My short story “Ghost Girl” has been published in Volume VIII of Nightscript, an anthology of “strange and darksome tales”. If you want to snag a copy of this gorgeous and haunting book, head over to the publisher’s site where you can order it through Paypal or Amazon. Additionally, you can read an excerpt of the story here.
“Ghost Girl” is a queer reshaping of Scandinavian murdered child folktales. There is a whole genre of Scandinavian folklore dedicated to infants who were born, killed, and return as spirits to haunt the living. These stories are rooted in pre-Christian customs of exposing unwanted children so they would die. Later, these narratives evolved, focusing on children born out of wedlock, killed, and then hidden in the house or somewhere outside. Inevitably, the ghost of the baby would return, haunting the living and exposing their murderer.
I first learned of these disturbing stories while taking a course on Scandinavian folklore.
What struck me about the tales of the babies born out of wedlock is how the mother is almost always entirely blamed and labeled as the murderer. In these stories, the father is rarely mentioned. The focus is very much on the mother as the “culprit”.
In a couple of these tales, the woman is labeled as “a servant girl” or “a servant”, which has definite connotations as well. According to my instructor, it may not have been uncommon for a servant girl to become pregnant with her master’s child during the time the stories were being told. But given that she was a servant and he the master, how consensual might such a relationship be? That thought made the legends doubly upsetting to me.
This is primarily because folktales exist to enforce a culture’s morals and norms. These stories about dead babies coming back to haunt and expose their mothers are chilling in their implications. They exist to control women and tell them: don’t have sex outside of marriage. The punishment for sex outside of marriage wasn’t a baby so much as the shame that baby, and the subsequent murder, represented, and being forever haunted by that, literally and metaphorically.
So, women hearing these tales may well have killed a child, for whatever intimate and heartbreaking reasons. And some of these women may have been rape survivors, like the servant girls of the stories. Thus, the tales would have functioned to make the women who heard them feel guilty and ashamed.
Ultimately, infanticide was so widespread in 17th and 18th century Sweden that the most common form of homicide was the murder of infants. In fact, this lead to the Infanticide Act being passed in 1778. It was enacted to prevent the killing of children born outside of marriage, and granted women the right of anonymous birth. This protected them somewhat from the stigma of having a child out of wedlock.
But I found these murdered child narratives so disquieting and compelling, particularly the aspect of how these stories were used to control women. I had to find a way to write the counter-narrative. The end result is “Ghost Girl”.
Because of the subject matter, including rape and infanticide, “Ghost Girl” is not the easiest read and I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. As a queer reshaping, it subverts the original folktales by making the story a survivor’s narrative, rather than a tale of shame. It celebrates a mother’s unbreakable bond with her daughter. The story is also about hope, healing, and discovering love in unexpected places. Plus, there is some good, old fashioned ghostly wraith and retribution to be had as well.