Sunday, December 24, 2023




    A Breath of Fresh Air  




John B. Rosenman



Chapter One


The Gold Standard

Available on Amazon:  . ~

            He couldn’t breathe; he was going to die. Screaming inside, he strained in agony, feeling

himself approach the very edge of oblivion. He had no memory, no identity, only a desperate need

to survive, to escape this torment that was about to engulf him.

             Finally, as a last resort, he heaved himself upward, knowing it was his only chance. For an eternity, he hung halfway, caught between life and death. Then, to his great relief, he shot to his feet and staggered across the floor.

            Trembling, Michael Windsor opened his eyes, finding himself standing in his bedroom.

            The wine, I shouldn’t have drunk it before I turned in. The same thing happened the first time.

            Only this was the third time it had happened. And bad as it was, it paled before the second time a week ago when he had played tennis. He remembered sitting down on a bench during a break in the rotation and falling into a fitful sleep, something he never did during the day. He had awoken a few moments later with no idea who or where he was. And he had been screaming even as he came awake, something he later realized was odd since he couldn’t even breathe. Even odder, no one seemed to notice his scream, not even the player sitting beside him.  How was that possible?

            As during the first episode, he had felt he would die if he couldn’t get some air into his lungs. Fortunately, he had succeeded, struggled to his feet and managed to walk shakily around. What was wrong with him? He had shrugged off the first episode but this one was more serious. Picking up his racket, he found he had a dull headache that felt like a hangover.  

            Rather than face the problem, he had brushed it aside as before and returned to the tennis wars for another hour. Now, standing in his bedroom after his third attack, he faced the same issue.

What was he going to do this time?

            He blinked and once again, shrugged it off. With a sigh, he went back to bed. 


            It wasn’t until his gastroenterologist called about a procedure that he consulted a doctor. “Something rather strange happened to me,” he said. “I had some…episodes.”

            “Episodes?” Dr. Burns asked. “What do you mean?”

Why did he even mention it? Didn’t he have enough problems? He was already seeing Dr. Burns for a precancerous case of Barrett’s esophagus. What he should do was keep his mouth shut. After all, his episodes weren’t that serious, were they?

But it seemed his mouth had a mind of its own because he heard it spilling everything. When he was through, Dr. Burns suggested that he see a neurologist.

Just what I need, another doctor. “All right,” he said, feeling his goose was cooked. “If you think I should.”


When Michael met Dr. Jason Turner two weeks later, he was surprised the man was so young. Hell, the good doctor looked like a kid, easily ten years younger than his own forty-three. Unlike him, there was not a line in his face, not a gray hair or a bald spot in his full head of rich brown hair. As Dr. Turner read the summary Michael had written, he found it hard to believe that such a youngster could advise him on anything, much less prescribe treatment that would actually help him.

Dr. Turner finished reading and looked up. “So you’ve had three incidents?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “Uh, I’m a bit relieved I haven’t had any more since the last one.”

Dr. Turner nodded. “Still, I recommend that you take a Home Sleep Test to see if you have sleep apnea.”

Sleep apnea. If he had the disease, he couldn’t just flop into bed anymore but would have to hook himself up to some kind of unholy contraption to improve his breathing.

“What’s this test like?” he asked.

            Dr. Turner shrugged. “It’s easy to take and you should have no difficulty sleeping. You use it overnight and return the device at your convenience. If you go to the Equipment Office two doors down, they’ll issue you one and show you how to use it.”

            Michael hesitated. The train was going too fast, and if he didn’t get off it quick, he never would. He stared at a multicolored picture of a naked man on the wall across from him, his internal organs clearly displayed, labeled, and ripe for dissection.

“Do you have any questions?” Dr. Turner asked, his youthful features expressing concern.

Yes, he did, only he couldn’t think of even one at the moment. The good doctor opened the door and pointed to his right. “You go that way and turn left at the next hallway,” he said.

Michael thanked him and followed directions. Still, he managed to get lost rather quickly. Earlier, he had realized that this place was the kind that confused and actually frightened him. Narrow halls turned and branched, and it was so easy to go the wrong way. They made him feel like a laboratory rat in a maze. Soon, he was completely lost and leaned back against the wall, waiting until an acid reflux attack subsided.

His world crash down upon him. What a loser he was. Not only couldn’t he even find his way out of this goddamned place, but just last week his wife Muriel, threatening divorce, had packed up and left with his seven-year-old, tousled-haired son Andy. He remembered her disgust over the years as she’d berated him for his lack of ambition. “Twelve years a clerk in a shitty hardware store, and you don’t bring home enough money to budge the needle. Michael, I know your health isn’t good, but we’ve always had to tread water, getting deeper and deeper in debt, and I have to keep getting part-time jobs to pay off our bills….”

Blah blah blah, on and on it went. He heard her voice in his head and moaned, knowing her criticism was valid. He was lazy. He did lack ambition. But he also had Barrett’s esophagus, third stage kidney disease, food allergies, and high blood pressure. Sometimes, when he came home from work, he was so tired, he could barely stand.

Feeling sorry for yourself, Michael? he thought.

Yes, he was, and the realization made him push off the wall and glare down the hall. Damn it, he was going to find his way out of this place if it killed him.


In the Equipment Office aka the Sleep Lab he was given a device with attachments and listened to instructions that zoomed right past him. He nodded, tried to keep up, and after a few minutes headed out with the Home Sleep Test tucked under his arm in its handy carrying case. It was so small. How difficult could the test be?

That night he read the directions, studied the pictures, and found that the device was not that difficult. The belt with the effort sensor went around the chest, the two prongs went into the nostrils, and the pulse oximeter went over his index finger. There were a few other details, but they boiled down to lying down and trying to sleep. As he did, a terrible fear seized him.

What if he fell asleep only to have his throat clamp shut so he was unable to breathe? What if this time was the last and he couldn’t wake up no matter how hard he tried? He imagined himself screaming inside and straining for air, only to die in unbearable agony.

Michael tossed and turned, trying not to upset the instrument. Despite Dr. Turner’s reassurances, the device was a little irritating, and worries kept him awake. When he finally dreamt, he found himself trying to leave his neurologist’s office again. Halls branched in all directions, and this time he found he actually was a laboratory rat. He sniffed frantically at the walls and air for clues as he scampered this way and that, trying desperately to get out. Only there was no exit, only endless halls leading nowhere. Finally, though, he saw an open door and beyond it, fresh air and green trees. His heart pounded with joy.

But then the walls pressed in, and he began to suffocate. The trees and air were so close, but the harder he tried to reach them, the farther they receded in the distance. As he struggled, it became harder and harder to breathe.  He gagged and choked, feeling everything grow dark.

Then he started and found himself awake, lying in bed. He was a man again, not a rat. He lay sweating, drawing in deep breaths of air, enormously relieved he was still alive. The machine—it must have saved him. His heart filled with gratitude. Was it possible this Home Sleep Test was sentient? He felt that somehow, on some level, it had sensed his distress and deliberately awakened him, saving him from death. As he considered the possibility, he nodded off.

When he awoke again in the morning, he found he’d had a decent night’s sleep. He turned off the machine and returned it to the Equipment Office.


During the twelve days before his next appointment, Michael experienced two more incidents while sleeping, evidence that his condition was not improving as he’d hoped but getting worse. Both times he had struggled desperately to breathe, feeling as if he were on the edge of death. On one of the occasions, he had fallen out of bed and hurt his hand.

He’d read that eighty-five percent of those with sleep apnea didn’t even know they had it. Such facts reminded him of his own disorder and his other health problems as well. Being alone certainly didn’t help matters. He missed his wife, and he missed his little boy more. God, how he missed him. Loneliness tore at his soul. It was as if they had left him to die alone.

Feeling sorry for yourself, Michael?

“Yes, I am,” he said aloud, not caring if anyone heard, even if it was one of the fellow workers at the hardware store. If I don’t catch some kind of break soon, I don’t know what I’ll do.

He was still thinking that as he drove to his doctor’s appointment.

When he entered the office and checked in, his hands were wet and his heart was pounding. There was no reason for his anxiety, of course. He would learn the news when Dr. Turner gave it to him. His call three days before had received a pro forma dismissal. “Dr. Turner will discuss the results with you in his office,” a woman had said.

He sat down in the waiting room and tried to relax. On the wall, a television program warned about the dangers of hypertension, an invisible killer. The damn thing could lie in wait for years with no apparent symptoms. Then bang, without warning, it would strike.

Michael swallowed and looked away.

When a nurse called his name he rose and followed her through the door. “Do you know the way?” she asked with a smile.

The way to the Minotaur? Of course. I come here often. He nodded and headed down the hall.

To his surprise, he found Dr. Turner’s office easily this time. It might have been nice to have temporarily lost his bearings so he could have more time to cope, but it was as if a bright beacon had guided him.

Dr. Turner smiled as he entered. Michael smiled back and sat down. They exchanged pleasantries, then Turner asked him how the home test had gone.

“I experienced an incident,” Michael said. “It was awful, as bad as the others. I dreamt I was a rat in a maze and couldn’t breathe. I felt I was going to die. Fortunately, the machine woke me up.”

Dr. Turner frowned. “The machine woke you up?”

“Well, it felt that way, like it came to my rescue. Anyway, afterwards, I went back to sleep. It was easier than I expected. I even slept all right.” He hesitated, feeling a wave of fear. “But I’ve had two more incidents since. They were bad.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Dr. Turner said. He tapped a form on his desk. “Fortunately, we have your results, which should provide some guidance. You slept over seven hours and averaged fifteen events per hour. That places you in the moderate range for sleep apnea.”

Now that he heard the words, Michael was not surprised. Of course he had it. “Fifteen events. Let’s see. As I remember, a single event is ten seconds or more without breathing.”


Michael nodded, waiting for the doctor to go on. But he remained silent as if expecting him to speak. “Uh, I’ve heard there is a minimally invasive treatment for apnea. Mouthpieces that keep the airway open.”

“Yes,” Dr. Turner said, “but they are far less effective than CABS.” He spread his hands. “CABS is the gold standard.”

CABS. What an odd acronym. Michael knew it stood for Constant Airway Breathing Support, but it sounded like something you got a ride in.

“So you recommend I use CABS?”

“I do. It is far and away the best treatment available.”

“I see.” Michael hesitated. “Is it permanent?” he finally asked. “I mean, will I have to use it for the rest of my life?”

“Yes.” Dr. Turner said.

Michael waited, hoping for more, but Turner remained silent. Obviously, the good doctor was leaving the matter in his lap. It was his mess to decide.

The silence dragged on. On the wall, the anatomically correct man waited with them, his internal organs labeled and on full display.

“Well,” Michael finally said, “if it’s the gold standard, I suppose I should use it.”


As he waited in the Equipment Office, he gazed at plastic faces wearing masks of different shapes and sizes. Which one should he pick? The largest one covered the mouth and nose and looked as if it were trying to swallow the entire face. The medium one was slightly smaller. The smallest covered only the nose and left the mouth free, perhaps so it could scream at the indignity of it all.

Easy, Michael, he thought. Don’t lose it.

But it was easier to say than do. Thanks largely to a dead-end job, his wife and son had left him, and now he had this new health problem. He was tempted to get up and walk right out.

He changed his mind when an attractive, darkhaired woman in a green pantsuit entered  from the back. “Mr. Windsor?” she asked.

“Uh, yes.”

“I’m Sonya Walker, will you come with me?”

Oh hell, yes. He followed her down a hallway to a room in back. Glancing around, he saw more masks on display and a sleep apnea machine on a table to his left. She led him to it.

He pointed at the masks on the wall. “Is this what you wear at Halloween?” he asked.

It was a poor joke, but she actually laughed. The sound of it warmed him.

“Mr. Windsor, how much do you know about CABS?”

“Not much,” he said.

“Well, suppose we sit down, and I’ll go over it with you. Okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” he said and sat down. The machine was roughly five inches high, five inches wide, and ten inches long. To Michael, it looked like a device devised by aliens.

“Okay,” she said, “let’s begin with the major components.” She turned the machine around and pointed at a round hole in back. “Here’s the Air Outlet where you plug in the larger end of the tubing. The smaller end you plug into your mask so you can breathe the air.” She demonstrated the procedure, using a tube and a mask. “Now in front of the machine…”

Michael listened or tried to. Her demonstration was clear and effective but there was much to learn, more than with the relatively simple Sleep Test. Besides that, she was attractive. She stopped now and then so he could ask questions, but he only half-heard her answers. Soon she was moving on and talking about Ramp Time, Mask Fit, Humidity Level…

She broke off and laughed. “I know it’s a lot, but it’s all explained clearly in the booklets we provide, and if you have any questions, just call.” She produced a business card with her name. He slipped it into his wallet, his nostrils twitching as he caught a whiff of her perfume. It reminded him that he hadn’t had sex in months and further weakened what remained of his concentration.

“Ready to try one on?” she asked.

“Try one on?”

“Yes, a mask.” She waved at the wall behind the desk where the masks hung. Big, medium, and  little. “Do you have any idea which one you prefer?”

He studied them. “The largest one,” he said. “I want to make sure it covers my mouth. The smallest one won’t do that, and I’m afraid I’d breathe through my mouth.”

“Makes sense,” she said. “You’d have more events and wouldn’t get all the benefits of this technology.”

She rose and removed a large mask from the wall. It was made of a clear plastic and had a soft rim of cushions. She efficiently affixed it to his face and adjusted it. Then she had him take it off and put it back on himself. After the third time, Michael felt he almost knew what he was doing.

Sonya left and returned with a large paper bag. “Here’s three of the masks you chose. And I’ve included one each of the other sized masks in case you want to try them.”

Soon, all too soon, she was escorting him out the front door as he carried his load. Oddly, the Gold Standard tingled in his hands even through the nylon and even though it wasn’t turned on. It gave him a strange, creepy feeling. He waved and left, taking with him her smile and the elusive scent of her perfume.

He drove up the entrance ramp to the interstate, sailing smoothly along until he heard a screeching sound under the hood. Christ, what was it now? He’d taken off two hours from work, and Starret wouldn’t appreciate him needing to leave again. From the sounds he heard, though, it was probably a loose or worn serpentine belt, and if it went, this worn-out old Chevy simply wouldn’t run.

Michael slowed down, hoping the cacophony under his hood would subside, but if anything, it increased. Cursing, he turned on the radio. He was just in time to hear an old favorite of his, “Thunder Road”.

When the song was halfway through, he realized he couldn’t hear any complaints from his engine. He dialed the radio down to make sure. Yup, the evil genie had crept back into its bottle, though he couldn’t say for how long. Still, he felt relieved.

Later, after work, he got into his Chevy and turned on the engine, then pumped the gas a few times. Still not a single disturbing sound. It was a miracle! The old engine was so soft, he could barely hear it. Driving home, he kept his ear cocked, expecting the worst, but the serpentine belt or whatever it was behaved, at least for now.

Entering his apartment, he stopped and leaned back against the door. Until Muriel left with Andy a week ago, he had never known how empty a home could be. The furniture was still here as were their beds and other items, but for him, the silent rooms were a giant void, his personal tomb. He feared that soon he would forget the sound of his son’s laughter and the lilt of Muriel’s voice.

He took the machine to the bedroom and placed it on the table beside the bed, feeling his hands tingle again. Such a strange sensation. He rubbed his hands, staring down at the device.

It sat there black and deadly, looking like it was about to spring.

Here's what my publisher Crossroad Press has to say about it. "This novel is fast-paced with strong emotion... you need this in your life. You won't want to miss this one..."

Available on Amazon at:


Michael Windsor’s luck has abandoned him. His wife, Muriel, left him, taking his beloved seven-year-old son Andy with her, and is sleeping with a rich lawyer.

As if that isn’t enough, he experiences three near-death episodes in his sleep, fighting for breath and nearly suffocating. It's called obstructive sleep apnea, and his neurologist advises him to use a device to help regulate his breathing at night. It sounds even more miserable, but Michael agrees.

What follows is a whirlwind of surreal changes as his body strengthens, his life improves, and he feels somehow more alive. He knows it’s the machine, but he also knows that’s crazy. Then, to his horror, he is enmeshed in a string of murder and violence that has both the police and a very powerful, very evil entity hot on his trail. He also finds a new romance and the hope of a better life. If only he can survive and protect himself, his son, and the woman he’s grown to love.

Here's my latest, #scifi #adventuretime - Available on Amazon:

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