"Hannah, can you go down first? I need to use the restroom. I'll be right there," my mom says as we leave the dentist's office.
"Sure," I say, jumping into the elevator whose doors had just slid open with a loud clang. I want to go home as soon as possible. I've just thought of a new cupcake recipe, and I can't wait to try it out. I wait impatiently as the elevator doors take an excruciating five seconds to slide close. The descent begins. I tap my foot, waiting for the doors to reopen at the ground floor. But, when the doors open next, it's the 31st floor, not the first.
A tall figure in a long, North Face coat enters. She seems to be a couple years older than I, about 17 or 18. She is beautiful, with long blond curls cascading down her back and large green eyes. But, she looks extremely sad; everything about her seems to be pointing to the floor. She is staring at her phone. My heart goes out to her. I hate seeing people sad.
"Hi," I offer.
"Hi," she replies, her voice barely over a whisper.
At that moment, the elevator comes to a violent halt with a sudden jerking motion. The elevator is thrown into complete blackness as the lights go off.
Then, a man's voice fills the elevator through the speakers on the walls. "Please excuse the disturbance. There has been a power outage due to the storm. The emergency generator will be coming on shortly. Sorry, and thank you for your patience."
Darn! It looks like my cupcakes will have to wait. The girl turns on the flashlight on her IPhone. I wish I could do the same, but my phone died on the way here.
"So, why'd you come here today? Did you have a doctor's appointment?" I ask the girl. I might as well get to know her while the elevator is stuck.
"No. My...um, my brother used to love coming here for fencing lessons."
"Used to? He doesn't take lessons anymore?"
The girl's face gets even paler than it was before. "No. Um, he doesn't, um, have time anymore."
Then, the elevator lights come back, and just as suddenly, they turn back off. The man's voice comes on the speakers once more. "We are extremely sorry for this. Our emergency generator has only 10 percent of battery remaining. Power will flicker on and off. Please wait until we can charge our second generator. Thank you."
"Why, how old is your brother?" I continue the conversation.
"He should be 15 this year," she says.
"Oh my Gosh! Just like me. But, what do you mean, should? I ask.
"You know what? I don't usually open up to strangers I meet in the elevator, but, I’ve unintentionally revealed more than I should have and you seem smart. Truth is, my brother committed suicide five years ago."
"Oh, God! I'm so sorry. That's terrible. I'm so sorry for asking."
"No, it's okay. It actually feels good to say it out loud. It's very hard for me to think about it. I was really close to him, you know. Sometimes I wish we never went to Maine that year."
"In Maine? Where in Maine? What happened?"
"We went on vacation at Saddleback Mountain in August that year. He went hiking alone early in the morning, and well… He never came back. We were worried sick. And then, they found his body later that afternoon. He was only ten. He was such a happy kid."
"Oh wow. And, drowning to death makes it so much worse..."
"Wait... How did you know he drowned? You're right. They found his body in the water. But, how do you know that? I never said that."
Just then, the elevator lights briefly flash as the doors of the elevator jerk open. The lights turn back off, and I take a step back, as my eyes register endless darkness beyond the open doors. The elevator must be somewhere between two floors.
"So, how do you know? Were you there?" The girl's eyes are huge.
"It's okay, you know. You couldn't have stopped him anyway. How could you have known? Just tell me, though, were you there when my brother killed himself? Was he running away from a wild animal?"
I can't help it anymore. I can't hold it in. That was a terrible accident. I didn't mean to do it. She will forgive me. Maybe I don't have to live with the terrible guilt anymore. With this encouraging thought, I open my mouth. "No. Your brother wasn't running away from a wild animal. He didn't commit suicide either."
"Then, what? You mean to tell me..." her eyes widen with realization.
"Yes. I pushed him over that cliff. But, listen..."
"No! No! You're a frickin’ murderer! I can't believe it! All these years I thought my brother killed himself because he was unhappy about something... and now... You killed him! You killed the one person I loved most." Her green eyes, which were so sad and quiet just a couple minutes ago, are now filled with violent rage. They look even more insane in the bright beam of light from her phone.
"No. You don't understand. It wasn't like..."
"Of course it was! You killed him. He didn't just end up in that water by himself. YOU KILLED MY BROTHER! I can't take this anymore!" Then, her eyes quiet down just like that, and her face becomes smooth. "Fine. Tell me your story. Let’s hear it."
"Yes. Thank you," I say quietly. Maybe she isn’t going to be so difficult after all. "I took a morning walk alone, and there was this kid walking in front of me. We became friends, and started to play a game where we jumped from one rock to another. And then, well… We were right by a cliff, and your brother jumped onto this one rock, and I jumped on it right behind him. The rock was too small for both of us, and your brother lost his footing. I really tried to grab on to him. I seriously did, but I accidently pushed him off while trying to steady him. I’m so sorry. Please forgive me.”
"Yeah. Okay. Thanks for telling me the story. I wondered how it happened a million times over, you know." The girl is oddly calm. "Well, now all we need to do when this elevator starts working again is to go to the police, right? You can confess, and you will take the consequences. That's better than living with the guilt, I'm sure."
No, I can't. I don't want to live my life and have everyone know I am a murderer. I have a future. I'm going to go to an Ivy League college, work for the CIA, and become a famous baker. I don't want a criminal record. "Can we just work this out between us? I told you what happened. What's the point of me going to the police? The truth is out. I confessed."
"Are you frickin’ kidding me? Do you expect me to live my life like this? Watch you, who killed my brother, be happy and live her life like normal?"
At that moment, I made a decision. "Yeah, okay. You're right. I'm sorry. I'll confess to the police the moment we get out of here. I really hurt you, and I need to take the blame. How can I live like this?"
"Do you expect me to believe you?" The girl looks suspicious.
"No, I'm dead serious. I made a terrible mistake, and I want to do something to redeem myself. I want to get a fraction of your pain away. Please, forgive me. I'll do anything." I look imploringly at the girl.
"Alright. In that case, we can go to the police after this.”
Just then, as if by some miraculous blessing, the elevator jerks downwards. “What the heck!” I yell. This time the lights don’t even come on. “Hey, where are we?” I ask the girl.
“No idea,” she replies.
“Can you bring your flashlight over here? I want to know where we are,” I say.
“Sure.” The girl moves forward.
"Do you see anything?" I ask, standing a couple paces behind her. The girl looks down over the edge of the elevator. From the flickering light of the flashlight, I see the girl’s tall body framed at the doorway. She is leaning forward a little, turning her blond head from side to side.
For a couple milliseconds, I stare at the middle of the girl’s back. Then, without any more hesitation, I shove her exactly at that spot.
"What the..." The girl stumbles, flailing her arms to grab hold of something. When she realizes that there is nothing to hold onto, she positions her body so that it looks like she is diving. She looks very graceful, nothing at all like someone plunging to death. As she falls, she shouts back at me. "You'll regret this, bitch. Do not underestimate me."
I feel a pang of sadness as I see her fall. How did I kill two human beings before reaching my 16th birthday? I tell myself that I'm stupid for having any regrets. The first time, it was an accident. The second time, it was done out of self-defense. I didn't do anything wrong.
"Oh my goodness! I was worried sick! Are you okay, honey?" I run forward to hug my mom as she rushes out of the elevator. "I should have made you wait for me."
"It's okay, Mom. You didn't know the power was gonna go out. It's all good," I reply.
"Are you okay though?" she asks.
"Yeah... I'm fine. But, there was this girl in the elevator with me... and the elevator doors were open, and... she fell out," I say hesitantly. They were going to find her body soon enough.
"Oh my! Poor girl! Oh, no." My mom looks distraught.
Just then, as if on cue, a man shouts, "There's a body! A girl is dead! Someone get the police!"
My mom grabs and squeezes my hand. "Thank God you're alive, Hannah."
Some time later, a police officer approaches my mom and me. We were asked to stay in the building, since I was the only person there when the girl died. "You must be in extreme shock, Hannah. I apologize for asking you questions. But, do you know if Sophie Burns, the girl that fell down the elevator shaft, committed suicide?" Seeing my shocked expression, he adds, "There was an audio recording on Sophie's phone, but most of it was destroyed when she hit the ground at such high velocity. It sounded like a suicide message."
An audio recording? Did she record our conversation? Is that what she meant when she said, "Do not underestimate me"? But, it sounds like they don't know that I killed anyone.
"Uh, yes. She was very upset. May I hear the recording, please?" I ask politely.
"Of course," the officer pulls out Sophie's phone and starts playing the recording. It sounds like a broken radio from the 60s. I can barely hear anything.
"No! No! ... I can't take this anymore! ... That's better than ... the guilt, I'm sure. ... Are you frickin’ kidding me? Do you expect me to live my life like this? ...
I start to break down and cry. "Oh, honey," my mom says. "Excuse me, my daughter was just stuck in an elevator for seven hours. If that doesn't sound stressful enough, she watched someone kill herself. I would think that you had enough decency not to scare her with suicide messages 10 minutes after it's all over."
"I'm extremely sorry," the police officer says awkwardly. "We'll investigate this further later."
Two weeks later, I look proudly at my lemon cupcakes. They are gorgeous, with pink and blue flowers delicately positioned on top of soft lemon frosting. The interviews with the police ended a couple days ago, and I finally found time to bake.
"Those are beautiful, Hannah," my mom says, walking into the kitchen.
"Here, try some," I say, handing her my best one.
"Oh, thank you. And, I don't mean to ruin the moment, but I just got a phone call from the police department. They ruled that the girl committed suicide. It's too bad. Sounds like her brother committed suicide 5 years ago, too. It must run in the family. Well, we'll pray for them, and you don't know how glad I am that you are such a happy, sweet girl."
We bite into the cupcakes together. As the cupcake melts in my mouth, I see a smile light my mom's face.
"Perfect," we say together.