Stefan Bachmann

"Spellbinding . . . Bachmann is a terrific, ambitious writer."
—Soman Chainani, New York Times-bestselling author of The School for Good and Evil series
CINDERS AND SPARROWS Read More
"Bizarre and hugely suspenseful." —Kirkus A DROP OF NIGHT Read More "Richly realized . . . Accomplished . . . This is a story young fantasy buffs are sure to enjoy." — The New York Times THE PECULIAR Read More "A wonderfully evocative world, beautiful prose, and interesting characters. Bachmann just keeps getting better and better". -Christopher Paolini, #1 NYT Bestselling author of the Inheritance Cycle THE WHATNOT Read More "Four of horror fantasy’s newer stars share tales and correspondence . . . A hefty sheaf of chillers—all short enough to share aloud and expertly cast to entice unwary middle graders a step or two into the shadows." -Kirkus (Starred review) THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES Read More

Tidbits of Cinders #6 – Mrs. Cantanker’s Midnight Snack (Deleted scene)

Mrs. Cantanker’s Midnight Snack

Deleted scene from Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann

 

On Tuesday, Mrs. Cantanker announced that my morning lesson would take place in the crypts, and so off we went, out of the castle and down the paths into the woods where the steps lead down into the dark. It was not so much a ‘lesson’, technically, more of a me-standing-next-to-an-open-tomb-while-listening-to-the-seven-hunded-year-old-spirit-of-a-witch-as-it-hissed-and-whispered-within. But Mrs. Cantanker was far too distracted to teach me herself. I stood with the toes of my shoes in a puddle, taking notes in my small black chapbook and trying to sort out the most interesting bits of the witch’s tales, and all the while Mrs. Cantanker sat draped over one of the neighboring sarcophagi, her great skirts trailing around her, twisting and twisting the blue ring on her finger.

What was she thinking about? I wondered, watching her out of the corner of my eye. I would have been relieved, usually, by her ignoring me, but today it disquieted me. She seemed distracted, impatient, and once or twice I could have sworn I heard her stomach growl.

Lunch was a hurried business, the afternoon was spent in the crypts as well, and by nightfall I was ready to run back to my room and never speak to anyone again, certainly nothing Dead. (I had begun to realize that the Dead had far more time than I did and were consequently terribly unfeeling about wasting it.)

I stalked up the servants’ staircase after supper, daring the Ghost of a Moonlit Owl to make so much as a single, eldritch coo. And just I was about to turn the corner that led to my room, I spotted a thread of light seeping from under Mrs. Cantanker’s door, along with the sound of a phonograph playing something scratchy and nostalgic. I stopped in my tracks, listening. The music was very beautiful, like something a great lady might sing in a sad and dingy theater to make the patrons think of happier times.

I had never looked into Mrs. Cantanker’s chambers before. I had never dared. But I had not been a housemaid for so long without having developed the powerful urge to peek through every keyhole that promised to show me something interesting, so I waited for the music to reach the blaring end of its crescendo and then crept forward and knelt, blinking against the cold metal lock.

My own bedroom had always struck me as the loveliest room anyone could possibly want, but Mrs. Cantanker’s was grander by a mile. The walls were hung with red velvet. The ceiling was a forest of gilt leaves. A fire crackled in an onyx fireplace, a sterling clock ticked on its mantle, and all the gas-lamps had been lit.

My eye traveled slowly across the room. It seemed empty at first, waiting. And then, all at once, the music stopped, the phonograph’s needle slipping from its groove, and I saw Mrs. Cantanker sitting in front of the mirror at her dressing table, rubbing thick, pinkish cream into her cheeks. All was silent now. All I could hear were the lamps, a continuous hiss, as if the walls were full of vipers.

Mrs. Cantanker’s eyes sparkled as she stared at herself. Some people’s faces grow limp and languid when they think they are alone, but she was watching herself just as keenly and mistrustfully as she tended to watch me. When she had finished with her array of salves and ointments, she leaned back, inspecting her neck and pulling at the corners of her eyes. Then, almost absentmindedly, she drew a colored candy-tin from among the perfume bottles on her dressing table and opened the lid.

A horrible scream emanated from inside. It was not very loud. In fact, it sounded as if it were coming from miles away, from across desolate hills and moors. But it was piercing and heart-rending, and it made the hairs on my arms prickle. Mrs. Cantanker did not seem alarmed by it. She dipped two fingers into the tin and plucked out a glowing ball of light, bright and silvery as a star. The screaming, I realized, was coming from the light.

Mrs. Cantanker lifted it, pinched between thumb and forefinger, turning it this way and that. When she brought it up to the mirror, I noticed that the glass did not reflect the star-like little ball, but a plump, elderly lady in a feathered hat. The lady might have been grand once, but now she looked ragged and windblown, her feathers drooping, as if she had been on a long and terrible journey. Her face was panic-stricken.

“No, ma’am, please,” she said, pressing her hands to the mirror. “Please let me go! Please–”

But Mrs. Cantanker did not seem to see the woman in the mirror. She ran her tongue over her teeth, opened her mouth very wide . . . and swallowed the light whole.

I gasped. The woman in the mirror vanished, her voice cut suddenly short. A satisfied smile spread over Mrs. Cantanker’s face, her eyes going half-lidded and a deep purr slithering out of her belly. It reminded me of Mrs. Boliver’s cats after they’d feasted on a bird, or a pie I’d left on the sill to cool.

I knew at once what had happened: Mrs. Cantanker had just eaten a soul.

My knees began to burn against the floorboards. I wanted to get up, but I also wanted to see what would happen next.  No good witch devoured lost souls to fuel their magic. I’d read enough of the books in Greta’s library to know that. I’d never been under the illusion that Mrs. Cantanker was good, but now I had seen it with my own eyes. I shifted ever so slightly, readying myself to spring up and run away. The floorboards let out an agonizing creak.

I waited, frozen, praying Mrs. Cantanker had not heard. She did not stir from her position in front of the mirror. But then her head slumped slowly back over her neck, and her eyes were open, bright and wicked, staring directly at the keyhole.

I leaped to my feet and ran back to my room, not stopping until the door was firmly locked behind me.

I hardly slept a wink that night. I lay in my bed, covers pulled up to my chin, wondering what to do. Some time later I thought I heard a soft step outside my door, the rustling of skirts as someone paused and listened, and then a sly, amused titter. I thought perhaps I’d dreamed the whole encounter, but in the morning, Mrs. Cantanker did indeed appear changed: she looked triumphant, incandescent, and as she swept hither and yon through the High Blackbird’s Study I could swear I saw a pale hand on her shoulder, and sometimes the flicker of an extra arm, long and thin as a fish bone, when she raised her own. I knew she was ready now, that whatever she’d been planning was waiting just around the corner.

Note (mild spoilers): this was a scene from an earlier draft of CINDERS that I cut because I couldn’t get it to work with the pacing. The pale hand at the end belongs to the Butcher of Beydun who Mrs. Cantanker is now bound to, too, after eating the soul and performing an incantation that Zita was not privy to.

Baku Adventures

Right at the beginning of 2020, when all of us were still blissfully ignorant lil’ ignoramuses about pandemics, I went to Azerbaijan for a week.

It was nothing like I expected, not as surreal and over-the-top as Dubai, nor as dirty and gritty as Moscow, but kind of partway in between, a big gleaming Middle Eastern metropolis mixed up with ancient sandstone castles and minarets, and just a hint of Vienna in the tall, baroque apartment buildings lining the downtown.

On my first day I found the Swiss embassy, which made me feel right at home.
 

Then I stumbled across a museum of tiny books, which was equally delightful. Why are tiny books not more readily available? Think of the shelf space! *nudges publishers*

This carpet museum is made to look like a carpet.

This part of the city is made to look like a small, fake Venice.

This building was made to look like a beautiful, swoop-y wave, I’m assuming, I don’t actually know. I trekked for miles to see it, and I got a little lost and scurried across a (not-too-busy) highway, but it was worth it.

I don’t know what this demonic presence is, but I like that that one lady is completely unbothered by it and is using its serpentine skull tongue as a comfy spot to chat with friends.

So many skulls.

After that, I walked another very long way to get to one of the largest soukhs in the city, which was something I was recommended to do, and which, if you find yourself in Baku, I recommend you do, too.

They made little houses for all their outdoor plants for winter, which I thought was very considerate.

 

Carpets for days.

At the end of the trip, I went to the airport and shared the waiting area with a sheik’s entourage. The entourage was returning to the UAE from a hunting trip TOGETHER WITH THEIR HUNTING FALCONS. (I asked for permission to take this picture, and I’m still proud of me for doing that because they were an intimidating bunch. They were like “Is it for your Tinder profile”, and I was like, “AHAHAHA, no, I think I look more pheasant-y, actually” and they didn’t get it.)

And that was Baku! After that I went to Chicago for my brother’s wedding, and then all travel ceased, so I’m glad I squeaked in when I did.

Tidbits of Cinders #6 – The Characters of Blackbird Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope everyone had a good Halloween! I diiiiid, though I did nothing of import, only watched a scary movie (Gretel and Hansel, the new one from 2020 with all the pretty cinematography) and ate ice cream. I’ve been doing nothing of import in general since Cinders and Sparrows came out, though I have done lots of walking and reading and baking of blackberry crumbles. I’m also working on a short story about mythological deities in Victorian London that’s breaking my brain. BUT BE THAT AS IT MAY. Cinders has been out for two weeks, and so here are some of the characters that populate it.

Our heroine and long-lost heir, Zita Brydgeborn – formerly known as Ingabeth, or Mrs. Boliver’s housemaid. She’s generally a cheery and optimistic sort, but this picture finds her practicing the Language of Clouds, which she finds highly annoying.

Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann

 

Bram and Minnifer – the castle’s two remaining servants after everyone else flees.

Cinders and Sparrows by Stefan Bachmann

 

Absinthia Klarmp, or her gravestone, at least. (I think Absinthia is mentioned one time in the entire book, but her gravestone is too nice to exclude from the character list. It is, like all of these, by my mom.)

 

This next one I made myself, very hurriedly, but I’m determined to do it again in detail with a proper background, and a proper hand holding the key instead of a lobster pincer, and also proper spacing of the words in the dress. In the meantime, this is Ysabeau Harkleath-Cantanker St. Cloud, Zita’s somewhat mysterious guardian and teacher.

 

And lastly, coin and lavender in hand, and surrounded by sinister accoutrements, Magdeboor III, our dangerous, dangerous villain. (This is a picture of her hundreds of years ago when she was alive. Things are rather different now. . .)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are more characters – several ghosts, an enchanted beast, a crow, and a rather ineffectual lawyer named Mr. Grenouille – and hopefully I’ll have sketches of them all eventually. Also, I’ll be able to share some exciting news soooooooon! Possibly next week. Watch this space. 🙂 I hope everyone’s doing well!

This is what I’m reading

French Exit

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This is me

I write words and music. Books are: faerypunk THE PECULIAR (out now), its companion THE WHATNOT (out now), 1/4 of a spooky anthology THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (out now), and my YA debut A DROP OF NIGHT (Winter 2016), all from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. I'm repped by Sara Megibow at KT Literary.

This is my first book

This is my first book

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This is my second book

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