Authors: Libba Bray
For Barry and Josh.
And for everybody trying to
figure out who they really are.
This book begins with a plane crash. We do not want you to worry about this. According to the U.S. Department of Unnecessary Statistics, your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in half a million. Whereas your chances of losing your bathing suit bottoms to a strong tide are two to one. So, all in all, it’s safer to fly than to go to the beach. As we said, this book begins with a plane crash. But there are survivors. You see? Already it’s a happy tale. They are all beauty queen contestants. You do not need to know their names here. But you will get to know them. They are all such nice girls. Yes, they are nice, happy, shining, patriotic girls who happen to have interests in baton twirling, sign language, AIDS prevention in the animal population, the ancient preparation of popadam, feminine firearms, interpretive dance, and sequins. Such a happy story. And shiny, too.
This story is brought to you by The Corporation: Because Your Life Can Always Be Better™. We at The Corporation would like you to enjoy this story, but please be vigilant while reading. If you should happen to notice anything suspicious in the coming pages, do alert the proper authorities. Remember, it could be anything at all — a subversive phrase, an improper thought or feeling let out of its genie bottle of repression, an idea that challenges the status quo, the suggestion that life may not be what it appears to be and that all you’ve taken for granted (malls, shopping, the relentless pursuit of an elusive happiness, prescription drug ads, those annoying
perfume samples in magazines that make your eyes water, the way anchormen and women shift easily from the jovial laughter of a story about a dog that hula-hoops to a grave report on a bus crash that has left five teenagers dead) may be no more consequential than the tattered hem of a dream, leaving you with a bottomless, free-fall feeling.
This is the sort of thing we are warning you about.
But let’s not worry, shall we? There’s nothing to worry about. Though there is the threat of a war, it happens in the background, in snippets on the nightly news between ads for sinus medicines. It’s none of our concern. This is a happy story.
Now, our story begins, as so many happy stories do, with a blue, blue sky. A blue, blue sky punctuated by thick white clouds; they drift across the expanse like semicolons, reminding us that there is more to come. The pilot, a man in his forties who once stayed on a mechanical bull for a full eight seconds, has just turned off the
FASTEN SEAT BELTS
sign. The flight is on its way to a remote tropical paradise where the girls will compete against one another for the title of Miss Teen Dream.
is a rather ugly word, isn’t it? After all, these are such lovely girls, pure of heart and high of spirits. Let’s say that they will be “drawing on their personal best,” and some girls will “proceed on a path of Miss Teen Dreamdom” while others will “have the option to explore other pageant opportunities elsewhere at an unspecified future time.” Ah. There. That’s much better, isn’t it?
The pilot and copilot, whose names are not important to our tale, are trading stories with each other, as they may be wont to do in those mysterious quarters beyond the galley. We cannot truly know. We do know that in just a few moments, they will struggle valiantly to land the plane on a small scrub of island in the middle of the ocean. They will be partly successful.
On the other side of the cockpit door, fifty girls smile and preen and pose for the cameras. One girl confesses this is her first plane ride as she stares out the window, her mouth open in awe, her mind
completely unbothered by thoughts of who will live and who will “have her living options curtailed.”
In the cabin, the pilot notes the red light and abandons his story. Flames erupt from the right engine. The turbine breaks into useless slivers. Vibrations shake the plane, causing it to pitch and wobble. The view from the right is now marred by a billowing plume of black smoke.
And so our tale begins with a sudden fall from blue skies, with screams and prayers and a camera crew bravely recording every bit of the turbulence and drama: What a lucky break for their show! How the producers will crow! Ratings will skyrocket! Suddenly terse flight attendants rush through the aisles barking orders, securing latches on the agitating overhead bins. One girl leads the others in a song about Jesus being her copilot, which makes them feel better, as if, even as they assume crash-landing positions with their arms over their heads, a bearded man in white robes and sandals is strapping on a headset and grabbing the controls.
The right engine quits entirely, and there is a brief period of absolute silence. In the pressurized air of the cabin, a hopeful, euphoric feeling swells behind the lacy underwires guarding the chests of these girls — the thought that perhaps there was nothing to be frightened about after all, that they’ve escaped a grisly fate and are now being given a second chance. Through the left-side windows, they can see the strange, verdant land taking shape, growing bigger as they descend. It’s beautiful. They will land safely, no matter the sudden near-vertical descent. They’re sure of it. After all, these are can-do girls from a nation built upon dreams. And what is the ear-splitting scream of metal against metal, the choking smoke, the sensation of falling through a surprisingly uncaring sky, against such unshakable dreams?
You look worried. Really, you should relax. Reading is a pleasurable activity and worrying is bad for your heart.
“Are you all right?”
The voice was tinny in Adina’s ears. Her head ached, and she was wet. She remembered the plane pitching and falling, the smoke and screams, the panic, and then nothing.
“Am I dead?” she asked the face looming over hers. The face had apple cheeks and was framed by a halo of glossy black curls.
dead?” Adina asked warily.
The face above her shook from side to side, and then burst into tears. Adina relaxed, reasoning that she had to be alive, unless the afterlife was a lot more bipolar than she’d been led to believe. She pulled herself to a sitting position and waited for the wooziness to subside. A gash on her knee was caked in dried blood. Another on her arm still seeped. Her dress was ripped and slightly scorched and she wore only one shoe. It was one half of her best pair, and in her state of shock, finding the other became important. “Can you help me find my shoe?”
“Sure. I saw some in the water. I hope they’re not leather,” the other girl said in an accent flat as a just-plowed field. She had huge, blue, anime-worthy eyes. “I’m Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou Novak.”
“Adina Greenberg. Miss New Hampshire.” Adina cupped her hands over her eyes, looking out toward the sea. “I don’t see it.”
“That’s a shame. It’s a real nice shoe.”
,” Adina said, and she honestly couldn’t figure out why. She didn’t care about the stupid brand. That was her mother’s influence. Shock. It had to be the shock.
“If I can find my suitcase, I’ve got an extra pair of sneakers in there. I’m a size eight.”
“You’re welcome. I like to be helpful. It’s sort of a Nebraska thing. My pageant sponsor says I’ve got a real good chance at Miss Congeniality this year.”
“Miss Congeniality represents the true heart of the pageant,” Adina found herself repeating from the Miss Teen Dream manual. She vaguely remembered that she used to make a gagging motion at that, but she was too dazed for snarkiness just now. Dazed because, yes, when she’d been looking for her shoe, she’d seen bodies in the water. Lifeless bodies.
“Miss Congeniality is an ambassador of smiles,” Mary Lou said in a choked voice.
“It’ll be okay,” Adina said, even though she was pretty sure that this was the textbook definition of
so not okay.
“I think we should find everybody else.”
Mary Lou wiped her nose on the torn chiffon of her sleeve and followed Adina along the crescent of beach. The air smelled of smoke. A blackened metal wing lay on the sand. Sparkly evening gowns floated on the tide like jellyfish skin, the shininess attracting
the curiosity of the seagulls who swooped over them in a repeated figure eight. Girls in various states of bedraggled dotted the sand like exotic, off-course birds. The contents of opened suitcases and flung purses were strewn across the beach. A red-white-and-blue, fringed baton-twirler’s dress hung from a tree. A soggy beauty whose sash identified her as Miss Ohio stumbled out of the surf and sank to her knees, coughing up water and bile.