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the sun sets in paradise

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He doesn't believe in the rapture or the second coming or any of those millennial theories. The whole concept of God doesn't appeal to him and neither does the end of the world. But if he had to describe it, David's always thought that the apocalypse would involve a lot more fire and Jesus and maybe a zombie or two.

On September 19th, he wakes up alone. The sheets are cold where he spreads his fingers, searching for someone already gone. And this is routine. The house is quiet with all the lights still off. He goes to fix himself breakfast, which is when he hears the first siren, that shrieking lost boomerang of a sound. It ricochets off walls and through empty space.

There's no ambulance. The wailing comes from a distance and travels for miles. He looks outside to see a woman running, calling for her son, Dani! Hijo! Hijo! She's crying. There's a ghost in her voice and David draws the curtains shut.

It's nearly nine. He calls Villa, and the ringing comes from his bedroom. The phone turns up in the pocket of yesterday's dress slacks. The camera is still on its tripod. He goes to the front door and Villa's running shoes are right there, unlaced.

He waits. One hour, two hours. Three. The clock strikes noon and David clicks on the TV. The first five channels he tries are off air. He finds an English news station. The pale-faced announcer is stammering through stories about train crashes, terrorist attacks, cancelled flights, abduction, confusion:

"...according to reports still coming in. No statement from the P-President yet, though we can confirm from correspondents around the world, Tokyo, Paris, London, thousands have gone missing overnight, p-perhaps millions..."

He understands enough English to know that something is wrong. He's calm as he walks to the door, puts on his shoes. Opens the door. The stillness speaks of abandonment. David touches the ground beside his feet, breathes, as if preparing for a football match.

The car is still in the driveway; Villa can't have gone far.

He returns hours later, shirt stuck to his sweaty skin and muscles screaming abuse at the brain still urging them on. The usual running paths turned up nothing. He'd passed countless drifting strangers on his way, men and women and couples with lost, terrified eyes. And the children.

He sinks down on the step, head in his hands. What kind of a God would leave a four-year-old girl behind?

He goes inside. Goes upstairs. Plucks the camera from its stand and sits on the unmade bed. There's only one file on the memory stick. David turns up the volume, thumb hovering over the command buttons, picture frozen on the tiny screen.

"Where were you going to hide this?" he asks the empty room.

No answer. He hits play.

 


 

REC * 11:49 PM 18/09/12

Blur. Focus on a shadow. It moves back and the face resolves into Villa's. A flash of bare torso as he stands up. The bed behind him is stripped down to just the sheets and Silva in his boxer shorts. Villa climbs up alongside.

Silva's laugh is muffled by a quick kiss. Villa is already undressed. He tugs on Silva's shorts, fumbles them off, limbs tangling, and Silva kicks the camera stand by accident.

Villa stops mouthing at his neck long enough to readjust the shot so it catches everything between them and not just the back of his head. Silva brushes a thumb over one nipple, drags his knuckles down the flat of Villa's stomach.

"You sure about this angle?"

"Was my fucking idea, wasn't it?" Villa mumbles. More clearly, "Yeah. Just...come on. This is already the worst sex tape ever."

 


 

The electricity goes out around four. There are beers in the fridge, a wedding ring by the bathroom sink, and David can't stay here anymore.

He packs their mobile phones, some food, water, a towel. It's too warm for a jacket so that goes in the bag, as well. He takes the camera. Leaves the door unlocked and walks out into a rejected world.

The first wave of riots smashes every cross and stained glass window. Saint Eulalia watches her city burn as Barcelona Cathedral illuminates the night, spires gleaming with fire flickering from within. In the morning it is a black corpse housing the dead: people trampled, beaten, an old grandfather crushed beneath the altar to which he'd clung. No burials, no ceremony. No mystery left.

David stands by and watches because there is nothing else to do. All communication is down, not even a postal system left to carry a letter via three-day mail. He wonders where Nando and Natalia are. He hopes they're safe. Or maybe they were taken up. He doesn't know which is worse.

He tries not to look too closely at the faces that pass him by, but sometimes he thinks he recognizes a tuft of dark hair, a pair of sunglasses, a frown. Then he'll watch the video and remind himself that he's gone.

David gives his last cereal bar to a crying boy in the plaza. Nobody pays them any mind, and the child's snuffling hiccups are soon lost to the sirens wailing over a dusty afternoon.

He wonders how long until the rioters turn on each other over dwindling supplies. Too many houses are empty, too filled with ghosts. People take shelter together in the markets, in the squares, shopkeepers opening their doors to let the hungry take bread in exchange for company. For news. There's little to go around.

He sleeps on a park bench, in the subway, shares a fire with strangers and holds that camera in his hands. A German girl asks him if he'd been visiting Barcelona, too, when everything ended. David lies.

On the fifth day he finds Cesc sitting outside La Boqueria, looking up at the sun with a patient expression and a football in his arms.

 


 

REC * 11:55 PM 18/09/12

Villa swears, fists bunching the sheets, face pressed to the bed. Silva looks into the camera and curves a wicked grin.

"First time he's taken more than a finger."

The smack of his hand is obscenely loud. Villa squirms, and Silva spanks him again, raising a blush from his skin. Grips one sharp hipbone for leverage as his other hand works slowly, pressing deeper. Villa makes a choked sound halfway between relief and pain. Silva bites his lip.

"You good?"

Ragged exhale. "Yeah. It's— Feels good."

"Try to relax. You're still too tight."

Individual muscles stand out against his flushed skin. Villa's shoulders hunch as he draws a slow breath. Loosens his clenched fingers with visible effort until his palm is pressed flat against the sheets. Exhales.

"Good," Silva murmurs. "That's good."

 


 

They go to the football stadium because it's familiar, and because Cesc asked.

David looks at the FC Barcelona crest, the banners twisted by fitful gusts. The blue and garnet seem so small against the sky. He tries to imagine believing in something like that. He wants to ask Cesc if the tears in his eyes are from delusion or the dust in the air.

There are people seeking shelter, even here. Some young boys recognize Cesc, but their mothers draw them away, and David takes Cesc's hand, leads him toward the pitch.

"Leo and— A lot of them left." Cesc rubs the back of his neck as if ashamed. "Didn't even talk to anyone, just got out quick as they could. Though all the cars broke down pretty fast, so I don't know... But I guess that's how it is when all the good people are gone, huh? Not much point kicking a ball around now."

David shrugs. What else is there, he thinks, if not adrenaline and contact and objects in motion? This is existence.

They end up passing the ball around, chasing each other down the length of the dusty pitch, just him and Cesc, here at the end of the world.

It's strange, because David's always thought that he and Cesc were the least football crazy of the lot. Except the lot of them are gone. And Cesc was left behind again.

They stop only when the sun goes down. Cesc goes to haggle some food off one of the families in the VIP boxes, and David checks his camera's battery life. He's on the verge of hitting play again when Cesc returns.

"What's that?"

David pockets the camera. "Nothing."

That night they camp out in the tunnel, sharing David's blanket for warmth. It's too open, but Cesc likes being able to look out at the stadium.

"Maybe God made a mistake," he whispers at some point, and David wants to tell him, You can't keep hoping to prove everyone wrong.

He doesn't. Because Cesc is still a boy at heart, still loves people for who he wants them to be, rather than who they are. But David knows. People are shit and don't deserve the salvation they get, but you live with that because if life isn't fair, then death is the same. And he doesn't begrudge Villa or his family the rewards of faith, because stupid as the rules of this game may be, they weren't the ones who dreamt it up, and they weren't the ones who damned Cesc with patience and not love.

 


 

REC * 12:02 AM 19/09/12

Silva, half obscured from view as Villa straddles him. His hands on Villa's ass, fingers gripping, to guide him down slowly. Villa bites his lip, muscles taut and sweat standing out in relief. Fist around Silva's cock, steadying. A hiss when it breaches his body. Then a pained grunt, and he slips out again.

"Sorry. Sorry. I just—"

"It's OK. Shh. Go slow."

"No, I can— I can."

Villa presses down again and takes a third of the length this time. He doesn't make a sound.

"David, relax."

"It's fine. Here. It's— oh, fuck."

His knee spasms and Villa grapples against the bed for balance. Silva starts, reaches for him, the motion pressing them closer together.

"David—"

Villa grabs Silva's hand with the one he's still got free. "Don't move."

Silva freezes. Villa grabs his shoulder for balance, eases himself back. Breathes. Achingly slow, the rest of Silva's cock disappears from view.

 


 

They go back to the cathedral one week later when the weather takes a turn for the worse. Rain makes the stone steps run with ash and dirt into mud. The place has been cleared of corpses while they were gone. Now it's filled with the bodies of the living, same as every other building and space, people thrown huddled together like so much driftwood in the backwash tide.

The cathedral has become shelter and congregation and hope. In the pen where Eulalia's white geese used to strut, a little weedy garden is being planned for the spring. David wonders if anyone will live to see it bloom.

He still has their two mobile phones, still carried them around though they were disconnected. David lays them down in the cloister where votive candles used to burn. The candles are now being rationed for light; the altars, chopped up for fuel.

He throws a handful of dirt over the plastic casing, some empty gesture of commemoration. Or goodbye. Good riddance. Dust to dust.

He turns to find Cesc watching him from the doorway.

"Whose phone was that?"

"Villa," David says.

Cesc is quiet. "They're not dead," are the next words out of his mouth. "If he was taken up. They're the ones who are really alive, you know. Only the ones here will die. So we shouldn't bury them."

David pushes past him. "He's dead to me."

That night Cesc brings him a bowl of soup like an apology, and David accepts wordlessly. They don't talk about it again. He keeps the camera hidden in the inside pocket of his jacket, drawing it close against the coming winter.

 


 

REC * 12:10 AM 19/09/12

The bedposts thud against the wall when Villa jerks forward, shivering. Silva groans, but Villa doesn't let up on the rise and fall of his hips.

"David. David, wait, I'm— fuck, wait—"

"No," says Villa, and he sounds just as wrecked. "Come on, come on, fuck, come on."

Villa curled over him, around him, obscenities falling from his mouth as he clenches down hard. Silva gasps. His foot jerks, toes curling, and he's thrusting up, once, twice, breathless and flush with want.

The camera catches the helpless look on Silva's face. Villa's eyes are closed.

 


 

Some nights he listens to Cesc cry himself to sleep and pretends he doesn't hear. Most nights he turns the volume down low and plays that video, over and over, watches Villa fucking himself on his cock, soundless, endless, until it's done. It's a sickness and he can't stop. He could be using the camera to document everything, the people and the garden and the little moments of kindness, but there doesn't seem much of a point when the end has already come and gone.

Which is funny, in a way, because life always came with an expiration date. He just never thought of it like that, before.

 


 

REC * 12:18 AM 19/09/12

Villa cards his fingers through Silva's damp hair, shifting with an edge of restless energy while Silva lies across his stomach, pressing slow kisses along his collarbones. The sheets rustle beneath their entwined limbs.

"—ve you," Villa mumbles. "Not that you don't know."

Silva goes perfectly still for one moment. Two. Three. Then he breathes out a little laugh. Pulls himself up to kiss Villa on the mouth. Glances over his shoulder at the camera.

"I'm gonna turn that off. Unless...?"

Villa makes a humming sound. "Maybe later. Tomorrow. We have the whole weekend."

Silva kisses him again and slides off the bed. His torso goes out of focus, fills the shot, darkens into shadow as his arm reaches out and then the screen goes black.

 


 

"Why," Cesc starts to ask, sometimes, small and impossibly lost. Then he'll stop, look across the plaza and the city like he's seeing a stranger rather than an old friend. The days have done him no favors. The nights are too cold to be left only with your regrets.

David shows Cesc the video, one night, when the battery is down to two percent. There's no point carrying secrets to the grave, not when everything will be buried anyway. And Cesc needs to know. So he hands over the camera and presses play.

Cesc turns away after a few minutes, cheeks flushed. "Why are you showing me this?"

"Because the rules aren't fair," David tells him. "Not like they told us. You didn't do anything wrong."

"Yeah," says Cesc like the words were always on his tongue, "maybe. But I didn't do everything right, either."

The next day the camera finally dies. David removes the memory stick, rubs it between his fingers as if he might absorb the images through osmosis. A wailing sound echoes from some unfathomable distance as brown leaves skitter across the ground.

Cesc brings a mug of hot tea to share. They sit and listen and don't hold hands, because every stretch of silence now is longer than the last, and one day, soon, there will be no sound left at all.