Rite of the Last Breath | Nurse Fan-Fiction
In a small log cabin out of the way, a woman sat on her armchair with her eyes closed. She seemed deep in thought, perhaps contemplating life, but anyone who knew her well would know she was simply thinking about her husband. They would look at the smile on her lips, the slight redness on her cheeks, and say "Yep, there's Sally daydreaming about her husband again."
It's not like she could help it. He was just so charming, so handsome... Sometimes, Sally caught another woman looking at him. She didn't mind; she knew well that he was bound to be stared at. His job as a lumberjack meant that there would always be some women who just couldn't help themselves. Sally didn't blame them; his toned, muscular body drew her own attention more often than she'd like to admit.
But his body, as amazing as it was, didn't come close to how perfect he was on the inside. He always knew exactly what to say to calm her down, or cheer her up, to make her feel loved like nobody else could. Whenever she felt threatened, there Andrew was, letting her know he was ready to help. To do anything for her, no matter the price. And she would do the same for him.
Sally, still in her trance, rubbed her swollen belly and her smile stretched further. She hadn't really thought about children, but the more she did, the more the prospect of being a mother excited her. Boy, girl, she didn't care - but to have a child, to look at someone and say "That's my child" - it sent tingles down her spine every time she thought about it.
Of course, Sally was apprehensive. "What if I'm not a good enough mother? What if something happens to my kid and I'm not there to help? What if--" And then Andrew would shut her up with a kiss, reassuring her with that dazzling smile of his that everything would turn out fine.
Finally breaking out of her stupor, the young woman stretched. How long had she been sitting there, she wondered, and then brushed the thought away. She didn't have anything to attend to - jobs were scarce around this area, and Andrew brought in enough money to support them both. That was another thing she might have to worry about; would they have enough to raise a child? But that thought was brushed away too. Andrew's foreman was a kind man, who knew that they were expecting a child. She remembered giggling at Andrew's shout of joy when he heard the news.
"Sally, I... I can't believe it! Here, let me just check..."
He put a hand on her belly. Almost immediately, she felt a kick and smirked. Andrew felt it too, and drew back, his grin splitting his face from ear to ear.
"HAHA! This one's got a good set of legs, I'll tell you that!"
Sally shook her head, trying to focus on what she wanted to do next. Andrew would be home in a few minutes, and she wanted to make sure he was welcomed home with open arms - and maybe a hot cup of coffee on the table. She walked slowly over to the kitchen, running her hands along the wooden walls of her house, appreciating Andrew's handiwork. There was something quite special about living in a house built by someone you knew, someone you loved with every part of your soul.
Before she could get to the kitchen, though, she heard a soft, almost hesitant knock at her door. She grinned - Andrew must be carrying some timber home. His foreman was quite happy for him to take some timber home if they had an excess.
Sally paused for a second, then shrugged. If he wanted coffee, she could always make it later. That way, it would be hotter, to warm his bones after a hard day of work. Not that he needed it; every time he touched her, she could feel him warming her own body. He had enough warmth already.
She crossed the living room to the front door, and opened it with an "Andrew! Welcome home, honey," only to realize a split second later that it wasn't Andrew at the door. It was his foreman.
"Oh, hello there, Jack! What brings you around?"
Jack sighed and took a breath to steady himself. Only then did Sally really get a look at him. His face was weathered, the spaces under his eyes wreathed in shadow. His tousled hair looked like a rat's nest. He usually concealed it with a tartan peak cap - she never understood quite why, it made him look rather dashing - but it was in his hands, which were shaking slightly.
She didn't like that look in the slightest. He'd had the same one when her friend Elizabeth's husband had been hit with a falling tree and--
Sally's eyes widened and her mouth opened against her will, but nothing came out. Her mind was a void, empty except for one word that stabbed her over and over again. "No. No, no, no no no no no..."
The void gave birth to an ocean, which found its release through the waterfalls in her eyes. "No no no no no no no--"
"I'm afraid I have some... unpleasant news."
Sally sobbed on her couch, unreachable, inconsolable. She was dimly aware of Jack's pained face, his tapping knees, but she just couldn't bring herself to care. Her life was gone, her spark snuffed out. Her unborn child kicked against her belly, each jolt a painful reminder of the man she would never see again.
"I'm... so, so sorry, Mrs Smithson. It was an accident. There was a communication failure, and--"
She didn't hear anymore after that. It wasn't worth hearing. Life wasn't worth living. Andrew would never see his child, the one he'd been so looking forward to raising. And now she was left to raise it alone.
Jack sighed again, knowing she wasn't listening. "I can give you this year's wages, since I know you're expecting a child. I can't do much more in terms of money, but if you need anything else, you come to me."
The guilt gnawed at his conscience. If he'd just been a little faster...
No. That tree was already unstable. Trying to stop it would have been like trying to hold back a tank with nothing more than a bicycle. Jack wasn't sure what to focus on - the whole ordeal seemed surreal, as if Andrew might walk through the door with only a bump on his head, and an apologetic smile for getting home so late.
The best he could do now was comfort Andrew's widow. He almost chuckled at the thought - how would he - how could he - provide comfort for something like this?
Sally might have nodded, she might not. Her senses were too dulled by grief to tell, her once blade-sharp mind broken in two. Jack nodded, as if assuring himself that she would get better, and got up. He said a half-hearted goodbye - as if saying goodbye to Andrew, not Sally - and walked out the door, leaving Sally to sit in her sorrow. A year's wages were of little comfort, and Jack's words did seldom better.
If she found the will to live for a year in the first place.
Days passed, then weeks, then months, with no change. Sally woke every day to find the other half of the bed empty, only to look inside herself and find the same emptiness there. Andrew's wages were running out, and her child was due in a couple of months.
Andrew would have wanted her to live on, but he also wanted her to be happy. She couldn't be happy with him gone; so what was she to do? The only job around here was that horrid mental asylum.
But as time went on and her money dwindled, Sally knew she had to face the cold truth eventually. Andrew wasn't here to support her anymore. She had to make her own money - if not for herself, then for her baby. If that meant being surrounded by crazies, by people so far gone that nobody could - nobody would - see them... then so be it.
With steps as heavy as cast iron, Sally trudged up the steps to the foreboding building. It loomed above her, five storeys high, as grey and dark as usual. It seemed to suck the very light out of the air around it. She walked up to the reception desk, looking down at her feet.
"Hello, and welcome to the Crotus Prenn Asylum. Are you checking someone in, or just visiting?"
Steeling her nerves, Sally looked the young receptionist in the eye. The girl looked no older than twenty, her eyes unburdened by the strain of life's hardships. They must not have let her go into the asylum proper.
"Actually, I'm... I'm here to apply for a job."
That must have been surprising, because the receptionist's eyes went wide. Almost like those old dinner plates Andrew used to love. "A... job? Nobody ever wants a job here!"
Sally winced. "I know. But I've nowhere else to go."
The girl looked at her with a mix of pity and sympathy. "Well... we're short on nurses at the moment, what with the recent uptake in patients. We just don't have enough people to care for them all."
Sally nodded mutely. "What does being a nurse entail?"
The receptionist picked up a small card from a pile on the desk. "Just sign your name here. I'll call one of our more experienced nurses in to give you the run-down of the place."
Sally nodded again, not trusting herself to say any more. She picked up the card and signed her name in red pen, then sat on one of the waiting benches. She'd had plenty of time to grieve Andrew's death, but no amount of it would soothe her in the slightest. The pain was still raw, like a cut being scraped by sandpaper. She folded her head in her hands, but no tears would come.
After what felt like an eternity, the receptionist came back with a white gown and an elderly woman behind her. The other woman looked haggard, but her eyes were full of kindness.
"Mrs Smithson, I'd like to you meet Mrs Baker. She's our head nurse. She'll be quite happy to give you a tour, get you settled."
Mrs Baker smiled warmly and nodded.
The receptionist held out the gown to Sally, who took it without a word. "You'll be wearing this. White is probably the most calming colour for our patients. If you get any food stains or... other stains on it, just hand it in at the end of your shift and we'll have it washed for you."
Sally sighed and stood up, nodding at the receptionist, who smiled thinly and walked back to her desk. Mrs Baker looked at Sally with an evaluating eye.
"Not many people join the staff here, at least not willingly."
"Trust me, Mrs Baker-"
"Please, call me Brenna."
"...Brenna, I'm not willing at all. But I have no other choice."
Brenna nodded sadly and her lips formed a sad smile. "I heard about your husband."
Sally winced, expecting another "I'm sorry" or "I know how you feel". But Brenna simply embraced her in a gentle hug.
"I lost my husband to cancer, and my son went missing in the woods around here a few months later."
Sally's eyes teared up. Perhaps this woman really did understand the pain of losing a husband. She looked Brenna in the eye, seeing a hint of tears.
"What was your son's name?"
Brenna straightened, although the effort made her grunt a little. "Let's go, Mrs Smithson."
Sally nodded, but decided to speak up.
The older woman turned. "Yes, dearie?"
"My... my name is Sally."
Brenna smiled. "A wonderful name."
She walked off, Sally in tow, and led her around the asylum. The kitchen was gloomy, despite the window near the top of the wall where the door was, and the benches were plain polished steel. A mini-fridge sat in the corner, next to a small pantry. The bathrooms, surprisingly, were clean, although the sinks were chipped and the toilets looked worn.
As they approached the cells, where the "patients" were kept, Brenna paused and looked at Sally.
"Sally, these people are not right in the head. I know the place is a mental asylum, but you'd be surprised how many people walk in here and underestimate just how far gone our... patients are."
Sally nodded. She'd been doing a lot of that recently.
Brenna sighed, and opened the heavy, iron-barred door. A wave of nausea hit Sally as a chorus of banging and yelling immediately started up. The inmates were screaming, a mess of ranting and manic screaming. She hadn't expected this, but it wasn't like she had any choice other than to endure it.
She just put her head down and walked with Brenna down the hall.
This was Sally's life now.
Whether she liked it or not.
Two months later...
Sally, now used to the raving of her patients - her patients, she hated saying that - walked down the same hall with a tray of food. Each patient got a meager portion of food. A bit of minced meat, some mashed potatoes, with plain strawberry yogurt for dessert, all sealed up in a box no larger than Sally's head. No wonder everyone here was insane.
She slipped a box into each food slot. Every door had a screaming man or woman inside, and every wall was covered in tally marks. Sally suspected the marks weren't even to count the days anymore; they were simply forces of habit born of years in the same cell.
By the time she had reached halfway down the hall, her tray was almost empty. That was another problem - the man in charge of lunch, Marcus, was terrible at rationing food. She sighed, slipping the last packed lunch into the door to her right, and started back down the hall to get more food.
As soon as she walked into the kitchen, she knew something was off with Marcus. He looked horribly angry. The walls were dented, as if he'd caved them in with a punch or a kick. Sally didn't like that look.
Marcus whipped around to face her. His eyes were bloodshot, veins popping around his face, and his fists were clenched. His dark hair fell across his face, stringy from sweat.
"Let me guess, Sally, here to complain about how I didn't give those wretched vermin enough food again?!"
Sally scowled. "You didn't. Again."
Marcus' gaze intensified. Sally felt like a deer in a headlight. "They need more food, Marcus, you know that."
"SHUT UP! SHUT YOUR [BAD WORD] MOUTH RIGHT NOW, YOU BITCH!"
Sally took a step back, but Marcus kept yelling and advancing on her.
"I'VE HAD IT! I'M NOT DOING THIS [BAD WORD] ANYMORE! THOSE PIECES OF [BAD WORD] CAN ROT IN HELL FOR ALL I CARE! I'VE BEEN HERE FOR THREE YEARS, SALLY! THREE DAMN YEARS! I'M SICK OF DOING THE SAME [BAD WORD] EVERY DAY, CARING FOR THESE USELESS [BAD WORD] EXCUSES FOR HUMANS WHO NOBODY WANTS TO SEE!"
Sally snarled at him and slapped him across the cheek. "Get away from me!"
Marcus, blind with rage, drew back his fist and slammed it into Sally's stomach. Two security guards - they must have heard the yelling - burst through the door and tackled him to the floor. But the damage had been done.
"Get her to a hospital!"
Sally wasn't sure which of the guards said it. Her vision swam and her stomach lurched. She felt like something had vanished from there, but in her half-conscious state, she couldn't place a finger on what it was. She was dimly aware of being loaded onto a stretcher and carried through the asylum, out the door, and into an ambulance.
Then the world went black, and she saw nothing more.
Sally woke up, her head pounding and her stomach aching. She tried to sit up, but her body wouldn't respond. "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"
She tried to place what had happened. She was bringing food to the patients... there wasn't enough. She went to the kitchen to get more...
She remembered now. He'd flipped his [BAD WORD] and punched her. Ugh, the disgusting man had ranted at her about the patients, but she found grim satisfaction in the fact that he was probably among them now, in a heavily padded cell.
A doctor, dressed in a teal doctor's outfit, walked in with a clipboard. His face looked just like Jack's had when he... Sally pushed that thought away into a dark corner of her mind. But the dark corner seemed to be getting bigger and bigger every day.
Sally could only nod. That action had basically summed up her life after Andrew died, her tongue often too choked by sadness to form words.
"I... I understand you were eight months pregnant, yes?"
Sally didn't like where this was going. Wait... she forced her mouth open. Her voice sounded croaky, hoarse.
The doctor pursed his lips, a simple action that sent Sally's heart right into her throat.
"I'm so sorry. You sustained heavy internal bleeding from that punch. We could save you, but... we couldn't save your child. The damage was too much."
Sally could have sworn her heart stopped. Her train of thought stopped too, rammed off the tracks by a wordless scream of raw, crushing sorrow that made its way up and out of her mouth.
She thrashed in her bed and screamed her throat raw until she could scream no more, her energy spent. She could feel her emotions dwindling. All except her grief. That stayed with her, like a parasite, draining her strength and destroying all traces of anything else. Except one thing she didn't know what to call.
For the first time in her life, Sally Smithson wanted to kill.
The doctor came back in. Sally didn't even notice he'd left, too caught up in her sadness and... her rage. That was what the unidentifiable feeling was. Rage. Vengeance. Hatred. How long had she been stuck in this bed?
"Mrs Smithson, you're free to go."
He smiled as if that should have made her day. Why should she care? She had nothing to go back to except that dreadful building where she'd lost her baby.
That gave her an idea. A dark, horrifying idea, but an exciting one. She wanted revenge. So she'd get it herself.
The doctor helped her out of the bed, and she brushed him off. Her first steps were shaky, but they were strengthened by her desire for vengeance. For justice. She made her way out of the hospital, stopping only to change into her normal clothes, and walked back to Crotus Prenn.
When she walked in the door, the receptionist seemed shocked. "Mrs Smithson?"
Sally ignored her and went right down the hall to where she knew the patients were holed up in their cells. Down the end of the hall, near where she'd run out of food before, a new name was scrawled onto one of the cast iron doors.
Marcus E. Gregor
She still remembered the unlock code, somehow. She didn't care how. The door opened with a soft creak. Marcus turned around to see what was happening, and his face paled at the look in her eyes. It was a blaze of rage, but at the same time a cold, calculating stare.
Sally didn't let him finish. She didn't want to hear his half-baked, bullshit apology. She rushed forward and kicked him in the kneecap, making him collapse onto the ground. Throwing herself on top of his limp form with an unholy shriek, Sally wrapped her hands around his beefy neck. He tried to throw her off, but her rage granted her strength far beyond whatever he could scrounge up, subsisting on the tiny portions of food he got each day. Fitting, really. His own stinginess would be his downfall.
Marcus' eyes bulged as the life slowly went out of him. Sally's face contorted into a twisted grin, her eyes just as bloodshot as his had been when he punched her. She said nothing; her eyes conveyed all the sadness and rage he had put her through. That's right. It wasn't her fault. It was his fault. He had done this to her!
"You brought this on yourself!"
Sally rocked back and forth in the kitchen. Her hands were tired. Why were her hands tired? Oh, that's right. The voices told her to do it. Even now, they chattered to her in her head, comforting her. Reassuring her that she would be fine. They sounded like Andrew had.
She was vaguely aware of a mist swirling around her. Two mists, actually. No, wait... there were three. Four. Five? Sally didn't know. She let loose a crooked giggle. She liked the mists. They looked nice, like the fog she used to see sometimes around Andrew's cabin.
One of them was a lot louder than the rest. She thought his name was Patrick Spencer. Actually, she knew it was Patrick Spencer. He was the hardest to... detain. Of course, Sally had managed to anyway, since she was a very good nurse. She knew how to stop people from suffering. Spencer was suffering; she knew he was. She was sure that his voice was thanking her right now.
She didn't really know how to explain what Spencer gave her. Maybe... he reminded her of Andrew. He certainly gave her mind an anchor, sheltering her from the full extent of her own insanity. She appreciated that. Somewhere, deep down, Sally knew she was insane. Spencer's protection wasn't perfect, after all.
The others were more indistinct, more like whispers than breaths. Since she didn't know their names, she'd decided to name them herself. Wait, no. That wasn't right. They told her their names.
There was Harvey Kavanagh, the most refined of the Indistinct. That was the name she'd given the four other voices - since they were indistinct, of course! Sally giggled again at her creativity. Kavanagh was the voice of reason, the one to present her with the most logical choice. Very fitting; he was the Orderly of Crotus Prenn.
Father Campbell was the second of the Indistinct. Contrary to Kavanagh, Campbell was less focused on logic, and more focused on "the right thing". He was the priest of Crotus Prenn, although why they had a priest in the first place was beyond Sally. He was always harping on about Sally's "sins", and how she should repent, but she just laughed. What a jokester!
Mary Jenner, number three. She was kind and compassionate, always reassuring her the most out of the Indistinct. Jenner was the one to console Sally as she grieved for Andrew, for her unborn child. Even now, she whispered comfort into Sally's ear as she lay rocking. Sally liked Jenner the most out of all the voices. She was only about eight when she had to be detained, but her last breath still lived on within Sally. She was happy about that. Jenner did get anxious sometimes, though...
And last but not least, a voice without a name. When Sally had gone into his cell to "detain" him, she noticed that the name scrawled on the door had rubbed off long ago. She could only make out the letters "B" and "M". So she called him the Bad Man. Fitting, too, since he was the voice of hatred. He was the one whispering revenge in her ear, the devil on her shoulder, the dark spot in her mind. He allowed her to detain those pesky patients, saying that it was "a necessary evil."
Those were only five of about fifty voices in her head, but they were the only ones Sally could make out. The others were even more indistinct than the Indistinct - that still puzzled Sally - but she recognized the presence of most of them. The boy in cell A-39, the catatonic one who loved his little pinecone. Nurse Moris, whom Sally had never really talked to, but was helpful nonetheless. Every single one of them, she was sure, were thankful to her for setting them free. Setting them free of their cumbersome human bodies.
Sally noticed a group of heavily armed officers come in. The Bad Man screamed at her to "detain" them as well, but Campbell countered it by explaining that "they were here to help." Jenner was convinced they were going to hurt Sally, but Sally knew that was probably just Jenner's anxiety acting up again. Kavanagh screamed at her to move, that they were going to lock her up, that they were going to detain her.
But Spencer, through the turmoil in her head, remained a constant and steady rock. An anchor. Even as the men hauled Sally to her feet, she stayed calm, all thanks to Spencer's silent reassurance that everything would be okay.
The door to Sally's cell opened, and a bulky security guard came through. He dragged her to the showers, still wrapped in her blanket, and left her there. But she just sat there, contemplating whether or not she really cared about showering anymore.
She looked down at her blankets and twisted them into a knot. A very special kind of knot, one she'd only made once before, after Andrew had died. It hadn't worked before, but maybe it would now?
Tying the knot to metal bar supporting the shower curtain, Sally looked at the stool sitting next to her. She assumed it was for the disabled patients, who couldn't stand up. But Sally wasn't disabled. She'd be using it for a different cause.
She got up on the stool, tying the "special" knot around her neck. She knew what was about to happen. She didn't care. As she stepped back, and the knot tightened, her brain produced one final thought.
Too late, Sally realized that she didn't want to die.
She just wanted to stop suffering.