STORIES: The Spray:

“This stuff will make ANYBODY sneeze,” Hogan says as he hands me the spray bottle. We’re sitting on the couch in his apartment. The commercial on the TV lists a bunch of side-effects. I’m not even sure what the pill’s supposed to treat. The bottle is cold in my hands as I squeeze it, feeling a pleasurable tingle racing throughout my body. “It’s my own concoction,” he goes on. “I’ve spent years perfecting the formula.”

“So all I have to do is spray it in someone’s face and they’ll sneeze?”

He nods with a sly grin. “Oh they’ll sneeze all right. Want a demonstration?”

“Um…sure.”

He grabs the bottle from me, gets up, and shuffles away. “Hey, Carmine, could you come in here a minute?” he calls.

Carmine emerges from the kitchen into the living room and then sighs and rolls her eyes upon seeing Hogan’s special formula. “Fine, let’s get this over with.”

A yellow mist splashes her face as he sprays her. Carmine gasps as her watering eyes start to close. Her breath hitches as she cups her hands to her mouth, and doubles over.

“Huh….ihhh…..iiishewwwww! Hutchoooo! Haiisheewwww!”

She sneezes like that for fifteen minutes straight. When she’s done, her eyes water uncontrollably. Every once in a while she scrunches up her face, like she’s going to sneeze again, but nothing comes out other than a few sniffles as she rubs her nose furiously. She really put on one hell of a show!

And just like that, I’m sold. I hand him a crisp one-hundred dollar bill. It’s half my paycheck but it’ll be worth every penny.

***

There she is, Kelly Mason, sitting and giggling at the table across from me in the campus cafeteria. How many classes have we shared together during our four years at this college? And never once have I seen her sneeze.

Oh but that’s all going to change tonight!

Once I spray her, they’ll forget all about whatever they were talking and laughing about and all of their eyes will bear down on Kelly as her cupped hands remain fastened to her face and her head pitches forward over the table. They’ll bless her at first, but before she can thank them, another sneeze will tear through her, and then another, and another after that. They’ll still bless her amidst their giggling at such an amusing sight. Soon the whole cafeteria will be staring at her and their laughter will mingle with that of her friends. She leaps off her chair and bolt out of the cafeteria, sneezing the whole time, and I of course will follow her.

I’m getting tingly and giddy as I approach her. Oh God, this is going to be so awesome!

“Excuse me, Kelly,” I say, tapping her shoulder.

“Yes?” she says, spinning around her chair to look at me.

I spray her and she gasps. Yellow dots sprinkle her face like specks of pollen and her eyes start to water.

“Hey, you freak, what the hell’s wrong with you?” the girl sitting next to her shouts and I flap a dismissive hand toward her with a chuckle.

Kelly’s breath hitches as her nostrils flair and her mouth drops open. Here it comes! Her hands move slowly to her face, to cover her sneezes of course, because she’s so polite and sanitary. But no, they’re going to her throat. Why are they going to her throat? Why are her lips turning blue? She falls off her chair onto her knees, struggling to suck air into her throat.

Oh shit, what’ve I done?

She’s on her back, legs splayed wide, mouth open as the cafeteria lights gleam in her glassy eyes, and she’s not moving. I stand there for…I don’t know how long, gazing down at her, unblinking, as the bottle slips from my hand and rolls on the floor by my feet. Come on, Kelly, move, breathe, say something, goddamn it! If only her chest would rise, but it doesn’t. I hunker over her and feel her pulse and…nothing. I can do CPR maybe. My certificate expired two years ago, but I can still remember. There’s still a chance, maybe I can—

“That’s him,” the girl sitting next to Kelly shouts. I didn’t even notice that she’d gotten up, but she leads a campus police officer toward me now. “That’s the sick fucking freak that sprayed her!”

And just like that, my ass is thrown in jail.