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Neil Gaiman - Coraline

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CoralineNeil Gaiman1 .22 .53 .75 .156 .207 .248 .269 .3010 .3311 .3612 .39I started this for HollyI finished it for MaddyFairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us thatdragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can bebeaten.—G. K. ChestertonIn the flat above Coraline's, under the roof, wasa crazy old man with a big moustache. He toldCoraline that he was training a mouse circus. Hewouldn't let anyone see it."One day, little Caroline, when they are allready, everyone in the whole world will see thewonders of my mouse circus. You ask me whyyou cannot see it now. Is that what you askedme?""No," said Coraline quietly, "I asked you not tocall me Caroline. It's Coraline.""The reason you cannot see the mouse circus,"said the man upstairs, "is that the mice are not yetready and rehearsed. Also, they refuse to play thesongs I have written for them. All the songs I havewritten for the mice to play go oompah oompah.But the white mice will only play toodle oodle, likethat. I am thinking of trying them on different typesof cheese."Coraline didn't think there really was a mousecircus. She thought the old man was probablymaking it up.1CORALINE DISCOVERED THE DOOR a littlewhile after they moved into the house.It was a very old house—it had an attic underthe roof and a cellar under the ground and anovergrown garden with huge old trees in it.Coraline's family didn't own all of the house—itwas too big for that. Instead they owned part of it.There were other people who lived in the oldhouse.Miss Spink and Miss Forcible lived in the flatbelow Coraline's, on the ground floor. They wereboth old and round, and they lived in their flat witha number of ageing Highland terriers who hadnames like Hamish and Andrew and Jock. Onceupon a time Miss Spink and Miss Forcible hadbeen actresses, as Miss Spink told Coraline thefirst time she met her."You see, Caroline," Miss Spink said, gettingCoraline's name wrong, "both myself and MissForcible were famous actresses, in our time. Wetrod the boards, luvvy. Oh, don't let Hamish eatthe fruitcake, or he'll be up all night with histummy.""It's Coraline. Not Caroline. Coraline," saidCoraline.The day after they moved in, Coraline wentexploring.She explored the garden. It was a big garden:at the very back was an old tennis court, but noone in the house played tennis and the fencearound the court had holes in it and the net hadmostly rotted away; there was an old rose garden,filled with stunted, flyblown rose-bushes; therewas a rockery that was all rocks; there was a fairyring, made of squidgy brown toadstools whichsmelled dreadful if you accidentally trod on them.There was also a well. Miss Spink and MissForcible made a point of telling Coraline howdangerous the well was, on the first day Coraline'sfamily moved in, and warned her to be sure shekept away from it. So Coraline set off to explorefor it, so that she knew where it was, to keep awayfrom it properly.She found it on the third day, in an overgrownmeadow beside the tennis court, behind a clumpof trees—a low brick circle almost hidden in thehigh grass. The well had been covered up bywooden boards, to stop anyone falling in. Therewas a small knot-hole in one of the boards, andCoraline spent an afternoon dropping pebbles andacorns through the hole, and waiting, andcounting, until she heard the plop as they hit thewater, far below.2

Coraline also explored for animals. She found ahedgehog, and a snake-skin (but no snake), and arock that looked just like a frog, and a toad thatlooked just like a rock.There was also a haughty black cat, who wouldsit on walls and tree stumps, and watch her; butwould slip away if ever she went over to try to playwith it.Coraline's father was home. Both of herparents worked, doing things on computers, whichmeant that they were home a lot of the time. Eachof them had their own study."Hello, Coraline," he said when she came in,without turning round."Mmph," said Coraline. "It's raining."That was how she spent her first two weeks inthe house—exploring the garden and the grounds.Her mother made her come back inside fordinner, and for lunch; and Coraline had to makesure she dressed up warm before she went out,for it was a very cold summer that year; but go outshe did, exploring, every day until the day itrained, when Coraline had to stay inside."Yup," said her father. "It's bucketing down.""No," said Coraline, "it's just raining. Can I gooutside?""What does your mother say?""She says, 'You're not going out in weather likethat, Coraline Jones'.""What should I do?" asked Coraline."Then, no.""Read a book," said her mother. "Watch avideo. Play with your toys. Go and pester MissSpink or Miss Forcible, or the crazy old manupstairs.""No," said Coraline. "I don't want to do thosethings. I want to explore.""I don't really mind what you do," saidCoraline's mother, "as long as you don't make amess."Coraline went over to the window and watchedthe rain come down. It wasn't the kind of rain youcould go out in, it was the other kind, the kind thatthrew itself down from the sky and splashed whereit landed. It was rain that meant business, andcurrently its business was turning the garden intoa muddy, wet soup.Coraline had watched all the videos. She wasbored with her toys, and she'd read all her books.She turned on the television. She went fromchannel to channel to channel, but there wasnothing on but men in suits talking about the stockmarket, and schools programmes. Eventually, shefound something to watch: it was the last half of anatural history programme about something calledprotective coloration. She watched animals, birdsand insects which disguised themselves as leavesor twigs or other animals to escape from thingsthat could hurt them. She enjoyed it, but it endedtoo soon, and was followed by a programme abouta cake factory."But I want to carry on exploring.""Then explore the flat," suggested her father."Look—here's a piece of paper and a pen. Countall the doors and windows. List everything blue.Mount an expedition to discover the hot-watertank. And leave me alone to work.""Can I go into the drawing room?" The drawingroom was where the Joneses kept the dmother had left them when she died.Coraline wasn't allowed in there. Nobody went inthere. It was only for best."If you don't make a mess. And you don't touchanything."Coraline considered this carefully, then shetook the paper and pen and went off to explore theinside of the flat.She discovered the hot-water tank (it was in acupboard in the kitchen).She counted everything blue (153).She counted the windows (21).She counted the doors (14).Of the doors that she found, thirteen openedand closed. The other, the big, carved, brownwooden door at the far corner of the drawingroom, was locked.It was time to talk to her father.3

She said to her mother, "Where does that doorgo?""Nowhere, dear."the little red numbers on the microwave ovencounted down to zero."If you tried it, maybe you'd like it," saidCoraline's father, but she shook her head."It has to go somewhere."Her mother shook her head. "Look," she toldCoraline.She reached up, and took a string of keys fromthe top of the kitchen doorframe. She sortedthrough them carefully and selected the oldest,biggest, blackest, rustiest key. They went into thedrawing room. She unlocked the door with thekey.The door swung open.Her mother was right. The door didn't goanywhere. It opened on to a brick wall."When this place was just one house," saidCoraline's mother, "that door went somewhere.When they turned the house into flats, they simplybricked it up. The other side is the empty flat onthe other side of the house, the one that's still forsale."She shut the door and put the string of keysback on top of the kitchen doorframe.That night, Coraline lay awake in her bed. Therain had stopped, and she was almost asleepwhen something went t-t-t-t-t-t. She sat up in bed.Something went kreeee aaaak.Coraline got out of bed and looked down thehall, but saw nothing strange. She walked downthe hallway. From her parents' bedroom came alow snoring—that was her father—and anoccasional sleeping mutter—that was her mother.Coraline wonderedwhatever it was.ifshe'ddreamedit,Something moved.It was little more than a shadow, and it scuttleddown the darkened hall fast, like a little patch ofnight. She hoped it wasn't a spider. Spiders madeCoraline intensely uncomfortable.The black shape went into the drawing roomand Coraline followed it in, a little nervously."You didn't lock it," said Coraline.Her mother shrugged. "Why should I lock it?"she asked. "It doesn't go anywhere."Coraline didn't say anything.It was nearly dark now, and the rain was stillcoming down, pattering against the windows andblurring the lights of the cars in the street outside.Coraline's father stopped working and madethem all dinner.Coraline was disgusted. "Daddy," she said,"You've made a recipe again."The room was dark. The only light came fromthe hall, and Coraline, who was standing in thedoorway, cast a huge and distorted shadow on tothe drawing-room carpet: she looked like a thingiant woman.Coraline was just wondering whether or not sheought to turn on the light when she saw the blackshape edge slowly out from beneath the sofa. Itpaused, and then dashed silently across thecarpet towards the farthest corner of the room.There was no furniture in that corner of theroom.Coraline turned on the light."It's leek and potato stew, with a tarragongarnish and melted Gruyére cheese," he admitted.Coraline sighed. Then she went to the freezerand got out some microwave chips and amicrowave mini-pizza."You know I don't like recipes," she told herfather, while her dinner went round and round andThere was nothing in the corner. Nothing butthe old door that opened on to the brick wall.She was sure that her mother had shut thedoor, but now it was ever so slightly open. Just acrack. Coraline went over to it and looked in.There was nothing there—just a wall, built of redbricks.4

Coraline closed the old wooden door, turnedout the light, and went back to bed.She dreamed of black shapes that slid fromplace to place, avoiding the light, until they wereall gathered together under the moon. Little blackshapes with little red eyes and sharp yellow teeth.They started to sing:We are small but we are manyWe are many, we are smallWe were here before you roseWe will be here when you fall.Their voices were high and whispery andslightly whiny. They made Coraline feeluncomfortable.Then Coraline dreamed a few commercials,and after that she dreamed of nothing at all.Miss Spink looked around cautiously, lookingfirst over one shoulder and then over the other,peering into the mist as though someone might belistening."Men," she whispered. Then she tugged thedogs to heel and waddled off back towards thehouse.Coraline continued her walk.She was three quarters of the way around thehouse when she saw Miss Forcible, standing atthe door to the flat she shared with Miss Spink."Have you seen Miss Spink, Caroline?"Coraline told her that she had, and that MissSpink was out walking the dogs."I do hope she doesn't get lost; it'll bring on hershingles if she does, you'll see," said MissForcible. You'd have to be an explorer to find yourway around in this fog."2The next day it had stopped raining, but a thickwhite fog had lowered over the house."I'm going for a walk," said Coraline."Don't go too far," said her mother. "And dressup warmly."Coraline put on her blue coat with a hood, herred 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. "MissForcible talks about her Ophelia, but it was myPortia they came to see. When we trod theboards."Miss Spink was bundled up in pullovers andcardigans, so she seemed more small and circularthan ever. She looked like a large, fluffy egg. Shewore thick glasses that made her eyes seemhuge."They used to send flowers to my dressingroom. They did," she said."Who did?" asked Coraline."I'm an explorer," said Coraline."Of course you are, lovey," said Miss Forcible."Don't get lost, now."Coraline continued walking through the gardenin grey mist. She always kept in sight of thehouse.After about ten minutes of walking she foundherself back where she had started.The hair over her eyes was limp and wet, andher face felt damp."Ahoy! Caroline!" called the crazy old manupstairs."Oh, hello," said Coraline.She could hardly see the old man through themist.He walked down the steps on the outside of thehouse that led up past Coraline's front door to thedoor of his flat. He walked down very slowly.Coraline waited at the bottom of the steps."The mice do not like the mist," he told her. "Itmakes their whiskers droop.""I don't like the mist much, either," admittedCoraline.5

The old man leaned down, so close that thebottom of his moustache tickled Coraline's ear."The mice have a message for you," hewhispered.Coraline didn't know what to say."The message is this. Don't go through thedoor." He paused. "Does that mean anything toyou?"Coraline went to see her father.He had his back to the door as he typed. "Goaway," he said cheerfully as she walked in."I'm bored," she said."Learn how to tap-dance," he suggested,without turning round.Coraline shook her head. "Why don't you playwith me?" she asked."No," said Coraline.The old man shrugged. "They are funny, themice. They get things wrong. They got your namewrong, you know. They kept saying Coraline. NotCaroline. Not Caroline at all."He picked up a milk bottle from the bottomstep, and started back up to his attic flat.Coraline went indoors. Her mother was workingin her study. Her mother's study smelt of flowers."What shall I do?" asked Coraline."When do you go back to school?" asked hermother."Next week," said Coraline."Hmph," said her mother. "I suppose I shallhave to get you new school clothes. Remind me,dear, or else I'll forget," and she went back totyping things on the computer screen."What shall I do?" repeated Coraline."Draw something." Her mother passed her asheet of paper and a ballpoint pen.Coraline tried drawing the mist. After tenminutes of drawing she still had a white sheet ofpaper withM STIwritten on it in one corner, in slightly wigglyletters. She grunted and passed it to her mother."Mm. Very modern, dear," said Coraline'smother.Coraline crept into the drawing room and triedto open the old door in the corner. It was lockedonce more. She supposed her mother must havelocked it again. She shrugged."Busy," he said. "Working," he added. He stillhadn't turned around to look at her. "Why don'tyou go and bother Miss Spink and Miss Forcible?"Coraline put on her coat and pulled up herhood and went out of the house. She went downthe steps. She rang the door of Miss Spink andMiss Forcible's flat. Coraline could hear a frenziedwoofing as the Scottie dogs ran out into the hall.After a while Miss Spink opened the door."Oh, it's you, Caroline," she said. "Angus,Hamish, Bruce, down now, lovies. It's onlyCaroline. Come in, dear. Would you like a cup oftea?"The flat smelt of furniture polish and dogs."Yes, please," said Coraline. Miss Spink led herinto a dusty little room, which she called theparlour. On the walls were black and whitephotographs of pretty women, and theatreprogrammes in frames. Miss Forcible was sittingin one of the armchairs, knitting hard.Miss Spink poured Coraline a cup of tea in alittle pink bone-china cup with a saucer, and gaveher a dry Garibaldi biscuit to go with it.Miss Forcible looked at Miss Spink, picked upher knitting, and took a deep breath. "Anyway,April. As I was saying: you still have to admit,there's life in the old dog yet," she said."Miriam, dear, neither of us is as young as wewere.""Madame Arcati," replied Miss Forcible. "Thenurse in Romeo. Lady Bracknell. Character parts.They can't retire you from the stage.""Now, Miriam, we agreed," said Miss Spink.Coraline wondered if they'd forgotten she wasthere. They weren't making much sense; shedecided they were having an argument as old and6

comfortable as an armchair, the kind of argumentthat no one ever really wins or loses, but whichcan go on for ever, if both parties are willing.pull things out of it. There was a tiny china duck, athimble, a strange little brass coin, two paperclips,and a stone with a hole in it.She passed Coraline the stone with a hole in it.She sipped her tea."I'll read the leaves, if you want," said MissSpink to Coraline."What's it for?" asked Coraline. The hole wentall the way through the middle of the stone. Sheheld it up to the window and looked through it."Sorry?" said Coraline."The tea leaves, dear. I'll read your future.""It might help," said Miss Spink. "They're goodfor bad things, sometimes."Coraline passed Miss Spink her cup. MissSpink peered short-sightedly at the black tealeaves in the bottom. She pursed her lips.Coraline put on her coat, said goodbye toMisses Spink and Forcible, and to the dogs, andwent outside."You know, Caroline," she said after a while,"you are in terrible danger."The mist hung like blindness around the house.She walked slowly to the steps up to her family'sflat, and then stopped and looked around.Miss Forcible snorted and put down herknitting. "Don't be silly, April. Stop scaring the girl.Your eyes are going. Pass me that cup, child."In the mist, it was a ghost-world. In danger?thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. Itdidn't sound like a bad thing. Not really.Coraline carried the cup over to Miss Forcible.Miss Forcible looked into it carefully, and shookher head, and looked into it again.Coraline went back up the steps, her fist closedtightly around her new stone."Oh dear," she said. "You were right, April. Sheis in danger."3"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 herblankly. "It didn't say," said Miss Spink. "Tealeaves aren't reliable for that kind of thing. Notreally. They're good for generalities, but not forspecifics.""What should I do then?" asked Coraline, whowas slightly alarmed by this."Don't wear green in your dressing room,"suggested Miss Spink."Or mention the Scottish play," added MissForcible.Coraline wondered why so few of the adultsshe had met made any sense. She sometimeswondered who they thought they were talking to."And be very, very careful," said Miss Spink.She got up from her armchair and went over to thefireplace. On the mantelpiece was a small jar, andMiss Spink took off the top of the jar and began toThe next day the sun shone, and Coraline'smother took her into the nearest large town to buyclothes for school. They dropped her father off atthe railway station. He was going into London forthe day to see some people.Coraline waved him goodbye.They went to the department store to buy theschool clothes.Coraline saw some Day-glo green gloves sheliked a lot. Her mother refu

There was also a haughty black cat, who would sit on walls and tree stumps, and watch her; but would slip away if ever she went over to try to play with it. That was how she spent her first two weeks in the house—exploring the garden and the grounds. Her mother made her come back inside for dinner, and for lunch; and Coraline had to make sure she dressed up warm before she went out, for it .