It starts with the sound of a bell. A child's bicycle bell, to be exact, chiming tinnily from a distance away, distorted by echoes in long hallways and stone-tiled floors. That's all there is, in the start.
But then he's at his desk with some papers in his hand, feeling the heat of the sun that's falling through the large window to the right of him, covering him in humid warmth that the silent ceiling fan is doing little to dissapate. It's comfortable and the house is quiet apart from that ringing bell. He knows its not going to stay that way because this has happened before and there's only ever one outcome. Without even knowing it, he's counting under his breath and doesn't make it to ten before the peace is broken.
'What have I told you about riding your bicycle in the house?!'
The only reply is childish laughter and then a whoop of abandon as the vehicle in question skids round a corner at the top of the nearest hallway. He doesn't look up from his papers but does smile, behind the crooked finger that's covering his mouth in quiet contemplation as he reads. Pretends to read. He's listening for the bell one more time...yes, there it is, and that'll be the last one. Now there's nothing but the distant cursing in Spanish and the whir of slow tyres on stone as they approach.
He waits until they stop and doesn't look up for another ten seconds or so. And then, without moving, he addresses the boy he knows is peering around the doorframe to see if he's busy.
'Your mama will be shouting at me later for that, I hope you realise.'
Another childish laugh and he still doesn't move from his show of working, even though light footsteps are running towards him. This is an old game and he knows just when to drop the documents and reach out to haul the six-year-old Emanuel onto his lap.
'You never care when she shouts at you, papa.'
'I know. I don't mind if you ride your bike in the house as long as you don't break anything, so you go right ahead.'
Emanuel is thin and tan, scruffy-kneed and with a smear of dirt on his shorts. Dark brown hair is tousled and his Brazil football shirt has a hole in it from where he caught it on the hedge that he likes to burrow through, because the gate takes ages to climb when you're little and trying to get back home to raid the kitchen. His eyes - not quite as dark as his fathers' - are wide and laughing. Kind, even. He got them from his mother.
'She won't say anything to you.'
'You don't think so? She usually has plenty to say.'
Which is true, because it's been six years and she still hasn't learnt when to shut up no matter how many times he beats it into her. She'll get it, eventually.
'Not this time!'
'You sound pretty sure of yourself, kid. Want to bet on it?'
'Wouldn't like to take your money, papa.'
He raises an eyebrow at his son, a look of disbelief on his face that covers his pride that his son is six, and already saying things like that.
'I bet you would really. You know something I don't? She going shopping later? That usually puts her in a good mood.'
Emanuel laughs, showing off perfect white teeth, and shakes his head vigourously.
'Not shopping.' And, in a sing-song voice, he follows up with, 'I know something you don't know...' which he probably got from watching brain-melting American cartoons. Ramon pokes him in the side.
'Oh yeah? Come on then, spill it.'
There's silence for a moment. Dead silence, and he looks up at the room, wondering where the buzz of ambient noise went. And then, from nowhere, the room is filled with the deafening peal of a thousand bicycle bells, screaming through the stillness. He jerks in surprise and there's a crack, audible above the din and something moves under his hands...in slow motion, his head turns and Emanuel is still laughing only there's blood pouring from his mouth between the cracked and broken teeth, his mangled left arm lies at the wrong angle from his body and the flesh that Ramon can feel under the shirt is pulpy and moist.
'She won't say anything...'
And he's lost his sneakers somewhere but that's alright because those bloated, rotten, balloons of feet wouldn't fit in them anyway...
'...because she's dead, papa. And so am I.'
He looks at his son (with only one eye not punctured and leaking) and opens his mouth to speak (but half that ear is gone) and no sound comes out at all. Emanuel looks back and then he reaches up with that awful left arm and Ramon is leaning away, not wanting it to touch his face but there's nowhere he can go. Even as his back presses to the chair and tries to go through it, the broken hand closes in and his little boy's voice is in his ear, laughing and whispering as though it's living inside his head (because it is),
'We're all dead.'
Fingers are pressing into his eyes and he can't get away.
'Apart from you.'
And they don't stop pressing and now he can't see anything but white and all sound stops, apart from the chuckling of his son, which somehow seems to hurt more than bone in black eyes that never show pain.
* * * * *
He jerks awake with his heart hammering in his ears; for a moment it sounds like (bells) a drum and he's disorientated in the dark. It comes as a relief when he sits up and the air is cold on his clammy skin because this isn't Columbia and he isn't twenty-five anymore. The hands reaching for him remind of that and he shuts his eyes (no pain) so he can tell himself it was just a dream and there's no need to worry.
Random's warm and in no danger and anyway, after they've lain back down and murmured a few sleepy words, it's not so hard to forget and go back to sleep. There may be a few moments where he tries to remember anything (but laughter) that shocked him but when it comes down to it, Ramon's never been one to remember his nightmares. When he sleeps this time, there's nothing but darkness.