Home > Coraline(9)

Author: Neil Gaiman

“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 reach 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.

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