The cat shook its head. “No,” it said. “I’m not the other anything. I’m me.” It tipped its head to one side; green eyes glinted. “You people are spread all over the place. Cats, on the other hand, keep ourselves together. If you see what I mean.”

“I suppose. But if you’re the same cat I saw at home, how can you talk?”

Cats don’t have shoulders, not like people do. But the cat shrugged, in one smooth movement that started at the tip of its tail and ended in a raised movement of its whiskers. “I can talk.”

“Cats don’t talk at home.”

“No?” said the cat.

“No,” said Coraline.

The cat leaped smoothly from the wall to the grass near Coraline’s feet. It stared up at her.

“Well, you’re the expert on these things,” said the cat dryly. “After all, what would I know? I’m only a cat.”

It began to walk away, head and tail held high and proud.

“Come back,” said Coraline. “Please. I’m sorry. I really am.”

The cat stopped walking, sat down, and began to wash itself thoughtfully, apparently unaware of Coraline’s existence.

“We . . . we could be friends, you know,” said Coraline.

“We could be rare specimens of an exotic breed of African dancing elephants,” said the cat. “But we’re not. At least,” it added cattily, after darting a brief look at Coraline, “I’m not.”

Coraline sighed.

“Please. What’s your name?” Coraline asked the cat. “Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?”

The cat yawned slowly, carefully, revealing a mouth and tongue of astounding pinkness. “Cats don’t have names,” it said.

“No?” said Coraline.

“No,” said the cat. “Now, you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”

There was something irritatingly self-centered about the cat, Coraline decided. As if it were, in its opinion, the only thing in any world or place that could possibly be of any importance.

Half of her wanted to be very rude to it; the other half of her wanted to be polite and deferential. The polite half won.

“Please, what is this place?”

The cat glanced around briefly. “It’s here,” said the cat.

“I can see that. Well, how did you get here?”

“Like you did. I walked,” said the cat. “Like this.”

Coraline watched as the cat walked slowly across the lawn. It walked behind a tree, but didn’t come out the other side. Coraline went over to the tree and looked behind it. The cat was gone.

She walked back toward the house. There was another polite noise from behind her. It was the cat.

“By the by,” it said. “It was sensible of you to bring protection. I’d hang on to it, if I were you.”


“That’s what I said,” said the cat. “And anyway—”

It paused, and stared intently at something that wasn’t there.

Then it went down into a low crouch and moved slowly forward, two or three steps. It seemed to be stalking an invisible mouse. Abruptly, it turned tail and dashed for the woods.

It vanished among the trees.

Coraline wondered what the cat had meant.

She also wondered whether cats could all talk where she came from and just chose not to, or whether they could only talk when they were here—wherever here was.

She walked down the brick steps to the Misses Spink and Forcible’s front door. The blue and red lights flashed on and off.

The door was open, just slightly. She knocked on it, but her first knock made the door swing open, and Coraline went in.

She was in a dark room that smelled of dust and velvet. The door swung shut behind her, and the room was black. Coraline edged forward into a small anteroom. Her face brushed against something soft. It was cloth. She reached up her hand and pushed at the cloth. It parted.

She stood blinking on the other side of the velvet curtains, in a poorly lit theater. Far away, at the edge of the room, was a high wooden stage, empty and bare, a dim spotlight shining onto it from high above.

There were seats between Coraline and the stage. Rows and rows of seats. She heard a shuffling noise, and a light came toward her, swinging from side to side. When it was closer she saw the light was coming from a flashlight being carried in the mouth of a large black Scottie dog, its muzzle gray with age.

“Hello,” said Coraline.

The dog put the flashlight down on the floor, and looked up at her. “Right. Let’s see your ticket,” he said gruffly.


“That’s what I said. Ticket. I haven’t got all day, you know. You can’t watch the show without a ticket.”

Coraline sighed. “I don’t have a ticket,” she admitted.

“Another one,” said the dog gloomily. “Come in here, bold as anything. ‘Where’s your ticket?’ ‘Haven’t got one,’ I don’t know . . .” It shook its head, then shrugged. “Come on, then.”

He picked up the flashlight in his mouth and trotted off into the dark. Coraline followed him. When he got near the front of the stage he stopped and shone the flashlight onto an empty seat. Coraline sat down, and the dog wandered off.

As her eyes got used to the darkness she realized that the other inhabitants of the seats were also dogs.

There was a sudden hissing noise from behind the stage. Coraline decided it was the sound of a scratchy old record being put onto a record player. The hissing became the noise of trumpets, and Miss Spink and Miss Forcible came onto the stage.

Miss Spink was riding a one-wheeled bicycle and juggling balls. Miss Forcible skipped behind her, holding a basket of flowers. She scattered the flower petals across the stage as she went. They reached the front of the stage, and Miss Spink leaped nimbly off the unicycle, and the two old women bowed low.

All the dogs thumped their tails and barked enthusiastically. Coraline clapped politely.

Then they unbuttoned their fluffy round coats and opened them. But their coats weren’t all that opened: their faces opened, too, like empty shells, and out of the old empty fluffy round bodies stepped two young women. They were thin, and pale, and quite pretty, and had black button eyes.

The new Miss Spink was wearing green tights, and high brown boots that went most of the way up her legs. The new Miss Forcible wore a white dress and had flowers in her long yellow hair. Copyright 2016 - 2024