Vacations from Hell

by Libba Bray



“Sunblock?” Liz asks me.


“Sun hat?”



I point to the pair perched on my head. “I’m ready. Can we go?”



“Kristin, you are wearing the new blue bikini we bought you last week?”


She leans across her twin bed, lifts up my shirt, and gasps. “No. You are not wearing that hideous brown one-piece. You are not allowed to wear anything that you bought before you met me, okay?” Liz is already clad in a tiny white bikini, if you can call what looks like two pieces of string holding up three triangles a bikini.

“But I’m going to burn,” I whine.

“You will not. That’s why we bought SPF 100 or whatever. Don’t be a baby. Put on your new suit so we can hit the deck already.”

I feel queasy—and it’s not because I’m stuck in a cramped cabin on a cruise ship. Although I’m sure that’s not helping.

I am excited to be here—of course I am—but I’m a little nervous. I’ve never been on a cruise before. What if I get seasick? The boat hasn’t even left port yet and already it’s kind of swaying from side to side like a slightly drunk rocking chair. What if it leans in a crazy angle and I fall off? What if it slams into an iceberg and we plummet to the bottom of the ocean?

Even the name of it—the Cruise to Nowhere—sounds spooky. Supposedly they call it that because we’re not headed anywhere specific; we’re going to float around international waters for three days and three nights and then zip back to New York. But still. It sounds ominous. If I was in charge of the marketing, I’d call it Sea Wanderer or Ocean Extravaganza, or something that doesn’t scream Dead End.

But that’s just me.

Okay, I’m not just nervous about falling off the boat.

I’m really nervous because…All right, I’ll say it. On this trip, this Cruise to Nowhere, I have a goal. I am going to do it.

Yes. It’s time. My first time.

Ack. I can’t believe I’m going to do it.

“Are you sure about the bikini?” I ask now, self-conscious. I don’t bother looking at myself in the mirror. I already know what I look like. Medium boobs, shoulder-length brown hair, not too big, not too small. Just call me Goldilocks. Average, average, average. My eyes are cool, though. I’ll admit that. They’re kind of green and brown and blue. Swirly.

“Kristin, if you wear that hideous one-piece there is a zero percent chance you’ll pick someone up. Less than zero. Minus one.”

See that’s the other thing. I don’t actually have a candidate in mind for the big event. First step: find guy. Second: reel him in. Third: do it.

No pressure or anything. I take a deep breath.

Except what guy will give me a second look with Liz lying on a pool chair by my side? Liz, with her white string bikini, waist-length wavy red hair, and legs that are longer than my entire body. She’s the Little Mermaid come to life. I bet she’d be fine if the boat pulled a Titanic. She’d toss her hair and twelve guys would give up their life rafts to save her.

I unzip my bag. “All right, I’ll change.”

“Hurry up. I want to be there when the boat—”

Before she finishes her sentence, the floor beneath us shifts. I look out through the window and over our balcony and see the pier drifting away.

My knees are shaking. Is this what they call sea legs? Or maybe I’m just nervous about what’s to come….

According to the map in our room, this boat has twelve floors. Twelve floors! How crazy is that? Maybe boats aren’t as bad as I thought. In fact, maybe I’ll move in forever. There’s a spa, a hair salon, a gym, a library, a gazillion rooms, a dozen restaurants. Four pools. What else do you need?

There’s already a girl about our age on the elevator when we step on. She’s blond and tiny, and her skin is flushed red, like it’s just been scrubbed.

“Hi,” Liz says with a big smile. “Are you going to the pool on level twelve?”

Liz talks to everyone. She has no fear. I, on the other hand, feel like I’ve swallowed a hundred butterflies when I have to talk to a stranger.

The girl nods. “Yup. Level twelve is supposed to be the best one. It’s all outside. And I need to start tanning immediately.”

“I’m pretty pale too,” Liz says. “So what do you think of the ship?”