The monstrous howl of the garbage truck aroused me from my sleep, as it did every week. Twice a week I would be woken up by either gardeners or a garbage truck, but most often I'd simply shut the window in my room and fall back asleep.
Today, though, as I was teetering on the edge between wakefulness and dreamland, I had that sluggish train of thought that went from 'I don't remember taking the trash cans to the street last night' and spiraled down into 'Oh my gosh I have about thirty seconds to jump out of bed and do it before the truck gets to my house'.
The worst part about running outside in your pajamas is that there is no time to adjust from warm blankets to chilly breeze. I can only imagine how many times garbage collectors see people rushing to get their trash cans out in the early morning, and for that I pity them. A five foot even, tangle-haired and shivering Lisa Stenton is not a pretty sight by any stretch of the imagination, let alone a half-awake one struggling to race against a towering behemoth of an automobile.
As I pulled the last can to the curb, the garbage truck finished emptying the first one I had placed and started to coast down to the next house, and that was when I saw something I couldn't believe.
Behind the truck marched a dozen little creatures of all shapes and colors as ducklings would follow their mother. They looked sort of like the cartoony white ghosts except that most of them had little arms and legs proportionate to the rest of their body. As I watched the truck drive away, I noticed that there were a few more creatures trailing out of the houses in my neighborhood to join the others.
I blinked, rubbing my eyes to make sure I wasn't crazy. Maybe I was still dreaming. But if I was still dreaming then I might as well investigate matters further.
Running back in my house, I grabbed a coat, pulled sandals on, and just as I was jogging back out the door I remembered to grab my glasses.
Pulling all of these on properly as I once again left the house, I was dismayed to find that these creatures were no longer there. That wasn't fair at all. Either this was a dream and I ought to be able to have fun with it, or it wasn't and they had no right existing in the first place. As the truck turned the corner, I took my glasses back off and turned to go back inside.
When I took my glasses off, the creatures reappeared, as if the curtains had been thrown back.
Whatever these things were, I could only see them when I wasn't wearing my glasses. I felt a grin spread across my face.
Tucking my glasses back into my coat pocket, I ran to chase down the garbage truck.
When I turned the corner, I slowed to a brisk walk, as if I was just out for a morning stroll. I imagine there are some people that wake up in the unholy hours of the morning to take a walk in their pajamas. Inspecting the growing crowd of creatures marching behind the truck, I racked my brain trying to figure out what they were. None of them were over a foot tall, and they were all intent on following the truck.
"Hey!" I called, voice lowered so as not to attract attention. One of the creatures glanced backwards and made eye contact with me, an odd sensation as the creature's white eyes didn't seem to have pupils. It stopped walking when it noticed that I was staring at it, though I couldn't make out any facial expressions.
"A... spirit walker..." it stated, voice tuning up and down like the notes of a wind chime. At its proclamation the creatures behind it stopped to look.
"A what?" I asked. "What are you?"
"Shades," one toned.
"Ghosts!" another sang.
"Sprites," a third hummed.
Shivering again, I took a tentative step toward them to get a closer look, and in response they charged forward, surrounding me so I couldn't take move without hitting one. They all stood, staring up at me with the fascination of a child witnessing a fire truck zoom down the street.
"So you're... dead people?" I asked them. They didn't seem to be of any threat to me.
They all spoke melodiously, each only a few syllables at a time and each singing different notes that somehow blending into one beautiful chord. I scanned around me, suddenly realizing that I had forgotten to lower my voice. I noticed a woman in the driver seat of her car discreetly watching me, and as soon as she saw me look at her she immediately turned away. I blushed, remembering I probably looked ridiculous to this lady wearing a coat over my pajamas, standing on the sidewalk talking to nothing.
"Can other people see you?" I whispered.
"Right." I said, shivering as another particularly strong wind blew down the street. "Look, I'm really cold. Can one or two of you come back home with me?"
I couldn't tell if they were talking to each other, but I was impressed that they understood the concept of rhymes. What exactly were these things? They didn't move, but I raised a foot to take a step towards my house, and the throng around me started to move with the flow of my step. It was unsettling, but soon I was actually able to walk normally without fear of stepping on one. They always moved out of the way just as I put my foot down. I couldn't feel them, but none of them ever actually got close enough to physically touch me, if they were even capable of that. Being surrounded by them, though, the air felt considerably colder. It was like being surrounded by a hundred ice packs, and my feet were happy to remind me I wasn't wearing any socks.
When I opened the door to my house, the little creatures flooded in, eager to discover what lay beyond. I took off my coat and sat down on a chair in the dining room. The spirits, as I was coming to think of them, explored everywhere, and I immediately grew a little anxious as to what these things may have been looking for. Some started climbing the furniture, but they seemed to be able to decide what did or did not pass through them, so I wasn't too worried about them knocking anything over.
"So I'm the only person that can see you," I stated aloud.
"No!" one crooned. I felt a spike of panic as it walked right through a half-empty glass of milk I had left out from last night.
"Others... can," another said, voice sort of muffled as it tried to crawl under the couch.
"We see!" another sang. Somehow that one managed to get on top of the refrigerator.
I thought about that for a second. "Why couldn't I see you before today? Why me?" I asked.
"Spiritwalker..." one breathed, reverence somehow seeping into his tone.
"Glasses!" one stated abruptly, pointing a little arm to the coat I left by the door.
Recalling that I couldn't see them with my glasses on, I jumped out of my chair and pulled them out of the coat pocket. Inspecting them for a moment, I put them on to see all the sprites in my house vanish from view. They even disappeared from the parts of my vision that my glasses didn't cover. "Do all glasses hide you from sight?"
"Special!" the one that had pointed sang.
I had had these glasses for as long as I could remember. My eyesight had never been the best. People made fun of me in kindergarten and first grade for having glasses so young. I had gotten used to it by now. My eyesight wasn't terrible, as far as I knew, but I being nearsighted helped form the habit of never leaving the house without my glasses.
"So, you said I'm a spiritwalker? What is that?"
Mentally translating what these things were trying to say wasn't easy. Were the spirits a family? Or were they talking about me?
Suddenly I realized that it was no coincidence that my parents had glasses, too. They always told me bad eyesight runs in the family, but what if it was more than that?
"My parents are spiritwalkers, then?"
I waited for another reply, but surprisingly only one of the spirits answered me this time. My parents were on vacation, as they always were early in the spring. The house was always pretty vacant this time of year, but I was starting to suspect that maybe 'vacation' wasn't the real reason they left. Maybe there were bigger things going on that I haven't been aware of until today.
Then again, maybe I actually was dreaming.