The day, in spite of the summer mark on the calendar, promised cold and some droplets of rain. But that didn't stop Coraline Jones from yanking a comb through her hair and stepping into her yellow rain boots. She snapped the buttons on her rain jacket, and stepped out the door, closing it behind her, paying no mind to the gray clouds that hovered over the pastel establishment known as the Pink Palace.
For maybe a week now, Coraline had lived in the central apartment of the house with her parents, and things had been going fairly well. Now that her parents had finished their gardening catalog, they were free to spend some of the last weeks of the summer with their only daughter. When the sun was out, they invited all their neighbors out to talk and play in the enormous garden that lay just outside the house. Coraline helped her mother mix lemonade and bake cookies, in the hopes that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible wouldn't volunteer to bake anything; the last time Coraline had slipped downstairs to visit them, they handed her cookies that they claimed were freshly baked, but were probably fifty years older than their taffy bowls—also still full. And then, their upstairs neighbor, a Russian acrobat known as the Amazing Bobinski, or, as he preferred Coraline to call him, Mr. B, would come flying from his apartment railing, doing flips and gymnastics that no one his age should be able to do. But even so, Coraline enjoyed watching him, since he was such a funny man. Of all her neighbors, Coraline thought she liked him the best.
But today, Coraline thought it best to go outside and explore. There were expansive woods surrounding the Pink Palace, extending far away into some hills and wide-open plains. The town was far away enough that when Coraline's mother went shopping, she would be away for hours at a time, getting anything and everything that her family could possibly need for a week or two. Coraline hardly liked to go with her, since the trips would be so long, and walking through the cramped isles where crazy adults lingered too long over choosing brands drove Coraline mad. She preferred to be outside, where she could wander and go anywhere she liked. That way, no one would be around to tell her what to do, and anything could happen.
And if she went far enough into the woods, maybe she could find the black cat that had helped her on all her adventures—whether they were in the woods or, more recently, the other side of the strange door in her apartment.
Ah, yes, Coraline remembered that adventure well. Not a day went by when she didn't think of it in the slightest. It was one adventure that she wished never to repeat. That was why she and her friend, Wybie Lovat, had thrown the door's key down the well close to the woods, in case any future explorers discovered it, and took the same journey that almost claimed the lives of Coraline's parents, and even that of Coraline herself.
And even now, as Coraline walked through the paths and plucked at some of the flowers, avoiding the poison oak that Wybie had warned her about, she knew she was coming up upon the secret well where the key had been dropped. Up ahead, she could see bits and pieces of the wooden cover, hidden beneath a fresh coat of mud leftover from the rainy days.
There was a large hole in the middle of the cover, large enough for Coraline to take a good-sized pebble and drop it down. It was a game she had played sometimes after discovering the well—counting the seconds before the pebble hit the water down below. It put a picture in Coraline's mind as to how truly deep the well was, and that the key, and whatever remained of the Other World from behind the door, could not crawl back up ever again.
Coraline glanced behind her to the garden, which now flourished with all kinds of marvelous plants that her neighbors had helped to grow. The stone layout of walls had the shape of the Other Mother, or the Beldam—a wicked creature who had black shiny buttons for eyes, and tried to trick Coraline into staying behind with her forever. It wasn't as prominent now, but imagine it without the flowers and trees, and you had a perfect image of horror.
Suddenly, Coraline began to wonder if maybe, just perhaps there was some way the Other Mother could be watching her. All she had done was seal away the door to the Other World. The Other Mother still lived behind the door, waiting. And she would not wait for anyone else, except Coraline.
It made Coraline feel like a wanted criminal in one of those daytime TV shows she sometimes saw on the television. If her captor really was still waiting around for her, then she was like a fugitive, who would be hunted down for as long as she lived. Even if the Other Mother never found her again, she would still be wanted, and hungered for.
When Coraline reached the well, she scooped aside some of the mud, and looked down into the hole. As expected she saw nothing but darkness. She peeled her eyes, looking for a sign of any remnants of the Other Mother coming back for her. Minutes passed, and nothing came.
So Coraline reached beside her for a pebble, and dropped it into the hole. She put her ear to the well, waiting for the plop, while she counted inside her head.
It was nearly three quarters of a minute before she heard the splash.
She sighed, as though this was a cheerful reminder that any possible way of reaching the Other World was gone forever, sinking further and further beneath the water with every pebble that she dropped down the well.
As Coraline raised her head from the well, she heard a scratching sound from the rocks nearby. And then, from under a hollowing tree stump, there appeared a big black mass of fur, with two large blue eyes peering at Coraline. It purred loudly, as Coraline met the gaze of her cat friend.
"Hello there, you," she said fondly, walking to the stump. She ran her hand over the cat's back, while it arched its spine to her touch. "What're you doing out here? Did you know I would be here?"
The cat bobbed its head, and stretched its back, flicking its tail in response.
Coraline cocked her head at this body language, but she laughed. "I think that means yes," she said. She repositioned her raincoat on her shoulders, and looked off into the woods. "You want to go exploring?"
The cat purred in response before it leapt off the stump, and trotted towards the trees. Coraline took off after it, observing the woods as she went. She had explored these woods to some extent before, but she still loved going inside to find what other things she hadn't before. And with her special cat friend as her partner, it was pretty fun. The cat was kind of like a secret too, because her parents didn't know about it coming up to her window sometimes at night to visit her. Coraline would cuddle with the cat, until they both fell asleep beneath the star night light that scattered across her ceiling. And then, when morning came and Coraline got out of bed, the cat would be gone.
Coraline thought sometimes of asking her parents if she could keep the cat in her room. Wybie sometimes took care of the cat too, since he regularly fed it, and the cat would bring him things from the forest for Wybie to either collect, or use for some wacky-brained experiment. But every time Coraline woke up early enough to maybe catch the cat, it still disappeared without a trace.
It was as if the cat wanted to keep itself a secret from the grownups of the Pink Palace. Well, at least the cat could still see her during the day when she came out to explore. That much she was glad for.
As Coraline and the cat were just entering the trees, they both saw something moving among the foliage. They stopped and looked around, but nothing showed itself. When they took a few more steps, the same something moved again. They repeated the pattern of moving and stopping just enough times, that Coraline took a guess as to who was following her and the cat.
"If you don't come out of there, Wyborn Lovat, I'm going to have to come in there after you!" she called into the woods.
There was no response from the trees.
Coraline looked at the cat, and it blinked its huge blue eyes at her. They then walked forward, branching off from one another. Coraline snuck around some rotting stumps before she saw the cat's eyes moving around to spot their prey. It then leapt on top of a helmet painted grey and black and white, startling whoever was wearing it.
Coraline laughed as she walked up to the cat, which was standing atop a startled looking boy about her age, with dark skin and hair, but wide-open eyes. "We got you, Wybie!" she laughed.
Wybie shook off some dirt from his jeans and took off his helmet, which had three different magnifiers on front, so he could spy through the woods. "I know, Jonesy, I know. The village stalker again," he said.
"Yeah, just a little," said Coraline. "Look, the cat and I were just going into the woods."
"Not going anywhere near the well, right?" Wybie said.
"Well…" Coraline trailed off, playing with the cuffs on her raincoat. "I just dropped some pebbles down there, is all."
Wybie looked quickly in the direction of the well. "I still cannot believe what we threw down there," he said. "You don't think it could come back up and get us, do you?"
Coraline shrugged. "It took the pebbles almost a minute to reach the bottom. I don't think it could scramble up those walls with the key."
"Still, don't you still feel like you're being watched or something?" Wybie wanted to know. "I mean, the door is still in your apartment, isn't it? The keyhole is still there, too."
"I try not to think about that," said Coraline, waving her hands dismissively before she kept on walking into the woods.
"Hey," Wybie called as he caught up to her. "I'm sorry I brought it up. I wasn't in on the whole go-through-a-door-and-almost-get-killed-by-a-needle-hand adventure, so I just wanted to know what you thought about it."
"Don't worry about it, Wybie," Coraline answered. "I'd be happy if I were you. I mean, it was a good adventure and everything, but I wouldn't go back in there for anything in the world."
"Okay, I get it," said Wybie. "So we will have our own adventures out here. In the woods. Together."
Coraline looked back with a slight wink at Wybie. "Okay. Together sounds good."
The two explorers and their cat wandered through the woods, scouring every tree for anything that drew their eye. Wybie had put his helmet back on, and was cranking a lever on the side so that his magnifiers could search through the trees. The cat was leaping from tree branch to tree branch and stump to stump, easily going along where its two masters went. If sometimes it saw something in the grass, it would slowly get down, and wait in position to pounce, while Coraline and Wybie compared berries or leaves.
Coraline suddenly stopped them, as she yelped in surprise.
"What is it, Jonesy?" Wybie said, pulling up his helmet to look at what Coraline had found.
In Coraline's hand, she held a stone that fit her palm exactly. In the middle was a hole, big enough for her to look through. It looked just like the stone she used in the Other World to save her parents.
"Whoa," said Wybie. "Let me look through it." Coraline handed the stone to him, and Wybie glanced all around the woods slowly, peering through the stone like he was pretending it was a spyglass.
"I used a rock like that when I was in the Other World," Coraline explained. "It helped me see the eyes of the three ghost children that the Other Mother had taken."
"Think we can use it now to find stuff in these woods?" said Wybie, "because that would be very, very neat!"
Coraline looked about the woods, while a cool breeze whistled through her dark hair. She looked in the direction of the wind, as it was directed down towards the Pink Palace. For a fleeting moment, Coraline could guess as to what exactly was going on. She dismissed it as fast as the ghosts had gone from the Other World.
"Keep it, Wybie," was all Coraline said before she kept moving.
"Sweet!" Wybie exclaimed as he slipped it into his pocket.
The afternoon wore on, and before Coraline, Wybie, and the cat had circled the woods around the Pink Palace, the sky began to clear, and clouds rolled away into the west, just as the sun was beginning to set. Clouds as pink as the Pink Palace itself, and others as bright yellow as Coraline's raincoat settled around the sun. The trio of explorers caught sun rays sparkling through the branches, covering the woods in a golden sheen that Coraline hadn't seen very much recently. For it had seemed as though this summer would be cloudy and rainy forever.
Coraline even unbuttoned her raincoat as the sun went down, since the light coming from the sunset was so warm and fantastic to behold.
"It's amazing!" said Coraline. "It's a good way to end a day, don't you think?"
Wybie nodded, taking off his magnifying helmet so he could look at the sun through his own eyes. He shielded them for a moment, but Coraline just laughed.
"What's so funny?" Wybie wanted to know.
"You should have seen your eyes," Coraline answered. "They got almost as shiny as the cat's eyes." The cat purred proudly upon being compared to something so pretty, turning its face to the sun, while indeed, its eyes shone brightly with the sun's last rays.
Wybie coughed a little, putting his hands behind his back meekly, like a shy little kid. But then he straightened up again, readjusting his helmet although it looked just fine.
"You think that's pretty, Jonesy?" he said. "Wait until the stars are all out, and the moon too. Have you ever explored in the dark before? Maybe we should do that!"
It was true, Coraline had seen some starry nights around here, but to explore while in the middle of one—that would be fun. The bulk of great, mysterious explorations happened at night, when anything could come about, and moon and starlight would be her guide to the wonders of the nightly woods.
As the sun's light faded away, Wybie switched on another device on his helmet, which worked like a miner's hat. He and Coraline and the cat kept circling the woods, scouring the ground, while the crickets started chirping, and any nighttime noises broke the silence.
They soon came close enough to the Pink Palace that they could step out of the trees and wind up in the garden, where Coraline, her parents, and her neighbors had installed some lights with automatic timers, so that when nighttime came, they would light up with wondrous colors and shapes of light, just as it had happened in the Other World. Only this time, Coraline made sure there were no demented Other Fathers to try and claim her from under the snapdragons.
It turned out that there was a very big moon out that night, almost as large as Coraline remembered from the Other World. And with the stars surrounding it like blinking lights, shining down on the quaint little Pink Palace, it seemed to Coraline, suddenly, as if the Other World were closer than she liked to think.
She could almost imagine a giant shadow in the shape of a button overcoming the moon while she moved underneath it.
The stars' light even made her think of the shiny, plastic surface of a button. Especially big, black ones.
"No!" Coraline shook her head, putting her fingers to her temples.
The cat hissed a little at Coraline's outburst, and Wybie stopped. "Hey, Jonesy, you okay?"
Coraline shook her head again, crossing from the woods to sit on the wall of the garden, where some white mini-lights glinted against her raincoat. Wybie hoisted himself onto the wall next to her, the cat following him to jump into Coraline's lap. She didn't take much notice of the little black creature, with its huge blue eyes trying to work some sense into her, as she took deep breaths.
"I know I shouldn't be scared," she said. "There's no way the Other Mother can find me. I know, because you and I threw the key down the well. We even threw her own hand down there too. But some things….some things make me think too much of her."
Wybie glanced around—at the garden, at the woods, and finally, up to the moon, which shone clear as ever. "What things?" he wanted to know.
"The garden, the well, and sometimes, even the moon," Coraline answered.
Wybie cringed. "Gee, whatever did she do with the moon that freaked you out so much?" he said.
"Oh, she didn't do anything," said Coraline. "It's just, the moon was like an hourglass, and it told me how long I had before I couldn't ever save my parents. I remember I looked at the moon, and I thought I had lost everything."
"But I guess you didn't, really," said Wybie. "I mean, you're here right now, and the only way to get back is sitting at the bottom of the well."
Coraline sighed. "You know, I don't think you'll really understand unless you actually went there."
Wybie sighed back, and shook his head. "How about you sit back, and look up at the sky. The stars didn't do anything bad to you, did they?"
Coraline followed Wybie's instructions and leaned back on the garden wall, looking up into the sky. She didn't focus her attention on the moon. Instead, she found herself counting the stars, just like she tried doing when she was little, and bored at night.
"I guess there were just too many stars for the crazy Other Mother to mess with, right, Jonesy?" said Wybie.
Coraline had to smile a little when she thought about it. There had only been one garden, and one moon. But there were thousands of stars up there. Suddenly, she liked to imagine the Other Mother having to go through such a strenuous process when she might have preferred dangling little kids' souls in front of their faces.
"You're right, Wybie," said Coraline. "This was something the Other Mother could never get at."
Wybie turned to look at his friend with a wink. "Told you so," he whispered. Then he looked back to the stars, pulling out the stone with the hole in it. "You think you could tell me about any of the constellations?"
Coraline shrugged. "I don't know about those, really," she answered. "Who knows? It might be an adventure for another time. But, you know, that would definitely be one to get excited over!"
"Good," said Wybie, peering through the stone, and then handing it to Coraline. "'Cause I know I would be too!"