“Are you going to the Butterfly Party tonight, Kari? I must have missed your RSVP.” Shannon was shameless, as usual. “You are coming, right? It’s going to change your life.”
“Oh!” I straightened in my seat, internally screaming. “Of course I’m coming! I’m sorry, I thought I responded already.” I hadn’t thought that. I’d just hoped she wouldn’t notice. All of Shannon’s parties were a sales pitch to some sort of Multi-Level Marketing Pyramid scheme. The company and products changed every few months, but the sales pitch stayed the same: these products will change your life!
There’s nothing worse than an #bossbabe who is also your boss. No matter what ridiculous program Shannon got wrapped up in, she had subordinates who couldn’t tell her no. I was no exception. The mass text she’d sent last week had been a barely-decipherable block of emojis and buzz words. I couldn’t even tell what the product was, but it didn’t really matter. Technically, she couldn’t force us to go… but people who didn’t tended to work Saturdays.
“Great! Don’t forget to bring a swimsuit!” I had a feeling she knew exactly how unenthusiastic everyone was, she just didn’t care. Julie and I exchanged mutual looks of amusement and defeat as Shannon flounced on by.
Once the boss was out of earshot, Richie walked over to my desk, delighted to announce that he hadn’t been invited. “Looks like this one is ladies only.” he said sympathetically. At least, he was trying to look sympathetic. He was too giddy, having dodged the bullet himself!
“You weren’t invited?” I asked. “I mean, even if it’s makeup or something she’s usually like ‘oh, pick something out for your girlfriend’!”
“I mean, I’m not going to ask why not. She’d probably invite me.” he laughed, unable to help himself.
“I’ll ask her then!” I threatened, though we both knew I wouldn’t. He raised his hands in mock surrender. I was annoyed, but not at him.
“Oh no please don’t–”
“.. Oh no.” Julie interrupted, covering her face. She’d gone beet red. It took me a moment to realize why.
“Oh no.” I echoed.
“What?” Richie asked, not catching on. I turned red too. If men weren’t invited, that probably meant this was going to be a sales pitch of an intimate nature. Not again! I still couldn’t look at Agnes the same way after hearing her happily endorse her vibrating purchase. No thank you. Agnes had always been an irredeemable brown noser but she’d hit new lows that day.
“Now I kind of want to come.” Richie admitted, grinning. “Especially since I heard the part about the swimsuits.”
“Ugh, shut up.” I groaned, horrified. He gave a salute before going to bother someone else. The rest of that shift was a dreadful blur; I hated my job, but hated the idea of Shannon’s party even more. There had to be a better way to spend a Friday night, but Shannon couldn’t be blown off without serious professional repercussions.
Her parties usually took place in her living room, the Butterfly Party was no exception. When I walked in with Julie, our fears were confirmed: the windows were covered and the lights were dimmed. The furniture was covered in plastic.
On the coffee table, I saw the usual vegetable tray and a selection of gas station wines. It didn’t look like enough wine. Agnes was already on her second glass… if the wine stain on her blouse was any indication.
Our host was arranging things on a small covered table, little bottles and purple pouches of whatever product she was peddling. The room smelled like flowers, probably an essential oil from her last “business” venture.
“I’m glad everyone could make it.” Shannon said, “I know I say this every time, but… this product is going to change your life.” There were four of us sitting on the sectional in silence; Julie, Agnes, Cindy, and myself. Only Agnes clapped her hands together, somehow managing to muster up the enthusiasm everyone else lacked.
“So, you might have noticed that this party is ladies only.” she continued. Julie and I exchanged looks again. Yes, we’d noticed. The plastic-covered furniture, blocked windows and dark room hadn’t exactly been reassuring.
“It’s not what you think, I promise. I learned my lesson.” our boss laughed. “I wanted to give all the ladies in the office a spa day to show my appreciation. The first time is free! I have enough product for everyone to try before buying. Plus, I thought it would be a good team-building experience. Did everyone remember to bring a swimsuit? I have a couple extras if anyone needs to borrow one.”
I was wearing a bikini under my clothes, though it was definitely out of season and I was feeling bloated and fat. Still, like everyone else, I went along with whatever Shannon said. Body issues aside, I felt relieved. I didn’t really mind trying out new beauty or skincare products. Usually I’d buy whatever was cheapest out of the catalog and call it a day.
“Alright, suit up and pair up!” Shannon smiled, excited. “It’s easier to apply the product with a partner. This is a full-body treatment.” Naturally, Julie and I were a team since we were already friends. Everyone stripped down to their swimsuits awkwardly. I was horrified to be the only one in a bikini. I don’t know what I’d been thinking.
“It’s a bit messy, but don’t worry. That’s what the plastic is for! Don’t worry about the floors either, I’ll mop up after.” Shannon assured us. “We’re going to do Chrysalis Beauty Wraps by Butterfly Beauty and transform ourselves. I hope you’re excited, I know I am. The first step? Exfoliation!”
A large tub of what looked like dirty sugar went around the room. Each of us were instructed to scoop up generous handfuls of the stuff to ‘prime’ our skin, rubbing ourselves raw with the coarse scrub.
“This is a nourishing sugar scrub made with organic fair trade sugar crystals.” Shannon explained. “This one has a lovely hibiscus-rose scent. What do you think, Kari?”
“… It’s nice.” I answered awkwardly, though to me it seemed like a sticky, smelly mess. I knew better than to be honest. “Does this have coconut oil in it?” I pretended I was interested, and she nodded enthusiastically before moving on to Cindy.
“Don’t forget your elbows, hon.” Shannon chirped, “Get under the suit too. No need to be shy. It’s just us ladies today!” she prowled around the room, giving tips in a syrupy voice. “Scrub in a circular motion.”
Once she was satisfied with our scrubbing, she brought out a bottle of amber gel. “This is Butterfly Beauty’s Hot Honey Activating Gel. It stimulates your metabolism, tightens your skin, and encourages sweating. The best part is that it also prevents fat buildup in the subcutaneous layers of your skin. This product makes your beach body goals attainable all year long!”
We were each handed our own “deluxe” sample. I didn’t believe the sales pitch but dutifully began smearing it all over. It was greasy rather than sticky. I’d expected it to be honey thanks to the color, but it wasn’t. Shannon was talking about the ingredients, but I wasn’t really listening. As I smudged the stuff over my arms… it stung, and began to burn!
“The tingle only lasts a moment.” Shannon assured us. “Push through it, hon! It will be SO worth it.”
Tingle my ass! It hurt! I glanced around the room, the pale faces contorted in pain confirmed that I wasn’t the only one who was suffering. I was starting to sweat too; an itchy sensation prickling everywhere the product made contact. I opted not to lather up under my bikini, despite Shannon’s urging. Fortunately, she was too busy paying attention to everyone else to notice I hadn’t.
It was an awkward dance of coworkers shimmying around on the floor and furniture, sticking their hands down their suits and trying to maneuver while maintaining some shred of modesty. Julie and I rubbed the stuff on each other’s back reluctantly, that persistent burning itch instantly flaring.
This was not the relaxing spa day Shannon had promised. I noticed that she wasn’t participating either, just passing the products around and making sure we used them. I glared at her, but when she caught my gaze I quickly looked away.
“Relief is coming, ladies!” she assured us. “Two more steps, but this will probably be your favorite part.” she picked up a bundle of purple silk pouches, passing one to each of us. Inside was a sweet-smelling mix of dried flowers, shredded coconut, and some sort of shimmery powder. It was iridescent and pretty, like it belonged in a bowl on the mantle.
“Press this into your skin. Every inch! The activating gel will make it stick.” I scooped some up in my palm, feeling an instant cooling relief. The pain stopped, though a numb tingle remained. “This is Butterfly Beauty’s Butterfly Wing Potpourri Powder.” she explained, “This nourishing mix will not only perfect your skin, it also has stress-relieving properties.”
To be fair, the pain going away did in fact relieve my stress. A ripple of sighs filled the room.
“Don’t crush it, use a gentle pressure.” Shannon instructed, pacing around the room. I sprinkled it on my arms, my stomach, my chest, my legs… pressed the gritty, soft mix onto the greasy mess, and let the relief wash over me. Agnes had abandoned her swimsuit altogether, though she was covered in too much product for the look to be explicitly offensive.
“I could roll in this stuff!” Julie told me. We got each other’s backs. Of course, the relieving effect only mattered in the places I’d put the gel. It felt dry and crunchy otherwise! I couldn’t wait to take a shower and get the messy slop off of me. Whatever this product was, I wasn’t buying it.
While everyone ooh’d and ah’d from relief and started going for their wine glasses, our boss prepared green sheets to complete the wrap. She called them Butterfly Beauty’s Cocoon Complexion Caressing Sheets. After downing more wine, we took turns wrapping each other in the chalky, clay-like squares. I wrapped Julia in the stuff and she wrapped me. Shannon said it was some kind of organic dead sea kelp saran wrap, which didn’t even make sense. I wasn’t in the business of arguing with her though, I was just relieved we were almost done.
We were instructed to get comfortable, and we spread out on the furniture while Shannon turned on what she claimed were infrared lights. The room was colored with red light, and we all began to sweat again under the wraps.
Weirdly, the sheets seemed to tighten up and harden. It began to get a little hard to move. The longer we sat, the tighter and harder it became. Getting nervous, I flexed my muscles and twisted in my body in an attempt to loosen the wrap… It didn’t work.
“Just relax, Kari. Even a worm like you can be a butterfly.” Shannon purred, her voice still syrupy sweet.
“You heard me. You think I don’t know the way you bitches complain about me. The looks you give each other when I invite you to my parties? I don’t even need to sell products. I make good money already. I just wanted to experience … sisterhood! Friendship! To live my best life. All of you…” she pointed a finger at each of us in turn. “All of you want to be miserable. Well, I’m not going to let you.”
I tried to stand up, but nearly toppled over. I couldn’t move my joints at all. The only parts of us not covered were our heads!
“I’m a good boss. I’m your friend.” Shannon continued, “I found this company. This transformative product… and they promised it would change everything. That you’d all thank me, and mean it.”
“Shannon, I can’t move….” Agnes whined. “I’ve always liked your parties, but maybe I’m allergic to something in this?”
“No, that just means it’s working. It’s organic! You can’t be allergic.” Shannon said dismissively. “Sit tight, ladies! It’ll take a few hours, please try to relax. I rented some good movies to watch while we wait.” she popped in some romcom, but I was far too busy freaking out to even notice what it was.
I struggled to get up; my knees couldn’t bend but I was still able to shift my weight and flail to my feet somehow. It didn’t matter because I couldn’t keep my balance– I fell forward, crashing into the coffee table. Wine bottles shattered, vegetables went rolling to the floor, and I was left groaning. I wasn’t seriously hurt. I felt like I was wearing a full-body helmet!
“See what you did? Ugh. Good thing you’re thin or I’d make you stay there…” Shannon yanked me off the table, inelegantly shoving me back onto the couch. “Now stay put. Hopefully it still works, but I’m not responsible if it doesn’t!”
“Don’t touch me you Stepfordwife-looking bitch!” I screamed back, though my voice came off a little more shrill than intended. Shannon smiled at me, apparently deciding I was all bark and no bite. Probably because I couldn’t move.
“Hold on, let me get you fixed up, hon.”
There were cracks in the hardened shell that encased my arms, but it wasn’t enough to break free. I still couldn’t bend my limbs, but now I had a glimpse of mottled skin through the splits; I was blistered and discolored, that burning itch erupting visibly, a screaming red rash that even made my follicles quiver.
The pain faded when my boss brought over a fresh Cocoon sheet, wrapping my arm and covering the cracks. She patted my shoulder, then pulled away from me. I heard her take a few deep breaths, count slowly back from ten… then fix the smile back on her face as she turned back towards us.
“Sorry, I’m not sure where the outbursts came from. I’m not trying to scare you or anything. This is a good product, it’s just not like anything you’ve ever tried before. It’s a little uncomfortable now, but it’ll be worth it.”
“… Have you used it?” Julie asked, her breathing was a little strained.
“No.” Shannon admitted, “Not yet. The company said it was best to wait. Besides, it’s a two person job at least and I need to get each of you through the transformation first.”
“What do you mean transformation? This doesn’t seem like any wrap I’ve ever had before. I don’t like it.” Julie replied. “It’s getting harder to breathe. Please get it off me.”
“This is a meditative beauty experience. Relax. Give into it; shed your cynicism. Let the Chrysalis Beauty Wrap by Butterfly Beauty pull out the toxins and rejuvenate your skin. You’ll have a flawless complexion and a new outlook in no time!”
The sales pitches never ended with Shannon, even when we were a captive audience. Yet she wondered why we didn’t like her?
“I don’t care, please take it off… please…I’ll work every Saturday for the next six months. Please.” Julie begged, her voice breaking off into sobs. We’d always hated MLM parties, but the Butterfly Party was on a whole new level.
“Julie, you’re not being a team player right now. I wish you’d give this a chance and stop lowering morale.” I never liked Shannon, but this was going too far even for her. Instead of admitting this party was yet another bust in a long line of failed ventures… she was doubling down.
My skin crawled. I wasn’t in pain, but I was sure I could feel a squirming and burrowing sensation everywhere the activating gel had touched. The itch started to come back, but as much as I wanted to… it was impossible to scratch. I couldn’t move my arms, let alone chip away the glistening jade chrysalis. I wanted to curl into a ball and claw at my screaming epidermis, but I was frozen. My whole body was an itch I couldn’t scratch… and that feeling didn’t go away for hours. It had to have been hours, right?
A sensation like static filled my limbs. Unable to move, it was like my entire body fell asleep but my mind was awake. The sounds around me were muffled and indistinct; if my coworkers or boss were talking, I couldn’t hear them. The light of the room tunnelled into a tiny red pinprick in a field of black.
I screamed. Sharp pains erupted all over my body, like a needle probing every pore. My limbs tried to spasm, but I still couldn’t move. By some miracle, tiny fissures rippled across the green… cracking the tough prison enough that I felt some of the pressure release. The wrappings began to crumble, falling away in gooey clumps.
Freedom washed over me like a summer breeze, but the feeling didn’t last. My skin began to bubble, twitch and even… tickle. I looked down at my arms and saw fluttering flaps of skin. It took me a moment to realize they were wings; thousands of wings, red and fleshy things. Tiny butterflies. Too many to count.
I watched with repulsed fascination and terror as they emerged from blister cocoons– they chewed through my skin, widening my pores and leaving me full of holes. They seemed to erupt all at once, taking flight on glossy wet wings with a spray of my own blood.
The pain was excruciating, but I was the only one who was screaming. There was something wrong about that; my bloodshot eyes swiveled around the room. Clouds of bloody butterflies were joining together, ripping out of their hosts. Out of Julie, Agnes, Cindy and I.
But my coworkers weren’t moving, they were perfectly still. They were smiling, though tears were in their eyes… they just stood there and let it happen– not that there was anything they could do to stop it. I understood then, in some unknowable way… the “transformation” hadn’t worked on me as intended. I still had control of my body and mind, but I sensed intrusive thoughts and impulses that weren’t mine.
Shannon was crying. Whatever she’d expected, it wasn’t this. Life as we knew it was over. I should have been dead, but I wasn’t; I was riddled with holes and gushing blood, but that didn’t seem important anymore.
“I’m so sorry!” she sobbed, “I didn’t know!” blah blah blah, I stopped listening. I didn’t care what she had to say. I picked up my clothes from by the door; I wasn’t feeling confident enough to keep rocking the bloody bikini. Not until the holes healed up, at least.
The cloud of butterflies split in two; one hung around me. I knew they were mine. The others started beating themselves against a window– at least until Agnes walked over and opened it for them. My coworkers weren’t themselves anymore, acting on the will of something else; a fate I was exempt from. It was a shame; though their mouths weren’t moving, I could feel their screams.
Their bodies were moving, but they weren’t in control of them anymore. They were drones, but I was a Queen. I’m not sure if something went wrong or something went right, but I’m not going to argue with the results. Do you know how many MLMs promise you’ll be your own boss? I didn’t expect it to be true. Success is the exception, not the rule.
“Kari, what happened? I don’t know what happened.”
“Of course you know, Shannon. It’s exactly as you said.” she’d promised a transformation. She promised a lot of things, but this was the first time she’d delivered. I walked over to the bloodstained table and picked up the tub of Butterfly Beauty’s Softening Sweet Fair Trade Organic Sugar Scrub.
I turned back to my former boss, smiling. I wouldn’t give her the sales pitch, but I’d treat her to a free demonstration of my new product line.
“The first step? Exfoliation!”
I’m going to throw a Butterfly Party just for her. What better way to start my own downline?