“No, I get it. I wouldn’t drive in this weather either. Power lines will probably be down. I’ll lock everything and just find a movie on NetFlix. Probably “Friday The 13th—Bloodbath On Wall Street–Jason Goes Subprime”. Yeah, I’m a riot. I’ll call you tomorrow. Yes, if I survive. Good ni~i~i~ight.”

As he presses “end”, Josh quickly turns his head to the living room bay window and heard his breath rush into his throat. The branch of the oak he meant to trim, or pay someone to do it, raked against the window like a movie corpse seeking attention. Josh laughs and says out loud, “Christ. Gonna be a fun night.”

He re-checks the front door and walks back through the dining room into the kitchen to check the doors and windows. He does the same with the windows in the family room and study, making sure locks are in place as the wind driven rain seeks entry with growing urgency.

He turns towards the stairs to the upper floor and hesitates. He’d been up there just an hour earlier and all was well. With the storm keeping Ethan home, there really wasn’t anything to do or prepare for, but on a night like this making sure feels right.

Josh walks back to the short connecting space between the dining room and the kitchen where a reproduction of a 16th century world map hangs, facing a small wooden table for keys and sundry pocket cast-offs. To the left of the table is a door that opens to stairs leading down to the basement. Josh opens the door and walks down the stairs.

The basement floor is dark brown ceramic tile. A wet bar is set on the right and floor to ceiling shelves of books begin to the right of the bar and continue along the wall to a door. Behind the door is the boiler, set back against the far wall. The room contains sealed corrugated boxes from OfficeMax, each with initials and dates. The unmarked containers, containing lime and charcoal, are neat and closed. To the left of the boiler and set back where the angles of walls meet in shadow is another door that is padlocked with a poster of the Woodstock music festival covering much of the door panel.

Josh walks to that door and bends down to pick up what appears to be an old Sherwin-Williams can of “Country Squire” green paint. From under the can, Josh takes a key and sets the can back down. He places the key in the padlock, turns it and opens the lock, sliding it away from the thick brass doorknob.

Softly humming one his favorite Bach Partitas, Josh turns the knob and opens the door. As he does, the lights flicker, and waiting shadows leap up as if suddenly asked to dance. Josh stops and waits for the lights to steady. When they do, he enters the room, takes three steps and stops. Five paces ahead, she sits in the chair, rope and tape still in place. Her smile is a bit wider and fuller than yesterday, lips pulling back a bit more, eyes a bit more clouded but still open. This is a point of contention between him and Ethan. Ethan preferred the eyes closed and so they alternated each time. This time was Josh’s turn and he looks into those eyes, feels his stomach tighten and his breathing quicken. Sometimes he can’t understand Ethan, he really can’t.

Tomorrow, after the storm weakens and a gray light offers a shroud to a perfect day, Ethan will come and together they will do what they have done for five years. Five delicious years. They might not agree on everything, but on the important things, the real core things, they have a bond. And doesn’t that define friendship? Josh thought so as he smiles, turns and leaves the room, wishing her a good night. He locks the door, replaces the key under the paint can, releases a sigh and goes back to the main floor.

Time for bed and dream. And tonight Josh knows he will dream strong and deep. Dreams he can dive into like an Adirondack lake. The bottom is there but you can’t see it. The water is cold but it wakens instead of freezing you. Even as his lungs begin to burn and his brain screams for him to open his mouth and find air, he feels at home and welcomed. He continues down.

Maybe that dream decision is why Josh doesn’t hear the basement door open or the footsteps on the stairs. He is proud of how he maintains the house and the doors don’t squeak and the stairs don’t creak. Like most people, Josh is spooked by such sounds in the night and keeping them at bay supports his everyday ease.

The storm building through the night may be another reason. Josh always sleeps through storms, better than with quiet and calm evenings allowing every rustle of leaf and insect call to be amplified.

When the door to Josh’s room opens, he stops his dive and floats in dark blue pressure for a moment. His eyes go wide and he begins to swim to the surface as quickly as can. But as he breaks the surface, his eyes look into white clouds and the curve of a big smile that seem familiar. Josh wants to ask a question but the answer is already coming and the need to ask is swallowed by a hungry wet kiss.

By 10 the next morning the storm has lessened and Ethan decides its safe enough to drive. He almost calls Josh but figures they did agree on time, weather permitting. As he drives on Rte. 3 to the Summerfield exit, Ethan listens to the radio for road information and for the chance of a news bulletin. Ethan is always more worried about that than Josh, but that provides the balance that makes their friendship work.

As Ethan turns into Josh’s driveway, everything looks in order and nicely locked down. Just as always. Ethan smiles as he exits the car, locks it, walks to the front door and rings the bell. Ethan waits a minute, listens, hears nothing and rings again. And then again.

“He’s probably down in the room getting things ready”, Ethan thinks and reaches into his pants pocket for the keys Josh gave him for a moment like this. Ethan enters the house, closes the door and looks around. Everything seems in place. No surprises. For a moment he thinks he sees something on the stairs, something that glistens but then Ethan hears something. Probably from the basement.

He turns to the sound and walks to the door in the connecting hallway. He opens it and calls Josh’s name. No response but, again, not surprising if he’s in the back room and focused. And Josh can really focus.

Ethan walks down the stairs and heads towards the boiler room. He doesn’t hear anything but doesn’t call out because he’s almost there. The padlock is off the door and the key is sitting on top of the paint can. Nothing strange, except the quiet.

Ethan opens the door and the light is off. As he gropes for the switch, he thinks he hears something from ahead of him, from where she should be in the chair. He stares and sees her, but something seems a bit off. Did Josh do something different this morning?

Ethan’s fingers find the switch and when he can see his hand stays on the switch and his mouth opens. Josh stares at him, tape across his mouth, rope holding his hands and legs. In his lap, Josh’s tongue sits like a newborn puppy, wet and pink.

A cold hand grabs his shoulder and forcefully turns him around. Like his friend, Ethan looks into clouds and an absurdly wide grin. A wild laugh escapes Ethan’s mouth, but a kiss swallows it, and then swallows more.