A/N: Okay, wow, it's been a while, huh? I won't waste time making excuses to those of you who followed this story back when I first began it, I'll just skip right to the apologies. SORRY!
To recap, I got the idea for this story when I noticed the ring of mushrooms around the old well in the film and the well known idea that they're gateways into other worlds. Also, I don't follow all (or even most of) the rules generally associated with Magic(k)/ The Fairie or any of that. I draw a LOT of my inspiration from J.R.R Tolkien, Harry Potter, and Labyrinth- specifically the fanfics of Labyrinth. I sort of blend and borrow ideas of folklore but I'm not a big stickler for following a given set of established beliefs.
Chapter One: "An Unexpected Revelation"
"The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." -Lao Tzu
"What'cha reading?" Wybie asked curiously as he approached the bench his friend was lounging on. It was a Saturday, the weather was cooperatively mild and bright. The gardens of the Pink Palace were a sight to behold ever since the Jones had moved in and at the moment the grounds reflected the sun's cheer in autumn hues of red and gold. His friend clashed with the scenery a bit, with her bright purple and pink sweater and green stockings.
Coraline looked up from the handful of fliers with a grimace and a shrug, "Nightmares." She passed him a few of the college leaflets and sighed, "I don't know, I don't think I'm cut out for the whole 'higher learning' scene. At least not right now." She then adopted an obviously fake tone of magnanimity, "I'm willing to be practical about it and consider that maybe it will be something to do in the future."
"I don't think you've ever been practical about anything," Wybie joked. He didn't bother to actually look at any of the papers but flipped through them for the illusion of interest. "We've still got another half a year before we're even done with high school! Why are you bothering with all this right now, Jonsey?"
"Ugh, it's not like it's my choice. Mom's been hounding me for a month now to at least start considering my options. As if the world will end if I take a year or two off school to find out what I want to do with my life." She scrunched her face in frustration and let the remaining pamphlets drop to the ground. Winding her now shoulder-length purple hair around one finger she brought the strands to rest on her protruding upper lip like a mustache. "This whole adult business blows hard," she lamented, though it came out a bit muffled as she tried to hold her fake mustache in place.
Wybie shook his head at her antics. He let the papers he was holding join the pile at their feet. "Well, what do you want to do with your life?"
"I don't know! If it were that simple I wouldn't be needing the time to think on it, now would I?" She dropped the violet strands she had been idly playing with and blew her bangs out of her eyes in a show of exasperation. "What about you?"
"No real long-term plans just yet. I was thinking about starting off in a community college, maybe go for something to do with computers. They're the next big thing, I'm tellin' ya."
Coraline blew a raspberry at him and chuckled, "Of course it is. It's 2009, there's no one alive who doesn't know that computers are the next big thing. Except for maybe our neighbors... I'm pretty sure anything more complicated than a toaster would spook them." She giggled at her own joke but her face was soft with affection. She had grown to genuinely love the old people who shared the Pink Palace with her, their eccentricities made them all the more dear. She and Wybie both tried to ignore the growing reality that they might not have but a few short years longer with the lively old characters.
The misses Spink and Forcible were now well into their seventies and rarely left the house. They were down to just one dog now- mostly because they could not keep up with any more, despite the want to. Coraline made it a point to visit them at least once a week and often times she could convince Wybie to join her. Once the threat of the Other Mother had been removed, Wybie felt comfortable enough to go inside the old apartment building, even if his grandmother had still had reservations. The two actresses had taken to him instantly and would ask after him anytime Coraline visited alone.
The two teens were indulgent of the ladies forgetfulness and for their wild exaggerations and superstitions. After everything that had happened, they were perfectly willing to believe that Miriam did indeed once have a phantom admirer or that April was passably clairvoyant. They would have tea, tell stories, and occasionally dig out an ancient projector to show off some of the work from their golden years. Needless to say, both Wybie and Coraline were impressed and mildly horrified to learn that the two batty elderly women were in some rather risque roles in their youth.
Then there was Mr. Bobinsky, who was far more mobile than the two older women, although he had finally given up on the random acrobats – much to Coraline's relief. He was a touch more insane than either Spink or Forcible and always had been. After a few well placed debates and outright sabotage, he had won a small section of the property's garden away from flowers and these days now spent most of his time farming his vegetables, which he willingly and insistently shared with his neighbors. Both Coraline and Wybie would keep him company from time to time, helping pull weeds and offer conversation. He had eventually allowed them to meet his mice. Coraline had had to reconcile the fact that they were not the athletic and ambidextrous creatures that their puppet counter-parts had been. They could in fact ring bells and preform little tasks, but a marching band they were not. Still, they were cute.
The cat still came and went, though far more frequently he was away to his own devices. After years of trying, Coraline finally accepted that he could not talk outside of the Other Mother's world. She knew he was more than just a cat, though, language or not. She and Wybie deferred to him like an equal, whenever he was around, but it was disappointing not knowing what he was thinking or what he was up to when not visiting either of them.
"What are you planning to do in the meantime?" Wybie asked, bringing Coraline back to the present. She shook her head to reorient herself. Wybie laughed at his friend's obvious lack of attention span, "Zoning out again?"
"Nah," she replied but it was several seconds later and didn't really help her case. She sighed again, longer this time than before. "I don't know. Maybe it's cliché but travel sounds like it might be fun. If anything, I want to go visit my friends back in Michigan this summer, see what they're up to. We... haven't been as close as we used to these past couple of years. If I hadn't of met you I probably would have gone insane."
"You'd probably also be dead," he jokingly reminded with a smile. The confrontation at the well felt so far behind them now that it seemed safe to bring it up in conversation. They rarely talked about the events of that first year the Jones moved in, but it no longer felt like bad luck to do so.
"Oh, I don't know. If someone hadn't been there to give me her evil, voodoo-spy doll, I might not have ever ended up in the situation to begin with," she pointedly reminded him.
"Yeah, but that would mean that that thing would still be in there and able to get someone else instead, after you moved out." He shrugged, "At least this way more future lives are safe."
"I don't like to think about it, but sometimes I wonder if she isn't still alive. The door's locked but... we don't really know if she's dead. Or if there might have been another way out after all." She shuddered, "I wish we could ask Cat and get a straight answer. I bet he would be able to tell us for sure, one way or another. Probably."
Wybie nodded somberly. It was a disturbing thought. Quickly deciding to change the subject he said, "I still feel kinda cheated that I never actually got to hear Cat talk for myself. I mean, he was my friend first!"
"Jealous?" Coraline laughed, happily latching onto the distraction.
"Yeah, pretty sure I just said that," he retorted before shrugging and stretching his legs to stand. Not for the first time, Coraline noticed how tall her friend was getting to be. He'd probably be a lanky giant if he didn't insist on slouching so much. "Speaking of, I wonder where our four legged friend is off to today?"
"Who knows. Sometimes I almost forget and think of him as just a cat, but then, once I heard Ms. Spink say something about familiars. I believe that's probably what he is, you know?" Coraline mused aloud.
"Could be. Makes sense, I guess. Depends on what one's definition of a familiar is. Like, I read in this book once that they're suppose to be demons."
"He doesn't seem very demonic to me. I doubt he would have helped me out as much as he did back then if he were. Plus, I really don't think demons are quite so cuddly."
Wybie laughed sharply, covering his mouth in amusement. "I don't think he's very cuddly at all, to be honest. He's too lean and feral for that!"
"Oh, I don't know... I once coaxed him into a tub and he was definitely soft and cuddle worthy after that! Well... physically, anyhow. I don't think he's ever managed to give me the cold shoulder for so long before or after that particular adventure." She smiled fondly at the memory and her friend broke into helpless giggles at the image of an indignant cat with a shiny, freshly shampooed coat pointedly ignoring his assailant.
After catching his breath, Wybie switched the subject back to that of futures, "So, travel, huh?"
"I don't know. Maybe. Everyone acts like its normal to be indecisive but then they get frustrated when you actually are! Like, chill! Why do they expect us to both know and not know at the same time?" She stood up and looked down to the pile of papers awaiting her decision. "I guess my only other options right now are to either find a job in town somewhere to stall for time or pick one at random of these universities that mom's pushing for." With obvious reluctance she bent down and picked the litter off the ground, shuffling them back into some semblance of order.
"It won't be so bad. Everyone goes through this at some point or another, I'm told. But I stand by my earlier point, it's way too soon to be worrying about this sort of thing." He smiled, "At least give it another month or two before you really begin to gnaw it over. Fall break is next week! You really shouldn't spoil such a sacred time by brooding."
Coraline chuckled at his obvious attempt to cheer her up. She supposed that he did have a good point. A sudden meow caught both of their attention and brought the conversation to a pause.
"Ah! Cat! We were just talking about you earlier. How nice of you to visit. I've missed you this past week, you know." The girl knelt down to the dark feline and scratched behind his good ear. "I would ask if you had a nice trip to wherever it was but we all know how pointless that'd be."
The cat rolled his eyes with an indulgent expression and meandered his way through their combined legs. He meowed again and feigned cleaning himself, Coraline took this as a cue to carry on with whatever it was he'd interrupted. "I guess I'll go with your idea for the moment, Wybourne. It's not like I have much of a choice in the matter, anyway." She shrugged, "I'm sure I'll think of something."
Wybie smile with a wink, "That's the spirit!"
The sharp sound of a bell halted the conversation. Mrs. Lovat had begun to lose most of her famous lung capacity over the years and had resorted instead to rely solely on the bell that hung outside on her porch. The old decoration had seen better days but the woman refused to replace it, she said it warded off evil spirits. "Looks like grams has dinner ready." He looked down at their furry friend. "Who's it going to be this evening, Cat? Me or Jonesy?"
The cat gave an effective shrug before circling the darker boy's legs, rubbing against them familiarly.
"Oh, I see how it is," Coraline commented with a barely disguised smirk. "Following the food, huh? Well, I can't say I blame you. Your grandma is still one heck of a cook, Wybie."
The other teen huffed out a laugh, "Yeah, I'm going to be in real trouble when she finally decides to stay away from the kitchen. I can almost manage to burn water so if I'm supposed to be in charge we'll starve in a matter of days!"
"I'll see you two later, then," the girl said with a laugh. The sun was getting warmer now that it had moved and left them out of the shade. Autumn or not, the weather was unseasonably warm out and the sweater she had picked for the day was not doing her any favors.
"Later!" Wybie called over his shoulder, he was already making his way down the driveway with the cat close on his heels.
"Speaking of food," Coraline muttered under her breath as she headed for the steps, "I wonder what we have to snack on..."
Three days later found Coraline once again basking in the sun out in the garden. This time around she had a novel in her hands and a cat in her lap. School had been uneventful but she found it draining nonetheless and had decided that she needed to unwind with a book. When her free hand wasn't called to turn the pages she busied it with gently running it up and down Cat's head and back. The feline in question was doing his level best to impersonate a truck engine, his gratitude vibrating through her legs and providing a pleasant white-noise hum to read by.
Coraline giggled out loud as a particular passage stuck out at her as funny and the cat lazily opened one eye to look up at her before closing it again in indifference. The wind picked up briefly, blowing her wild hair into her face, making difficult to focus. Taking a pause in the chapter she looked down at her dozing furry friend. His ears were twitching as the cool autumn tickled at them and she smirked before gently scratching at the torn and broken ear, effectively speeding up it's twitching. The cat opened his eye again and the look he gave managed to be pleading and exasperated all at once. With another light giggle, she relented and moved her fingers once more to his back.
The breeze settled back down and Coraline blew her bangs back out of her face before returning to her book. However, her mind had already begun to wander and it wasn't long before she realized she had read the same paragraph over three times without understanding any of it. Officially recognizing her distracted mood she fished her dragonfly themed bookmark out from under her leg and placed it between the pages before letting the copy of The Fellowship of the Ring fall to the ground.
With a sigh she held the cat to keep him from falling and adjusted herself so that she was lying down on the bench and looking up through the foliage to the bright clouds beyond. Cat had been relocated to her stomach and was working to get comfortable again, kneading his paws into the fuzzy material of her orange shirt before lying back down. He could tell that his human friend had something weighing on her mind and he was content to wait until she volunteered the information. He knew she had a habit of thinking out loud and recognized that it was in some capacity for his benefit. Even if communication was limited, it seemed she still sincerely enjoyed his company. Often she decided he should know what she was thinking and supplied him with commentary as she went about her daily life.
"Do you think I'm just being silly?" She asked him without any preamble. "To be worrying so much about the vagueness of the future. To me it does. I mean, look at my past accomplishments! I defeated an evil witch before I was twelve and in the process saved the souls of three children. That's no small thing, you know." She laughed, pulling her eyes away from the sky to lock onto his blue irises. "But, then, that's not exactly something a person can put down on a resume or college application."
The cat shrugged and nodded, turning slightly to lick her hand to show his support. He could understand how such a thing could be unsettling for her. He did not know how exactly to help with this sort of problem but he was willing to let her vent. He was certain things would work out. After all, her life was far more simple than his own.
Coraline soon went back to petting him and Cat went back to purring. The minutes fell by lazily as the two reclined in companionable silence.
It was felt, not heard. Something that had been a part of him for so long that its presence was now largely ignored was suddenly no longer there. The cat jerked up in a flash, his light blue eyes open wide and wild. The magic that had tethered him to his home world had been suddenly called back. The stone that allowed for easy travel between the veil of this world and his own had either been destroyed or placed under stasis.
'Oh, this isn't good,' the cat thought, trying very hard not to panic. There were other ways home, yes, but for this line to be suddenly gone meant that something was wrong.
Coraline took notice of his change instantly and sat up slowly while eyeing him with concern. "Everything alright? Are you okay?" He shook his head frantically and hopped down off of her lap.
'Maybe I misinterpreted the sensation. All I need to do is try-' he attempted to will himself back across the veil like he had done hundreds of times before only to be met with resistance. There was no familiar pull, the world didn't shift, and he remained solidly in front of a confused and worried looking purple-haired girl. 'No. This is not good at all.' He tried once more for good measure before letting out a frustrated meow.
"Is there anything I can do? Are you in pain? Is there something dangerous nearby?" Knowing he could not properly answer any of her questions did not stop her from asking them. She hopped to her feet, ready to move quickly if it became necessary. As she watched her furry friend pace back and forth in agitation she bit nervously at her bottom lip. He didn't look injured and she couldn't think of anything that might have suddenly spooked him. Right about then she really wished he could still talk.
Abruptly the cat sat back on his haunches and looked up at her directly. His tail swished quickly back and forth behind him, the only remaining evidence that he was upset. It appeared that he had come to a decision of some kind. "Mer-ow." For a moment it looked like he was going to try communicating with his eyes alone.
She looked at him expectantly and when he made no other indication she held out her hand in front of her and gestured impatiently. "Well?" She asked, feeling a little out of her depth. Instead of giving another meow, the cat stood up and began to walk towards Pink Palace. He glanced back to make sure she was following then continued on. Coraline scooped up her book and followed without hesitation. Quickening her pace she reached the door just as he did and opened it for him. He hardly slowed down as he made a beeline for the study.
Coraline's heart began to hammer and gooseflesh appeared on her arms and back. He was acting strangely and heading for the study. Sudden flashes of memory slowed her steps: roaches, spider webs, and cold, gray metal claws. Still, she followed him in. He had stopped in front of the heavy bookshelf that she had personally assured would be positioned to hide the little door. The cat looked pointedly at the entryway and Coraline took the hint, closing the doors behind them. Having the door shut did not help her nerves.
Once he was sure he had her attention again he decided to try something he had been avoiding for years. "I may have a favor to ask of you, Coraline." On the inside he sighed with relief. He honestly had not known if there would be enough residual magic at this distance for him to use to talk in this form.
The look of shock on the girl's face was nearly priceless. "I- I thought you could only talk over there?" Her surprise suddenly turned to disbelief followed closely by indignation. "Have you been able to do this the whole time? How come you've been silent all these years, then!"
"Well, to be honest, I never had a need to talk to you with actual words before now." The lilt to his voice made it clear he was teasing. "As to your first question, due to magical stipulations, I normally cannot talk while in this form. That is why I am standing so close to the notorious little door. I had a suspicion that there might be enough magic here to allow me to talk," he explained calmly. The cat watched her closely as she digested this and acclimated herself to the strangeness that was hearing his voice again.
She pouted slightly, "Still, you could have tried this little trick sooner, if you had suspected. I'm sure Wybie would love to hear you talk. He told me just the other day that he's jealous that I'm the only one who's heard you."
The cat only shrugged and answered, "I am not a parlor trick."
"Well, duh! You know I didn't mean it that way. Anyway, what sort of favor do you have in mind? I'll help you out, seeing as how I still kind of owe you for your help with the Other Mother."
With a flick of his tail the cat seemed to smile at her, "Lucky for you, it is not anything dangerous. Though I do appreciate your willingness to help, I would advise that in the future you wait to find out what someone wants from you before agreeing to anything."
Coraline shrugged indifferently, "You've proved yourself a friend, I trust you enough to agree in advance." Her eyes narrowed then, "But I am still a little peeved that you've been silent all these years when you didn't really have to be."
"They say silence is golden," he commented offhand. "Besides, as I said, I really have never had to say anything to enjoy the company you and Wybourne offer. Likewise, it has been apparent that my inability to talk never deterred either of you from enjoying mine."
She couldn't help but to laugh at that. "Right. I forgot what a total sassy pants you are. Nostalgia must have clouded my mind, I can't see what we thought we were missing not being able to talk to you."
"I find myself flattered," he smirked despite himself. 'Sassy pants' was a new one and he had been called many things over the years. "Now, back to business," he said, quickly reclaiming the direction of the conversation. "I will be honest with you, as you have probably long suspected, I am no ordinary cat but that goes one step further in that I'm not actually from this world at all. This afternoon I felt the tether of magic that connected me to my home world snap and disappear. I'm not technically stranded, but the matter of my return is now more complicated."
"This really shouldn't be so surprising to me, but still, it's kind of a lot to take in," Coraline admitted. "So, are you an alien? 'Home world' makes it all sound very E.T."
It took him a moment before he placed her meaning– half forgotten remnants of movies at Wybourne's house floated across his mind. "No, I wouldn't say I am that sort of an alien. I'm sure you've grown up hearing stories that tell of another, magical world that is invisible to humans. Stories of my world have existed in yours for as long as written history. No one ever gets it quite right but that is beside the point."
"Huh," Coraline muttered. Her mind was still working to catch up with the situation. She was not unfamiliar with magic and other worlds but this revelation seemed a bit sudden. Memories of her past experiences brought up another question, "Did the Other Mother come from your world, then?"
"That's right," he nodded. "Like your own world, mine contains a multitude of different beings and dangers. Though perhaps the number of sentient threats is greater where my home is concerned. Sometimes things from my world make it over here without permission and begin causing trouble for you unsuspecting humans."
"So, is she the reason you are over here to begin with? I can't really see any other appeal." The cat didn't even need to answer. Now that she had said it out loud it was obvious that the Other Mother was what had brought him to the Pink Palace.
He seemed to realize the pointlessness of the question as well and merely nodded. "She isn't the first to be an issue. Access to this realm has been limited and policed for hundreds of years now. Sometimes individuals sneak under the radar and manage to go years and years undetected. Now, it isn't always maliciousness that drives them. The Beldame was undoubtedly a threat, and it is only lucky that she struck so infrequently. For reasons like her, there are others in my position who sort of... enforce immigration rules, for lack of a better comparison."
"So, are there a lot of you guys over here? Hidden in plain sight among humans or, like the Beldame, hunting in the shadows?" The idea was both intriguing and uncomfortable.
"Not as many, these days. I would hazard a guess that no more than fifteen hundred people in the entire world share my otherworldly heritage. The number is likely a little higher for second and third generations but that is beside the point. As I already mentioned, the pathways here are few and almost all of them are tightly guarded secrets. Some creatures figure out ways over by themselves but most gain permission. This brings me back to my original point, though, because now it seems that one of those ways has been shut down. This would not have been done arbitrarily and I need to return home quickly to check on things." The cat's tail had returned to twitching. He could only imagine what manner of trouble must have befallen the kingdom this time to require Morgana to seal the portal.
"Well, what do I have to do?"
He was very grateful that Coraline was such an agreeable personality. Truely, he did not feel like she was indebted to him for the events of eight years ago but if that supposed obligation would gain her cooperation, he would use it. Besides, much as he was loathed to admit it, she had done most of the work. "First, how about you go and fetch Wybourne. We will likely require his assistance and it will be easier for me to explain it only once. After all, you were the one who mentioned he has been wanting to hear my wonderful voice."
"Pfft," Coraline rolled her eyes, "I never said it was wonderful." Her smile widened despite her words, "Wait right here, I'll be back in a flash."
A/N: I hope this rewrite sits well with any of the original readers who might still be around... To any new people I possibly lured in, I hope you like it also! One last note, though it probably doesn't really need explaining: I gave Coraline purple hair because as it was pointed out by fellow fic writer Tobu Ishi people who like to dye their hair bright colors don't often stick to just one set color.