"I never believed in hell." This was the main thought above all others that kept circulating in the mind of Marcy Taylor as she crouched upon the cold cement floor, hunched in despair over Margaret Graystone's motionless body. Soon, she knew, the ambulance would arrive. But until then she had to endure this agonizing wait. A wait where every thought seemed painful, all of them piercing like white daggers into her heart. It wasn't physical pain that plagued her but mental, and to Marcy this type of internal pain felt much worse. Briefly, the dim lights in the confined basement flickered. Besides this, nothing else moved. Marcy yearned for something to happen, for a sign of anything that might convince her that this was all just a ghastly nightmare. But nothing proceeded to stir from its somber silence. Even time itself appeared to be at a standstill, deliberately suspending her in the worst moment of her teenage life. A pungent stench of mold and decay lingered in the dank basement, but Marcy wasn't aware of it. When the distant flash of a car's headlights penetrated through the grimy window nearby, she didn't lift her head in response. It was as if her senses had perished along with her spirit. Her body was numb and seemed unable to function properly. And still that same thought repeated itself in her mind, a thought of stubborn disbelief. "I never believed in hell that such a thing would happen..." She could recall the events leading up to this tragic moment precisely. Vividly, they remained at the forefront of her memory, emerging unannounced at intervals when she was most distressed, though she willed them not to. When this occurred, she would always wonder the same inevitable thing: "Could I have done something to prevent this?" Gazing in earnest at the pale face of her friend, she searched for an answer. But Margaret's gravely still and silent frame offered nothing in response. It was painful to bear for Marcy, the thought that her now immobile companion had only an hour ago been moving just like normal. This wasn't the real Margaret. Not the one Marcy knew. Her translucent face and vacant, unfocused expression was entirely foreign to her. The pain she had inflicted upon herself was a tyrannical force, transforming her into something that she was not. Two years prior to this, Marcy would never have predicted that such a horrible incident as this would ever occur. From the first moment she had met Margaret Graystone, she had appeared content with her life. Marcy had never known anyone to be brimming with so much self confidence, in fact, which was the main quality of Margaret that had drawn Marcy to her initially. At first it had seemed that their friendship would last. But gradually, it grew cold, and they both began to drift apart. Margaret became more detached and seemed to be building herself a wall that no one, not even her best friend, could breach. And Marcy hadn't understood why. Until tonight. Until this party had occurred, Marcy had never known the answers to the concerned questions she had asked herself countless times within her mind, but had never had enough courage to ask her friend herself. And now she wished she had. Marcy could recall clearly her profound astonishment only two hours earlier when she had entered Madison Foley's house and glimpsed the person she hadn't spoken to in a year lounging idly by the pool table. She had seemed to be waiting for Marcy almost expectantly, and Marcy remembered the perpetual look of anxiety which had overcome her features. With a sense of urgency, she had motioned Marcy over to her. Marcy, perplexed, tried to listen with quiet concern as her former friend began to confide with her in a hushed tone of voice. She knew instinctively that something was wrong. But Madison, the hostess of the party, had only allowed Margaret to exchange a brief sentence - "Marcy, I need to tell you something..." - before interrupting her. “Marcy, I'm going to take a bunch of people on a tour of my house. Would you like to come?” “Sorry,” Marcy had whispered back to Margaret as she departed from her. “I'll talk to you about it later, ok? I promise.” Marcy never forgot the crestfallen expression that had crossed Margaret's face as she separated herself from her. She doubted she ever would. As Margaret slowly turned her back to Marcy, Madison surveyed her retreating figure with an air of haughty disapproval. “I don't even remember inviting her.” At intervals throughout the party, whenever Marcy could break away from the meaningless drone of conversation, she did. But despite her best efforts, her searches for Margaret had proved fruitless. It was at last nine o'clock, and the evening was drawing to a long anticipated close, at least as far as Margaret was concerned. The majority of the party goers were mingling in the living room, observing one final match of ping-pong. Jason Dewitt had been the reigning champion so far and clearly considered his enviable position worthy enough to gloat about, since that seemed to be exactly what he was doing. “C'mon, nobody wants to play me anymore?” he challenged. He was currently without an opponent, and exasperated that no one was volunteering themselves. “If no one is going to offer, then I'll just have to pick them myself.” His beady black eyes traveled greedily through the assembled crowd, and Marcy tried her best to make herself invisible. Finally his restless eyes settled on someone, and there was a hushed silence as everyone swiveled their heads to glimpse his unfortunate victim. It was Margaret. She stood there, uncertain and uncomfortable, each pair of eyes focused upon her timid self. For some reason Marcy couldn't bring herself to meet Margaret's eyes along with everyone else. Maybe it was because she didn't want to see the desperate plea for help that she was certain Margaret's dark brown eyes would convey. Perhaps it was because she knew that if she met those eyes she'd want to come to her friend's aide, but her lack of courage around so many people would prevent her from doing so. And that's the reason Marcy just stood there, wanting to do something but not able to, as the situation rapidly grew worse. “Well, I suppose I could try,” Margaret responded, tentatively approaching the miniature table. “I'm sorry, but I'm not going to allow this,” Madison intervened, speaking directly to Jason. Margaret's eyes beamed a grateful surge of appreciation as they moved to Madison. But Madison wasn't finished speaking. “I doubt that she's very good, anyway.” She eyed Margaret with barely concealed disdain, as if she were no more than a hideous cockroach. “It'd be best if she just saved herself the embarrassment.” Margaret's face flushed a deep scarlet, and the internal hurt she was suffering was evident on her face. Silently, she lowered her head as a swarm of taunting laughter followed Madison's remark. Abruptly, she turned and fled, her blue satin dress billowing out behind her. And all the while Marcy had stood there, frustrated with herself that her jaw remained locked and that she couldn't find the courage to speak. But as Margaret was fleeing, she knew she had to do something. Her legs were much more reliable than her mouth, she realized, as she hastily began to run after her friend. Down a narrow corridor she ran, trying to keep Margaret within her sight. But as she was about to descend a flight of stairs, someone stepped in front of her and halter her in her pursuit. It was Madison. “Why do you care about her?” she demanded. “Because she was...is my friend,” Marcy explained flusteredly. Then, with more confidence, she flung a question back at her interrogator. “Why are you so mean to her?” “Because,” Madison retorted, “she came to this party uninvited, so I felt it my obligation to put her back in her place.” “Move,” Marcy ordered her quietly, her voice trembling with suppressed rage. “Move right now or I'll have no choice but to knock you over.” “As you say, your highness,” she smirked. But as Marcy continued dashing down the flight of stairs, she heard Madison holler back down to her: “You're wasting your time. She's not worth it.” Once Marcy reached the foot of the stairs, she feared she wouldn't be able to know where to go. But luckily her decision was less complicated than she had anticipated. There was only one door at the far end of the hallway. And it had been left slightly ajar. Feverishly, she opened it. The atmosphere when she entered the room seemed considerably colder than before, but somehow appeared more stifling; the stale odor of decay clinging to every dark corner overwhelmed Marcy until she felt she could no longer breathe. The room was filled with sinister shadows, and they instilled Marcy with a sense of foreboding. “Margaret?” she called out timidly into the semi-darkness. But there was no response. She took one more cautious step into the room. And gasped. Margaret's slender figure lay sprawled on the cold cement floor. With a feeling of dread rising in her abdomen, Marcy knelt down near her friend's body. “Margaret,” she cried in desperation, placing her hands on her lifeless frame. “Answer me!” That was when she saw the glint of something silver in Margaret's limp hand. She edged closer and saw with a growing horror that she was clutching a long, jagged knife. Worse still was what Marcy saw staining the handle: Margaret's blood. Examining Margaret closely, she was able to determine where she had hurt herself. On the wrist of her opposite hand was a deep, penetrating cut. Crimson blood was still trickling from it. Marcy was paralyzed with fear, uncertain of what to do. She tasted bile in her throat but forced herself to remain calm. She had to do something, and she had to do it fast. As Marcy was glancing furtively around the room, a solution presented itself. A solitary telephone hung along the far wall, and she groped her way toward it. With trembling hands, she dialed the number for emergency. There were three rings, three agonizing rings, before someone finally picked up. Marcy tried to keep her voice steady as she related Margaret's situation to the person on the other line. “Ok ma'm, we'll be over there as quickly as possible,” they assured her. But seconds later, as Marcy hung up the phone, she still was not assured. Worry and concern plagued her, but most of all guilt. Guilt about everything that she had not done, and still more for that which she had not done. How she had not had the courage to ask her friend two years ago about what might have been wrong, about why she had distanced herself and seemed more depressed. How she had not told Madison “no” when asked to go on a tour of her house. How she had stood in Madison's living room and lacked the courage to defend Margaret when she was being mocked by Madison. And how, at the very end of it all, she hadn't shoved Madison aside and chosen not to listen to her. That she hadn't arrived earlier when it might have been early enough to save Margaret was what she regretted most. Then again, maybe I'm wrong, she tried to convince herself. Maybe it's still not too late to save her. Marcy gazed hopelessly at her friend, willing her to regain consciousness. If only she was able to listen to her, Marcy would apologize for everything that she had and hadn't done. And, most importantly, she would apologize for not being a good friend to her in her most desperate times of need. As she was looking at Margaret's pale, porcelain face, something white caught the corner of her eye. As she turned to look, she saw a folded piece of parchment lying on a nearby table. Curiously, she strode over to it and opened it, uncertain of what she may find. Inside was scrawled a short letter in what Marcy recognized instantly as Margaret's handwriting. Interested but frightened at what it might contain, she proceeded to read it. Dear Marcy, I'm assuming that you will be the one to find this letter first, and there's a few things I need to explain to you. To begin with, I was never invited to this party, as I'm sure you know. I came here because I knew you would be here, and I needed to tell someone what I was going through. I thought that perhaps if I told someone, maybe, just maybe I could prevent myself from plummeting off the edge. But as it was, it seems as if no one wants me here on this Earth. I feel like just another burden to everyone, someone who only exists for others to mock and laugh at. I want you to know that none of this is your fault. It just seems like the best option for me now. Goodbye. Tell my parents that I love them. Tell them that their daughter, Margaret, loves them. The letter ended there. Almost involuntarily, Marcy's fingers uncurled. The letter fell slowly to the ground, the final testimony to a young girl's life cut short. A profound and overwhelming sense of anguish washed over Marcy, and she collapsed next to her silent friend, weeping inconsolably. Even though Margaret had told her not to put herself at fault, Marcy couldn't help but do just that. If Margaret didn't survive this incident, she knew she would never forgive herself. Marcy Taylor forced herself to the present where she still lay in the same position, hunched over Margaret's cold and lifeless body. Outside, she had been listening intently for the welcoming wail of sirens to pierce through the gloom. Yet nothing had happened. Marcy had realized long ago that time has an uncanny knack of remaining ignorant to one's bidding. As each minute passed by, Marcy could feel Margaret's life slipping away, like water through an open palm. And yet there was nothing she could do about it except to urge Margaret silently to remain strong, to hold on just a bit longer. Marcy felt hopelessness closing in like the encroaching darkness that surrounded her in the enclosed basement. But because she was no longer strong enough to fend it off, she began to submit to it. That, at long last, was the moment when the ambulance arrived. Nearly a dozen uniformed men exited the vehicle, and Marcy watched as they dashed immediately into the house. She heard their thudding footsteps as they entered through the threshold and the welcoming sound of their urgent chatter as they plodded down the staircase. She caught a few words of their conversation: “...teenage girl...said she was in a serious condition...” before the door to the basement burst open and they strode in. They worked quickly and efficiently, taking Margaret's pulse and evaluating her. Marcy was impatient and couldn't keep herself from inquiring. “Is she going to be ok?” One of the men, a grisly, gray haired one, replied with, “It's too early to know yet, miss. But we believe she may have a chance.” Marcy felt as if a huge weight had been instantly lifted off her shoulders. At that moment, she felt all the grief she had experienced melt away, replaced by a sense of gratifying relief. As Margaret was loaded onto a stretcher and carried away, Marcy whispered almost inaudibly into her ear. “I knew you could do it. I've always believed in you, Margaret.” And as the men slowly proceeded forward, Marcy could almost have sworn she saw the ghost of a smile hovering on her friend's lips.