Everyone knows Unknown Island—it’s the world’s most exclusive destination. Think white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and luxury accommodations. Plus, it’s invite only, no one over twenty-one allowed, and it’s absolutely free. Who wouldn’t want to go?
The mysterious resort launched with a viral marketing campaign, and now the whole world is watching as the mysterious resort opens its doors to the First Ten, the ten elite influencers specifically chosen to be the first to experience everything Unknown Island has to offer. You know them. There’s the gamer, the beauty blogger, the rich girl, the superstar, the junior politician, the environmentalist, the DJ, the CEO, the chef, and the athlete.
What they don’t know is that they weren’t invited to Unknown Island for their following—they were invited for their secrets. Everyone is hiding a deadly one, and it looks like someone’s decided it’s payback time. Unknown Island isn’t a vacation, it’s a trap. And it’s beginning to look like the First Ten—no matter how influential—are never coming home.
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You’re not in Kansas anymore. It was the kind of one-liner that immediately made Justice Wilson write people off as boring and unoriginal, but now she couldn’t help but say it to herself. She was halfway around the world, and she liked it.
The tropics swarmed in as soon as the plane doors opened. Wet, humid air that turned walking into swimming, and palm trees whipping in the wind like they were trying to lure customers in to buy a used car. When she’d left Kansas City this morning, or last night, or whenever it was that she’d gotten on the first plane, the hue of the sky matched the concrete, the people were pale, and everything was cold. Now, she was surrounded by heat and a riot of color. Turquoise sky, emerald leaves, people with golden-brown skin, airline employees dressed in bright florals with flowers tucked behind their ears or pinned to their shirts. It was the kind of placed Justice had always dreamed of, but dang, was it hot.
She reached up and readjusted her scarf and then fanned the back of her neck. It was barely six a.m. here, but the sun was already blazing, and the people in front of her were moving like they were still asleep. Justice was too excited to be annoyed or tired. It had taken her three planes and almost twenty-four hours to get here. When she first saw the agenda, she’d shuddered at the carbon footprint of such a flight, but they had assured her that everything was offset. More than offset, even, which was just one of the reasons she knew this trip was going to be worth it. Honestly, she would have taken the trip even if there wasn’t a carbon offset. She needed this trip. This was the farthest from home she’d ever been, and that was what Justice wanted more than anything right now. To be far from home.
She had at least a few hours before her parents realized where she’d gone. By then, her father could threaten to ground her or take away her car, or demand she come home, and all for naught, because she’d be safely out of reach, on a private island where there were no flights in or out. It was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and when Justice returned after her week in paradise, even her uptight parents would see that traveling to Unknown Island was the best thing she could have done for her future.
The line was finally moving, and Justice made her way down the stairs and onto the runway, heat radiating off the pavement in waves. She stepped to the side, set her suitcase down, and pulled out the handle, then headed into the airport. She’d expected it to be air-conditioned, and was surprised when she walked through the doors and found the inside even wetter, and stickier, than outside. This realization made her smile, and laugh at herself a little. She could be such an American sometimes, thinking that everything should be comfortable and convenient, a Starbucks on every corner and a UPS truck on every street.
She was going to have to get used to this. If she was going to be an environmentalist like she wanted, she would be spending a lot of time in the third world. Wait, was this the third world? Probably not, because even with the lack of air-conditioning, the airport was pretty nice.
Justice forced herself to ignore her phone, which was tucked in the pocket of her carry-on bag. She’d kept it off all through her last layover, resisting the urge to check it while going through customs and passport control. Looking at her phone was exciting but also kind of scary.
She found the bathroom, peed, washed her hands, and soaked her red headscarf before retying it, which made her feel a little cooler. She’d managed to sleep a little on the flight, so she wasn’t too exhausted, but she could still tell that her body was confused by the time change and wasn’t sure if it wanted to eat, go for a run, or pass out. Back out of the bathroom, she wheeled her suitcase over to an empty chair in a waiting area, plopped down, took a big drink of water from her Hydro Flask, and then, only then, did she allow herself to check her phone.
The invitation had come a couple of months ago: an all-expenses-paid trip to Unknown Island, a high-profile, exclusive tropical resort. Rachel, the publicist Justice had talked to, had explained that Unknown Island represented a new kind of travel, one that let travelers avoid crowds and meet and mingle with curated strangers instead. Justice was invited to be part of the inaugural group, a tight selection of ten next-generation influencers. The tagline was grandiose and boldThe future of humanity meets the future of traveland Justice hated to admit it, but she felt pretty honored to be included.
Unknown Island had picked her because they thought that she, especially, could help demonstrate how serious they were about sustainability and ecotourism. Justice had sent Rachel a list of content ideas, and the publicist had loved all of them, even telling her that they hoped this would be the start of a long-term partnership. Justice hoped so too, because that might be the exact kind of thing to get her off Harvard’s waitlist.
And then, of course, her parents said no.
“You’re seventeen,” her mother said. “There’s no way you’re flying three-quarters of the way around the world by yourself to go to some island with a bunch of strangers.” Justice had tried to be mature about it and hadn’t pointed out that if she was flying three-quarters of the way around the world, then she was only one-quarter of the world away.
But her parents wouldn’t hear her out. They refused to discuss it after that, refused to listen to her arguments, refused to get on the phone with Rachel to get all the details about what an incredible opportunity this was for Justice. She could feel Harvard slipping even further away, so when Rachel sent the waiver for her parents to sign, Justice signed it herself and sent it back. No doubt her parents had forgotten about the whole thing weeks ago, but she still held her breath as she turned her phone back on, waited for it to come to life, and then connected to the airport’s free Wi-Fi.
She relaxed when she saw she had nothing from her parents, who thought she was at Nicole’s for the weekend. But then her phone started buzzing and didn’t stop. The notifications came fast and furious, and Justice watched, amazed, each new one making her heart pound a little faster.
Though it hadn’t even opened yet, Unknown Island already had millions of followers. It had followed no one on its social media accounts until the day before this first trip, when it started following its first ten guests. In the short amount of time since, Justice had gained more followers than she could count, and the last two things she did before getting on the plane to come was post a video about Unknown Island, just as she had been instructed. And block her parents.
People were loving it. The video had already gotten more comments than anything Justice had ever posted before. There was a fair amount of hate, of coursepeople calling her a hypocrite, saying that this kind of travel was wasteful and environmentally disrespectfulbut there were also a ton of people cheering her on, saying she deserved this trip, or that they were jealous. That was the majority of the comments, people saying they were jealous. Everyone knew Unknown Island, because who in the world didn’t want a free vacation? And part of what had gotten the world’s attention about Unknown Island was that it was always going to be free. That was one of its biggest hooks. Exclusive, curated groups of guests, all picked because they had something to offer the other guests, and the world. No one knew who owned Unknown Island, and when Justice had asked Rachel about it, she refused to answer. “A billionaire philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous,” she had said. Maybe Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, Justice thought, but she hadn’t pressed the issue for fear she might cross a line and get herself uninvited.
Justice stood up, looked around, and tucked her phone back into her pocket. This was a life-changing opportunity, and she needed a life change. She went to go find her ride.
Manny de la Cruz had been hoping for a private jet. He’d only been on a PJ once, and he was about one #tbt post away from looking like a loser desperately mining the past. But it wasn’t that big a deal, and who was he kidding? First class was still first class.
He had friends who’d never even been on a plane. Plus, he’d taken a good pic of his Air Max 90s peeking out from underneath a first-class comforter. It wasn’t too braggy, he thought. It just looked like he was trying to document his new kicks, and no one but the old man sitting next to him knew that Manny had spent five minutes arranging the comforter to make sure the airline logo was visible.
But a helicopter, that was cool. Probably even cooler than a Gulfstream. When the car turned in the gate, he saw the chopper sitting on the landing pad and felt a wave of excitement wash over him. The whole thing made him feel like a kingpin or an action hero. The driver got out and opened the door for him, then got his bag out of the trunk and set it on the ground next to his feet.
“Thanks, man,” Manny said. “Appreciate it.” He held out a crisp ten-dollar bill, folded in half lengthwise, and the driver smiled as he took it.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “Have a good trip.”
Within seconds of getting out of the car, Manny started to sweat. He took a bandanna out of his back pocket and lifted his ball cap to wipe the sweat from his forehead. Coming from Miami, Manny was used to the heat, but he was still dressed for the plane in socks and jeans and a hoodie. He quickly pulled the hoodie off and stuffed it in his backpack. The heat reminded him of trips to visit his mom’s family on the islands, even though this was like no island he’d ever been to before.
He started to walk across the helipad, and with each step, he felt some of the adrenaline leave his body. He’d spent the past twenty hours looking over his shoulder, scoping everyone out, expecting, at any second, for someone to come up behind him, grab his arm, and say, “Sir, you need to come with us.” Fuck. The stress of this trip alone had probably taken three years off his life, but it was going to be worth it. He hoped this trip would put him over the edge, be the thing that made it so that he could leave all that other shit behind for good.
The Unknown Island rep he’d talked to had never explicitly told him what to do, but the hints she’d dropped were hard and heavy. “Listen,” Lindsey had said, “I’ve got a lot of friends in Miami, and everyone says you’re a good guy to have around. We need someone like you on this trip to make sure everyone has everything they need to have a good time.” Of course. It had all made sense then.
Lindsey assured him, several times, that security and customs weren’t going to be a problem, and she’d been right. Manny thought he might throw up in front of the TSA agents, but they’d been too busy talking about someone who took extra-long lunch breaks to give him more than a glance. As for customs, he hadn’t even seen any agents. He’d only talked to Lindsey on the phone, but she’d been crisp and competent, and it wasn’t until Manny was on his way here that he realized he’d never asked who her friends in Miami were.
From the beginning, he found it kind of weird that he was given one of only ten slots on this high-profile trip, but he guessed it made sense enough from the outside. Manny had built up a decent following over the years, between his music and the people he knew, even though being publicly famous meant nothing when he wanted to be a producer. For a producer, he always told himself, it was all about how many followers your followers had, and the comments section on Manny’s posts were always littered with blue check marks.
True, none of those people had asked him for a beat or to collab, but he knew that these things took time. And after it had been announced that he was coming on this trip, his DMs had filled up with people wanting to book him to play parties, or telling Manny to hit them up when he got back. He planned to do just that, and more. Forget waiting for people to ask for a track. He was going to start sending them.
If he was being honest, the Unknown Island guest list had been a real disappointment, a bigger letdown than the lack of a Gulfstream. He was the only musician. But that was all part of Unknown’s deal, apparently: it was designed to get you mixing with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet. And he did like the ratio: four guys, six girls, two of whom were definitely hot. One was a rich party girl from LA, and the other was Frankie Russh. Maybe she counted as a musician?
Frankie was a dancer with a massive following, and there’d been rumors of her working on an album, but Manny didn’t hold out hope that she would be anyone he wanted to collab with. Girls like that were always working on an album, even though he had no idea how you “worked on an album” when you didn’t write songs, sing, play an instrument, or make music.
Manny made his way to the only shade in sight, a few sheltered picnic tables on the other side of the blazing concrete. There were already four people sitting there: a tan, blond girl in heels and a short dress who was fanning herself with two magazines; another girl, who appeared to be asleep; and two othersalso girlswho were staring at their phones. There was no one else in the vicinity. As Manny walked toward them, he noted that there was no place for him to duck behind and change out of his jeans. He should have done it at the airport, taken a few minutes to clean himself up, but he’d been so anxious to get out of there he hadn’t even stopped to use the bathroom.