There once was a farmer with several acres of land. He sowed and tended and reaped, and in this manner he fed himself and his family. He grew wheat, and turnips, and potatoes. He grew strawberries, and asparagus, and carrots. He traded with the other farmers around him, giving his fruits and vegetables in return for meat, and milk, and other good things. He and his husband and their daughter were all very happy.
One day while picking strawberries, the farmer found a nose, half-buried in the dirt. “How curious,” said the farmer, and picked the nose up. He brushed the black soil from the nostrils and thought, “I don’t think I know anyone who would have lost a nose.” As the last bits of black soil fell from it, the nostrils of the nose flared to life, sniffing and wheezing. The farmer was startled, and dropped the nose back to the ground, where it continued to breathe and sniff and huff and puff. The farmer moved on and picked strawberries on the other side of the nose, but at the end of the day, he returned, picked up the nose, and brought it back to the house.
“Look at what I found in the field today, when I was picking strawberries,” said the farmer to his husband and daughter. None of them could think of anyone who could have lost a nose, and all three stared in wonder at how the nose appeared to be sniffing and flaring in such a lifelike manner.
“Well, we had better keep it,” said the farmer’s husband, “in case we meet someone who has lost a nose, so that they can use it.” He put the nose on the mantel, and there it sat, occasionally sniffing or sneezing.
The next day the farmer went out to pick tomatoes, as they had just turned a beautiful deep shade of red. He spent all day picking the roundest tomatoes from the vines and gathering them in his wicker basket. A few hours before sunset, he looked down and discovered to his dismay that he had almost stepped on a set of eyes, which quivered and stared upwards at his bootheel. The farmer quickly moved his foot to avoid the eyes and bent down to take a closer look. As he moved, the eyes followed; as he gawped, the eyes blinked.
That night, the eyes joined the nose on the mantel, and they rolled and followed the farmer and his husband and their daughter as they moved around the house, cooking and eating, singing songs and preparing for bedtime.
The next day, while harvesting apricots from his small grove, the farmer found two ears tucked amongst the flower blossoms; the day after that, he found two lean cheeks on a peach tree. After a week of this– a shaggy brown scalp betwixt the peppers, a neck and chin buried with the sweet potatoes, and finally a chattering skull mixed in with the cantaloupes– the farmer had assembled a near-complete head on his mantel. The eyes had gone in the sockets, the ears on the sides, and so on.
That Saturday night, the head stared down at them, occasionally cocking to one side to hear them better, sniffing at the bread as it came out of the oven, and staring down with them as they ate, grinning its skeletal toothy grin.
“I am so curious,” said the farmer’s daughter. “What is it doing? What does it want?”
“I am also curious,” said the farmer. “Who does this head belong to? Do they want it back? It seems to be personable enough, although I do wish it would stop showing us its teeth.” When it heard this, the head looked down and tried to turn away.
“Oh, hush,” said the farmer’s husband. “It can’t help that, dear. Now you’ve gone and made it worry. Don’t worry, head, don’t worry.”
The next day was Sunday, and the farmer and his husband and their daughter went to church. When they returned, no sooner had they started preparing for lunch when they heard a moist slapping sound at the front door.
“Whatever could that be?” asked the farmer. When he opened the door, he discovered a mouth laying on the welcome mat. “Ah,” he said, and quickly placed the mouth over the head’s skully grin. Now the head was complete. The whole family gathered around the mantel expectantly.
“He’s almost kind of handsome, in an odd way,” said the farmer’s daughter.
“Burton,” said the head on the mantel. “Burton, burton, burton burton. Burton burton burton burton burton.”
“What on earth does that mean?” asked the farmer.
“Burton burton burton,” said the head, with eyes lowered.
“Maybe he doesn’t speak English,” said the farmer’s husband.
“Burton burton?” asked the head.
“Perhaps it is dumb,” said the farmer, and when the head’s eyebrows raised in dismay, he quickly added, “Mute, I meant to say. Not stupid.”
“Burton,” said the head.
“Hush, dear,” said the farmer’s husband. “Burton is our guest. Daughter, please make sure to roast enough beets to feed Burton as well.”
The head smiled down at them beatifically.
That night, as the farmer and his husband and their daughter prepared for bedtime, the head opened its mouth and sang a soft, low, wordless lullaby, a repeating melodic phrase, and everyone slept easily and deeply.