Author Archives: Melita Bintoro

The Red Haired Lady

“So this happened in a town called Santo Domingo, its uh, its way up in the north, north central part of Costa Rica, away from the beaches. I was eight years old at the time, and we just moved to this house, uh, it was um, what was particular about this house was that beside it was a twin house. Which is, what I mean is that, at one point, the two houses were one house, and they just got divided in two, by a wall. So, two stories. No basement. Which I’m kind of glad about now that I come to think of it. Cause.. cause considering the future ghost situation, a basement would not have been the best thing. So it began with my grandma. As it always does. Cause she’s the superstitious one, you know, she’s got charms, and rituals that she does to banish ghosts from the house.. but you know what was incredible was, was that she was just, calm about it. That was just what she did, you know. She did that and went on with her daily routine. Whatever. Uh, one day, I heard her talking about ummm… this red haired lady, with a noose around her neck, which she saw in the other house next to us, which was vacant at the time. Which is not a good thing too, cause it was empty. And it just sucked know that, you know, there’s an empty house, and my grandma saw a ghost in it, and it was right there, next to me. But you know, I carried on fine. To the point where I almost forgotten. So one day, I passed up an offer to go run some errands, so I just stayed home, like a bad grandchild. Ah, and then, what was I – well at that time I was actually into clay pots. And I just made a batch of pots and left them outside to dry, in the patio, and I decided to go check on them. And when, when I got there, I got the worst feeling of being watched. Just, just, it was there. And I was like errrrr. And you know, before turning around, I knew it was coming from. Cause where I was standing, the only place where if I turn around directly, there’s going to be a window, which is on the other house. and I knew it was coming from there. And I was like, oh god, its empty, what’s it going to be? So I turned around and looked at the window and, well, for me, I don’t actually look at people’s eyes when I acknowledge them, I always look at the mouth first before moving to the eyes. But you know, I saw the mouth, and I found myself looking at just the slightest of smirks – of the red haired lady. But no noose this time. She was just standing there, looking at me. Well I assumed she was looking at me. I didn’t look at her eyes because at that moment I felt that if I did – it was over. I would have acknowledged her and she would neeeeever leave me alone until she had my soul. So I figured, whatever! I didn’t do anything to her so I don’t know her or anything, so I’m just going to ignore her. And I did. I just went back inside and tried to watch tv. And after a few weeks, I forgot about it.”




Steven Calvo Milanés grew up in Costa Rica; a country that he describes to be heavily religious, and therefore, widely accepts the concept of spirits. Prior to telling me this story, he said it is commonplace to say that dead relatives have walked by you and then to carry on with your day. Due to this culture, he also mentions that all of his experiences relating to the supernatural have only occurred in Costa Rica and that after his move to Canada, he has stopped believing in ghosts. In addition, he pushed for me to understand that this particular experience with the ghost in his house was situational: from emphasizing his childhood desire for ghosts to exist to highlighting that the sky on that particular day to be strange and gray.

His extended family seems to have accepted the red haired lady as another tenant of their household. They have never inquired for the reasons of why she is there or why she wears a noose around her neck. He says that if they bother her in any way, it is simply being disrespectful to the dead. At that time, the Milanés household never questioned her existence and merely coexisted with her.

The most interesting aspect of Steven’s story is the sense of inevitability he incorporates in its telling. All the features of that day seem to weave together to frame the encounter with the ghost: the large, empty house, being “a bad grandchild” on that day, and standing in the only spot that is in view of the other building’s window. These features are common in framing a ghost story. The first two features reflect on how ghosts can function to become one’s moral police – Steven mentioned that he never refused errands after this encounter.

The other fascinating feature of this story is his belief that looking into the eyes of the ghost would end up in a haunting. He now says that at that time, he just was not ready to face the fact that she would exist, that maybe her expression would change or she would ‘take him in’, he explained later. He explains that he did not want anything to do with her and thus, refused to acknowledge her. On another note, he claims that the red colour of her hair has no significance in his memory, and simply means that a red haired woman died. This differs from the significance of black hair in Japanese ghost stories.

This story has many elements of a classic ghost story, the large, empty house, an impending knowledge of the existence of the red haired lady, and that prickly sensation of being watched.

Grandma Visits

“I heard this story last week and it was my friends story. And she said that her grandparents, um, her grandma in particular, told her that if she ever passed away, she would let them know that… she would communicate with them through the lights in the house. and her grandma passed away like recently, like a couple months ago. And her parents told her, like, ‘remember, grandma told us that when she passes away and if she’s in somewhere safe, she’ll communicate with us by flickering the lights, on and off’. And the first time that happened, she was taking a bath, and the bathroom lights started flickering for no reason. The light bulbs were fine, everything’s fine, and the bathroom lights started flickering on and off. And first she was like… she was really really scared. But her mom told her that that’s the way that grandma’s trying to talk to you, trying to communicate with you. And it got so frequent, that the grandma would flicker the lights.. or ‘the spirit’, would flicker the lights on and off, while the parents were eating dinner or something, and they would be like ‘oh, you stop it!’ and, but it happens all the time. It’s happened multiple times, and its not the light issue. So they think that spirits are real and it’s the grandma. And that like, you can interact with human things even after you’ve passed away. It’s scary but I bet its comforting – to know that there is an afterlife and that their grandma still exists, and still loves them, and watches over them.”



Wendy Chuong described this story as “the most realistic ghost story” she has ever heard. She says her friend truly believes that her grandmother is trying to communicate with her and also that she is there to spend time with the family. When I asked Wendy why she thought her friend’s grandmother would choose an inconvenient time such as bath time to communicate with her granddaughter, she immediately said “because that was the only time she was alone, and she wanted to reach out to her.” In classic ghost stories, it is very uncommon for ghosts to a multitude of people, and this story follows that tradition in that the ghost in the situation wanted to reach out to a human on an individual basis.

Her friend’s entire family takes a lot of comfort in knowing that their grandmother is in a safe place and is able to come down and spend time with her family. In this case, the encounter with the ghost is very welcomed and is also a psychological way to cushion the death of a loved one. The idea that their grandmother is both still around and safe, even if it is through the flickering of lights, is infinitely better than the thought of their grandmother being in an ambiguous place, or simply stopping to exist after death. In some ways, stories of family members returning may be due to the expectance of their presence after so many years and to push them along the grieving process. The comfort of being watched over from the afterlife brings up the idea that when one becomes a ghost, they are seen to adopt a new supernatural library of knowledge that able to ultimately help or guide the family. Additionally, a new set of moral rules would be set in place – the family members would hesitate to act in ways their grandmother would particularly dislike. Moral actions would increase due to the perception of being watched.

Furthermore, I wonder if there is a reason behind why her grandmother would chose such a trivial act of flickering lights. Do ghosts have differing ways of showing affection, or other emotions? Ghost stories similar to this one incorporate the concept of the transcendence of emotions and memories in the afterlife. This idea, however, contrasts to that of the traditional concept of the ghost that comes to Earth because something in their life was not fulfilled. In this sense, the grandmother’s ghost returns to spend time with her family and show her love. I would describe this ghost story as very sweet, and that every encounter with flickering lights within that household immediately becomes a memorate for the story of the grandmother’s encounters within that family.