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Wild Child

Annaliese wanted to conceive in the woods. We were wild animals, she said, and our baby would be wild too. Its creation should reflect that. So, she insisted we make love in a small thatch of nature about a half mile from our house. We went every night, even though it was winter, the ground frozen and sometimes covered in snow. We brought blankets but they just soaked through and caked with ice. It wasn’t very romantic.

I didn’t know at the time what she meant about us being wild. We weren’t exactly the outdoorsy type. We were city people, spending our weekends at farmers markets and craft cocktail bars. We didn’t even own a tent.

But I didn’t question Annaliese’s decision. All I knew was, I wanted to make her happy. Besides, I was eager for a baby, too. Someone we could create in our own image and love as much as we loved one another.

So, we screwed under dark pine trees with most of our clothes on and the lights of our neighborhood shining a block away. Fortunately, after just a few weeks of this, Annaliese announced she was pregnant.

I was thrilled. When I imagined our baby, it was beautiful like Annaliese and smart like me. It was a well-behaved baby, the kind you can take out to bars and restaurants. It would like music and books right from the start. I just assumed this was what my wife envisioned too.

Annaliese was the cutest pregnant woman, her cheeks glowing, belly perfectly round. And she loved being pregnant. She sang to the person growing inside her, songs from her favorite Disney movies – “The Lion King,” “The Jungle Book,” “Beauty and the Beast.” She talked to it and called it her little creature. It was nice, I thought, now that the task of sex in the cold was behind us.

But then, as her due date drew closer, Annaliese announced she wanted to deliver in the woods as well.

“It just feels right,” she said.

I worried in this, the age of home-births, water-births, and zero-gravity-births, a forest-birth might not only be allowed, but encouraged in some circles.

Fortunately, her doctor was more conservative about these matters.

“Please don’t do that,” she said. “It’s a terrible idea.”

Annaliese agreed to have the baby in a hospital, but with the caveat that I bring artifacts from nature to her delivery room, to help make the place feel woodsier. When the day came, I had rocks, a strip of moss, a bag of pinecones, and the skull of a fox. It was kind of a grubby looking thing, the skull, but I thought it was perfect for Annaliese, though I couldn’t say why.

I was right. She liked the fox skull best, and circled it around in her hands while she lay in her bed – despite the doctor’s inquiries as to its cleanliness – until she could no longer be distracted from her body by anything, not even by me, not even by the woods.

The baby was a boy. He was healthy with a narrow face, dark eyes, slightly pointed ears, and a thin layer of gray-black fur covering nearly his entire body.

We named him Jacob, after Annaliese’s grandfather.

“Grandpa Jake was a pretty hairy dude, too,” Annaliese said, holding Jacob to her chest and stroking the soft down that ran along his shoulders.

He wasn’t what I’d expected.

But Annalise loved everything about him: his fuzzy cheeks, his curled, claw-like hands. She loved his little sounds, more yips than cries.

When we were out in public, people stared. That bothered me. Even more troubling: Jacob simply wasn’t what I’d imagined our child would be like, this person who was supposed to be me and Annaliese combined, in miniature. He was, instead, something totally unfamiliar. Sometimes loud and frighteningly angry, sometimes so dulled to the world around him, I thought he was sleeping with his eyes open. He showed no interest in the songs I played him or stories I read aloud. I could see nothing of us in him.

Annaliese noticed this, of course. She was worried by my reticence toward Jacob, and though I insisted I loved him, I could not claim to really like him all that much. I looked for excuses to not be alone with my son.

Annaliese was patient with me at first, assuming I just needed to adjust to our new family member, but, by the time Jacob was 6 months old, she’d grown frustrated.

“You’re not even trying,” she accused. “If you want a relationship with your son, you need to spend time with him.”

She insisted I take him out, just me and him, for a boys’ day.

I asked where, wondering where I could go with the child and be free from prying eyes.

“I don’t care,” Annaliese said. “Anywhere. Just be with him.”

I decided on the neighborhood woods. It was not a popular place (which was what allowed me and Annaliese to have sex there in the first place), and I knew Jacob and I would be alone.

I took him through the trees to an open, grassy area. I spread out a blanket and set Jacob down along with a half dozen toys, blocks and plastic rings I found around our house, but had no idea if my son even liked.

Then I sat on the blanket myself and watched him. I stared at him and he stared off over my left shoulder – at the middle distance, I assumed. After a little while of this, he pushed himself from his tummy up to his hands and knees. He’d been crawling a few weeks already. Early for his age, Annaliese had told me with pride.

“Where are you going?” I asked in a sing-song voice.

He was still staring past me. He took a couple of crawl-steps and I could see the look in his eye sharpen. He was focused on something in particular after all. I turned to see, and it was in that instant Jacob made his move, scurry-crawl-scampering toward the tree line, much faster than a normal human baby could, or should.

It was a squirrel he was after.

By the time I realized what was going on, he was already on top of the animal. He had it in his tiny baby hands, and then also in his mouth, shaking it until it was dead. Then he dragged the squirrel back to the blanket, where he presented it, limp and dripping, in front of me.

It was the most repulsive thing I’d ever seen in my life.

I knew I should get Jacob out of there. I should take him home, or maybe even to a hospital. But I didn’t. I continued to sit on the blanket and watch my son.

I wanted to see if he would do it again.

And, after a few minutes, he did. He sighted a mouse to his left, tackled it, killed it, and brought it back. He was clearly proud of himself. Then, he caught a grasshopper, which he did not deliver to me, but instead ate.

After his grasshopper snack, he returned again to the blanket, curled up, and fell asleep. All tuckered out.

I changed him out of his onesie (stained with grass and and entrails as it was), wrapped him up in the blanket and carried him home. His little body was warm against my chest and his breath salty-sour like rotting meat. For the first time since his birth, I found him adorable.

As I walked, I told my sleeping son he was a good boy, a sweet boy.

At home, Annaliese met me at the door and took Jacob from my arms. She asked if we’d had a nice time together. I said yes. She didn’t inquire as to why he was naked and wrapped in our picnic blanket, his face and hands filthy. I watched as she gave him a bath and thought about what had occurred. I had seen my tiny son do horrible, unnatural things. But I hadn’t been bothered the way I was when I saw him do regular baby things at home.

I wondered if it was because this was something I wanted for myself. To be so vicious.

I told Annaliese what had happened, anxious for her reaction.

“Oh yes, he does that sometimes,” she said.

I asked, tentatively, what she thought we should do about this behavior.

“Nothing,” she said. “He’ll probably grow out of it. Or not.”

I nodded, relieved. I didn’t want to do anything about it either. So, we didn’t.

He was a part of us after all – just not a part I’d known about before. The wild and feral and mean part, hidden deep inside. But Annaliese had known, I guess. I loved her even more for it, once I figured it out.

Now, Jacob is almost 2. He is louder, stronger, more ferocious. But also more loving, more funny. His yips have been replaced with howls, his scurry-crawling with running. His downy fur has turned coarse. He hunts every day, and brings us what he catches, proud and grinning. There are presents of marmots, possums, and snakes from our babe’s mouth. We try to discourage him from going after neighborhood pets, and for the most part he doesn’t, anymore. We’ve taken up taxidermy, Annaliese and I. We’ve taken up barbecuing. We want to support our son, and share in his interests. We’ve taken up ripping apart his offerings with our bare hands and painting our faces and limbs with what’s inside, but only on special occasions.

I love Jacob more than I can stand. I love him the way I love Annaliese and Annaliese loves me as much as she loves him, and it really is just like I thought it would be when I first imagined having a child, except different, except better. Every night at bed time, we bark at the moon, lick ourselves clean, and curl up together, sated and warm.

Author of 'I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking'. Published in Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner, Hobart, and more. Short fiction aficionado.