Maya woke with a start early in the morning. Today was the day she had been waiting for all her life—a whole fifteen hours and forty-seven minutes. She ran a limb through her unkempt hair and brushed the thicker fur running down her spine. She flew out the door, wind rushing through the blue fur covering her body as she sped to the Center for Respiratory Assignment.
When she arrived, she was greeted by the other breath spirits her age. It was Assigning Day for all of them; they would receive their assignments and start to work with their individual humans from then on. They had received training on what their jobs would entail after they came into being, and it wasn’t too complicated.
“I’m so excited!” Maya exclaimed in the general direction of the others, “I can’t wait to meet my human! I hope they’re friendly!”
“Quiet down, Maya,” the spirit in front of her turned to shush her, “the ceremony is starting.”
The head spirit addressed them all from the center of the room, “Young spirits, today is the day that your work with the humans begins. Each of you will play an integral part in the life of your human; they cannot breathe without the assistance of a breath spirit. So, without further ado, let the assignment begin!” She outstretched her limbs and the center of the room flashed bright white.
When the light faded, they saw a wide portal overlooking the human world. The young breath spirits excitedly crowded around its edges, trying to pick out which of the humans would be theirs by sight.
“Aquila, your human is Ralph,” the head spirit began. With each declaration, the portal moved to view the newly assigned human, and the spirit leapt into the portal to take up their new role. Eventually, the assignment made its way through the roster to Maya: “Maya, your human is Lindsay.”
“Yippee!” Maya dove into the portal excitedly.
The human world was full of sights, sounds, and smells. Maya was overwhelmed at first, and had trouble finding Lindsay in all the commotion. When she found her, it was in a room full of people, some dressed in all white, all gathered around a bed or a table of some sort. She had forgotten that humans couldn’t float like spirits, and had some sort of appendages extending to the floor to keep them upright. But she was getting off track.
Lindsay was small, wrapped in a bundle of cloth, and held by a very tired but happy looking woman. Maya flew into Lindsay’s chest and was greeted by the sight of her lungs, the organs Maya knew were hers to work with. All she had to do was hug them briefly every few seconds to make sure they were pumping air properly. It would be no big deal, she figured. Her job was hugging! How bad could that be?
“Oh, I’m so excited to finally get to meet you!” Maya gave Lindsay’s lungs a big squeeze and she let out a gasping cry.
“What’s wrong?” her mother cooed, a note of panic in her voice. The doctors around her examined Lindsay’s chest with stethoscopes to find any problems in her breathing.
“It was probably a one-time thing,” the head doctor said after a moment of quiet, “Her breathing has normalized now. If something like it happens again, you may want to take her to a pediatrician, but it was likely just a hiccup or something similar.”
Time passed, Lindsay grew, and Maya grew with her. During that time, Maya and Lindsay became good friends, and they would regularly talk when nobody else was around. Her parents didn’t notice any significant breathing troubles for the next several years (Maya was doing her job well), and their concern faded.
When Lindsay was in first grade, she joined a soccer team through a local park club. She played forward, and her team was one of the best in the division. They went to a tournament at the end of the season to compete against the other top teams, and made it to the final match in the evening. In the final half of the game, Lindsay ran the ball up the field to score the goal that would put her team ahead.
“Go Lindsay! I know you can do it!” Maya cheered, squeezing her lungs excitedly.
“Ah!” Lindsay’s breath caught, “Maya!” She tripped over the ball and fell to the ground, a hand to her chest.
A referee rushed onto the field to halt the game temporarily—unnecessarily, since everyone had stopped as soon as Lindsay fell—followed by her coach and her parents.
“Everyone, take a knee!” the referee called out.
“Lindsay, are you alright?” her mother put an arm around her and helped her into a sitting position, concern heavy on her face.
“Yeah, I’m alright,” she said, taking deep breaths, “It’s better now.”
“Come ‘ere, let’s get you to the bench,” her coach helped her to her feet and walked her off the field, to the applause of the rest of the players.
“Did I do something wrong?” Maya asked once Lindsay had settled down and gotten a drink.
“No,” Lindsay comforted her, “I don’t think so. You were just trying to cheer me on.”
Lindsay’s team ended up winning the game by a close margin, and nobody blamed her for having missed the shot when she did. They were happy to see that she was alright. Her parents were as well, but they talked with each other in hushed tones on the way back to the car.
The next week, they took her to visit the doctor, who told them that Lindsay had developed asthma. She provided them with prescriptions for inhalers—one for daily use, another for emergencies—and sent them home.
“Don’t they know about you?” Lindsay asked Maya in the car.
“I don’t think so. I don’t remember very well, but I think they mentioned in our training that our humans wouldn’t remember us when they grew up,” Maya thought about it, “I don’t know how that medicine works.”
“Does that mean I won’t be able to talk to you when I grow up?”
“I’m not sure. They didn’t say anything about breath spirits talking to their humans during training. I’m glad I get to know you now,” Maya chirped happily.
Later in the week, Lindsay had PE class, and it was fitness testing time. Her parents had her take her inhaler with her, just in case, and it was well warranted: that day was the day of the mile run. She made good time for the first half of the run, and Maya decided to encourage her in spite of herself.
“You’re doing so well!” Maya hugged her lungs excitedly, then recoiled, “Wait, no!”
“Agh,” Lindsay winced, pulling her inhaler from her pocket, “I hope this doesn’t–oof—hurt you, Maya,” she clicked open the inhaler, held it to her mouth, and took a deep breath.
Almost instantly, Lindsay’s lungs expanded, throwing Maya backwards. For several minutes, she was unable to be close to them for very long, and Lindsay started to feel cold and shaky from deprivation of Maya’s warmth. She finished the mile and went home, and Maya was always frightened at the thought of being pushed away again by the effects of the inhaler.