Beauty Queens

13,083
05.03.2019

“Thank you, ladies. I’m guessing that’s where the rest of the plane is.” Taylor pointed to the thick black smoke spiraling up from the jungle. “There might be more of us in there. We need to organize a search party. A Miss Teen Dream Recon Machine. Any volunteers?”

As a unit, the girls turned to gaze at the forbidding expanse of jungle. No one raised her hand. Taylor clicked her tongue. “Well, I guess there aren’t any Ladybird Hopes4 in this crowd. My stars, I’m glad she’s not here to see this. I bet she’d vomit in her mouth with disappointment. And then, like a pro, she’d swallow it down and keep smiling.”

Taylor took a pink gloss from a hidden pocket and slicked the glittery wand over her lips. “You remember that The Corporation almost canceled the Miss Teen Dream Pageant last year due to low ratings, and they were gonna replace it with that show about Amish girls who share a house with strippers, Girls Gone Rumspringa? And then, just like a shining angel, Ladybird Hope stepped in and said she would personally secure the advertisers for the pageant. I have lived my whole life according to Ladybird and her platform — Being Perfect in Every Way — and I’m not about to let her down now. If I have to, I will go into that jungle by myself. I’ll bet those Corporation camera crews will be real happy to see me.”

“I’ll go!” Shanti’s hand shot up.

“Me, too!” Petra yelled.

Mary Lou nudged Adina. “I guess it wouldn’t be very congenial of me not to go. Will you come, too? I want to have one friend.”

Adina didn’t know what they’d find in the jungle, but journalists always went where the story was, and Adina was the best journalist at New Castle High School. It was what had gotten her into this mess. She raised her hand to volunteer.

Two teams were organized and, after much debate, names were chosen: The Sparkle Ponies would stay on the beach, tend to the wounded, and try to salvage whatever they could from the wreckage. The Lost Girls would soldier into the jungle in the hopes of finding survivors.

Shanti gave instructions to the girls heading into the surf toward the mangled half plane, which was taking on water quickly. “We need to remember to bring out anything we can — first-aid kits, blankets, pillows, seat cushions, clothes, and especially food and water.”

“But why?” Tiara asked. “They’ll be coming to rescue us real soon.”

“We don’t know how long that will be. We’ve got to survive till then.”

“Ohmigosh. No food at all.” Tiara sank down on the sand as if the full weight of their predicament had finally hit her. She blinked back tears. And then that megawatt smile that belonged on cereal boxes across the nation reappeared. “I am going to be so superskinny by pageant time!”

Roland Me’sognie, the notoriously fat-phobic French designer whose tourniquet-tight fashions adorn the paper cut-thin bodies of models, starlets, socialites, and reality TV stars. In fact, when the svelte pinup Bananas Foster, famous for starring in a series of medical side-effect commercials, was arrested in a Vegas club for snorting cholesterol-lowering drugs while wearing a Roland jumpsuit, he pronounced her “too fat to steal my oxygen. I die to see her misuse my genius. The earth weeps with me.” Sales rose 88% that week. The House of Roland was the first to introduce sizing lower than 0 – the -1. “We make the woman disappear and the fashion appear!”

J. T. Woodland, known as “the cute one” in The Corporations seventh-grade boy band, Boyz Will B Boyz. Due to the success of their triple-platinum hit, “Let Me Shave Your Legs Tonight, Girl,” Boyz Will B Boyz ruled the charts for a solid eleven months before hitting puberty and losing ground to Hot Vampire Boyz. Five years later, Boyz Will B Boyz is nothing more than a trivia question.

Ladybird Hope, the most famous Miss Teen Dream who ever lived, making her name as a bikini-clad meteorologist, small-town talk show host, lobbyist, mayor, and Corporation businesswoman with her own clothing line. Rumored to be running for president.

CHAPTER TWO

The Lost Girls set off down the beach. Taylor led the way. Adina, Shanti, Petra, Mary Lou, and Tiara followed. Above them, the sun was a jaundiced eye. To the right, the vast turquoise ocean bit at the shoreline, gobbling small mouthfuls of sand. The sand itself, white as desert-bleached animal bones, stretched for miles, in one direction yielding to jungle growth and, farther on, green mountains and lava-formed cliffs, which created an almost turretlike wall running the length of the island. Just behind those cliffs a volcano rose, vanishing into heavy cloud cover. Its rumble could be heard on the beach, like a giant groaning in its sleep.