All day a storm had raged through Utrecht, with howling winds and driving rain. Roof tiles blew loose and the cart horses were skittish. By the end of the day, everyone was exhausted, cold, wet, and on edge.
In a house on the Oudegracht, roof tiles that had been damaged in the storm allowed water to drip into the living quarters of Henk and Ingrid. The constant but irregular drip stretched their already frayed nerves as they sat in the weak light of flickering candles, buffeted about by stray gusts of wind snuck into the home. The damp chill of the day had worked its way into their bones and they soon retired to their bedroom to huddle under the covers in the hope of bringing an end to this miserable day.
Yet sleep was elusive that night as thunder continued to crack overhead and the sound of the churning Oudegracht below poured itself into ears desperate for peace and silence. Henk and Ingrid tossed and turned, until finally they fell into a fitful slumber. As the storm finally began to dissipate, their furrowed brows began to ease and peace settled over Utrecht.
Suddenly, shortly after midnight, a crack louder than any thunderclap rent the longed-for silence. Henk and Ingrid bolted upright in bed as their ears rang from the loud noise. Before their hearts could slow their galloping pace, another loud bang split the air and shook the house. Henk lay paralyzed with fear, but Ingrid leapt from the bed and raced to the window.
Peering out through the cracks in the shutters, she looked down onto the street in search of the source of this terrifying noise, certain that she would see the streets and houses tumbling into the canal below. Nothing else could explain the awful noise and the shaking of the house.
As she looked upon the scene below her, she began to wish her first thoughts were true, for they were preferable to the unholy sight she saw instead. There on the street beneath her, the Devil and his minions played a horrible game of marbles. But rather than small glass balls, the feared creatures used massive stones and boulders.
Again the bone-shaking crack of the stones ripped through the night and Ingrid slowly backed toward the bed, her hands covering her face as if to block the image from her mind’s eye. As she whispered to Henk the horrible sight she’d seen, his face grew paler than the full moon that hung in the sky.
The devilish game continued through the night, and Henk and Ingrid sat clutching each other, whispering prayers that soon this nightmare would end. As dawn approached, the monstrous sport finally drew to an end and the Oudegracht once more returned to normalcy.
When everyone was sure the coast was clear, the people who lived along the canal carefully crept from their homes and began to speak in hushed tones about the devils they had seen and heard that night. A few more candles were lit in the local churches and prayers were fervently made in the hope that they would never pass a night like that again.
Yet as darkness fell once more, the residents withdrew into the darkened rooms of their home, unwilling to risk being seen by the ungodly game players. As midnight approached, people felt their pulses quicken and their breaths become shallower as their ears strained for the first sounds of the stones striking the ground.
Despite their anticipation, the almighty crack of the devil’s game of marbles still shook them to their core. For another night, the residents along the Oudegracht sat wide awake in fear of this demon sport that made sleep impossible. Bang went the stones, causing the houses to shake and the shutters to come undone, letting in the ghostly light of the moon that served as a lamp for the creatures down below.
The next day, unable to bear another night of terrified wakefulness, the residents turned to their priest and begged for help. The canny priest had the devil’s stone chained up, and called upon God to prevent the devils from breaking the chain.
That night, Henk and Ingrid and the other residents along the Oudegracht said their prayers and went to bed, hoping that they would finally be able to sleep. As the Domtoren struck midnight, they heard the rattle of chains, but the rock remained still. Soon the chains grew quiet and a sense of peace settled upon the street. One by one, Henk, Ingrid, and all of those who had been tormented began to drift off to sleep, as the stone and its chain remained firmly in place.
OK, so I took some liberties with the legend of De Gesloten Steen (The Closed [Locked?] Stone), also known as De Duivelssteen (The Devil’s Stone), but the stone does exist and it is chained up at Oudegracht 364. The legend that devils were keeping residents awake with the boulder until a priest intervened was already in existence in 1520.
Seeing as today is Halloween, I figured this was a perfect time to tell the story of the Devil’s Stone. However, if you’ve got a nervous disposition and spook easily, just tell yourself the stone was put in place to prevent wagons from damaging the corner of the building and that it has nothing to do with devils. Just ignore that thump in the night.