Vannessa resisted the urge to respond, but failed. A shudder, and her brown eyes opened.
Turning around, a red-haired teenager tried to ignore the voice. It was normal already. It was normal. So why was she still scared?
No footsteps, like in the horror movies. No banging or creaking sounds, as novels tried to scare readers with. No sound, no nothing, and he was there.
"Vannessa... I know you're awake. Let's play a game." he said, tilting his head innocently. His tousled blonde hair stood out in stark contrast to the general darkness of the room.
The redhead did not move.
"Sa." A mischievous smile danced on the corners of his mouth.
Vannessa resisted the urge to respond, but failed. A shudder, and her brown eyes opened. Joshua looked at her happily. Vannessa didn't move as she spoke: "That was a dirty trick, using Mayne's nickname for me." she said.
"Yes, but you wouldn't answer me." he replied. In the moonlight, his dark eyes shone like a cat's, giving even more mystery to him.
"Indeed, I didn't." Vannessa said, shivering. A memory played through her head.
"Run! Quick!" Allison yelled. The small boy shoved Vannessa off the ledge of the cliff, into the water. Seconds later, two tall, imposing men grabbed Allison and Mayne, proceeding to take them away.
"Allison!" Vannessa screamed. Her short arm stretched out, as if trying to reach her dear friend. Her short, scarlet-red hair whipped around in the wind as she plunged through the sky.
The next instant, she was submerged in ice cold water.
Gasping for air, Vannessa kicked and splashed for a bit before calming down. No matter how desolate the situation seemed, she knew that her friends back at the lighthouse were facing worse. They were most likely being beaten or locked up as punishment. She had been given a chance to live a life outside of the slavehouse. It was something all the other slaves yearned for; to see the outside world, to eat the aromatic food that drifted from the guards plates! Oh, it was all so foreign and luxurious for the slaves!
Kicking hard, Vannessa decided to chance her luck and swam off in a random direction. She knew she had to escape and be free, if only for her friends that had sacrificed themselves to let her escape. But one question still bothered her, nagging at the back of her mind.
"Joshua?" Vannessa asked hopefully. She wasn't sure if she wanted him to respond, or wanted him to be gone.
He was her friend, her confidante, their leader, the one they trusted the most. And he had suddenly killed-killed- Tony. Just like that. Vannessa had woken up to a puddle of blood by her side that day. She always believed that her hair was stained with his blood.
"Why wasn't it me? Why? Why did it have to be kind, funny, smart Tony?" Vannessa had tormented herself with that question ever since Tony's death. She was angry; angry at the guards, for turning Joshua crazy. Angry at herself for not stopping Joshua. Angry at Tony for not defending himself.
Strangely enough, the only thing or person she wasn't mad at was Joshua himself. The person that had done the deed, spilling the red drops of life, the same color as her hair. No matter how she tried, how her mind screamed out that it was Joshua, Joshua she should be mad at, the one who was wrong, her heart refused to listen, blatantly lying to herself, making up excuses for him.
She didn't want to admit it, but she had been in love with him since childhood.
"Do you think we'll ever get out of here?"
"Of course! And after we leave this place, I'll marry you, Vannessa!"
A deep, velvety voice hummed lazily as Vannessa felt someone getting on her bed. She didn't need to turn around to know that Joshua was sitting on it, humming a song. Their song. The one that they used to sing while slaving away, in hopes of one day escaping their prison and slavery.
"I'll lift my head up and look at the sky, so blue and so wide, that's why we shouldn't cry..."
The familiar chorus of children's voices, aged between 5 to 11, played in her head, along with the sound of rustling leaves as they harvested the crops. Ironically, they would barely get any of the plump vegetables and fruits they were harvesting now to stay alive.
"Remember when we were harvesting apples?" Joshua asked.
"Mm-hmm." Vannessa replied, nodding. She found it strange, how his visits thrilled her and how she could talk to him so easily, despite knowing how many lives he had taken and how many years the government had been chasing him down for all his treacherous acts. It hurt her every time she saw him accused of crimes he never committed.
"I remember when Allison stole one and we all shared it after dinner. It was the yummiest thing we'd ever eaten!" Joshua said animatedly.
Vannessa did not know why. He would alternate between states of sadistic evil, mature care for others and childish innocence frequently. Within one day, he normally displayed at least 8 changes.
"Yep." Vannessa agreed. Deep inside her heart, she wished that the time they met wasn't so brief, that the time they spent together was more frequent.
"Why are you so quiet, Sa?" Joshua asked, his voice suddenly less bubbly and happy. His face displayed emotions of care and worry.
"I'm just... sad. Sad that you have to leave." Vannessa said quietly.
"I'm sad too..." Joshua replied. He gave the girl a kiss on the cheek, then stood up.
"Bye Vannessa... I'll see you soon."
Vannessa did not reply. What was the use? He had to go before he lost control and hurt her, or before the others from the neighborhood watch she participated in found him. She had escaped to a quaint town near the coast years ago after Allison had given her the chance to leave for good. Her friends there never knew of her strange past. She had to lie to them constantly, knowing how much they despised him. There were so many obstacles between the two of them.
It was a living nightmare for her, to be so close, yet so conflicted. But seeing him every few nights was bliss for her. The sheer calm and the peacefulness that she found when she was with him was the magical and soothing. It was like he had a spell that made her relax.
When Vannessa woke up the next morning, she would be in denial about the previous night's events. Lying, making up excuses, blaming her imagination. Then, she would turn around and see a shiny red apple on her dresser. It was proof that he was here, proof that it wasn't all a nightmarish dream, yet one that she looked forward to. It was the same every time. Then, she would mentally slap herself and get up. Life would go on for her. That beautiful yet haunting nightmare would always be pushed to the back of her mind.
Yes, it was a simply beautiful nightmare.