Thicker and thicker the faces grew. While none of them actually spoke, there seemed to be a buzzing in my ears that grew louder as more and more of them came. Three new figures joined the crowd. They should have blended into the rest, but they stood out almost as sharply as the blood on the children's necks had.
It was Lissa's family.
Her mother, her father, and her brother Andre. They looked exactly as they had the last time I'd seen them, just before the car accident. Blond. Beautiful. Regal. Like Mason, they wore no marks of their deaths, even though I knew the crash had done horrible things to them. And like Mason, they just stared at me with sad eyes, not speaking but clearly wanting to say something. Only, unlike with Mason, I understood the message.
There was a large patch of blackness behind Andre that was steadily growing bigger. He pointed at me, and then he pointed at it. I knew, without understanding how I knew, that it was the entrance to the world of death, the world I had come back from. Andre - who'd been my age when he died - pointed again. His parents joined him. They didn't have to speak for me to know what they were saying: You shouldn't have lived. You need to come back with us....
I started screaming. And screaming.
I thought someone on the plane was talking to me, but I couldn't be sure, not when I couldn't see anything but those faces, hands, and the blackness behind Andre. Every so often, Mason's face materialized nearby, solemn and sad. I appealed to him for help.
"Make them go away!" I yelled. "Make them go away!"
But there was nothing he would - or could - do. Frantically, I undid my seat belt and tried to stand up. The ghosts didn't touch me, but they were all too close, still reaching and pointing with skeletal hands. I waved my arms to fend them off, screaming for someone to help me and make this all stop.
There was no help for me, though. No help for all those hands and hollow eyes or the pain that consumed me. It grew so bad that glittering black spots began to dance across my field of vision. I had a feeling I was going to pass out, and I welcomed that. It would make the pain go away and save me from the faces. The spots grew bigger and bigger, and soon I could no longer see anything. The faces disappeared, and so did the pain as sweet black waters dragged me under.
EVERYTHING BECAME FUZZY after that. I had vague impressions of moving in and out of consciousness, of people saying my name, and of being in the air again. Eventually, I woke up in the school's infirmary and found Dr. Olendzki looking down at me.
"Hello, Rose," she said. She was a middle-aged Moroi and often joked that I was her number one patient. "How are you feeling?"
The details of what had happened came back. The faces. Mason. The other ghosts. The terrible pain in my head. All of it was gone.
"Fine," I said, half-surprised to be saying those words. For a moment, I wondered if maybe it had all been a dream. Then I looked beyond her and saw Dimitri and Alberta looming nearby. The looks on their faces told me the events on the plane had indeed been real.
Alberta cleared her throat, and Dr. Olendzki glanced back. "May we?" Alberta asked. The doctor nodded, and the other two stepped forward.
Dimitri, as always, was a balm to me. No matter what happened, I always felt a little safer in his presence. Yet even he hadn't been able to stop what had happened at the airport. When he looked at me like he was now, with an expression of such tenderness and concern, it triggered mixed feelings. Part of me loved that he cared so much. The other part wanted to be strong for him and didn't want to make him worry.
"Rose..." began Alberta uncertainly. I could tell she had no clue how to go about this. What had happened was beyond her realm of experience. Dimitri took over.
"Rose, what happened back there?" Before I could utter a word, he cut me off. "And do not say it was nothing this time."
Well, if I couldn't fall back on that answer, then I didn't know what to say.
Dr. Olendzki pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose. "We only want to help you."
"I don't need any help," I said. "I'm fine." I sounded just like Brandon and Brett. I was probably only one step away from saying, "I fell."
Alberta finally regained herself. "You were fine when we were in the air. When we landed, you were most definitely not fine."
"I'm fine now," I replied stonily, not meeting their eyes.
"What happened then?" she asked. "Why the screaming? What did you mean when you said we needed to make 'them' go away?"
I briefly considered my other fallback answer, the one about stress. That sounded completely stupid now. So, again, I said nothing. To my surprise, I felt tears build up in my eyes.
"Rose," murmured Dimitri, voice as soft as silk against my skin. "Please."
Something in that cracked me. It was so hard for me to stand against him. I turned my head and stared at the ceiling.
"Ghosts," I whispered. "I saw ghosts."
None of them had expected that, but honestly, how could they have? Heavy silence fell. Finally, Dr. Olendzki spoke in a faltering voice.
"W-what do you mean?"
I swallowed. "He's been following me for the last couple of weeks. Mason. On campus. I know it sounds crazy - but it's him. Or his ghost. That's what happened with Stan. I locked up because Mason was there, and I didn't know what to do. On the plane... I think he was there too ... and others. But I couldn't exactly see them when we were in the air. Just glimpses... and the headache. But when we landed in Martinville, he was there in full form. And - and he wasn't alone. There were others with him. Other ghosts." A tear escaped from my eye, and I hastily wiped at it, hoping none of them had seen it.
I waited then, not sure what to expect. Would someone laugh? Tell me I was crazy? Accuse me of lying and demand to know what had really happened?
"Did you know them?" Dimitri asked finally.
I turned back and actually met his eyes. They were still serious and concerned, no mockery. "Yeah ... I saw some of Victor's guardians and the people from the massacre. Lissa's...Lissa's family was there too."
Nobody said anything after that. They all just sort of exchanged glances, hoping perhaps that one of the others might shed light on all this.
Dr. Olendzki sighed. "Could I speak with the two of you privately?"
The three of them stepped out of the examining room, shutting the door behind them. Only it didn't quite catch. Scrambling off the bed, I crossed the room and stood by the door. The tiny crack was just enough for my dhampir hearing to pick up the conversation. I felt bad about eavesdropping, but they were talking about me, and I couldn't shake the feeling that my future was on the line here.