Sylvia

Based on the true story that shocked the world in 1965.

In the early summer of 1965, 16 year old Sylvia Likens stepped foot into 3850 East New York with hopes and dreams. She left the house three months later, emaciated with burns, bruises and scratches. What happened in those endless months would later be described as "the worst crime ever committed in the state of Indiana". This is the story of a girl who had hopes and dreams.

This is Sylvia's story.

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32. Alone

Gertrude's claw-like hand gently pushed down upon my shoulder, as I unwillingly sat on the couch; each person watching me from the other side of the room. It seemed I was clasping onto something for support - anything - my own legs, or the couch beneath me. Each tear was stifled with each attempt at trying to hide it. What was happening?

I pinned my eyelids shut; praying, if God was hearing me, to help. I didn't know how he would have helped, but I just wanted someone to hold. I couldn't believe anything anymore - I didn't want to, anyway. I felt each moment sucking me in like a nightmare; I could have nipped myself as hard as possible and I knew I wouldn't have woken. Each second behind closed eyes I heard her shoes scuffle against the wood, adrenaline would soar over my veins like a fire making it's way to the top floor of a building. I couldn't move a single muscle, not even to scream. I hadn't remembered being that scared in my life. It seemed that idea only made it worse - if that was even possible. I wanted to shut everything off around me; if only for a few seconds even. But my eyes opened to something being forced into my hand; cold, and I could feel that it was hard just by the sound my nails seemed to make against it. Glass. Why would Gertie make me hold glass? My eyes hesitantly looked down to what I had been holding, and it seemed to be an ordinary cola bottle; one that you could have bought in any store.

That was the moment that had robbed me of my best sense and replaced it with paralysing fear. I only knew I could have still moved around as I could feel myself blink back salty tears. My heart instinctively continued beating, though I wouldn't have minded if it would have stopped there and then. I had the legs to run; I can get up right now and sprint out of the door. But it felt as though someone was holding me down; restricting me to the point that my lungs couldn't hold a breath for more than a second.

I didn't understand what Gertrude wanted me to do, and yet she stood watching me.

"I...I don't understand..." I insisted, but I found my lips had dried completely to the point that they were beginning to stick together.

"Show Jenny what you're really like." She snarled; the words echoed in my mind, bouncing against the walls of my skull, endlessly, where I couldn't have escaped it.

My eyes darted over to Jenny who could only sit; head hung low and silent tears masking a once happy face. Nothing could have made me understood what Gertrude had wanted.

"Lift up your skirt." She continued; each word being thrown at me like daggers, stabbing with every syllable.

Why would I need to lift my skirt up? I didn't want to - I didn't want to lift it in front of Ricky, or anyone for that matter. Some of the children began to giggle. Coy looked, smiling, as did Randy. I was mortified, frozen to the spot. I couldn't believe what she wanted me to do. She couldn't be expecting me to do that? I stood soaking in the cruel laughter; my head beginning to spin. I couldn't do it; I couldn't find the will to do it. I begged for somebody, anybody, to help; a neighbour to come through the door so I could have screamed. Gertrude's hand clasped around my wrist and tugged me upwards until I was standing in front of everyone. 

Each glance sent me falling, as though shadows were grabbing me and forcing me down. Emotions swirled, circling the air around me as though everything wanted to taunt me. Each new wave of damaging tears would burn just under my skin. A deep emptiness began filling my heart as the sentiments brewed over and boiled past the seams that I couldn't have held together. Breathing hitched, my trembling fingers began reaching for the ends of my skirt. My mind frantically questioned me - what are you doing? There was simply no hope; no end to the humiliation of those who watched and could only smirk at my petrified body. Just do it, and it will be over soon, I thought.

With shaky hands, I began pulling the skirt; each time showing more and more skin to the point I could have thrown up. Red-hot tears dribbled down my cheeks, each one carving furrows on the tender flesh that still stung from every sour beating; scars that marred my once-joyful face. The nipping of the glass hurt my skin, however it made the heat seem bearable for the individual beads of sweat trickling from my forehead. I opened my mouth, but not a sound would escape; an eternal silenced scream, saliva dripping from behind my teeth - only my head violently quivering. Tears streamed; rain droplets making their way to the bottom of a window. It was a poison to my spirit, killing off other emotions until it was the only one that remained - pain. Searing fiery bursts pulsated around my body. What was I doing? It was intensifying with each dragging step; jarring and brutal. I should have stopped. The scream that had once lumped in my throat, had now found its way from my open mouth.

"Come on," I heard Gertie's voice mutter, "...you can do better than that."

I couldn't breathe; continuous tears flooded into my throat, and all I could have done was scream until I was sure I would have ran out of air. I heard the sudden thudding of the front door. I couldn't have continued, as the glass slipped from my sweaty hand and shattered onto the floor in a million, sharp pieces as it cut at my fingers with no mercy. I felt myself tipping back onto the couch; the glass covered in silky red rubies laying smashed on the floor. I couldn't stop the bellowing scream escaping from my lips; my head began beating and my eyes couldn't have focused on anything but the blurry, misshapen images in front of me. I prayed for the person at the door to be a neighbour - anyone.

"What the hell is goin' on!"

It was Stephanie. She could only have looked shocked, staring at the glass and the person who had dropped it. Gertrude was frantic, pacing around the room with a finger pointed at me, but all I could have done was drown in my own tears.

"Coy, get her out!" Gertie hollered, "get her outta' here!"

I felt my arm being pulled by Coy; so viciously I thought it would have easily dislocated from it's socket. He forced his arm around my throat as his cheek pressed against mine; his tobacco-filled breath made me feel queasy.

"Where do you want her!" Coy yelled.

"Just take her upstairs, put her in the room!"

Coy began dragging me back. I prayed, begged for him to let go; for Gertrude to see sense and to stop it. I couldn't shout with his arm tightened around my throat, but all the while I silently pleaded. Gertrude was frantic, keeping her finger pointed as Coy forced me up each step. I let out a strangled scream, as I felt the strange sensation of blood welling into my throat from the tongue I had just bitten; a vain attempt to forget Coy's arm resting heavy on my chest.

"Johnny, get the door!" He screamed, and little Johnny sprinted past us as he threw open the door.

The lyrics, the words, the prayers became scrambled in my head; what is happening? It was a question like that that didn't get far, and before I had even conjured up an answer, Coy had already dragged me into the bedroom. With one rough shove, he propelled me onto the mattress below. The panic was a deluge of ice water surrounding every limb, creeping higher until it passed my mouth and nose. I couldn't breathe.

Through desperate, teary eyes, I laid rigid on my back. My eyes stared up at Coy, who only stood at the doorway; disgust, pity. Johnny gave me the same look, and as quickly as my thoughts had been filled with panicked questions, the two boys walked out, and slammed the bedroom door behind them.

Alone.

The room was a peculiar silence that didn't feel real at that moment. I had been screaming, shouting so loud before, that silence felt fabricated. What...had just happened? It felt as though a hand was clasped over my mouth, the other rigidly holding me down. My eyes felt like they were being pricked with a needle, crying silent tears that ran past my flustered cheeks. The ominous dry blood was still imprinted on my thighs; a small but relentless flow of crimson, but I no longer felt the pain that I had done moments before. Instead, laying there in the silence of my own confused thoughts, I felt terrified; frightened. Fear met me, no matter which corner I turned. What did I do?

All I could think to do at that moment, was apologise to the young girl who had seen too much.

I'm sorry, Jenny...

__________________

I hadn't slept.

I was plagued by my own haunting thoughts. I had never cried for so long before, and yet there I was - tears streaming down my cheeks as they found a way at jamming my throat until I couldn't breathe. The cola bottle would always make itself known, even if I tried so very hard to push it to the back of my mind. I thought I was alone, though that was until the bedroom door gradually began to open. The panic started up again like the tightening of my chest, as if the muscles were trying to avoid another breath in, but instead to suffocate to death. Then the breath came; shallow, lungs unable to move much.

The culprit of the door opening soon made themselves known.

"Sylvia..."

The voice was timid, sweet...terrified.

It wasn't shortly after that the voice matched Jenny's face, as she stood at the doorway; her face pale, distant, and her eyes red and swollen from those everlasting tears. I didn't speak, nor did Jenny. We just stared at each other, with the same fear stuck in our eyes. I felt disgusted with myself laying there, the blood already dried and seemingly left until I would bathe again. I was revolted, and I hated Jenny having to see me like that...

"I..." She struggled with the words, as hesitant tears trickled over her lips, "...I, I can't stay. Gertie, she...doesn't...want you near me..."

I was alone. I cried slowly, with tears dripping from my chin, and the soft hum of Jenny's voice echoing throughout the room. I knew I existed and breathed, but I meant nothing to anyone in that house. I was alone, sinking deeper and deeper within my own sad music.

"Gertie said..." Jenny attempted to find strength, but she couldn't, "...she said you...you can't have dinner..."

The rest of the world could be seen, drifting farther and farther away as teardrops made up my ocean. They fell into my parted lips and stuck to my eyelashes. I could taste them, rolling down my parched throat. I was alone.

I had lost myself.

I had lost myself in an endless ocean.

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