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Going to Kill a Buffalo
by Christopher David DiCicco
Ned Harper had never seen a buffalo. Had never watched one run. He wanted to. He wanted to see one tonight.
Ned Harper had never been so impulsive before, had never driven further than Pittsburgh. Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. Once.
Now, six days after telling no one, after just leaving, Ned sat on the hood of his car, staring up at the Wyoming stars. “I like it here. I like here a lot,” he said. It was the first time Ned had spoken aloud in over a week.
At work, no one spoke to Ned, because at work, Ned sat alone. There, he was the last of a small IT department.
Here, in Wyoming, beneath the stars, with the buffalo coming, Ned was something else—surrounded, maybe.
Ned pulled the fur blanket around him tighter and waited.
Before Wyoming, Ned hadn’t been waiting for anything. Not for Anthony. Not for him to come down to IT. Anthony from PR, he had waited. He had told Ned so. Ned remembered. Anthony had stood alongside a prairie, had waited two hours to snap a photo. Ned had just listened. At least, that was what Ned remembered. Ned couldn’t always remember when he spoke. Before Anthony, not one other person had come down to IT that month.
Only email. No one talked. Almost always email. Ned couldn’t always remember.
It was pretty easy for him not to speak. On the road, it was even easier.
Ned really did want to see a buffalo. Maybe in the morning, he thought, if not tonight. Although tonight would be great because Ned Harper had never wanted anything so much before.
He relaxed his hands behind his head and felt his eyes get too heavy for him to see much at all. “In the morning,” Ned forced himself to say aloud. It troubled him to hear his voice, to not quite recognize himself. His voice sounded off. It wasn’t Ned that he heard. It was wind and tree branches breaking, bouncing off a distant canyon wall like thunder over a poor mid-west stable.
He sounded wrong and it made him smile.
He thought about trying to say something else. He had to be sure it was him speaking. There had to be some last remnant of Ned Harper in him somewhere, the man who had left work, got into his car, and had begun driving across the country.
When all he heard was drums and chanting, Ned felt ready.
It had been the first time anyone had come down to his department in weeks. It had taken Ned a few seconds to separate Anthony from his emails. He had stared at him for awhile before turning his gaze back to his dark monitor screen. He hadn’t been sure why Anthony had been talking to him, but felt as if Anthony were trying to explain something terribly important to him.
“Yeah, Lewis and Clark, saw it firsthand. The Indians would take a buffalo skin, I mean the head and all, with the horns and all that heavy fur. The thing must of weighed a ton. But they would take it and wear it over themselves and run with the buffalo. They would run them right to a cliff; they’d start a charge toward it and lead them right off.”
“What happened to the Indian?” Ned had asked.
“The Indian jumped out of the way or onto an outcropping or something, but that’s how they killed a buffalo.”
Ned had stopped typing his email. He wasn’t sure when. He just sat there and listened to Anthony, listened to the buffalo falling. Without much thought, he had shut down his computer, pressing the button on the tower until the click had told him it was over. The screen gone dark. It had already been dark. Anthony had asked him something.
“Have you ever seen one, a real buffalo?”
Ned had barely noticed his being asked a question. His powerless black screen seemed so much more interesting than all the emails he had ever read or written in the last eight years of his employment. He could see them, the buffalo, falling right there on his monitor, could even count the carcasses piling up at the bottom.
Ned didn’t even answer Anthony, not even on the way out the door.
Ned couldn’t speak then. Not yet. He had been staring too long into monitors to make words.
The thunder brought him back. Ned heard it all around him. Could feel it moving through him.
He could feel the sound as he sat up on the hood of his small brown Civic hatchback. The thunder became a more clear pounding. Ned knew he had done the right thing, staying in the park after hours.
Only stars and him, and soon them, hundreds of them.
The pounding thunder was coming.
He still had time. He was ready.
His car was parked less than a mile off the road, and less than a mile from where the Grand Tetons National Park map told him not to be, where absolutely not to be, where the herd would make their way from one mountain valley to the next.
Ned knew he was ready as he got behind the wheel of his Civic and waited, listening to the growing thunder coming toward him. It was a mountain of sound in the darkness that seemed bigger than the Tetons themselves.
Did buffalo always move like this, he wondered, like a sweeping rain from one valley to the next.
Ned didn’t finish his thought. They were on him, a force flooding past him and around him, then right into his car—into him—they were in it together now, something worth waiting for, something more.
The impact and thunder almost prevented Ned from becoming a part of it. His hand trembled with the key, flipped the ignition, turned on the lights, his foot fell on the gas.
Ned had never before seen a buffalo and was not let down by the massive mashing of brown bodies folding in on him and his car. He was not let down by the hooves that moved him, Ned Harper, IT Department, and his small economy car forward, onward, together, his headlights dancing across the plain, leading the charge.