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Some nights, I see a dark menacing figure hover above me. It's about to grab me, claw at me before sucking the life out of me. I struggle veraciously, but shadows soon engulf me. My lungs tighten so tensely that I feel suffocated as if a pillow is forced upon my face. But fortunately, I awake. I spare myself of a precedented funeral. The usual time is 6:08 AM, I rise with just enough time to dress and bike to school. For the past month, this morose ordeal haunted me. The dream repeats. Whenever my mother stays in my bedroom, I remain unharmed but during her absence, I am utterly helpless. I unconsciously whimper or choke while I battle the malevolent spirits in the dark. Quite naturally, my parents had concern about my shortness of breath, believing my childhood asthma returned during my sleep. Medical research proved I was more susceptible to breathing problems. The inability to breathe plagued me in my days of infancy, but I do not remember it troubling me since childhood.
I recall an earlier visit to the doctor's office. My doctor attributed my month-long “condition” to night asthma but I could care less what the medical community called it. A nurse released me into the playroom. She rewarded me with a lollipop for being a good patient and I cavorted joyfully toward the National Geographic magazines. The same nurse approached my parents, who desired to hear words of comfort, but instead she brought up my condition—another defect of mine that my parents sought to correct.
“Mr. and Mrs. Farley, your son is having a hard time breathing at night. I would check if the humidity levels in the room are well-suited for a child like Kelsen,” she said.
“What do you mean? Is it mold; is it pollen? I thought we've taken care of that! What's wrong with my baby?” my mother looked at my father for reassurance, but he did not return her glance.
He paused before his response.
“You know I don't smoke anymore M'am.” my father added, “I gave up days after Kelsen was born.”
The doctor stood nearby the entrance. He was a man no older than my father, but he looked years younger with a head of jubilant blond hair and perfect posture. He and the nurse wore warm smiles for every patient, and I imagine each person who stepped in the office could feel safe in their presence. The doctor resisted shaking his head in obvious disapproval at my father’s comment. He had previously spoken about my health in correlation to my father’s smoking habit, stating that he expected I would grow out of my frailness by the age of ten if my father were to quit smoking (which he honestly has yet to do). Despite the early morning visit, I was happy to hold my parents' hands out of the office and I knew I would be returning to school the next day.
“You hear what the doctor said?” my father said, “Kelsen's damn asthma came back!”
My mother whispers to my father, but I overhear, “I swear it's that beast, that feral beast hanging around the house.”
“I’m sure we took care of that.” he responded.
The doctor suggested my parents install an air filter near my bed, and so, a clamorous filter became my new unsightly obsession at home. All night, I stared at its bleak lifeless parts. This obscure ritual kept me up, which in a way solved my nightmare problem. However, the contraption broke on the second morning. My parents wheeled the monstrosity from my room, and thus the black haunting figure reemerged–no longer in occultation.
It's been five days without the filter now. A potted plant occupies the empty area where the filter once laid. The week was uneventful albeit the dreams, though I did not remember having the dream last night. I slept well and woke up at 6:42AM. My father drives me, but I arrive late to school. My regular homeroom teacher might have pardoned me, but Mr. Frank, our loathsome substitute teacher for today, writes my name onto a Principal's Report:
“Kelsen Farley, Detention after school”.
He hands me the paper. Inside my thoughts, I criticize Mr. Frank's crooked handwriting, which resembles chicken scratch. I serve my detention before departing school grounds. Once the hour was done, a woman excuses me. I am free to return home. But unlike the friendly nurse in the doctor's office, her face warrants no smile.
I step out. I walk fifteen minutes across two long baseball fields, but my eyes do not wander from the ground. I see bases among bases, and the terrain does not change until the fences and gray pavement approach. A solid rock no larger than a baseball stood in my path. An arm extends in my frustration, picking up the rock. I fling it to the air. I look up in the process. The projectile lands with ease 50 feet ahead. I see red; the literal burning pigments catch my eye. The fiery sky contrasts from the green esplanade I partook, a beautiful sunset. I run toward the rock and I am almost home. When I approach my block, debris dances in the air. I fear that I will choke as in my dreams, but I do not.
For the first time, I feel immortal. I sense a fire nearby. I run faster, worrying about my parents. My house is untouched. The house burning is not ours; no one was home at the time. Then vertigo affects me; I fall. I recognize a lost, but familiar figure with paws spotted calico like the flames, with brown dark eyes that soothe my soul, whiskers like thin fishing wire. She wears the collar I gave her six years ago, but I cannot breathe as the silhouette fades to shadows. I, Kelsen Farley, am not scared.