“What happened to you all?” asked Coraline. “How did you come here?”
“She left us here,” said one of the voices. “She stole our hearts, and she stole our souls, and she took our lives away, and she left us here, and she forgot about us in the dark.”
“You poor things,” said Coraline. “How long have you been here?”
“So very long a time,” said a voice.
“Aye. Time beyond reckoning,” said another voice.
“I walked through the scullery door,” said the voice of the one that thought it might be a boy, “and I found myself back in the parlor. But she was waiting for me. She told me she was my other mamma, but I never saw my true mamma again.”
“Flee!” said the very first of the voices-another girl, Coraline fancied. “Flee, while there’s still air in your lungs and blood in your veins and warmth in your heart. Flee while you still have your mind and your soul.”
“I’m not running away,” said Coraline. “She has my parents. I came to get them back.”
“Ah, but she’ll keep you here while the days turn to dust and the leaves fall and the years pass one after the next like the tick-tick-ticking of a clock.”
“No,” said Coraline. “She won’t.”
There was silence then in the room behind the mirror.
“Peradventure,” said a voice in the darkness, “if you could win your mamma and your papa back from the beldam, you could also win free our souls.” “Has she taken them?” asked Coraline, shocked.
“Aye. And hidden them.”
“That is why we could not leave here, when we died. She kept us, and she fed on us, until now we’ve nothing left of ourselves, only snakeskins and spider husks. Find our secret hearts, young mistress.”
“And what will happen to you if I do?” asked Coraline.
The voices said nothing.
“And what is she going to do to me?” she said.
The pale figures pulsed faintly; she could imagine that they were nothing more than afterimages, like the glow left by a bright light in your eyes, after the lights go out.
“It doth not hurt,” whispered one faint voice.
“She will take your life and all you are and all you care’st for, and she will leave you with nothing but mist and fog. She’ll take your joy. And one day you’ll awake and your heart and your soul will have gone. A husk you’ll be, a wisp you’ll be, and a thing no more than a dream on waking, or a memory of something forgotten.”
“Hollow,” whispered the third voice. “Hollow, hollow, hollow, hollow, hollow.”
I based the scent on a description of the characters that Neil sent to me in an email:
“Well, I like the idea that it would contain flowers and flame and fairy things… but from so long ago that they’ve almost forgotten who they are. So it would be a ghost perfume….”
In the perfume, I also tried to capture the blue-violet-white of an afterimage and the silence of a snuffed candle. The scent is dry with age, taut with loss, grief, and heartbreak, and sorrowful in the unspeakable desolation of simply being forgotten.