Tick, tick, tick.
The clocks in Skopje were counting down to the first semi-final of next year's Eurovision Song Contest. Although the date was not official yet, and although no one knew yet which semi-final each country would be performing in, the Macedonian government had ordered these clocks to be built. Why they would choose to build these clocks when it was known that the countries that come last in the semi-finals of Eurovision 2019 would be destroyed was a mystery to the people. The Macedonian government called them 'Victory Clocks.' Everyone else called them Death Clocks.
It wasn't just the clocks. After the contest, Dustin the Turkey had taken control of Serbia and given Greece to his friend, Silvia Night. In response, the Macedonian government ordered walls built on their borders between those two countries.
It could hardly be believed now, but before the contest, Macedonia had been one of the most stable countries, not only in the Balkans, but in the whole of Europe. That was one of the many reasons that America had entrusted them with nuclear weapons all those years ago. But now, the country was scarcely recognisable. The good times felt as if they were so long ago. They knew the rules, the country who came last in the Eurovision Song Contest would be attacked by Dustin the Turkey. They had seen what had happened to Iceland, a country that was now lying in ruins, with most of their population dead. They didn't want to be the next ruined country. But Macedonia typically got poor results at the contest, and the Macedonian people knew that they had a high chance of coming last. They didn't want to become the next Iceland. They didn't want to be the next ruined nation.
It wasn't just Macedonia that thought it. Other countries were thinking it too. After the contest, a lot of countries started getting loans from Macedonia. In particular, Latvia had been borrowing huge amounts of money from them. At first, Macedonia were pleased at the boost to their economy, but at a recent UN meeting, the Latvian President had revealed the real reason for borrowing so much money. They hoped that Macedonia would be destroyed by Dustin at the next Eurovision Song Contest so that they would not have to pay any money back. That was what all the others that were borrowing money hoped as well. Macedonia were furious, and had threatened Latvia with their nuclear weapons. Everything was spiralling out of control.
Macedonia had been a peaceful and prosperous country before all of this. Now there were walls everywhere and they were threatening other countries with war. The ordinary people in Macedonia and Latvia didn't want a nuclear war. Even if one country destroyed the other, what would it be for? There would be no winners in such a conflict. Nobody wanted that. Only one thing was certain. Dustin the Turkey had caused this.
Eye Cue were in Macedonia Square, Skopje. The city was mostly empty, a lot of people had left Macedonia after the attacks on other countries. For some, it was more peaceful and quiet that it had ever been. For others, it felt like an old graveyard, deserted and abandoned. Macedonia did feel pretty empty these days, most of the people fleeing because of what Dustin had done to the world, and getting out before the 2019 contest took place. But that was futile. Spain, Iceland, Georgia, Finland. Dead people from those four countries had been found all across the world. It was clear that Dustin knew exactly who was from which country, and even clearer that leaving your own country did not mean that you could escape from Dustin's attacks.
Eye Cue didn't know what to think, it was hard enough to think at all with those horrible clocks making that horrible noise all day long. And still, even now, the clocks were ticking all around them, a constant reminder of what had happened at this year's Eurovision and what was going to happen at next year's event.
But Marija and Ivo had a plan to remove the clocks. Marija was pulling one of the clocks from a wall while Ivo kept watch. Bojan didn't really want to be part of it, but was helping Ivo keep watch as well.
"You know, you can't just take the clocks down," Bojan said, "The government will find out about it, and then we'll all be in trouble."
"We can do what we want. No one's looking," Marija said, "Come on, we have to take down these clocks. They are having a horrible effect on this country."
That was true. As soon as people heard them ticking, they knew what it meant. That the Eurovision Song Contest 2019 was coming, and when it came, at least three countries would be nearly completely destroyed. That one of those countries would be Macedonia was looking very likely. That wasn't what people wanted to think about, but it was what they were forced to think about every time they heard or saw the clocks.
"A lot of people have tried to take down these clocks," Bojan said, "They always get caught. Every time. They try. They fail. Let's just leave them alone. Obviously the government want the clocks to stay, whatever their reasons."
"The government also want nuclear war with Latvia," Marija replied, "Do you want that as well?"
"No," Bojan said, "Of course not, but this isn't the answer. Let someone else do it, let someone else take them down. Someone's bound to do it eventually."
Marija just ignored him, and pulled a clock down that was hanging from a rope around the Alexander the Great statue. She didn't want to leave it to someone else. What if someone else never came to take the clocks down? The clocks by themselves were harmless, it was what they represented that made them so offensive to ordinary people.
"Hey," came a voice from behind them, causing the three to turn around. It was Kaliopi. Kaliopi was a former Eurovision contestant herself and a very famous musician in Macedonia, although recently her opposition to the clocks and any possible war with Latvia meant that she was at odds with the government.
"You guys have been busy," Kaliopi said, "Mind if I help out?"
"Not at all," Marija grinned, "Come on, let's take down all these clocks."
Another clock fell down with a thud. Kaliopi was now helping remove them as well. Bojan was looked around nervously, he knew someone was usually watching these clocks, they had been lucky so far.
"Guys, you have to stop it, please," Bojan said again, but they just ignored him and carried on removing the clocks.
Bojan just wanted them to stop. He wasn't one to get involved in these issues. He just wanted a peaceful life, a normal life, but being involved with the Eurovision Song Contest meant he couldn't really have that anymore. He hated those clocks as much as anyone, but removing them didn't work. The police regularly arrested people for attempting to remove the clocks. No one really knew why. Nothing that was going on there made sense anymore. Ever since the contest, Macedonia had been in freefall. At times it felt like the entire country was losing it. Every tick of the clock just brought them closer to the abyss.
It was then that they heard police sirens in the distance. That was what Bojan had been afraid of. The police were here. They were usually here, watching out for anyone who dared to take down the government's precious clocks. Officers were rushing down the surrounding streets now, blocking off all the escape routes.
"Stop!" yelled one of the officers, "Get your hands off those clocks! You are all under arrest!"
This was it, this was what Bojan had been trying to avoid. Marija dropped the clock she was holding.
"Run!" Kaliopi yelled as the four of them ran off in opposite directions, only to be quickly grabbed by police.
"No!" Bojan yelled, "Stop it! We didn't do anything wrong!"
"Guys, guys," Ivo said, "Let's all calm down, ok?"
"Be quiet," the officer said, "You have the right to remain silent and you better use it! Now, you are all under arrest!"
"No, you can't arrest us!" Marija pleaded but it was no use. They were all taken into the back of a police van. As the van drove off, they could see police officers frantically putting the clocks back in their places, and even putting up new clocks. Kaliopi was starting to regret this, and Bojan was annoyed that he hadn't put a stop to it when he could.
A jail cell. They were in jail. Bojan couldn't believe it. This was what he had been trying to avoid. Lots of people had been arrested for trying to remove the clocks, but Eye Cue and Kaliopi never thought they would end up here. How could this have gotten so far? Marija and Ivo were congratulating Kaliopi for removing most of the clocks, apparently the reality that they were in jail hadn't sunk in yet.
"Great work removing that last clock, by the way," Marija said to Kaliopi.
"Yeah, I liked that," Kaliopi said, "Shame we didn't have time to smash any of them into pieces."
Bojan was annoyed. How could they be talking about that when they had just been arrested?
"I don't know if any of you have noticed," Bojan said angrily, "But we are in jail!"
"Yes, we noticed," Kaliopi said dryly.
"And you think they're just going to leave us in here?" Marija asked, "No way, Kaliopi is one of the most famous people in the whole of Macedonia."
At that moment, a police officer walked over to the cell holding the four of them.
"See?" Marija said, "We're probably going to be let out now."
The officer opened the cell up and pushed another person inside, locking the door behind him.
"Nope. Here's another troublemaker," the officer said, "Just like you lot."
"Hey Kaliopi," said the man as he walked closer to them.
"Daniel Kajmakoski?" Kaliopi asked. It had been a while since Skopje Fest 2014, and even longer since X Factor Adria, but she recognised Daniel right away. Kaliopi hadn't expected this at all.
"Yes," Daniel grinned, "Long time no see."
"What are you even doing here?" Kaliopi asked.
"All the borders around Macedonia are shut," Daniel sighed, "But I wanted to go back to Austria. I have some things to do back there. I found a gap in the border and just went on through, but I got arrested!"
"Wow," Kaliopi said, "So they really shut the borders? All of the borders?"
"Yes," Daniel said, "All of them. They were shut today."
It had been talked about for a few weeks now. So many people were leaving Macedonia because of Dustin's attacks, the government wanted to do something to stop people from leaving. They had threatened to close the borders for the past few days, and now they'd finally done it. For now, the borders were closed, although that couldn't be kept up forever.
"Back to Austria though?" Marija said, "But why?"
"I have some unfinished business there," Daniel said, "Besides, staying in Macedonia with the clocks is one thing, but with the possibility of a nuclear war with Latvia? No thanks."
"You're forgetting one thing," Bojan said, "Latvia don't have nuclear weapons. We do."
"Yeah," Daniel said, "So then that would just be a massacre then, wouldn't it? I can't support that either."
The four of them sat for a few moments, none of them saying anything. It was Daniel who broke the silence.
"So, Kaliopi, do you know where Tamara is?" Daniel asked.
Kaliopi didn't have an answer to that. Tamara Todevska was one of Macedonia's Eurovision entrants back in 2008, along with Vrcak and Adrijan Gaxha. But Dustin the Turkey had been kidnapping all of the Eurovision entrants from 2008 as revenge for his non-qualification in the contest. As far as Kaliopi knew, all three of them were still in hiding. Kaliopi hoped that Dustin hadn't gotten them. Although, thinking about it now, she hadn't heard from any of them in a while. She knew that Dima Bilan had gone missing, even with all his security. Dustin had easily found him in Russia. She hoped that the three Macedonian entrants were hiding better than he had.
"What do you think? He got Dima Bilan," Bojan said, "Even though he spent nearly all his money on that secret hideout and all that security. What chance do you think Tamara and the others have?"
"Bojan!" Marija hissed, "That's not helpful at all."
"Hey, I'm just being realistic," Bojan replied.
"That's not fair," Daniel said sadly, "What was their crime? They were on Eurovision in 2008. That's it. That's all."
"Hey," Kaliopi said, "We don't know if anything bad happened to them yet, ok? So we can't think this way."
"Oh man..." Ivo said, "How can we not think it? Dustin the Turkey is ruining everything."
Kaliopi looked out of the window. She could see the deserted streets of Skopje, and could even see the clocks in the distance. This was Macedonia now, but it could have been worse. It could have been a lot worse. They could have come last in the contest, they could have been in Iceland's position. Iceland had been completely destroyed by Dustin. It had very nearly been Macedonia.
"The Dustins of this world," Kaliopi said, "They never win. The people in this world who want war, they won't win either. It's us, the peaceful people, we win. Peace always finds a way, and love wins in the end."
They heard a clapping sound.
"Very nice speech, Kaliopi," came a voice from behind her, "Unfortunately it looks like you're in jail."
It was Kaliopi's friend Risto Samardžiev. He had attempted to get to Eurovision quite a few times, but had never gotten there. His last attempt had been a duet with his friend, former Eurovision contestant Vlatko Ilievski. Still, here he was, but exactly what he was doing there they didn't know. Was he here to gloat over their unfortunate situation, or perhaps even to help them?
Risto held a newspaper up.
"It's all over the Macedonian news," Risto said, "What have you guys been doing? Kaliopi, Eye Cue and Daniel Kajmakoski all in jail isn't a great headline for the Eurovision Song Contest. Well, apart from all the other stuff that happened this year. Anyway, I've been talking to the officers here, and they've agreed to let you go."
"Talking? You sure? Did you pay a bribe?" Kaliopi laughed.
"Uh... well... you four are all Eurovision contestants," Risto stated bluntly, "Considering what happened at the contest, it looks bad if they keep you all locked up in here."
Kaliopi wasn't convinced.
"You did pay a bribe, didn't you?" Kaliopi said.
"Uh," Risto grinned, "I don't have to answer that question!"
"Wait," Daniel said, "So they're letting us go?"
"That's right," replied Risto, "You're all getting out of here."
"Everything here is a mess," Daniel said, "No organisation, no order. We got arrested and then immediately let go again?"
"Don't complain," Kaliopi said, "We're being let out, it's a good thing!"
"Again," Risto grinned, "You guys wouldn't know this, but Kaliopi and I got up to all sorts of adventures back in the day. I could tell you guys some fun stories, that's for sure."
"Please do," Daniel laughed.
"No," Kaliopi said seriously, "Don't."
Risto just laughed at that as they all walked through the corridor of the station.
"Well?" Bojan asked as they all walked out of the police station, "Did we learn anything today?"
"Bribe the... police?" Daniel said, "To get out of jail?"
"Ok, I don't think we learned anything," Bojan said.
Suddenly, they heard shouting in the distance. A huge crowd had gathered around. They hadn't seen so many people in one place for a long time. Two people were in the middle of the circle, being attacked by the crowd. The crowd surrounding them were yelling things about Latvia.
"Latvians?" Marija asked, "In Macedonia? But why?"
"And they're beating them," Kaliopi said, "That's not right. I'm going to go and stop that."
"What? And you think they'd do the same for us, do you?" Bojan said, "Don't go, it's too dangerous."
But Kaliopi walked over to the crowd anyway. The crowd turned and stopped as they saw her, here she was, one of the most famous singers in Macedonia. The crowd thought that maybe she would join them, and were surprised to see that she was annoyed with them.
"Stop it," Kaliopi said, "Stop it right now! This is not the answer."
Eye Cue, Daniel and Risto all ran over to where Kaliopi and the crowd were. If this was going to get bad, they wanted to be there to protect her. But to her surprise, the crowd looked around in amazement and walked away from them and the two Latvians. It seemed that Kaliopi was so revered by the Macedonian public that they would just do what she said.
"They're just... walking off?" Bojan asked, "They were so angry before and now they're walking away like nothing even happened. Kaliopi, how did you do that?"
Kaliopi just shrugged.
"Honestly, I have no idea," she said, "I didn't actually expect that to work so easily. I wasn't sure what would happen."
At that moment, the two Latvians stood up.
"Thanks for that, really, thank you. Thank you so much. The name's Justs," the man said, holding out his hand to shake.
"And I'm-" the woman began, but Marija interrupted her. Now that the crowd was gone, she realised that she recognised this person.
"Laura!" Marija yelled, "I didn't expect to see you after the contest!"
"Yup, that's me," Laura grinned, "Laura Rizzotto."
"The question is," Bojan said, "What are you two even doing here?"
"Well, um..." Justs stammered, seemingly not having an answer.
"I'm sure it's fine," Marija said.
"What if they're spying on us?" Bojan asked, "Spying on Macedonia?"
Marija just laughed at that.
"What does it matter?" Marija asked, "There's nothing to 'spy' on here anyway."
"Right..." Laura said uneasily, "Anyway, I think we're done here. Me and Justs should probably just leave Macedonia right now."
"You can't," Daniel said, "The borders around Macedonia are all shut right now."
"Terrible," Laura said, "Things really have been getting bad since Dustin's attacks on the Eurovision."
Dustin the Turkey. Of course, he was the reason that all these things had happened. If it wasn't for him, there wouldn't have been any trouble between Latvia and Macedonia at all. Historically, the two countries had great relations, but now...
"Right, well don't worry about us," Justs said, "We got into this country and we have a way to get out of it again."
"Really?" Daniel asked, "Could I come too?"
"No, of course not," he said, "This is for Latvians only, the Latvian government are helping us."
"See?" Bojan said, "I told you. Spies."
"Well that's not..." Laura began, "Well... I... Justs, should we get out of here?"
"Yeah," Justs replied, and with that the two Latvians rushed off. Daniel sighed. At this rate it looked like he was never getting back to Vienna.
"Hey, guys," Risto said, "Now that we've sorted everything, I've got a great idea! How about we all go for a pizza? My treat!"
Bojan wasn't very impressed, although the others were very enthusiastic.
"Risto," Bojan said, "You do realise that hanging around with Eurovision entrants all day doesn't make you one, don't you?"
But Risto just laughed at that.
"Bojan!" Kaliopi snapped, "Don't be so rude!"
"Yeah," Marija said, "And who would turn down pizza? Not me! I'm in!"
"Me too," Ivo said, "Pizza is great."
"Come on guys," Risto grinned, "Nicest pizzas in Macedonia! You can't say no to that!"
"We sure can't!" Daniel said.
Bojan sighed, it looked like he was getting dragged along for this too.
"We just got out of jail," Bojan said, "And now we're going for pizza. What a day."
The six of them sat in their seats at the famous Macedonian pizza place MakPizza. But they weren't going to talk about pizza. The conversation quickly turned to the problems that Macedonia was currently facing, as well as the attacks during the Eurovision Song Contest and what they meant for the country.
"The world right now is a barely functional mess," Daniel said, "And Macedonia is falling apart. I don't know if we can fix this."
"It's not our job to fix Macedonia," Bojan said, "It's not our job at all."
"You two are looking at it all wrong," Risto said, "Actually, these things are very superficial. When you look at it, Macedonia doesn't really have any problems."
"What do you mean?" Daniel asked, "Everything is such a mess here right now."
"Not really. Think about it," Risto said, "The whole world is the same, a lot of countries are even worse than this one. Countries like Sweden have serious problems. People in Sweden are being killed every day under Silvia Night. In Serbia it's the same story. What do we have? Some clocks and a non-existent nuclear war. If you seriously believe that Macedonia is going to nuke Latvia, then you're just wrong."
They didn't have time to answer, as suddenly, a man walked over to them.
"Hey Risto," said the man, "What are you doing with all these Eurovision people? Do you think some of their Eurovision will rub off on you?"
That was Vlatko Ilievski, Risto's friend and Macedonian Eurovision entrant during the 2011 edition of the contest. Risto just laughed again.
"Oh, hey Vlatko," Risto said.
"Hey, so what's going on here? I want some pizza as well," Vlatko said, "You're not going to leave me out, are you?"
"Alright, alright," Risto said, handing Vlatko a slice of his pizza, "I wasn't expecting to see you here."
"Why not?" Vlatko said, "No one else is around, that's why it's so good to be out right now."
"Right," Risto said, "Here, I'll get you a whole pizza."
Vlatko just grinned. Looked like he was getting free pizza today as well.
"One more pizza, please!" Risto shouted over to the chefs who were waiting at the cash register. They were very pleased, they hadn't had business like this since people started leaving Macedonia.
"Thanks," Vlatko said, "Anyway, what were you talking about? Something about Latvia? We don't need to talk about that right now. Think about it, we practically have this whole country to ourselves. No lines to wait in, no crowds to get in your way. It's paradise, isn't it?"
"Exactly," Risto said, "The problem is, people don't understand how Dustin's rules work. If people understood, then no one would be leaving Macedonia. Dustin doesn't choose people IN a country, he chooses people FROM a country. If Macedonia come last next year, Dustin knows exactly who is Macedonian and who isn't. It doesn't matter where you are or where you run away to. So it's best not to worry about such things."
"No?" Bojan said, "Dustin the Turkey is going to destroy whatever country comes last in Eurovision next year in each semi. Macedonia gets poor results. The government want nuclear war with Latvia. This is not a paradise, far from it."
Risto had to hold back a laugh.
"Wrong," Risto said, "It only looks that way if you're just looking at what's going on here. You need to see the bigger picture. Like I said before, there's a lot of countries with serious problems right now, Iceland, for example. Not to mention Serbia and Sweden, especially Sweden. And no one has any idea what's going on right now in Ireland or Greece, but I can tell you this, it's probably not good."
Sweden had been given by Dustin to his friend Silvia Night, who ruled over the Scandinavian nation with an iron fist. She had already banned the use of the Swedish language and was growing more and more despotic by the day. Even Bojan had to concede that Sweden was doing far worse than Macedonia ever would.
"Well," Bojan said, "I guess that's true."
"Things aren't so bad here anyway," Risto said, leaning back in his chair, "What is the problem here? There's clocks, and they tick? The Latvia thing is a bluff. Yeah, Macedonia isn't perfect, but nowhere is. Face it, we have it good."
"The only real danger," Vlatko said, in between mouthfuls of pizza, "Is that Macedonia comes last in next year's Eurovision Song Contest. So we'll have to pick someone really good so that doesn't happen."
"Right," Risto said, "By the way, here's a fun fact. Macedonia have never come last at the contest. Second-last a few times, yes, but actually last? Never."
"Yeah," Bojan said, "But there's a first time for everything."
"So," Vlatko said, putting his pizza down, "We need to make sure we don't come last. We need someone good, and the song needs to be good. The problem is, every other country will be doing the exact same thing, because nobody wants to come last, obviously."
"Everyone is hoping to be put in the same semi-final as San Marino," Kaliopi said, "They usually do very badly at Eurovision."
That was true, if a little morbid. Every country that was going to participate in a semi-final wanted to be in the same semi as San Marino. The reason was obvious. They hoped for San Marino to come last and therefore be destroyed instead of them.
"Poor San Marino," Marija said, "I wish no one would be destroyed. Dustin has ruined not only this contest, but the entire world."
Daniel Kajmakoski pushed around the remains of his pizza on the plate. He was thinking about other things.
"Still," Daniel said, "I did want to go back to Vienna. Too bad all the borders are shut, and those Latvians wouldn't help me, either."
Vlatko was surprised to hear that.
"Oh, didn't you hear?" Vlatko said, "The borders are opening again."
"They are?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, they sure are," Vlatko said, "I guess the government realised that they made a mistake. The borders are opening again, you'll be free to go!"
Daniel was pleased with that.
"That's great news," Daniel said, standing up from his chair, "Well then, I'll be off, see you guys!"
The others hadn't expected Daniel to be leaving so soon, but they understood why. Maybe the borders would be closed again soon, maybe the government would decide to block people from leaving again. Daniel had no idea how long the borders would be open for, or if indeed they were going to stay open. If he wanted to leave and go to Austria, it was best to do it now.
"Bye Daniel," Kaliopi said, "Good luck in Vienna!"
"Thanks," Daniel said, "Good luck to you guys as well!"
And with that, Daniel left the pizza parlour. The borders were now open, and the police forced to issue an apology for arresting people trying to get through. Whether the borders would stay open or not was another matter, but it looked like things might be on the way back to normal for Macedonia. They certainly hoped so, anyway.
It was later that day, Eye Cue had left the pizza place and were returning to Bojan's apartment where they wanted to work on some new songs together. Bojan, Marija and Ivo walked into the apartment.
"So," Ivo said, "Are we ready to work on the new songs?"
Bojan was about to say something, when he was distracted by a sparkling object he saw in the corner of his eye. He already knew what it was, he didn't have to turn to see it, and yet he did it anyway. It was a trophy. The Barbara Dex award. The award for the 'worst dressed' Eurovision contestant. Even after everything that had happened, after everything that Dustin had done, the Eurovision fansite that ran the awards still found the time to mail it to Eye Cue, and even worse, thought that it was an appropriate thing to do. Bojan wanted to throw it into the trash, but Marija insisted that it stay there. Marija noticed him looking at the trophy.
"I'm sure they didn't mean to offend us when they sent that," Marija said.
"Are you sure about that?" Bojan said, "Even after everything that happened during that contest, they still sent that to us?"
"Look," Ivo said, "That's not important now. We can't change what happened back at the contest, so thinking about it is useless. Anyway, are we going to work on those songs or not?"
"Sure," Marija said, "Let's do it. Bojan, are you coming?"
"Yeah yeah," Bojan said, trying to forget about the Barbara Dex award, Dustin, and all the terrible things that were happening in the world. Eye Cue walked into the other room to start work on their new material. They had a lot of catching up to do, the events of the day meant they were way behind schedule. They tried to put Dustin and the Eurovision out of their minds. True there were a lot of problems, but the members of Eye Cue hoped that Macedonia could overcome them. Still, they were happy that Ari was ok at least. They had been worried about the Icelandic entrant and had asked UK entrant SuRie to check up on him. SuRie had sent them a text saying Ari was fine. They were glad at that. It had very nearly been Macedonia instead of Iceland, and as such the members of Eye Cue felt a personal responsibility for Ari.
"Alright," Bojan said, getting the backing track out, "You guys ready?"
Marija and Ivo nodded. They were happy to be making music together again. Nothing would stop them this time.
Still, the question of who Macedonia's Eurovision entrant was still very much up in the air. Who would MRT choose? Could they manage to not come last? Maybe they would ask Kaliopi to do it. Maybe they would ask Lozano. Whether either of them would accept such a proposal was another matter entirely. One thing was for sure, Macedonia would do everything they could to make sure they didn't come last. They would do everything they could to avoid an attack from Dustin the Turkey.