The new year brought a new editor at Apex Magazine, which is frequently featured here. Lynne and Michael Thomas are moving on, and I expect good things from them wherever they end up. Joining Apex is Sigrid Ellis as editor-in-chief, whom I think you’ll find has a somewhat familiar touch. She’s worked on the magazine for quite a while and is well-prepared to take on this role. After all, she brings us this story by Ursula Vernon in her very first issue.
Now, it happened there was a young man in town who had a touch of magic on him. It had come down to him on his mother’s side, as happens now and again, and it was worse than useless.
A little magic is worse than none, for it draws the wrong sort of attention. It gave this young man feverish eyes and made him sullen. His grandmother used to tell him that it was a miracle he hadn’t been drowned as a child, and for her he’d laugh, but not for anyone else.
He was tall and slim and had dark hair and young women found him fascinating.
This sort of thing happens often enough, even with boys as mortal as dirt. There’s always one who learned how to brood early and often, and always girls who think they can heal him.
Eventually the girls learn better. Either the hurts are petty little things and they get tired of whining or the hurt’s so deep and wide that they drown in it. The smart ones heave themselves back to shore and the slower ones wake up married with a husband who lies around and suffers in their direction. It’s part of a dance as old as the jackalopes themselves.
But in this town at this time, the girls hadn’t learned and the boy hadn’t yet worn out his interest. At the dances, he leaned on the wall with his hands in his pockets and his eyes glittering. Other young men eyed him with dislike. He would slip away early, before the dance was ended, and never marked the eyes that followed him and wished that he would stay.
He himself had one thought and one thought only — to catch a jackalope wife.
They were beautiful creatures, with their long brown legs and their bodies splashed orange by the firelight. They had faces like no mortal woman and they moved like quicksilver and they played music that got down into your bones and thrummed like a sickness.
And there was one — he’d seen her. She danced farther out from the others and her horns were short and sharp as sickles. She was the last one to put on her rabbit skin when the sun came up. Long after the music had stopped, she danced to the rhythm of her own long feet on the sand.
(And now you will ask me about the musicians that played for the jackalope wives. Well, if you can find a place where they’ve been dancing, you might see something like sidewinder tracks in the dust, and more than that I cannot tell you. The desert chews its secrets right down to the bone.)
So the young man with the touch of magic watched the jackalope wife dancing and you know as well as I do what young men dream about. We will be charitable. She danced a little apart from her fellows, as he walked a little apart from his.
Perhaps he thought she might understand him. Perhaps he found her as interesting as the girls found him.
Perhaps we shouldn’t always get what we think we want.