Literature / Ghost Stories

Phantom prom date
"I hate ghost stories. Too many of them are autobiographical."

Rose Marshall is the Shadow of Sparrow Hill Road. She's the Lady in Green. She's the Phantom Prom Date.

Ghost Stories is a series of short stories (later collected into a novel) by Seanan McGuire about a ghost named Rose Marshall, who crashed and burned on Sparrow Hill Road in 1945 and has been hitching the ghostroads ever since as an occasional psychopomp, trying to help wayward souls she meets along the way...and to get revenge for her own murder. Sparrow Hill Road is the First Book in the now titled "Ghost Roads Series." A sequel to "Sparrow Hill Road" titled "The Girl in the Green Silk Gown" in scheduled to be released in July 17, 2018.

The stories are based on the various Urban Legends about Hitchhiking ghosts and on songs about roads, cars, dates, and broken hearts. Rose also has a lot to say about road culture, car culture, date culture and diner culture along the way.

The series originated as 12 short stories published online at over the course of 2010 as monthly installments:

  1. "Good Girls Go to Heaven"
  2. "Dead Man's Party"
  3. "Tell Laura I Love Her"
  4. "Building a Mystery"
  5. "El Viento Del Diablo"
  6. "Last Dance with Mary Jane"
  7. "Do You Want To Dance?"
  8. "Dead Man's Curve"
  9. "Last Train"
  10. "Bad Moon Rising"
  11. "Faithfully"
  12. "Thunder Road"

It only remained online for one year, though "Good Girls Go to Heaven" is still available at the author's web site as a teaser.

Revised versions of these stories (except "Bad Moon Rising") were collected into a novel, Sparrow Hill Road, which was released in 2014.

As one might suspect from the story titles, music plays an important role in Rose Marshall's story, as Seanan McGuire is also a musician and songwriter. Rose has been the subject of several of her songs, including "Pretty Little Dead Girl.", "Graveyard Rose." "Waxen Wings." "When I Drive." "Counting Crows." "Hanging Tree." and "On Dead Man's Hill." Note that songs mostly represent the Urban Legend version of Rose so they don't correspond exactly with the stories.

  • Age Without Youth: Part of Bobby Cross' Deal with the Devil. Getting the youth he has to do on his own.
  • All Guys Want Cheerleaders: Subverted. Gary wanted Rose, and the queens of the school couldn't understand what he saw in the poor girl wearing thrift store clothes.
  • A Mythology Is True: Rose's story neatly ties together some common variations of the hitchhiking ghost and phantom prom date urban legends, and provides an explanation for the borrowed coat that shows up in so many of them.
  • Artistic License History/Small Reference Pools: Rose supposedly died in 1945 in the original stories but the car culture references are all more appropriate to The '50s. The novel retcons the year of Rose's death to 1952 but still mentions rock and roll music three years too soon. And most of the rather large cultural shifts between The '50s and the present are simply glossed over with casual references to things modern people take for granted that would have been rare, exotic or at least exceptional at the time with modern attitudes and assumptions lurking under the trappings of the mid 20th century.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: On the part of Rose's older brother Arthur, who can't believe things about Bethany without also believing things about Rose.
  • Arc Words: Bobby Cross is coming.
  • At the Crossroads: Where Bobby made his Deal with the Devil, and where Bethany tried to.
  • Beware Of Hitch Hiking Ghosts: Played with. The legends speak of Rose as a malevolent spirit or at least a harbinger of death. The truth is a lot more nuanced.
  • Canon Discontinuity "Bad Moon Rising" a stand alone Halloween story, did not match the tone of rest of the series or fit into Rose's character arc so it was left out of Sparrow Hill Road.
  • Canon Welding: Rose's story takes place in the InCryptid universe.
  • Car Fu: Bobby Cross' weapon of choice.
  • The Cheerleader: A recurring theme in Ms. McGuire's writing, but particularly prevalent in the Sparrow Hill Road series.
  • Cool Car: Gary the car.
  • Comfort Food: In this case, diner food. Malts, milkshakes, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, golden fries and pie — especially comforting to ghosts who only get to sample the pleasures of the living when wearing a borrowed coat. Food tastes like ashes any other time.
  • Covers Always Lie: Sort of. Rose is shown on the cover with dark hair, jeans, and what looks like a 50's diner uniform's top. In the book, the jeans are the only thing that is correct - her hair was bleached with lemon juice at the time of her death, and her normal attire is either a tank top with jeans or the green silk prom dress she died in. But as a ghost, Rose can alter her clothing, makeup, and hair however she likes as long as it doesn't involve altering her phantom body (no piercings, but clamp earrings mimicking piercings work fine) and seems to prefer having short, brown hair. Word of God is the cover represents Rose as McGuire has always envisioned her.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: the series deals with fatal car crashes. Comes with the territory.
  • Cue the Sun: The borrowed life Rose gets from a borrowed jacket dissipates at sunup.
  • Deal with the Devil: Bobby Cross made one for immortality, and occasionally makes other ones.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: the novel irons out some inconsistencies found in the original stories, like the distinction between crossroads guardians and crossroads ghosts.
  • First-Person Smartass: Rose
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Rose, who has met some of the divine creatures that hang out on the ghostroads, but refuses to believe just the same. She considers any beings that call themselves gods to be questionably sane and quite full of themselves.
  • For Want of a Nail: Bobby Cross's cursed car keeps him young by outrunning mortality. Staying in one place too long would allow mortality to catch up. Finding a way to stop his car would literally result in A Fate Worse Than Death for Bobby, who cannot be harmed by ordinary means.
  • Greek Chorus: The Rosettes in "Pretty Little Dead Girl" get a series of asides about how their various boyfriends' character traits led them to fatal encounters with Rose Marshal, culminating in "Harry... was an idiot." with no further elaboration.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Thanks to the urban legends, Rose is typically blamed for all the deaths that either happen while she is present or that she's actively trying to prevent.
  • Hitchhiker Heroes: Played with. Rose doesn't really build a quest party, but she's on a hero's journey nonetheless.
  • I Gave My Word: In the twilight, your word is your bond, and lying to other dead inevitably leads to bad consequences. Breaking a crossroads bargain is worse: even cheating on it a little entails great risks. The dead owe no truth to the living, however.
  • Image Song: Rose has two:
    • "Pretty Little Dead Girl" tells the urban legend (or as McGuire puts it, the "filthy libel") version of Rose's story.
    • "Graveyard Rose" tells the flipside of Rose's legend as the "Lady in the Diner"/truckdriver's psychopomp.
  • Immortality Immorality: Played straight with Bobby Cross, but inverted with Routewitches and Ambulomancers, who get long life in return for the jobs they do on the highways and the ghostroads.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Rose, as a first person smartass narrator, does this constantly. Particularly in regards to her appearance, which reverts to a teenage girl in a prom dress at the most inconvenient times.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Played with. Rose appears in the green silk prom dress she died in unless she concentrates otherwise and/or is wearing a borrowed coat. Her preferred appearance is the white tank top she once borrowed from Gary and the blue jeans her mother didn't like her to wear, and short brown hair. She reverts to the prom dress under stress, which is invariably means in the worst possible situations.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Bethany is Rose's great grand niece.
  • Love Transcends Spacetime: Rose and Gary forever, to the point of the latter spending sixty years pining for her, and then magicking himself into a ghost car to be with her in the ghostroads.
  • Magical Gesture: When Rose returns to Buckley, she walks widdershins around the gym checking for trouble.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Rose's self appointed duties as a Psychopomp has given her the reputation of a rapacious, malicious reaper of the unwary.
  • Our Fairies Are Different: The bean sidhe seem to be the only ones that turn up in the series.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different:
    • Rose can be brought back to life, temporarily, by borrowing a sweater, jacket or coat. Only then can she enjoy a meal, a good cup of coffee, sex, etc. and only if those things are freely given to her by another.
    • Routewitches usually end up as ghosts after their deaths.
    • Roads and diners and cars, if loved and traveled and thought of enough, can become ghosts too.
    • There are various specific kinds of ghost. Road ghosts include hitchers, homecomers, and white ladies, and there are non-road ghosts as well.
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Bobby Cross' car is powered by road ghosts like Rose, and he needs a constant supply to keep him young and able to drive the ghostroads. And he's perfectly happy to kill people to get them.
  • Power Tattoo: The Queen of the Routewitches gives one to Rose to protect her from Bobby.
  • Psychopomp: Rose has ended up in this role more than once.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Rose and several of the other ghosts and supernatural creatures she meets along the ghost roads. Rose has been 16 since 1945.
  • Retcon: Sparrow Hill Road resets Rose's death to 1952
  • Shout-Out:
    • Ghostbusters: Rose encounters some college students looking to catch ghosts. Specifically The Ghost At The Diner.
    • A Christmas Carol: Rose opines Scrooge was right about most spectral visitations being indigestion.
    • Stephen King (which doubles as Creator In-Joke because SeananMcGuire is a huge fan of his).
    • The stories are all named after popular songs. Tell Laura I Love Her is notable because it's an example of the "lost my baby in a car wreck" genre that was popular in the late 50's to early 60's; "Dead Man's Curve" because it's about a wreck similar to the one that claimed Rose.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Rose is legendary in-story, but most of the stories about her contain a small kernel of the truth at best or are libelous at worst.
  • Soul Jar: Methods of catching ghosts.
  • Speaks in Shout-Outs: Gary the car.
  • Spirit Advisor: Emma is Rose's, and Rose is, however briefly, one to the souls she helps along.
  • Teens Are Monsters: Bethany, although Rose kind of understands it and is reluctantly sympathetic to a point.
  • Thicker Than Water: Nope. Not in the least. At least not in the Marshall family.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The college age ghost hunters put up by an enemy of Rose's. Know enough to get themselves in danger, but not enough to keep themselves alive.
  • Valkyries: They show up as cheerleaders.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Hitchhiker ghosts can only receive favors freely given, and sex is the only way Rose has to repay people for rides or meals. She doesn't particularly mind because there can be no consequences and it's an experience she wished she'd had in life. She's also not above using "a trip to the woods" to delay someone long enough to miss their appointment with death. As a "hitcher"-type ghost Rose is fueled by "borrowed life" and describes herself addicted to things she can only really experience while wearing a borrowed coat - cheeseburgers, coffee, and sex, though sex seems to be more something she enjoys in passing than craves.
  • Urban Legend: Rose is based on the well-known "vanishing hitchhiker" ghost story, and her story (as well as the stories told about her in the book) tie together several of the more popular variations of the legend. Other legends are referenced as well
  • Whatever Mancy: Ambulomancers, Routewitches, and Trainspotters all garner past, present, and future information by interfacing with their respective travel means.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Where Rose grew up. Couldn't afford bleach to blonde her hair, so had to make do with lemon juice. So many other things she couldn't afford.
  • You Must Be Cold: Rose frequently takes advantage of this to get loaned jackets and other outerwear - she can ask but cannot just take, they must be freely given - but it's also true: Rose is always cold, except when she's wearing a borrowed coat or sweater.

Alternative Title(s): Sparrow Hill Road