Sally Smithson didn’t exist anymore. She was pressed and prodded and torn until there was nothing left except for a corpse in a tattered uniform, bound by invisible strings to the twisting halls of the Crotus Prenn Asylum. Nothing made sense anymore. Often she gave herself away to the Entity, fully and wholly, allowing her consciousness to slip deep within the fog. Only the seething pain of a blink through the thin reality of the trial ever awoke a sense of self within her, when she allowed herself to corrode so. The pain pleaded to her, claiming she needed to latch onto what was left of her soul, keep a part of herself alive.
It was hard, though. Time was nonsensical here and she couldn’t remember when she had begun to lose track of who she was. The Nurse could only spend so much of it, hovering on the edge of reality, mourning the life she lost through her . Of Andrew, mostly, with his calloused hands that were far larger than her own, his laugh that was rough and deep yet filled with so much warmth, his beard that tickled her neck and face and shoulders. She mourned, and mourned, and mourned. It bubbled up from the pit of her stomach and she choked on her desperation for a moment in time when she wasn’t such a being of depravity, of cruelty, of terror, of death.
She was surprised by how easy it was to tear her own skin open, almost soft and spongy beneath her fingertips, wet and thin slabs peeling back to reveal the rancid insides of her chest cavity that have melted, and stretched, and burst through her stomach at the will of her God. The very God that now pulsated around her in excitement, tremors bursting through the labyrinth of gates and campfires and chambers of torture and suffering in all pockets of its realm. The Nurse knew everyone, her fellow killers and her prey alike, knew of what she was doing.
Against the strained flesh of her palms her heart felt thin, incomplete somehow. The Nurse wailed, the cloth strung painfully around her face, pulling her skin at odd angles beneath, became damp and snug. The pain ate away at the now empty bleeding cavity of her chest, spreading throughout leaking veins like a swarm of fire ants. She did not want to treat the object in her hands with respect, or kindness, yet she could not bring herself to tear the piece of meat until there was nothing but pink paste beneath her fingertips like she had planned.
Maybe it was because he was there. Always hovering on the edge of her vision, his eyes a pair of steady flames in the shrouded darkness. He took her heart and wrapped it carefully, as though it were a plate of fine china or the wiggling form of a newborn, in a tattered cloth. It bled, and bled, and bled, and darkened his greyed fingers through the shabby fabric and they looked so filthy and worn. The Nurse allowed him to leave with it, slinking away back to his realm, where he would sob for a now-heartless monster between smashed cars with rotting bones in their trunks and a dry gas station with a bell by the door that never rung until the prey tried to hide.
It wasn’t until she tried, so desperately, to rid herself of her humanity, destroy what remained of Sally Smithson, did Andrew find a way back into her life. In the paper thin reality of the winding halls of the Crotus Prenn Asylum, pinched and torn from the Entity’s games and manipulations, she saw him again, through a tear within reality that bled steadily into her prison. Flames licked through the layers of existence, staining the once still and never changing halls of the realm.
There was a silver lighter in Andrew’s right hand, his soul a separate being besides his physical appearance, who looked so different from what he had in their life together. Short and so, so, so skinny- a woman with arched eyebrows and a smug little grin that evoked memories of a cocky lumberjack who swore he would never, ever, get hurt at work. It was still his blue eyes resting within her skull, clear and wonderful, containing sealed away memories of mornings full of happiness and fresh fruits she grew in their makeshift garden and hand stitched wedding gowns and crocheted beanies in their depths.
It was awful and wrong, she knew, to want to drag Andrew down into Hell with her. Yet his soul shone so brightly, a beautiful smooth shade of purple that was held together so wonderfully; she couldn’t help but grimace at her memories of the distorted auras of the prey she was forced to encounter in her trials. She wanted Andrew. It didn’t matter who he was now, she ached to be with him again, with whoever Andrew was now.
The fog wrapped around her arms in a thin blanket of varying shades of greys that darkened, and darkened, and darkened around the now burning building and when the tips of fingers brushed against the outline of Andrew against the fire, she screamed. It was so loud and Andrew’s soul slipped from the ground beside her and the Entity took care with tugging the woman away from the Nurse’s grasp, layered between the two realities, and dragged her fully within the depths of it’s realm.
It took awhile for the Nurse to see Andrew appear in a trial. She hardly got to see her, only capturing a glimpse of Andrew as she slipped away through the fog to the exit gate and back to the prey’s campfire. There was a deep ache that settled beneath her skin, dripping peculiarly into the marrow of the Nurse’s bones. The feeling cast a shadow upon her and she found herself unable to move, even as the remaining survivors slipped past her frozen form to their beloved escape.
Another time Andrew had a flashlight, ill-fitting and so heavy and shiny within her hands, which were so much smaller than what the Nurse remembered. It was almost endearing. Andrew was merciless and cocky with her brand new toy, a gift from the Entity, and the Nurse felt excited by the thought of Andrew finding some sort of enjoyment within the desolate landscape they found themselves inside. All the survivors managed to escape again.
This time Andrew had long blonde hair, sunbleached and dry, that hung from a wool beanie. She was always quiet and sneaky. Before the Entity took her away, back to the prey’s campfire, the Nurse plucked the flowers from her New Moon bouquets she had saved for the occasion, carefully braiding them between the long, thin strands of Andrew’s hair. It was painful to have hurt Andrew so, and she hoped the Entity would allow Andrew to keep them, even if it's just within the liquid void of the semi-conscious space between the trials and the prey’s campfire and the killer’s realms.
It came as a shock when, between the hourless moment between the trials, Andrew appeared at the rusted gate. In her balled hands were crumpled and torn petals of the New Moon bouquet, which dropped from her hands onto the edge of the doorway of the Crotus Prenn Asylum and the Nurse swore they shattered like glass. Andrew didn’t speak in English, her voice rough like it had been in their life together, and yet the language sounded so cruel and angry in a way she had never heard Andrew speak before.
For the first time in what felt like an eternity the Nurse felt the choking, sharp, smothering heat that was guilt.