Home > Coraline(5)

Author: Neil Gaiman

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.

“Of course you do. Everyone does,” said the other mother, her black button eyes gleaming. “After lunch I thought you might like to play in your room with the rats.”

“The rats?”

“From upstairs.”

Coraline had never seen a rat, except on television. She was quite looking forward to it. This was turning out to be a very interesting day after all.

After lunch her other parents did the washing up, and Coraline went down the hall to her other bedroom.

It was different from her bedroom at home. For a start it was painted in an off-putting shade of green and a peculiar shade of pink.

Coraline decided that she wouldn’t want to have to sleep in there, but that the color scheme was an awful lot more interesting than her own bedroom.

There were all sorts of remarkable things in there she’d never seen before: windup angels that fluttered around the bedroom like startled sparrows; books with pictures that writhed and crawled and shimmered; little dinosaur skulls that chattered their teeth as she passed. A whole toy box filled with wonderful toys.

This is more like it, thought Coraline. She looked out of the window. Outside, the view was the same one she saw from her own bedroom: trees, fields, and beyond them, on the horizon, distant purple hills.

Something black scurried across the floor and vanished under the bed. Coraline got down on her knees and looked under the bed. Fifty little red eyes stared back at her.

“Hello,” said Coraline. “Are you the rats?”

They came out from under the bed, blinking their eyes in the light. They had short, soot-black fur, little red eyes, pink paws like tiny hands, and pink, hairless tails like long, smooth worms.

“Can you talk?” she asked.

The largest, blackest of the rats shook its head. It had an unpleasant sort of smile, Coraline thought.

“Well,” asked Coraline, “what do you do?”

The rats formed a circle.

Then they began to climb on top of each other, carefully but swiftly, until they had formed a pyramid with the largest rat at the top.

The rats began to sing, in high, whispery voices,

We have teeth and we have tails

We have tails we have eyes

We were here before you fell

You will be here when we rise.

It wasn’t a pretty song. Coraline was sure she’d heard it before, or something like it, although she was unable to remember exactly where.

Then the pyramid fell apart, and the rats scampered, fast and black, toward the door.

The other crazy old man upstairs was standing in the doorway, holding a tall black hat in his hands. The rats scampered up him, burrowing into his pockets, into his shirt, up his trouser legs, down his neck.

The largest rat climbed onto the old man’s shoulders, swung up on the long gray mustache, past the big black button eyes, and onto the top of the man’s head.

In seconds the only evidence that the rats were there at all were the restless lumps under the man’s clothes, forever sliding from place to place across him; and there was still the largest rat, who stared down, with glittering red eyes, at Coraline from the man’s head.

The old man put his hat on, and the last rat was gone.

“Hello Coraline,” said the other old man upstairs. “I heard you were here. It is time for the rats to have their dinner. But you can come up with me, if you like, and watch them feed.”

There was something hungry in the old man’s button eyes that made Coraline feel uncomfortable. “No, thank you,” she said. “I’m going outside to explore.”

The old man nodded, very slowly. Coraline could hear the rats whispering to each other, although she could not tell what they were saying.

She was not certain that she wanted to know what they were saying.

Her other parents stood in the kitchen doorway as she walked down the corridor, smiling identical smiles, and waving slowly. “Have a nice time outside,” said her other mother.

“We’ll just wait here for you to come back,” said her other father.

When Coraline got to the front door, she turned back and looked at them. They were still watching her, and waving, and smiling.

Coraline walked outside, and down the steps.


The house looked exactly the same from the outside. Or almost exactly the same: around Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s door were blue and red lightbulbs that flashed on and off spelling out words, the lights chasing each other around the door. On and off, around and around. astounding! was followed by a theatrical and then triumph!!!

It was a sunny, cold day, exactly like the one she’d left.

There was a polite noise from behind her.

She turned around. Standing on the wall next to her was a large black cat, identical to the large black cat she’d seen in the grounds at home.

“Good afternoon,” said the cat.

Its voice sounded like the voice at the back of Coraline’s head, the voice she thought words in, but a man’s voice, not a girl’s.

“Hello,” said Coraline. “I saw a cat like you in the garden at home. You must be the other cat.”

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