anywhere but here. This is all she made: the house, the grounds, and the people in the house. She made it and she waited.” Then he looked embarrassed and he put one finger to his lips again, as if he had just said too much.

Coraline walked out of his study. She went into the drawing room, over to the old door, and she pulled it, rattled and shook it. No, it was locked fast, and the other mother had the key.

She looked around the room. It was so familiar—that was what made it feel so truly strange. Everything was exactly the same as she remembered: there was all her grandmother’s strange-smelling furniture, there was the painting of the bowl of fruit (a bunch of grapes, two plums, a peach and an apple) hanging on the wall, there was the low wooden table with the lion’s feet, and the empty fireplace which seemed to suck heat from the room.

But there was something else, something she did not remember seeing before. A ball of glass, up on the mantelpiece.

She went over to the fireplace, went up on tiptoes, and lifted it down. It was a snow globe, with two little people in it. Coraline shook it and set the snow flying, white snow that glittered as it tumbled through the water.

Then she put the snow globe back on the mantelpiece, and carried on looking for her true parents and for a way out.

She went out of the flat. Past the flashing-lights door, behind which the other Misses Spink and Forcible performed their show forever, and she set off into the woods.

Where Coraline came from, once you were through the patch of trees, you saw nothing but the meadow and the old tennis court. In this place, the woods went on farther, the trees becoming cruder and less treelike the farther you went.

Pretty soon they seemed very approximate, like the idea of trees: a grayish-brown trunk below, a greenish splodge of something that might have been leaves above.

Coraline wondered if the other mother wasn’t interested in trees, or if she just hadn’t bothered with this bit properly because nobody was expected to come out this far.

She kept walking.

And then the mist began.

It was not damp, like a normal fog or mist. It was not cold and it was not warm. It felt to Coraline like she was walking into nothing.

I’m an explorer, thought Coraline to herself. And I need all the ways out of here that I can get. So I shall keep walking.

The world she was walking through was a pale nothingness, like a blank sheet of paper or an enormous, empty white room. It had no temperature, no smell, no texture, and no taste.

It certainly isn’t mist, thought Coraline, although she did not know what it was. For a moment she wondered if she might not have gone blind. But no, she could see herself, plain as day. But there was no ground beneath her feet, just a misty, milky whiteness.

“And what do you think you’re doing?” said a shape to one side of her.

It took a few moments for her eyes to focus on it properly: she thought it might be some kind of lion, at first, some distance away from her; and then she thought it might be a mouse, close beside her. And then she knew what it was.

“I’m exploring,” Coraline told the cat.

Its fur stood straight out from its body and its eyes were wide, while its tail was down and between its legs. It did not look a happy cat.

“Bad place,” said the cat. “If you want to call it a place, which I don’t. What are you doing here?”

“I’m exploring.”

“Nothing to find here,” said the cat. “This is just the outside, the part of the place she hasn’t bothered to create.”


“The one who says she’s your other mother,” said the cat.

“What is she?” asked Coraline.

The cat did not answer, just padded through the pale mist beside Coraline.

A shape began to appear in front of them, something high and towering and dark.

“You were wrong!” she told the cat. “There is something there!”

And then it took shape in the mist: a dark house, which loomed at them out of the formless whiteness.

“But that’s—” said Coraline.

“The house you just left,” agreed the cat. “Precisely.”

“Maybe I just got turned around in the mist,” said Coraline.

The cat curled the high tip of its tail into a question mark, and tipped its head to one side. “You might have done,” it said. “I certainly would not. Wrong, indeed.”

“But how can you walk away from something and still come back to it?”

“Easy,” said the cat. “Think of somebody walking around the world. You start out walking away from something and end up coming back to it.”

“Small world,” said Coraline.

“It’s big enough for her,” said the cat. “Spiders’ webs only have to be large enough to catch flies.”

Coraline shivered.

“He said that she’s fixing all the gates and the doors,” she told the cat, “to keep you out.”

“She may try,” said the cat, unimpressed. “Oh yes. She may try.” They were standing under a clump of trees now, beside the house. These trees looked much more likely. “There’s ways in and ways out of places like this that even she doesn’t know about.”

“Did she make this place, then?” asked Coraline.

“Made it, found it—what’s the difference?” asked the cat. “Either way, she’s had it a very long time. Hang on—” And it gave a shiver and a leap and before Coraline could blink the cat was sitting with its paw holding down a big black rat. “It’s not that I like rats at the best of times,” said the cat, conversationally, as if nothing had happened, “but the rats in this place are all spies for her. She uses them as her eyes and hands . . .” And with that the cat let the rat go.

It ran several feet and then the cat, with one bound, was upon it, batting it hard with one sharp-clawed paw, while with the other paw it held the rat down. “I love this bit,” said the cat, happily. “Want to see me do that again?”

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