Laura Ebert

Note: This whole story took place in a small, remote village in Eastern Germany.

Chapter 1 – Insanity

“Laura Ebert is a wench.”

“Laura Ebert is a slut.”

“Laura Ebert is a whore.”

Those were just a few things that were said about her.

To me, the name Laura Ebert will stay with me until the untimely end of my short life.

Laura is a middle-aged woman who lives in the same, small village I grew up in and live to this day.

I didn’t know a lot about her. I heard she used to be pretty, beautiful even. When I was born though, she’d already been married for a few years.

Growing up I heard a lot of rumors about her. She was promiscuous, a flirt and at times even words like whore or slut. Back then I didn’t know what those words meant.

All these rumors had started when something had happened to Laura when she’d changed. I was a little girl back then, no older than eight, but even I noticed it. She would go on long walks and make her way past our house. During these walks, she’d be talking to herself. At times she was rambling on and screaming, at others laughing and giggling to herself.

As a kid, when it started, it was sort of funny to me. I’d barely started elementary school. It’s an age when you don’t understand what mental illness is. Laura was just ‘that funny lady’ to my friends and me. She was our very own village curiosity.

When I got older, I started to understand that there was nothing funny about it. Only now did I really get what the rumors and the implications meant.

I learned what slut and whore meant as well as words like promiscuous. The people said Laura had always flirted with other man and had behaved shamefully. It was especially true during our annual village fair. In hushed whispers, the people said she’d gotten mixed up with the wrong guy. Someone must’ve not been satisfied with flirting, dancing and touching. He wanted more, and after that day, Laura changed. It was never said openly, but it was clear what they were all implying.

Two years ago I started to attend high school in the city. Only then did I realize how backward my home village was. It’s almost as if my bus is traveling through time and each afternoon returns me back to an earlier century.

The worst thing about Laura’s whole story was that nothing ever became of it. There was no police, no investigation and no manhunt for the perpetrator, nothing. The only things were the rumors and the gossip, and they persist to this day.

Well, that’s not true, there’s one other thing that hasn’t changed in all these years. Laura still goes on her long walks, still rambles on to herself and is still haunted by her imaginary demons.

It’s funny. In school, we learned all about equality, women’s rights and the importance of laws in society. Out here though, in this backward village, none of it seems to matter. No, even worse, out here, the victim is being blamed and ostracized for what she had to endure.

I was disgusted by it all.

I first started to bother with Laura’s story for a school project. I know, I know, so much for talking all high and mighty about them not caring.

It was supposed to be a presentation about social issues. Instead of talking about a random law or certain world events, I wanted to talk about my village. I wanted to talk about how wrong things were out there. There was the gossip and the finger-pointing. Sexuality was still a taboo topic. And of course the sexual abuse and victim blaming.

In the end, though, my teacher told me it was a bit too controversial of a topic. What a great teacher you are Mrs. Schubert.

Even though I was forced to do a different presentation, my interest in Laura’s had been kindled. I guess I couldn’t help but be bothered by it. Mom was never a strong woman, and after dad’s accident, she had to raise me on her own. The only other family I had was grandma. Guess you can’t help ending up a bit sensitive and emotional in a household like that.

Mom didn’t share a lot about Laura with me. After the arguments that followed, I ended up asking around in the village. I talked to people under the pretext of a school project. It didn’t matter what I told them. I always got the same stories. It was Laura’s own fault. Why did she have to get so drunk and flirt with all these men? She was a married woman after all. She was just asking for it, and it was only a matter of time before something happened.

My other questions were never answered. When I asked why no one did a thing all I got was shrugs and excuses.

“That all happened so long ago, Sophie,” one woman told me.

“No one knows a thing,” another said.

When I asked why Laura was being blamed and hated, they said it was because she’d always been a slut and a whore.

I realized soon that no one cared about Laura as a person. What they all wanted was someone to gossip about and to point at. They wanted to have someone they could talk about in their boring lives.

It didn’t matter to how many people I spoke and how often I asked around. I never learned a single, new thing.

I wish I’d have stopped at that time, I should have.

At that point, I was already in too deep. I’d spent so much time, and now I wanted to know. My mind was obsessed with Laura Ebert.

Well, if no one wants to tell me a thing, I thought one day, the only option I had left was Laura herself.

Easier done than said, believe me. Sure, Laura was a victim, but Laura was also the woman who was screeching, laughing and rambling on to herself. Her mental issues were real, and they were quite unsettling, n a good day. On others, they were downright scary.

You can’t just approach a person like that and say ‘Hi, how are you doing,’ you know? Still, that’s precisely what my dumb teenage-self did.

For a day’s I’d only watched Laura from afar as she set out on her walks. Each day, I told myself to go after her, but I only ever followed her for a bit.

Then, one day, I told myself to stop being a chicken and to actually do something. I mustered my courage, and that day I went out on one of the many small dirt paths around the village. It didn’t take long for me to see a lone, solitary figure.

When I heard random words and a few giggles, I knew I’d found her.

“Okay, Sophie, you can do this,” I said to myself out loud. I took a deep breath and then hastened my pace.

She didn’t seem to notice my approach at all. Only after I walked behind her for a bit did she step aside to make way for me. Even when I started to walk right next to her, she didn’t acknowledge me at all.

“Mrs. Ebert?” I asked. I’d wanted so much to sound confident, but my voice was a bit too high and a bit too strained. She still didn’t react.

This continued on for almost another minute, in which I grew antsier and antsier. Finally, though, I noticed how her eyes darted towards me.

“I was wondering if,” I started, but broke up when her head suddenly jerked towards me. Her eyes were wide, her pupils dilated, and she brought her head uncomfortably close to mine. She still hadn’t said a single word, but I could feel how her eyes were probing me. I quickly averted my eyes to avoid her gaze.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to annoy you,” I blurted out nervously.

“Then why oh why did you stop right next to me, little girl? Why did you come all the way out here?”

Her words were heavy with an unspoken accusation. She waited for me to answer, but before I could say a word, she looked away, as if focusing on someone else. There was no one there at all.

“You think she’s here to mock me like everyone else?” she asked the empty space next to her before the head jerked back once more.

“Well girl, are you here to mock me? Are you here to feed into their lies?”

Again she brought her face closer to mine until it was only a few handspans away. “Well, are you!?” she snapped.

“N-no, I only wanted to ask you-”

“Just asking? Isn’t it cute, she’s just here to ask questions!”

Once more she turned away, this time only mumbling something.

“I, I’m sorry,” I started but broke up when Laura burst into laughter.

“That’s great! I like that one!”

She was still talking to whatever hallucination she saw next to herself.

“So, little girl,” she started once more, stretching out the words uncomfortably long, “what is it you want to know?”

As she asked that, she slowly crooked her head, almost as if twisting her neck. No, not just her neck, it was as if her whole body began to twist into a more and more an unnatural posture. It was almost as if her neck was a bit too long. As she did this her eyes were still wide, still probing me. Then, when she saw my fear, her mouth changed bit by bit into a crazed grin.

I opened my mouth, but in the face of such insanity, I couldn’t bring out any words.

“And of course she can’t say a word, of course.”

Again she turned to her invisible interlocutor, but this time she stopped right in her tracks and started giggling.

“Ah yes, yes we should, shouldn’t we? You think so?”

At this point, I couldn’t do it anymore. With quick steps, I started to walk away.

“Oh, but where are you going little girl? Why are you leaving? But don’t worry, there’s no need to ask any questions. There’s no need at all! Oh yes, run, run little girl, run!”

With that, she burst out laughing again. Even as I hurried away, she kept laughing. It was only cut off when she screamed at me once more to run. With each step, I got faster until I was almost running.

I only stopped when I reached the edge of the village. As I looked back, I saw her out there. She was still gesticulating heavily, and I could’ve sworn she was screaming even now. The only thing I wondered about was if those screams were directed at me or one of her hallucinations.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what I was expecting, but not THAT. I’d thought she’d be apprehensive, maybe scared, maybe confused, but not… like that.

I couldn’t imagine what must have happened to her to change her like that. I felt equally crept out and anxious on my way home. Even as I walked past buildings and houses, I turned around to check if Laura was coming after me.

That night, sleep didn’t come easy. When I finally drifted off, my dreams were haunted by Laura Ebert. I saw her face again, her crazy eyes and her insane grin as her elongated neck twisted around me.

In another one, she ran after me. However far I ran, she still didn’t stop. She was laughing as she chased me through the village. I called out for help, but everyone I saw ignored me. Laura only stopped when some dark figures jumped onto her. They ripped her cloth apart and pinned her to the ground. Now it was her that was screaming for help. Still, though, everyone was ignoring the scene. All I saw them do was pointing fingers and whispering to themselves.

Finally, I stepped forward to do something only to realize that it hadn’t been Laura who was held down, it was me. I twisted and screamed against the sudden grip of my shadowy assailants. All I got back was laughter, drunk yells, and excited shouting. The last thing I heard was Laura giggling from afar.

I woke up screaming in my bed and threw my sheets aside before I realized it was just a dream. I was panting, breathing heavily and wet with sweat. I didn’t sleep again for the rest of the night.

After that night I didn’t talk to Laura directly again for a long while. No, I didn’t approach her anymore or follow her around.

What I did was to look more into her story. That day had not only sparked my fears.

It had sparked my curiosity for Laura Ebert’s story more than ever before.

 

Chapter 2 – A Dark Village

 

Insanity. It’s such an easy word, isn’t it? Four short little syllables. Yet, it incorporates so much. The word was on my mind constantly after my run-in with Laura.

What must’ve happened to cause something like that?

My thoughts weren’t the only thing that had changed. The village had too. Every day I noticed the people staring at me. They never did it openly, but it wasn’t hard to miss. I was sure it was because of me prying into Laura’s story. I could almost hear their whispers.

For a while I ignored it, but eventually I had enough.

One day, as I walked home from school, I saw two old ladies standing nearby, staring over at me. When I looked at them, they turned away, pretending they hadn’t done anything.

I could feel myself getting angry. No, that wouldn’t fly today. As I walked over, I recognized them. One was Mrs. Struppe, the old kindergarten teacher and the other was Mrs. Meier, the late pastor’s wife.

“What’s so interesting? Are you spreading rumors about me now? You want to make me out to be a slut as well?”

“Don’t be silly Sophie,” Mrs. Struppe started, “We’re only wondering what you’re trying to prove! Why are you so obsessed with this?”

“I’m trying to figure out what happened to Laura, I mean, Mrs. Ebert.”

“But why, Sophie? Why are you so interested in this? It’s such an old story and-”

“You want to know why? Because no one is doing a damned thing! You’re all just pointing your fingers at her, shaming her for, for being raped!”

“Don’t you dare use that word!” Mrs. Meier yelled at me. Up until now, she’d just stared at me. I was almost a bit surprised at her outburst. “There’s no big secret here girl, no lies, you’re looking for something that’s not there!”

“Because you swept it all under the carpet, right? Let’s all pretend nothing happened! Laura did, what Laura always does, so it’s her own fault, right? That’s so rich!”

“You don’t know a damned thing, girl! That woman got what she deserved for-”

“What she deserved?” I cut Mrs. Meier off. “Are you serious? For being pretty and flirting, she deserves to end up like this?”

With that I’ve had it and stormed off. I heard them talk behind my back, but I didn’t care. I’ve had it with this whole goddamn place. How was it so easy for them not to care?

Once at home I threw my backpack down in frustration. Who the hell do they think they are?

I looked at the clock. Mom was still at work and grandma was most likely having an afternoon nap. I made myself a sandwich, put some music on and started to browse Reddit.

After an hour or so the internet cut out like so many times before. It was common out here. Sure, the dial-up times were gone, but the speed and quality hadn’t improved much. As so many days before I fell down on my bed. I halfheartedly picked up one of my books and started reading a chapter at random. Soon enough my eyes grew heavy, and I began to doze off.

I’d have fallen asleep if mom hadn’t knocked on the door.

“Sophie?”

“Yeah, mom, what’s up?”

“Someone called me,” she said in a serious voice.

“That’s great mom, I guess.”

“They called me about you and what you’ve been up to. They said you’ve been bothering with this, this…”

I knew right away what she meant.

“She’s got a name, mom!”

“I know her name damn well, Sophie! Everyone knows her name! And now my own daughter is being associated with her! What are you even thinking? Why, Sophie?”

“You want to know why? Because it’s so weird! This whole thing! Everyone is ignoring it and keeps quiet about it. They’re all pretending nothing bad happened, but I know damn well there’s more to it, mom!”

“And of course you have to look into it, right? It has to be you, hasn’t it? Why can’t you-”

“Why can’t you let me move in with Julia and Anne? Why do I have to live out here in this stupid village? Maybe if I didn’t live out here, I’d have more interesting things happening in my life!”

“You know how dangerous that city can be. What if-”

“And out here it’s so much safer, right? But oh, out here no one would talk about it, right? They’d just pretend nothing happened. I’d be the next Laura Ebert, right?”

“It would be only you three girls living together!”

“It’s so much different here, right? Here it’s you and grandma and me. I’m so much safer here with you two around.”

“We’re not having this argument again, Sophie!”

“Fine, then we don’t!”

With that, I stormed out of the room, put on my shoes and jacket and went outside. I ignored mom as she called after me. It was always the same with her.

Before I knew it, I was out and walking along the street through our small village. Thinking about it now, I couldn’t remember the last time I was out on my own after dark. How strange.

Step by step I went on, and each step echoed a bit louder on the empty street. I only noticed it after a while, but I was utterly alone. It wasn’t all that late, yet no one else was outside. Even though I was walking on between houses with people inside, I somehow felt… all alone out here.

As I looked up at the sky, I saw that it was alight with stars and the moon. The village around me though seemed dark, almost a bit too dark, as if convoluted with shadows.

And with secrets, I thought.

I could see the lighted windows of the houses around me. What was going on inside though, was carefully hidden away behind curtains. Here and there I thought I saw a figure behind them, faces that scanned the night outside. It seemed almost as if they were scanning the night for something. Was it for me?

I shook my head. Don’t be silly, Sophie, you’re feeding into your own paranoia. If this goes on, you’ll soon start yelling at things as well.

I would’ve laughed, but I couldn’t. There was nothing funny about this little attempt of a sick joke.

The longer I was out, the darker it seemed to get. It was almost as if the darkness was alive and was ebbing in towards me from around the houses.

As my anger against mom subsided, a new, different feeling took hold of me. The feeling of being watched. This time it was almost ubiquitous. As if a hundred imaginary eyes focused on me. I was really crept out by now and hurried to get home. It felt so real. Had my obsession with Laura Ebert infected my mind and conjured up hallucinations of my own?

I didn’t know. For a moment it was almost as if the shadows around me were moving.

When I finally reached the front door of the house, I felt almost dizzy. I saw that grandma was already waiting for me in the hallway.

“You silly girl, why did you go out at a time like this? I was worried sick when I heard you’d run off!”

“It was another fight with mom,” I mumbled as I took my shoes off. “Ugh, at times I can’t deal with her and her bullshit!”

“Sophie, you’ve got to understand your mother. After your father’s accident, you’re all she’s got left. She’s just worried about you.”

“I know grandma, but…” I broke up shaking my head in frustration.

“What silly thing did the two of you fight about this time?”

“We fought because of Laura,” I said and sighed.

“Laura? Is that someone at your school? One of your friends you wanted to move in with?”

“No grandma, Laura Ebert. You know, the ‘crazy lady’? Mom got all mad at me because I looked into her story. I don’t know why everyone is acting like it’s such a big deal.”

I threw my shoes aside and turned to grandma to wish her a good night, but I saw how serious her face was now.

“Did you say Laura Ebert, Sophie?”

I nodded, a bit confused at the change in her voice.

“Don’t you dare look into that anymore, girl! You’ve got no idea what you’re getting yourself involved with!”

“But grandma, what’s the matter? I’m not-”

“No! You listen to me now, Sophie and you listen well! That woman, what she did, that dance and those… those lines, it was wrong! She should’ve never-”

“Wait, what dance? What are you talking about grandma?”

By now grandma was standing next to me. Her nails were digging into my arm as she clang on to me.

“The flower dance at the village fair. That wench, she, she, how dare her, I…” Grandma broke up. She’d gotten so worked up that she was shaking now. Her breath came out in short haggard burst, and I couldn’t understand her anymore.

“Grandma what,” I started but was cut off when mom came running down the stairs.

“My god, mother, what’s wrong? I heard you yelling and-”

Then she saw me.

“Sophie, what did you do? Oh god, mother, hold on to me. Sophie, go and get her medicine! I think it might be her heart again. Now go and don’t just stand there!”

Once I returned with the medication mom ripped it from my hands to give grandma a few of the pills. While she did that grandma’s eyes focused on me once more.

“Promise me, Sophie.”

Her words were no more than a quivering whisper, yet I could see how much energy it cost her to do that much. I smiled at her and nodded.

Once we’d put grandma to bed, I went up to my room. Mom said she’d sit with her until she’d calmed down.

It was not even five minutes later that she barged into my room yet again. She demanded to know what grandma and I had been talking about that had gotten her so worked up. At first, I was going to lie, but then I sighed and admitted that I’d mentioned Laura. Mom exploded at me, and for a quick second, she rose her hand. The slap to my face though never came.

“You know how bad she’s doing! Especially after the stroke and all that! The doctors told us she shouldn’t get angry or exhaust herself and yet you,” she broke up shaking her head.

“All because of her. Out of all people! Never Sophie, never mention that woman in front of your grandma again!”

It was a week later that I uncovered another small puzzle about Laura Ebert’s story.

Grandma had mentioned the flower dance. It had been an old local tradition in the area. In earlier times the young maidens in our village used to dance at the local fair. Think about it what you want, but it sounds much worse than it is. It’s only a dance, nothing more.

I’d never heard that Laura had been involved in it though. However hard I tried, I could not remember seeing her dancing at any time. Even stranger, I could not recall ever seeing one of the flower dances myself. I’d only ever heard about it in stories.

When I talked to some of my friends at school about it, all I got was frowns. By now they were sick and tired hearing about some crazy village lady. Yeah, they’re the best.

When someone joked about the local gazette though, I got an idea. I knew that the city library had a collection of all the local papers of the area, however small.

That afternoon it didn’t take me long to find the one I was looking for: summer, nine years ago.

As I read through it, I remembered something. It hadn’t been a regular fair. It had been an anniversary one, due to our villages supposed founding six hundred years ago.

The fair’s program had consisted of a variety of traditional venues: A medieval parade, traditional market stands and a lot more. After a while, I spotted the ‘traditional flower dance of the village maidens.’

I was sure I’d been there that summer, but I didn’t remember anything about that supposed dance. I soon realized why. It was the time. It was on Saturday evening, shortly after sundown. Why had they done it that late? That made no sense. Didn’t a flower dance make much more sense around noon?

The librarian couldn’t tell me a thing, of course. The man had to read the name of the village twice, and even then he had no clue where it was.

On my way home I considered asking some of the other villagers, but I knew that would be no good.

It was by sheer accident that I glanced at Laura’s house and saw her husband out in the yard. He was rummaging in his garage, but soon locked it up and made his way over the yard. Of course, he had a bottle of beer glued to his hand. For a moment I grimaced at the sight of the man.

Getting older hadn’t been kind to him. Well, that and the alcohol of course. Everyone knew Laura’s husband drank, a lot. By now he was a fat, balding caricature of a man that looked at least a decade older than he really was.

“Mister Ebert, excuse me!”

It took him a while to realize that I’d been calling out to him, but then he turned into my direction. His eyes focused on me, and a smile appeared on his face. It wasn’t a friendly one.

“Well hello there, you’re Margarete’s daughter, right? What’s your name again? Sophie?”

“Yeah, that’s me! I was wondering if you could help me with something.”

While I searched for the copy I’d made of the gazette, he made his way towards me.

“I’m sure I can help you, what’s it about?”

By now he was standing right next to me. His huffed breath felt disgustingly warm on my cheek. The thick smell of alcohol was almost suffocating.

“So, what’s it about?” he asked once more, slurring each word and caressing my back with his hand.

I ripped the copy from my backpack, cringed a step back from him and shoved it into his face.

“Do you know about the flower dance back then? Wasn’t Laura part of it?”

For a while he just stared at the page, his face empty.

“Oh, back then. That thing Laura did. Really don’t know what to tell you. She wanted to be all nice and pretty and dance around like an idiot. Didn’t care one bit for it, no clue why you’re asking me.”

For a moment his hazy, drunk eyes grew hard, and it looked as if he was about to become angry. A sip of beer seemed all that was needed to get rid of the bad thoughts. He soon returned to smiling like the drunk idiot he was. Once more his hand reached out for me, but this time I was able to dodge the touch.

“Who was there with her? Do you remember?”

Another pause and another sip of beer.

“Tell you what Sophie,” he started carefully pronouncing my name, “why don’t you come inside, and we’ll have a talk there. It’s too cold out here, isn’t it?”

I was utterly disgusted when I saw how the smile on his face grew wider, and his eyes wandered up and down my body.

“I really don’t have time today, my mother is waiting for me. Just give me a name, and that’s it. It’s for school!”

“Guess you’re as impatient and prude as your mother,” he scoffed. “The only one I remember was that friend of Laura’s that Lizzy bitch. The one that this idiot Thomas got himself married to.”

“Lisa Knaute?”

“Yeah, that one. Now go and get out of here, isn’t your mother waiting for you?” he spat the words at me before he took yet another big sip of beer.

I’d barely taken a few quick steps to get away from this disgusting excuse of a man when I saw Laura out on the street.

For a moment we both stopped in our tracks and stared at each other. The moment was cut short when her husband cursed at her from behind me.

“You better get over here now! Been wondering where the hell you went again!”

“What did you do with the girl?” Laura asked in her weird, sing-song like voice. While she did, the eye contact with me didn’t break.

“Her? She asked me about that stupid dance of yours, the one with the flowers and stuff. Now get the hell inside! I can’t deal with you vanishing like that every single day!”

Laura started to walk over to the door, yet she was still staring at me.

It took only a few seconds before I couldn’t deal with it anymore and cast my eyes down. I almost ran over the yard. Even when I reached the street, I could still feel her eyes. I took one glance back at her.

It was only for a moment, but I could’ve sworn she’d smiled at me again.

 

Chapter 3 – The Little Witch

 

Lisa Knaute was a stout, friendly woman in her mid-forties. She seemed so different from everyone I’d talked to yet, so much nicer.

I found myself on the couch in her living room a few days after Laura’s husband had told me about her.

“I’m really not surprised you’re here, you know? I heard Margarete’s daughter had been snooping around,” she said smiling at me.

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. I should’ve known that it was the same thing all over again. I was surprised to see Lisa laugh a bit when she noticed it.

“Oh, I know, I know, all that village gossip. Believe me, it’s been exactly the same when I was a teenager. That’s just how the old people out here are. Well then, you’re here to talk about Laura, aren’t you?”

I nodded. “My grandma mentioned the flower dance, but she was so scared, so I’m wondering what happened there. I heard you and Laura organized it together.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you with that, Sophie.”

I turned from her and an angry ‘of course’ escaped my mouth. So much for her being all friendly. I’d gotten my hopes up for nothing!

I was about to get up and leave when Lisa motioned for me to stay.

“Now don’t be so quick. You’re just like your mother, you know. I can’t tell you a thing about that evening because I wasn’t there. Laura and I had a bit of a… falling out. After that, I didn’t go there that day.”

“Oh, okay. Well, I guess, thank you for letting me in and all that.”

“You really are Margarete’s daughter,” she said and laughed. “You’re here to hear about Laura, right? I’m sure no one told you a thing, so how about I tell you a bit more about her.”

“Wait, I mean, yes please tell me!”

I was more than a bit surprised that someone actually offered to tell me more about Laura. Everyone had been so secretive.

Lisa nodded. When she spoke again, her smile turned sad.

“It’s so wrong that no one bothers with her. Laura used to be so different. I’ve known her ever since I was a little kid. We used to be best friends for as long as I can think back. Things only changed after that night.”

“She’d always been a bit of a strange one. You might think people only talked about her after the fair, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. No one is going to admit it, of course, but people never liked her. Even as a teenager they were all gossiping about her and giving her curious stares. You know what they all called her? The little witch.”

“The little witch?” I asked curiously.

“Mhm, I’m sure you know how devoted this village is. Everyone here is Christian, and everyone here goes to church, right? Well, Laura never was a fan of that. I don’t know why, but she never warmed up to the idea of a single god whose laws you had to follow. Maybe it was due to her parents, they were quite… strict with their kids. Laura tampered in other things. Even during middle school I always caught her with books about mythology, weird old traditions, spirituality, paganism, and even witchcraft. It was sort of her thing, and I guess it’s no surprise that people caught wind of it.”

“Once we finished school though, that changed. Laura had been dating Robby for two years by then. The two of them were so in love, back then. To tell you the truth, I was a bit jealous of them. While I started my boring apprenticeship, they got married and moved in together. Laura was the happiest girl in the whole village. It was really something else. No one had expected her of all people to get married like that. There were still some calling her the little witch, but most people thought she’d changed, grown up so to say. She seemed to have forgotten about All those weird things she’d bothered with in the past. Instead, she’d become a full-blown housewife. Oh, how happy she was back then.”

Lisa sat there, smiling to herself, but soon her expression changed again.

“Things aren’t always meant to be, you know Sophie? It was the same with their marriage. After the first year, it quickly deteriorated. No one knows what happened between the two of them. Everyone knew Robby had a bit of a history with the alcohol, but in time it got worse. It soon started to impact their marriage. Their burning love turned cold, and the flowers that Robby brought home were replaced by bottles of beer. Laura’s happy smiles were soon replaced by bruises and tears.”

“Everyone knew it was happening, but people pretended not to notice a thing. After all, she was Laura Ebert, right? Laura the little witch. It had to be her fault. God knew what she was bothering with, and god knew it must be what drove Robby into his alcoholism. So when Laura suffered, people turned a blind eye, as always. Back then, even I ignored it. I talked to her, but I never offered help. Everyone said it wasn’t that big of a deal, and it would get better eventually but, I don’t know. Then the miscarriage happened.”

“Miscarriage?”

“Yes, no one had known she was pregnant, not even her husband, most likely due to being drunk all day. When she arrived at my door though, I could tell something terrible had happened. I’d never seen her like that before. She was shivering, scared and so out of it. I let her in right away, and of course, I saw the bruises, but I couldn’t say a thing. She only told me in whispers and between tears what happened. For day’s she stayed with me and pleaded to not make her return to that man.”

“When her parents arrived after a week though, there wasn’t much I could do. I couldn’t hide Laura from them. When my mother got involved Laura herself decided to return home with her parents. Then, after a few weeks, she was back to living with Robby. It was as if nothing had happened. Things were back to the way they were before.”

“Why didn’t she leave!?” I cut her off. “Why didn’t she, I don’t know, run away or move to the city? Why did she have to return to him? That’s just-”

“Now, now, I know Sophie. I wish she did, but there was no way. Where should Laura have gone? What should she do? She had no job, no money, nothing at all.”

“But there’s always a way,” I started, but broke up when Lisa was shaking her head.

“Things aren’t always that easy, especially not for old-fashioned people like us. Well, and not everyone has Laura’s parents. They always had it out for her. Laura was the bad apple of the family. She had made them the target of rumors and bad blood already, there was no way they’d let her do it again. Divorce was out of the question. It was such a terrible thing. Maybe I should’ve… I don’t know.”

Lisa broke up and was quiet for a while. “You know, she was my best friend, yet I,” she took a deep breath, and for a while, I saw her hands quivering. Then she calmed down enough to continue her story.

“After that Laura found comfort in her old interests again. She was always out in the forest and the meadows on her own. She’d sit by the trees, dance around and read all those weird books she’d gathered as a teenager. I joined her a few times, and it was all harmless. A bit strange, sure, but strange was normal for Laura. To be honest, I was quite happy to see she was doing better and had found some joy again.”

“It was during spring that she told me about the flower dance she wanted to organize. She said it was an anniversary fair after all and she wanted to be part of it. She’d planned it all out in her head. It would be her, a couple of our old friends back from school and me. She was so happy and excited when she talked about it. It was almost as if we were teenagers again, but things aren’t always as they seem. It was Laura after all.”

“The dance she’d planned was something else. I’d have thought all she wanted to do was a simple, dance routine, but I was in for a surprise. Laura had read up on all those strange old traditions and rituals, all her… well, witchcraft. Of course, she wanted to incorporate it into the dance. She told me we should make it different, hip, creative and of course, I was psyched. It had been so long since I’d done something like that. And I really wanted to help Laura.”

“So one day Laura told me she wanted to show me a few things she’d planned. Of course, we couldn’t do it anywhere, not with Laura. She wanted to show me in her special place. It was this small little grove near the forest. She said it was a place she felt at home and happy to be at. But out there, things got a bit… strange.”

“What do you mean by strange?” I asked her, but Lisa motioned for me to let her continue.

“It was the dance itself. The way she moved her body was so different, erotic even. She twisted her body, almost threw herself on the ground and then she started to mumble to herself. It was so different from anything I’d seen. I felt strange watching it. When she began to make those weird, animalistic noises, I felt so uncomfortable.

“It was already late, and I could feel the area around us get darker, much darker. It was so strange, the sun was setting of course, but it felt as if it was a different sort of darkness. After a while, I almost felt as if we weren’t alone anymore. I don’t know what it was, but it felt as if I was being watched. I called out to Laura when I thought I saw something between the trees.”

“What did you think you saw?”

Lisa sighed, then shook her head. “I’m really not sure Sophie. It was almost as if there were too many shadows between the trees? It was if they were moving and…” she shook her head once more. “No, it had to have been my imagination. With Laura’s weird dance and the sun setting, but it was so weird.”

The moment Lisa mentioned what she’d seen I remembered the evening I was out alone after dark. I was about to ask her if she’d ever seen anything like it again, but she’d already started to continue her story.

“I asked her why it was all so weird and sexual, but Laura said it was simply something she enjoyed. I think I eyed her a bit suspiciously after that because she got all defensive. She said we could still change it if I wanted to and it was nothing but a first little idea.”

“After that day Laura went around to find people to join in with the two of us. I think six people in total agreed to join, but we never got together before all the trouble started.”

“Trouble?”

“It was the church people. None of them liked the idea of having Laura organize part of their nice anniversary fair. They didn’t want to give her a stage to do any of her weird things there. Rumors travel fast, especially those about Laura. Everyone knew what she was up to out by the forest.”

“Some were more sympathetically towards her due to her home life. Others spoke directly against her idea. In the end, they allowed her to do her dance, but only late in the evening. It was clear why. At that time almost everyone would be inside of the festival hall for music and drinking. No one would care if there was some weird little dance going on and no one would watch it. They pretty much wanted to hide Laura’s little act. Oh, and Laura, she was so mad about it.”

“She almost burst into tears of rage when she told me all about it. Of course, she didn’t care about their opinion, not one bit. Laura told me outright that she was now going to make the thing as weird and sexual as possible, if only out of spite. She wanted to play a joke on them and embarrassed them and their little fair altogether.”

“The way she talked to me that day, her anger, it was so different. I almost didn’t recognize my friend anymore. There was so much hate inside of her. It was then that I told her that I couldn’t be part of this whole thing if she’d make it too weird.”

“Laura didn’t like it one bit. To be honest, I’d have loved to do the dance with her, but my family is so involved with the church and all that. My mom was even a volunteer at the Sunday school back then. If I’d join in with Laura’s weird pagan rituals… well you know how this village is. The moment the word ‘pagan ritual’ was out of my mouth though, Laura exploded at me. I hadn’t wanted to call it that, but the words had already escaped my mouth. We had this terrible argument.”

“In the end, I didn’t take part in her dance. I didn’t even talk to her after that. I never found out who Laura actually got to join in with her and I didn’t care. I was so mad at this whole thing that I didn’t even go to the fair that day.”

“I was at home when… things happened to her. My husband had been there, in the festival hall when something happened to Laura. There was all that blood, people were screaming, but he couldn’t tell me what actually happened. I was at Laura’s house only minutes later, pleading and screaming at Robby to let me see her, but he didn’t budge. In the end, I had to return home.”

“At first no one sad a thing, no one knew what had happened. Then the rumors started. Laura had been flirting with a few too many guys, and one of them jumped her during the dance, hurting her in the process of… It doesn’t matter. It can’t be as simple as that, I know it’s not. I’m not sure what happened but, but,” she broke up shaking her head.

“In the end, the rumors about Laura continued to spread. They all had it out for her, and this was another bit that fit right into the image they had of her. The little witch had become the slut, the wench, the whore. It was no secret that she’d looked for love elsewhere, but really who can blame her with a husband like Robby. The things that bastard did to her!”

Once more I nodded.

“I wanted to go and talk to her. I wanted to, but then, I saw her again. I was so scared. She was out of it, didn’t even recognize me. She was screaming and yelling at the air around her. And that moment when she stared at me, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t talk to her, couldn’t even look at her. She looked so different, so scary. I was so ashamed of myself, and I still am. I tried to approach her and talk to her so many times, but I never did.”

This time I couldn’t stay quiet. “That was almost ten years ago and yet you…” I broke up when I looked over at Lisa and saw that she was on the verge of tears.

“I know I should’ve done more! We all should’ve done more. I’m sorry Sophie, I didn’t want to get all worked up like that. I just wanted to tell someone that Laura isn’t who they make her out to be!”

“Yeah,” I said nodding my head. For long minutes we sat next to each other, not saying a word. All I could do was press Lisa’s hand as she tried to calm down.

“You know,” she started after a while, “Laura gave me this little booklet back in the day. It was all about her dance and those things she believed in. I think she even wrote it for me! Tell you the truth though, I never got around to reading it, especially not after… well after our fight. Let me see if I can find it, you’d want to have a look at it, right?”

She went to one of the cabinets in the room and rummaged through papers and old envelopes. She soon gave up in frustration.

“I’m sorry Sophie, I’m telling you all about the booklet, and now I can’t even find it. God knows where it is.”

“No, it’s alright! You don’t have to worry about it.”

After that, we talked a bit more. It was nothing but small talk though. Neither of us wanted to end this visit in so dark a mood, so we talked about simple things, like family and school for a bit. It was about half an hour later that I finally left.

On the way home I thought about Laura’s whole story once more. The tears that Lisa had fought so hard to hide started to flow freely now. This time though, it was from my eyes.

There were such terrible things hidden away in this village.

 

Chapter 4 – The Flower Dance

 

My mood grew darker after I’d heard about Laura’s terrible past. How disastrous her marriage had been and how she’d been ostracized by the village once before.

Every day when I returned home from school, I saw the faces of people who were responsible for it. Most of them I’d know my whole life. Many of them were friends or friends of my family. Now, I couldn’t even look them in the eyes. They were all such terrible and disgusting people.

I thought about what I could do for days. Everyone was right about one thing though: It had all happened long ago, and it was all so vague.

Was there even anything I could do to begin with?

What finally ripped me from these senseless thoughts of vendetta was a tiny package. Grandma handed it to me one day after school.

It was a small paper package with my name written on it. It must’ve been dropped off at our mailbox grandma told me that morning.

Even though my name was written on top of it, I had no idea what it was. Only when I opened it and found a small booklet inside did I know it must be the one Lisa had told me about.

I thanked grandma and hurried upstairs to my room. The little booklet wasn’t as worn as I’d expected, but I reasoned that it was due to Lisa never reading it. It had a simple ‘for my dear friend’ written on the front page.

The content was as weird as I’d expected it to be.

The first few pages mentioned some supposed local myths that I’d never even heard about. One was about little people and the shenanigans they played on people. Another talked about more sinister things hiding between the trees of the forest. The last one mentioned that the village was created here for a specific reason. Supposedly due to the abundance of spiritual energy.

I had no idea what she meant by that, but as I continued reading, I started to understand.

The contents ventured into all sorts of esoteric stuff. Laura explained the natural flow of energy and how it connected our world to certain, otherworldly or spiritual realms. For pages, she tried to paint vivid pictures of these places, but it was all hazy. It reminded me of the descriptions of fever dreams.

At first, I thought it was nothing but a haphazardly thrown together collection of esotericism. Soon noticed that there was method to the madness. Laura had started off by the myths and then mentioned her esoteric beliefs. Now she put both together in her concept of certain energy places.

An energy place, she wrote, was a location at which connections between our world and the spiritual realms were especially strong. They existed at places where the energy lines of our planet converged and came together. At these places, you could tap into the energies of these spiritual realms. You could commune with spirits, summon them into our world and do much, much worse things.

It was all such utter nonsense.

The latter half of the booklet consisted of carefully written down invocations, verses, and prayers. You could use them at these energy places she’d described. Some, Laura wrote, were nothing but fertility rites or good luck wishes, other’s had different uses. She’d only written instructions to the first handful. The rest was impossible to decipher since they were all written into some weird language. When I googled some of the words, nothing came up.

It was most likely all hogwash that Laura had made up herself. She must’ve mixed different languages and letters together.

The last few pages of the booklet contained practical instructions. Laura explained how one would go about finding these energy places. She described all the criteria such a place had to fulfill and how you’d know you were at the right place. After that, on the last page, Laura included a detailed map to locations she’d found. I started to chuckle when one of them was right next to our village. Of course, it had to be within walking distance of her home. Delusion can be a scary thing…

In the end, I threw the booklet aside and started browsing the internet. This was all ridiculous.

What was even more ridiculous, was the fact that I actually went out there to have a look. It was not even an hour later that I was out on the dirt paths following the map in the little booklet.

Of course, I didn’t expect to find an actual energy place or summon spirits. Who does when they find something like that? I wanted to see if I could find another puzzle fitting into her story. Who knows, maybe she’d hidden something there.

After I’d followed the path into the direction of the forest a bit, I could actually see it. A short walk through a meadow and I found myself at a small little grove. The moment I saw it, I wondered if this was the place where Laura had shown Lisa her weird dance.

As I stood there and looked around, I could see nothing special about the place at all. There was no mushroom circle. No assortment of birds singing beautiful melodies. No strange feeling. Nothing at all. It was just a couple of trees in the middle of the meadow. Well, what did I think I’d find?

In the end, I took out Laura’s little booklet and went through it again. God knows, maybe there’d be a hint somewhere? I read through the pages once more, looked around the trees, but found nothing.

I reached the end of the booklet again. I once more I was at the last little part about identifying energy places. It said that you knew you’d found the right place by reciting certain lines and invocations she’d written down earlier in the book. They were supposed to have an effect on you. What this effect was she, of course, couldn’t tell.

I frowned and went back to those pages. Don’t ask me why I did it, but I actually went back and decided to recite some of them. I guess it was a mixture of curiosity and wanting to prove that there was nothing supernatural going on. Well, of course, I didn’t believe in the supernatural to begin with, but I guess one can never really know. You have to try it, at least once.

In a low voice, I started to recite the first of the many verses Laura had written down. It was so incredibly hard not to laugh in-between the lines. It was so stupid, I felt like a total idiot, out here reading the strange word creations she’d written down. I actually looked around every once in a while to see if anyone was nearby. God knows they’d not go easy on me if they saw me doing ‘witchcraft’ out here. Then I’d really be the new Laura Ebert.

What was weird though was how quickly I got used to Laura’s strange made-up language. At first, I struggled with each syllable, but soon enough it got much easier. It was as if something in my mind clicked. What was nothing but an assortment of letters before was now almost melodic sounding?

It took me a few minutes to finish the last of Laura’s supposed spells. Yeah, nothing happened again, big surprise. Now I actually was laughing and shaking my head. This was so dumb. Had I expected anything else? Had I secretly been hoping for fairies and little people to pop up?

The truth was, there was nothing, absolutely nothing to this silly little booklet. It was all the sad, esoteric ramblings of a woman who wanted to escape reality.

As I made my way back, I couldn’t stop shaking my head. I went all the way out here to prove what I’d know right from the start, that it was all bullshit.

After a while though, I couldn’t help but feel watched. I jerked around in a moment of disbelief. I half-expected to actually see one of Laura’s fairy creatures watching me.

Reality, though, was much more unsettling. There were no spirits out here. All there was, was Laura Ebert. I had no idea where she’d come from, but she was only a couple dozen meters behind me on the same path, staring right at me.

I quickly turned away when she smiled at me again. I told myself nothing was going on here. She was just out on one of her long walks and must’ve seen me. That was all.

Yet, as I kept walking and looking over my shoulder, I noticed that she was following me. I hurried down the path back towards the village until she was nothing but a small figure in the distance. I could’ve sworn she was still smiling then.

I was really glad when I was home. Her eyes, her smile, I couldn’t help but feel itchy. For a moment I felt the hairs on my arm stand up. Freaking hell, had she seen me at her stupid energy place? Don’t tell me she thought I was into her stuff as well now.

As I sat in front of the computer again, I couldn’t help but still feel watched. It was as if Laura’s presence was a shadow lingering over me. Once or twice, I could’ve sworn I wasn’t alone in my room. Whenever I turned though, there was no one. In a nightmarish vision, I saw Laura Ebert sitting in one of the corners of my room, still with a mad smile on her face.

As my thoughts centered around her more and more, so did my dreams. It didn’t matter what they were about, I always noticed her somewhere, smiling at me.

For days the dreams went on. Even worse though was the feeling that Laura not only haunted my dreams. Each day when I saw her out in the yard or walking down the street. It was almost as if she was always nearby.

I told myself it must be a coincidence. Laura was always outside. Yet, that feeling of being watched was ever-present.

It got stranger and stranger, even at home. I wondered if Laura was actually spying on me. What if she was outside my window now? Was she out there right now, staring up at me, waiting for me to look at her. Should I look? What if she was there, with that creepy smile of hers?

I was about to get up and prove that these were nothing but delusions when mom burst into the room.

“Where did you get this from?” she yelled at me holding up the small booklet.

Here we go again. Another rant about me getting involved with Laura Ebert. I sighed audibly.

“I got it from Lisa Knaute, mom. I asked her about Laura, the flower dance and all that other stuff. She also gave me that little booklet. It’s just Laura’s weird-”

“I know damn well what’s in it! I’d gotten one of these damned things, too!”

“What? Why do you..?”

For a moment mom was about to snap something back at me, but then she took a deep breath.

“Because I used to be friends with Laura,” she finally admitted.

“What you were friends with her? Why did you never say anything? Why did you get along with blaming her and-”

“Because of that night! Because of that damned dance of hers! I can’t believe she… I should’ve never taken part in it!”

“You were there? You were a part of it!? Is that why grandma was there as well?”

Mom gave me a weak nod.

“Calling Laura a friend was probably a bit much. We’d been part of the same group, but I was never close with her or anything,” she started.

“We never bounded. To be honest, she was a bit too weird. Really, I couldn’t stand her. I never understood why Lisa was so close to her. When we all graduated, I didn’t see her often anymore. I wasn’t surprised when she got married. She was pretty, beautiful mind you, but she also had a… history.”

I rolled my eyes but didn’t say a thing.

“To be honest, I didn’t care. I never cared much about her and what she was up to.”

“Did you know what happened to her after she’d gotten married?”

Mom sighed again. “So Lisa told you those things as well, didn’t she?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, everyone knew about it, but… ugh, it was none of our business, Sophie. You’re not supposed to barge into someone else’s life like that.”

“So instead you decided to ignore it,” I mumbled to myself.

Mom gave me an angry stare. “Don’t you dare Sophie? Of course, we talked about it, but what could we’ve done? If you talked to Lisa, you know as well as me that there was nothing!”

I had so many things I wanted to say to her right now. For a moment I felt all the anger at this disgusting village raise up inside of me, but then I fought the urge. Not this time, I closed my eyes, not this time.

“What about the dance then?” I asked in a strained voice.

“She approached me out of nowhere a couple of weeks before the fair. You have no idea how surprised I was to see her. Why would she choose me of all people? It made no sense! At the time I really didn’t want to get involved with her, but I felt sorry for her, everyone in our little group did. Seeing her so excited, seeing her smile and seeing how happy she was about it, it was heartbreaking. I felt guilty enough already, so I couldn’t bring myself to say no to her. And that’s when she handed me a small booklet, exactly like this one here.”

She held up Lisa’s small booklet.

“Why did you get one as well? I thought she’d just made one for Lisa? Didn’t you say you weren’t even real friends?”

Now, mom grinned a bit.

“She made them for everyone. Each one of us got her very own little booklet talking about all this… esoteric stuff. I only ever looked through it once but didn’t read much of it. I think I threw it away long before the fair. It was the same stuff she’d been going on about back in school.”

“Did she ever take you or anyone else to one of her weird places? For the dance?”

“What places? No. We only ever met at Beatrice’s place.”

“Beatrice?” I cut her off.

“Another friend of ours from school. She’s… moved away. She was the only one in our circle who showed any real interest in Laura’s stuff. God knows why. Either way, we always met up at her place to rehearse the dance. And of course, Laura hadn’t planned a normal dance. What she showed us was disgusting! None of us wanted to have anything to do with a thing like that. Even Beatrice was wary about it. We told her we’d agreed to take part in a flower dance, not whatever this was. Laura got mad at first but soon yielded. I guess it was because of the fight with Lisa, but at the time we didn’t know about it.”

“You didn’t know the two of them had a fight?”

Mom shook her head. “No, she never told us anything about it. Lisa didn’t show up anymore, and that was it. In the end, Laura said she really wanted to do it, even if it would be a boring old dance.”

“And you went along with it just like that?”

“What should’ve done Sophie? Laura’s whole behavior was one of desperation. We didn’t know what Laura would do if we’d back out. She was almost manic at the time!”

“And of course she didn’t do a boring old dance, at the fair, right?”

“No. During the day of the fair Laura was a completely different person. She seemed genuinely happy for the first time in a long while. She was actually having fun around other people. She flirted a bit here and there, but nothing serious. She was simply a young woman enjoying herself and the fair. Then sundown approached, and she gathered us together for the dance. There weren’t many people there, maybe a few dozen. Most of the villagers were at the festival hall. It was only friends and family, like your grandma and some of the older woman who’d done the flower dance in their youth.”

“It all started off normal enough. We were all dancing and whirling around in our dresses. Suddenly, though, Laura started to do weird things. We’d all hoped she’d not do anything like that, but I guess deep down we all knew she’d planned this. At first, we tried to continue with our dance, to get it over with. But then we couldn’t do it anymore, and everyone except Laura stopped. We all couldn’t help but stare at her. Her dance, if you can even call it that, was stranger than anything she’d ever shown us. We were perplexed, then disgusted, outraged even, but soon we were all entranced by it. Those… movements, they weren’t normal. A human body wasn’t designed to twist like that and those, those words. No,” mom shook her head.

“It was just wrong! If it had been sexy, erotic even, no one would’ve minded, but what she did was so outlandish! It was as if we were hypnotized, watching in awe as she twisted her body on the ground. It was as if she had too many joints in her body, too many bones, no too many limbs even. It was so utterly… unnatural and yet you couldn’t look away. Everyone was frozen watching this spectacle. And that’s when I saw it.”

“Saw what?”

“The shadows,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around herself. “There were moving in the twilight. They were dancing with Laura, moving along with her, entangling her and… I’m not sure what I saw anymore… but they were caressing her body. Then Laura was naked. I hadn’t seen her take her cloth off, but there she was, throwing herself on the ground naked, touching herself. And then there was all that blood. All of a sudden she was making these strange sounds, writhing in pain and cutting herself with this… thing. There was so much blood, it was almost like in a horror movie. When she started to scream in a different language I, no, everyone ran.

“You ran? Why didn’t anyone-”

“You weren’t there Sophie! You weren’t there! I didn’t decide to run, it was as if my body told me to! My instincts screamed at me to get away! Every fiber in my body told me ‘this was wrong.’ That dance was something that shouldn’t be done, something that didn’t belong in our small village!”

She still had her arms wrapped tightly around her body. She was shivering and rubbing her arms as if to make the memory of the night disappear.

“I don’t know what I saw or what she did, but…”

“So no one saw what actually happened? She cut herself and-”

“That’s enough, Sophie! Didn’t you listen to anything I just said?”

“But mom-”

“No! Don’t you ‘but mom’ me! I already told you way too much and, and,” she broke up again.

Finally, she signed and looked at me, this time her face wasn’t angry anymore. It was a look of severe and honest concern.

“The truth is, there’s someone who knows. Now you listen, Sophie. That stuff is dangerous, but I know you well enough. I know that even if I tell you not to, you’re going to look into it.”

“Mom, I-”

“I’ll tell you under one condition, a single one, alright? If I tell you, I want you to promise to me that you’ll stop afterward, alright? This has gone far enough already.

“Fine, whatever,” I said in a half-annoyed voice.

“Sophie! I’m serious! You’ll stop this whole thing! Promise me!”

While she said this, she reached out and grabbed hold of my arm. “Alright?” she asked one last time.

“Okay, mom. Alright. I promise.”

For a moment she eyed me carefully, trying to read my thoughts. Then she nodded.

“You know Mrs. Meier, right?”

I nodded. How could I forget her and my run-in with the late pastor’s wife not too long ago? Of course, she had to be involved in it.

“What’s she got to do with it?”

“She was there till the end. She didn’t run. She and her husband stayed. It was them who called her husband and actually brought her home after it was all over.”

“What did she say?”

“Well, she told everyone that there was some guy who’d been watching Laura and during the chaos, he must’ve-”

“Oh come on mom, are you kidding me? Who’s going to believe that? You’re telling me everyone ran because Laura did, I don’t know some pagan ritual? And then some guy decided to jump her in the middle of it? Really?”

“That’s what she told everyone, but,” she shook her head. I could see the disbelief painted on her face. I realized that mom knew as much as I did that it was all a lie. She knew that none of it made any sense.

“You know it’s not true, don’t you? You know it’s all lies!”

Mom didn’t answer me right away. “No Sophie. I don’t. If that’s what she said happened, then-”

“You’re still-” I started, but she cut me off right away.

“Go and talk to her then! I’m tired of talking about this… woman.”

With that, she got up, but then she quickly turned around and grabbed the small booklet.

“I’m getting rid of this,” she said holding it up to me.

This time, I didn’t protest.

Final Chapter – What Laura Called

 

I was reluctant when I stood in front of Miss Meier’s door. I knew this wouldn’t go well, but I still wanted to talk to her.

When I finally rang the bell, the wrinkly old woman opened the door almost instantly. It was almost as if she’d been waiting behind it all along. She measured me with her hard, angry eyes before she mumbled something to herself. I was sure she knew exactly why I was here.

“Hello Miss Meier,” I greeted her with my friendliest voice, “I’m here to ask you a few things about Laura.”

As soon as the name was out, she threw the door in my face. Well, not like I expected anything else. I was about to yell something, but then I resorted to ringing the doorbell again. After I did so twice more, she ripped the door open and started to lay into me before I could so much as utter a word.

“I’m not going to tell you a damned thing about that wench, girl! Now go and beat it!”

She was about to close the door again, but before she could, I spoke up.

“I know about that night!” I blurted out. “The flower dance, the pagan stuff, the weird things, the blood and-”

“Good god, girl! Not another word! Fine, get in!”

With that, she reached out and pulled me inside. She had a quick look up and down the hallway before she closed the door.

“I can’t believe it! I told you not to snoop around, and yet here you are! You silly girl, why did you have to look into it?”

“Because I want to know what happened! All this talk and all those rumors. No one knows a thing, yet you all…”

“And how did you find out about the dance? About what happened that night? Who told you? I might be old, but I’m not senile! Someone must’ve told you! Who? Was? It?”

While she spat those last words into my face, she rose her finger accusingly. At first I didn’t want to tell her, but finally, I admitted how I found out all about it.

“That damned Lisa! And your mother, too! Margarete was always a bit dim, but so are you for putting your little nose into this! Well, but that’s all there is to it! I saw nothing that night, nothing at all!”

“Is that so?” I started. “Then what would happen if I’d talk about it? I’m going to start this whole thing again. I’m going to tell everyone that I know there was no rape and that it was all your lies!”

At this, she actually laughed a bit. It was a rough, rusty sound that seemed to make its way up from deep inside of her body.

“Well, guess you’re not exactly like your mother. Fine, then listen, but I dare you. If you tell anyone, I’ll make sure you’ll regret it.”

This time her stare was more than angry. It was malignant, a promise that these last words weren’t just empty threats. I couldn’t help but nod right away.

“What that… what Laura did that night was sacrilegious, heretically and no, I’m not talking about that damned dance of hers. I’m talking about what she called here.”

“What she… called here?”

“Everyone knew about her interests, her witchcraft, devil-worshiping, and her curses. That girl was always bad news, always! She should’ve never been allowed to take part in our fair. Yet those damned idiots spoke out for her. That’s what they all get…”

“But what happened that night?”

“You’re as impatient as they come aren’t you, girl?”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“Pah. Then shut up and listen!”

“That night I was there, watching her little skit. It sounded harmless enough. The good old flower dance. And all those idiots believed her. Oh, I’d warned them and so did my husband. ‘What’s the worst that could happen’ they all asked. ‘So what if she’s ruining her silly dance’ they said. ‘No one would be there anyway.’ But I knew that wench had something else planned. I knew it! Not enough that she showed us that disgusting, hypnotic dance that entranced us all-”

“That’s what mom said too! That everyone was in some sort of trance!”

“You want to hear what I have to say or not?”

This time I only nodded.

“When chaos broke out everyone run, everyone but my husband and me. At first, we’d only seen her cut herself, but then we saw something else. There was something on top of her. I wasn’t able to make it out exactly. It thought it was a man, one of her many suitors, but it wasn’t. It was almost a mixture of men and animal, but much, much worse. It was clawing at her, cutting her skin and pushing her to the ground. All the while that wench was screaming, but oh they got it all wrong. She wasn’t screaming in pain, oh no, those were the screams of a whore, of pleasure! She screamed and moan as that thing was copulating with her! Once it was over though and that ungodly creature had gotten of her, there was something else. Between the blood, something else pushed its way out of her body! That thing, that thing must’ve…” she broke up, breathing heavily.

“What was that… thing?”

“Girl, I don’t know what it was, and I don’t want to know!”

“But what happened afterward? What did these things do?”

I got another angry stare and snapped my mouth shut in an instant.

“They vanished. Just like that, they were gone. All the shadows retreated as well, and only Laura Ebert was left. She was on the ground, panting and moaning before passing out. At this moment I hoped, no I prayed that she’d be dead. That this damned woman was gone and she’d never be able to anything like that ever again. But of course she was alive! While I stood there, do you know what I thought? Do you know what went through my mind!?”

“N-no?”

“It would only be a few seconds,” she said with the most hideous smile I’d ever seen in my whole life.

“It would only take a few seconds, and it would all be over. But my husband, my God have him dear, he pulled me off her. He screamed at me to not defile myself. I shouldn’t commit the worst of sins because of this godforsaken whore of the devil!”

I opened my mouth but wasn’t able to say a thing. I could almost see the hatred emanating from her.

“And then they brought dis drunk husband of hers over, and he took his wife home! I couldn’t believe it!”

“They didn’t call an ambulance? What about the blood?”

“Hah! Of course not! One look at her and you knew she was almost completely unhurt! It made no sense, her body should’ve been torn to a bleeding, shredded mess, yet she was completely fine! The only thing you could still see where the marks my hands had left on her neck.”

“She should’ve died that night,” she yelled out, “and I wish, I wish I’d have gone through with it!”

The old woman was shaking by now. I was so utterly disgusted by her, but it was soon over, and she let herself fall into her reading chair.

“You know girl, this used to be a nice and happy village. But because of her, because of that night, it all changed! The only one to blame is that whore! She had to mess with those things! You know, everyone says she got what she deserved, everyone, but she didn’t. She should’ve died that night! For what she did to our small town, she shouldn’t have gotten away so easily. Losing her mind, being out there, screaming and cursing, it’s not enough. We don’t deserve to see her out there every day. She still mocking us now. That’s what she does, taunting us! Even now she’s keeping up her damned games. It’s because of her that all those bad things happened! All because of her!”

“Bad things?”

“You’re really as blind as your mother! Did you ever wonder why my husband died only weeks after the fair? Where did that pneumonia come from that took old Ursula and Libby a week later? That father of yours too! You think that accident was normal? It’s all because of Laura Ebert. What do you think made me look like this? This damned disease that’s eating away at my body and slowly turning my insides into mush? That’s all her doing! That’s her revenge, her curse! She tainted not only me, no, she tainted all of us! This whole village is corrupted and defiled!”

Right then her eyes focused on me, and for a moment I saw the hint of a smile on her face.

“And she defiled you too.”

I shuddered at her words. At first, I wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but then I remembered something else. Something I’d wondered about ever from the start.

“Then why all this talk about rape?”

“Because it’s easier! Everyone knows she was promiscuous! Even during her school days! No one wants to remember what actually happened! No one wants to talk about it! And no one wants to talk about those things that now lurk in the shadows during the night! But you just had to dig, didn’t you? You just had to know!”

“Things out… there?”

This time the smile on her face didn’t disappear.

“Oh, I know you noticed them, girl. I know you’ve felt them staring at you. I can read it on your face, and I can feel them around you. And I know that you’ll suffer like the rest of us!”

With that, the insane old woman started cackling in front of me. “She got you too, you dumb, silly girl!”

It was at this moment I had enough. This whole damned village was insane. I left and went home as fast as I could.

After that day I followed the promise I’d given my mother and didn’t bother with Laura anymore.

I wish this would be the end of my story. I wish that after I learned all that I was able to move on and get back to my normal life.

Each night though I had trouble sleeping. Miss Meier’s words were reverberating in my mind. The things out in the night were watching me, she’d said. As if to prove her right, I felt as if with each passing day, the night turned a tad bit darker.

What brought me to write this all down, weren’t those feelings though. It was because of a run-in with Lisa a few days ago. She gave me a weak smile. After we’d exchanged greetings, I remembered the booklet she’d given to me.

“I almost forgot, thanks for bringing me that booklet! You told me Laura was weird, but it really was something else!”

“What booklet, Sophie?”

“The booklet Laura made for you. The one you dropped off at our mailbox.”

“That one? Oh dear, but I never found it. I’m pretty sure I lost it a long time ago.”

“But then,” I started but broke up. I left Lisa standing in confusion and hurried home. I asked grandma who’d dropped it off, but she only said it was in the mailbox one morning. When mom returned home, I confronted her about it. She told me the same thing though. She’d gotten rid of the booklet soon after Laura gave it to her.

I was so confused. My mind became a vortex of all sorts of thoughts and ideas until a single one stuck out to me.

It didn’t take me long to find her. She was out on one of the paths as usual. This time she noticed me right away. And like last time she smiled at me. When she saw my anger though, her expression turned into a wide grin. At that moment I knew I was right.

When Laura walked towards me, I didn’t move. This time I didn’t turn away. I was done being scared by this insane woman.

When she got closer though, I instinctively cringed back. A surge of fear like none before washed over me. Right then Laura’s grin broke apart, and she started to laugh.

“You see it now, don’t you little girl?”

I opened my mouth. “What did you,” I started, but broke up when I did indeed see it.

I saw the disfigured, fleshy abomination that clung to Laura’s shoulder. There was no face, just a gaping toothless maw, a dark hole in a grown-together heap of flesh. I screamed up in shock and disbelief. I stumbled back and fell on the ground.

At that moment I heard the thing. I heard it speak. Trying to describe its abominable voice would be impossible, but I knew its language. It was the same one that Laura had written her many verses, or better, her curses in.

I watched as Laura turned to it and whispered something back at it.

Then she looked back at me and burst out laughing again.

“I knew it! I knew it the day I saw you out there! You did it, didn’t you? I got you, little girl. Just like Beatrice. You did it too, right? You read from my little booklet.”

She turned back at the thing on her shoulder when it let out another gush of obscure words. “I know, I know, it all turned out exactly like you said it would.”

“My little boy said you were a bit too enthusiastic. You read them all, didn’t you? You went through the whole number of them, right? Can you see him? You can, right? You can see him, and you can feel him, too.”

And at that moment, for only a second I felt something breathe down my neck. As I turned around though there was nothing there. I was a shivering, shaking mess and looked up at Laura in sheer terror. The thing on her shoulder was still there and as Laura had done before it now opened its maw to let out a gurgling laugh.

“Run home little girl, run like you did last time. But this time it won’t do you any good. It won’t! Even if you try to run away like Beatrice, it won’t! He will get you!”

She still laughed and taunted me as I ran off, but when I was halfway home, I saw it. At the edge of Laura’s energy place, back in the forest, I saw a giant, hulking figure. It was neither man nor animal, it was something much, much worse.

It’s been almost a week since then, and things have gotten much worse. I don’t go out anymore. It’s because of the shades and shadows outside. I can see them follow me, reaching out for me and gathering around my window. So many times I felt this presence near me.

I know this thing, this devil, is taunting me, preying on me.

I looked up Beatrice. She moved away from this village years ago, but only a few months afterward she was found dead in her new apartment. The case was never solved.

By now I know that this dark figure is here. I know that it’s watching me as I type. I can feel it’s breath on my neck and I can hear it whisper into my ears. There’s nothing I can do anymore.

I know now, what a mistake it was to look into all of this. I know that Laura Ebert had been out for revenge all along. Revenge on this whole damn village that had forsaken her.

Laura Ebert might have been a slut, she might have been a wench and a whore.

What she really is though is a trickster, a witch, and a devil worshiper.


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