IX. O UTSIDE, THE WORLD HAD
become a formless, swirling mist with no shapes or shadows
behind it, while the house itself seemed to have twisted and stretched. It seemed to Coraline that
it was crouching, and staring down at her, as if it were not really a house but only the idea of a
house—and the person who had had the idea, she was certain, was not a good person. There was
sticky web stuff clinging to her arm, and she wiped it off as best she could. The gray windows of
the house slanted at strange angles.
The other mother was waiting for her, standing on the grass with her arms folded. Her black
button eyes were expressionless, but her lips were pressed tightly together in a cold fury.
When she saw Coraline she reached out one long white hand, and she crooked a finger. Coraline
walked toward her. The other mother said nothing.
“I got two,” said Coraline. “One soul still to go.”
The expression on the other mother’s face did not change. She might not have heard what
“Well, I just thought you’d want to know,” said Coraline.
“Thank you, Coraline,” said the other mother coldly, and her voice did not just come from her
mouth. It came from the mist, and the fog, and the house, and the sky. She said, “You know that
I love you.”
And, despite herself, Coraline nodded. It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved
Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold. In the other mother’s button eyes,
Coraline knew that she was a possession, nothing more. A tolerated pet, whose behavior was no
“I don’t want your love,” said Coraline. “I don’t want anything from you.”
“Not even a helping hand?” asked the other mother. “You have been doing so well, after all. I
thought you might want a little hint, to help you with the rest of your treasure hunt.”
“I’m doing fine on my own,” said Coraline.
“Yes,” said the other mother. “But if you wanted to get into the flat in the front—the empty
one—to look around, you would find the door locked, and then where would you be?”
“Oh,” Coraline pondered this, for a moment. Then she said, “Is there a key?”
The other mother stood there in the paper-gray fog of the flattening world. Her black hair drifted
about her head, as if it had a mind and a purpose all of its own. She coughed suddenly in the
back of her throat, and then she opened her mouth.
The other mother reached up her hand and removed a small, brass front-door key from her
“Here,” she said. “You’ll need this to get in.”
She tossed the key, casually, toward Coraline, who caught it, one-handed, before she could think
about whether she wanted it or not. The key was still slightly damp.
A chill wind blew about them, and Coraline shivered and looked away. When she looked back
she was alone.
Uncertainly, she walked around to the front of the house and stood in front of the door to the
empty flat. Like all the doors, it was painted bright green.
“She does not mean you well,” whispered a ghost voice in her ear. “We do not believe that she
would help you. It must be a trick.”
Coraline said, “Yes, you’re right, I expect.” Then she put the key in the lock and turned it.
Silently, the door swung open, and silently Coraline walked inside.
The flat had walls the color of old milk. The wooden boards of the floor were uncarpeted and
dusty with the marks and patterns of old carpets and rugs on them.
There was no furniture in there, only places where furniture had once been. Nothing decorated
the walls; there were discolored rectangles on the walls to show where paintings or photographs
had once hung. It was so silent that Coraline imagined that she could hear the motes of dust
drifting through the air.
She found herself to be quite worried that something would jump out at her, so she began to
whistle. She thought it might make it harder for things to jump out at her if she was whistling.
First she walked through the empty kitchen. Then she walked through an empty bathroom,
containing only a cast-iron bath, and, in the bath, a dead spider the size of a small cat. The last
room she looked at had, she supposed, once been a bedroom; she could imagine that the
rectangular dust shadow on the floorboards had once been a bed. Then she saw something, and
smiled, grimly. Set into the floorboards was a large metal ring. Coraline knelt and took the cold
ring in her hands, and she tugged upward as hard as she could.
Terribly slowly, stiffly, heavily, a hinged square of floor lifted: it was a trapdoor. It lifted, and
through the opening Coraline could see only darkness. She reached down, and her hand found a
cold switch. She flicked it without much hope that it would work, but somewhere below her a
bulb lit, and a thin yellow light came up from the hole in the floor. She could see steps, heading
down, but nothing else.
Coraline put her hand into her pocket and took out the stone with the hole in it. She looked
through it at the cellar but saw nothing. She put the stone back into her pocket.
Up through the hole came the smell of damp clay, and something else, an acrid tang like sour
Coraline let herself down into the hole, looking nervously at the trapdoor. It was so heavy that if
it fell she was sure she would be trapped down in the darkness forever. She put up a hand and
touched it, but it stayed in position. And then she turned toward the darkness below, and she
walked down the steps. Set into the wall at the bottom of the steps was another light switch,
metal and rusting. She pushed it until it clicked down, and a naked bulb hanging from a wire
from the low ceiling came on. It did not give up enough light even for Coraline to make out the
things that had been painted onto the flaking cellar walls. The paintings seemed crude. There
were eyes, she could see that, and things that might have been grapes. And other things, below
them. Coraline could not be sure that they were paintings of people.
There was a pile of rubbish in one corner of the room: cardboard boxes filled with mildewed
papers and decaying curtains in a heap beside them.
Coraline’s slippers crunched across the cement floor. The bad smell was worse, now. She was
ready to turn and leave, when she saw the foot sticking out from beneath the pile of curtains.
She took a deep breath (the smells of sour wine and moldy bread filled her head) and she pulled
away the damp cloth, to reveal something more or less the size and shape of a person.
In that dim light, it took her several seconds to recognize it for what it was: the thing was pale
and swollen like a grub, with thin, sticklike arms and feet. It had almost no features on its face,
which had puffed and swollen like risen bread dough.
The thing had two large black buttons where its eyes should have been.
Coraline made a noise, a sound of revulsion and horror, and, as if it had heard her and awakened,
the thing began to sit up. Coraline stood there, frozen. The thing turned its head until both its
black button eyes were pointed straight at her. A mouth opened in the mouthless face, strands of
pale stuff sticking to the lips, and a voice that no longer even faintly resembled her father’s
“Well,” said Coraline to the thing that had once been her other father, “at least you didn’t jump
out at me.”
The creature’s twiglike hands moved to its face and pushed the pale clay about, making
something like a nose. It said nothing.
“I’m looking for my parents,” said Coraline. “Or a stolen soul from one of the other children.
Are they down here?”
“There is nothing down here,” said the pale thing indistinctly. “Nothing but dust and damp and
forgetting.” The thing was white, and huge, and swollen. Monstrous, thought Coraline, but also