Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Dave McKean illustrated
Linh Vu tranlated
I began this story for Holly
I finished it for Maddy
“Fairy tales are better than the truth: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be defeated.” --G.K. Chesterton
Coraline appeared through the door not long after they moved to the house.
It was an ancient house – it had an attic, a crawlspace under the floor of the house, and a garden rank with big, tall, centuries-old trees.
Coraline's family didn't own the whole house – it was too big for that. Instead, they only owned a part of it. There were other people who lived in this ancient house.
Old miss Spink and miss Forcible lived on the ground floor, right under the apartment of Coraline's family. They, both old and roundly fat, lived with a pack of old and weak Scottish dogs that were given names like Hamish, Andrew, and Jock. According to what miss Spink said to Coraline when she met the girl for the first time, in the old days she and miss Forcible were performers.
[Translation note: their Vietnamese forms of address indicate that Miss Spink and Miss Forcible are are old spinsters. I used the word “actresses” although the text isn't specific about what kind of performers they were. Later dialogue reveals that they were stage actresses.]
“You see, Caroline,” Miss Spink said, mixing up Coraline's name, “at that time, both I and Miss Forcible were famous actresses. We performed in the theater, dear. Hey! You can't let Hamish eat strawberry-filled cakes at all, otherwise his stomach will make him lose sleep all night.”
“Coraline. Not Caroline. It's Coraline,” Coraline said.
In the attic apartment lying above the level of Coraline's house, there was a rather crazy, bushy bearded, old man. The old man bragged to Coraline that he was training a mouse circus troupe. But he never let anyone see that circus troupe.
“One day, Caroline, when they're ready, the whole world will marvel at the wonders that my mouse circus troupe enacts. You just asked why you haven't seen them yet now. Did you ask that?”
“No,” Coraline said softly and indistinctly. “I just told you not to call me Caroline. It's Coraline.”
“The reason you can't see the mouse circus troupe,” the old man who lived in the attic said, “is because the mice aren't ready yet but they're still training. Furthermore they can't stand to play the music that I wrote for them. All the music I wrote for the mice to sing oompa oompa. But the white mice can only play to make a too-oo sound there. I am considering letting them try a different kind of cheese here.”
Coraline didn't think she would ever see a mouse circus in this life. She thought the old man was just making it up.
Right after the day she moved to the new house, Coraline set out to explore.
She explored the garden. It was a big garden: at the end of the garden there was an old tennis court, but no one in the house played tennis, and the fence surrounding the court was full of holes here and there and the net was close to completely decayed; there was a perennial rose garden dense and packed with dirty, stunted rose bushes; there was an inert rock garden that was all stones; a magic circle created from wet brown toadstools that will give out a terrible smell if people senselessly stomp on them.
And there was a well too. Right on the first day Coraline's family moved in, Miss Spink and Miss Forcible spoke very clearly about the danger of the well and warned the girl to stay far away from that place. So Coraline set out to find the well, because only when she knew where the well lied could she avoid it.
On the third day, the girl found the well lying behind a copse of trees in an overgrown lawn next to the tennis court – a short circle of brick almost like it fell right into the clump of high grass. The mouth of the well was covered by wooden boards, blocking it and not letting anyone fall into it. On one board there was a small knothole. Coraline spent the whole afternoon throwing pebbles and acorns through the whole then waiting and counting until she heard the plopping sound when the broke the surface of the water deep below.
Coraline examined the animals too. The girl found a porcupine, a snake skin (but she never saw the snake), a rock that looked like a frog and a frog that was no different from a rock.
There was also a haughty black cat that usually sat on the edge of a wall or on cut-down tree branches to follow the girl, but whenever Coraline stepped up to try to play with the cat, it made itself scarce.
The girl passed the first two weeks in the house like that – examining the garden grounds.
The girl's mother made her come back to the house to eat dinner and lunch. Coraline also had to assure she wore warm clothes before she went out, because the summer that year was very cold. But any day she could, she went out to explore until one day when it rained and made Coraline have to stay in the house.
“What do I do now?” Coraline asked.
“Read a book,” her mother said. “Watch a video. Play with toys. Go bother Miss Spink or Miss Forcible, if not then that crazy old man upstairs.”
“No,” Coraline said. “I don't want to do those things. I want to go explore.”
“If that's what you want to do, then do it.” Coraline's mother said. “As long as you don't mess everything up then it's ok.”
Coraline stepped to the window and observed the rain falling. It wasn't the kind of rain that people could go out in – it was a different kind, the kind of rain that threw itself down from the sky and fell somewhere to make water shoot everywhere. It was a rain with a purpose, and at the moment its purpose was turning the garden into a gaping, pulpy, wet, muddy soup.