Summary: Ashland, Oregon, the center of weirdness for the entire planet. Apparently. And some creatures even refuse to behave according to their own mythological rules. Coraline/Wybie, but only kind of.
Prequel to Going to a Desert Unknown (all my Coraline stories are related).
The summer vacation stretches out before them, long and lazy and carefree, and he's taken to carrying around a big book of mythological creatures that he ordered online, or a Beastiary, as he calls it (she calls it adding to his bad posture). With it, he introduces her to lesser known (to her, anyway) creatures such as the kelpie, the bunyip, the siren (she'd always assumed a siren was a mermaid, but it turns out to be some sorta bird-like humanoid thing; he assures her with a certain amount of smugness that it's a common misconception), the kappa, the draugr and the nix. They're currently on the chapters about water-dwelling beasts, who all seem to be some variation on the theme of luring people into various bodies of water and either killing, eating or screwing them, or all three.
So of course he invites her to go swimming with a lot of mandatory finger waggling and eyebrow waggling and spooky ghost noises, daring her, lest she be a domesticated, egg-laying, flightless fowl. And so on.
Coraline's been swimming with him before, but only in public pools, and never in a chilly river with slippery rocks and weeds. She expects to be shoved or dunked underwater at least once, but she plans on giving back double that, or triple.
She allows herself a sneak peek of the long expanse of golden brown, skinny, naked torso that's revealed when he peels off his T-shirt, before she turns sort of sideways in a hopeless attempt at modesty and starts undressing.
When he's shed his own grey T-shirt, Wybie can't help watching her as she shimmies out of her jean shorts and turquoise top, her pale skin peppered with freckles from the summer sun, can't stop the sideways glances at her new black and yellow bikini, how it hugs her hips and her developing bosom (it's such an old-fashioned word, bosom, but he doesn't feel at ease with using anything "sexier" to describe Coraline Jones, of all people), which has abandoned its training bras for real ones. He doesn't know what size she is now; he doesn't want to ask and doesn't want to know.
His skin tingles when she grasps his shoulders to push him towards the water, a shiver going down his back and his spine bending, his chin briefly hitting his chest, as if he's trying to curl in on himself and escape the situation, and he feels naked and vulnerable and hot with her behind his bare back and hates being thirteen for a moment.
He wades slowly into the water, holding his breath and waiting to be shoved forward head first, but it doesn't come. That only means she's building up the suspense.
Coraline grins at him as she passes, moving into the water at the sort of odd, slow motion run that water makes you do, your legs heavy. Her hair and her bikini strings bounce with her movements. He vows not to pull those strings. It's an old practical joke, so old it's got whiskers on it, and anyway, he's not the kind of boy who does that.
With a joyful shriek, she takes the plunge, resurfacing only after having spent enough time underwater to have made him adequately nervous.
Her short, blue hair clings to her scalp and neck, shimmering in the sun like the slick, colorful feathers of a duck as she splashes him with water, laughing.
Taking up her challenge, he dives into the deep end with enough force to soak her, causing her to squeal.
As he's threading water, grinning at her and trying to duck the squirts of water she's sending his way in retaliation, the grin suddenly freezes on his face before vanishing completely. She's just about to ask what's wrong when his body does this sort of sideways, violent jerk.
He screams a second before he's pulled under. While he's out of sight, her lungs seem to stop functioning until he breaks the surface again, thrashing around wildly and disturbing the river bed, sand and dirt getting whirled up in the previously clear water.
It's not until now, when he's struggling with it, that she can see his attacker. Wybie's got a desperate grip on the grey-green, bony arm of an undead monkey, no, a turtle, no— its pale yellow eyes flicker towards her for a moment, and she stares at its skeletal, reptilian face— there's definitely a beak there, like a great turtle, but there's stringy, long hair growing from its head, and a sort of indentation on top, like a crater or a bowl, water sloshing around in it, and it's got a carapace and shell like a turtle, but its arms and legs are long and agile, simian, almost human— she's sure she's seen this thing in Wybie's stupid Beastiary, and really, what are the odds of them actually meeting one of the exact creatures they were just reading about, anyway? It's totally ridiculous—
Coraline snaps out of it when it dawns on her that she's just standing there like a stunned deer while Wybie's yelling for help; she launches herself towards the brawl with her fist cocked back and ready.
She shudders; it's like punching a fish wrapped around a brick. The creature screeches loudly and drops Wybie, only to convert its attentions to her instead.
There's a horrible chill up her arm as its thin, clawed fingers clutch at her, trying to catch her, and she can feel a scream working its way up her throat when the creature blinks, shaking its head and grunting in pain as a stone hits the side of its face.
"What is wrong with you? You're supposed to be in Japan!" Wybie shrieks, throwing another rock at the thing, bigger this time, causing it to stagger backwards and let go of her to regain its balance. She wastes no time in scrambling out of the water and up on dry land, gasping for air and scraping her knee.
Their breaths heavy and shallow in their chests, they take off up the little hill up from the river, through the woods and up the road, gravel and twigs cutting into their bare feet, but they can't stop to do anything about it. When they reach her front lawn, they realize they're not being followed and stagger forward, dropping onto the grass, their hair and bodies and swimwear oozing and dripping muddy water, their feet scratched and aching.
"It's…it's a k-kappa," he stutters, leaning forward to put his hands on his knees, breathing hard.
"Yeah, I thought I'd seen it in your stupid book— Wybie, you're trembling," she observes, and buried in the usual flat annoyance, there's a note of something tender, something he can't quite remember hearing from her before; something like concern.
He shakes his head at her, attempting a corny grin. "Yeah, well, considering the kappa's supposed method of devouring its victims, can ya blame me?"
"And what's that?" she asks, understandably apprehensive.
Wybie glances at her from under lowered lashes. "Uh, it…uh, evidently, it likes to pull its victim's intestines out through their, uh, behind and eat them."
"Ugh, gross, Wybie!" she yelps, making a disgusted face. "It didn't say anything about that in the book!"
He nods. "Of course, I could be wrong. It's not in every account of the kappa, only some. It also said it likes to eat cucumbers even more than eating children. And since it's obviously not just in Japan, either, who knows what the facts really are?"
She grunts in exasperation. "I guess so, we better be careful— oh, nooo," she moans then, and his back straightens abruptly.
"What? What is it? Did it get you?" he demands, ignoring the fact that his voice breaks and he sounds even more scared than he is.
She shakes her head furiously. "No, my clothes! That top was brand new!"
Wybie gapes at her. "What the— is that anything to think about now? At a time like this?"
"Mom and Dad are gonna kill me if I come home in nothing but a dirty bikini!" she wails, scrubbing at her face in frustration.
"Which is only a figure of speech, while what almost happened to us down there was anything but! That was us almost getting eaten!" he reminds her, almost shrilly.
"Okay, okay," she agrees grudgingly, folding her arms over her chest, "but then you can explain to my parents how a Japanese water demon came to be holding my clothes hostage!"
He frowns. "We're not sure it's actually Japanese—"
"Whatever!" she snaps, starting to gesture angrily at the path they just ran home on, as if it's done her a personal wrong, "What's next, your grandmother being a secret werewolf? And what's with all the damn kid snatching? Don't adults taste like chicken or what? What the hell is this place?"
He clucks his tongue. "Yeah, I thought Eerie, Indiana was supposed to be the center of weirdness for the entire planet, not Ashland, Oregon."
"Eerie who?" she asks feebly, shaking her head in perplexity.
He rolls his eyes at her when she gives him that look she does that's supposed to tell him he's insane. "Oh, come on, it's a cult classic!" he objects, throwing his hands up. "I know it's kinda old, but I can't believe you haven't seen—
"Is that anything to think about now? At a time like this?" she mimics, raising her eyebrows meaningfully at him.
He blows her a raspberry in reply.
He can tell she's about to either blow one in return or smack his arm or both, when Gramma calls for him.
Wybie sighs, shrugging apologetically at Coraline. "I better hurry home. I don't want Gramma to be alone in case that thing decides it wants to make a house call."
It's a credit to the seriousness of the situation when Coraline refrains from any further remarks, only nodding her agreement before jogging off towards her own house. She'll probably be sleeping with one eye open tonight.
Wybie wonders if he can manage to sneak the chainsaw up from the garage later and sleep in the hall in front of Gramma's room without her noticing.
He intended to go get Coraline, but something stops him, and he swerves off the path to Coraline's house and heads towards the woods alone.
They're sort of disturbing, these irrational waves of protectiveness. It's not as if he's much bigger and stronger than her yet, heck, he's barely taller than her, and she's got much more self-esteem and spirit and is much more stubborn, not to mention much more experienced with the supernatural, so really, it shouldn't be him stupidly going off on his own like this, it should be her. She's the reckless adventurer, he supposes.
But there's something about the big brown eyes and the round, soft shoulders and hips and the fact that she gets cold a lot more easily than him that tampers with something in his male reptilian brain, makes him want to take a bullet for her, so to speak. Or perhaps it's because she got the worst of it by far the last time, even rescuing his grandmother's sister's spirit, and she doesn't deserve that sort of stress again. He figures he owes her one. He really needs to stop this thing; it lives too close to them to ignore it. It might get it into its head to come up to their houses, even if kappas aren't supposed to stray from the water...and Jonesy's house is closer to the river than his.
When he arrives, it's standing right there in the shallow part of the river, waiting for him, staring at him, which is somehow much more frightening than having it just hide in the bushes and attack him. Wybie gets the sinking feeling it's so cocky because he's there alone.
His eyes flicker to the discarded pile of clothes on the big flat rock on the river bed, still lying where they left it, and looking entirely untouched, as if the thing has decided to create an air of normalcy, like, oh, here's some clothes some silly kids forgot to pick up, but they can just come back and get them, no danger there, right? Wybie wonders exactly how sentient the kappa is. It hasn't spoken yet, but then perhaps it wouldn't speak any language he'd understand. He highly doubts it'd even be Japanese.
Wybie wishes he'd brought his bike so he could lure the thing out of the water and run it over, but the noise would've probably scared it away; besides, the bike isn't big or powerful enough to do anything more than possibly give it a concussion, and he'd probably end up crashing it into the river, anyway.
As it is, he's probably brought the strangest monster hunting weapons in history.
A couple of cucumbers.
He must be nuts.
And, because he's crazy, but not stupid, Gramma's old meat cleaver tucked into the large inner pocket of his coat. He'd have preferred to take the chainsaw, but it wouldn't fit under his coat. He can feel a layer of sweat forming on his neck and back. It's really too hot out for a coat.
Slowly sliding his hand into his outer pocket, he pulls out the first cucumber and gently chucks it into the water by the kappa's feet. Wybie's knees start shaking gently as he waits. The kappa sniffs, but otherwise doesn't react.
Then he decides to test the wrong kappa rule, bowing to show his respect, which is supposed to pacify them.
He's already reaching for the meat cleaver before the kappa has set foot on the shore. Lowering his eyes was a bad idea.
After breakfast, Coraline decides to head on over to the Lovat house to see what Wybie's managed to dig up on the kappa (and to see if he's okay, but he doesn't need to know that). Since Mom's still annoyed with her over "losing" her clothes, she's also quite motivated to leave the house as soon as possible. If she knows Wyborne right, he's probably been up researching all night on the net and hasn't even rolled out of bed yet.
When she rings the door bell, right enough, it's Wybie's grandmother who answers the door, not Wybie. Sleepy head, she thinks, smirking to herself.
Gramma blinks at Coraline, evidently not expecting to see her there. "Oh, good morning, honey— I'm afraid Wyborne just left. I thought he'd gone to see you?"
Coraline breath hitches in her chest with sudden foreboding. "What? When?"
"Not more than five minutes ago," the older lady answers, tilting her head at Coraline with a puzzled frown, "It was the strangest thing…he asked if we had any cucumbers, and when I said there were a couple in the fridge, he left. Earlier this morning, I found him asleep in front of my door, hugging the chainsaw, too, so I figured you two were playing a game or something."
Fear slams into her ribcage; she feels jolted, as if she just got hit by another bumper car at the amusement park. She knows exactly where he went.
Coraline bursts out of the front door of her house at a sprint.
She thought about grabbing the pruning shears, but you can't run with scissors, can't run—
She runs faster than she ever has, not since— she runs, panting, grasping the baseball bat tight, stumbles over a branch, almost falls, but not quite, keeps running, into the forest, downhill towards the river—
She almost collides with Wybie, running the other way, water cascading down his body and leaving a trail behind him. They shriek at each other stupidly for a moment before he yanks her in the opposite direction, dragging her uphill by her arm until she pulls herself together and starts running properly again.
When she hears light, scratchy footfalls behind them, hears a wheezing breath and the lapping of water against the sides of that creepy head crater, she doesn't think, simply lobs the baseball bat across her shoulder, not stopping to savor the satisfying clunk of wood hitting bone or the loud yowl of pain from the creature— all she thinks as they run for their lives is Great, now I've given the little creep a weapon.
They don't stop running until they've reached her house, where they head towards her front door and tumble inside, like a box of apples being tipped into a barrel, all flailing limbs and spinning heads and sore lungs and knees.
It's good they're the outdoorsy kind of kids, and not the kind that look like human bean bag chairs, she thinks as they get to their feet, or they would be a feast right now. Or maybe those kids would've stayed safe and indoors in the first place— but then she of all people knows that indoors isn't always safe, either.
"Wyborne," she pants, feeling nauseous with exhaustion, "what were you doing down there? And alone? Are you insane?"
He doesn't answer, partly due to the fact that he's wheezing, out of breath, but he's also looking embarrassed and harassed, as if he's well aware he's done something stupid. She can hear the television, which is rarely, if ever on, blaring sound down the hallway, and her father's goofy laughter; it seems her parents are taking a well-deserved break.
"Take off your shoes if you're gonna go upstairs, kids!" calls Mom from the living room, sounding almost giddy in her admonishment, relaxed and not like herself (Coraline forgets sometimes, when the work has been piling up for too long, that her mother has more than one mood set).
Wybie sighs, looking down at his dusty boots. Pulling it out from his jacket pocket, he presents her with a cucumber into which is carved, roughly, the letters C, O, R, A, L, I, N, E, holding it over his ducked head like an offering to the gods.
"I threw the one with my name in first, y'know, to buy some time for me," he starts explaining, lowering his arms again and rambling on at machine gun speed, "and just in case it didn't work the way it said in the books and there was a curse put on the person instead of putting them on some sort of kappa VIP list that means they're protected and don't get killed or eaten— I mean, it was my crazy idea, so it'd hardly be fair if you got the curse—"
She blinks at him. "What happened?"
"It turns out it doesn't care for cucumber," Wybie says blankly, standing there and dripping river water onto her mother's carpet. In his left hand, she notices now, he's clutching her brand new turquoise top, splattered with dust and water, but whole and safe, just like him. The bewildered gratitude prevents her from tactlessly demanding the whereabouts of her shoes and shorts.
A hysterical sort of laughter bubbles up in her. He's just as deranged and sweet and reckless as the Other Wybie, except he won't scatter like sawdust with a puff of breath.
"Oh no, looks like she's finally lost it," he laments melodramatically, yet there's a shade of actual worry there that breaks her down further. Drawing a shuddering breath, she flings her arms around his neck and crushes him to her, even if it's cold and wet and there's a horrible squelching noise and she can feel the water seeping through her T-shirt. She doesn't object when he drops her top to the floor in his astonishment.
"You're nuts," she almost sobs, pressing her cheek against his; that, at least, while not dry, is warm and soft.
"You took the words right out of my mouth," he says weakly, hands fluttering behind her and finally settling on her back.
A moment later, she lets go. "Everyone knows I'm the only one allowed to go on life-threatening adventures," she chastises him, feigning a pout and wagging a finger at him.
He gives a brittle laugh. "As if! What, just 'cause you're two months older than me?"
"Where the hell did that thing come from, anyway, some kind of underwater portal?" she breathes, her brows knitting. "You've been living here for basically forever, and you've never noticed it before, right?"
Wybie only shakes his head.
There's a metallic slither and a heavy clunk as the meat cleaver slides out of Wybie's coat, hitting the floor. There's blood on it, dark and unnatural-looking.
"Oh, my god!" she squeals urgently, bouncing a bit on her heels, excited even as she thinks it's a miracle he hasn't managed to disembowel himself, running around with that in his coat. "You got it! Did you get it?"
He shakes his head. "Just a flesh wound."
By silent consent, she ends up sleeping over at his house that night. Mel and Charlie can protect each other, but they have to protect Gramma. Since it's his place, Wybie gets to pick what they should watch, and he takes advantage of this to introduce her to the spooky adventures of 13-year-old, clever, undaunted Marshall Teller and his younger, enthusiastic sidekick and best friend Simon Holmes, as they investigate ghosts, never-aging house wives, werewolves, brainwashing opticians, secret societies, aliens and other dimensions in the ostensibly normal suburban setting of the small town of Eerie, Indiana, while her new top is rolling happily around in the Lovats' washer-and-dryer.
They've turned the ceiling lights off for dramatic effect, green blobs of wax swimming around in the lava lamp on his night stand, eerily illuminating their faces where they lie spread out on their stomachs on sleeping bags on his bedroom floor, staring intently at the screen of his laptop even though they might end up needing glasses. Once in a while, he gets up to check on Gramma as surreptitiously as he can.
Coraline refuses to admit it, but she's hooked from the very first episode, and stays up to watch some more while Wybie falls asleep on the floor with his head buried in his Beastiary, popcorn pieces and orange rinds scattered around his impossible mop top.
Carefully covering him with his comforter so he won't get cold, she puts on another episode.
The next morning, as they're sitting in the sunshine on the front porch, sharing the half a cup of coffee they were allowed to have from Gramma's percolator, passing it back and forth between them, taking tiny sips and making theatrical faces so you'd think they were doing whiskey shots, Mr. Bobinsky's comes strolling out from the woods, a big shovel flung across his shoulder and a whistle on his lips.
As he comes closer, Wybie almost chokes on the coffee; underneath the layer of dirt on the shovel blade, there are clumps of grey-green and dark red goo, the thick stuff slowly starting to drip.
Patting Wybie's back absentmindedly while he coughs a bit, Coraline stares at Mr. Bobinsky and bravely asks: "Did something happen, Mr. B?"
Bobinsky stops, looks at them, seems to consider the question for a bit, and then shrugs. "Turtle monster ruin Bobinsky's morning swim for last time. He had bat, you believe? Where he get bat? But shovel better than bat, so I hit with shovel, I bury with shovel. Two in one. Is good, yes? Turtle monster useless when water in head fall out, anyway, everybody knows."
They nod slowly, their heads bobbing in unison; Wybie imagines they must look like a couple of bobble head dolls to him.
Apparently satisfied, Bobinsky grunts and nods back at them (as if signaling their mutual understanding for what it's like to have to deal with life's little daily nuisances, such as losing your left sock in the wash or the supernatural trying to swallow your soul or your intestines), and swivels around on his heel, marching off with a spring in his step.
"I think our services may not be needed, Simon," she says dryly, and he feels her leaning heavily on his shoulder.
"I can't say I mind right now, Marshall," he mumbles, staring in awe after the retreating Russian and not even bothering to ask why he's been designated as the sidekick.
"Let's pester Dad to drive us downtown to get a bubble tea or something," Coraline sighs, "I think I need some civilization."
Wybie nods, feeling numb and, yes, in need of lots and lots of sugar. "Let's, Jonesy, let's."
It's over, it's gone. He's still going to figure out where it came from eventually, though, make no mistake about that.
Author's notes: Written because the kappa has been my favorite mythological creature (ugh, it's so nasty) since I was a young teen myself, and because I wanted to write something action-y and non-domestic (FOR ONCE). Gah, I adore male/female action duos so, so much, especially when they're fighting the forces of darkness— or even when they are the forces of darkness. It makes me wanna see them pitted up against zombies or pod people or possibly even vampires (the non-sparkly kind).
What is wrong with you?: Echoes Tom Manning's hilariously mundane reaction to having an undead clockwork Nazi killing machine attempt to murder him with giant blades in Hellboy the movie. Incidentally, Hellboy actually fights a kappa in Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms.
Eerie, Indiana: I can't imagine any kid who wouldn't love this show, even if it's twenty years old now (oh my, I'm dating myself here), and Wybie and Coraline would definitely eat it up. I still can't believe it was cancelled after only one season. D: "The center of weirdness for the entire planet" was practically its slogan.
Bubble tea: The popular Americanized name for pearl milk tea and other similar tea and juice beverages that originated in tea shops in Taichung city, Taiwan during the 1980s. Drink recipes may vary, but most bubble teas contain a tea base mixed with fruit (or fruit syrup) and/or milk. Ice-blended versions of the drinks, similar to slushies, are also available, usually in fruit flavors (info from wiki). I've never tasted this, and don't know if it's good (it's tea, though, which makes me instantly drawn to it), but Ashland's Wikitravel said it's served in at least one place in downtown Ashland, and it seemed like something kids would enjoy, so…hey.
Kelpie, bunyip, siren, kappa, draugr, nix: Please have fun looking these up yourself, as it's a bit too much info to copy and paste here. Tip: The last two (the draugr and the nix) are Norwegian.
He's still going to figure out where it came from eventually, though, make no mistake about that: NOT hinting at a sequel, only establishing the fact that Wybie and Jonesy probably haven't been tangled up in the supernatural for the last time.