Rafi Francisco really stepped in it this time.
She was lost and alone in the middle of a Caribbean jungle, wearing an ill-fitting shirt that clung to all her sweat-filled crevices.
There was an incessant bug, big as a bullet, buzzing into her neck, lured there by her ridiculously poor choice of candy-scented body spray.
Her backpack seemed to be getting heavier, and banged into her lower back with every step she took.
She was thirsty and tired and scared, and this colossal mistake of a trip had cost her two thousand dollars—aka her life’s savings.
Yes, Rafi Francisco had definitely stepped in it. But like, literally.
She knew the moment she did it, feeling her shoe slide forward on the sticky stuff. Rafi winced as she lifted up her foot to examine the damage. She didn’t want to think of the kind of animal that could make such a massive mess. With her luck it was still close by and watching her through the trees, ready to charge. Thirty minutes on this island had already proven soul—and sole—crushing. She scraped the bottom of her shoe across the base of the nearest tree trunk until most of the gunk was off.
A few hours ago Rafi had been on an air-conditioned plane, eating her third bag of free chips. Now she was here, regretting her life choices. Instinctively, she took her phone out of her pocket, but then remembered there was no service here. There was something so silly about a phone in a jungle, like holding a bouquet of flowers in a blizzard. Like things that belonged to two different worlds trying to coexist.
And while Rafi had been here only a short while, a lot of things about this place felt off. Rafi had flown to the island of Exuma with a plane full of concertgoers, and then they’d all subsequently boarded a ship that had taken them on a half-hour-long journey here. The island was big enough to take days to explore fully, but still small enough that Rafi couldn’t find it on a map. She thought she had once, and studied it long and hard before realizing it was a blueberry muffin crumb. But what was really strange was that when they all got off the ship, there was no one to greet them. Not an organizer or owner or even a volunteer. Which was how Rafi had ended up in the jungle, looking for anyone who could tell her where to find her luggage.
Thirty-five minutes in and Rafi had the sinking feeling that she and everyone else here had been duped. But the biggest tell was the island itself. It looked nothing like it had in the promo video.
Fly Fest had gone from rumor, to viral fact, to the hottest ticket in town in a matter of days. But it really came alive in people’s minds when the promo video dropped. Sandy beaches, Jet Skis, and supermodels. And, of course, there was the now legendary voice-over that played over the stunning imagery.
Fly Fest is a question. An answer. An enigma. A messiah. A sandal. It is all and it is nothing. It will push the limits of boundlessness into an endless quest to enlightened fulfillment you didn’t even know you desired but also never really longed for. It is air. It is foundation. It is sand, it is SUPERMODELS. It is the way the sun feels slipping through your fingers, and the way water feels blowing out your nostrils. It is standing at the top of Mount Everest and discovering the lost city of El Dorado. It is the Loch Ness Monster. It is the moment right after Mount Vesuvius exploded but right before the people of Pompeii turned to ash. It is the delicious mix of mental ecstasy and physical ecstasy and synthetic ecstasy. It is yachts. And it. Is. Fly.
So yeah, things were definitely not as advertised. Silver linings, though: At least no one had seen Rafi step in poop.
“Hello!” a voice called.
Rafi turned to find someone rushing toward her. Someone about her age, with a pageboy haircut and phone in hand. “Finally! What is the Wi-Fi password here?”
“Excuse me?” Rafi said.
“You work here, right?”
“In … the jungle?”
“No … the festival.”
“Oh,” Rafi said. “I don’t work for the festival.”
“But, your shirt…”
Rafi looked down. Her shirt was neon pink with the hashtag #LiveLaughFLY written across the chest in white cursive lettering. When Rafi bought her ticket to Fly Fest, she realized she had no idea what the appropriate attire was for a week-long music festival in the Bahamas. Her wardrobe consisted mostly of comfortable sweatshirts in varying shades of gray and taupe. But she wanted to blend in on this trip. She wasn’t sure her choice of shirt had worked, though. The moment Rafi set foot on the island and saw what all the other concertgoers looked like, she felt instantly different from them.
Her black bob with bangs stood out in a sea of flowing blondes and shimmering browns. Even though they were in the tropics, everyone looked so manicured, not a wisp of hair blowing in the island breeze, while Rafi, in a rush to make it to the airport on time, hadn’t put any product in her hair. She hadn’t even packed any. Everyone also already looked like they’d made a point to get tanned before showing up, which just made Rafi, who spent probably too much time indoors, feel suddenly Casperish. The pink shirt was the brightest, most carefree, and most expensive T-shirt Rafi owned. When she saw it on the Fly Fest website, she figured it’d be perfect. Though, now that she looked at it, she saw it for the generic thing it was, and couldn’t be one hundred percent certain that the word STAFF wasn’t written across the back.
Looking at her new companion’s shirt, she noticed a button pinned on the collar with the words THEY/THEM on it.
“I’m Rafi, by the way. She/her.”
Her introduction was met by a skeptical look that started at the top of Rafi’s head and swept slowly down to her offending shoe. “Peggy Yim.”
“Hi, Peggy. I don’t work here, by the way. I’ve actually been looking for someone who does. It’s weird, right? That there isn’t anyone in charge?” She waited for a response, but Peggy was preoccupied with their phone, holding it up to the sky in search of reception.
“I tried that already,” Rafi said. “It won’t work.”
“I have a satellite phone. I’ll get online,” Peggy said. “It’s just a matter of time.”
“You a tech whiz or something?”
“Yes.” They offered nothing else, but Rafi liked the short answer, how assured Peggy was when they said it. They were probably one of those STEM coder people who were going to rule the world and knew it. Rafi needed more of that in her life, the boldness, the confidence. She’d come to Fly Fest to be bold, do important things. She suddenly felt bold enough to share something about herself, unprompted.
“I’m kind of a tech person, too. I have a podcast.”
Rafi paused, in case Peggy wanted to ask a follow-up question or maybe murmur their approval. But the only sound that came was the squawk from a toucan flying overhead. Maybe Peggy’s silence was their way of telling Rafi to go on.
“It’s called Musical Mysteries. It’s about mysteries in—”
“Let me guess,” Peggy said. “Music.”
“Right. I already have one season in the can. Eight episodes. It was pretty successful.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Well, successful in the independent podcasting world. It got written up on a few blogs. And Michael Panz called it ‘promising,’ and he’s a contributing sound producer for NPR, so. Yeah. I’m proud of it.”
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