The Wild Babies of West Hebron
As reported by Dr. Michael Kitz
Concerning mythical monsters and beasts, no culture or place in the world is without its own legends, stories, creatures, exploits. They are all fantastic and horrifying and meaningful in their own way, though none more so, I think, than the Wild Babies of West Hebron.
Maybe that is what everyone says about their particular tales, being that the world of spirits and magic is peculiar by nature. Maybe I would prefer the vampire if I were from eastern Europe, or the werewolf from western Europe or the Jinn’s of the middle East, or the whatever’s from wherever…we can argue all night about which are better—leprechauns or elves; zombies or chubacabra...
It would seem that the closer ones proximity to the awful the more full of awe it becomes. And of course a close encounter always magnifies an entity in the soul of the experiencer. (Incidentally, the answers to the previously proposed arguments were "leprechauns" and "zombies", respectively. )
So it is with the Wild Babies of West Hebron, whose presence has always been there, the clues abounding as the gaze probes with increasing vigor--but like most of Shadowland it is just out of reach of direct, conclusive contact.
This seems only to tantalize more!
A spirit loves to anticipate though it cannot help itself to achieve from time to time…to its own detriment more often than not...
Primarily, the existences of The Wild Babies were attested to by footprints in the mud, through the snow, over the ancient and odd protuberances of Appalachia. Little bundled diapers made from bark, fur, and fig; wails in the night bemoaning hunger and insatiable Wild Baby thirsts; Wild Baby formula canisters betrayed in a ditch. Cows in their stalls in the dark before daylight arrives: eyes wide and red, udders half drained, little teething marks on the tits, a board in the wall pried open and gaping. The pitter-patter of tiny feet across the pastures and into the forest thick under the last moon lights; cries and moans both haunting and beautiful echoing up the hillsides and up into the stars—warbling their strange wild syllables and chilling the blood.
Due to the secretive customs of the Wild Babies their company is often dismissed by scholars as a series of hoaxes and fairytales perpetuated by the native populaces, but to those of us who have stroked the rippling distension of the unicorn, dismissal is not so simple. While any and all attempts to capture these infantile creatures physically or photographically have failed as yet, hard empirical evidence never was the substance of wonder and wisdom. A sad fellow indeed is one who believes only what his feeble senses may demonstrate while starving the perfect guide of his very heart. One needs three bones to get through life: a wishbone, a backbone, and a funny bone.
But the reality of the Wild Babies is not in question here. Why beat a dead horse? (Why NOT beat a dead horse? That’s what I’d like to know.) This is a record. This is a testament of one witnesses’ experience which changed his life, his Wife’s life, and incidentally, the lives of his posterity which will no doubt number in the hundred thousands after a few short generations.
I had been walking through the mountain woods one fine winter afternoon with my Wife who, being from that dry and sometimes violently jagged swatch of earth known to Americans as The West, was baffled by the tender slopes of the worn down Adirondacks and miles of crumbling stone walls striping the wilderness throughout, testament indeed to the great rock stacking societies which preceded us.
I was pointing out various tracks of various animals so She would come to understand my superior knowledge of life in the North Country and then cherish me more adequately. I scanned the forest for "horizontals" which is the easiest was to spot a deer or other four-legged beast—or to mistake a fallen tree as one…
After being cruelly bamboozled by a broken poplar posing as a moose, my Wife began to forge Her own path as it is a dear aspect of Her character to fear nothing and surge always and ever, relentlessly, onward. I could not dwell long on this cruel abandonment by Her for the length of time my soul begs to hold its grudges as it is my Christian prerogative to be quick to forgive the trespasses of others as I would like my own trespasses forgiven.
Yea, how I would like my trespasses forgiven.
A curious sound arose from Wife’s gullet, and I made my way toward Her to observe what obvious indicator was perplexing her mind in such a way. As I came toward Her, I could see She was crouched down on Her haunches and touching something gingerly with a gloveless hand. They were tracks of course, but unlike the many we had come across in the past. Despite their rarity, it was fairly obvious what sort of animal they demonstrated and my Wife, being the mother of eleven children was profoundly upset that here was clear evidence of some toddler wandering around barefoot in the bosom of winter.
I knew there was but one way to assuage Her maternal hysterics.
So, I proceeded to tell Her what I knew to be so concerning the lives and times of the Wild Babies of West Hebron.
She looked at me with great doubt, but I wore my face of truth and my eyes exhibited the perfect faith of a child. She looked at the footprint—its five round digits of descending sizes perched along the top of a lopped heart-shaped foot—and Her eyes traced its trajectory down the gentle slope. Her concern for the welfare of a lonely suckling was warring with this strange bit of ominous folklore I had shared. I knew Her instinct would be too much for the sensibility of my explanation, so I showed Her calm and reassurance which is always so beneficial to the female persuasion.
"Where do They come from?" asked She.
"There are theories, but no one quite knows. They’ve just always been here," Said I.
"What sort of ‘theories’?" She implored.
"Oh, I don’t know, there’s so many really… Some say it’s the result of the habits of some early Chinese settlers, so accustomed to discarding extra young. Some say that they are the remnants of a tiny native tribe with a name like the gurgling of a waterfall. Others claim they are the ghosts of a restless brood searching for their parents that were killed in some horrible way or perhaps they seek to haunt the places where their parents were compelled to eat them during a particularly grueling winter. Some even say they are some mutated animal that resemble babies in weird ways, a skewed link of evolution, or maybe some experiment of witches and black magic…"
"So They don’t grow up then?" asked She.
"I have never seen an adolescent that did not appear ‘wild’ or depraved in some respect or another—"
"How many are there? Where do they live? Who cares for them? How can they not freeze?"
"Good questions all, my Pearl," said I. Too many questions at once: I could see the fever of the unknown already taking root in the folds of her brain. She would not be satisfied yet by rumors, theories and conjecture. Pandora’s Box has been opened. I cursed my decision not to bring the scotch.
"We should follow these tracks," said She, and I was going to speak to the futility of such an endeavor but my better judgment chimed in with the advice that I let Her seek for Herself what answers Her heart has fixed upon discovering. Who knows, Her naiveté may serve to shed some new lights upon the ancient and dark unknown.
The winter sun came right at us as we tromped down the foresty mountainside. She kept the tracks several feet to her left and kept stopping to peer further along, crooking Her gray knit-cap to expose Her left ear as this had always been Her most trusted ear. I followed several yards behind, halting on Her cue, praying that this exploit would not carry on so long that my beloved television programs might be neglected.
As I hoped and feared, the tracks became further and further apart and eventually disappeared altogether. My Wife and I searched the surrounding terrain for any further sign of those Wild Babies but, alas, found none. She speculated that perhaps they had the grand gift of flight and I admitted it was possible though unlikely knowing Our Heavenly Fathers penchant for cursing the wicked to be earthbound. Perhaps the Wild Baby had been snatched up by some magnificent bird of prey, but again, though possible, there was no ringing of truth to the suggestion and we delved the area inside and outside our curious hearts for some way to fill the cavernous voids of our comprehension.
Soon, we found ourselves quite bewildered and had no choice but to return to our hearth and the nourishment of hot meat pies.
My Wife, daily and without fail, took to the wilderness to research the phenomena of the Wild Babies of West Hebron, and I, daily and without fail, left Her to wandering in Her fevers. I fretted terribly for Her and feared complete madness was certain to be Her dessert as She returned day after day, more and more flushed and flummoxed, Her smooth creaseless countenance beginning to hang off Her skull as the specter of failed wishes weighed its heavy burdens in Her possession.
Nothing I said made any difference. Now that the resources of my knowledge had been thoroughly picked clean I had all the appeal of an old scar—reminding Her only of injury and not to be removed or washed away easily. I found myself seeking refuge from the useless fixture I had become to Her by venturing to the tavern to improve myself on the philosophical sermons capitulated by the local riff-raff.
Even with chilled scotch in my belly and salted legumes in my fist, I was granted no reprieve from my Wife’s unfortunate and expanding obsession. When I returned from expositions it was not unusual to see Her bunked down in her den, like a soldier in his foxhole, surrounded by hastily stacked books with bookmarks aplenty hanging out like exposed entrails; papers scribbled and drawn on littered crumpled or half-crumpled every where; pencils with broken tips; microscopes and slides; various woodland tidbits pinned to the wall with curious notes stuck around them.
I believe there was even an abacus.
She ate little if at all, and I learned to remove the dishes before they began to rot. She slept less, and Her side of the bed began to open beside me like a widening yawn, cold and empty. The more She was diverted the more I reached for Her under the coverlets and found only abyss.
I took full and sole responsibility of the upkeep of the house and began doing every bit of the cleaning and cooking. I did the laundry, although her uniform of brown cargo pants and plaid wool button-up shirt was never betrayed and became so filthy I feared she had been rolling in things to disguise her scent.
She began experimenting with various snares and it was not unusual to become entangled while reliving myself of useless waters or reaching into the dry box for a potato. I began to carry my folding blade at all times. Throughout it all I exuded little but patience and concern.
Excepting the times I exuded rage.
It became apparent to me that my alternatives were quickly depleting, and if I was to retain my Wife in any semblance of Her original character I would have to approach this predicament with wisdom and cunning both. I began to conspire with the generous mentoring of my fellow taverners.
An obvious suggestion was to pack Her off to the madhouse, where they were well-versed in dealing with this kind of state of affairs, but the idea was abhorrent to me on so many levels I simply struck the idea from the board and would tolerate no proposition resembling it.
Another idea was to have the ladies of the municipal call on Her and draw Her out of Her illness by plying Her with the wondrous banalities and petty contrivances of glorious modern society. I was hesitant only because I was privy to the manner in which such unfortunate situations are exploited by some, and I was no respecter of scandal-mongers.
Another suggestion was to provide Her with a damn good whacking. (This idea seemed to be most popular at intervals in our scheming when silent pondering had prevailed.) But I relegated this tried and true notion to a "last resort" status.
One submission that caught my fancy was to design a ruse in which we would create and implement a Wild Baby fraud…
We would certainly need a body as well as evidence as to their behaviors to satisfy Her minds designs and thus cure Her malady. This idea exhibited real promise as nothing can set alight the mind’s eye nor provokes the spirit quite as well as the perpetuation of a good hoax. I had my work cut out for me. But what can not be done for love-sweet-love to reign supreme? All present swore a sacred oath of secrecy.
I had to work quickly I knew since I was certain Her senses would not hold much longer. It was my conclusion that any evidence we could not supply in a convincing and satisfactory manner would be left out all together as the imagination is eager to supply the best plugs for even the leakiest ships.
I, of due course, started with the body of the Wild Baby as that proof is surely the crown jewel of the whole charade. One of my colleagues was a trapper who came to collect various animals in the endeavor to breed into existence some new species (an idea for which I could not provide more praise and interest) and so I examined each beast in detail to find the one most suitable to the purpose.
No animal in its natural state resembles a human child, I had to concede to this, but certain features needed to be demonstrated or removed to suggest its validity. We had experience on our side as there where few published accounts of the Wild Babies and even less describing their precise look. Of pictures there were none, although a few sketches handed down through certain families gave us at least an inspiration to the creatures’ distinctive attributes and would certainly provide validity to our creation if we might imbue it correctly.
I rested my aspirations finally on the form of a particularly plump and tender-looking opossum and set upon altering it immediately: shearing the fur to expose its pinkish skin, leaving only mild tufts at the outside bend of joints and along its spine and crown which we dyed an unnatural blonde; trimming and sculpting the fingernails and toenails so they appeared more flat and transparent, while adding little rising moons at their bases; the tail was pinched until is fell off and then it was twisted into facsimiles of human ears which were then pressed into the sides of it head; eyebrows were added as were darker, thicker eyelashes; it’s hindquarters gave us some trouble and it was necessary to break the bones of the legs and feet then inject them with plaster to provide for a comparable shape; cheeks were plumped with bacon fat and then pink blotches were dyed upon the crests; thumbs were pulled into opposition and one hand made to grip a primitive rattle; nipples and a navel were created by tiny vises; a tiny diaper of the design of those found around these hills for so many years was girded about its loins, the snout proved without solution so we resorted to smashing it back into the face in a brutal manner as to give the impression that it was upon attaining this very wound that the Wild Baby may have succumbed to death (and indeed the opossum playing the part so brilliantly was in fact killed by this final tactic and thus added an auxiliary spice of realism to the entire accomplishment.)
The marks of large cat teeth were impressed variously upon it.
These were the chief embellishments though many minor features where attended to, too numerous to bother with documenting here, but each crucial it its own way. The faux Wild Baby was examined in every minute detail and each riddle soluted or obscured to the best extent feasible.
I had realized the placement of the sarcophagus must maintain the illusion that no man could have possibly put it where it was to be discovered, yet also providing somewhat clear evidence of how the Wild Baby itself arrived there of it’s own volition. It could not be tossed from a tree or a glider since there would be no tracks. It could not be placed near the river as it was far too dangerous to walk on or in such unstable ice and dangerous terrain just to implement this ruse. Since setting was paramount I concluded only one possibility for proper exhibition.
A fresh snow was to fall that evening providing the perfect canvas for the placement of my genius. While I went home to engage my Wife’s attention, a colleague of mine who was a jockey and therefore rather diminutive in size went from the road near my house through the forest behind my house and up the mountain side while wearing shoes which had the casts of tiny baby feet protruding from the front of the sole. In a military satchel on the jockey’s back was another pair of specially designed shoes, a vial of Wild Baby blood, a feather duster, flashlight, and the faux Wild Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and still warm from the hearth.
He planted it at the predetermined spot--a bald area on the mountain-- and after posing it in the agreed upon fashion he changed into the second pair of specially designed shoes, these with the paws of a bobcat upon their bottoms. He poured the vile of Wild Baby blood liberally about the body and then used the feather duster to conceal any telltale marks of a prank.
Even when taking every precaution, guarding against all conceivable tribulation, safeguarding any evil, still so much may go askew that you can not be prepared for all and every--trying too much to be so prepared is the worst of folly and vain pursuit. I had lived long enough to expect such anomalies and, in my expectance, I thereby improved my odds when encountering.
It also helped to be quick on one’s verbal feet, sort of speak, so the aid of scotch was a tactical necessity. I find this truth not to be uncommon in reference to most things mortal and worthy.
My Wife had reached a stagnanticity in Her searches that brought Her great depression and torment. While previously I had left Her to her studies or showed mild discouragements, I now needed to stoke Her passions anew with the fortuity of results. This change of approach in liaison was best realized by abrupt innocence, and so…
I entered the house with an armload of hickory which I had fetched and, instead of bringing it to the fireplace, I dropped it in the foyer beside the door and shouted to Her this:
"My Darling! My Dear one! Come to the yard at once! I have heard the wail of the Wild Babies! I’d stake my very life on it! Make Hast!!"
A sudden clatter and then She was before me. I tossed Her a black angora coat and Her grey wool-knit cap which She quickly put on as She followed myself into the yard. Her tired reddened eyes were suddenly a-glimmer.
Out in the yard we hustled and stood still in its middle. The light flakes of the recent snowfall swirled and fluttered in the atmosphere about us like quiet white faeries, seemingly unaffected by any forces of gravity or appointment. The moon was still partially concealed behind a banner of gossamer cloud, yet the light was still sufficient and hallowed. My wife cocked Her exposed left ear, Her most trustworthy and reliable of ears, to the snowy woods and the dive of the mountain. I tried not to breath.
After a moment of complete silence I spoke.
"It was so clear," said I.
"Shhhh," said She.
"It was so close, I could not be mistaken," said I.
"Shhhh," said She.
"It must have been right…beyond… the edge… of our yard," said I, looking across the swatch of woods before us.
Just then, a gale swept across the top of the bare out-stretched finger-tips of the deciduous trees and they swayed and let loose a billow of snow. There was a crack and a squeal of cold bending timber somewhere up the mountain and my wife jerked her head sideways and said,
"I have heard it too!!"
I widened my eyes and gaped my mouth but I could not look at her.
Then, she spun about and charged into the house. I kept pretending to listen for further verifications of the beasts. Back out she came with a flashlight, a walking stick and a small pre-stuffed backpack containing all the supplies she reasoned would be needed for pursuit and capture.
She came next to me, her breath fluttered, she pulled out some brown gloves with the fingertips snipped off and began to put them on without looking at them or me but up into the wondrous winter night with its terrible secrets so jealously guarded. The flashlight was pinched under one arm, the black hickory walking stick dropped to the light carpet of snow like a frozen arthritic serpent. I picked it up and held it for her.
"I shall come with you," Said I with conviction.
"No," replied She with surpassing conviction, "You are louder than God in the forest. It would be best if you stayed here. Keep the fire from going out."
She did not seem like my Wife. She was looking into the forest without even blinking as not to miss anything, not anything at all.
"It sounded as if it was headed East, up that way," Said I, my heart banging in slow-motion. I tucked a loose lock of her hair from her face to behind her left ear.
She pulled out her small derringer pistol from the pack and stuck it in her right pocket, then closed the pack and snapped it. She slung the pack over her shoulder. She took the flashlight from under her right arm with her left hand and turned it on. She grabbed the walking stick from me and she was off on a mission to unearth evidence-- true irrefutable evidence--of the Wild Babies of West Hebron!
"Be careful," Said I, but the air did not deliver it to her.
She followed her beam of light toward conclusion.
She was gone for some time and I endured the brutal anxiety of possible success. I prepared the freezer for the body.
I unlatched the kitchen window as well.
I had realized when examining my tricky masterpiece that there was nothing I could do to failsafe any discovery of my nefarious deed as long as the body existed. What needed to be done then was to reap the benefit of the ruse without subjecting it to too very much examination. It was necessary to possess the proof only so long as She was sufficiently satisfied, and not a moment longer, for every moment was a chance to discover fraud. This is the law of all successful hoaxes: let the proof be experienced ever just and then strike it from this earth so no man may contradict with the certainty that hard evidence allots.
So I had planned several scenarios that might cause the faux baby to leave our possession…
One was a bobcat, perhaps THE bobcat who had outraged the Wild Baby and was then presumably frightened away by my Wife’s approach, would come in during the night and reclaim its prey from the freezer. It wasn’t likely, only possible-- but conditions needed to allow it.
While I kept the fire going, I used unseasoned wood so that it would burn dim and smoky. I cut the wicks of the candles so that they bore small flames. I sat in my walnut rocking chair of my own invention and smoked some cherry tobacco from my grandfathers ivory pipe. I kept rocking and smoking and looking out the little window with the tired yellow drapes.
The moments marched by in a slow, uniform procession.
What could be taking so long?
Finally, she appeared as a black specter trickling down the mountainside. As she grew closer I could see she had abandoned her flashlight and walking stick in favor of a bundle which she cradled protectively.
The jubilation I felt was quite intense!
I drank my glass dry and hurried to my rocking chair. I posed there as if in slumber, an open copy of the Good book perched in my lap. I tried not to grin. Christmas morning was almost here!
In She came, prodded along on a bluster of winter night. The door slammed shut with a burst of snowflakes and she shuffled to the large black kitchen table and set her prize down with the utmost care. I hurried over with a candelabrum in one hand.
"What have you got? What happened?" said I and I sought out the look of my Wife’s face to see where we were exactly at this crucial moment.
Her countenance was aglow with new blood. Her nostrils flared under heavy breaths. Her eyes wet with victory. She suckled Her bottom lip and went straight to the business of unwrapping her reward, quickly but with prudence. I could see speech for Her was verily a pathetic contrivance at this particular juncture.
I put on my spectacles in a fumbling sort of way, preparing in my mind the excuses for the faux babies idiosyncrasies I had arranged at previous.
The blanket of grey wool was bespeckled with snow that was melting and sat as sparkling gems among the folds. She opened the package with utmost gingerness, as the sunlight opens a flower, and there before me was the most fantastic and curious sight!
My adams apple raised up high and stayed there.
It was an infant, undoubtedly, real and without feign:
Perriwinkel skin with a covering of fine, white cornsilk hair over its body entire. It was posed in a slightly grotesque fetal position, its small hands fisted and wrists curled unnaturally down. I could see that the flesh that covered the back of the creature was of a very different appearance than the smooth soft blue that dominated the rest; it appeared as strange rough bark though it was not actually rough at all. The blanket obscured its feet and hind quarters but certainly the most astonishing thing was its face, set into a bulbous head as a just-born is so keen to promote. The features were perfect, innocent, but with a certain callus to the edges of the lines, such as weather and hardship imposes. As my sight alit upon the slightly transparent eyelids with their long lush black lashes a marvelous thing happened:
Like the sun rising in the east bringing dawn, they opened. The irises were the color of neglected trombones and as the lid ascended the whole orb moved toward me as a planet in motion. The pupil engorged and I felt its gaze upon me like cruel gravity.
But just for a moment. And that moment was eternity.
Then the black depth of sight clouded slightly green and dilated to mere pinpricks. The shades came down like a tide and I reached out to touch this miracle of Gods sublime ingenuity but my chance was thwarted when the Wild Baby suddenly became engulfed in blue flame. A moment of silent burning left nothing upon our table but a single wet, black pinecone and so I stood—struck dumb—trembling. The moments after its departure I felt doubt sprouting in all my compartments and I questioned my senses:
Was it so?
Have I seen thusly?
But It had seen Me.
And I could not deny it.