Rating: PG for mild profanity and frightening situations.
Notes: Sequelfic, set seven years after the original.
Summary: It was hard enough trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted--any eighteen-year-old would agree. But Coraline wasn't any eighteen-year-old, and the Other World wasn't about to let her go that easily.
Plunging her hand into the slimy water again, Coraline fished around for a moment, then came up with another dripping pebble. She squinted at her hand; its outline was just visible, now that her eyes had adjusted to the tiny glow of light from above.
Carefully, she tossed the stone at the opposite wall, listening for the wet tap.
If this even counted as a game, it was getting old fast. Also, her fingers didn’t feel the freezing temperature of the water anymore when she hunted for pebbles. She’d stopped shivering a while ago, in fact. Coraline wished she could take that as a good thing, but she had a very bad feeling about it.
“Hello?” she called.
Patient purring filtered down to her, echoing off the wet walls. Coraline smiled.
“Hey, cat. Let’s play, um…twenty questions.” It was good for passing the time on road trips, at least. “Meow for yes and, um…hiss for no. Got it?”
She half expected it to get up and walk away from her for even making such an inane suggestion, but to her surprise, the meow from above sounded reluctantly obliging. She cleared her throat.
“Wow. Thanks. Um. Somebody’s been wandering around here, right?”
“Is it Wybie?”
“Hey, why can’t you get him to come check the well?”
A feline grumble. Coraline sighed. She was somewhat abandoning the rules of the game, but this was marginally more interesting. Maddening, yes, but interesting.
“Figures. Huh…is there anybody else up there?”
She thought she heard a mew, but it was faint and uncertain. Coraline blinked, puzzled.
“Can you get them to come check?” she tried—and flinched at its sudden teakettle hiss. “Geez! Okay, okay!”
The hiss faded, and Coraline frowned. Since when did the cat get that agitated over nothing?
“…wait. Wait a minute. What’s wrong? Is it somebody bad?”
A long, warbling yowl echoed off the walls. It sent a shiver up Coraline’s spine, which turned to a shudder as she realized...
“Wait, does Wybie know they’re there? Is he in trouble?”
There was no reply.
“Dammit!” Coraline snapped, staring up at the fading sunlight filtering through the hole in the lid. No chance of sending a warning, there. “Why can’t I get out of…oh, no.”
If the last thought had made her shudder, this one turned her spine to ice. Hesitantly, she reached out one arm in the dark, feeling around until she found the curve of the old rock. The wisps of rotten cloth fluttered in the water, gently stroking her numb skin…
It couldn’t be…right?
She gulped. “Cat? Do…do you know what happened to the hand?”
Silence. She had no way of knowing if the cat was even still there. Coraline wrapped her arms around herself.
“Oh, no,” she whispered. “Wybie, you idiot, be careful…”
Branches scraped harshly on the window, and Wybie turned over, huddling uneasily into his pillow. The storm had woken him from a fitful sleep, raindrops lashing against the glass in noisy waves, and now he couldn’t stop staring into the shadows of his own room, waiting for dawn to come.
Was Coraline—the real Coraline—still out there in this weather? Was she dry? Was she safe? Was it his fault for not looking harder? He remembered the white butterfly and shivered, wondering if it was sheltering under a leaf somewhere.
A soft tapping sound filtered in from the night, breaking the rhythm of the rain. It was too gentle to be a branch. Wybie blinked and sat up a little, turning to stare out into the night. What was it? A leaf? A bird looking for shelter? He squinted, trying to see through the rain-spattered glass of the window…
A flash of lightning exploded outside, illuminating the black shape and brilliant round eyes of something outside.
Wybie screamed, throwing off his covers in a panicked scramble, and fell out of bed.
He sprawled there, gasping, for a second, tangled in the blankets he’d dragged off the bed, as it dawned on him that the thing he’d seen was not, in fact, person-shaped. In fact, it had looked very familiar.
Outside the window, something meowed.
Wybie groaned and let his head thump to rest on the floor. A sharp knock sounded on the other side of his bedroom wall.
“Wybourne! What’s wrong?”
“Just a dream, Grandma,” he called back.
“You need anything? Drink of water?”
“I’m fine,” he said, trying to slow down his breathing before paper bags became necessary. There was a rustling and a creak of springs as his grandmother settled herself down again.
“Well, good night then.”
Wybie got to his feet, leaving the blankets in a heap. “G’night, Grandma,” he called, then tiptoed to the window and slid it open as quietly as he could. The cat hopped lightly to the floor and shook itself, then walked past him to the bedroom door. It looked over its shoulder and meowed again.
“What are you doing here?” he whispered. “You just scared a year off my life! That’s like seven cat years!”
The cat glanced up at the ceiling, as if begging for patience, then stalked over and sank a paw’s worth of claws into the hem of his pajama pants.
“Ow!” Wybie yelped, as the little hooks caught skin. “Hey!”
“Wybourne! Some folks are trying to sleep in this house!”
“Sorry!” he called, and stood very still as his grandmother’s bedstead creaked itself quiet again.
The cat was still standing at his feet, looking up at him. Wybie knelt down and gingerly unhooked its claws from his pants.
“You’re not going to leave me alone until I follow you,” he whispered. “Are you.”
The cat, of course, said nothing.
A crazy thought occurred. “Do you know where Jonesy’s hiding?” he asked.
It blinked, slowly, and walked back to the door with its tail held high.
Wybie sighed. Then he fetched a pair of jeans and his hoodie from the closet and stealthily padded out into the hall. The last thing he wanted was to run into the other Coraline again, but by tomorrow afternoon she would be waiting in the woods. If he wanted to avoid another touchy-feely episode, their best shot was now, when she might be elsewhere.
And here he was again, following the cat into the dark woods in the wee hours of the night, where someone might be waiting for him. He felt twelve years old again, and all shuddery with it. He’d been enjoying not thinking about those memories for the last few years.
But…Coraline was out there, somewhere. His crazy, bossy, mouthy best friend. He would rather lose her ten times over to ten different distant colleges than spend another night not knowing whether she was safe.
If there was even a chance of finding her, he had to try.
The cat had definitely gone off somewhere. She’d called and called, after the light from the hole in the lid had turned sunset orange and faded away, and it had no reason at the moment to give her the silent treatment.
Coraline let her head fall back to rest against the muddy wall, staring up into the dark. No cat. No light. No help. Her leg was aching again, right through the numbness from the cold, in a steady throb that followed the beat of her heart. And she was hungry. Her stomach felt like it was trying to digest her ribs.
“Oh, god,” she muttered, through chattering teeth. How long did it take to starve to death? What were the signs of going into shock? Which one killed you faster? Picking up that rock and dropping it on her own head was starting to sound more appealing…
A vivid image of the ridiculousness of trying to bludgeon herself unconscious with a rock she could barely lift bloomed in Coraline’s mind, and suddenly she was laughing. The motion made her leg hurt worse, but at least it was laughter.
“Okay,” she managed finally, wiping tears from her eyes and sitting up. “Okay. This is the stupidest way to die, ever, and I am not giving up yet.” The Misses, for two, would never forgive her if she shuffled off her mortal coil in such an undramatic location as a dirty hole in the ground.
Anyway, she was still alive, and she could still yell at the top of her lungs. Those were the important things. Just this once, considering the situation, she was going to have to keep learning patience.
Take comfort in this, Miss. Thou art yet living.
Coraline took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and settled the damp sweater a little more closely around her. At least she knew what time it was. Time to get some sleep. She could listen for passersby again in the morning.
The woods were dark, and the ground was treacherous with old branches, half hidden by leaf litter. Wybie picked his way along carefully, following the steady patting sound of the cat’s paws on the wet leaves. He wasn’t sure where exactly it was leading him in the dark, other than downhill and in the general direction of the Pink Palace, and his ears were straining at every small sound from behind every tree. At least the rain had slacked off.
“So, uh…” he tried, pitching his voice in a low whisper. “Where are we going?”
The cat made no response. It just kept trotting resolutely along.
“Is it…” Wybie glanced nervously to each side, then jogged a little to close the gap and leaned down. “Is she in the woods, or what?”
One of its ears flicked, but it didn’t stop or look back. Wybie grimaced.
“Look, could we just work together on this?” he asked, holding out his gloved hands. “If we—whoaa-!”
One of his feet landed on the remnants of a log, and popped right through the rotten bark. Wybie pitched forward, his momentum dragging his tangled shoe loose, and somersaulted head over heels down the branch-littered slope.
The cat flattened its ears, cringing flat against the earth as Wybie’s yelps echoed through the trees.
It gave its head a shake, and loped off down the hill, leaping gracefully over the various branches and stones that had greeted Wybie more forcefully on the way down. Finding him prying his muddy cheek off the ground, it gave his chin a quick lick.
“Reflexes of a cat, that’s me,” Wybie muttered, dizzily, and ruffled his old friend’s ears. “I can’t help it if I have the eyes of a human…hey, where are you going?”
Having wriggled out from under the caress, the cat trotted off again, circling around to the other side of…
…the old well. Wybie blinked, reorienting himself to the world. So that meant the Palace was behind them, up the hill. And somewhere in the woods ahead of him…
The cat meowed, insistently, and Wybie looked back at the well.
“Oh, no,” he said. “No way. I already checked.”
The cat put its ears back and hissed at him.
“Okay, okay!” Hesitantly, he edged over to it and bent to rap the lid with his knuckles: once, twice, three times. “Hello? Jonesy? Anybody?” he called.
There was no response. “See?” he said. “I told you, there’s no—”
It was the faintest echo, wobbly and incredulous, from the very bottom of the deep hole. But the owner of the voice was unmistakable. Wybie’s mouth dropped open.
“Jonesy?” He fell to his knees, putting his ear to the weather-beaten wood. “Jonesy, is that you?”
“Wybie!” She sounded on the verge of tears of relief. A massive, days-old bubble of tension burst in Wybie’s chest.
“Oh, my god,” he muttered. “Hang on, I’ll get it open for you!” He scrambled off the lid, looking around for something to pry up the lid.
The cat mewed, and he turned to see it waiting by a broken tree trunk at the edge of the clearing, with its front paws braced on a splintered branch, watching him.
“That’ll work,” Wybie said, and ran to grab it. Seconds later, he was levering up the lid in a shower of dust and pebbles. Somewhere far below in the shadowy darkness, he could hear Coraline coughing. “Are you okay?”
“Oh, yeah, I’m fine,” came the wobbly, tired voice. “Just starving and freezing and I think my leg’s broken, but other than that, it’s a real tea party down here. What do you think?”
“Sorry,” Wybie called back. If she could still snark, then she was probably going to be all right—
“Wait, what?” He grabbed the edge of the well, trying to stare down into the depths. “You broke your leg?”
“I think I’m lucky it was the only thing that broke.” There was nothing visible down there. Even the walls of the well were swallowed up by thick black shadows a few feet down, but he could hear her breathing. “God, I’m so glad you’re here,” she burst out suddenly, almost tearfully. “I kept hearing your bike going by, and…and I shouted, but you never stopped…”
“Yes, I did!” he protested, “I called down the well and…” This wasn’t helping. Wybie took a deep breath. “I’m gonna go get your parents,” he said, and dashed off up the hill. “Stay there!”
The open well sat quietly under the night sky. The cat stalked over and settled itself by the edge, standing guard.
“Yeah,” Coraline said, ruefully. “I’ll just do that.”
Pouring on all the speed he possessed, Wybie sprinted up over the crest of the hill, swatting dry grass out of his way, and stumbled to a stop. He stared up at the Pink Palace in dismay.
The windows were dark. Not a single light was on.
“Oh, come on,” he groaned, and sprinted through the garden, skipping the flagstones two and three at a time. “Come on, come on…”
His heavy boots thumped hollowly on the porch as he ran up the steps. He gave the doorbell a push, then another—knocked on the door—rattled the knob. No one came. Wybie squinted at the door and realized the taped-up note was new. He grabbed it and held it close enough to read in the dim light.
Out searching. Mel and Charlie
“Dammit,” Wybie muttered. He knew the feeling of being unable to sleep, of itching to get out and do something, but it couldn’t be much past four in the morning. Had they been out all night, or just gotten up that early?
He dropped the note and dashed up the stairs to the attic apartment. The paper fluttered down and landed on the mat.
The Bobinskys’ door was locked, too, no matter how he pounded on it.
Already guessing what he’d find, he hopscotched down the stairs to the Misses’ apartment. A few dogs barked from inside when he knocked, but no one came to the door. If the ladies were at home asleep, they evidently couldn’t hear the racket. If not…
Wybie stopped and doubled over, bracing his hands on his knees and breathing hard. “Well, great,” he muttered. “Now what? Think, Wybie, think…”
It was amazing, how precious a round patch of sky could be after so much darkness. Coraline couldn’t stop staring at her own hands, softly illuminated in the blue moonlight. It was so good to see anything again…
“Hey,” came a call from above, and something splashed into the water. She gave a start, and looked up to see Wybie’s shadow among the stars. “Can you reach that?”
She fumbled for it with numb fingers.
“A garden hose?” she said, staring at the thing in her hands. “What am I supposed to do with a garden hose?”
“I don’t know, climb it?” came the echoing voice.
Coraline felt a deep, growling frustration boiling up inside her, fueled by days of pain. “What part of ‘broke my leg’ didn’t you get the first time?” she snapped. “I can’t climb anything! I can barely stand up!”
For a moment, all she could hear was the soft lapping of the water around her.
“Alright, I’m pulling it back up,” came Wybie’s voice, somewhat abashed.
She let go, and watched the nozzle bounce its way up the walls and out of sight. “Can’t you get anybody serious to help?” she shouted.
“I am serious!” Wybie protested, leaning into view again. “And nobody’s home, I tried all the doors and they’re locked! I think they’re downtown somewhere, looking for you!”
“Wonderful,” Coraline muttered, and rested her chin on her arms for a moment. So close, and so far away…
Something was bumping its way down the wall over her head. Coraline looked up, and held out her hands just in time for a broken length of tree branch to descend into them. The garden hose was tied around it in a sturdy-looking triple knot.
“Uh…you sent me a stick?”
Wybie was peering down at her again, stars twinkling behind him like a halo. “Sit on it,” he said.
“Like a swing,” he explained. “Sit on the branch, put one leg on either side of the hose, and hold on tight. Then I can pull you up.”
Coraline raised both eyebrows. “Seriously? You can do that?”
“Hey, all muscle, remember?” Wybie said. She couldn’t see his face very well, but she suspected that he was grinning. “I haven’t been hauling around tires all year for nothing. Well?”
She pondered, but only for a few seconds. Now that the surface was attainable, the well felt twice as dark and claustrophobic.
“All right,” she said, and began carefully working her good leg under her. “Ah—! Dammit!”
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Leg,” she said, tightly through her teeth. “Hurts.”
“M-maybe we should wait until somebody comes home.” From the sound of his voice, Coraline would have bet money that Wybie was wringing his hands nervously, looking over his shoulder for a better idea. The familiar image made her smile.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” she called, settling the branch firmly under her. “I want out of here, yesterday.”
“Are you gonna worry all day, or are you gonna start pulling?” she snapped.
With a sudden jerk, she rose a few feet into the air, then stopped, swinging slightly. Coraline gulped, holding on tight.
“Wybie?” she called, and heard a grunt.
“Hang on!” he said, sounding strained. The hose wobbled and jerked, bouncing her gently in midair. Coraline tried very hard not to think about what it would feel like to fall on her broken leg again.
“What are you doing?”
“Bracing it around the—hrrgh!” She was suddenly hauled up another foot, and squawked with surprise. “Around the tree trunk!” Wybie finished. “I don’t wanna drop you!”
“What happened to being all muscle?”
“You weigh a little more than a tire,” Wybie grunted, digging in the heels of his boots for traction. Spare hose coiled at his feet as he pulled.
“Almost there!” Coraline called, at the same moment that he felt the drag on the hose alter slightly—and then, a pale, muddy hand grabbed the edge of the well.
Wybie gritted his teeth and heaved with all his might, as Coraline pulled herself up. She burst back into the world like a cork out of a bottle, landing on her stomach with a pained ‘oof’.
“Jonesy!” Wybie cried, and tossed the hose aside, falling to his knees next to her. “Are you okay?” His hands hovered over her, afraid to touch her, even to check for injuries.
Coraline quickly levered herself up on one elbow. Her face was streaked with mud, and her teeth were gritted in a white slice through the layers of dirt. He had never seen her look such a mess, or so angry.
“Where is it?” she demanded, clenching her jaw.
Wybie was still trying to decide whether he should risk turning her over. “Oh, no,” he said, spotting her leg. It wasn’t an immediately obvious break, but squinting closer, he figured no human leg should bend at quite that angle. “Oh, geez, you really broke it…what do we do?”
“Where is it, Wybie?” Coraline repeated. She was looking right and left now, frantically, apprehensively.
“Where’s what?” Wybie leaned a little closer, trying to get a good look at her pupils to see if they were both the same size. “Did you hit your head on the way down? Because I heard if you—”
“There’s a thing up here!” Coraline snapped. “I think it was walking on the well, and the cat says it’s dangerous—”
“The cat?” Wybie wondered if he ought to speak in clear syllables that a person with head trauma could understand. “Uh…the cat can talk now? I mean, I know it’s really smart for a cat, but I don’t think—”
“Well, no, it didn’t say anything, but…”
Wybie frowned, bemused, and looked about to say something diplomatic. A furious light flared up in Coraline’s eyes, and she reached up and grabbed his sleeve, leveling a glare at him.
“Don’t. You. Dare. You do remember what happened the last time you didn’t trust me on something like this?” She shot a dark look at the well behind them, and Wybie gulped.
“Wybie,” she said, low and urgent. “I was down there. The hand and the key…they’re gone.”
“They what?!” His eyes went so wide that she could see the hazel flecks in them, even in the dark. Wybie flinched back from the edge of the well, taking a nervous step towards the woods, away from the well and the house. “You mean, all the bits we broke…?”
“All of them,” Coraline agreed. She’d had more than enough time to search. “There’s just the rock, and my old blanket. What’s left of it.”
“But…” Wybie bit his lip. “What does that even mean?”
Coraline let out an exasperated growl. “I don’t know, you’re the one who’s been wandering all over the neighborhood with some weird thing that keeps teasing the cat! For all I know, it’s probably what pulled me down there in the first place!”
“Wait, wait.” Sudden, dark ideas were dawning on Wybie; ideas that he didn’t like at all. “You mean…you mean the other you?”
Coraline gave him an odd look. “What?”
The cat screamed.
It was a terrible, high-pitched yowl of warning, bursting from its throat as all its fur suddenly stood on end. Its wide blue eyes were focused on the darkness between the trees; Coraline and Wybie looked quickly in that direction, as one, their heads turning—
A slim shape detached itself from the shadows. Coraline squinted, confusion turning to disbelief, then to dismay.
The other Coraline smiled. Moonlight played on her skin, turning it pale blue. One measured step at a time, she moved towards them.
“Wybie, who’s this?” she asked, in the sweetest tones that Coraline’s voice could muster.
Coraline’s jaw dropped.
“There’s….another me? How did—I mean—when—?”
The other Coraline stopped several paces away, staring at them; the girl in muddy pajamas, sprawled on the ground; the boy in a patchworked old hoodie, standing nervously beside her; both of them as tense as spooked deer. Her button eyes glittered in the dark.
“A better you,” she corrected her, softly.
Coraline’s fists clenched. “Excuse me?! You’re not me, you’re a fake! A…a button-faced freak!” She pointed a finger at her doppelganger. “Wybie, tell her!”
“I, uh…” Wybie gulped, then nodded. “Yeah,” he agreed. “What she said.”
One of the other Coraline’s slim hands flew to her heart. “How could you,” she whispered. Had her fingers always been so thin? Wybie couldn’t remember. She took a step forward, reaching out to him, and he blinked. Was she getting…taller? “Take it back.”
A nasty, seasick feeling was rising in Coraline’s stomach.
“No!” Wybie felt a little flare of anger. How had she known to come here? Had she heard their voices? “I wasted so much time running around the woods with you, and she was right here the whole time!” Another horrible thought occurred. “You knew, didn’t you!”
The other Coraline was reaching out with both hands now, walking slowly, like someone soothing an unpredictable animal. Her face seemed thinner in the moonlight.
“Take it back, Wybie,” she pleaded.
“You did know!” Somehow, the strongest emotion he felt was shame. Wybie gritted his teeth. “I trusted you, and you—you—!”
“Why are you afraid?” Her button eyes glinted black against her pale skin. Wybie gulped.
“What, seriously? Uh, for starters—”
“Don’t you love me?”
Wybie’s startled squawk was nearly drowned out by Coraline’s.
“What?!” Coraline stared at her friend; he wouldn’t meet her eyes, but she could read plenty from his suddenly hunched, guilty posture. “Wybie, what the hell did you do?”
“I didn’t do anything!” Wybie protested, making a mortified gesture with both hands. “She just came up to me and—”
Something was making a soft, crackling noise, but Coraline hardly noticed. Her mouth had dropped open. “Oh, my god,” she said. “You did do something! You…you got up to something with my creepy other me!”
“It wasn’t my idea!” Wybie said. “Jonesy, listen—”
“I don’t believe this—”
The cat squalled again, backing a step away from them, then another, its ears laid flat. Both of them shut up and looked where it was looking—and gulped, hard.
What had been the other Coraline reached up and gave her head a little twist to the side. Something in her long, graceful neck clicked. A few delicate flakes of chitin split away and fluttered to the ground as she beetled up a last inch or two in height and smiled, chalk-white lips splitting open to reveal neat rows of teeth.
“You know I love you, Wybie,” the newborn thing crooned, and reached out its bone-thin arms with its needle fingers spread wide.
Wybie let out a yell of terror. Turning to bolt, he nearly tripped over his own oversized boots, stumbling forward with his hands outflung as if to catch himself—and with a swift ripple of black-plated legs, the beldam was there before him, both arms grabbing him around the waist and hoisting him up into the air like a child.
“Jonesy! Help!” he screamed, kicking and flailing. As the beldam turned, Coraline caught a confused glimpse of his face, wide eyes terrified—
“No!” she screamed back, reaching out an arm as if she could catch his outstretched hand—
Towering over the well and the helpless girl, the beldam tucked the struggling boy under its arm like a package, then rushed away up the path towards the house, crouching low to the ground with its many legs leaping over each other at a horrible speed.
“Wybie!” Coraline cried, and tried to leap to her feet and follow them. A thunderclap of pain slammed through what felt like her entire body…
The next thing she knew, she was curled on the cold ground, clutching her leg, with tears brimming in her tightly-shut eyes. Something small and rough lapped at the saltwater on her cheek. She gasped a breath, opened her eyes and looked around frantically. The clearing was empty, except for her and the cat.
“Wybie?” she shouted, desperately, pointlessly. “Wybie!”
There was no answer but the sigh of the wind in the pines.
“Oh, god,” Coraline whispered, and began to cry.
To be continued...
Crossposted to coraline_wybie.