“Earl Winslow says he wants one covered up with them Indian beads. Think you can do that?” asked Pete, Jed’s boss.
“Prob’ly,” he replied. “I don’t know the beadwork too well, though. How fancy does he want it?”
“Nevermind it,” scoffed Pete, waving his hand. “Just bleach it normal and I’ll find someone to decorate it.”
Jed walked outside of the workroom to see if anything interesting was happening. Outside the building, scattered across the yard, lay a dozen buffalo heads in various stages of decay. Some looked nearly alive, others were bleached husks. The dark, repulsive smell emanating from them occasionally drifted in the wind.
He picked a skull up and worked for the rest of the day, skinning, bleaching, painting, and cutting. There was always more work to do with the heads, but it was not good work, and something about it made Jed feel emotionless, like a machine. The sun took its time drifting through the sky, and finally, caked with sweat, the young man called it a day. He ate dinner, sat around quietly for a while, and then went to bed in his little room.
It was blistering. The summer heat had overstayed its welcome for much too long. The young man could not fall asleep. He rolled around uncomfortably, and only after three long hours did he drift off uneasily, bad thoughts pouring through his mind. A dream bubbled up from deep inside him.
Years had went by, and Jed was a lot older and more stoic, with a bushy black beard. Every day, he scraped away at the numerous buffalo skulls. A cousin from back East had come to visit him, and was just about to arrive. Jed was accustomed to his work, so desensitized to it that his whole world consisted of the heads of animals, and he could not even remember anything else. He held a hatchet in his hand, just about the chop an extra vertebrae off on his latest piece. The door to the shack swung open and someone stepped inside.
“Howdy, Jed!” called his cousin. Jed looked up at him flatly, and uttered the words:
“What a nice head you’ve got, cousin.” He spoke lowly, inhumanly. Jed stood up, took a step forward, and readied the hatchet up to strike as the buffalo skull tumbled out of his lap and shattered.
He awoke from the dream stunned. Jed got all his clothes on as quickly as he could. On the way out of his bedroom, he saw Pete sitting on his old chair, smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper.
“Jed, you got a big order to work on today for the Off-R ranch. Got you another bottle of that cleanin’ chemical you like,” he commented, not bothering to look his employee in the eye. “Some sort of bleach, I think. Ready to work?”
Wordlessly, Jed pulled on his boots and walked out the door, never to return.