Flint walks out his front door ready for another day of tenth grade. He’s dressed for the twenty-seven degree air in a black North Face parka, baggy jeans, and a black-knit beanie with a white skull. He even has his hand stuffed with Kleenex, which surrounds a metallic material that is in a sheet the same size as the sheet of Kleenex.
He made it through his childhood and early teen years without as much as a sniffle. “Invinthible” Flint called himself at age four, after hearing his father call him an invincible little hero. But lately, he’s had some killer sneezes. And today, Flint has been experiencing sneezes that seem to burn his palm every time he sneezes.
He’d play hooky again, but of course he’s used up all his available absences on days he didn’t even need them. Now that he has super painful sneezes, he has to be at school and endure the pain no matter what.
Flint catches a ride with Damien, who lives in the next subdivision. Together they ride to Holland High School. Most mornings, Damien takes the long route so they can swing by McDonald’s. Flint jogs half the way to Damien’s to make up for lost time.
“Dude, where ya been?” yells Damien from his red late-Nineties Jetta – he has the window rolled down with his hand and a half-smoked cigarette resting on the top of the glass.
“Needed extra provisions for the day. I’m feeling like shit, man,” Flint says.
“Well, keep your germs outta my car!” says Damien, already shifting the car into drive even though Flint is halfway in the car. A Katy Perry and Kanye West song plays on the radio at a volume loud enough to rattle the rearview mirror with every beat. Flint leans back in his seat and closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to catch a glimpse of the sun because looking into the light always causes him to sneeze.
“Dude. Dude!” yells Damien over a new song that sounds just like the last one. “Want Mickey D’s?” He punches Flint in the arm.
“Nah, I just don’t feel right,” says Flint, keeping his eyes closed tight. He clenches his eyelids the rest of the way to the school. Damien parks his car and looks over at Flint. “You really don’t look too good, man,” he says.
Flint looks at Damien, whose face is blurry, and catches a glimpse of sun over the headrest behind Damien’s head.
A tickle starts in Flint’s right nostril and causes him to look like a rabbit catching a whiff of an old woman’s garden after a fresh rain. He tightly squeezes his eyes shut and wiggles his nose in hopes of deterring the sneeze. He’s sick of these weird sneezes. He’s sick of not being normal.
“Why are your eyes so red, dude?” says Damien.
Flint whips his head back against the headrest and is beyond the point of return. He breathes in a bubble of air and readies his Kleenex and aluminum foil. It’s futile, though.
The sneeze comes roaring out of Flint’s nose with flames shooting out like from the dual exhaust of a 1969 Ford Mustang.