CHAPTER THREE: THE COSMIC SNEEZE EFFECT

Notes from Moni-chan: This was originally written as a short story for a creative writing class and the rest sort of sprang up around it, so it's a little longer than the other chapters, but hopefully just as funny! Enjoy!

My boyfriend is a firm believer in the cosmic sneeze effect. That means anyone, anywhere, with any kind of supernatural powers can at any time lose control of them. What he means is that just because Clark Kent isn't wearing his red and blue spandex suit doesn't mean he isn't the Man of Steel in a Armani business suit. If a car hit him, wouldn't everyone find out he's really Superman? I suppose that's why you never hear about it.

            I've always been a little different from everyone else. My mother thinks I'm just special. No really, she does. But I know that I'm different. I've made stuff appear… and disappear, and gave that priss Victoria a bad hair day! (That's in past now.) Call it what you will, magic, concidence, a gift from God, but whatever it is, it makes me different.

            My boyfriend is crazy about it; probably crazier about it than about me. Oh well. He's always asking, "Kat, make a cheeseburger appear." I can only manage lettuce and tomatoes. Oh well again.

            Back to the original subject, he's always talking about the "cosmic sneeze." I'm always arguing that it will never happen.

            "Kat," he said to me the other day, "You know you could cosmic sneeze right now and poof! The White House would disappear!"

            I rolled my eyes and took a bite of my sandwich, "Look, Dave, I'm not going to cosmic sneeze. But if I do, I promise I'll turn your junker into a new performance red Camaro."

            He grabbed me by the shoulders, "Sneeze! Sneeze!"

            I did. He got snot on his shirt and his car remained a junker.

            Regardless of the fact that I believed it would never happen, Dave made it a point to mention it at least five times a day. Even on dates he didn't give it a rest. I probably should have dumped him for being annoying, but knowing my dear old Dave, he'd bother me about it anyway.

            So, a few hours ago, he took me out to a concert hall to see Madame Butterfly. We both have a Japanese fetish, but I know he was treating me because he despises opera and classical music. I think I ought to let you know there's one thing that drives me insane. Okay, there are two. Okay, there's a lot, but the rest aren't important. One is extremely noisy crowds; the other is cheap perfume. Both happened to be present the night we went out.

            We were pushing our way into the surprisingly crowded concert hall and the other people there were loud. REALLY LOUD. Maybe everything seemed louder because of the splitting headache I acquired from standing behind a fat old lady who seemed to have just taken a bath in fat old lady perfume. Anyhow, my head was spinning as the usher directed us to our seats. It was a good relief to sit and allow my head to clear.

            I took a few cleansing breaths, but my relief was temporary as the same old lady plopped down in the row in front of us. I groaned quietly and endured it. I'm certain that I would have enjoyed the show much more if my head hadn't been reeling.

            I don't remember many details after the show other than the furious pounding in my head and noise. The constant brutal assault of noise! Human voices and cars and machines but mostly talking. I took three Tylenol and it didn't help. We went back to his apartment and opened all the windows so I could air out, but my head was still full of noise and cheap perfume.  I wish people would just shut up. My thought echoed in my head and my nose tickled. I wish people would just shut up! My chest was filled with warmth. I felt Dave distantly playing with my hair, quietly telling me to not throw up on his bedspread. I wish people would just shut up… except Dave. My head was a whirlwind.

            I sat up, feeling queasier than before. "Dave, I wanna go home."

            He helped me up and lead me out to the car. I buckled myself in, furiously hating loud crowds and stinky perfume. He touched my hand and smiled at me apologetically.

            "I'm sorry your time tonight sucked. I'll make it up to you." He winked for emphasis.

            I had to smile. "Thanks, Dave. I'm sorry too…" My nose tickled again. "Hold on I'm gonna sneeze."

            I saw Dave close his eyes and whisper, "Red Camaro, red Camaro!"

            The lighted turned green. I let a full sneeze rip and I didn't bother to cover it. The car shook as if it had been struck by a shockwave.  Suddenly I felt very relieved.

            "Gross. You got saliva all over my windshield." Dave complained in a voice barely above a whisper.

            "Sorry, Dave. Uh, you don't have to whisper."

            He looked at me with wide eyes, "I can't help it!"

            I elbowed him, "That's not funny, c'mon!"

            "No really, Kat! I can't! Maybe this is an onset of laryngitis."

            We pulled up in front of my house and I invited him in, worried that I would be the next one to stop talking. It was worse than that!

            I opened the front door and walked in, "Hey, Mom, I'm home! Dave's coming in for a little while."

            There was no answer, in fact the house (which was usually full of six loud people—myself included) was eerily quiet. I walked into the kitchen and looked downstairs. My mom was sitting in front of the TV.

            "Hey, Ma! I brought Dave in!"

            She looked at me; no reply. Okay, I thought, this is weird. "Am I in trouble? We went to the matinee show, it's only six o'clock! It's not like I missed curfew or anything. Oh I know, I forgot to put my clothes away again. I'm sorry." My voice sounded huge in the quiet house. "Mom?"

            This time I went downstairs. My mom looked up at me and moved her lips but nothing came out. She pointed at the TV and mimed that something was wrong with the volume. I turned it up the whole way but the actors in the show were silent.

            My littlest sister walked in the room, listening to a CD on her Walkman. I snatched the headphones and listened to a few bars of Avril Lavigne's "Sk8rboi" without any vocals.

            "Hey squirt," I taunted, "Avril Lavigne sucks and I'm taking your CD player!"  I held it up over my head to prove I wasn't kidding.

            Her face flushed and she jumped for it, missing as her mouth moved angrily but no sound came out. I grinned. The pesky noisemaker was silent too!! She furiously pointed at the CD player in my hands then got her point across by kicking me in the shin. Stop laughing! It's not funny!

            I turned around, finding my boyfriend standing there, dumbfounded. "This disease," he whispered, "is an epidemic!"

            I let out a loud hearty laugh as the realization of what had just occurred hit me like a brick.(Okay, I know the phrase is "like a ton of bricks" but I reserve that for heavy, serious things. This I found very amusing.) "Dave! You got your cosmic sneeze!"

            "Wha…?" He looked at me, then out the window at his car, "Nope, still an '88 Escort."

            I shook my head, "No, remember how I didn't feel well after the concert?"

            "Yeah."

            "And I had a bad headache from the loud talking and the stinky perfume?"

            "Yeah."

            "And I kept thinking about how I wished everyone would just shut up. And then…" I paused, waiting for him to fill in the space.

            He looked at me blankly, "I came down with laryngitis?"

            "No, silly. I sneezed."

            "Oh." He looked thoughtful, "When I said 'Cosmic sneeze' I just meant lose control. I didn't mean sneeze literally. Interesting. So how do we undo it?"

            I shrugged. "Cosmic Un-sneeze? I once turned off a touch lamp with a sneeze."

            His eyes lit up with an idea and he laughed, though it sounded like a bronchial cough. "Hmm. Maybe that's a clue. How did you turn it back on?"

            "I hit the switch."

            "Okay, maybe it's not a clue." He stuck his hands into his pockets and paced the length of the room. I watched him, listening to the whirr and slosh of the dishwasher, the vroom of cars going by, and the quiet, distant twitter of birds. His boots made scrunchy rubber noises, clothing rustled, and the keys in his pockets jingled. If I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could hear my heart beating.

            "I've got it!" He exclaimed, breaking the silence with the volume of a stage whisper,  "you need to sneeze again, and this time wish for noise!"

            That didn't sound too good. "You know I hate loud crowds and noisy places. This silence is so relaxing."

            "Kat!" the stage whisper again, "I don't want to sound like I'm a chronic smoker for the rest of my life!"

            I shrugged, "It's out of my control. I think I'll let the world sit like this for a few weeks."

            "KAT!!" His face flushed a light pink that spread from his neck to his forehead and out to the tips of his ears. Suddenly a light bulb went on and he adopted this adorably sly look. "Kat, if you don't un-sneeze, I am going to be the only person you'll be able to talk with."

            My boyfriend is a great guy, really he is, but the thought of having no alternative to his occasionally one-track banter struck a chord with me.

            "Okay," I replied almost immediately, "We'll figure out how to un-sneeze."

            He nodded. "I knew that would work."

            I shoved my hands instinctively into my pockets, "Here's the thing, I don't know how."

            He looked at me. "You could always try sneezing again, like I said before…"

            I sighed with exasperation, "Oh, Dave… I meant I don't know how to trigger a second sneeze. I mean its not like you can just throw pepper in my face and expect everything to just poof! Go back to normal."

            He grinned ran into the kitchen. I, stupidly curious, followed him. He was fiddling in my spice cabinet. Fearing the worst, I dared to open my big mouth and say, " What are you doing?"

            In his hand was the peppershaker. Oh dear. I saw what was coming and didn't do anything to stop it. The cloud of pepper exploded in my face, burning my eyes, stinging my tongue, and tickling my nose.

            "Dave, I'm gonna…" I paused, feeling the onset of a sneeze, "…kill you!"

            He stood there with a stupid grin, twiddling his thumbs in anticipation while I struggled with the "I'm-going-to-sneeze" feeling. I was gonna get him for this! A hopeful look was plastered on his face as I let out an onslaught of sneezes. The first four cleared the pepper out of my nose. The last one blasted out…and got my revenge. Dave's belt immediately unbuckled and his baggy jeans collapsed around his ankles, revealing a pair of red Hanes boxer-briefs. His face flushed red and he pulled them up instantaneously. I sniffled and wiped my dripping nose.

            "No more throwing spices at me."

            He held up another spice canister, "Not even paprika?"

            "No. No paprika. No oregano. No rosemary, thyme, chili powder, or bay leaves!"

            "But you left out basil, poppy seeds and cinnamon."

            I rolled my eyes, "Come on, we have a problem to solve. We've ruled out pepper--"

            "And a large number of spices," he interjected.

            "So now what?" I asked, raising an eyebrow and waiting for another ludicrous suggestion.

            "You're allergic to my kitty, aren't you?" he inquired, looking dangerously thoughtful again.

            I thought of his adorable black kitten named Shadow. Being around Shadow too much gave me a stuffy head and itchy eyes; it had never made me sneeze. "Yeah I'm allergic."

            He grabbed me by the sleeve, "Let's go visit my kitty."

            I groaned and followed him out to the car. I didn't have a better suggestion and his constant whispering was now getting to me.

            We pulled up in front of his apartment building and took the stairs to the third floor. In his haste he fumbled in his pocket for his house key, dropping candy wrappers and pocket change all over the hallway floor. Finally he gripped his keys but they escaped from his fingers. He went scrambling after them. As I watched him, it felt so out of place to be next to Apartment 21 (which still smelled of alcohol and tobacco) and not hear profanity, the blaring TV and a perpetual argument between Beth and Frank.  Dave broke me from my reverie by finally opening the door.

            "Let's go, Kat. My cat awaits!" He laughed at his own dumb play on words.

            We walked in and he cornered his cat, pulled it into his arms and stuck it in my face. I took the poor petrified cat from him and stroked its soft fur. The cat relaxed but it didn't purr or meow, then got bored with me and leapt out of my arms to pursue something more interesting.

            Dave looked at me with a hopeful grin. "Well?"

            "Well, your cat has never made me sneeze but I won't feel good tomorrow." I sighed. This was staring to look hopeless.

            Dave looked terribly disappointed. He paced again and I watched him like a tennis match. He stopped and scratched the back of his head, looking adorably confused.

            "Wait, Kat, maybe we can go to the perfume counter at a department store and find the perfume that set this whole thing off! Do you think it would work?"

            I felt my sinuses fill and tighten. "Yeah, it's worth a shot."

            So we were off to the mall with me coughing, not sneezing, the whole way. I had half expected to find the mall closed and the world in a state of declared emergency. Then thinking about it, if no one could talk how could an emergency be declared?

            We entered a mall full of silent mass confusion. People were standing around waving their arms, mouths wagging furiously like some cartoon on mute. We bypassed every crowd quickly, moving toward the department store. The lady behind the perfume counter had a flustered expression on her face.

            "Hey!" I called, receiving a shocked look, "don't freak out. I need your help to er… ah…find perfume for my…eh…grandma! It's urgent!"

            The flustered look returned as she tried to communicate. I held up my hands. "Just pull out things you think would suit a…. Um… woman her age."

            The lady nodded happily and pulled out several bottles. I uncapped each one and took a whiff, each increasingly worse, but not the match.

            "Do you have anything else?" She bent behind the counter, there was a clink of glass and three more bottles appeared. I sniffed each one. Ugh. Could it get any more repulsive? Still no matches.

            "Can you try once more?" The lady looked thoughtful then went around to a small cabinet. She pulled out a single pink bottle and mouthed "this."

            With trembling fingers I uncapped the lid and tentatively sprayed the air and sniffed. My head spun and my stomach twisted. Ugh.

            "Dave, that's it."

            "Can you put it on reserve?" He asked, playing along well. The lady nodded and turned around. Then we got the heck out. We stopped by the bathrooms and he grabbed my shoulders.

            "How do you feel?"

            "Like I'm gonna hurl."  He backed up immediately. The place was silent and it bugged me. I hate loud crowds but malls were supposed to be loud… not like this. Dear God, what did I do? My stomach turned and I leaned against the wall, deep breathing to keep my lunch from coming back to haunt me. What a mess…

            "Are you feeling better now? Feel a sneeze coming?"

            I shook my head, "No, but I need to sit down."

            "Come on," he said gently, "Let's go out to the car."

            I sat there, reclining in the worn seat, my vision swimming, but no sneeze coming. "Dave, I think today's outing has only made me sick to my stomach."

            "I like you a lot," He replied, "but please, throw up out the window."

            I closed my eyes and sighed deeply, "It's not gonna happen, Dave. I'm not gonna sneeze again. Maybe it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

            His face fell, "Don't say that." He paused and the silence was deafening. "Hey! Your mistake will boost the Internet market!"

            I had to laugh. He knew exactly how to make me feel better. It only lasted a moment though.

            "Dave, I'm kinda scared," I confessed, "I've never lost control before and I don't know what to do! The world could be stuck on mute forever because of me! ATT, Motorola, Nokia, Cingular, MCI, PS1, Sprint, and Verizon are all going to go out of business because of me! I wish this had never happened."

            My chest filled with warmth and I fought back tears. "I wish this had never happened."

            "Well," Dave chimed in, trying to be helpful, "Couldn't you try something else? Cosmic cough? Cosmic belch? Cosmic fart?"

            A burst of happiness pierced my overwhelming depression. "I am not passing gas for the sake of the universe."

            We laughed then quieted, looking into each other's eyes… lost in the moment…

            Then I sneezed so forcefully that I kept my eyes closed even after it passed. I sniffed then opened my eyes, witnessing Dave wiping his face. The final thought echoed in my brain. "I wish this had never happened."

            "Disgusting." He complained, "please cover your mouth."

            "Dave!" I shouted, "You've got your voice back!"

            He put his hand on this throat. "Well damn! I do!" he threw his arms around my neck in exultation, "Hallelujah! I can TALK!"

            I kissed him quickly then flung the car door open to be greeted by an arguing couple. I ran through the parking lot (Dave in tow) listening to all the wonderful bits of conversations.

            "…he's such a collector of trash. I wish he'd throw away all those old TV's."

            "…then he was like 'I can't see you anymore.' And then I was like…."

            "Yeah she's good looking, but Jennifer Love Hewitt is hotter…"

            I raced into the food court to be assaulted by sound! Sound and sight and smell! I never thought I'd be so happy to hear a loud noisy group of people.

            When I got home, the house was clamorous, as it should be. My mother and father were fighting in their broken English, my sister was annoying, and my TV was turned up the whole way. Home sweet home.

            Well, I guess the moral of the story is, avoid stinky perfume and be careful what you wish for.  As for my boyfriend's car, well it's still an '88 Escort.  I guess all wishes can't come true. Although the world's got its sound back (which I now totally appreciate!) I think I'll go turn off my TV and radio, duct tape my sister's mouth shut and enjoy a moment of silence.