The little watch on Noye’s hand struck ten. In the evening. But the sunrays still pierced the opaque windows of the bar as if it were noon. Only a few moments ago, out of anxiety rather than of obsessive habit, Noye wound it to the point that the mechanism inside almost exploded. What for, he asked himself. That little watch at first appeared as a blessing: he was one of few people on the planet nowadays who could still measure time accurately. But now, even the time itself seems to have stopped, along with the planetary rotation. That was his destiny: if he won the lottery by chance, the whole world would suddenly decide to stop using money and switch to bartering.
The Baron said he would come in the evening. The evening, thought Noye. How ridiculous that sounds now. Maybe he meant when the night comes? When the planet starts spinning again? So that means maybe never. Why did there have to be this ceremonial meeting anyway? Why didn’t he simply come tomorrow, board the boat and end of the story? Why did he, Noye, accept to meet him here tonight in the first place? Damn it all if this isn’t some kind of a trap set by the Immigration Agency. He made another turn of the winding mechanism and something finally exploded inside the watch. For a couple of moments he just sat there watching and waiting the big hand to move.
-Mr. Noye? – a quiet, monotonous voice shook him up. In front of him stood a stranger all dressed in black, wearing a top hat.
-Who wants to know? – said Noye, trying to make out the contours of the shadowy face, which was next to impossible with all the blinding sunrays coming from behind the stranger’s back.
-Unfortunately, Baron Murcialego is not able to attend the meeting. He appointed me to negotiate the terms of transportation with you – said the stranger as he sat in front of Noye. Although he was merely a meter in front of him, Noye could still see only a black shadow surrounded by sunrays shining up smoke and particles of dust.
-Looky here Mr- Noye stuttered, waiting for the stranger to chime in with his name. -I’m wasting my time appointing and meeting with you and I have lotta other work to do elsewhere.
-Mr. Noye. I assure you that all your work can wait. The Baron is more than willing to pay for your services and compensate for all your losses in the course of your cooperation. In other words, you will be very satisfied with our deal. You have my guarantee for it.
-Well then – said Noye, after a few moments of silence -The boat leaves in four days. I cannot tell you yet where from. Pay-up on boarding the boat. The entire sum in advance. One thousand and five hundred marks in cash.
-The boat must leave tomorrow morning, from outside the Baron’s villa – the stranger interrupted -You must move the boat there as soon as tonight for the cargo to be loaded.
-Hang on mister. My boat- my rules. You think your Baron is the only big shot around who can afford himself a trip to the Predusk Zone? I can assemble twenty people like him in just a couple of days…
Noye went silent. Why Noye you bloody fool, he thought to himself. You blurted out about your work in front of this stranger here, and you don’t even know his name. For all you know, he could be the chief of International Immigration Agency himself.
-Fifteen thousand marks – said the stranger in the same cold tone of voice -Another fifteen when you come back for the second run.
Fifteen grand, thought Noye. The number sounded far too unreal; maybe this really was an I.I.A. trap. On the other hand, maybe the tides have finally turned for him. If he completes the second run, he could sell the Ark and move to the Predusk Zone himself. To that Greek isle which looked deserted. He would put razorwire all around it…
-So, after our meeting tonight, you will immediately bring the boat to the beach in front of the Baron’s villa and leave it there for the night. I will give you the money now. And when the Baron is ready, we will come for you and you will sail away. It goes without saying that there will be nobody else on the boat except you. No other crew, no other passengers. You will stop nowhere and for nothing. You will sail straight to Beirut.
-Leave my boat? So you can sail away without me? – asked Noye. For the money the stranger promised he could buy two more Arks, he thought.
-Mr. Noye – said the stranger with a barely noticeable tone of impatience -Maybe the world has stopped, but the time is still very valuable, especially the Baron’s. So please let’s not waste it on unnecessary arguments. Do you accept the terms I put out for you tonight, or do you not?
One wooden crate. It was all there was in the cargo hold below deck. Noye was standing at the door, watching all the empty space. He could have loaded at least two more of those. The Baron and his gang would have had no clue about it if he had, say, made a little detour to Monaco or Genoa and picked up some more load. Ark was now already far asea; he would probably lose a lot of time sailing back to the land. Well, at least he will get to the destination much faster, the ship being half-empty. But on the second run he will be a bit late. Force majeure.
He slowly walked to the container. Nothing unusual: a few breathing holes on the side, so the ones inside don’t suffocate. There was no latch on the outside- the only way to open it was probably from the inside. He has transported so many immigrants from the Middle East to Europe and now, from this single run, he will earn more than he had earned for one whole month of sailing and evading I.I.A. all over the Mediterranean before the planetary halt. And ironically, this time he was transporting them in the opposite direction. He knocked the crate a few times and said:
-We are off the coastline, if you’re willin’ you may come out of the crate lest you suffocate in there. I won’t be troublin’ you down here but you don’t go up the deck either, you hear?
He waited for a few moments. Having heard no reply, he shook his head and turned to leave back to his cabin. Just as he closed the door he heard some kind of mewing sounds, like those of February tomcats. Cats, he asked himself. Did the Baron give him all that money for a pack of lousy cats to take them to the Middle East? He frowned upon the idea of transporting animals. With all that mess they make? And above all, they are damn unpredictable, worse than children. No way was he going to take it- if there are animals down there, they are going overboard and they can swim all the way to… Beirut!
Suddenly it dawned on him. The coast of Lebanon was the edge of the Penumbral Zone, the area of eternal sunlight obscura. All the immigrants of the new Era so far have been trying to reach the Predusk Zone. As if hypnotized, he slowly opened the lower deck door and went inside again.
The crate was open. He could see three heads peeking from inside, their skins as white as bone: two children without a single hair and one woman or girl, with long black hair stuck to her face. Their dimly red eyes returned the stare.
-Gosh… You need anything, Missey- He ran out of breath to finish the sentence. The passengers merely smiled instead of answering, showing rows of pearly-white, razor-sharp, pointy teeth.
Author: Bojan Dejanovic