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Art by Melissa Mead

X is for Xylomancy

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.
The xylomancer answered the ad he found in the paper. He arrived at the warehouse dressed in his finest robes of midnight black, bearing a satchel of meticulously gathered sticks. Several teenagers bustled around the dusty empty space, setting up a drum kit and tuning acoustic guitars. One of them, with blond hair hanging in his eyes, approached, frowning. "Are you the xylophonist?"
"I am the xylomancer," he said, rattling his satchel of sticks. "Master of the ancient art of divination through twigs, sticks, and rods."
"Um," the blond said.
"I am adept in the use of found twigs and the more traditional yarrow stalks, and one of my teachers authored portions of the I Ching. I can read the import of my sticks even as they burn in fires or tumble over waterfalls, and I can cast their configurations and apprehend their import even as all those around me lose their minds. I would be a valuable addition to your band of adventurers, providing guidance when you are lost, hope when all seems forsaken. Will you have me?"
The blond looked at the others, who offered no assistance. "We were actually just looking for a guy to play the xylophone in our folk band. I think you misread our ad."
The xylomancer knelt, opening his satchel and seizing a handful of twigs. He felt rowan, holly, oak, maple, dogwood, cherry. "We shall see," he said, and cast the sticks to the ground. He gazed at the pattern of crisscrossed twigs, then shook his head. "You will not find a xylophonist. But you will be blessed with a gifted accordion player, who will overcome your initial reluctance to polka music with his virtuoso skill."
"Huh," the blond said. "That's pretty cool. We could use somebody with an eye for the big picture. Tell you what--assuming that prediction comes true, how'd you like to be our manager, and help arrange gigs for us and stuff?"
The xylomancer reached into the bag for another handful of sticks. He cast them, gazed at their shape for several seconds, and looked up to the blond. He smiled with the calm assurance of one who knows every twist and bend of the near future. "I will like it very much."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

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