“What’s wrong?” said Lotte.
“I-“ said Robert.
“No place to hide me?”
“Yes,” he said. “We’ve a place.”
“Here.” He turned slowly away, stunned.
They walked down the hall to the half-open paneling.
“This?” Lotte said. “Secret? Did you-7”
“No’ it’s been here since the house was built long ago.” Lotte touched and moved the door on its hinges. “Does it work? Will they know where to look and find it?”
“No. It’s beautifully made. Shut, you can’t tell it’s there.” Outside in the winter night, cars rushed, their beams flashing up the road, across the house windows.
Lotte peered into the Witch Door as one peers down a deep, lonely well.
A filtering of dust moved about her. The small rocking chair trembled.
Moving in silently, Lotte touched the half-burned candle.
“Why, it’s still warm!”
Martha and Robert said nothing. They held to the Witch Door, smelling the odor of warm tallow.
Lotte stood rigidly in the little space, bowing her head beneath the beamed ceiling.
A horn blew in the snowing night. Lotte took a deep breath and said, “Shut the door.”
They shut the Witch Door. There was no way to tell that a door was there.
They blew out the lamp and stood in the cold, dark house, waiting.
The cars rushed down the road, their noise loud, and their yellow headlights bright in the falling snow. The wind stirred the footprints in the yard, one pair going out, another coming in, and the tracks of Lotte’s car fast vanishing, and at last gone.
“Thank God,” whispered Martha.
The cars, honking, whipped around the last bend and down the hill and stopped, waiting, looking in at the dark house. Then, at last, they started up away into the snow and the hills.
Soon their lights were gone and their sound gone with them.
“We were lucky,” said Robert Webb.
“But she’s not.”
“That woman, whoever she was, ran out of here. They’ll find here. Somebody’ll find her.”
“Christ, that’s right.”
“And she has no I.D., no proof of herself. And she doesn’t know what’s happened to her. And when she tells them who she is and where she came from!”
“God help her.”
They looked into the snowing night but saw nothing. Everything was still. “You can’t escape,” she said. “No matter what you do, no one can escape.”
They moved away from the window and down the hall to the Witch Door and touched it.
“Lotte,” they called.
The Witch Door did not tremble or move. “Lotte, you can come out now.” There was no answer; not a breath or a whisper. Robert tapped the door. “Hey in there.”
He knocked at the paneling, his mouth agitated. “Lotte!”
“I’m trying, damn it!”
“Lotte, we’ll get you out, wait! Everything’s all right!”
He beat with both fists, cursing. Then he said, “Watch out!” took a step back, raised his leg, kicked once, twice, three times; vicious kicks at the paneling that crunched holes and crumbled wood into kindling. He reached in and yanked the entire paneling free. “Lotte!”
They leaned together into the small place under the stairs. The candle flickered on the small table. The Bible was gone. The small rocking chair moved quietly back and forth, in little arcs, and then stood still.
They stared at the empty room. The candle flickered.
“Lotte,” they said.
“You don’t believe .
“I don’t know. Old houses are old… old . .
“You think Lotte … she … ?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“Then she’s safe at least, safe! Thank God!”
“Safe? Where’s she gone? You really think that? A woman in new clothes, red lipstick, high heels, short skirt, perfume, plucked brows, diamond rings, silk stockings, safe? Safe!” he said, staring deep into the open frame of the Witch Door.
“Yes, safe. Why not?”
He drew a deep breath.
“A woman of that description, lost in a town called Salem in the year 1680?”
He reached over and shut the Witch Door.
They sat waiting by it for the rest of the long, cold night.
THE GHOST IN THE MACHINE
The talk in the village in the year 1853 was, of course, about the madman above, in his sod-and-brick hut, with an untended garden and a wife who had fled, silent about his madness, never to return.