If I’m going to do this, thought Coraline, I’m not going to do it in her clothes. She changed back
into her pajamas and her dressing gown and her slippers, leaving the gray sweater and the black
jeans neatly folded up on the bed, the orange boots on the floor by the toy box.
She put the marble into her dressing-gown pocket and walked out into the hall.
Something stung her face and hands like sand blowing on a beach on a windy day. She covered
her eyes and pushed forward.
The sand stings got worse, and it got harder and harder to walk, as if she were pushing into the
wind on a particularly blustery day. It was a vicious wind, and a cold one.
She took a step backwards, the way she had come.
“Oh, keep going,” whispered a ghost voice in her ear, “for the beldam is angry.”
She stepped forward in the hallway, into another gust of wind, which stung her cheeks and face
with invisible sand, sharp as needles, sharp as glass.
“Play fair,” shouted Coraline into the wind.
There was no reply, but the wind whipped about her one more time, petulantly, and then it
dropped away, and was gone. As she passed the kitchen Coraline could hear, in the sudden
silence, the drip-drip of the water from the leaking tap or perhaps the other mother’s long
fingernails tapping impatiently against the table. Coraline resisted the urge to look.
In a couple of strides she reached the front door, and she walked outside.
Coraline went down the steps and around the house until she reached the other Miss Spink and
Miss Forcible’s flat. The lamps around the door were flickering on and off almost randomly
now, spelling out no words that Coraline could understand. The door was closed. She was afraid
it was locked, and she pushed on it with all her strength. First it stuck, then suddenly it gave, and,
with a jerk, Coraline stumbled into the dark room beyond.
Coraline closed one hand around the stone with the hole in it and walked forward into blackness.
She expected to find a curtained anteroom, but there was nothing there. The room was dark. The
theater was empty. She moved ahead cautiously. Something rustled above her. She looked up
into a deeper darkness, and as she did so her feet knocked against something. She reached down,
picked up a flashlight, and clicked it on, sweeping the beam around the room.
The theater was derelict and abandoned. Chairs were broken on the floor, and old, dusty
spiderwebs draped the walls and hung from the rotten wood and the decomposing velvet
Something rustled once again. Coraline directed her light beam upward, toward the ceiling.
There were things up there, hairless, jellyish. She thought they might once have had faces, might
even once have been dogs; but no dogs had wings like bats or could hang, like spiders, like bats,
The light startled the creatures, and one of them took to the air, its wings whirring heavily
through the dust. Coraline ducked as it swooped close to her. It came to rest on a far wall, and it
began to clamber, upside down, back to the nest of the dog-bats upon the ceiling.
Coraline raised the stone to her eye and she scanned the room through it, looking for something
that glowed or glinted, a telltale sign that somewhere in this room was another hidden soul. She
ran the beam of the flashlight about the room as she searched, the thick dust in the air making the
light beam seem almost solid.
There was something up on the back wall behind the ruined stage. It was grayish white, twice the
size of Coraline herself, and it was stuck to the back wall like a slug. Coraline took a deep
breath. “I’m not afraid,” she told herself. “I’m not.” She did not believe herself, but she
scrambled up onto the old stage, fingers sinking into the rotting wood as she pulled herself up.
As she got closer to the thing on the wall, she saw that it was some kind of a sac, like a spider’s
egg case. It twitched in the light beam. Inside the sac was something that looked like a person,
but a person with two heads, with twice as many arms and legs as it should have.
The creature in the sac seemed horribly unformed and unfinished, as if two plasticine people had
been warmed and rolled together, squashed and pressed into one thing.
Coraline hesitated. She did not want to approach the thing. The dog-bats dropped, one by one,
from the ceiling and began to circle the room, coming close to her but never touching her.
Perhaps there are no souls hidden in here, she thought. Perhaps I can just leave and go somewhere else. She took a last look through the hole in the stone: the abandoned theater was
still a bleak gray, but now there was a brown glow, as rich and bright as polished cherrywood,
coming from inside the sac. Whatever was glowing was being held in one of the hands of the
thing on the wall.
Coraline walked slowly across the damp stage, trying to make as little noise as she could, afraid
that, if she disturbed the thing in the sac, it would open its eyes, and see her, and then . . .
But there was nothing that she could think of as scary as having it look at her. Her heart pounded
in her chest. She took another step forward.
She had never been so scared, but still she walked forward until she reached the sac. Then she
pushed her hand into the sticky, clinging whiteness of the stuff on the wall. It crackled softly,
like a tiny fire, as she pushed, and it clung to her skin and clothes like a spiderweb clings, like
white cotton candy. She pushed her hand into it, and she reached upward until she touched a cold
hand, which was, she could feel, closed around another glass marble. The creature’s skin felt
slippery, as if it had been covered in jelly. Coraline tugged at the marble.
At first nothing happened: it was held tight in the creature’s grasp. Then, one by one, the fingers
loosened their grip, and the marble slipped into her hand. She pulled her arm back through the
sticky webbing, relieved that the thing’s eyes had not opened. She shone the light on its faces:
they resembled, she decided, the younger versions of Miss Spink and Miss Forcible, but twisted
and squeezed together, like two lumps of wax that had melted and melded together into one
Without warning, one of the creature’s hands made a grab for Coraline’s arm. Its fingernails
scraped her skin, but it was too slippery to grip, and Coraline pulled away successfully. And then
the eyes opened, four black buttons glinting and staring down at her, and two voices that
sounded like no voice that Coraline had ever heard began to speak to her. One of them wailed
and whispered, the other buzzed like a fat and angry bluebottle at a windowpane, but the voices
said, as one person, “Thief! Give it back! Stop! Thief!” The air became alive with dog-bats. Coraline began to back away. She realized then that,
terrifying though the thing on the wall that had once been the other Misses Spink and Forcible
was, it was attached to the wall by its web, encased in its cocoon. It could not follow her.
The dog-bats flapped and fluttered about her, but they did nothing to hurt Coraline. She climbed
down from the stage, shone the flashlight about the old theater looking for the way out.
“Flee, Miss,” wailed a girl’s voice in her head. “Flee, now. You have two of us. Flee this place
while your blood still flows.”
Coraline dropped the marble into her pocket beside the other. She spotted the door, ran to it, and
pulled on it until it opened.