XI. O NCE INSIDE, IN HER FLAT
, or rather, in the flat that was not hers, Coraline was pleased to
see that it had not transformed into the empty drawing that the rest of the house seemed to have
become. It had depth, and shadows, and someone who stood in the shadows waiting for Coraline
“So you’re back,” said the other mother. She did not sound pleased. “And you brought vermin
“No,” said Coraline. “I brought a friend,” She could feel the cat stiffening under her hands, as if
it were anxious to be away. Coraline wanted to hold on to it like a teddy bear, for reassurance,
but she knew that cats hate to be squeezed, and she suspected that frightened cats were liable to
bite and scratch if provoked in any way, even if they were on your side.
“You know I love you,” said the other mother flatly.
“You have a very funny way of showing it,” said Coraline. She walked down the hallway, then
turned into the drawing room, steady step by steady step, pretending that she could not feel the
other mother’s blank black eyes on her back. Her grandmother’s formal furniture was still there,
and the painting on the wall of the strange fruit (but now the fruit in the painting had been eaten,
and all that remained in the bowl was the browning core of an apple, several plum and peach
stones, and the stem of what had formerly been a bunch of grapes). The lion-pawed table raked
the carpet with its clawed wooden feet, as if it were impatient for something. At the end of the
room, in the corner, stood the wooden door, which had once, in another place, opened onto a
plain brick wall. Coraline tried not to stare at it. The window showed nothing but mist.
This was it, Coraline knew. The moment of truth. The unraveling time.
The other mother had followed her in. Now she stood in the center of the room, between
Coraline and the mantelpiece, and looked down at Coraline with black button eyes. It was funny,
Coraline thought. The other mother did not look anything at all like her own mother. She
wondered how she had ever been deceived into imagining a resemblance. The other mother was
huge—her head almost brushed the ceiling—and very pale, the color of a spider’s belly. Her hair
writhed and twined about her head, and her teeth were sharp as knives. . . .
“Well?” said the other mother sharply. “Where are they?”
Coraline leaned against an armchair, adjusted the cat with her left hand, put her right hand into
her pocket, and pulled out the three glass marbles. They were a frosted gray, and they clinked
together in the palm of her hand. The other mother reached her white fingers for them, but
Coraline slipped them back into her pocket. She knew it was true, then. The other mother had no
intention of letting her go or of keeping her word. It had been an entertainment, and nothing
more. “Hold on,” she said. “We aren’t finished yet, are we?”
The other mother looked daggers, but she smiled sweetly. “No,” she said. “I suppose not. After
all, you still need to find your parents, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Coraline. I must not look at the mantelpiece, she thought. I must not even think about it. “Well?” said the other mother. “Produce them. Would you like to look in the cellar again? I have
some other interesting things hidden down there, you know.”
“No,” said Coraline. “I know where my parents are.” The cat was heavy in her arms. She moved
it forward, unhooking its claws from her shoulder as she did so.
“It stands to reason,” said Coraline. “I’ve looked everywhere you’d hide them. They aren’t in the
The other mother stood very still, giving nothing away, lips tightly closed. She might have been
a wax statue. Even her hair had stopped moving.
“So,” Coraline continued, both hands wrapped firmly around the black cat. “I know where they
have to be. You’ve hidden them in the passageway between the houses, haven’t you? They are
behind that door.” She nodded her head toward the door in the corner.
The other mother remained statue still, but a hint of a smile crept back onto her face. “Oh, they
are, are they?”
“Why don’t you open it?” said Coraline. “They’ll be there, all right.”
It was her only way home, she knew. But it all depended on the other mother’s needing to gloat,
needing not only to win but to show that she had won.
The other mother reached her hand slowly into her apron pocket and produced the black iron
key. The cat stirred uncomfortably in Coraline’s arms, as if it wanted to get down. Just stay there