When I was about eleven or twelve, I decided that I was going to read every Irish folktale there was.
Apparently my goal wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d thought it would be because I soon gave up.
Of the twenty or so stories I got through, there was one that stuck with me more than the others. I don’t remember the details, but it had something to do with a traveler who came to an inn that required people to tell a story if they wanted to stay for the night. The traveler did not have a single story to tell so he was kicked out and had to wander through the night.
While he was out, a bunch of really trippy things happened that, if they had happened to me, I would never tell anyone about because I don’t want the after conversation to be about what I was on at the time. Instead, the guy shows up at the inn again, tells his weird story and gets to stay for the night.
This folktale disturbed me. Not because of all the crazy stuff that happened but because I wouldn’t have a story to tell if, you know, I have to stay at an Irish inn sometime.
What would I do? I would have to recount a Doctor Who episode which would probably be trippier than the story the guy in the folktale told.
I decided that I, like the traveler, needed to live a story. I couldn’t just wait for one to happen to me at the last minute.
Okay, to be honest, it was a family friend of ours, Jo, who decided to take me on an adventure. She decided that we should spend an entire day visiting religious services.
That was her idea of fun, I guess.
So Jo, Jo’s daughter, my mom, my sister, and I drove to the biggest city in our state (which isn’t very big) to see the biggest variety of religions we could.
First stop: a Hindu temple. Nobody spoke English so we awkwardly sat and watched a ceremony we didn’t understand until it seemed like a good time to leave. At least it smelled really good.
Second stop: a Muslim mosque. My mom and I had been to a mosque before, so this wasn’t as far outside of our comfort zones as it was for everyone else. Plus, the Imam spoke English which made this visit much better than the temple we had just been at and also better than the first time we were guests at a mosque.
Third stop: a botanica. This is where my story really begins.
First a little background. A botanica is a store where one can find stuff like tarot cards, folk saints, and Santeria Orichas all on the same shelf.
I don’t know how botanicas usually are, but this one was the spookiest place I have ever been.
The door and windows were barred, and we had to ring a doorbell to get in. The first thing I heard when we walked in was gunshots.
I didn’t run in fear. No, dear listeners, I stood my ground.
I calmly scanned the area for danger.
With my quick observation powers, I realized that the sound came from the tv behind the counter. I deduced that the man watching was the botanica owner’s husband and that this said man enjoyed westerns.
The botanica owner was not the most welcoming person, but she didn’t demand that we leave. So, we figured that meant we could stay as long as we wanted.
Second observation: there were huge amounts of cash laying everywhere; dollar bills in a dish in front of a Buddha, cash sprinkled all over a huge image of a crucified Jesus. There was money offered to every image and statue in the shop.
I am a person of integrity. I hardly even thought about stealing anything.
We wandered around looking at things. We had to guess what they were because the owner was so evasive when answering questions.
I spotted the patron saint of drug dealers.
Don’t ask me how I know who he is.
Finally Jo asked if we could go into the backroom. We had insider information (from our world religions teacher who has visited everything to do with religion in our state) that there was something particularly interesting there.
I walked down the hall to find something more than interesting. It was terrifying.
There before me was a huge figure of Santa Muerte.
She was a life-sized skeleton clothed with a purple quinceanera dress with dollars stuffed into her bosom. She wore a long red wig and sparkly crown.
Her quince court was made up of smaller skeletons. From floor to ceiling, there were images of grim reapers and tiny Santa Muertes piled on bookshelves and boxes behind and around her. On the floor at Miss Muerte’s feet were offerings of cigarettes, liqueur, and baskets of fruit.
It took a while for my eyes to adjust to… everything.
When they did, I used my detective skills to figure out that Santa Muerte had recently had a birthday. There was a colorful banner on the wall that read, “Feliz Cumpleanos.” It seemed slightly out of place.
For the first couple of minutes, I only looked around in amazement and curiosity; there was a ton to see. I didn’t get really spooked until I heard a noise behind me and saw that the back door was open. That’s when I sort of freaked. It was night, okay? (Why were we there at night? I don’t know.) I was surrounded by grim reapers and there was a general creepy and unwelcoming vibe in the air. You should be impressed that I hadn’t freaked earlier.
We decided that it was time to leave.
But first, Jo took a selfie. Miss Muerte is pretty photogenic.
We thanked the botanica owner over the sound of gunshots and left on good terms. We were welcomed into the car by Jo’s frantic daughter who had been sure we were dead because her mom had not answered the twenty-thousand texts she had sent while we were gone.
There you go. That’s my story. Maybe not as action packed as you would have liked, but I’m sure I’ll embellish the more I tell it.
If you are lacking in the story department, I suggest visiting a place of worship (or botanica or wherever). You will learn that it is completely possible to use every single one of your senses at a Hindu temple. Once you go to a mosque, you won’t ever think that all Muslims are crazy terrorists.
And you can go to a botanica. Maybe you have to go to the very specific one I went to if you want the complete freak out affect of a riveting story. Most botanicas are probably pretty boring and normal. But being the adventurer you are, you can risk a little boring for the chance of something exciting.
So here are some tips to living a story: call ahead, be respectful, and go somewhere that you are slightly afraid to go. That’s all there is to it.
I’m going to Ireland for my next trip.