It was another snowy day in Macedonia. Ever since Dustin attacked the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest, the weather across the entire world had been a little strange. Still, Macedonia had so far been completely untouched by Dustin's attacks on the world, and so the people there were very happy indeed.
Eye Cue, Kaliopi, Vlatko Ilievski and Risto Samardžiev were again sitting in the pizza parlour 'MakPizza' in Skopje. Bojan sighed and looked down at his pizza. He hadn't really wanted to come, but when Risto invited someone for pizza, it was hard to say no to him. Plus, Marija and Ivo had really wanted to go, which made it even harder still. Daniel Kajmakoski wasn't there, the others wondered if he had gotten back to Austria yet. But they weren't talking about that, or about Dustin, or about anything else bad that was happening. Right now was pizza time, and that's all.
"Surprised to see you here again Vlatko," Risto said.
"I usually don't," Vlatko replied, "But hey, if you're offering free pizza, then I'm more than happy to come."
Bojan from Eye Cue was less impressed.
"Why did you invite us for pizza again Risto?" Bojan asked, "What's the point? Do you have something to say?"
Risto looked a little taken aback by that.
"What?" Risto said, "I just enjoy your company, that's all. What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing," Marija said, "Bojan, be polite! Risto invited us for pizza and is even paying for it again so try not to be rude, ok?"
"Hey," Risto grinned, "If you don't like it then maybe you could try what Daniel Kajmakoski did, and leave Macedonia?"
"Eh, no thanks," Bojan said.
Suddenly, the door to the pizza parlour opened and someone walked in. The chefs looked happy to see another potential customer as the man walked over to the table where they were all sitting.
That was Lozano. He was a very popular singer in Macedonia, and had even been to the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2013 along with Esma Redžepova. They hadn't qualified from the semi-finals, but that didn't matter, the people of Macedonia were still proud of them, and all their other entrants, too.
"Hey, guys," he said. At that moment, Risto called over to the chefs to make another pizza. The pizza parlour was very happy with this, any business was welcome since people had began to leave the country.
"Lozano," Kaliopi beamed, "What are you even doing here?"
"Well," Lozano said, taking his phone out of his pocket, "There's been a lot happening around here lately. Have you guys heard about what's happening at Lake Ohrid?"
"No, why?" Kaliopi asked, "What's happening there?"
"Really?" Lozano said, not answering the question, "You haven't heard?"
"Just tell us already," Bojan said dryly.
"Something weird is happening there," Lozano said, "All these glowing blue flowers have sprung up out of the ground and no one knows what caused it or what they are."
Lozano pulled up the Kajgana Forums on his phone. This was the largest internet forum in all of Macedonia, and the people on the website had a lot of different theories about the flowers, most of them relating to Dustin the Turkey and his actions at the 2018 contest, but another theory that was very popular was that Montenegro were dumping mysterious things in Lake Ohrid, and indeed throughout all of Macedonia. No one wanted that to be true, Macedonia was already having problems with Latvia, and now they might be having problems with Montenegro as well.
"Maybe it has something to do with Dustin?" Marija asked.
"It probably does," Vlatko said, "After all, it's snowing here right now because of him."
Marija looked out of the window when he said that, looking at the snow that was falling down across the city. It was beautiful, but it wasn't normal for it to be snowing in Macedonia in the middle of July. Dustin had caused this. Kaliopi didn't say anything, she just looked down at the pictures of the blue flowers.
"No one has tried to pull one out yet," Lozano said, "But I think they look really cool, don't you? I'd quite like a few for myself, actually."
Kaliopi had made a decision. She would go and see these mysterious flowers in Ohrid for herself.
"Right, I've made up my mind. I'm going to go and check it out," Kaliopi said.
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Lozano asked.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Kaliopi said.
"No one knows what those things are," Marija said, "If it's true that Montenegro are dumping bad things into the lake, then it could even be dangerous!"
"And if it really has anything to do with Dustin," Risto said, "Then you really should stay away from it."
"I have to agree with Risto here," Vlatko said, "Stay away from whatever is going on there."
Kaliopi just laughed at that.
"You all don't want me to go?" Kaliopi said, "So what? When has that ever stopped me before? Risto, you really should know better."
"I know but," Risto said, "This isn't like old times. Dustin the Turkey is a very powerful... whatever he is. We should be staying far away from that stuff."
"Well, you can all do what you like," Kaliopi said, getting up out of her chair, "But I'm going to go and check it out."
"Wait, Kaliopi, come on, don't go," Risto said, but Kaliopi had already walked out the door. Risto knew that when she wanted to do something, she would just do it, no matter what anyone else thought. But still, he wanted to stop her, even if he knew it was useless and that she wouldn't listen.
"You know you can't stop her," Vlatko said, "She'll just do what she wants."
"I know," Risto said, before calling out after her, "You haven't even finished your pizza!"
"We can all share it," Vlatko said, as Eye Cue began dividing Kaliopi's unfinished pizza between everyone.
"Right," Ivo grinned, "More for us!"
"Lozano," Risto said, "Why did you have to bring up the flowers? Of course she'd want to go and see them for herself after hearing that."
Lozano felt a little guilty hearing that. He hadn't meant for Kaliopi to want to go there, he just wanted to show off that he knew all about it. And now Kaliopi was leaving, because of him, because he had told them all about the flowers. Lozano decided to go along with Kaliopi. Besides, many of the posts on the Kajgana forums that weren't theories were talking about how beautiful the flowers looked, and Lozano thought he would quite like to see them in person, and maybe even take some.
"I'm sorry. It's my fault. I should go with her," Lozano said, "I'll make sure everything is ok."
"I just ordered a pizza for you," Risto said, "Are you kidding me?"
"That just means there's even more for us," Vlatko laughed.
"Right!" Ivo said, "More pizza isn't a bad thing."
"Yeah, sorry guys," Lozano said, "Seeing as it's my fault she's left I'll have to go after her."
And with that, Lozano left too, leaving Risto, Vlatko and Eye Cue with their pizzas.
Kaliopi was walking down the path towards the train station. She was determined to solve the mystery of the flowers. And when she had her mind set on something, no one could stop her. Just then, she heard a voice calling her name.
"Kaliopi! Hey, Kaliopi! Wait up!"
She spun around to find Lozano running towards her.
"Lozano? What is it?"
"I'm coming too, I'm going with you."
Kaliopi hadn't expected this. She had expected to go alone to see the flowers, but figured the company might make the trip nicer.
"Sure," Kaliopi grinned, "I just hope you can keep up!"
Kaliopi ran off towards the train station.
"Hey, no fair," Lozano said, quickening his pace too, "Wait up!"
They both arrived at the train station to find that there were very few people there. Of course, that was just the way things were now. Since Dustin's attacks, people had been leaving Macedonia, and the exodus didn't look like it was slowing down any time soon. Still, seeing the empty train station really made it hit home, this was what was happening to Macedonia.
"Wow," Kaliopi said, looking around at the deserted train station, "This place really is empty. Everything is so weird here now."
"Hey..." Lozano panted, "Slow down, will ya?"
"Alright alright," Kaliopi laughed, "Sorry."
There were clocks ticking above them. These were the same as the clocks in the main square, the clocks that were ticking down to the 2019 Eurovision final. But they didn't want to be reminded of that now. They walked over to the ticket office and bought two tickets to Ohrid.
"Oh," the employee said, "You two want to see the flowers, do you?"
"That's right," Kaliopi said, holding the money out to him.
The train ride to Ohrid was an uneventful one. The few other people on the train with them were also talking about the mysterious flowers in Ohrid. It seemed to be all that was on anyone's mind, the problems with Latvia and even with Dustin just weren't being talked about. Soon, the train came to a stop. They were at their destination.
"Welcome to Ohrid, Macedonia," came the cheerful voice from a tannoy overhead. But it felt weird, there were only a few people on the train and everything felt really empty. This wasn't the Macedonia they were used to.
Walking through Ohrid didn't help, either. The entire city seemed just as deserted as Skopje was, perhaps more so. But they didn't want to think about that right now. Right now they just wanted to see the blue flowers that everyone was talking about.
Kaliopi walked over to the boathouse, with Lozano following close behind. Kaliopi thought this was the one. She was proven right when Gjoko Taneski and Pejcin walked out to greet her. Gjoko was the one person in Ohrid she knew who owned a boat, so if they had to get across the water to see the flowers it would be no problem at all.
"Kaliopi!" Gjoko said, "What are you even doing here?"
"I've come to see the flowers," Kaliopi replied.
"Ah," Gjoko understood. Many people had stopped by to see the blue flowers. Even with all the people who were leaving Macedonia, there were those who were still coming in to see them. Nobody knew for sure what caused them to sprout and no one knew why they had the mysterious blue glow, but there were quite a few tourists who wanted to have a peek.
"This way, follow me," Gjoko said.
"Are you... are you sure this is a good idea?" Pejcin asked.
"Lots of people are here to see the flowers," Gjoko said, "It's ok."
And so they all followed Gjoko towards the lake. They walked past the trees and saw Billy Zver, who was fishing in the lake.
"Hey, Gjoko!" Billy said, "You're not taking tourists to see the flowers, are you?"
"We're not tourists!" Kaliopi said, as they walked closer and Billy recognised her and Lozano.
"Ah," Billy laughed, "Hey, Kaliopi, Lozano. I didn't expect to see you two around here."
"Yeah," Gjoko said, "They are not tourists, but I am taking them to see the flowers."
"Are you sure that's a good idea?" Billy asked.
"I don't know," Gjoko said, "But as long as we keep our distance it should be fine."
"Don't worry Billy," Pejcin said, "We'll make sure nothing bad happens."
"Right," Billy grinned, "Well, have fun you guys."
Gjoko, Pejcin, Kaliopi and Lozano continued their journey around Lake Ohrid. They didn't need a boat after all, the flowers were sprouting up all around the lake. Lozano saw that they looked even brighter here than they did in photos.
"They're beautiful," Kaliopi said.
"Should we take some?" Lozano asked.
"Sounds good to me," Kaliopi said, "I'd like some."
"Great," Lozano said, "I'd like a few as well. I'll pull some out."
"No," Gjoko said, "Don't touch them. No one has picked any of the flowers yet. We don't know if they're safe, we don't know what touching them could do."
"But Gjoko," Kaliopi said, "They can't be that dangerous, just look at how nice they are."
"Looks can be deceiving," Pejcin said, "Do not touch the flowers."
"But-" Kaliopi began, when they heard a voice in the distance.
At that moment, a loud tourist who sounded American came bounding over to where they were.
"They say I can't pick the flowers," he said, "But whatever, I didn't come all this way for nothing. I'm taking one home, as a souvenir."
"That's a bad idea," Gjoko said, "Don't do that, no one knows what they do."
"Whatever," the tourist replied.
"No, really," Gjoko said, "Don't touch those."
The tourist didn't listen, and put his hand on one of the flowers. He regretted it instantly. The screaming started, and the tourist collapsed to the ground. Everyone stood there in shock, no one had expected that. The medics rushed over, as did the security guards who were cursing themselves, they were supposed to stop anyone from touching the flowers, yet they had failed.
"There's nothing we can do," one of the medics whispered, hoping that no one had heard it, but they had all heard it. Everyone was shocked, there were people around, screaming, yelling, backing away from those blue flowers. Kaliopi and Lozano just stood there in silence, looking at the scene. Neither of them knew what to say. It was horrible.
At that moment, Aleksandar Belov rushed over to them. There had long been rumours throughout Macedonia that Belov worked for some sort of mysterious organisation within the Macedonian government, and it looked like he was involved in whatever was going on here, too.
"Aleksandar?" Kaliopi said.
"Hey, this area is going to be sealed off," Aleksandar said, "You guys should all get out of here."
"But... is he going to be ok? What are those things?" Gjoko asked.
"Probably not," Aleksandar said, "And as for what that was, we just don't know. All I know is this, if it is indeed Montenegro that has done this to us, we will make them pay for it, I promise."
The four of them walked away the lake, no one saying anything. None of them knew what to say, and nobody really felt like saying anything. Gjoko and Pejcin went back to the boathouse, and Kaliopi and Lozano left to take the train back to Skopje.
The train ride back was one in silence. As they stepped out of the train, they looked around at the deserted station. Things seemed so different now.
"How did... how did..." Lozano couldn't quite find the right words, "And to think, we were going to touch those things?"
"The important thing is that we didn't touch them," Kaliopi said, "We were going to, but we didn't."
"I was going to touch them," Lozano said, "Even though Gjoko said no, I was going to pick one up, but then that tourist... he really saved me back there. Poor guy."
Kaliopi and Lozano walked through Macedonia Square, to see Risto, Vlatko and Eye Cue all sitting along a wall, Risto skipping pebbles across the pavement.
"Haha," Risto laughed, "That one went further than any of yours! I win again."
"You're cheating," Vlatko grinned, "Probably have fake rocks in your pockets, or something."
"Hahaha, don't be such a sore loser," Risto said, before turning around to see Kaliopi and Lozano walking towards them.
"Hey, guys!" Risto grinned, before noticing how sad they looked, "Guys? What's wrong?"
"So you haven't seen the news, huh?" Lozano said, as they all walked over to a shop that had televisions for sale in the window. The news was showing, and it wasn't good. It was plastered all over the Macedonian news. That an American tourist had touched one of the blue flowers in Ohrid and been killed by it. Kaliopi and Lozano were seriously regretting having ever made that trip to Ohrid. They wished they'd stayed in Skopje, where there were none of those awful flowers.
On the Macedonian forums, people had stopped talking about the flowers in a positive way, and they had stopped posting pictures of them. No longer did anyone talk about how beautiful they looked. Now they were just death flowers, although they were lucky that the only place they had sprung up was around Lake Ohrid. The rest of Macedonia didn't have any of those mysterious flowers, and they hoped that it would stay that way.
"I... what?" Risto said, "How could this happen? Did you see the flowers?"
"Even worse," Kaliopi said, "We saw the tourist who was killed by them."
"Oh my god," Risto said, hugging Kaliopi, "I'm so sorry, that must have been awful for you."
"Thank you Risto," Kaliopi said, "But I'm ok. That poor tourist, though..."
The news broadcast switched again, pictures of areas around Lake Ohrid having fences built around them.
"The area has been sealed off," Lozano said, "So no one else can be killed by those evil flowers."
"That is a good thing at least," Bojan said.
"So what are they going to do?" Marija said, "Someone will have to go to Ohrid and tear up the flowers, right?"
"Aleksandar Belov is probably working on something," Lozano said.
"That makes sense," Vlatko said, "I'm always hearing about how he is working on secret projects."
"Then he is not so good at keeping it secret," Bojan said, "Still, with those death flowers growing... if those start springing up anywhere else in Macedonia, we might have to do what Daniel did and leave."
"That would be a real shame," Risto said, "I would never want to leave Macedonia."
"We might have no choice," Kaliopi said, "But I really hope it doesn't come to that."
The news reporter brought up the possiblity that Montenegro had caused this. Everyone was thinking it, but no one wanted to say it. The implications of this were very serious, but still the Montenegrin government said nothing. Even after repeated requests from the Macedonian government, no response came in from Montenegro. This wasn't what anyone wanted. Macedonia was already having problems with Latvia, and now they were having problems with Montenegro as well? And unlike Latvia, who had no nuclear weapons or even the capablities to create them, Montenegro was a nuclear power, just like Macedonia. And a conflict between two nuclear powers would not be good, not only for Europe, but for the entire world.
They all walked back to the pizza place. It was getting late now, and they really wanted something to take their mind of all these problems.
And the day ended just like it began, with all of them sitting in that pizza parlour once again. Still, so many things had changed just during the course of 24 hours. Whether it was Dustin or whether it was Montenegro, things inside Macedonia were changing. There were those who had left who maybe would have come back into Macedonia, but on hearing the news of the Ohrid death flowers, stayed away. The country was as empty and desolate as ever, and of course the flowers weren't their only problem. The countries that came last in the semis and the final of next year's Eurovision Song Contest would be attacked by Dustin. Everyone knew that. Everyone knew that Macedonia typically didn't get great results, either. The flowers were just another problem that Macedonia didn't need.
"Macedonia's result in next year's contest isn't our only problem," Ivo said, "Those flowers... what are they?"
"No one knows," Risto said, "We know there are problems, but we can't fix them. Since we can't change it, it's best not to worry about such things."
"It's terrible," Kaliopi said, "Seeing Macedonia like this, knowing we can do nothing about it."
"Hey," Vlatko said, "We all love Macedonia. It's sad to see it like this, but I know we will bounce back. I just know it."
"See, now that's what I like to hear," Risto said, "Positive thinking."
"As long as we don't come last next year," Vlatko continued, "Everything will be fine. I just know it will."
"I mean..." Bojan interrupted, "That's not..."
"Quiet, Bojan," Marija said, "We have to stay positive through this, ok?"
"Right, sorry," Bojan muttered.
They were all sitting in the square again, flicking pebbles, seeing how far they could go.
"There we go," Risto said, as his pebble flew the furthest yet again.
"No fair," Vlatko grinned, "You always win at this!"
"He's the best at it, that's for sure," Kaliopi said.
As for Montenegro, Latvia and Dustin the Turkey, it just wasn't the right to time be thinking about these problems right now, especially when no one had any real solutions for any of them. They all agreed to just enjoy each day as it came, and hope that Macedonia would soon be free from all these problems.