When Rudi Bauer accidentally takes a witch’s coin, he unleashes her curse. Accident or not, he knows he’s got to fix things, so he tries to return the coin, only to lose it on the witch’s magic mountain just as the snows come. Plagued all winter by terrible dreams, Rudi tries to find the coin again in the spring, but it has vanished—and a plague of rats has descended on his village.
Then a stranger arrives and promises to rid the village of rats—for the price of the missing coin. Desperate to get rid of the rats, the villagers agree—but when they cannot pay, the stranger exacts a price too terrible for anyone to bear. Now Rudi is going to need all his courage—and some help from his savvy grandmother and a bold young girl—to set things right in this fast and funny adventure.
About the Author
John Nickle is the illustrator of Judi Barrett’s Things That Are Most in the World, as well as the author and illustrator of TV Rex, Alphabet Explosion!: Search and Count from Alien to Zebra, and The Ant Bully. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about him at JohnNickle.net.
Read an Excerpt
RUDI BAUER ran for his life and cursed his bad luck. He would never have touched the gold coin—much less put it in his pocket—if he’d known it belonged to a witch.
It had been a blustery morning, with more than a hint of snow stinging his nostrils, when Rudi left his warm cottage and climbed the high meadow to hunt rabbits in the shadow of the Berg. All day long he scrambled on the mountain, but his aim was crooked, or perhaps it was his slingshot. By dusk, icy pellets stabbed Rudi’s hands and face, and he had nothing to show for the day but the golden guilder in his pocket and its rightful owner flinging hexes down the mountain in his wake.
So now here he was, half running, half stumbling downslope, the wind and sleet screaming in his ears.
Or was it the witch?
Rudi didn’t stop to find out. He hurtled down the mountain, his legs threatening to give way and send him off the edge and onto the rocks below.
But he wasn’t thinking of that. Or he was trying not to. He was thinking how remarkable it was that the witch was real after all. All this time, he’d assumed she was nothing but a fairy tale; a bedtime fable told to every child in the village of Brixen. His own mother had often told him the story of the Brixen Witch, who lived under the mountain, hidden and silent so long as no one disturbed her domain.
He had never liked that story at bedtime. It did not result in happy dreams.
And other than a few stories, nothing much was said about the witch in Brixen. People said it was bad luck to talk of such things.
“So I found the entrance to her lair,” thought Rudi to himself as darkness fell and the lights of the village appeared below through the slanting pellets of ice. “I wonder if anyone else knows where it is. I wonder if I’d ever be able to find it again.”
But he couldn’t imagine ever wanting to find it again. Every blink of his eyes brought a flash of memory: the gaping mouth; the teeth like spikes; the foul icy breath. And the screech—it had been painful to his ears, like a thousand cats fighting in a room with walls of stone.
Rudi shuddered as he hurled himself toward his own front door. One last look over his shoulder. One last ear-piercing shriek that may have been the storm, but may have been—
And he crashed into the house, somersaulting onto the floor as the door hit the wall with a bang. In one quick instant he was surrounded by everyone he loved most dearly in the world, and he had never been happier to see them.
“Close the door, boy!” yelled his father, jumping from his chair and spilling his pipe onto Rudi’s head. “You’re letting October into the house!”
“By the saints!” said his mother. “You’re muddy as a salamander. And now look at my rug.”
“Where are the rabbits?” said Oma. “I’m getting too old to eat my dinner so late.”
Rudi blinked up at them, trying to catch his breath. He swallowed hard, lifted his head, and croaked, “Witch.” Then he collapsed into a heap.
“Which what?” said Oma, tsking and nudging Rudi with her toe. “The boy needs to learn to speak up. I don’t see any rabbits on his belt.”
“Nor do I,” said his mother, sighing. “Then it’s barley soup again.”
Rudi sat up, dug pipe ash out of his ear, and tried to speak calmly. But all he could manage was, “A cave … on the mountain … something chased me….”
“What was it?” said his father. “A bear? A wolf?” He squinted at Rudi. “A bad-tempered marmot?”
“Should have shot it anyway,” said Oma. “It would have been as tasty as rabbit, I’m sure.” She smacked her gums.
Rudi regarded his slingshot and his grandmother in turn. “It was bigger than me,” he told her. “With teeth. And claws. And a screech like the Devil himself.”
“Rudolf Augustin Bauer!” scolded his mother. “Such stories you tell!”
Rudi considered that the stories he told were only those she’d told him first, but he kept silent in that regard.
Rudi’s father refilled the bowl of his pipe and struck a match. “Your eyes were playing tricks on you, son. You know better than to be caught up there as the light wanes, especially when a storm threatens. Are you sure you didn’t come upon a fox sleeping in its den? That would raise a snarl, I’ve no doubt.” And he snorted and clapped Rudi on the back, so that Rudi nearly collapsed again onto the rug.
Rudi sighed. His father must be right. It had been getting dark, and the snow had started to fly, and it had become difficult to see. He smiled crookedly, and felt his face grow warm, and scratched the back of his head.
“You’re right, Papa,” he said. “That was it. I’m sure it was a fox.” And Rudi stood on the rug, kicked off his muddy boots (to his mother’s exasperation), and took himself up the stairs to clean up.
But as he pulled off his grass-stained trousers, a new thought popped into his head. He plunged his hand deep into his pocket, and his fingers closed around something hard and flat and round.
A golden guilder.
It gleamed softly, even in the dimness of the loft, and it was unlike anything he’d ever seen. Not that he’d often seen any gold coin up close before. But it had a thickness about it, and markings he couldn’t read.
“What kind of fox keeps an old gold coin in its den?” he whispered to himself. But he decided it was just coincidence. If Rudi had stumbled upon the cave, why not someone else? Another hunter had dropped the coin long ago, and today Rudi had found it. That was all.
His mind wandered to what he might be able to buy with such a coin. A new pair of skis? A new rug for his mother? A slingshot that actually worked?
And then one ragged syllable burst from Oma’s mouth, flew up the stairs, and scraped Rudi’s eardrums.
Rudi’s breath stopped in his throat. The coin fell from his hand onto his stockinged foot and rolled under his bed. He stifled a curse.
“Which what?” boomed Papa’s voice from below. Then he laughed. “Is that how you play the game, Mother?”
Rudi scrambled into clean trousers, fumbled beneath the bed for the coin, and jammed it under his pillow. “How’s that, Oma?” he called over the railing, his voice cracking.
“When you first spilled into the house all breathless and red in the face,” she called up to him, “you said ‘witch.’ Didn’t you?” Oma’s mind was sharp. It was her ears that sometimes lagged behind, but they always caught up eventually, and that’s what they were doing now.
Rudi gulped, and resisted the urge to glance back at his pillow. “I was being silly,” he called down. “Like Papa said—it was a trick of the light.”
Oma squinted up at him for a moment. Then she shrugged and sat herself down to dinner. “As you say. You were there, not I.”
Rudi breathed a sigh of relief, which brought the aroma of hot barley soup and fried apples to his nostrils. He bounded down the stairs, his appetite surging.
“All I mean to say,” said Oma, as if the conversation had not just ended, “is that if you did visit a witch, I hope you didn’t take anything. Anyone who steals from the Brixen Witch’s hoard is hounded without mercy until she gets her treasure back. That’s all I mean to say.”
And Oma dipped her spoon into her bowl and slurped her soup.
What People are Saying About This
“Stacy DeKeyser deftly updates the Pied Piper’s tale. The story scuttles with rats, of course, and you end up reading it on your hind legs.”—Richard Peck, Newbery Award-winning author of A Year Down Yonder
“With lilting language and a unique voice, DeKeyser spins a tale like no other. I loved it!”—Barbara O’Connor, author of How to Steal a Dog
“A surprisingly powerful retelling of the ancient story of the stranger with a magical musical instrument.”—Zilpha Keatley Snyder, three-time Newbery Honor winner
* "Fresh and satisfying for middle-grade readers."Kirkus Reviews, *STARRED
Reading Group Guide
A Reading Group Guide to The Brixen Witch By Stacy DeKeyser About the Book When Rudi Bauer accidentally takes a witch’s coin, he unleashes her curse. Accident or not, he knows he’s got to fix things, so he tries to return the coin, only to lose it on the witch’s mountain just as the snows come. Plagued all winter by terrible dreams, Rudi tries to find the coin again in the spring, but it has vanished—and a plague of rats has descended on his village. Then a stranger arrives and promises to rid the village of the rats—for the price of the missing coin. Desperate to get rid of the rats, the villagers agree, but when they cannot pay, the stranger exacts a price too terrible for anyone to bear. Now Rudi is going to need all his courage—and some help from his savvy grandmother and a bold young girl—to set things right in this fast and funny adventure. Prereading What type of story do you think this will be? Why? What elements do you think make the best stories? Discussion Questions 1. Do you think Oma knows about the gold coin or not? What clues do you have that she does or does not? 2. Why must Rudi leave as soon as possible? Explain the effects of his decision to leave the trail. 3. Describe spring in Brixen. What is seen that’s bad luck? Do you believe in superstitions such as these? 4. Why did the villagers decide to hire Herbert Wenzel the rat catcher? What will the results of this prove to Oma and Rudi? 5. Why can’t the rat catcher promise to get rid of every single rat? Why is this a concern? Explain why you would or would not be willing to help the rat catcher. 6. Do you agree with Rudi’s assertion that neither young people nor old people are afraid of the truth? Why? 7. Why is Oma not convinced that the witch had anything to do with the return of the rats? Would you feel responsible if you were Rudi? What would you do about it? 8. Why does Rudi feel the need to speak in front of the whole village? What clues tell you who the stranger is? Will the town use the stranger to rid itself of the rats? 9. What does Rudi find on the mountain? Why would the coin want to be found? If Rudi can find the golden guilder, what will he do with it? 10. What does Rudi hear on the mountain? Does it help him find the gold coin? 11. What does Rudi learn from the witch? What does the witch learn from him? Will Rudi talk of his visit with others in the village or not? Why? 12. Why is it so unlucky to talk about the witch? How is she important to the village? Do people always need someone to blame for their troubles? What will Rudi do next? If he tells anyone about what he’s learned, who do you think it would be? Why? 13. How will Rudi lure the servant? What will he use? What must he never do? 14. Describe what happened so far with the plan. Why did Rudi tell Susanna Louisa to take all the things from the cave? 15. List the steps Rudi and the children took to gain their freedom. How does Rudi use the servant’s indecision against him? Will Rudi ever see the witch again? Will he one day tell his own children about her? 16. How did Rudi change as a person from the beginning of the story? Do you think Rudi will ever face troubles with the witch or her servant again? Guide written by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, author and English teacher. This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.