The mist hung like blindness around the house. She walked slowly to the stairs up to her family’s flat, and then stopped and looked around.
In the mist, it was a ghost-world. In danger? thought Coraline to herself. It sounded exciting. It didn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really.
Coraline went back upstairs, her fist closed tightly around her new stone.
THE NEXT DAY THE sun shone, and Coraline’s mother took her into the nearest large town to buy clothes for school. They dropped her father off at the railway station. He was going into London for the day to see some people.
Coraline waved him good-bye.
They went to the department store to buy the school clothes.
Coraline saw some Day-Glo green gloves she liked a lot. Her mother refused to buy them for her, preferring instead to buy white socks, navy blue school underpants, four gray blouses, and a dark gray skirt.
“But Mum, everybody at school’s got gray blouses and everything. Nobody’s got green gloves. I could be the only one.”
Her mother ignored her; she was talking to the shop assistant. They were talking about which kind of sweater to get for Coraline, and were agreeing that the best thing to do would be to get one that was embarrassingly large and baggy, in the hopes that one day she might grow into it.
Coraline wandered off and looked at a display of Wellington boots shaped like frogs and ducks and rabbits.
Then she wandered back.
“Coraline? Oh, there you are. Where on earth were you?”
“I was kidnapped by aliens,” said Coraline. “They came down from outer space with ray guns, but I fooled them by wearing a wig and laughing in a foreign accent, and I escaped.”
“Yes, dear. Now, I think you could do with some more hair clips, don’t you?”
“Well, let’s say half a dozen, to be on the safe side,” said her mother.
Coraline didn’t say anything.
In the car on the way back home, Coraline said, “What’s in the empty flat?”
“I don’t know. Nothing, I expect. It probably looks like our flat before we moved in. Empty rooms.”
“Do you think you could get into it from our flat?”
“Not unless you can walk through bricks, dear.”
They got home around lunchtime. The sun was shining, although the day was cold. Coraline’s mother looked in the fridge and found a sad little tomato and a piece of cheese with green stuff growing on it. There was only a crust in the bread bin.
“I’d better dash down to the shops and get some fish fingers or something,” said her mother. “Do you want to come?”
“No,” said Coraline.
“Suit yourself,” said her mother, and left. Then she came back and got her purse and car keys and went out again.
Coraline was bored.
She flipped through a book her mother was reading about native people in a distant country; how every day they would take pieces of white silk and draw on them in wax, then dip the silks in dye, then draw on them more in wax and dye them some more, then boil the wax out in hot water, and then finally, throw the now-beautiful cloths on a fire and burn them to ashes.
It seemed particularly pointless to Coraline, but she hoped that the people enjoyed it.
She was still bored, and her mother wasn’t yet home.
Coraline got a chair and pushed it over to the kitchen door. She climbed onto the chair and reached up. She got down, then got a broom from the broom cupboard. She climbed back on the chair again and reached up with the broom.
She climbed down from the chair and picked up the keys. She smiled triumphantly. Then she leaned the broom against the wall and went into the drawing room.
The family did not use the drawing room. They had inherited the furniture from Coraline’s grandmother, along with a wooden coffee table, a side table, a heavy glass ashtray, and the oil painting of a bowl of fruit. Coraline could never work out why anyone would want to paint a bowl of fruit. Other than that, the room was empty: there were no knickknacks on the mantelpiece, no statues or clocks; nothing that made it feel comfortable or lived-in.
The old black key felt colder than any of the others. She pushed it into the keyhole. It turned smoothly, with a satisfying clunk.
Coraline stopped and listened. She knew she was doing something wrong, and she was trying to listen for her mother coming back, but she heard nothing. Then Coraline put her hand on the doorknob and turned it; and, finally, she opened the door.
It opened on to a dark hallway. The bricks had gone as if they’d never been there. There was a cold, musty smell coming through the open doorway: it smelled like something very old and very slow.
Coraline went through the door.
She wondered what the empty flat would be like—if that was where the corridor led.
Coraline walked down the corridor uneasily. There was something very familiar about it.
The carpet beneath her feet was the same carpet they had in her flat. The wallpaper was the same wallpaper they had. The picture hanging in the hall was the same that they had hanging in their hallway at home.
She knew where she was: she was in her own home. She hadn’t left.
She shook her head, confused.
She stared at the picture hanging on the wall: no, it wasn’t exactly the same. The picture they had in their own hallway showed a boy in old-fashioned clothes staring at some bubbles. But now the expression on his face was different—he was looking at the bubbles as if he was planning to do something very nasty indeed to them. And there was something peculiar about his eyes.
Coraline stared at his eyes, trying to figure out what exactly was different.
She almost had it when somebody said, “Coraline?”
It sounded like her mother. Coraline went into the kitchen, where the voice had come from. A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline’s mother. Only . . .
Only her skin was white as paper.
Only she was taller and thinner.
Only her fingers were too long, and they never stopped moving, and her dark red fingernails were curved and sharp.
“Coraline?” the woman said. “Is that you?”
And then she turned around. Her eyes were big black buttons.
“Lunchtime, Coraline,” said the woman.
“Who are you?” asked Coraline.
“I’m your other mother,” said the woman. “Go and tell your other father that lunch is ready,” She opened the door of the oven. Suddenly Coraline realized how hungry she was. It smelled wonderful. “Well, go on.”