The words of the Beldam still haunted her. But there was precious little she could do about them. Not without being late for school, anyway, and she was already unpopular enough with too many of Ashland's authority figures. So she had shut her Other Mother out, running upstairs to grab her books. She had also taken the time to seize the nurse doll, along with the one she had locked in the old chest, and taken them with her. The dolls continued to creep her out, and rightfully so. Coraline knew all too well the history of the last doll that had looked like her. But somehow, she felt less threatened by them if they were under her control. It would be easy enough to keep them blind and deaf, assuming of course that they were spies. But left unchecked at home...no, that simply wasn't an option. At so it was that Coraline's own ragged look-alikes now lay stuffed deep within the confines of her book bag. Lastly, she had jammed her feet into the plain, black shoes that accompanied her uniform, not bothering to look at herself in the mirror as she stepped outside to face another school day, along with her eccentric neighbor friend. Coraline was not one to fuss too much about her appearance. Looking at herself in the uniform always made her want to wretch. She'd rather rare an old burlap sack and pillowcase--at least then she'd have some freedom to express herself. As far as she was concerned, the uniform's attempt to make her appear as some kind of proper young lady was an assault on her soul. Because right now, she knew she looked exactly as others wanted her to. "Just like everyone else." Coraline muttered, throwing open her front door.
Cat raced between her legs, barging past her out the open escape route. He seemed to dart directly to the waiting Wybie's shoulder, prompting a glare from the girl as she stood, crossing her arms over her chest. "Traitor." Coraline stuck her tongue out at the feline, stepping out of the house and shutting the door behind her.
"Hey, when have I ever betrayed you?" Wybie was taken aback. Coraline was wearing an unhappy expression. Of course, she usually was at their morning meetings, but no matter how many times he looked into her angry stare, it never failed to faze him.
"Not you. The cat." She inclined her head in the direction of the pet that she and Wybie had come to unofficially share. Cat, Coraline knew, was something of a mercenary, and he would constantly go between them as though nothing had happened. She wished he could talk in this world, so he could provide her with something of an explanation for his shameful behavior, but alas, here he remained as silent as any other feral pussy.
"He hasn't been home in two days!" Wybie defended Cat. "He probably misses me!"
"Oh, please." Coraline maneuvered herself down the front steps and began walking the length of the driveway, which prompted Wybie to follow. "Who could possibly miss you, Wybie? He's probably just sore that I scolded him for putting his claws to our walls."
"Yeah, well....well, we'll just see about where he likes it better!" Wybie responded weakly, aghast that this was the best comeback he had been able to muster.
Coraline ignore him. She was still unsettled about her dream and her brief conversations with the Beldam. And, of course, the dolls. She wasn't frightened; she had been through plenty worse. But she was uneasy. Still, Coraline knew she'd rather face a whole family of Beldam's than endure one Friday at Ashland Middle School. And that was perhaps what unsettled her most of all.
"We have gym today." Coraline announced plainly, clearing her mind of her thoughts. Suddenly, she didn't feel like telling Wybie about the new mystery. At least, not on the way to school. It would make him worry about her, and the last thing she needed to deal with today was having Wybourne Lovat come charging in like Sir Galahad if she got so much as a paper cut. No, this could definitely wait until the trek home.
"Ah yes, your favorite of all school activities." Wybie grinned, catching up to his friend. Cat had since leaped from his perch, content to follow them by walking on his four paws.
"But of course." Coraline sighed. "What girl wouldn't love dressing in an ugly t-shirt with matching ugly shorts and doing some god-forsaken 'physical activity,' like weightlifting." She cringed. "Back in Michigan, gym was much more fun. We actually played games." Coraline emphasized. "You know, baseball, soccer, hockey, dodgeball, basketball, that sort of thing. Now that kind of gym I didn't mind."
"And here I thought you enjoyed physical activity." Wybie laughed. "We've gone on how many hiking trips around these parts now?"
"I've lost count." Coraline sulked. "Most of them were trips to indulge your fascination with all manner of disgusting things."
"Hey, they're not all disgusting! I remember you're being quite impressed when we went on that acorn hunt last fall. That little farm we built by the well probably saved the lives of plenty of squirrels! And I also helped you out with cleaning your room. Twice, as I recall. Man, were those ever some wasted Saturdays!"
Coraline frowned at him as they continued down the long and winding path to where the bus would ferry them off to school. "First of all, that was nearly two years ago, and the real job was helping me to unpack everything. You know, you should be grateful."
"For what? Wasting a whole day helping you unpack boxes and rearranging everything all over your room twenty different times until most of it ended up back where it started?!"
"Keep talking, Lovat." Coraline growled in anger. "I meant you should be grateful that I let you in so easily. Those weren't just my things, you know. They were...they were my life." She proceeded to walk faster, outpacing him. "My trolls...my best friends, they're the ones who helped me pack all those things. I've known them since I was little. You were just...you're just the only other one around!"
"Oh really?! Well if that's the way you feel, then maybe I shouldn't make myself so available to you! If I'm not really your friend, then why did you let me help you go through all of your precious things?!' Wybie insisted, becoming angry. Getting a tongue lashing from Coraline was normal, but teasing was her primary way of communication. This wasn't her usual teasing. It was more like an attack.
Coraline turned her head towards him sharply, a mask of different emotions on her face. "Because you're the only one who believes me!" She yelled at him, then ran off down the path that leads to the road.
Cat stopped walking and looked up at the boy, a disappointed expression on its face. "Good going, Wybourne, really good going." Wybie wasn't certain, but he thought he saw Cat nodding sadly.
Gym class was something that Coraline had come to despise about Ashland. As she had already lamented to Wybie that morning, the official gym outfit was ugly and flattered not even the most attractive of the boys and girls that made up their class. But the worst part by far was being made to endure the hateful attempts at exercise and physical education that Coach Colson heaped upon them. This month, they were doing gymnastics, something that Coraline looked forward to with the same enthusiasm she usually reserved for disgusting vegetables, root canals, menstruation, and her mother's lectures. All of which, of course, were merely trials to be endured. Gymnastics had now officially made it onto that list, somewhere between root canals and menstruation, largely because of all five trials, her mother's lectures were the easiest to overcome--her mother could be tuned out.
Coraline sulked, lying flat on her back against the somewhat cushioned gym mat, staring up at the ceiling and wondering idly how long she could get away with not following the routine before the coach called her out. She was supposed to be practicing somersaults, but she could hardly remember doing one since the second grade or so. Sooner or later, she knew she would get caught slacking and be forced to do something worse, like a balance beam or the uneven parallel bars. Normally, these kinds of threats looming in the background would spur her to at least give the illusion that she was complying with the directives of the coach, but for some reason, she just didn't care today. Mustering up the strength to feign interest just seemed too taxing under her current predicament. Lazily, she shifted her legs into a sit-up position, then crossed one over the other. Her mother had only recently washed her gym attire, so the shorts were relatively free of dirt, dust, grime, sweat, or anything else that tended to contribute to the disagreeable odor of athletic outfits. The bottom half of her own leg looked pale, but then, most of her skin didn't get too much exposure to the sun. The Oregon winters proved no tamer than the Michigan ones, so only her face had seen much in the way of sunlight. The plaid skirt that came with her school uniform covered her to her knees, and then her legs were hidden by thick gray leggings, dreary in appearance and decidedly less comfortable than the rainbow colored ones she preferred. And even in the warmer months, she tended to cover her arms and legs as much as possible. She tended to hike a lot around her stomping grounds--sometimes on her own, and sometimes with Wybie, but regardless of whether or not she brought company, the threat of bugs, poison ivy, oak, sumac, thorns, and other hazards had taught her early on to throw up some barriers between herself and nature.
Turning her attention away from herself, Coraline let her gaze wander upward to the ceiling, and she stared into the bright lights that adorned the room high above her. Something about the glow seemed warm, inviting, and forgiving, and she let her vision go double and then be swallowed within the light completely, as though she were being invited to stay on a more permanent basis. Not even taking the time to blink, she stared deep into the heart of the bulb, colors dancing across her vision as pieces of her retina burned. She knew it was very bad for her vision to stare into such a brilliant source of light, but she felt mesmerized by it, as though she could feel the warmth and energy soaking into her as though the light source were a tiny, artificial sun. It began to shine brighter and became ever more alluring, growing larger in her vision until she felt as though she were floating, being levitated up into the light as a moth to a flame.
And that's when everything went sideways. The loudest sound Coraline had heard in her entire life suddenly went off, as though someone had just discharged a shotgun blast directly next to her ear. The room began spinning violently, as though someone had tossed the entire gymnasium into a sort of cosmic blender and pressed the puree button. Her vision swam, and she began to feel nauseous, reeling from the ongoing vibrations sounding again and again through her skull. Instinctively, Coraline covered her ears with her hands, screwing her eyes shut to try and block out as many senses as possible. She was dimly aware of something happening around her--people running, others screaming. This, Coraline decided, must be what utter chaos was like.
She felt hands on her shoulders, rough and coarse, shaking her, adding to her headache and nausea. Knowing she would certainly regret the decision. Coraline allowed her eyes to flutter open, but she still couldn't completely make out her assailant. Dark shapes seemed to be standing over her, but her vision was still clouded and colored from the halogen bulb. She felt hands grasp her hands and feet, lifting her. Instantly, it all began to make sense. Those life-size doll things were back again, the Other Hers. Coraline mustered a battle cry and wrenched her arms free, kicking whichever dolls were trying to drag her feet. There was no way she was going to let those--those things carry her off and give birth for them, or any other sick and twisted scheme.
They were talking to her, but the echo in her head was drowning out too much sound. More shaking now, but she was no longer being moved. Coraline blinked her eyes furiously, trying to find out where the voices were coming from. If she couldn't see, she couldn't fight. And if she couldn't fight...Coraline preferred not to think about the consequences of that. The next hand treated her more roughly, as though pawing her face, but then she felt her head being turned, her vision shifting to her left. Her vision slowly began to clear, like ice falling off of a frozen windshield piece by piece. Lying next to her on the ground and still vibrating was the large, halogen light. The metal circles that had reflected its light were still shaking with the sound of their impact against the hard floor. Glass and metal lay strewn about in pieces. Her mouth going dry, Coraline looked upward to the ceiling, confirming that the light fixture that she had been so transfixed by was no longer in place. It had nearly dropped squarely on her. If her mat had only been a foot or so more to the left--Coraline immediately decided that she didn't want to dwell on that thought. She already had too much on her mind.
Coach Colson leaned down next to her, and she realized it was him who had been calling to her and had turned her head. Several of the other students in the class were gathered around her, except for those she had managed to kick with her legs when they had been attempting to carry her away from ground zero. Why had she chosen to stare at that light in particular, and why would it have chosen today of all days to fall, when she was so close by? Coraline refused to believe that it was mere happenstance. "I won't get fooled again" had become something of a personal mantra for her ever since the Other Mother incident nearly two years ago. Staggering, Coraline lifted herself to her feet and will her legs to drag her closer to the corpse of the old light that had nearly brought about her end. She scanned her eyes over the scattered debris, stifling a gasp when she saw an unmistakable splash of blue. Hesitantly, as though she would be burned, Coraline reached out and grabbed hold of the blue fabric she saw, lifting it out of the mess to reveal, sadly, what she expected to find. Another rag doll of her, dressed in grey shorts and t-shirt with tiny black lettering.
The infirmary was a rather dark, interior room with no windows of its own. Subdued fluorescent lining was found in panels that peppered the ceiling, interspersed between some kinds of weird tiles that had colored pieces of string twisted into different shapes, as though each blank tile had been a canvas for some type of line art. It was unique, and in the few times Coraline had had to see the nurse, she had always found the room to be gentle and comforting, as though it were a shelter from the rest of the world. And Nurse Katrina was a pleasant, middle-aged woman who seemed to have gotten what she wanted out of life. She was seldom crabby, and provided sympathy to the kids who were sent to see her, whether they had fallen seriously ill or been noticeably hurt, or they just had a case of the sniffles, and even if they were just looking for an excuse to not be in class, unless someone took advantage of her. But most of the students were smart enough not to ruin a good thing.
Coraline was glad that the room didn't let in any outside light. She still was coping with an awful headache from the light fixture that had fallen so close to her ear. Katrina had shut off the lights that were directly over Coraline's head, which was helping to keep her sensory perception in check. More than anything, she just wanted to go home, but she knew that wasn't going to be allowed until she had been properly examined. Nurse Katrina had already advised her that after she had been given time to rest, she would need to take a hearing test to determine if any damage had been done to her eardrums. Mostly, Coraline was just tired now, and worrying about the bigger picture. She was certain that whoever or whatever her new enemy was, it didn't have her best interest in mind. The doll in the remains of the light had proved that. But what did it mean? In that strange mockery of a hospital she had visited, the creature had said something about giving birth for them, and the very thought of that made Coraline swallow a lump in her throat. She didn't know exactly what that meant, but whatever it was, she was certain it wouldn't be pleasant. But why would they try to crush her? Clearly, there were too many things about these new creatures that she didn't understand.
"Can I see her?" a familiar voice sounded in the doorway. "Please, Nurse, I just need to know she's all right." It was the voice of Wybourne Lovat. Dimly, the memory of their argument that morning came back to her. And yet here he was, checking up on her. Wybie could be pretty annoying, but Coraline mentally gave him bonus points for loyalty.
"It's all right." Coraline called out in a horse voice, not looking up from the bed she had been placed upon. "He can see me; I could use a little company." Katrina seemed to size the boy up for several moments before motioning him in to see her. She sat at a large desk in the side of the room that still had the lights on and watched Wybie as the boy passed, crossing the distance of the room to the green vinyl bed that Coraline lay atop of. She was still dressed in the grey shorts and t-shirt, a cute little patch of skin from her stomach sticking out of the shirt because of the position she was lying in.
Wybie smiled, and approached the vinyl bed, sitting down at the foot of it, below her feet. "Hey, Jonesy, I heard you had something of an accident in gym class today. Is Coach Colson picking on you again?" Wybie asked, concerned for his friend but not sure if she would accept his company again just yet.
"No more than usual." Coraline said quietly. "Anyway, I didn't get hurt. Except for this really bad headache." She winced.
"Beats science class with Mr. Henderson or history class with Mrs. Ross, I'll bet." Wybie offered.
"Yeah, well, if it comes down to a choice between lying here and going to class, I'm definitely lying here." She let Wybie see a slight smile on her face. "They've got to run a hearing check on me in a little while, anyway."
Finally, Wybie broached the subject that both of them were avoiding. "Look, Coraline, I'm sorry about this morning. I...I didn't mean to complain. You know I look spending time with you, and...I guess it was kind of messed up for me to take your stuff so casually."
Coraline examined his face for a long moment, not saying anything. Wybie was left with the distinct impression that the girl was sizing him up, as though trying to find a reason to either accept or refuse his apology. "Yeah, well...maybe I overreacted a little. I've just...got some stuff going on lately. I'm going to need your help."
"Sure thing, Coraline, what can I do?" Wybie asked, hopefully.
"Nothing just yet. I'll explain after school. I...don't want to talk about it here." Coraline explained. "It's something...no one else would understand. I'll explain later, I promise. On the way home."
"All right." Wybie nodded. "Well, um, unlike you, I don't have the luxury of being excused from afternoon classes."
"Mmm." Coraline nodded, shutting her eyes. "It was somewhat comforting to have at least told Wybie something, even though he didn't know anything about what was really going on."You'll have to tell me all about it tonight, then."
"I'll do my best." Wybie chuckled. "I suppose I'd better get going before lunch period ends. You'll be all right?"
"I've been through worse." Coraline spoke, hoping that Wybie would get the subtle reference. If he did, he didn't let on.
"Right. I'll see you this afternoon, Coraline. Feel better."
"Thanks." She heard Wybie exit the room, but left her eyes shut. Right now, she just wanted to shut out the rest of the world. The day would resume sooner than she wished.
Wybourne Lovat stood next to Coraline Jones' locker come the end of the day, waiting for her to appear. It felt odd to be waiting on the girl, normally she was the one to find him and complain about how slow he was. But today had been anything but an ordinary day, and in addition to the shock and the headache that Coraline had undoubtedly suffered, the sudden brush with her own mortality had probably weighed on her a bit. Wybie tried not to think about it. Coraline was all right, that's what mattered. She was tougher than she looked, he knew first hand, and there was a tenacious streak in her that simply couldn't be denied. It was one of the things he liked best about her, even though she frightened him sometimes. But everyone had their quirks, flaws, and idiosyncrasies, and he was no exception.
The corridors were already beginning to thin out by the time Coraline appeared, the traffic greatly reduced once the mad rush for the end of the school day had passed. Wybie didn't need to look at his watch to know they had missed their bus, meaning they would either have to walk home, or wait an hour for the late bus to ferry them home. While he didn't relish the idea of hanging out at school any longer than necessary, Wybie definitely felt it wasn't a good idea for Coraline to walk home after the day's events. It would only put unnecessary stress on her, and that wasn't something he wanted to see, not today. For all their little arguments, and even those little parts of him that felt as though maybe she deserved a little stress, he couldn't find it in himself to wish it on her. Because at the end of the day, she was still Coraline Jones, and she still held that invisible leash on him that he cursed every day, but could never bring himself to remove.
"Heya, Jonesy, I was beginning to think you wouldn't make it!"
"Why would you think that?" Coraline blinked. "Honestly, Wybie, I just want this day to end. The sooner, the better." She stopped in front of her locker, pausing only to rub her temples before dropping her hands to the combination lock.
"You've still got the headache."
"Yeah. Although I've got to give our nurse credit, it's not as bad as before." A sigh escaped her lips again as she began to turn the dial on the lock. "I hate to ask, but how much did I miss today?"
"You're going to have to make up the science lab." Wybie explained. "And there was a pop quiz in history, don't think that Rome is going to let that one slide."
A smirk appeared on Coraline's face. Mister Romano, their history teacher, more affectionately known by his students as Rome, was probably her favorite teacher. History had never been one of Coraline's favorite subjects, but Rome had a way of making it fun. He was in touch with the students, and was able to speak to them on their level. And unlike so many teachers who tried to be cool, he could walk the walk, instead of coming across like a poser. And what all of his students liked the best about his classroom philosophy was that he didn't make them memorize dates. He was more concerned that his students would actually remember some of the history he taught after the exams, so he focused on the people, groups, and countries, what the actual history was rather than what day it happened on. This made test preparation much easier, and like most of the class, Coraline had come to find him one of the more pleasant parts of the school day. But even so, Rome hadn't earned her utmost loyalty until the day when he just didn't feel like talking and started a paper airplane fight with the entire class. In the aftermath, he had asked them all to keep it a secret, so of course, the entire school knew about it, which more than likely resulted in Rome getting a dressing down from the principal. But if he had let it get to him, he certainly hadn't allowed it to show.
"Thanks for the heads up. Now I'll know what to expect on Monday." Coraline stated as she opened her locker, removing her jacket from its hook and gathering some books. She pulled both her science and history books of the narrow shelf to bring home, then practically froze in her tracks. Standing patiently behind her books was yet another doll fashioned in her likeness, this time wearing the same school uniform she currently sported.
Anger began to rise up in her throat, and she seized the little effigy, withdrawing it from the locker and throttling it. "What do you want from me?!" She yelled in anger, as though the doll could answer her.
"Uh, Coraline, you okay?" Wybie asked, growing concerned, but he too stopped in his tracks when he saw what it was that Coraline was attacking. "W-what? But...there's no way! It's not possible!"
"That's what I thought too. I don't know what they are, what they mean anything."
"You don't think...you don't think that she's back, do you?"
"No." Coraline said flatly, stuffing the doll into her bag with her school materials and its comrades.
"How do you know?" Wybie questioned, confused.
Coraline slung the straps of her bag onto her shoulders and positioned it on her back. "I asked her." She said, and began walking down the hall towards the school's exit.
You know, I find that I have to say this a lot lately, but this chapter just didn't end the way I expected. In fact, I had planned to go to a very specific place with this, but fate sometimes has other plans. I never knew what to think of this chapter from the time I started writing it, and even now where I've decided to leave off, I still don't know. Mostly this was a lot of transition and exposition, but I failed to get a lot accomplished. I do feel that everything I presented here was necessary, and helps to develop the characters a little bit before I start making things go too far downhill,
Mostly, I feel that I excel at intense dialogue, and I feel that this chapter lacked some of that, so that's probably why overall, I just have this blah feeling about the whole thing. I don't feel that this chapter is bad. I just feel that it's…thoroughly mediocre, not a feather in my cap. Sometimes, it just can't be helped, these things happen. Work has been very tough lately, every day my workload seems to increase. It's hard to work in the entertainment industry. The company I work for, our product is basically recession proof, so our business and profits are actually up despite all the doom and gloom out there that the sky is falling. For anyone suffering any serious adverse effects at the moment, my best wishes for things to pick up for you.
Getting back to all things Coraline, I can't help but notice how popular her little corner of FFN has become over the last few weeks. It's encouraging to see so much activity going on in this category, and it seems like the plucky girl from Minnesota is really managing to draw a crowd and bring in all manner of people. We're all from different walks of life, but I'm encouraged that we're able to gather together under one umbrella of Coraline love. As of this writing, she has taken in nearly sixty-two million dollars at the box office, putting her just shy of her actual budget of seventy-five million dollars. This is a tremendous achievement, as all signs indicate that Coraline will essentially have recouped her production expenses by the time she is actually released on Blu-Ray disc (and yes, DVD as well, though I shudder to fathom subjecting her to the horrors of standard definition). It's a major victory for the character, for the film and source material, and most importantly, for stop motion as a format. My heartfelt congratulations go out to Henry Sellick for being true to his vision, Neil Gaiman for crafting the original novel, and all the many hands that have gone into the production process 'lo these many years. In many ways, I consider this a homecoming for us all, so for all those that have the means, I urge you to see the film again and give our dear Coraline a shot in the arm before she exits theaters completely.
Okay, so with all that said, I'm happy to be back writing this story. I know it's been like two weeks since I've been able to update, so you got a double length update this time. I hope you all enjoy it! While it's definitely different in feel than the last two installments, it also has plenty of Wybie, which will hopefully be a big plus to a lot of you out there. All that said, I really don't know what more there is to say, so I guess it's time that I just let the work speak for itself.
In the meantime, send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to: