AN: Written for Cactus on a prompt of "Coraline, N is for nightmares." This is book-centric. I don't own Coraline, it belongs to Neil Gaiman. I'm just playing around. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!
Nightmares and Non-Dreams
Coraline still has nightmares.
It has been three months since the final showdown with Other Mother and Other Mother's long-fingered right hand. Three months have passed since the tea party that wasn't and the hand's resulting plunge into the deep well. Three months since she surrendered the key to the Other World door to the cold clutches of the water and the darkness.
She is safe. She knows this. Other Mother is sealed away in her world behind that locked door, along with the Other World versions of her neighbors. And she is well aware that the key is in a place where no one will ever be able to get to it.
But that does not make the nightmares go away.
It strikes her as interesting, somewhat, that she chooses now to be afraid. While she was actually there, challenging Other Mother to a game for her freedom, she did not let herself feel fear. There was no time for it, no room for such thoughts. But now it comes to her ten times over in her room at night, long after she is safe. And it comes in the one venue where she cannot fight it; a person, no matter how brave or capable, is ultimately helpless to struggle against something that comes from deep within her own mind.
Coraline dreams of what was.
The visions that come to her as she sleeps remind her of what she saw there, in the Other World. Any of these encounters could have been the one to entice her completely into Other Mother's clutches. Any of those encounters could have been her last. But she is not sure if she can truly call these nightmares, as they are more like memories. But she cannot call them dreams, not by any stretch. Ultimately, she decides to call them non-dreams, for lack of any better term.
She relives those tense moments in the space beneath the empty flat next door, facing off against the shapeless form that had once been her Other Father. She sees herself as she struggles, eventually blinds him, and her subsequent flight up the stairs to safety as he flails around and searches for her.
She relives both sides of the theatre next door, before she discovered Other Mother's true design, and after the exploring challenge was issued. She watches a show that could never happen in reality, in which old women perform as their younger selves, and she is pursued by bats that resemble dogs.
She relives a circus with music and tiny uniforms, and performers with their own agenda. Rats, who acted as Other Mother's eyes and ears and followed her to ensure that she did not do anything to endanger Other Mother's plans. A trainer who is himself a rat, in more sense than one.
She relives that nerve-wracking final confrontation with Other Mother, right beside the door that separated her from the world she truly lived in. With the Cat beside her and the snow globe in which her parents were imprisoned in her sights, there was only one chance for her to make her escape with both her new friend and her family intact.
She relives the scratching noises in the night, and the realization that she has not yet succeeded in removing Other Mother's influence from this world. The caution that went into her plot to finish things off once and for all, and the almost frightening feeling of overwhelming calm when she realized that she had won as Other Mother's right hand plummeted into the well, taking the door's key with it.
Coraline dreams of what was not.
Dreams and nightmares alike, though very different in nature, both have a tendency to twist and warp reality. In that respect, oddly enough, they are very much like the beldam. They do not and cannot really create; they merely pervert, until all that is left is merely a malformed shadow of what truly was. That was what proved the beldam's undoing. But now it is yet another way in which she is almost punished by her own mind for escaping.
She dreams of the children in the space behind the mirror. They are no longer kind, faded memories, but vicious wraths, bent on harming anyone who comes within reach. And she was very easily in reach, and with no way to escape. She sees red coals where she is sure black buttons should have been, and feels sharp claws in place of whispering breaths.
She dreams of the Cat, not quite friend and not quite enemy, vanishing before her eyes. Be it taken by Other Mother or simply deciding that she was not worth the effort of assisting, the Cat is no longer there to help her, and she is completely alone in this foul alternate world.
She dreams of not having that small seeing stone with the hole run straight through it. That stone was her soul salvation and protection in Other Mother's world, and was the thing that allowed her to find the souls of the three children behind the mirror. Without it, it is doubtful she could have survived. In her nightmares, she plunges her hand into her pocket to search for it, only to find that it is gone, lost somewhere. Or perhaps in the world of her nightmares, she never had it to begin with.
She dreams of never having the chance to challenge Other Mother to an exploring contest. In that dream, the beldam would not take no for an answer at the first offer of making this into a permanent home, and simply grabbed her and held her down to mark her as claimed, as a part of this world, in a way that could not be reversed.
She dreams of Other Mother's hand coming into her room at night through a window left open before there was any indication of danger. The long fingers click across the floor, creeping closer and closer, only to crawl up onto the bed, climbing the blankets before walking towards her. She always awoke from that dream certain that she was going to actually see the right hand standing on her, on her bed, ready to strike at her and take vengeance on a girl who commited the cardinal sin of defending herself.
Coraline dreams of what could have been.
She won the battle and the war, the game and the set and the match, but there is always that lingering sense of what if. Any number of things could have gone wrong in a game where both the playing field and the rules were subject to change and warp at her opponent's whim. She had been exceedingly fortunate to have beaten the odds, but the knowledge of how close she came to failure and, ultimately, destruction comes back to haunt her.
She envisions the confrontation in the cellar with her Other Father, or rather, what was left of him. How sad he was, and how pitiable. But pity only went so far, and when he attacked her (though it was at Other Mother's bidding), she no longer felt sorry for him, for iit./i Now he catches her, sometimes in the cellar itself and sometimes after hearing her on the stairs. She is dragged down, swallowed and smothered and unable to get away.
She envisions the end of the exploration game, the final showdown. With her goal in sight, she trips at the finish line. Other Mother catches her before she can make it to the door, pins her down, and takes a prize she has not truly won. All she can do is wiggle and scream in the beldam's hold as the sewing needle, threaded with thick black string, inches ever closer to her eyes.
She envisions things a step further, where she makes it past Other Mother and into the door. She fights and struggles to pull it closed, but it is in vain, for the door is wrenched open, the handle torn from her grasp, and Other Mother's right hand, rather than being severed (she did swear by her right hand, after all), wraps around her throat and squeezes.
She envisions Other Mother seeing through her ruse and taking the snow globe that imprisons her parents and smashing it. As the globe and the tiny figures within it break into pieces on the floor amidst a flurry of water and whiteness, she hears two familiar voices screaming her name…
Even after so long, there are so many nights where Coraline awakens in a cold sweat, swearing she could hear the scratching of long fingers at her window and the scurry of tiny feet at her door. Her heart pounds and her senses are alert, searching for any truth to the tricks her mind is determined to play on her as she sleeps. This, she knows, is a defense mechanism. A survival instinct.
And there is always nothing, and she always takes a deep breath and goes back to sleep. There might be another dream, another nightmare, and she might wake up again in an hour's time to the same pounding pulse and labored breathing. But sooner or later they will pass, and the final tether keeping her bound to Other Mother will at last be severed. She simply has to wait it out; she knows this.
For Coraline is brave, and Coraline is rational.
Dreams, non-dreams, and nightmares are not real, no matter how much they might wish to be.
And they cannot hurt her.
No matter how much the people living within them might want to.