That was how she spent her first two weeks in the house exploring the garden and the grounds.
Her mother made her come back inside for dinner, and for lunch; and Coraline had to make sure she dressed up warm before she went out, for it was a very cold summer that year; but go out she did, exploring, every day until the day it rained, when Coraline had to stay inside.
"What should I do?" asked Coraline.
"Read a book," said her mother. "Watch a video. Play with your toys. Go and pester Miss Spink or Miss Forcible, or the crazy old man upstairs."
"No," said Coraline. "I don't want to do those things. I want to explore."
"I don't really mind what you do," said Coraline's mother, "as long as you don't make a mess."
Coraline went over to the window and watched the rain come down. It wasn't the kind of rain you could go out in, it was the other kind, the kind that threw itself down from the sky and splashed where it landed. It was rain that meant business, and currently its business was turning the garden into a muddy, wet soup.
Coraline had watched all the videos. She was bored with her toys, and she'd read all her books.
She turned on the television. She went from channel to channel to channel, but there was nothing on but men in suits talking about the stock market, and schools programmes. Eventually, she found something to watch: it was the last half of a natural history programme about something called protective coloration. She watched animals, birds and insects which disguised themselves as leaves or twigs or other animals to escape from things that could hurt them. She enjoyed it, but it ended too soon, and was followed by a programme about a cake factory.
It was time to talk to her father.
Coraline's father was home. Both of her parents worked, doing things on computers, which meant that they were home a lot of the time. Each of them had their own study.
"Hello Coraline," he said when she came in, without turning round.
"Mmph," said Coraline. "It's raining."
"Yup," said her father. "It's bucketing down."
"No," said Coraline, "It's just raining. Can I go outside?"
"What does your mother say?"
"She says you're not going out in weather like that, Coraline Jones."
"But I want to carry on exploring."
"Then explore the flat," suggested her father. "Look, here's a piece of paper and a pen. Count all the doors and windows. List everything blue. Mount an expedition to discover the hot-water tank. And leave me alone to work."
"Can I go into the drawing room?" The drawing room was where the Jones's kept the expensive (and uncomfortable) furniture Coraline's grandmother had left them when she died. Coraline wasn't allowed in there. Nobody went in there. It was only for best.
"If you don't make a mess. And you don't touch anything."
Coraline considered this carefully, then she took the paper and pen and went off to explore the inside of the flat.
She discovered the hot water tank (it was in a cupboard in the kitchen).
She counted everything blue (153).
She counted the windows (21).
She counted the doors (14).
Of the doors that she found, thirteen opened and closed. The other, the big, carved, brown wooden door at the far corner of the drawing room, was locked.
She said to her mother, "Where does that door go?"
"It has to go somewhere."
Her mother shook her head. "Look," she told Coraline.
She reached up, and took a string of keys from the top of the kitchen door frame. She sorted through them carefully, and selected the oldest, biggest, blackest, rustiest key. They went into the drawing room. She unlocked the door with the key.
Copyright Neil Gaiman 2002. All rights reserved.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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