You're not supposed to know the details. Just what's written here. The details don't matter. All that matters is the message.
Disclaimer: I own nothing except the little girl.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world. –Gandhi
"Can you believe how self-absorbed they are?" Zack scoffed. "Those little goody-two-shoes pricks and their quantifiable bullshit. They just don't understand!"
"Don't understand what?" asked the girl in the cell next to his.
Zack shifted positions, lying on his side instead of his back. Gazing at her. She was a mousy little thing, no older than seven or eight. Emaciated, her skin appearing as though it had been stretched too thinly over her delicate bones. Her name was Leonora, or at least that's what she'd said. Not that it mattered. Names didn't matter in a place like this. Everyone had the same name. The same identity. They were bonded by being prisoners.
"It's not over yet," Zack said confidently, his chest erupting with pain as air past in and out of his lungs. The guards had beaten him everywhere. His whole body throbbed with sharp bursts of pain. "Someone's gonna come. Someone's gonna...someone's gonna save us."
"Who?" the girl—Leonora—wanted to know, her expression merely curious.
Zack didn't know who. He didn't even know if anyone was really coming. But he refused to believe otherwise. It was his good faith in a rescue that kept him going—that kept him from crying out when the whip had cracked his back, from giving up and breathing in when his head had been forced into a pail of water, from pissing himself when the bolts of electricity had surged through his body. His good faith was his only savior and he couldn't let it go.
"A hero," he said, his mind suddenly forming a shimmering image of Cody.
The girl shook her head. "No one's coming," she said simply. "No one ever comes. You're going to die in here."
Zack looked around at his surroundings. It was no Auschwitz but far from a nice place to pass away. The door was a row of crisscrossed bars; the walls and floor were covered in filth of all kinds; the air stank like sweat, piss, death, and fear. "Wait and see," he murmured. "Wait and see."
Leonora shook her head again, this time more vigorously. "I don't believe in heroes. They don't exist."
Zack's attention went back to her. "Of course they exist. Haven't you heard of them?"
"Oh, I've heard of them," the girl declared with reproach. "Their noble steeds, their shining armor, their waving swords...the trumpets."
"There aren't trumpets," Zack said. "Only in fairytales. Only in make-believe. But in real life—it's a different story. No fireworks, no bright lights, no angelic singing..."
"Have you ever seen heroes?"
It took a while for Zack to answer her question. When he did he spoke slowly, though his words were nothing but the truth: "Yeah...I've seen heroes. They don't have to be tall, or handsome, or dressed in cavalier suits. None of that makes any difference. What makes a difference is...intent. Drive. Ambition. The never-ending desire to help."
"But no trumpets?" Leonora prodded in a semi-mocking, semi-serious tone.
"No, no trumpets." Zack sighed. "Gets in the way if you think about it."
"So what is a hero?"
The girl hugged her legs to her chest, placing her hands on her knees. She looked so small scrunched up like that. As though the darkness would swallow her whole at any moment. "So when is this hero going to come?"
That was the question he hoped she wouldn't ask. "Don't know," he admitted. "We have to be patient. He's got a lot on his plate. A lotta hills to climb over, a lotta bad guys to take care of…besides, isn't it a rule that the hero saves the captives in the nick of time?" He raised the corner of his mouth and gave her what had to be a feeble half-smile.
"So this hero…how do we know it's him when we see him?"
"You'll know. You'll feel it. Proof that you don't need no stupid trumpets."
A moment of silence went by. Leonora eventually uncoiled herself and leaned her back against the bars that separated her cell from Zack's.
"There's always a day of reckoning," Zack practically whispered, his body growing weaker.
"What do you mean by that?" Leonora inquired.
"I mean…"—he groaned in pain—"there's always a day when we have to make a decision."
"A decision about what?"
"About what we stand for."
Leonora stared at him, waiting for him to go on.
So he did. "There's always a day of judgment...and there are no blaring trumpets on that day. Just a lot of proving—proving people wrong, proving people right, proving to yourself that you're worth a damn."
"It sounds hard."
"Oh, it is. And it hurts like a bitch." Zack shifted a little more to get a better look at the girl, letting out a yelp as his bruised skin collided with the mucky stone floor. "Judgment day's never easy. And it sure as hell ain't something you can walk away from unaffected. But there are two things that it is: your darkest hour, and your greatest moment."
Zack swallowed. "Always."
Unable to hold his head up any longer, he laid back and heaved a sigh of relief. He shouldn't strain himself too much by moving. He needed rest. It was imperative that he conserve as much of his strength as possible. "I have to sleep now," he told Leonora.
"Yes," Leonora said, "sleep."
"The guards'll be back." His voice was barely above a whisper. "Don't let them find you."
"Don't worry, they won't. I hide in the shadows when they come."
"And remember...the hero's coming."
"Zack...Zack, wake up...come on, Zack, please...please wake up..."
"He's not moving!"
Zack felt hands grip him and shake him. Back and forth, back and forth. The aches and pains roared to life, pounding in his ears, tensing his body rigid.
The voice sounded like it was about to cry.
"Oh my God, look at all that blood...oh Zack, what did they do to you?"
There was a choked sob. The feeling of a cold hand touching his cheek.
Zack opened his eyes. His vision was blurry but he could make out the shape of a face looking down at him. He didn't know whose it was but he could sense in his gut that it belonged to someone who wished him no harm.
"Zack," the mysterious person said to him, "it's me, Cody."
"Cody?" Zack felt relief rush through him. "Is it really you?"
"Yeah Zack, it's really me."
"You came to save us?"
"I came to save you." Cody sounded so confused. Zack could picture his perplexed expression.
"But there's a girl ..." he muttered, "a little girl with me. In the cell right next to mine. Right ..."—he tried to point in the direction of where he'd seen Leonora, ignoring the spasm of pain in his arm—"over there. Leonora, that's her name."
Cody forced Zack's arm down and then turned to look. He saw nothing. "There's no one there, Zack," he told his brother.
"But there was!" Zack persisted. "A little dark-haired girl, starved half to death but still alive and kicking." He shifted his head towards the adjacent cell. "Leonora! It's okay, you don't have to hide! This is my brother, Cody. He's here to save us!"
"Zack, no one can hear you," Cody said.
"No, she can. She's back there. Leonora!" Zack cried.
"Shhh...listen to me," Cody tried to pacify him. "Listen to me, Zack." He held his brother's head in both hands and forced him to look at him. "There is no one there."
Zack stared at him, unblinkingly, in disbelief. What was he talking about? Of course there was. Why couldn't he see her? Why couldn't he go into the dark shadows and find her?
"We should go," said a man from behind the barred door of the cell who was clearly a paramedic. He and another paramedic were standing on opposite sides of a gurney.
Cody gave Zack a look that implied something was going to be unpleasant. "You ready to be lifted?" he intoned.
Zack drew in a deep breath. "I'm not leaving without Leonora."
Cody stood up, his eyes never leaving his brother. "Guys?" he said to the paramedics. "Take him."
They rushed inside the cell, pulling the gurney with them, and got on opposite sides of Zack's body.
Zack began to scream. "No! No, don't touch me!"
One took his head and shoulders, the other took his legs. Together, they picked him up out of the puddle of his own blood and placed him, gently, on the gurney.
"Please, Cody!" Zack pleaded, reaching for his brother's coat as the gurney was wheeled out of the cell. "Please don't leave her here! Save her too! Fuck, leave me and save her instead. I don't care. Just don't leave her! Please ..." He burst into tears. He never cried while being tortured; but he sobbed now.
"She doesn't believe in heroes!"
Cody followed him, closing the cell door on his way out.
First came an oxygen mask.
Then a syringe.
Then hazy shapes and muffled voices.
When Zack woke up he was in a hospital bed. There was a tube in his nose, bandages all over him, a brace on his shoulder, and machines everywhere. Beeping. Recording. Showing anyone who cared to look that he had pulled through.
For a while he was alone. But then the door to the room opened and none other than his twin brother, Cody, walked in. He walked up to his bed, dressed in a suit, carrying some sort of folder.
"How do you feel?" he asked.
If Zack weren't so sore and frail, he would have shot up and tried to strangle him. How could he have left that child behind? She was right there. All he had to do was look.
Glaring at him with as much hatred as his run-down body could withhold, Zack didn't answer.
Cody looked down, acknowledging the folder in his hands. From it he removed a sheet of paper. "Remember that girl you called to in the prison?" he questioned.
"Leonora," Zack clarified.
"Yeah...I found her."
Despite how broken his body was, Zack felt his spirits uplift. Cody found her? He went back for her? Perhaps he wasn't such an ass, after all.
Cody leaned over and handed Zack the paper. On it was a picture, accompanied by a death account.
The second his eyes wandered to the picture, Zack gasped. It was the girl, Leonora.
"While you were getting patched up I did some research on her," Cody added, his voice barely audible over the pulsation in Zack's ears. "Her name was Leonora Webster. Her parents got in trouble with the Russian mafia, so they kidnapped her and had her locked up in a remote prison—the same one you were in. She was eight years old."
Zack couldn't believe it. He shut his eyes and shook his head. No.
"She died there Zack. A long time ago."
"No, that can't be..." Even as those words escaped his mouth, Zack knew they weren't true.
"I'm sorry," Cody said sadly. "They say her ghost still resides there, haunting her cell. You know, like Irene and Captain Entinelle?"
Zack's heart broke. He held the paper against his chest and allowed the tears that were pooling his eyes to flow down his cheeks. "No one came for her," he murmured. "No one came to save her."
"No," Cody agreed, "but she saved her parents. They went into hiding and she never gave them up."
She'd sacrificed everything for her loved ones. Enduring a cold cell, little to no food and sneering guards in return. She was just a child. Had barely gotten a chance to live...when she died. Just like that. No heroes. No rescue. Just loneliness, fear, starvation and death.
Cody reached out his hand and softly wiped away his brother's tears.
"You should have left me there," Zack choked. "You should have left me there and let me die."
"Oh no, Zack," Cody contradicted. "If I'd done that, who would remember her?"
A long pause ensued. Zack sniffled and managed to calm down.
"I've got to go," Cody eventually said. "I'll be back later."
Before he exited the room, Zack called him back: "Hey, Cody?"
"What do you do when a hero doesn't come for you?"
Cody gave him a half-smile. "You become one yourself."