STORIES: Deadly Hurricane Sneezes:

Alice was twenty-five years old when it happened. Bob went on one knee with the diamond ring in hand. “Will you marry me?” he asked.

But Alice couldn’t give him the answer he most wanted. Something was wrong with her nose. It felt as though someone had shoved a lit match up her flaring nostril and the flame seared her sinuses. She’d never felt anything like this before. Her eyes watered, blurring Bob’s increasingly uneasy features before her along with the dazzling sunset outside.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, his hand closing around the box that housed the ring as she scrunched up her nose. “I know it’s not the biggest ring, but…”

“It’s not that, it’s…something…something wrong with…” Her breath hitched as she rubbed her nose.

“Well....uh, do you have to sneeze or something?”

Her quivering mouth hung open as she backed away. Was this what it felt like when you were about to sneeze? She’d always wondered about that. They said it felt like a tickle in your nose, but this was no tickle. It felt more like she’d snorted sulfuric acid. Blades of sunlight stabbed her eyes through the window behind Bob and the conflagration inside her nose grew white hot.

“Ahhhh….huh…huh..HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

She doubled over with such force that her aching spine nearly snapped in two as the hurricane-force winds blasted out of her lungs. The slider door shattered with a thunderous boom, the jagged shards of broken glass showering all over as the force of the sneeze flung Bob outside. His spine smashed into cold metal as he flipped over the railing of the balcony and then plunged twelve stories to his death. He lay face down upon the caved-in roof of the car below, whose alarm blared incessantly.

Meanwhile, Alice lay on her back in the room, gasping and wheezing as she struggled to suck air into her gummy lungs. A cooling breeze ruffled her hair and she was too exhausted even to move.

Tears filled her eyes as she relayed this story to me now, ten years later. We’d locked her in a room because her sneezes were just too dangerous. “I don’t even remember what he looks like anymore. I wish you’d bring me a picture, something to remember his face. It doesn’t feel right that I can’t remember his face. He was the one for me, my Mr. Wonderful, and I can’t even remember his face anymore. I guess I never was very good at faces.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” I said, sliding my fingers along the window that was over the door separated us.

She wiped the tears from her eyes and laughed bitterly. “Yeah, they always say that, but no one ever comes through.”

“We do what we can to make you as comfortable as possible, but some of your requests—”

“I don’t think a stupid picture’s too much to ask for, but no one ever wants to go through the effort of finding it, when any one of you could get it just as easily. I’m sure someone has it somewhere on Facebook. I’m sure someone in his family or mine has his picture in a photo album in their attic. But do you take the time to look? Of course not. You act like you care, but none of you really give shit about me. I’m just a curiosity to you and a hazard. You could kill me easily and ensure that my sneezes never kill anyone again, but that would be cruel and inhumane, so you just keep me locked up in here and watch me and do your little experiments.”

I sighed. “I can look into getting you a picture, I promise.”

She smiled warily. “Thank you. And maybe…well…if it’s not too much to ask…maybe you could take me outside…tour the town, just for one day.”

I shook my head. “You know we can’t do that. It’s too dangerous.”

“Not even for one day, and then you can lock me back up in here afterwards? I just want to see how the world’s changed.”

“When you sneeze, people die. We can’t take that chance. You want more people to end up like Bob? You want another incident, like that time at the beach when your sneeze created a tidal wave that killed everyone there?”

“That’s a gross exaggeration,” she said, then bowed her head. “Though a few deaths were involved.”

“We can’t let it happen again.”

“I’ve been practicing holding back my sneezes, keeping them from coming out. If I were let out just for a day, I’m confident that I can keep from killing anybody else.”

“Right…” My breath hitched and then: “huh-ksheww!”

She uttered another bitter laugh. “Must be nice when you sneeze. People get all nice and bless you and if you sneeze enough times they get all worried and ask if you’re getting sick or something. But when I sneeze, it’s the end of the world.”

“I’m sorry, I really am.” I sniffled and rubbed my nose. The sneeze just snuck up on me; otherwise I would have tried to be more sensitive to her plight. “I know you didn’t ask for this curse and if there was some way we could cure you, we would, but right now we can’t.”

“Don’t worry, I don’t begrudge your right to sneeze freely. I just wish it didn’t have to be this way.”

We talked for a while longer. She told me about the time when she was twenty-three and sneezed a parked car across the street, of which I’d already seen pictures. She stopped next to the parked car when that tickle hit her nose, a white hot needle drilling into her sinuses. It was more than just bewildering, she was absolutely terrified, for by now she knew of the utter devastation her sneezes could cause. As soon as her quivering nostrils started to flare, she stopped breathing. If she held her breath, perhaps she could stop the sneeze from coming. Yeah, maybe even sticking her finger beneath her twitching nose might stop it, just like in all those silly cartoons. But it didn’t work. The sneeze tore through the back of her throat and she doubled over. “Ahhhhhhhhhhh-CHOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

The car took flight, flipping end-over-end before it landed, overturned, on top of a young man. Only his head was exposed. His blond hair went scarlet as it soaked in the expanding pool of his blood. The light of the setting sun shimmered in his glassy eyes as more blood trickled from his nose and open mouth. Sprinkled all over his face were thousands of tiny glass cubes. A woman—I think it was his lover or something—screamed as she fell on her knees before him, tears streaming down her face. “Oh my God, how could this’ve happened?” Shocked gasps echoed throughout the gathering crowd as they hovered over the grieving woman and fallen man.

And lying by the curb across the street on her back was Alice, her heavy eyelids half closed. Her lungs and belly ached with every shallow intake of breath until she finally passed out.

When she finished that tale, Alice’s breath started to hitch. Her eyes squinted as her nostrils flared and her quivering mouth hung open. My sweaty palms slide against the window. The door was strong enough to survive the tremendous force of her sneeze, but still I backed away, heart pounding.

“Huh-huh-huh-huh-HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU-CHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Her explosive sneeze was followed by the shrill wind that beat against the door.

When I returned to the window, Alice was laying facedown, arms and legs splayed outward. She wasn’t moving. “Alice…Alice!” I cried, pounding my fist against the door. I fished through my pocket for the key and then threw the door open and hurried inside. “I need some medics to Room 399 right now!” I shouted into my walkie-talkie. I crouched down beside Alice and she wasn’t breathing at all. I felt for a pulse along the side of her neck, but she didn’t have one.

A later autopsy would reveal that the force of this last sneeze tore her lungs apart.