The scenery outside of Ashland Middle was like a post-card. The big orange sun was the only thing that lingered in the deep blue sky, the heavy green oaks swayed with the tender breeze. Weather so perfect was odd for Ashland, Oregon even during the summer. Kids dashed down the road home, or to their bikes, or their bus stops or wherever their hearts desired because for the next two and a half months, school was over. For Coraline Jones, summer couldn't have come sooner. Everything had gone downhill since she moved from Michigan; mostly in the first couple of days between rescuing her parents from pure evil and adjusting to a new life in a new state. She didn't want to think about the "other" mother, she just wanted to finally see her old friends and introduce some new friends as well, "new friends" meaning only one friend.

Wybie Lovat was strange, awkward, and sometimes even annoying. He would irritate Coraline with his uncanny comments before, during and after school while hardly noting a word she ever said to him. When he wasn't blabbering about he would stalk her on weekends, instead of simply knocking on the door and saying "can Coraline come out to play?" which was what normal people did.

Oddly enough, Wybie had hardly uttered a word to her at all during school. For the last few weeks he had been hoarding her with questions discussing how they would spend the summer together, which was what she was expecting on the last day of school. Instead he seemed more aloof and distant around her, as if focused on something else. Out of concern, she hung about the school yard to see if she could catch Wybie before he left campus and chat with him. It didn't take long until he showed up at the bike rack and hopped on his bicycle. Coraline hurried toward him, as he appeared to be in a rush, and called out his name.

"Hey, Wybie!"

The boy looked over his shoulder as he pulled out of the bike railings.

"Hey Jonsey. Listen, I'm actually in a hurry right now so I'll see you later."

"In a hurry for what?" Coraline intruded curiously as her friend attempted to ride on ahead of her.

"I promised my friend I would help her out. Her little brother went missing a few days ago."

"Oh."

"Hey, I know! Why don't you come help us? I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

Suddenly, Coraline wished she had kept her mouth shut. All she wanted to do was meet up with her friends without worrying about missing children, or parents, or anything that would remind her of what happened when she moved down from Pontiac.

"Hmmm…how old is he?"

"Four."

Drat! At that moment her conscious kicked in and now she had no choice. Then again, it shouldn't be too much of a setback. The most she would probably do was print out some flyers and hang them around town, and her friends weren't flying over until next week. Since she had nothing better to do until then, Coraline squeezed herself on the bike seat with her friend. When she had made herself comfortable, Wybie kicked the bike into gear and made a right as he exited the school gates.

"That's inconvenient." Coraline said to herself, as they usually made a left to go home. After a few feet down the road, Wybourne made a couple of turns down a heavily wooded road lined with tall, emerald trees. The path, while unfamiliar, was perfect for strolling about. The summer sun seeped between the elongated branches and a soothing breeze drifted along with the bike while the sound of birds tweeting echoed throughout the forest. Down the way, Coraline noted some bunnies and squirrels scampering around. The scene reminded her of a fairytale forest, as she half expected the woodland creatures to burst into song.

"Where does your friend live, anyway?"

"Not too far from our school, but she attends the campus across the street from us."

"You mean the private school?"

"Yep."

If that was the case, then it wasn't a wonder why the road seemed unrecognizable as they were probably headed toward some big-shot mansion. With that thought at hand, Coraline noticed a large, white mass protruding just behind the trees. At first she thought it was a mountain in the distance and realized that was impossible for whatever she had been looking at was right around the corner. Sure enough when Wybie made the left at the end of the path, they were face to face with the most elegant, country home Coraline had ever seen. The house was at least three times the size of the Pink Palace and was equipped with a 7'foot iron-wrought gate with a voice box attached on the right stone pillar; it was the only thing between the two children and the massive complex.

"Hello? Wybourne, is that you?" A girl's voice muffled through like a radio signal.

"Yeah, and I brought a friend with me too."

"Oh..." The voice clocked out for a few seconds, as if thinking twice to let a stranger in her house. The silence made Coraline a tad uncomfortable.

"Is that okay?" Wybie asked uncertainly.

"Y-yeah, that's fine. But we probably won't have time to play around…"

"Oh, no she's here to help."

"Oh, alright then."

For a second time the voice snuffed out, followed by the sound of metal latches shifting in the gate. Within a few seconds the large iron doors opened inward by themselves, permitting access for the two guests. Coraline felt her stomach flutter a bit, it was like they were about to meet with someone rather important. She gradually strolled down the lengthy brick path leading to the massive white construct. The front porch reminded her of a gardening magazine cover, there were all kinds of exotic plants, broms, lady slippers, purple orchids, bleeding hearts, and plants Coraline had only seen in the fantastic garden. Her parents would have a field day with this place, and they hadn't even stepped inside yet.

While Wybie leaned his bike against the wooden railing on the front porch, Coraline marveled at the beautiful, big house that seemed even larger up front. The main entrance was a double door that arched like a harp that presented a white, wooded texture and was adorned with a stain-glass design in the center. Even the door handles seemed valuable; as they sparkled and shimmered in the sun, it wouldn't be surprising if the knobs were made from real gold.

"Jonsey, come on!"

Coraline's attention jerked back to Wybourne who was impatiently calling on her. She bounced up the small set of stairs, landing to his right. As soon as her feet touched the doormat, the golden handlebars began to twitch and twist. From the other side, the sound of multiple locks unlatching could be heard. When these sounds ceased the right doorway flung inside, introducing their hostess.

"Hey Lauren, this is Coraline. She's new here."

Lauren Reedling was as lovely as her home, superficially speaking. Her hair matched the color of her priceless doorknobs and she had a tint of color in her skin. She was wearing the private school uniform (which was much cuter, classier, and colorful than Coraline's dull grey outfit) with a pair of creamy pearl earrings. Even behind her reading glasses, Lauren's eyes were placid and mature as they fluttered up and down when she blinked.

Coraline's first idea of this "lady" was a prudish little princess with everything in the palm of her hand. "She's probably never worked a day in her life. Then again, she seems pretty concerned about her missing brother. I wonder how her parents are taking it." She gave a half-hearted wave of the hand while Lauren only stood there with that melancholy expression; one you would see when you look at a stranger in the street, then turn the other way in a couple of seconds. Coraline began to feel awkward as she slowly brought her hand down, fingers curling inward bashfully.

Lauren gave a sarcastic "Uh-huh…" as if she were dissatisfied.

"Let yourselves in." She had a fancy accent like Miss Spink and Forcible that Coraline didn't notice with the interference of the speaker.

While Wybourn casually made his way indoors, Coraline stopped breathing as she placed her feet on the other side of the heavenly gates. In front of her was a massive staircase, dividing the elaborate dining room and living room. The dining room to the left reminded her of a bakery. The tabletop centered the room and was decorated with colorful desserts and sweets, from partially sliced cakes to mini-fruit tarts. The minty green walls displayed modern, abstract drawings of jazz players and ladies in fancy dresses, illuminated by the crystal chandelier hanging in the middle of the ceiling. On her right was the living room, decorative yet modern. The wooden paneled floor was still shining as though it had just been buffered reflecting the Victorian furniture. Towards the back was the huge curtain set, at least as tall as the iron gates outside. Part of the garden could be seen from where Coraline was standing. A classic red brick fireplace stood out against the white walls in the corner.

"Please be sure to remove your shoes, Caroline."

"T-the name's Cora-" by the time Coraline gathered her thoughts, Lauren was halfway up the stairs, blowing off her guest completely. "Never mind, she is a prudish princess."

"Come on Jonsey, we're using her mother's office. It's this way." Wybie motioned his hands upward as he had already ascended a couple of steps.

Up the second floor and down the right hallway was another set of elaborate double doors entering the office. This room was no bigger than a normal sized workspace and was about as fancy as a bureau for a high school principal. There was a single springline window that made up most of the space of the back wall, featuring a beautiful view of the summer landscape.

"This is a nice place you got here, Lauren." stated Coraline, futilely trying to break the ice. Lauren only grazed over her shoulder to glance at her visitor standing awkwardly by the entryway, and then casually turned her head forward. She headed over to the mahogany desk and snagged a stack of papers and a roll of duct tape, shoved the items in her guest's hands and hurried them to the exit.

"Now, I would like for you two to go downtown and hang these about the area. Once you've done that, start handing them out to people walking down the street."

Coraline took a look at the boy in the paper while being rushed back down the stairs, ignoring Lauren's rambling. He seemed no older than four or five, just as Wybie had said. He had innocent green eyes with a little button nose and a big, dimpled smile with some missing teeth. His brown hair was almost a bowl cut, only the bangs were messy and shifted side to side. Coraline also noticed that the boy was holding a familiar black cat like a teddy bear. On that note she was lightly shoved outside of the house alongside Wybie who almost tripped on the way.

"There will be refreshments waiting when you two return. Do hurry."

Coraline attempted to turn around and ask a few questions regarding the kid on the poster, however as soon as she spun her head around all she could see was a pair of giant, white double doors. The gold knobs lightly twisted to the sound of locks clunking on the other side.