Author's Note: This is a lot different from the last story I wrote. I am using this story as an opportunity to play around with language a little more. It's going to be darker and I hope that no one is offended by the content (you'll see what I mean in future chapters). All I ask is that you trust me enough to keep reading this.

Anyways, enough of that: The characters aren't mine, but they don't really turn up in the prologue anyways.

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            Through the glass doors marked "Intensive Care Unit", there is a world unlike any other. Here, the lights burn all night long. It is a world where no one ever sleeps. The pain and suffering that inhabit this unit are unbearable. Not only for the patients, but for their families, the doctors and the nurses as well. The ache of humanity hangs in the air, smothering all those who venture through the glass door. The doors swing forth like the gates of hell. However, it is not quite hell; rather it is somewhat of a purgatory. Bodies become trapped here and are forced to bear the burden of suffering. Some will walk out of here. Others will not.

In this particular ICU, the sounds, sights and smells seem more acute to those who leave civilization behind and make the leap into this terrifying environment. The fluorescent overhead lights hum incessantly, like and eerie orchestra that plays non-stop. It serves as a constant reminder that this is not a dream; this is a stark reality. Everywhere you look there is the very worst of human suffering. There is a boy, no more than eight years old, who clings to life thanks to a respirator that breathes for him. He was struck by a car while crossing the street. The whiteness of his face is almost hypnotic – one is entranced by it, wondering if there is any blood still circulating through his veins. There is a young woman who nearly burned to death when her backyard barbeque exploded. From ten feet away the acrid smell of incinerated flesh permeates the air. Her burns are severe – though to someone who is so desensitized by the images on the movie screens it looks like a spectacular makeup job. But this is real life, not some movie set.

The ICU smells like no other part of the hospital. It is a mix of disinfectant and antibiotics, but there is something more than that. It smells like death. It carries with it the odour of hopelessness – like those who go in may never come out. The smell is overwhelming at first but the more time that one spends here, the less you notice it. The smell simply becomes a normal part of this hyper-sanitized world, like the beeps from the heart monitors, or the unconscious moans from the occupants of the many beds.

The doctors are not gods. They are mere mortals who have been blessed with the gift of healing. But they are not infallible. Sometimes they fail, despite their best efforts. The life of an ICU doctor is the most difficult. They roam the aisles of the ill and try to offer something to ease the pain here, or maybe a reassuring smile there. They are the blessed protectors in this fragile world, but even the protectors need to be protected sometimes. Running away is not an option. Instead, they do their best to lighten the situations. The doctor's joke amongst themselves, not because they find all of this funny, but rather because they don't find it funny at all. ICU doctors are like the people who laugh at funerals. They have to find humour in the darkest situations or they will go insane with grief for these victims.

There is a crushing sense of solitude within these walls. No matter how many people are around, no matter how similar their situation is to yours, you feel alone. It makes the ICU feel almost like a ghost town at times. The rare silences are deafening. It is in these moments that you find yourself alone with your thoughts. The isolation of the mind is perhaps the most terrifying thing in the world, especially when the mind is consumed by fears and doubts. It is in these moments that one has a revelation about the predictability of death. To someone removed from the situation, death is impending when the breathing gets harder and the heart beats slower. Inside the ICU however, the secret of death is in their eyes. The eyes are a reflection of their pain, their fear, their helplessness and their desperation. The first sign of impending death is when the light goes out of their eyes. When the eyes become dull and desolate you know that the fight is almost over. Soon, the shadow of death will wash over them. For some it will be a relief, for they will finally be released from their prison of suffering. For others the last moments of life will be filled with terror. The fear will seize them because we always fear what we don't know – and death is something intangible, the emptiest concept to the human mind.

It is in this ICU that the dead come back to life. Medication, respirators and defibrillators are all a part of life down here. It is in this ICU that people praise God when a loved one is saved, and curse Him when someone dies.

It is here that Nick Stokes has a tenuous grasp on life.