In "Jackalope Wives," there's something so seductive about the dance of the skin-changers in the desert. Every young man wants to claim one for his bride — but only a few young men are stupid enough to actually try and seize one. This is the most beautiful story I've read in ages.
Ursula Vernon's prose is simple but ultra-effective, and she plays with magical-realism ideas and supernatural motifs with a fantastic grace. And the final twist is both clever and completely earned. This is a story that anyone who cares about storytelling should check out.
Here's how it begins:
The moon came up and the sun went down. The moonbeams went shattering down to the ground and the jackalope wives took off their skins and danced.
They danced like young deer pawing the ground, they danced like devils let out of hell for the evening. They swung their hips and pranced and drank their fill of cactus–fruit wine.
They were shy creatures, the jackalope wives, though there was nothing shy about the way they danced. You could go your whole life and see no more of them than the flash of a tail vanishing around the backside of a boulder. If you were lucky, you might catch a whole line of them outlined against the sky, on the top of a bluff, the shadow of horns rising off their brows.
And on the half–moon, when new and full were balanced across the saguaro's thorns, they'd come down to the desert and dance.
The young men used to get together and whisper, saying they were gonna catch them a jackalope wife. They'd lay belly down at the edge of the bluff and look down on the fire and the dancing shapes — and they'd go away aching, for all the good it did them.
For the jackalope wives were shy of humans. Their lovers were jackrabbits and antelope bucks, not human men. You couldn't even get too close or they'd take fright and run away. One minute you'd see them kicking their heels up and hear them laugh, then the music would freeze and they'd all look at you with their eyes wide and their ears upswept.
The next second, they'd snatch up their skins and there'd be nothing left but a dozen skinny she–rabbits running off in all directions, and a campfire left that wouldn't burn out 'til morning.
It was uncanny, sure, but they never did anybody any harm. Grandma Harken, who lived down past the well, said that the jackalopes were the daughters of the rain and driving them off would bring on the drought. People said they didn't believe a word of it, but when you live in a desert, you don't take chances.
When the wild music came through town, a couple of notes skittering on the sand, then people knew the jackalope wives were out. They kept the dogs tied up and their brash sons occupied. The town got into the habit of having a dance that night, to keep the boys firmly fixed on human girls and to drown out the notes of the wild music.
Read the rest over at Apex.You won't be sorry.