Something scrunched gently as she did.

She sat up, and lifted the pillow. The fragments of the glass marbles that she saw looked like the remains of eggshells one finds beneath trees in springtime: like empty, broken robin’s eggs, or even more delicate—wren’s eggs, perhaps.

Whatever had been inside the glass spheres had gone. Coraline thought of the three children waving good-bye to her in the moonlight, waving before they crossed that silver stream.

She gathered up the eggshell-thin fragments with care and placed them in a small blue box which had once held a bracelet that her grandmother had given her when she was a little girl. The bracelet was long lost, but the box remained.

Miss Spink and Miss Forcible came back from visiting Miss Spink’s niece, and Coraline went down to their flat for tea. It was a Monday. On Wednesday Coraline would go back to school: a whole new school year would begin.

Miss Forcible insisted on reading Coraline’s tea leaves.

“Well, looks like everything’s mostly shipshape and Bristol fashion, luvvy,” said Miss Forcible.

“Sorry?” said Coraline.

“Everything is coming up roses,” said Miss Forcible. “Well, almost everything. I’m not sure what that is.” She pointed to a clump of tea leaves sticking to the side of the cup.

Miss Spink tutted and reached for the cup. “Honestly, Miriam. Give it over here. Let me see. . . .”

She blinked through her thick spectacles. “Oh dear. No, I have no idea what that signifies. It looks almost like a hand.”

Coraline looked. The clump of leaves did look a little like a hand, reaching for something.

Hamish the Scottie dog was hiding under Miss Forcible’s chair, and he wouldn’t come out.

“I think he was in some sort of fight,” said Miss Spink. “He has a deep gash in his side, poor dear. We’ll take him to the vet later this afternoon. I wish I knew what could have done it.”

Something, Coraline knew, would have to be done.

That final week of the holidays, the weather was magnificent, as if the summer itself were trying to make up for the miserable weather they had been having by giving them some bright and glorious days before it ended.

The crazy old man upstairs called down to Coraline when he saw her coming out of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s flat.

“Hey! Hi! You! Caroline!” he shouted over the railing.

“It’s Coraline,” she said. “How are the mice?”

“Something has frightened them,” said the old man, scratching his mustache. “I think maybe there is a weasel in the house. Something is about. I heard it in the night. In my country we would have put down a trap for it, maybe put down a little meat or hamburger, and when the creature comes to feast, then—bam!—it would be caught and never bother us more. The mice are so scared they will not even pick up their little musical instruments.”

“I don’t think it wants meat,” said Coraline. She put her hand up and touched the black key that hung about her neck. Then she went inside.

She bathed herself, and kept the key around her neck the whole time she was in the bath. She never took it off anymore.

Something scratched at her bedroom window after she went to bed. Coraline was almost asleep, but she slipped out of her bed and pulled open the curtains. A white hand with crimson fingernails leapt from the window ledge onto a drainpipe and was immediately out of sight. There were deep gouges in the glass on the other side of the window.

Coraline slept uneasily that night, waking from time to time to plot and plan and ponder, then falling back into sleep, never quite certain where her pondering ended and the dream began, one ear always open for the sound of something scratching at her windowpane or at her bedroom door.

In the morning Coraline said to her mother, “I’m going to have a picnic with my dolls today. Can I borrow a sheet—an old one, one you don’t need any longer—as a tablecloth?”

“I don’t think we have one of those,” said her mother. She opened the kitchen drawer that held the napkins and the tablecloths, and she prodded about in it. “Hold on. Will this do?”

It was a folded-up disposable paper tablecloth covered with red flowers, left over from some picnic they had been on several years before.

“That’s perfect,” said Coraline.

“I didn’t think you played with your dolls anymore,” said Mrs. Jones.

“I don’t,” admitted Coraline. “They’re protective color-ation.”

“Well, be back in time for lunch,” said her mother. “Have a good time.”

Coraline filled a cardboard box with dolls and with several plastic doll’s teacups. She filled a jug with water.

Then she went outside. She walked down to the road, just as if she were going to the shops. Before she reached the supermarket she cut across a fence into some wasteland and along an old drive, then crawled under a hedge. She had to go under the hedge in two journeys in order not to spill the water from the jug.

It was a long, roundabout looping journey, but at the end of it Coraline was satisfied that she had not been followed.

She came out behind the dilapidated old tennis court. She crossed over it, to the meadow where the long grass swayed. She found the planks on the edge of the meadow. They were astonishingly heavy—almost too heavy for a girl to lift, even using all her strength, but she managed. She didn’t have any choice. She pulled the planks out of the way, one by one, grunting and sweating with the effort, revealing a deep, round, brick-lined hole in the ground. It smelled of damp and the dark. The bricks were greenish, and slippery.

She spread out the tablecloth and laid it, carefully, over the top of the well. She put a plastic doll’s cup every foot or so, at the edge of the well, and she weighed each cup down with water from the jug.

She put a doll in the grass beside each cup, making it look as much like a doll’s tea party as she could. Then she retraced her steps, back under the hedge, along the dusty yellow drive, around the back of the shops, back to her house.

She reached up and took the key from around her neck. She dangled it from the string, as if the key were just something she liked to play with. Then she knocked on the door of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s flat.

Miss Spink opened the door.

“Hello dear,” she said.

“I don’t want to come in,” said Coraline. “I just wanted to find out how Hamish was doing.”

Miss Spink sighed. “The vet says that Hamish is a brave little soldier,” she said. “Luckily, the cut doesn’t seem to be infected. We cannot imagine what could have done it. The vet says some animal, he thinks, but has no idea what. Mister Bobo says he thinks it might have been a weasel.” Copyright 2016 - 2023