Just as the conventionally attractive couple locks eyes, igniting a passion that burns with the fury of a thousand supernovas, “I’m a Believer” begins to play. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive couple skipping through an idyllic meadow, chuckling as they pursue a yellow butterfly. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman massaging the man’s shoulders as he steps up to a carnival booth. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man ensnaring a bottle and bestowing a massive plush bear upon the woman. / Cut to a crane shot of the conventionally attractive couple breaking out in a meticulously choreographed dance routine in a public square, compelling onlookers to toss aside their belongings and join in. / Cut to the couple locking lips in the eye of a hurricane, too absorbed in one another to notice the debris swirling around them. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman helping the man’s mother plant a row of tiger lilies in her garden. / Cut to the man toasting a beer with his father, who nods approvingly from his lawn chair. / Cut to a tracking shot of the conventionally attractive couple trailing a real estate agent through a cozy, cottage-style home. / Cut to the couple assuming the missionary position in their new bedroom. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man balanced atop a two-story ladder, hanging Christmas lights. The backing track skips as the conventionally attractive woman rocks the ladder, cackling maniacally. / Cut to a close-up of the man cautiously climbing down, pale-faced. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman ambling into the man’s study. Even as she insistently kisses the back of his neck, he remains fixated on pinning a green butterfly. Zoom out and pan over his boundless menagerie—wings of magenta, indigo, chartreuse, fuchsia, etc.—trapped in eternal flight. / Cut to a reaction shot of the woman rolling her eyes and tossing a baby blue specimen to the floor. / Cut to the conventionally attractive couple holding hands atop a white tablecloth. The candlelight throws shadows into the woman’s cavernous eye sockets. / Cut to the man strolling to the bathroom, leaving his phone facedown on the table. / Cut to a closeup of the phone, faceup, as he returns to his seat. / Cut to the conventionally attractive couple locked in unremarkable coitus. / Cut to a Dutch angle shot of the conventionally attractive woman placing a box cutter in the man’s hand. Zoom in on her blissful expression as she guides the blade into the tender flesh of her ribcage. The backing vocals in “I’m a Believer” erupt into shrieks as a single drop of blood crashes onto their pristine, white bedsheets. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man gagging as his father carves the Thanksgiving turkey. Pan to the woman passed out, a pair of empty wine bottles before her. / Cut to a shadowy shot of the conventionally attractive man drawing the blinds of his study, plugging earbuds into his phone, and dipping his hand in Vaseline. / Cut to a low angle shot of the woman slamming her fist against the door, nostrils flaring. / Cut to a high angle shot of the man fumbling to wipe the Vaseline from his fingertips, frantic expression illuminated by his phone screen. / Cut to a Dutch angle shot of the conventionally attractive man, again, pressing the box cutter to the conventionally attractive woman’s ribcage. / Cut to a closeup of the woman grasping his trembling hand and hungrily forcing the blade deeper. A crimson rivulet oozes forth, gleaming in a flash of lightning. The backing track slows to half-speed, perverting the singer’s voice into a nightmarish baritone. / Cut to a closeup of the woman’s eyes rolling back into her skull like a euphoric junkie. Pan over the legion of purple scars, crisscrossing her abdomen. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man answering his phone and making a “whoa, slow down” hand gesture. / Cut to the man’s mother, on the other end of the line, breaking down into sobs. Zoom out over her garden, viciously choked out by the tiger lilies. Continue zooming out until the mother is a pixilated speck in a fiery orange jungle. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive man writing in the jaundiced glow of the moon. The wings of his specimens drench the room in mournful shadows. / Cut to a quick closeup of the phrases “something missing,” and “dying spark” penned in impeccable cursive. / Cut to a longer-lasting closeup of “what is broken is broken.” / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman slumbering in their bedroom. The man tiptoes into the shot. He sets the letter on her nightstand, looking her over. Her chest rises and falls in a delicate rhythm, expression lost in some blissful dreamscape. Grimacing, the man snatches the letter and tucks it back into his pocket. / Cut to a closeup of the woman shooting one eye open as he slinks out of the room. / Cut to the conventionally attractive man cinched in the woman’s embrace. Pan behind his back to reveal a pregnancy test clasped in the woman’s hand. / Cut to a nurse lathering gel on the woman’s stomach. Pan to the man and zoom in on his bloodless face, as the backing track’s vocals skip “I couldn’t leave her—I couldn’t leave her—I couldn’t leave her—” / Cut to the conventionally attractive man stumbling into the house late one night, visibly drunk. As he chucks leftovers into the microwave, he spots his office door ajar. / Cut to a high angle shot of the man collapsing to his knees. Pan over the man’s butterflies strewn across the office floor, mutilated beyond recognition. Keep panning to convey the sheer scale of the decimation—several carcasses have been decapitated, others de-winged, and a choice few stomped into a pulp. The man’s letter lies at the center of it all, ripped to shreds. “I’m a Believer” cuts off. / Now, in silence, cut to the man slamming his fists against the bathroom door. / Cut to the conventionally attractive woman slumped naked in the bathtub, legs spread. / Cut back to the man repeatedly throwing his shoulder into the door, until he collapses. / Cut to a closeup of the woman unraveling a coat hanger. / Cut back to a closeup of the man, unleashing an anguished shriek that causes the projector to sputter maniacally, machine-gunning an incomprehensible blur of frames. / Wait for a moment as white engulfs the screen—an immaculate, all-consuming white, like the first glimpse of daylight from the womb. / Pan across a wine-dark sea, catching faint glimmers of moonlight. / Continue panning until the beach comes into view. And then the crackling tongues of flame. / Zoom out slowly, deliberately over the flames. Give the viewer a sense of their breadth—their sprawling, football-field breadth. / Stop zooming when the conventionally attractive man and the conventionally attractive woman come into view on the left and right side of the flames, respectively. The woman’s stomach is flat. / Cut to a medium shot of the man, face contorted in a constipated grimace. Several other conventionally attractive couples line the frame behind him, doling out shoulder rubs, we’re-here-for-you’s, and other gestures of support. / Cut to a closeup of the woman, shot through the fire. Between red and orange undulations she can be seen gritting her teeth, the cords in her neck springing forth. A single tear trickles from her left eye as she charges forward. / Alternate between closeups of the conventionally attractive woman and man. In each of these shots, the woman grows more agonized, her shrieks of pain piercing the night like daggers, growing incrementally sharper. The man, meanwhile, becomes increasingly distraught, until the couples must band together and restrain him from dashing headlong into the flames. / Cut to a long shot of the conventionally attractive woman emerging before the conventionally attractive man, unscathed. The couples release the man from their grasp. He doesn’t say anything. He stares teary-eyed at the woman, nostrils oozing discharge, lower lip trembling like a child’s. The woman bows her head, awaiting his judgment. Let the shot marinate for several moments. / Pan across the faces of the crowd, each more spellbound than the last. / Cut back to that same long shot of the conventionally attractive man and woman. At last, the man rushes forward. The instant he embraces the woman, “I’m a Believer” comes crashing back through the speakers, undistorted, in a triumphant tidal wave. / Cut back to the crowd, hysterically applauding and hooting and whistling (with one man even pantomiming ass slapping). / Cut to a long shot of the sugary beach, the conquered flames, the jubilant crowd, the man hoisting the woman above his head and twirling her in a spasm of joy—capture it all. Hold that same long shot as fireworks crackle through the sky, their blue and yellow shrapnel cascading down in the shape of butterfly wings. / Roll the credits. / At the conclusion of the credits, cut back to the conventionally attractive man, still twirling the woman counterclockwise. / Zoom in on the woman’s back pocket, until a slender white tube comes into view. Draw into focus the words emblazoned on the tube: Lidocaine Topical Numbing Cream.
Derek Andersen is an Illinois Wesleyan alum, working as a copywriter in Chicago. His poems and stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Riggwelter, Ghost Parachute, Shirley Magazine, and on WinningWriters.com. You can follow him @DerekJAnd.