Oh—my twitchy witchy girl I think you are so nice, I give you bowls of porridge And I give you bowls of ice Cream. I give you lots of kisses, And I give you lots of hugs, But I never give you sandwiches With bugs In. That was what she sang as she sauntered through the woods, and her voice hardly trembled at all.
The dolls’ tea party was where she had left it. She was relieved that it was not a windy day, for
everything was still in its place, every water-filled plastic cup weighed down the paper tablecloth
as it was meant to. She breathed a sigh of relief.
Now was the hardest part.
“Hello dolls,” she said brightly. “It’s teatime!”
She walked close to the paper tablecloth. “I brought the lucky key,” she told the dolls, “to make
sure we have a good picnic.”
And then, as carefully as she could, she leaned over and, gently, placed the key on the tablecloth.
She was still holding on to the string. She held her breath, hoping that the cups of water at the
edges of the well would weigh the cloth down, letting it take the weight of the key without
collapsing into the well.
The key sat in the middle of the paper picnic cloth. Coraline let go of the string, and took a step
back. Now it was all up to the hand.
She turned to her dolls.
“Who would like a piece of cherry cake?” she asked. “Jemima? Pinky? Primrose?” and she
served each doll a slice of invisible cake on an invisible plate, chattering happily as she did so.
From the corner of her eye she saw something bone white scamper from one tree trunk to
another, closer and closer. She forced herself not to look at it.
“Jemima!” said Coraline. “What a bad girl you are! You’ve dropped your cake! Now I’ll have to
go over and get you a whole new slice!” And she walked around the tea party until she was on
the other side of it to the hand. She pretended to clean up spilled cake, and to get Jemima another
And then, in a skittering, chittering rush, it came. The hand, running high on its fingertips,
scrabbled through the tall grass and up onto a tree stump. It stood there for a moment, like a crab
tasting the air, and then it made one triumphant, nail-clacking leap onto the center of the paper
Time slowed for Coraline. The white fingers closed around the black key. . . .
And then the weight and the momentum of the hand sent the plastic dolls’ cups flying, and the
paper tablecloth, the key, and the other mother’s right hand went tumbling down into the
darkness of the well.
Coraline counted slowly under her breath. She got up to forty before she heard a muffled splash
coming from a long way below.
Someone had once told her that if you look up at the sky from the bottom of a mine shaft, even
in the brightest daylight, you see a night sky and stars. Coraline wondered if the hand could see
stars from where it was.
She hauled the heavy planks back onto the well, covering it as carefully as she could. She didn’t
want anything to fall in. She didn’t want anything ever to get out.
Then she put her dolls and the cups back in the cardboard box she had carried them out in.
Something caught her eye while she was doing this, and she straightened up in time to see the
black cat stalking toward her, its tail held high and curling at the tip like a question mark. It was
the first time she had seen the cat in several days, since they had returned together from the other
The cat walked over to her and jumped up onto the planks that covered the well. Then, slowly, it
winked one eye at her.
It sprang down into the long grass in front of her, and rolled over onto its back, wiggling about
Coraline scratched and tickled the soft fur on its belly, and the cat purred contentedly. When it
had had enough it rolled over onto its front once more and walked back toward the tennis court,
like a tiny patch of midnight in the midday sun.
Coraline went back to the house.
Mr. Bobo was waiting for her in the driveway. He clapped her on the shoulder.
“The mice tell me that all is good,” he said. “They say that you are our savior, Caroline.”
“It’s Coraline, Mister Bobo,” said Coraline. “Not Caroline. Coraline.”
“Coraline,” said Mr. Bobo, repeating her name to himself with wonderment and respect. “Very
good, Coraline. The mice say that I must tell you that as soon as they are ready to perform in
public, you will come up and watch them as the first audience of all. They will play tumpty umpty and toodle oodle, and they will dance, and do a thousand tricks. That is what is they say.”
“I would like that very much,” said Coraline. “When they’re ready.”
She knocked at Miss Spink and Miss Forcible’s door. Miss Spink let her in and Coraline went
into their parlor. She put her box of dolls down on the floor. Then she put her hand into her
pocket and pulled out the stone with the hole in it.
“Here you go,” she said. “I don’t need it anymore. I’m very grateful. I think it may have saved
my life, and saved some other people’s death.”
She gave them both tight hugs, although her arms barely stretched around Miss Spink, and Miss
Forcible smelled like the raw garlic she had been cutting. Then Coraline picked up her box of
dolls and went out.
“What an extraordinary child,” said Miss Spink. No one had hugged her like that since she had
retired from the theater.
That night Coraline lay in bed, all bathed, teeth cleaned, with her eyes open, staring up at the
It was warm enough that, now that the hand was gone, she had opened her bedroom window
wide. She had in-sisted to her father that the curtains not be entirely closed.
Her new school clothes were laid out carefully on her chair for her to put on when she woke.
Normally, on the night before the first day of term, Coraline was apprehensive and nervous. But,
she realized, there was nothing left about school that could scare her anymore.
She fancied she could hear sweet music on the night air: the kind of music that can only be
played on the tiniest silver trombones and trumpets and bassoons, on piccolos and tubas so
delicate and small that their keys could only be pressed by the tiny pink fingers of white mice.
Coraline imagined that she was back again in her dream, with the two girls and the boy under the
oak tree in the meadow, and she smiled.
As the first stars came out Coraline finally allowed herself to drift into sleep, while the gentle
upstairs music of the mouse circus spilled out onto the warm evening air, telling the world that
the summer was almost done.