The Curse of the No-see-um
Good evening, campers! Gather ‘round, gather ‘round. It’s story time. The story I’m gonna tell happened a long long time ago. Even though it’s from way back when, the events still impact our everyday lives.
The young man’s name was Tommy Fern-Sniffer. Tommy was a Waccamaw indian brave who wandered these tidal marshes and climbed these live oaks long before they became interesting to modern tourists and homebuyers. Like other native-American tribes, the Waccamaw had a deep appreciation for nature: they cultivated the soil, fished the waters, hunted the thick woods and scheduled their entire lives around the cycles of the generous world around them. But while the rest of the tribe worked hard at developing this harmony with nature, Tommy Fern-Sniffer was forever at play in the outdoors. If he had been born 500 years later, he woulda been known as a humungous slacker.
What I do know is that the entire tribe resented him, the young women found him lazy and irresponsible, his own family thought him an embarrassment and a curse from the Creator. Whenever someone in the village needed an errand done and they came to Tommy’s parents to find him, their inevitable response was, “No-see-um.”
“We need someone to scout the river bank—where’s Tommy?” “No-see-um.”
“I cannot weave another basket, where’s Tommy?” “No-see-um.”
No-see-um became such a common reply that Tommy became known as No-see-um, much to the delight of the Fern-Sniffer family, who’d all but disowned him. By then their wayward son was living alone in a ramshackle lean-to on a high bluff over-looking their busy village.
One evening in the middle of the dry season, No-see-um was tending a fire in his camp. He had crept into the village the night before and pilfered a bushel of oysters and a bucket of chicken wings and was now roasting his purloined dinner over an open flame. He reached down next to the fire, shucked one, and popped the steamed oyster in his mouth. [Mouth noises.] He spit that piping hot oyster, end over end, into the embers of the fire. Some of the errant sparks drifted down and settled in the dry palm fronds surrounding the village. Before you can say Woolybooger, it became a quickly spreading inferno. Mass chaos and screaming, people running for their lives. Though no one was killed, by morning’s first light the entire village was reduced to a smoldering ruin.
As you would expect, No-see-um was nowhere to be found. He had looked down at the flaming spectacle, chicken bone hanging from his lips, and laughed himself silly. Then, fearing a horrifying tribal retribution, he packed up his meager provisions, walked off into the smoky woods, and was never seen again.
Of course, everyone knew who had started the fire. It was No-See-um, but that sucker was looong gone. All they could do was make every effort to placate the Creator who had been witness to all those sorry events that led up to the conflagration. They made offerings and performed elaborate dances and rebuilt their entire village from scratch. It didn’t do any good. The Creator, like any good Creator in a story like this, was extreeemely moody. And no amount of penitence or piety or performance art could influence his peace of mind. The all-knowing and all-powerful Creator thought it was a good time to teach those foolish mortals a lesson.
“Forevermore,” He said in a booming voice, “you people are cursed. I am summoning up the ashes of this evil fire and giving them wings. These devil bugs will be called No-see-ums, named after your foolish, idiot tribesman. They will collect in swarms and descend on your exposed skin, burning your flesh with their vicious bite. No need for your petty offerings—from this day forward, the blood of every man, woman and child will be your sacrifice!”
After the Creator’s big speech, the Waccamaw went on about their business. They worked just as hard as before, but now their industry was frequently interrupted by scratching and slapping and cussing. No-see-ums were everywhere. On the first anniversary of the fire, Wild Turkey, the village shaman, had a vision and though he didn’t understand everything he saw, he swore the images provided a glimpse into the future. He saw people, good people, unable to enjoy their convertibles or picnics because of the no-see-ums. He saw otherwise sane individuals waving them from their faces, shooing them away hysterically, crushing live bugs against their forearms.
He foresaw sprays and topical ointments with high concentrations of toxic ingredients proven to repel the blood-suckers. He saw handsome yard appliances manufactured in faraway wonderlands like China and Malaysia, designed to zap insects straight outta the sky. And he looked far into the future, hundreds of years from now maybe, and saw people just like me and you, strolling these very beaches and trails, bundled up like bee-keepers just to survive a trip outside.
Now, when the clouds are thick and the weather’s hot, and you’ve discovered what appears to be another freckle biting your butt, you can still hear Tommy laughing.