“P.. aahhh… PINe-aahHHh…,” Benjamin tried to contain his sneeze using a trick he learned recently. He heard saying ‘pineapple’ would interrupt the sneeze. He tried to rush the word out. “PINEAPP-ACHOOO!” Benjamin sighed, but kept his eyes closed after the sneeze. He felt his feet ankle deep in a pool of liquid; he hoped it was water. He knew he teleported again. Along with the water at his feet, he saw bright light through his shut eyelids and felt heat all around him. He guessed he was outside now instead of his air-conditioned room at home. He heard the murmur of commotion around him and decided to open his eyes. No one seemed concerned that he appeared out of nowhere.
The brilliant golden sunlight almost blinded him. He needed to blink several times to get used to it, then he was able to look around. He stood in a large water fountain. He looked down; copper and silver coins glinted beneath the shallow surface. Strangers wandered by around the fountain. Benjamin met a few puzzled glances but most people seemed to ignore the teenager.
He searched his pockets as he made his way out of the fountain, but sighed disappointedly once he was out of its depths. He sat down on the edge of the fountain while he considered his next move. Ever since his ‘problem’ started he began to carry a small pepper shaker in his pockets. Another sneeze was usually the quickest way to get him back home. This particular sneeze happened as he was changing pants and he had not moved the pepper to his new pockets yet. Benjamin watched the people go by and realized more than half of them carried bags of something or another. He stood up and looked around; he saw different shops up and down the street then realized he was downtown.
“If there’s shopping, there’s restaurants,” Benjamin reasoned. He picked a direction and started following the flow of pedestrians. He wandered the street admiring how similar this world was to his. It always amazed him that every Earth he visited, only a handful so far, was so normal. After a couple of blocks, the smell of cooking meat hit his nose. He had trouble pinpointing the source at first; but, he noticed a small group walk by with the smell of food. Three of the four strangers carried white plastic bags that looked like restaurant leftovers. Benjamin headed in the direction the group came from and found a hole-in-the-wall that claimed to have the world’s best burgers. He walked in and headed to the closest table.
“Table for one?” A young waitress with curly blond hair popped up in his way. Her nametag said, “Debbie”. Benjamin shook his head.
“No. I just need a pinch of pepper then I’ll be out of your way,” he smiled. Debbie tilted her head then leaned across the nearby table to grab the pepper shaker.
“Pepper? What for?” she asked as she handed it to him.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Benjamin said and shook it into his hands several times. He handed the container back to Debbie. “Every time I sneeze I get teleported to an alternate universe. I’m just trying to get home,” he said as he lifted his hand to his nose. Debbie smiled broadly and giggled.
“You’re kidding! I’ve never heard that one before,” she said. Benjamin shook his head.
“You’ll see,” he said. Then he inhaled the pepper deeply.
“No, wait! I meant-” Debbie grabbed his hand to pull it away from his nose but it was too late.
“AAAACHOOo!” Benjamin clamped his eyes shut and sneezed. He warily opened his eye and immediately recognized his ragged brown comforter on his bed. He sighed with relief, but then he felt something on his arm.
“Is this your room?” Debbie asked at the same moment Benjamin realized he wasn’t alone.
“Oh no! I’m sorry! I didn’t know I could teleport people too…,” Benjamin immediately started apologizing. Debbie gave him a dismissive wave.
“Don’t worry about it.” She continued to wiggle her fingers in the air. A tall black portal opened next to her. “Come back to my Earth if you ever want to learn how to open portals without sneezing.”
“I can do that??” Benjamin asked. “Wait!” Debbie was already stepping into the dark hole. “How do I get to your Earth?” She stopped, turned around and smiled.
“You’ve been there already, you can go back any time you want,” she shrugged. “If you get lost ask someone to drop you on Earth: Pineapple,” she said. Then the portal closed.