The other mother remained statue still, but a hint of a smile crept back onto her face. “Oh, they are, are they?”

“Why don’t you open it?” said Coraline. “They’ll be there, all right.”

It was her only way home, she knew. But it all depended on the other mother’s needing to gloat, needing not only to win but to show that she had won.

The other mother reached her hand slowly into her apron pocket and produced the black iron key. The cat stirred uncomfortably in Coraline’s arms, as if it wanted to get down. Just stay there for a few moments longer, she thought at it, wondering if it could hear her. I’ll get us both home. I said I would. I promise. She felt the cat relax ever so slightly in her arms.

The other mother walked over to the door and pushed the key into the lock.

She turned the key.

Coraline heard the mechanism clunk heavily. She was already starting, as quietly as she could, step by step, to back away toward the mantelpiece.

The other mother pushed down on the door handle and pulled open the door, revealing a corridor behind it, dark and empty. “There,” she said, waving her hands at the corridor. The expression of delight on her face was a very bad thing to see. “You’re wrong! You don’t know where your parents are, do you? They aren’t there.” She turned and looked at Coraline. “Now,” she said, “you’re going to stay here for ever and always.”

“No,” said Coraline. “I’m not.” And, hard as she could, she threw the black cat toward the other mother. It yowled and landed on the other mother’s head, claws flailing, teeth bared, fierce and angry. Fur on end, it looked half again as big as it was in real life.

Without waiting to see what would happen, Coraline reached up to the mantlepiece and closed her hand around the snow globe, pushing it deep into the pocket of her dressing gown.

The cat made a deep, ululating yowl and sank its teeth into the other mother’s cheek. She was flailing at it. Blood ran from the cuts on her white face—not red blood but a deep, tarry black stuff. Coraline ran for the door.

She pulled the key out of the lock.

“Leave her! Come on!” she shouted to the cat. It hissed, and swiped its scalpel-sharp claws at the other mother’s face in one wild rake which left black ooze trickling from several gashes on the other mother’s nose. Then it sprang down toward Coraline. “Quickly!” she said. The cat ran toward her, and they both stepped into the dark corridor.

It was colder in the corridor, like stepping down into a cellar on a warm day. The cat hesitated for a moment; then, seeing the other mother was coming toward them, it ran to Coraline and stopped by her legs.

Coraline began to pull the door closed.

It was heavier than she imagined a door could be, and pulling it closed was like trying to close a door against a high wind. And then she felt something from the other side starting to pull against her.

Shut! she thought. Then she said, out loud, “Come on, please.” And she felt the door begin to move, to pull closed, to give against the phantom wind.

Suddenly she was aware of other people in the corridor with her. She could not turn her head to look at them, but she knew them without having to look. “Help me, please,” she said. “All of you.”

The other people in the corridor—three children, two adults—were somehow too insubstantial to touch the door. But their hands closed about hers, as she pulled on the big iron door handle, and suddenly she felt strong.

“Never let up, Miss! Hold strong! Hold strong!” whispered a voice in her mind.

“Pull, girl, pull!” whispered another.

And then a voice that sounded like her mother’s—her own mother, her real, wonderful, maddening, infuriating, glorious mother—just said, “Well done, Coraline,” and that was enough.

The door started to slip closed, easily as anything.

“No!” screamed a voice from beyond the door, and it no longer sounded even faintly human.

Something snatched at Coraline, reaching through the closing gap between the door and the doorpost. Coraline jerked her head out of the way, but the door began to open once more.

“We’re going to go home,” said Coraline. “We are. Help me.” She ducked the snatching fingers.

They moved through her, then: ghost hands lent her strength that she no longer possessed. There was a final moment of resistance, as if something were caught in the door, and then, with a crash, the wooden door banged closed.

Something dropped from Coraline’s head height to the floor. It landed with a sort of a scuttling thump.

“Come on!” said the cat. “This is not a good place to be in. Quickly.”

Coraline turned her back on the door and began to run, as fast as was practical, through the dark corridor, running her hand along the wall to make sure she didn’t bump into anything or get turned around in the darkness.

It was an uphill run, and it seemed to her that it went on for a longer distance than anything could possibly go. The wall she was touching felt warm and yielding now, and, she realized, it felt as it were covered in a fine downy fur. It moved, as if it were taking a breath. She snatched her hand away from it.

Winds howled in the dark.

She was scared she would bump into something, and she put out her hand for the wall once more. This time what she touched felt hot and wet, as if she had put her hand in somebody’s mouth, and she pulled it back with a small wail.

Her eyes had adjusted to the dark. She could half see, as faintly glowing patches ahead of her, two adults, three children. She could hear the cat, too, padding in the dark in front of her.

And there was something else, which suddenly scuttled between her feet, nearly sending Coraline flying. She caught herself before she went down, using her own momentum to keep moving. She knew that if she fell in that corridor she might never get up again. Whatever that corridor was was older by far than the other mother. It was deep, and slow, and it knew that she was there. . . .

Then daylight appeared, and she ran toward it, puffing and wheezing. “Almost there,” she called encouragingly, but in the light she discovered that the wraiths had gone, and she was alone. She did not have time to wonder what had happened to them. Panting for breath, she staggered through the door, and slammed it behind her with the loudest, most satisfying bang you can imagine.

Coraline locked the door with the key, and put the key back into her pocket.

The black cat was huddled in the farthest corner of the room, the pink tip of its tongue showing, its eyes wide. Coraline went over to it and crouched down beside it. Copyright 2016 - 2024