“Oh, Robert!”

“Don’t ‘Oh, Robert’ me. I’m tired.”

“You can’t leave her in there to-“

“She’s quiet now. Christ, I’m exhausted. I’ll come down at the crack of dawn and knock the damned thing apart, okay?”

“All right,” she said, and tears came to her eyes.

“Women,” said Robert Webb. “Oh, my God, you and Lotte, Lotte and you. If she is coming here, if she makes it, I’ll have a houseful of lunatics!”

“Lotte’s fine!”

“Sure, but she should keep her mouth shut. It doesn’t pay now to say you’re Socialist, Democrat, Libertarian, Pro-Life Abortionist, Sinn Fein Fascist, Commie, any damn thing. The towns are bombed out. People are looking for scapegoats and Lotte has to shoot from the hip, get herself smeared and now, hell, on the run.”

“They’ll jail her if they catch her. Or kill her, yes, kill her. We’re lucky to be here with our own food. Thank God we planned ahead, we saw it coming, the starvation, the massacres. We helped ourselves. Now we help Lone if she makes it through.”

Without answering, he turned to the stairs. “I’m dead on my feet. I’m tired of saving anyone. Even Lotte. But hell, if she comes through the front door, she’s saved.”

They went up the stairs taking the lamps, advancing in an ever-moving aura of trembling white glow. The house was as silent as snow falling. “God,” he whispered. “Damn, I don’t like women crying like that.”

It sounded like the whole world crying, he thought. The whole world dying and needing help and lonely, but what can you do? Live in a farm like this? Far off the main highway where people don’t pass, away from all the stupidity and death? What can you do?

They left one of the lamps lit and drew the covers over their bodies and lay, listening to the wind hit the house and creak the beams and parquetry.

A moment later there was a cry from downstairs, a splintering crash, the sound of a door flung wide, a bursting out of air, footsteps rapping all the rooms, a sobbing, almost an exultation, then the front door banged open, the winter wind blowing wildly in, footsteps across the front porch and gone.

“There!” cried Martha. “Yes!”

With the lamp they were down the stairs swiftly. Wind smothered their faces as they turned now toward the Witch Door, opened wide, still on its hinges, then toward the front door where they cast their light out upon a snowing winter darkness and saw nothing but white and hills, no moon, and in the lamplight the soft drift and moth-flicker of snowflakes falling from the sky to the mattressed yard.

“Gone,” she whispered.


“We’ll never know, unless she comes back.”

“She won’t. Look.”

They moved the lamplight toward the white earth and the tiny footprints going off, across the softness, toward the dark forest.

“It was a woman, then. But … why?”

“God knows. Why anything, now in this crazy world?” They stood looking at the footprints a long while until, shivering, they moved back through the hall to the open Witch Door. They poked the lamp into this hollow under the stairs.

“Lord, it’s just a cell, hardly a closet, and look…”

Inside stood a small rocking chair, a braided rug, a used candle in a copper holder, and an old, worn Bible. The place smelled of must and moss and dead flowers.

“Is this where they used to hide people?”

“Yes. A long time back they hid people called witches. Trials, witch trials. They hung or burned some.”

“Yes, yes,” they both murmured, staring into the incredibly small cell.

“And the witches hid here while the hunters searched the house and gave up and left?”

“Yes, oh, my God, yes,” he whispered.



She bent forward. Her face was pale and she could not look away from the small, worn rocking chair and the faded Bible.

“Rob. How old? This house, how old?”

“Maybe three hundred years.

“That old?”


“Crazy. Stupid …


“Houses, old like this. All the years. And more years and more after that. God, feel! If you put your hand in, yes? Would you feel it change, silly, and what if I sat in that rocking chair and shut the door, what? That woman . .. how long was she in there? How’d she get there? From way, way back. Wouldn’t it be strange?”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray