Sweden. Day 3. Ghost Stories.

There are many Scandinavian folktales about ghosts and witches. Mare, for instance, from where the word “nightmare” originates, is a type of evil witch or spirit who sits on people’s chests during the night and gives them bad dreams.

Another interesting character is Pesta, a personification of death and pestilence in the shape of an old woman. It is said that, during the period of the Black Plague, she would come to visit your home: if she brought a rake, only some people would get sick and die; but if she brought a broom, all in the household were doomed.

I was reminded of such stories because yesterday I went by bicycle to Simpnäs, about 3.5 km away from where I am staying. It is a location by the sea, with a few shops, a cafe and a restaurant, but everything was of course closed, and there was no one around. Everything was quiet and silent. Life here seems to be suspended in Winter, to resume only perhaps in Spring. The day was cloudy, and the desolate winter landscape seemed a bit eery, making you think of bad omens and ghosts.

There was also a small Maritime Museum (Sjöfartsmuseum) nearby. The door was closed. I stopped and peered into the window, trying to see what were the contents of the exhibition, when I suddenly noticed an old woman with a pale face sitting inside, just next to the window, with a veil covering her head and her face turned away from me. I was taken aback for a moment, as I didn’t expect to see anyone, until I realized that she wasn’t moving at all. Turns out it was just a mannequin, representing a woman knitting a fishnet. But she did remind me a bit of Norman Bates’ mother in Psycho. I hope she doesn’t come back, like Mare, to haunt me in my dreams.

In the afternoon I went by bicycle to the grocery store (7 km away), which was again another adventure, as it got quite dark very soon, and then, to make things worse, it started to snow, making the road slippery. My bike, of course, had no lights. I fixed the problem taping a torchlight to the handlebar, and riding slowly; luckily, no accidents took place.

I don’t know how the region here is during summer; I expect it must be very different, bustling with people and with very long sunny days instead of dark grey ones. On the other hand, the empty winter landscape has its attractions too; and, in some ways, being here in the middle of winter seems more interesting.

Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night hearing strange noises coming from the forest: perhaps a raven or some other bird? Last night, however, I thought I heard clear footsteps in the snow, but I couldn’t see anyone outside.

Was it the old white-faced woman from the Museum coming to get me?