While we’re on the subject of my sister’s bizarro gifts, and since I’ve only recently recovered from a bit of a cold, I think it’s time that I tell the tale of the Curse of Pocahonto.
Like many of my strange childhood stories, this one begins on a No Moms Allowed camping trip. In this particular instance we were camping at Michigan’s northern edge, not far from the Mackinac Bridge. (I, of course, include only the Lower Peninsula in my geographical estimations since, as everyone knows, the Upper Peninsula might as well be a part of Canada.) One day, apparently tired of the frigid waters of northern Lake Michigan, the girls – who, by some genetic chance, happened to seriously outnumber the boys among the NMA kids – convinced one of the dads to take them to Mackinac Island for the day. We few boys remained behind, building sandcastles or, more likely, digging holes under the summer sun.
Upon their return, Michelle – honoring our already established tradition of horrible-gift giving – gave to me a tiny plastic Native American. He was made of thin, flimsy materials so that a mere finger press could dent his soft, baby-like skull. His hair was a wild, tufted mohawk. Most horrifically of all, if you tilted or turned him using his waist as an axis, his beady plastic eyes would blink. Or at least approximate the act. He was pretty creepy. He looked a lot like this:
Michelle and I had a good laugh at how awful this little guy was and how uncomfortable he made us. We named him Pocahonto. And then I packed him away and promptly forgot about him for some time.
If only he had stayed forgotten.
Flash forward some seven or eight months. It’s late winter. Spring is desperately trying to kick things into gear but it’s struggling so that green patches of grass are poking up here and there amid misshapen piles of trod-upon snow. On a Saturday night, several of my friends come over for a sleepover and, as we’re adolescent boys, we don’t sleep at all, instead choosing to stay up all night. Somewhere in the night’s events we rifle through my closet looking for who-knows-what and come across two things: a red wax mold of Mickey Mouse from one of those Mold-A-Rama machines (thanks, Michelle!) and Pocahonto himself.
To some what comes next will seem stupid and wholly unnecessary. These people will not be wrong. But to anyone who remembers being a teenage boy, little explanation is required: we decided to embrace our inner pyromaniacs. Late in the night, for no other reason than our own entertainment, my friends and I decided to burn Mickey and Pocahonto.
Our initial attempts did not go well. It was brutally cold and rather wet outside and, because we were – and I’m guessing that you’ve figured this out already – idiots, we did not bundle up in heavy coats or boots so we were shivering. We stood in the freezing cold in our t-shirts, huddled around our plastic and wax victims, trying to block the frozen wind long enough for a match to set fire to Pocahonto’s hair or faux-animal skin pants.
We had no such luck. But we did not give up.
Instead we went back inside and used a clothes hanger to hold Pocahonto out of my second floor bedroom window, trying to light him on fire from there. Our logic, if you’re willing to call it that, was that this plan of attack kept the fire safely outside of the house (which is sort of true) while keeping us inside where it was warm (which is more true). Needless to say, none of this worked.
Eventually, our teeth chattering, we admitted defeat. For that night, at least.
You see, we may not have been smart, but we were persistent. A few days later, yours truly and former horrible-gift recipient Nick set out to the park that was down the street from my house with a mind to finish what we had begun.
We found a relatively dry and snow-free spot a few yards into the woods. We placed Pocahonto and Red Mickey (as I’ve come to call the wax mold) on a small bed of the driest leaves and twigs that we could find. And then we dropped in a few lit matches. It took a moment, but the leaves lit. The burning was barely visible, and yet it was hot enough. Soon Mickey, whose melting point was much lower than Pocahonto’s, began to sizzle.
What followed was no more than what we should have expected and yet it was rather horrifying all the same. Our little fire was not hot enough for Pocahonto to burst into flames as we had hoped. Instead, his clothes only singed and darkened while his oversized baby-head warped and changed shape in the heat. Beside him, though, Red Mickey – made of cheap wax – was melting. We watched as Pocahonto underwent horrible deformation all while Red Mickey melted away until all that was left of him was a thick, red, blood-like pool that filled the space beneath Pocahonto.
It looked like it was Pocahonto’s blood.
It looked like we were killing him, as if he were a real, living thing and we were ending his life in the most gruesome way imaginable. As his weight shifted on the burning leaves, his blinking eyes flickered open and closed and then open again. They settled on us, staring. If he had screamed, I would not have been surprised.
Nick and I stamped out the dying fire and walked home feeling a bit disappointed and, frankly, kind of guilty. Then we laughed about the whole thing the next day at school as we told the story to our friends. It was still funny in the end, or so it seemed at the time. Then the sniffles began.
Over the course of the next two weeks, everyone who had been involved in the burning – or should I say murder? – of Pocahonto (and the oft-forgotten Red Mickey) came down with a cold. The logical answer is obvious and easy. We were all outside in the freezing cold in our t-shirts. Of course we got colds.
But the colds lingered. Longer than any cold ought to linger. Some dragged on for days, others for weeks. We began to wonder if maybe there was some strange magic at work here, if maybe Pocahonto had mystical powers beyond our reckoning. When all the others had gotten over their colds, Nick and I – the two of us who had dealt the final, fatal stroke – were still sick. After three weeks, Nick finally recovered. But not me.
Pocahonto and Red Mickey had been mine, their well-being my responsibility. And I had failed them. I had not only let them come to harm, I had inflicted it myself.
It was three months before I could stop coughing.
Do I believe in the Curse of Pocahonto? Do I believe that a little plastic doll put a hex on me as a result of my Sid-like actions? No. That would be a crazy thing to believe.
But I haven’t melted any dolls since then, either.