For this challenge, I took Coraline from Coraline by Neil Gaiman and swapped her into the world of Hollow City by Clare B. Dunkle. I may write a followup to this piece showing how Kate and Emily from The Hollow Kingdom fare in the Pink Palace of Coraline, but this went a bit longer than I anticipated. Enjoy!
Coraline Jones was not satisfied with her current living situation, and it was safe to assume that Hallow Hill was none too happy with her, either.
Her mother had used words like “antiquated” and “dignified” to describe the big house at the top of the hill; Coraline thought “dusty” would suit it just fine. It was a large house, with a grand library and an even grander old dining room, and one whole wall to the back of the house made up of glass windows looking over the forest. But Coraline wasn’t allowed in any of the exciting rooms for fear she would get jam on the rather expensive furniture, even though it was all still wrapped in dusty white sheets.
Coraline’s mother pulled two sheets from two chairs in the dining room and carefully folded back the sheet on the table. Her father was in his study, which Coraline knew was somewhere on the second floor, but hadn’t been able to find it to tell him to come down for breakfast.
Coraline said, “I think I’ll go for a walk.”
“Eat your breakfast first,” her mother replied, not looking up from the manuscript already covered in tiny red crayon marks—she’d misplaced her own office supplies in the move, and Coraline hadn’t yet told her mother she’d put them in the back of her own closet.
“It might rain,” Coraline warned. She chipped at a rock-hard scone with her fork. It seemed unperturbed.
Her mother made a noise in the back of her throat, agreement or encouragement or annoyance, Coraline didn’t know. She slid down from her seat, noting the small jam-stain on its upholstery before covering it with the dusty sheet.
The horizon was a broiling black mass, but the sky above the big house on Hallow Hill was clear and blue. Coraline slipped outside into the brisk morning air and set off around the back of the house into the woods.
Coraline walked twenty minutes in one direction as best she could, meandering over rocks and underbrush, before she noted the sky darkening very suddenly and ominously. She furrowed her brow—she would not be beaten by the threatening of a few drops of rain, and she was sure she could beat a hasty retreat back home in no time at all if it came down to it. She hastened onward.
The wind picked up, whistling through the branches as the trees creaked and shook. A drop of moisture hit her head, two tapped her shoulders—plunk-plunk. Coraline whirled around, prospect of adventure abandoned, and began to run back the way she’d come before.
And yet, she knew that tree, but not the boulder resting at its base.
And here, a path she hadn’t noted, a path she would never have followed because paths meant land already explored. You didn’t find adventure on a path.
Coraline had had enough adventure, thank you very much. She slipped and slid down the path in the direction she knew home had to be.
The path emptied out into a field that Coraline had certainly never seen before in her life. But there! Was that smoke from a chimney, just over the treetops? She raced into the field.
Lightning crackled overhead. Coraline realized, a bit belatedly, it was not the best plan to stand in the middle of an empty field in a thunderstorm. She rushed forward, racing blindly towards the edge of the field.
Was it her imagination, or the rain in her eyes, that made the grass appear taller and taller still here? She blinked, still running, and when she opened her eyes again, found herself in darkness. Coraline had stumbled into a cave.
There was a light up ahead. Coraline moved towards it, too grateful for the sudden dryness to be cautious. The light turned out to be an oddly glowing torch, its light bright and unwavering. The light sparkled off crystalline walls. Similar torches were placed at even intervals along the path. The path she’d come by was lost in murky blackness behind her. Comparatively, this brightly lit walkway looked warm and dry and inviting.
Coraline’s footsteps echoed down the tunnel at a brisk pace. The tunnel sloped steadily down and down and down, twisting and curving until she lost all sense of direction. She kept moving forward as the tunnel widened into a larger cavern. A door was set in the far wall, larger than three men stacked one atop the other and with a thick ring set far above her head. It was a giant’s door, a ridiculous door to be found so far underneath this hollow Hallow Hill.
So Coraline did the only thing that felt appropriate with such a large, silly door. Coraline knocked.
“Who’s there?” said a voice.
“Coraline Jones.” Said Coraline into the crack of the door.
“Go away, Caroline Jones. I won’t open for invaders.” The voice, she realized, was not coming from behind the door, it was coming from the door itself.
“It’s Cor-aline, and I’m not invading,” Coraline pressed, “I’m exploring.”
“Explore elsewhere. I’ll not open for you.”
“What good is a door that won’t open?”
The door didn’t reply.
Coraline sat down heavily. Assured the door wouldn’t open anytime soon, she rested her back against it while she waited.
She didn’t have to wait long. The tunnel echoed with the sound of an off-tune hum. “Door! Open up!”
“Who’s there?” Said the door again.
“Oh, not that again!” A large cat padded around the corner, as big as a dog and slick with rainwater. When it saw Coraline sitting at the foot of the door, it skittered to a halt. “Er, meow,” it said, sounding rather too much like a human saying “meow” rather than a cat’s meow. It padded sideways towards the door, keeping Coraline in its sight.
“That’s Caroline Jones. She was just about to explore somewhere else.”
“Cor-aline,” Coraline sighed. To the cat, she said, “The door won’t let me in.”
“I won’t open for invaders,” insisted the door.
The cat sighed too, and said, “I don’t think a little girl could be an invader.”
“You weren’t around for the last King’s Wife.” Still, the door shuddered open with an air of indignation.
“Come along then,” the cat said, padding through the now-open door. “I’m sure the king will want to see you.”
Coraline hurried in after him. The door had opened on a cavernous expanse—above, a shifting, rippling body of dark blue filtered soft light down onto the castle below. Every building, walkway, turret, and wall seemed to be carved out of the rock of the cave itself. With a start, Coraline realized Hallow Hill was actually hollow, and the ceiling above was the suspended waters of the lake. Judging from the sky filtered through the massive amount of water, Coraline could see the storm had passed and evening was beginning to fall. She wondered if her mother was worried, or if she had even noticed the day pass by without Coraline marking the time with meals and shouts and mess-making.
She turned back to the cat, “What’s your name?”
“Seylin,” the cat replied. “It’s an elf name.”
“Coraline Jones,” Coraline said, “I think it’s a human name, though everyone gets it wrong.” Coraline’s sleeve snagged on a stray branch. When she reached to free herself, she felt not the cool bark she was expecting, but the cool touch of precious metal. The trees were twined of gold and silver, apples sparkling with rubies and emeralds and other precious stones. It was beautiful and eerie.
They passed under the arched entrance to the castle and through a long, well-lit corridor. It let out suddenly on an enormous throne room, from wall to wall filled with monsters.
There were catlike monsters in layered skirts and scaled monsters in coattails, tiny spider-like creatures and large lumps of flesh and yarn-like fur, everyone dressed in colors, screeching and yowling, yet somehow speaking the same tongue from mouths of widely varying shapes and sizes. Seylin slipped between legs and furred haunches and tails and Coraline found herself following closely behind, wide-eyed and wary, but it was hard to be properly afraid when there were large gorilla figures lazing about in bubblegum pink evening gowns.
“And who is this?” The rest of the room quieted. The monsters standing in Coraline’s way parted to reveal… the first proper monster she’d seen. He rose from his throne, twice Coraline’s height and more; his teeth were sharp obsidian points set behind grey skinned lips. His hair was a wild mess of yellow blonde and jet black atop his bony skull. As he brushed it from his forehead with a six-fingered hand, she saw he had one black eye and one green. He smiled and Coraline took a shaky step back.
“This is Coraline Jones,” Seylin announced. He sat back on his haunches and gestured with one paw.
“Coraline Jones,” The monster walked towards her; Coraline froze in terrible fright. He dropped to one knee, bringing himself to her level. Up close, he was even more hideous than she’d first believed, and his green eye gleamed with dangerous mischief. “What are you? Elf? No, and not dwarf either. You might be a little goblin with hair like that.”
Coraline said, “I want to go home.” And she did. She had had enough adventure.
“And here I thought we were being invaded,” The six-fingered goblin man chuckled quietly, but his eyes were studying her quite seriously. “You’re a bit young to be wandering the woods by yourself at night. You might get lost.”
She said nothing in response. She was cold and wet and tired and afraid, and she wanted to get home so her mother and father could tuck her into bed and kiss her forehead.
“Yes, you’re a bit young, yet, for the goblin court. Sleep now, Coraline, this is all just a bad dream. For now.” The six-fingered hand came toward her; as it brushed her temple, her eyes drooped closed. She never felt herself hit the ground.
She woke up in her own bed after a fitful night’s sleep. The window had been left open; a large cat was sleeping at her feet, as big as a dog and with a purr like an engine. As Coraline struggled awake, the cat lifted its head to look at her. “Meow,” it said, so plainly it sounded more like a boy saying “meow” than a cat’s meow.
But then, that was silly. Cats couldn’t talk.
I took more than a few liberties when writing this. I haven’t read either of these books that recently to be very specific, so everything I wrote was either remembered or cooked up with my own brain. Both Coraline and The Hollow Kingdom are old favorites, and it seemed way too perfect to bring them together for this challenge.
I’ll be back here tomorrow with my day 2 reading update and the next challenge!