In a warm burrow under the red clay soil in Payson, Ariz. lived a young jack rabbit named Jack.
Now Jack was quite the opposite of his boring name for he loved nothing better than having grand adventures.
Jack's parents, who loved him very much, mostly called these adventures, "making mischief."
Just 40 long leaps on the run from his warm, snug home in the earth was a large house built above the ground. Behind the large house was an odd-shaped pool of clear water. The nearby animals of the Mogollon Rim agreed the water tasted yucky.
An ever-changing assortment of two-legged beings lived in the large house and spent many sunny hours laying about the edge of the pool beneath umbrellas, even when there was not a cloud in the sky.
Sometimes the humans even went in the pool and splashed around. Jack thought that the splashing looked fun, and he would have tried it himself if the water had not been so deep.
One lovely sunny day when the sky was blue, Jack was sheltering under a red bougainvillea while spying on the people beside the pool. He saw a round-bellied man wearing red swimming trunks, sporting a long white beard and many crinkly laugh lines on his face. Jack knew in his heart it could only be one person, and that person was a long, long, long way from his elves and his workshop at the North Pole. Santa Claus must be on vacation!
Without one more thought, Jack, the rabbit, hopped right up to the lounge chair Santa had settled into. When Santa reached for his tall glass of sun tea, he noticed a brown-gray rabbit with pointed ears and whiskers all aquiver looking expectantly up to him. Santa tried not to laugh because he wanted to remain anonymous, but the little rabbit looked so cute, "Ho! Ho! Ho!" escaped from Santa's belly before he could help himself.
"I just knew you were Santa," said Jack.
Santa nodded and put a finger to his lips. "And by what name are you called, my friend with the cotton tail? Let me guess, could it be Peter?"
"Nope," said Jack.
Just then, Jack remembered his manners and put out his paw, "I'm Jack," Jack said proudly, rising up on his hind legs. "Jack Rabbit."
Jack's paw disappeared between Santa's thumb and forefinger as Santa gently shook it. "Merry met, Jack Rabbit."
"What are you doing so far from the North Pole, Mr. Claus?" asked Jack.
"I thought a vacation in the desert would be a perfect change from all the snow," Santa replied.
"Where is Mrs. Claus?" Jack asked.
"She came with me last year," Santa said. "This year she is visiting a friend at London Bridge.
"Now, Jack," Santa raised his bushy white eyebrows and tried to look as serious as he could, "you will be a good bunny and keep my name a secret, won't you?"
Jack's nose wiggled, and his whiskers twitched, as he pretended to think about Santa's request, for, of course, he would try never to say or do anything that would make Santa unhappy. "All right, Santa, but ..." Jack looked up with his best innocent bunny expression.
Santa rolled his eyes and sighed. "But you want your Christmas present early this year?"
Santa looked at all the people lounging around the pool and thought about how many other people were inside the hotel. Santa decided that granting one little brown-gray rabbit named Jack an early Christmas wish would be a small price to pay for keeping the name Santa Claus secret. It was a very big secret after all. "Yet, I can't make a habit of granting early Christmas wishes, or I shall never have time for another vacation because then everyone will bother me and I shall have to work all year-round. Hmmm," Santa thought.
Jack watched curiously as Santa dialed the North Pole on his cell phone and spoke softly in Elvish. When Santa got off the phone, Jack was quick to put the innocent expression back on his face.
"Jack, I am sorry but I cannot give you an early Christmas present," Santa said. Jack's ears drooped, which is the way rabbits pout. "Jack, stop pouting and promise me you'll strive all your life to be a good bunny." Jack's ears perked up. "I just learned from one of my elves that your birthday is coming up in a few days, so I will give you a birthday present a bit early."
Jack hopped and bounced and hopped in delight all around Santa's sandaled feet. This was better than he'd hoped. Now he wouldn't have to go without a Christmas present under the tumbleweed when the moon shone on Christmas Eve. He bounced and hopped and shook his tail for joy as he thought: "Wow! I will be the only rabbit in the world to get a birthday gift from Santa Claus!"
"Thank you!" Jack said loudly, although he did remember his promise so he did not shout Santa's name.
Santa smiled, "What would you like for your birthday, Jack Rabbit?"
"Antlers. Real antlers." Jack responded without hesitation.
"Antlers? What kind of antlers? Why am I asking you what kind? What am I thinking? Jack, your neck is not strong enough for antlers."
"I eat all my green vegetables, and my carrots, so I think my neck must be big enough and strong enough to hold my head up with antlers. Please, Santa."
"Your head is too tiny for antlers, my fine young Jack Rabbit."
"But Santa, isn't giving me antlers easier than using your magic to make Dasher and Prancer and all the other reindeer fly?"
Santa was puzzled and thought, "Even if I gave Jack antlers small enough that he will still fit in his burrow, the antlers will weigh his head down too much and make his neck hurt. Hmmm."
Santa pondered his predicament for a few more minutes before an idea hopped into his brain. "Hollow! Antlers that are hollow won't weigh much at all. I can make tiny hollow antlers out of Jack Rabbit's head."
And that is precisely what Santa did.
Jack will only wiggle his nose when asked how antlers came to be growing from his head. All the canyon animals are certain Jack's mysterious antlers are far from the only mischief Jack will get into during his life. His loving parents still call him Jack, but his friends have given him a new nickname.
So, if you ever catch a glimpse of a rabbit holding his antlered head up with pride, take a picture quick, for there is only one Jackalope in Arizona.