“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry I threw you at her. But it was the only way to distract her enough to get us all out. She would never have kept her word, would she?”

The cat looked up at her, then rested its head on her hand, licking her fingers with its sandpapery tongue. It began to purr.

“Then we’re friends?” said Coraline.

She sat down on one of her grandmother’s uncomfortable armchairs, and the cat sprang up into her lap and made itself comfortable. The light that came through the picture window was daylight, real golden late-afternoon daylight, not a white mist light. The sky was a robin’s-egg blue, and Coraline could see trees and, beyond the trees, green hills, which faded on the horizon into purples and grays. The sky had never seemed so sky, the world had never seemed so world.

Coraline stared at the leaves on the trees and at the patterns of light and shadow on the cracked bark of the trunk of the beech tree outside the window. Then she looked down at her lap, at the way that the rich sunlight brushed every hair on the cat’s head, turning each white whisker to gold.

Nothing, she thought, had ever been so interesting.

And, caught up in the interestingness of the world, Coraline barely noticed that she had wriggled down and curled catlike on her grandmother’s uncomfortable armchair, nor did she notice when she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.


HER MOTHER SHOOK HER gently awake.

“Coraline?” she said. “Darling, what a funny place to fall asleep. And really, this room is only for best. We looked all over the house for you.”

Coraline stretched and blinked. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I fell asleep.”

“I can see that,” said her mother. “And wherever did the cat come from? He was waiting by the front door when I came in. Shot out like a bullet as I opened it.”

“Probably had things to do,” said Coraline. Then she hugged her mother so tightly that her arms began to ache. Her mother hugged Coraline back.

“Dinner in fifteen minutes,” said her mother. “Don’t forget to wash your hands. And just look at those pajama bottoms. What did you do to your poor knee?”

“I tripped,” said Coraline. She went into the bathroom, and she washed her hands and cleaned her bloody knee. She put ointment on her cuts and scrapes.

She went into her bedroom—her real bedroom, her true bedroom. She pushed her hands into the pockets of her dressing gown, and she pulled out three marbles, a stone with a hole in it, the black key, and an empty snow globe.

She shook the snow globe and watched the glittery snow swirl through the water to fill the empty world. She put it down and watched the snow fall, covering the place where the little couple had once stood.

Coraline took a piece of string from her toy box, and she strung the black key on the string. Then she knotted the string and hung it around her neck.

“There,” she said. She put on some clothes and hid the key under her T-shirt. It was cold against her skin. The stone went into her pocket.

Coraline walked down the hallway to her father’s study. He had his back to her, but she knew, just on seeing him, that his eyes, when he turned around, would be her father’s kind gray eyes, and she crept over and kissed him on the back of his balding head.

“Hullo, Coraline,” he said. Then he looked around and smiled at her. “What was that for?”

“Nothing,” said Coraline. “I just miss you sometimes. That’s all.”

“Oh good,” he said. He put the computer to sleep, stood up, and then, for no reason at all, he picked Coraline up, which he had not done for such a long time, not since he had started pointing out to her she was much too old to be carried, and he carried her into the kitchen.

Dinner that night was pizza, and even though it was homemade by her father (so the crust was alternately thick and doughy and raw, or too thin and burnt), and even though he had put slices of green pepper on it, along with little meatballs and, of all things, pineapple chunks, Coraline ate the entire slice she had been given.

Well, she ate everything except for the pineapple chunks.

And soon enough it was bedtime.

Coraline kept the key around her neck, but she put the gray marbles beneath her pillow; and in bed that night, Coraline dreamed a dream.

She was at a picnic, under an old oak tree, in a green meadow. The sun was high in the sky and while there were distant, fluffy white clouds on the horizon, the sky above her head was a deep, untroubled blue.

There was a white linen cloth laid on the grass, with bowls piled high with food—she could see salads and sandwiches, nuts and fruit, jugs of lemonade and water and thick chocolate milk. Coraline sat on one side of the tablecloth while three other children took a side each. They were dressed in the oddest clothes.

The smallest of them, sitting on Coraline’s left, was a boy with red velvet knee britches and a frilly white shirt. His face was dirty, and he was piling his plate high with boiled new potatoes and with what looked like cold, whole, cooked, trout. “This is the finest of pic-nics, lady,” he said to her.

“Yes,” said Coraline. “I think it is. I wonder who organized it.”

“Why, I rather think you did, Miss,” said a tall girl, sitting opposite Coraline. She wore a brown, rather shapeless dress, and had a brown bonnet on her head which tied beneath her chin. “And we are more grateful for it and for all than ever words can say.” She was eating slices of bread and jam, deftly cutting the bread from a large golden-brown loaf with a huge knife, then spooning on the purple jam with a wooden spoon. She had jam all around her mouth.

“Aye. This is the finest food I have eaten in centuries,” said the girl on Coraline’s right. She was a very pale child, dressed in what seemed to be spider’s webs, with a circle of glittering silver set in her blonde hair. Coraline could have sworn that the girl had two wings—like dusty silver butterfly wings, not bird wings—coming out of her back. The girl’s plate was piled high with pretty flowers. She smiled at Coraline, as if it had been a very long time since she had smiled and she had almost, but not quite, forgotten how. Coraline found herself liking this girl immensely.

And then, in the way of dreams, the picnic was done and they were playing in the meadow, running and shouting and tossing a glittering ball from one to another. Coraline knew it was a dream then, because none of them ever got tired or winded or out of breath. She wasn’t even sweating. They just laughed and ran in a game that was partly tag, partly piggy-in-the-middle, and partly just a magnificent romp.

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