“But if you wanted to run away badly enough, wished for it, prayed for it, and people ran after you, and someone hid you in a place like this, a witch behind a door, and heard the searchers run through the house, closer and closer, wouldn’t you want to get away? Anywhere? To another place? Why not another time? And then, in a house like this, a house so old nobody knows, if you wanted and asked for it enough, couldn’t you run to another year! Maybe”-she paused-“here … ?”
“No, no,” he muttered. “Really stupid!”
But still, some quiet motion within the closeted space caused both, at almost the same instant, to hold their hands out on the air, curious, like people testing invisible waters. The air seemed to move one way and then another, now warm, now cold, with a pulsation of light and a sudden turning toward dark. All this they thought but could not say. There was weather here, now a quick touch of summer and then a winter cold, which could not be, of course, but there it was. Passing along their fingertips, but unseen by their eyes, a stream of shadows and sun ran as invisible as time itself, clear as crystal, but clouded by a shifting dark. Both felt if they thrust their hands deep, they might be drawn in to drown in a mighty storm of seasons within an incredibly small space. All this, too, they thought or almost felt but could not say.
They seized their frozen but sunburned hands back, to stare down and hold them against the panic in their breasts.
“Damn,” whispered Robert Webb. “Oh, damn!” He backed off and went to open the front door again and look at the snowing night where the footprints had almost vanished.
“No” he said. “No, no.”
Just then the yellow flash of headlights on the road braked in front of the house.
“Lotte!” cried Martha Webb. “It must be! Lotte!” The car lights went out. They ran to meet the running woman half up the front yard.
The woman, wild-eyed, hair windblown, threw herself at them.
“Martha, Bob! God, I thought I’d never find you! Lost! I’m being followed, let’s get inside. Oh, I didn’t mean to get you up in the middle of the night, it’s good to see you! Jesus! Hide the car! Here are the keys!”
Robert Webb ran to drive the car behind the house. When he came back around he saw that the heavy snowfall was already covering the tracks.
Then the three of them were inside the house, talking, holding onto each other. Robert Webb kept glancing at the front door.
“I can’t thank you,” cried Lotte, huddled in a chair. “You’re at risk! I won’t stay long, a few hours until it’s safe. Then ..
“Stay as long as you want.”
“No. They’ll follow! In the cities, the fires, the murders, everyone starving, I stole gas. Do you have more? Enough to get me to Phil Merdith’s in Greenborough? I-“
“Lotte,” said Robert Webb.
“Yes?” Lotte stopped, breathless.
“Did you see anyone on your way up here? A woman? Running on the road?”
“What? I drove so fast! A woman? Yes! I almost hit her. Then she was gone! Why?”
“Well . .
“She’s not dangerous?”
“It is all right, my being here?”
“Yes, fine, fine. Sit back. We’ll fix some coffee-“
“Wait! I’ll check!” And before they could stop her, Lotte ran to the front door, opened it a crack, and peered out. They stood with her and saw distant headlights flourished over a low hill and gone into a valley. “They’re coming,” whispered Lotte. “They might search here. God, where can I hide?”
Martha and Robert glanced at each other.
No, no, thought Robert Webb. God, no! Preposterous, unimaginable, fantastic, so damned coincidental the mind raves at it, crows, hoots, guffaws! No, none of this! Get oft’ circumstance! Get away with your goings and comings on not neat, or too neat, schedules. Come back, Lotte, in ten years, five years, maybe a year, a month, a week, and ask to hide. Even tomorrow show up! But don’t come with coincidence in each hand like idiot children and ask, only half an hour after one terror, one miracle, to test our disbelief! I’m not, after all, Charles Dickens, to blink and let this pass.