Coraline Campbell was going to kill this kid.

He was whiny, entitled, never said his lines properly, and was far too cute for his own good.She had a hard time telling him no.

“Scott,” she said with exaggerated patience, “you’re the ghost of Christmas future. The ghost of Christmas future isn’t supposed to giggle and swing his scythe around while Scrooge cries over his grave. You just have to stand still and point. Easy peasy. Think we can try this scene again?”

“Fiiine,” said Scott, twirling his plastic scythe. Coraline flipped his black hood up, moved his scythe so it was sticking straight up with the bottom on the stage floor, and kneeled in front of him so they were face to face. “Look how spooky you are in that skeleton mask,” she said, smiling brightly.

“My dad says it’s morbid you’re making me play a skeleton because of my cancer,” said Scott, voice muffled by the plastic face mask.

Coraline’s stomach dropped and her smile vanished. It wasn’t her idea to put on this specific play, but the hospital wanted it and she needed the boost to her resume. And she liked kids. Enough to make her heart break every time she remembered how sick they were. Scott’s father wasn’t wrong–making terminal kids perform a play involving death and ghosts was unusual, to say the least, even if it was Christmastime. But the kids were all having fun, so she wasn’t about to remind them of their situations by making an issue of the play.

“We picked you for the ghost of Christmas future because it’s the coolest role in the play,” said Coraline, “and you’re the coolest guy here. But don’t tell anyone I told you that, okay? Then they’ll all want to be Christmas future, too.”

She could see his smile touch his eyes behind the mask and he nodded conspiratorially. Coraline gave him a fist bump and said, “Now put on your spookiest voice and say the line, big guy.”

Scott planted his scythe and pointed at William on the other side of the stage and boomed, “Ebeneeeeezaaarrr!” William rolled his eyes.

Coraline clapped and cried, “Bravo! Bravo!” Scott bowed as graciously as an eight year old could. “Okay, guys!” Coraline called. “I think we’re all set. Everybody get in your positions.”

As the kids shuffled to their assigned spots on the stage, Coraline spotted an unfamiliar face in the crowd. A wiry, middle-aged man with thinning hair pulled into a ponytail was sitting in the back row of the makeshift auditorium. A few of the kids’ relatives were sitting in the plastic chairs, beaming up at their kids or grandchildren or nephews or nieces or brothers or sisters, but the back row was empty aside from the ponytailed man. Coraline didn’t recognize him from any of the other recitals.

She looked over at Aaron–a brawny hospital attendant who was mingling with some parents–until she caught his eye. He raised his eyebrows quizzically. Coraline casually nodded toward the man in the back row, who looked to be focused on watching the children. Aaron looked over at the ponytailed man, back to Coraline, then walked toward the back row. The older man must have noticed him, because he got out of his seat and disappeared through the exit with nonchalant haste. Aaron looked back to Coraline and shrugged.

“We’re reeaady,” called Scott.

“Alright guys,” said Coraline, forgetting about the man, “from the top. Aaaand, action.”

“Wiiilliiaaaaammm,” boomed Scott, “how come you always wet the be-e-e-ed?”

“You’re a stupid bastard!” shouted William.

Two more weeks, Coraline recited to herself. Just two more.

Her constant reminder to herself that the winter semester was on the way made her head for the library after the recital. Since volunteering wasn’t doing her bank account any favors, she couldn’t afford to buy her books. The library was a lifesaver as long as she could check out what she needed before all the other starving university students got the same idea.

The weather in Seattle was particularly harsh this winter. Snow was falling from the gray sky in fluffy bunches, gradually turning Coraline’s orange scarf white. Her boots kicked snow out of the way with each step down Madison Street. She couldn’t see far in front of her. Somewhere behind her, a car horn honked. She turned to look and couldn’t see a car behind the curtains of falling snow, but she did see a man with a ponytail walking half a block behind her. He turned his head and examined the wall of a building next to him.

Coraline picked up her pace. The library wasn’t far. She pulled a glove off with her teeth and reached into her pocket for her phone, just in case. Periodically she looked behind her and saw the man, always looking at something else, but always slightly closer.

She could see the library now. She walked as fast as she could, her ankles sore from kicking away snow. She couldn’t see any other pedestrians around. She looked back. He was close, staring at the traffic but carrying himself forward on his freakishly long legs. His hair was red, like hers, but greasy. It was easy to spot against all the white and gray. And it was only a few yards away.

The Seattle Public Library’s doors were just ahead. Heart racing, Coraline found herself springing forward out of the snow like a winter doe and grasped the cool metal handle of the library door, yanked it open and swung herself inside. She could see the ponytailed man looking straight back at her, only two or three steps away, as she disappeared behind the door and pulled it shut.

That was the last thing she remembered.





Day 323’s three random writing prompt categories were, “Meta Detective,” “‘Kids these days…'” and, “Death.”

An origin story of Coraline from my Meta Detective stories. The library turns out to not be quite as safe as she thought.

– H.

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