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