Naart Stuyck is a short piece of fiction that is based on ghosts who are said to haunt the Belgian city of Ghent. It is part of Ghostlore: An Audio Fiction Anthology produced by the Alternative Stories and Fake Realities Podcast and edited by Lyndsey Croal. You can find part one of the podcast which focuses on the wilderness here and part two which focuses on hauntings here.
The piece below is written by me and performed by Chris Gregory. It first appeared in The Alternative Stories and Fake Realties Podcast.
She doesn’t believe me. Bakers, my wife said, a superstitious lot. Do you remember that vision you had? There would be death because you had seen a gravestone in the bedroom. Yet here we are, alive. Well, my wife is wrong. I’m telling you, she’s wrong. I know what I saw. I can still feel that wet hand grabbing my hand. I can still hear waterdrops falling on the floor. I can still feel his icy breath in my neck. I told her all that and more, and you know what she said? You’ve been at the inn again, haven’t you? Next, you’ll be telling me that Geraard the devil and his son are tired of chasing each other in that godawful castle and have taken a liking to chasing you instead. And then she giggled. You know what’s even worse? She all expected us to believe her. She told the milliner, she told the priest, she even told that crook with a nose as red as a tomato who lives next door, and they didn’t giggle. One night, she said, she was walking home late. There was no moon, there were no stars, only bony trees that crept closer and tried to encircle her. And then she saw a shadow. A shadow walking back and forth on the bridge. She wanted to run away until she saw that the shadow was the milkmaid. Buttermilk, buttermilk, the maid shouted, I have forgotten my soul for I have measured more water than milk. My wife wanted to dry the milkmaid’s tears and hug her, but she changed into mist before she could approach. Hug her, I said. Hug a ghost? You must be mad. Well, she replied, you’ve committed worse crimes than selling diluted buttermilk and that’s all this poor girl has ever done. She wouldn’t want to hug whatever’s in the cellar. I’m sure of that. She’ll change her tune tonight. I won’t be the one waking up when the clock strikes midnight. I’ll remain in bed while she puts on the ovens in the cellar. There, she’ll meet him. She’ll hear someone knocking while she’s throwing yeast, flour and sugar in a bowl and she’ll think nothing of it. She’ll hear another knock while she’s kneading the dough. The table trembling every time she pushes it down with the heel of her hands. We’re not open yet, she’ll shout. And you know what she’ll think? Oh, the rudeness! Then she’ll put the loaves into the oven, and she’ll hear another knock. She’ll open the window and an icy, shrivelled hand will reach through the bars. That unnaturally soft hand will grab my wife’s coarse working hands. It feels as if you’re holding dough that has been left to rot in the river, dough that can move and has a will of its own. The bread isn’t ready yet, my wife will stammer. The ghost at the window doesn’t care. He likes his bread to have a golden crust, but the inside can be stringy and watery. An aberration to every boulanger who cares about the art of baking. She’ll give him a loaf and she’ll hear chains rattling as he walks away. Then, she’ll wake me up. But you insisted, darling, I’ll say, you wanted to be in charge tonight to prove that no ghost scares you, that they are lost souls and need our help and pity rather than our disgust and horrification. Then I’ll tell her the story of Naart Stuyck. Alive, he was a cruel man. His wife worked the fields all day while he gambled away everything that she earned. She cursed him with the kind of face that even the devil himself would run away from. There was one unlucky chap who had the misfortune of seeing his face. He never spoke another word and died fourteen days later. If you ask me, I think that his face is elastic, hollow, mouldy, a place where maggots thrive. No-one knows how Naart Stuyck died, but he wasn’t the kind of man who would have died a natural death. It wasn’t his style. The one thing we do know is that he has been pestering the bakeries of Ghent with his nightly visits for decades. You know what my wife will say? Well, don’t give him any bread, and he won’t come. Do you want to bankrupt us? If you refuse, all the bread that we’ll bake will fall flat. That’s what will happen tonight, and it will happen exactly as I say it will happen. Hug a ghost. Pfft.
More about the ghosts
The ghosts that appear in this piece of fiction are based on ghosts who are said to haunt the Belgian city of Ghent. Geraard was a 13th century knight who was called Geraard the Devil because he was well-known for his cruelty. He and his son, also called Geraard still chase each other every night in Geraard the Devil Caslte. The ghost at the bridge is based on a tale that says that the now demolished Karnemelkbrug (freely translated: buttermilk bridge) was haunted by a milkmaid who was punished for selling diluted buttermilk. The ghost of Naart Stuyck asked bakeries for bread. It was said that he never begged but bakers didn’t dare to refuse him out of fear that their bread would fall flat.