Do the witches of Mussoorie’s Fairy Hill grant a queen her dearest wish? What happens when she refuses to acknowledge them? Can a boon become a curse? A brutal witch-hunt in Vienna, and a haunting which still lingers. Can you see Elsa as the blood of the past still stains the streets of the old city? A visit to Bangkok suddenly takes a sinister turn when an unsuspecting couple turns to dark rites to grant them what their heart desires.
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Praise for Deepta Roy Chakraverti
Roy Chakraverti manages to conjure an eerie atmosphere. The descriptions of darkness and silence almost render them tactile. – The Telegraph
Deepta follows a methodical, scientific paradigm in comprehending the other world. She refers to history, psychology, science, and religion to not only put forward a balanced overview of her experiences but also raise the right questions. – The Pioneer
Crisp in style and language….While believers in paranormal will find the stories giving credence to their belief , for the sceptics it will give points to ponder upon. - The Hindu
Psychic investigator and corporate lawyer, Deepta Roy Chakraverti approaches this realm as a science while seeking answers through research and philosophy. – Hindustan Times
Riveting and thrilling. – Society Magazine
An eye opener on how supernatural and logic, science and mysticism work together –Tehelka
A plot that not only shares real life supernatural experiences but also backs them with well researched rationality which makes the heart skip a beat. – The Statesman
The book is written in a narrative style, making you feel like you’re sitting in front of the author – New Indian Express
3 Steps to Darkness
Deepta Roy Chakraverti
Copyright © Deepta Roy Chakraverti, 2020
Deepta Roy Chakraverti has asserted her right under the Indian Copyright Act to be identified as Author of this work
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher
Crossed Arrows (An imprint of Doshor Publication)
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Printed and bound in India by S.P. Communications, Kolkata
Who lights my every step
It is fascinating
to realize that 68% of the universe is made up of dark energy and 27% of dark matter. It seems that this darkness prevails. We are in the midst of it. We talk to the Light but the Darkness replies. The dark energy seems to be expanding the universe, exerting an anti-magnetic effect on the galaxies and stars. We are in the midst of mysterious forces which we often do not understand, but which intrigue us nonetheless.
This book you are about to turn the pages of, is something like that dark energy — mysterious and haunting. It makes us realize that dark, inexplicable forces surround us and we often work under their influence, without really knowing why. Is this what we refer to as ‘evil’? Is this ‘evil’ so all pervasive? Does Lucifer then reign and direct our steps to go where
they should not? If that is so, ‘evil’ beckons and I would rather walk with Lucifer.
These stories seem to have a haunting quality. We take three steps into a darkly beautiful world, which offer answers to questions we ask in the night when the moon hides its light. The characters here peer out of the darkness in their search for what they consider is ‘happiness’. But that brings us to the question of what are we really searching for? What do we want? As we walk the path of life ,strange dark thoughts surround us and sometimes we take more than three dark steps in order to reach our goals. And that darkness is tantalizingly seductive.
The author Deepta, seems to have interacted with the characters she has depicted here. There is a certain ‘knowing’ quality. She is obviously familiar with the places she has mentioned. There is a misty , mysterious quality about them. And as they take their dark steps, she seems to walk with them. Does she? I must ask her one day.
Ipsita Roy Chakraverti
Witches Never Forget
12, 652 demons.
What if they possessed you and held captive your thoughts, your words, and your very soul?
What if they damned you, drew you down to Hell and no one heard your cries as you burned, possessed and tormented in that dark pit?
What would you do then?
Vienna is a city of ghosts. Phantoms from the past mingle and flow with the rippling strains of Mozart and the quick pulse of Vivaldi. The air is redolent with fragrance. Closer in to the old part of the city, near the Inner Ringstrasse, lingers the bitter scent of dark coffee, twisting lazily alongside the soft chocolate of Sachertorte. Further along the Ringstrasse, as one comes upon Stadtpark, the heady perfume of a million flowers driftslike water from a healing spring.
Magnolia mingles with cherry blossom and dark green leaves seem to form fairy goblets, from which one can drink of a mystical fountain. The area which once lay just beyond the fortifications of the medieval city is now a beautiful expanse of shaded green, with pools of sunlight suddenly illuminating fountains, and exquisite statues of Strauss, Schubert and other figures from a long gone past. As one goes out of the main city and towards the mountains, the Danube seems to become larger than life and the silver sheen of its waters, is like liquid mercury.
When sunlight strikes the old city, it slides over it, bit by bit bringing alive the deepest memory which lies set in its rock and stone. The green- and gold-domed roofs hold the subterranean hum of an old life, and the sepia tinted tops which cover lines of homes seem to come alive with the voices and sounds of the past.
In Vienna, sunlight brings back the dead
St Stephen’s Cathedral stood before me, with spires reaching high. Musicians in old-fashioned coats and jackets sat in the open air, playing violin to the tune of Austria’s classical greats. Late afternoon sunlight slanted over the high roofs of the surrounding buildings, and their green and bronze shades gave an extra luminescence to everything around me.
As I walked, tracing old markings on the cathedral stones, the whispering of voices seemed to come from somewhere deep within them. I thought it was the scraping of shoes and the rustling of clothes of the many tourists, who were all around. But, if I listened carefully, there were voices speaking in soft sibilant undercurrents. Even on this busy sunlit day, it was like the opening of a portal to another time.
I stopped near the entrance to the cathedral. A beggar woman sat on the stone floor. A rough shawl was wrapped about her shoulders, hiding ragged robes beneath. A low keening came from her as she rocked back and forth, holding a child who lay still and unmoving in her lap.
And as she rocked, the air surrounding her shimmered. As I stood there, watching her through what seemed to be like swirling mist, an image started to form in the coils of grey and white haze. It was her face, but suddenly so vivid . Silver hair flowed wildly down her back and streamed out in a halo . It was a broad, angular face, almost masculine, with lines of pain etched on the weathered forehead. A sharp nose accentuated the deep shadows of her face, and bloodless lips parted as she wept softly.
The girl, frail as a rag doll, lay in her lap. She was just a child, and couldn’t have been more than perhaps ten years old. Her dark hair fell in waves and a small oval face was white and frozen. Her dark eyes looked out, still and unmoving, with not a flicker in them. An ornate white frock covered her from neck to toes, and under the lace edges of her long dress, I could see her feet twitch and jerk spasmodically. That was the only sign of life in that strange figure.
The mist was getting whiter now, the image fading. The woman, lifted her head and looked at me as I passed by slowly. Her ice blue eyes met mine, and in that moment, I saw her anger and her pain. And the fire which burned within.
That evening, as I made myself some tea in my hotel room, I looked out the window and could make out the spire of St Stephen’s Cathedral. It was just a few lanes away. My thoughts kept going back to that strange woman sitting outside the cathedral door, and that young girl in her arms. Was itan apparition, in this city of the past? Or was I simply imagining things? I kept my cup on a table in front of the window, and went and sat in a comfortable armchair nearby. I thought of the child, and theotherworldly atmosphere she carried, and shivered. . I looked up at the window, and suddenly, against the silhouette of the church spire in the distance, I saw those pale eyes in that face with its sharply etched lines, reflected in the glass pane. A fog seemed to come over the glass, as if surrounding the image of that old woman’s face with her white hair billowing about her. Suddenly, there was a sharp cracking noise. The cup shattered and I sat up with a gasp.
It was towards the end of the 16th century, and the Vienna of Emperor Rudolph II. The eldest surviving son of Maximillian II of Austria and Maria of Spain, he was called the Mad Alchemist by many.
Rudolph had succeeded his father as emperor and as archduke of Austria in 1576 and had been anointed Holy Roman Emperor. The early part of his rule was marked by disputes between Catholic and Protestant factions, and perhaps more so after he tried to reverse his father’s policy of tolerance and started to limit privileges granted to Protestant Estates.
Bearing the traditional Hapsburg mouth and short legged gait, Rudolph was a man troubled by melancholia and dangerous moods. His anxiety and his paranoia, as well as his deep sense of gloom and isolation were known to all. His fits of rage and fury were uncontrollable.The emperor’s condition grew worse over time and in 1606, the Habsburg archdukes, long dissatisfied with his incompetence, recognised his brother Matthias as his successor.
But Rudolph was also a talented and creative man who understood and encouraged the arts, science and mathematics. He was obsessed with magic and he turned to the study of astronomy and alchemy.The time was awash with the supernatural, and the incredible: with madness and magic, with beauty and destruction.
They said that ‘witches’ were created by possession. By spirits who would not leave the body of their victims. And to ‘cure’ a person of witchcraft, one must resort to exorcism. The spirit must be expunged of the evil inhabitant and the body cleansed of its influence. Viennese Jesuit priest Georg Scherer believed this and preached his message from the pulpit, with loud conviction and prowess. For he was one of the region’s most famed preachers and known for his boundless energy and rugged determination. Stern and uncompromising, he was the Court preacher to the Archduke Matthias. Many felt the Archduchy of Austria, in part, retained its faith because of Scherer.
It was nighttime in Vienna. The sound of merrymaking and the strains of violin filtered out of stone archways and wooden doors and into the fabric of blue darkness. Shouts of laughter and sudden calls rang out here and there as heels clicked over the stones. Carriages waited at discreet doorways, while coachmen calmed their horses, waiting to be off at a moment’s notice if their master or mistress should suddenly appear. The pungent aroma of wine and meat hovered at entrances to public houses and golden light suddenly flickered as a door swung open, letting out their inhabitants. In another part of the inner city, tall hats were doffed as elegant women swept by in a rustle of silks and taffeta, wearing curling plumes in their wigs and glittering jewels at their breasts .
But there was madness and darkness too and in a secluded quarter of the city, behind St Stephen’s Cathedral, it flowed over the smooth and rounded cobblestones, like the lapping of the Danube on stony shores.
The stones, damp with autumn rain, hissed with the heat from Anna’s body as she twisted and writhed in agony. Steam rose in soft tendrils even as her head rolled back loosely. Spasm after spasm rippled through her young limbs and her eyes glazed white and unseeing. The crowd circled her and watched, muttering prayers and crossing themselves.
“The Devil’s curse!”
“Bewitched, she is!”
“Kill her, kill the demon!”
A thin dribble of white foamed at the girl’s mouth and her limbs arced, till her heels were almost touching her back. The spasms seemed to lessen now, and the body was frozen in that stance. Dark hair streamed over the stones, as if dark blood flowing from her head. A strange silence fell upon the little circle, and the crowd slowly started to inch forward, a new daring had now crept in place of their fear. This was just a girl, maimed and broken, lying in front of them.
A sudden spasm jerked her again, and a cry rang out from the gathered crowds. Someone stepped forward and spat on the girl. A splatter of dung hit the stones next to the girl as lewd laughter sounded.
In the midst of this, the crowd parted slightly and a short stocky man in priest’s robes came forward. His cassock swished lightly on the cobbled stones as he stood over the form of the girl. He knelt down by the girl, and gripping her lolling head tightly in both hands, he started praying and exhorting the Devil to leave this child of God. As he went on, his voice rose until it was a shrill cry against the deepening sky and the many names of Biblical past rolled off his tongue like waves of thunder and lightning. As her body continued to jerk weakly, he struck a blow with the flat of his palm to the pale, moist cheek. A dark red imprint glowed dully, and weak gurgling noises came from her throat.
The crowds were now stilled, and some in front knelt down, bowing their heads as if in prayer. The sharp stench of fear was in the air, and many shuffled uneasily. He put one hand inside the pocket of his cassock and drew out a small phial of clear liquid. Uncorking it, he splattered the blessed water over the form of the girl before him, all the while going on reciting the many names of the saints. As the last drops flowed from the phial, he raised his head and in a loud voice proclaimed that anyone who had gone against the Lord, would have this same fate visited upon them. The Devil would not spare them. His dark eyes gleamed with hatred and obsession and gripping Anna’s head tight by her hair, his voice rose and he screamed at them all. Only the Lord could save them from damnation – else this is what would strike each one of them! Let them all witness and beware.
Those standing close quickly shuffled back, many slid to their knees and wept, seeking forgiveness. He closed his eyes, and as sweat rolled down his temples, he started to wail softly. He called to the Lord, to save them all. They were all sinners.
Before them, Anna now lay still her limbs frozen. A barely perceptible rise and fall of her chest gave any sign of life.
The moon was a silver sliver in the late evening sky. There was no darkness in the skies. Only a luminous blue of the deepest hues. It cast a pale glow over the strange scene below. That was where the darkness arose from.
St Barbara’s Chapel in Fleischmarkt was surrounded by onlookers. The tall steeple which rose from the narrow tower was like a beacon for the curious, and thousands seemed to be gathered there tonight, covering the way right up to St Stephen’s Cathedral, from where the mural of the imperial double eagle kept watch.
The gathered people were a strange lot. Farmers, who had come in from the borders, women with babies swaddled close, men with fine coats and polished boots, emerged from the public houses nearby. They all stood together. The tension snapped through them, like a tightly strung chord.
In front, there was the old Beneficiatenhaus, an asylum for priests who hailed from Silesia, and a penitentiary. Next to it was the Barbarastift, a college belonging to the Jesuits. Adjoining was the chapel. Within the doors of St Barbara’s a strange scene unfolded.
An old silver-haired woman stood tall and bound against a wall, with a cluster of priests around her. Beyond them, the people milled in and gathered as close as they dared.
Tall tapers were lit before the altar, and old relics glowed in the firelight. Ornate gold carvings and dark wood panels seemed to come forth from the shadows. Images of Christ, Mary and other Biblical characters were tinted with gold. Scones jutted out from the walls, specially brought in and lit, to create a bizarre theatre of brutality.
The crowd tensed and hissed as the old woman in front spat into the face of the priest in front of her. Ice blue eyes shot fire at the thickset priest before her, as he wiped his face with the rough sleeve of his cassock. Her arms were bound behind her, but there was power in her tall, sinewy frame and in the thrust of her chin. Matted white hair hung in clumps from both sides of her head, and a worn blue dress hung from her shoulders to her ankles. The skin seemed to ripple across her face, and the angles and planes stood out in stark contrast. Her teeth were bared, as she snarled in fury upon the short thickset man before her. She stood cornered against a wall of the church, and even though streaks of blood and purple bruises covered her skin, she was unbowed.
The priest picked up a metal chain which had been tossed to the floor earlier and wrapped one around his hand. The links glinted in the firelight, showing red where blood still clung to the cold metal, where they had torn into the woman’s skin as she had been whipped with it. The priest now walked around her in a slow arc, trailing the loose end on the stone floor. The chain rattled and as all darkness within the chapel walls gathered behind his swarthy form, with a quick flick of his wrist, he streaked the heavy metal across her face. A collective gasp went up from the crowds and many cheered, as the chain slid off the battered face, leaving rivulets of pouring blood behind.
Elsa had been brought to Vienna from her home in Mank at the special insistence of the emperor. She was a simple miller’s daughter and had lived all her seventy odd years in the same village, a few miles from the nearby abbey. That morning, even as she had been pushed into the wagon and shoved into a corner, she had known this would happen.
Her granddaughter, the young Anna,had been so ill. Days and nights of her trembling and quivering had all blended into one. Elsa had given her poultices and mixtures, and potions from herbs, but nothing worked. When the child slept, it was from exhaustion, or in a faint. The midwife, who often took herbs and concoctions from Elsa, had once looked in on her and her granddaughter. She had taken one look at Anna and felt her pulse, and then advised Elsa to rid herself of this burden. The child was doomed. Elsa had turned her back on the midwife and gone back to making her pastes and pounding herbs.
Elsa still remembered the day her daughter, Anna’s mother, had died giving birth to the child. The child’s father had long abandoned them and gone away to seek his own fortune. There was no hope there. She remembered her promise to her daughter. She would never abandon Anna.
But now, suddenly, he had returned, and brought with him the ways of his Catholic faith, which she had heard they talked of all the way up in Vienna. He wanted his daughter back – but how would he care for her? The look in his eyes when he gazed upon his lithe, dark-haired daughter made her sick to the stomach, and she feared the new friends he had made. He talked of new ways to worship the Lord, and called false, her old Protestant ways. He brought with him winds of trouble and change.
He had said the priests could cure Anna. When Elsa told him that they had been, he scoffed at her Lutheran faith and said only a true Catholic priest would be able to exorcise the evil that possessed his child. Her priests, he said, were not of the true faith. They were far from God, and so, unable to cleanse Anna and heal her.
Word had travelled and despite Elsa’s pleas to her Protestant lord, royal pressure was brought into play. She and Anna were both summoned to Vienna—she herself, under arrest.
It was in Vienna, that she discovered the true horror of it all. They called her a ‘witch’. They said she had cursed Anna, her own granddaughter. They accused her of bedding the Devil and of feeding Anna bewitched food, to make her spirit dead, and her body the home of demons.
They beat her,and whipped her, trying to make her confess, but she would not stand in a house of God and lie. It had been days, perhaps weeks, since she had been dragged off the wagon which brought her from her village. There was no more a sense of time. It was a simple act of surviving each blow. There was always pain. The red glow of blood and the brutal tearing of flesh never left her.
She had seen the flame and the bloodlust in that priest’s eyes, the one called Scherer, who cried out that she must confess. But she would never be beaten into submission. She had followed her faith, and been true. There was no sin in caring for a sick child of God.
She knew that they had watched her closely when Anna was brought in and laid on the floor near the altar. She had seen that man smirk as tears had rolled down her expressionless face at sight of the wasted form of the child.
Anna had barely been conscious, but crying out to the Lord to save this child from eternal damnation, Scherer had slapped her till blood trickled out of the edges of her mouth and head lolling, she had muttered unconsciously. He had gripped her head and started to tilt it back, when she suddenly cried out once piercingly, the echo of her cry rolling off the chapel walls and its high roof before it died out in a whisper.The flames in the sconces guttered from the force of that terrible cry. She quivered,andthen all at once her body slumped and she fell silent. The priest had then brought his head down low, close to Anna’s face, and as those gathered watched in macabre anticipation, he closed his eyes as if listening to the unconscious girl.
Elsa struggled to move forward but was held back by the restraints. Tears streamed down her cheeks, mixing with blood and battered flesh, and she barely remembered how, after a moment’s pause, Scherer had jumped up and exulted that the soul of Anna had been saved – she had confessed.
A savage cheer rose from the gathered circle, as the priest held up his arms and gave thanks to the Lord. She had admitted, he claimed, that her grandmother fed her a bewitched apple, to make her ill and faint so that she may have no consciousness. Anna had told him, Scherer, how Elsa kept flies trapped in bottles, and that they were demon souls who were at her grandmother’s beck and call. Come nightfall, Elsa would uncork the bottles and set the flies loose upon Anna, and they would feed upon her.
There, with the immobile and battered girl at his feet, like a preacher conveying the ultimate message from the Lord, he had proclaimed that Anna had accused her grandmother of witchcraft. Of trying to kill her with demons.Day and night, he had toiled to free Anna of demons, and now thanks be to the Lord, they were gone!
He had held up his hands for silence, and once the crowd was stilled, he announced the number. 12,652. That was the number of demons he had exorcised from her. Many gathered covered their mouths with awe, and some nodded sagely, saying that was why the girl had cried out so at the end. The priest clasped his hands high, and knelt before the altar where the candles had now dimmed.
The crowds, who had held their breath and watched with coarse, macabre fascination as this drama unfolded, had roared their approval and called thanks to the Lord.
Elsa was taken to the Rogues' House (Malefizhaus) for interrogation under torture. It housed the Frag or the torture chamber. There, Elsa, old and now very ill, was put to inhuman torture, with the use of medieval devices, which ripped her body and soul apart. Finally, broken and shattered, she ‘confessed’ and the priest had his victory. Elsa was then dragged in a wagon to an open field, tied to a stake there and burnt alive. Her ashes were gathered and thrown into the Danube.
Anna, by now battered, insane and delirious, was placed in the Barbarastift for women to live out the rest of her shattered life.
And what of the perpetrator: the preacher?
George Scherer had entered the Jesuit order when he was 19 years old. He served as teacher and rector at the Jesuit College in Vienna, going on to become vice-provincial of the Jesuit order as well. His greatest influence perhaps drew from his being court preacher to the Archduke Matthias. After the ‘confession’ from Elsa, those in authority, including the mayor of Vienna, who realised that she was innocent did try to approach the emperor to set her free. But Scherer brought in pressure from various quarters and would not allow this to happen. Claudio Acquaviva, often referred to as the second founder of the Jesuit order, also did not approve of Scherer’s attitude to witchcraft. But the death of Elsa seemed to have become something which Scherer was determined to have.
A few years after this witch-hunt, Scherer moved to Linz to continue his work as a preacher. It was then that he was suddenly struck blind. He was about the same age as Elsa, when he died just a few years later around 1605.
She is still there. Elsa, of the flowing white hair and knowing eyes. In the silver ofthe Danube, which one glimpses through the trees, in the cobbled stones which make narrow pathways through the old city, in the striking of the bells from the domed towers, so high. She remembers and does not forgive. How they hunted her, and her Anna. How they called Elsa a ‘witch’.
Perhaps she was one.
A witch. A medicine woman. A wise woman. One who could speak to the light and the shadow. And because she was who she was, the spirit of the old land which is part mountain and part sloping forests, remembers and heeds her still.
If one is silent, she speaks and you can hear her. There are whispered messages which flow, like sparks of electricity on stormy nights of lightning and thunder. The Danube can still show a shimmering image of a tragedy which happened centuries ago. Its waters still churn and froth with that old agony. And to this day, even in sunshine and the heat of summer, you can feel the chill:the icy feeling rushing towards you and wrapping you in tight coils. Elsa’s grief is as real as is her anger. She still seeks vengeance as she holds her granddaughter in her arms.
The story of Elsa (also known as Elisabeth) and Anna is based upon historical facts. Records from old times show the city of Vienna to have witnessed one witch-killing - the brutal and sadistic execution of Elisabeth Plainacher in 1583. This is based upon the tragic story of this elderly woman and her young granddaughter, Anna, and the inhuman and barbaric torture inflicted upon them. I have included as far as I have been able to find in public records, actual details of the ‘charges’ which were levelled against Elisabeth, using her granddaughter’s sickness as a weapon against her. The details of thetrial and some extra sections has been
written as I have deduced from my readings of old records and some parts have been changed for creative purposes. The locations and addresses given have been drawn from documented facts.