“There’s probably a search plane on its way right now,” Mary Lou said.
The jungle answered with unknown screeches and a low, murmuring hiss. No one moved. They watched what was left burn.
“We should get back and let the others know,” Taylor said at last. “It’s just us. We’re the only survivors. We’re on our own.”
By the time the Lost Girls returned to the beach, the sky was the color of wet slate and an army of angry clouds massed along the horizon, awaiting further instruction.
Taylor convened the girls in the same spot as before. “All right, Miss Teen Dreamers. If y’all could settle into our horseshoe all nice and orderly, please? Miss Montana? Is that the way a Miss Teen Dream sits, all slutty like that with her hoo-hoo showing?”
Miss Montana knocked her knees together and yanked down the hem of her skirt.
“Thank you.” Taylor addressed the crowd. Her expression was calm. “I’ve got a little bit of bad news: Everybody else is dead.”
A great gasp went up. A few girls cried and some simply stared, unable to process the information.
Miss Ohio raised her hand. “What about the film crew?”
“Gone,” Petra confirmed. She’d added a rescued shawl to her ensemble, tying it in an elaborate bow beneath her chin. In times of stress, she relied on her skills at accessorizing to calm her.
“That’s terrible,” Brittani wailed. “They seemed so nice.”
“One of the camera guys told me I was just like Lorrie Connor on The Shills5,” Tiara said.
“OMG, I love that show!”
The girls fell into excited chatter. “Did you see the one where Lorrie and Chad broke up and she gave him back the Frou-Frou handbag he bought her after she agreed to fake marry him to promote his new beer line? I totally cried.”
“That was awesome TV. I heard she’s gonna hire a ghostwriter to write a book about that episode.”
Taylor’s sharp clap echoed on the beach. “Teen Dreamers! We need to focus like it’s the final interview round and the questions are all about anorexia and current events. Now, I know y’all are upset. This is just plain awful. But God doesn’t make mistakes. Is this is a setback, Teen Dreamers?”
“Totally,” wailed Miss Arkansas. Her left arm was broken. It had been bandaged into a ninety-degree angle as if she were perpetually waving to an unseen crowd.
“No, ma’am. No, it is not. I know what Ladybird Hope would say. She would say that this is an opportunity for growth and the establishment of your personal brand. Everybody loves a survivor. And everybody loves a Miss Teen Dream contestant. When you put those two together, you have a lot of hope. And big endorsement opportunities when we get back. Let’s get a woo-hoo goin’!”
A halfhearted chorus of “woo-hoo” rippled through the horseshoe-shaped cluster of exhausted, hungry girls.
Taylor shouted, “Now, I know y’all can be louder than that!”
“That’s the Miss Teen Dream spirit. Sparkle Ponies, report: What did y’all salvage from the plane?”
The girls listed off their bounty: four hot roller sets, two straightening irons, a few teeth-bleaching trays, five seat cushions, three waterlogged beauty magazines, a notebook, laxatives, diet pills, a few suitcases filled with clothes, evening gowns, a collection of mismatched bathing suit tops and bottoms, various shoes, bags of pretzels, and bottles of water.
“Good work, Sparkle Ponies,” Taylor commended. “We are going to stay here and build a fire that any passing ships can see so we can be rescued. And I think for now we should keep our sashes on so we can identify one another easily, especially in the dark. And, of course, we need to keep up our pageant skills.”
“Pageant skills? You’re kidding, right?” Adina hadn’t meant to blurt it out.
Taylor narrowed her eyes. “I never kid about Miss Teen Dream.”
“Reality check: We’re stuck on a freaking island with only a few bags of pretzels to eat and God only knows what kinds of dangerous animals or mega-zombie-insects out there, and you want us to keep working on our pageant skills?”
Taylor glossed her lips again and smacked them together. “Correct.”
“Don’t be so negative,” Miss Ohio said. “I’ll bet the coast guard is on its way to rescue us right now.”
Adina shook her head. “What we need is a team leader.”
“I accept,” Taylor said.
“Um, not to be rude or anything, but usually you put it to a vote. It’s a democracy, right?” Adina laughed uncomfortably.