Chapter 6: Ripple

Over the next few days, Coraline spent most of her spare time getting to know her new boyfriend, and their relationship was intimately physical quite quickly. Things never escalated beyond intense kissing, but Coraline surprised herself with how open she was to that kind of behaviour with a boy she had only known for a week. It was frustrating, but Michael had a way of pulling her strings in such a way that her usual inhibitions were swept away.

By the beginning of the following week, after a weekend of private conversations and stolen kisses, Coraline was ready to introduce him to her friends, and invited him to join her for lunch at school.

"We seriously need a better name for the state team," Jackson stated plainly as the bell rang and the group dispersed. "I mean, Oregon Ducks? Seriously?"

Michael laughed at that. "You have a point there."

Coraline walked beside them, just silently glad that these two seemed to be getting along, at least. Miranda seemed to like him too.

Wybie had been curiously absent.

"What do you think, Coraline?" Michael asked, breaking her out of her reverie. "A new name for the Oregon team?"

"No point in asking her," Jackson chortled. "Aside from hockey, this girl is the most un-sporty person I know."

"Like you can talk," she snapped back, before turning back to Michael casually. "Football's the best, huh?"

"Sure it is, babe," he chuckled. He leaned down and kissed her, and then made his way off toward his next class. "I'll see you later."

Jackson grinned and shook his head in disbelief as soon as he was out of earshot. "'Football's the best'? You don't even like football!"

"I love football!" Coraline insisted.

"Name three teams that you even know," he challenged her.

She cocked her head in thought for several moments, racking her brains for the name of a damn team. All the while, Jackson smirked at her.

"Shut up," she finally snapped, and stormed off to her next class.

The rest of the day passed by without incident, aside from the blue-haired girl embarrassing herself when she dropped off like a stone in class. Miranda's insistent elbow finally got her awake, but not before the teacher and half the class were staring at her.

"Strange timing there, Coraline," Holly had snarked from across the room, drawing several sniggers from her classmates and blushed cheeks from Coraline.

"Sorry..." she muttered to the teacher. "I didn't sleep very well last night..."

She was glad to be done with school by the time the final bell rang. As she walked across the schoolyard, she noticed a familiar mop of curly dark-red hair bobbing toward the bus-stop.

"Wybie!" she called, drawing his attention. "Where've you been hiding all day? I haven't seen you since this morning."

"Oh, uh, sorry about that," he muttered, twisting the green tie of his school uniform nervously.

"How come you weren't at lunch?" Coraline pressed. "I told you Michael was going to join us."

"Y-Yeah, sorry about that," her friend repeated. "Something, ah, came up."

At that moment, the stocky boy in question approached them from across the yard.

"Wybie, this is Michael," Coraline introduced them.

"Nice to meet you, dude," her boyfriend said, extending his hand.

Wybie stood stock-still for a moment, but then pasted a smile on his face and shook Michael's hand. "Uh, y-yeah..."

"Anyway, I came to find you to ask if you want a lift home with Michael today?" Coraline asked.

Wybie sighed internally. The last thing he wanted to do was take a ride with Coraline and her new boyfriend! But refusing and taking the bus instead would look even stranger. So he replied, "Sure, why not?"

The ride up into the hills was awkward. Coraline and Michael's attempts to make conversation with him ended with monosyllabic responses and grunts. In the end, she and Michael ended up talking while the mop-headed boy sat in the back silently.

By the time Michael pulled up to Wybie's light blue house, he had almost forgotten about his quiet passenger. He leaned in and planted a gentle kiss on Coraline's lips, taking her (and Wybie) by surprise.

"What was that about?" she asked.

"Nothing, I just wanted to."

Their attention was drawn to the back by the sound of the car door opening. "Thanks for the lift," Wybie muttered as he got out of the car, and then walked away without a backwards glance.

Coraline watched him go with a frown upon her face.

"Uh, you brought me the oolong tea, Ms Forcible," Coraline said in surprise, later on that evening, as the busty woman set down a tray of teacups and biscuits on the coffee table before her.

"Well, that's because you prefer oolong tea instead of jasmine, isn't that right?" she replied.

Coraline chose not to say anything more on the matter, or mention the fact that Ms Forcible had brought three cups for them. "How's Ms Spink doing?"

"Oh, she's still unconscious," the aging woman replied. "She doesn't seem to be getting worse, but she doesn't seem to be getting better either." However, she brightened and smiled warmly at the teenage girl. "Still, it was nice of you to come and visit an old bag like me."

The blue-haired girl coughed awkwardly. "Well, I thought you might be a bit lonely."

"Yes," Ms Forcible sighed. "That stroke came from out of nowhere. Always lying about her health, April was." A thoughtful expression crossed her face. "Then again, I suppose there are a lot of things I don't know about her. Just the other day, I went into her room and came across a bunch of African masks and other junk. If I didn't know any better, I would have thought it was all for devil worship!"

A slight twinge shot up Coraline's spine as she considered what other sorts of strange artefacts the old retired actresses were hoarding away. She eyed up the shelves full of stuffed Scottish Terriers. No matter how many times she came to visit, those damned stuffed dogs still creeped her out.

"Are you okay, Coraline?" Ms Forcible's voice cut into her thoughts. "You look tired."

"Uh yeah, I'm okay," she replied. "I just haven't been sleeping too well the last few days."

"Mmm. Me neither," the elderly lady admitted.

If her best friend was fighting for her life in hospital, Coraline did not imagine she would be sleeping too well either.

She noticed Ms Forcible paying a glance toward one of the mirrors hanging on the wall.

Later on that night, after everyone in the Pink Palace had gone to bed, Coraline slowly opened her eyes. Something had awoken her, but she was not quite sure what it was. She lay there, staring up at the ceiling and listening for a sound. Any sound.

She heard the chirps of crickets outside, the whistling of the wind, and the old boards of the house creaking ever so slightly. Those were not the sounds which had stirred her from her sleep, however.

Coraline's bed-sheets rustled as she pushed them aside and climbed to her feet. Strangely enough, all of the lights throughout the house were on. Were her parents still awake?

"Mum? Dad?" she called as she approached the staircase.

As she came to the stairs, the lights at the top landing suddenly dimmed, and then went out entirely. In fact, every light in the house went out, leaving it in darkness.

However, Coraline could still see faint light coming from somewhere downstairs. "Hello?" she called out, her voice drifting down the dark stairwell.

Her footfalls were padded by the carpet, and the house was deadly silent. She traced the light to her father's study across the main hallway from the kitchen. As it turned out, the desk lamp had been left on.

As Coraline crossed the room to turn off the light, she paused when she noticed... something odd in the small mirror hanging off the wall of the office.

She came before the mirror and gazed at her reflection long and hard. Something seemed... off about it.

Her suspicions were confirmed when her reflection cocked its head at her – of its own accord. Coraline's eyes widened and she stumbled back.

Her reflection did not mirror her actions.

Instead, her image in the mirror began to open its mouth. Coraline watched in horror as the reflection's mouth opened impossibly wide in a horrible expression, revealing a gaping black hole behind its maw and contorting its entire face.

At that moment, the mirror shattered, its glass shards flying outward, as a terrible scream split the air.

Coraline sat bolt upright in bed, clutching her blanket to her chest, until she realised that the scream was her own. She switched on the bedside light and looked around her bedroom fearfully.

Her eyes fell upon her dresser mirror and she found herself wondering that, if she looked directly into the mirror, she would see a terrible face staring back.

At that moment, she dared not look.

The teenage girl reached for her necklace and grasped the pendant so hard, the spike bit into the skin of her palm.

How could a nightmare rattle her so? She was no stranger to nightmares, but this one seemed so... real.

After all, this was the third night in a row that Coraline had screamed herself awake.

She hoped it was not a sign.