“Because,” she said, “when you’re scared but you still do it anyway, that’s 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 that’s why you’re going back to her world, then?” said the cat. “Because your father once saved you from wasps?”
“Don’t be silly,” said Coraline. “I’m going back for them because they are my parents. And if they noticed I was gone I’m sure they would do the same for me. You know you’re 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 wasn’t it a lot shorter walk last time? when the candle went out as suddenly as if it had been snuffed by someone’s 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 spider’s 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 mother’s cold arms enfold her. She stood there, rigid and trembling as the other mother held her tightly.
“Where are my parents?” Coraline asked.
“We’re here,” said her other mother, in a voice so close to her real mother’s that Coraline could scarcely tell them apart. “We’re here. We’re 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. “I’ll make us a midnight snack. And you’ll 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 mother’s wet-looking black hair drifted around her head, like the tentacles of a creature in the deep ocean.
“They weren’t bored of me,” said Coraline. “You’re lying. You stole them.”
“Silly, silly Coraline. They are fine wherever they are.”
Coraline simply glared at the other mother.
“I’ll 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 Coraline’s mother and father walked inside. They carried suitcases.
“That was a fine holiday,” said Coraline’s 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 don’t see. And I don’t 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 mother’s 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. “Don’t 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 Coraline’s own flat.
The rat returned, dragging the key behind it.
“Why don’t 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 Coraline’s 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.