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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37. "Fight Me!"

It was nearing late afternoon.

I was sat on the stairs, exhaustion rolled around my mind with no real reason, and after a time I realised the Sandman would soon come to heavy my eyelids. I felt the shuttering of my synapses, the quiet lure into sleepiness. But sleep was impossible, and there was no way I could have nodded off there and then; danger surrounded every corner, and each person watched me with calculating eyes. My limbs were becoming heavy and as though each nauseating sound of laughing and talking had begun to fade, my heart followed to a more peaceful beat. I was so tired now - I didn't understand why, it was not like my day was filled with activities and chores. Each day was filled with unanswered questions and pain, the days were always ongoing and repetitive. I soon realised why I was so tired.

"Sylvia?" The voice of Jenny called, and immediately made me flinch as though my body was forcing itself out of a soon to be dream.

Jenny appeared at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at me; the same held back sadness whenever she saw me. She smiled; defeated, as did I.

"Want me to get you a drink?" Jenny insisted, as her hand came up to touch my shoulder.

I gazed up to her. A drink? God knew I needed it. I nodded my head very frantically; ecstatic that I would taste the refreshing, cool taste of water once more. But as always, before I could have even stood up from the step, another person joined Jenny, and a certain someone had already suffocated my wishes.

"Don't you dare touch any water." Gertrude demanded, as she spluttered deeply into her hand. But she seemed distracted, frequently looking over to the front door as though expecting someone. She began to strike a match, as the cigarette in her mouth lit up with a quick burn of a flame. Gertie's newly lit cigarette had joined the same smoke that had already covered the thick air in the house.

I looked over to Jenny, giving her a smile to show her that I was still thankful that she had asked me. She looked to the floor; not accepting my sincerity. I couldn't blame her. But something soon deterred me from the thought of a drink, as I remember the front door battering open, followed on by a startled, furious young girl. Anna stormed in, glowering at me with an uncontrollable anger that puzzled me at first. She stood quietly for a few seconds, as though waiting for me to do something.

"Why the hell did you say that, Sylvia?" Anna questioned.

I was, as always, too exhausted to even ask what it was I had supposedly done.I had been lost for so long, you see - it was what I was used to; a person who got used to being beat, I suppose. There was nothing more lonely, nothing that brought more desolation to the soul. I tried to reassure myself to never stop looking, to never let that small spark of hope become extinguished.

I stood a careful distance away, reluctant to speak and yet reluctant to stay silent. With the young girl almost foaming at the mouth with anger, I attempted to speak, before being interrupted by Anna's second in command - Judy.

"You think it makes you tough talkin' crap about her mom?" Judy continued the interrogation.

I fathomed that it had been Gertie's doing. It all came together rather quickly; that was the reason why Gertrude had been staring at the door for so long. She knew I would have to have faced Anna; a lie that had been told by Gertrude. Anna stormed over, as her hand reached out to my arm, violently tugging me down to her size; she was shorter, you see. I backed away, like a dog being ganged up on by it's abusive owner.

Judy glared from behind, as if ready to join in, "- get her, Anna!"

"Fight me, Sylvia! Go on - throw a punch!"

I couldn't have fought her. Most of all, I didn't want to.

Anna persisted; a snarl beginning to rise on her lips.

"Don't be a baby, Sylvia." Gertie hollered from behind me. She seemed to be enjoying my distress.

I twitched my body nervously. I hadn't even said anything about Anna's mama, but as always, I was the last person anyone would have believed.

"I said FIGHT ME!" She yelled.

And soon enough, she began throwing punches at my face - clawing me with her sharp dagger-like nails. I cried out with anguish as I refused to hit back. I couldn't - I didn't want to. Gertie's eyes stated transfixed, muttering to herself quietly. Anna's strikes were unrelenting. I tried my best to hold her arms back, only to fail as every blow and knock was close to throwing me off balance.

"Stop!" A pathetic attempt at making her stop fell on deaf ears, as Anna seemed oblivious to my whimpers and cries.

"FIGHT ME!"

I tried my best to shelter my eyes, as I refused to give her the satisfaction of a fair fight. Why won't she stop, my subconscious screamed - as if I would have known the answer to that. With her final striking move, her leg jolted and hammered into my stomach. The breath was knocked out of me as I was finally thrown off guard and into the awaiting floorboards. All of that for something I didn't even do? I fell to the floor, as I laid in a broken heap. I clutched my stomach; the pain twisted like a knife in my gut. I couldn't bare another kick to the stomach, mentally nor physically. So I spoke the words; words that had been permanently scarred into my mind ever since Gertie had said them.

"My baby!" I shrieked, and my hands wrapped across my stomach for protection.

You may be wondering why I said what Gertrude had taunted me with all along, and the fact of the matter was at the time, I thought that it would have stopped the beating. Who would hurt somebody with a baby?

"...Just leave her, Anna." Gertrude watched carefully, "you better get home."

I stayed glued to the floor; unwilling to move. The shadows of the beating were on my skin and heart. The knowledge that I was the bad one was something that would have remained long after my skin and bones were healed. It was a sadness in my eyes, a heaviness, an unyielding sorrow that slowed my speech and robbed me of my once easy smile.

I soon came to notice the distant figures standing on the staircase, watching me. Paula, Johnny and Jimmy; intrigued to see what the noise and screams had been about. I had never felt as much stinging after being hit in the stomach like I had done at that moment. I thought it was rather ironic, how Gertrude had battered me with pregnancy accusations - and yet there I was, admitting to something that I knew couldn't have been true. I struggled for a while, finding my feet as I clambered my way up. My hands still rushed to my stomach as I clenched my whole body. I forced myself to my feet, as everyone only seemed to watch - I guess, eager to see if I would have made it back up. I needed to get up, even if I didn't want to.

"Who was that, mama?"

Gertrude scoffed to herself, turning to the coffee table as she took a desperate sip of alcohol.

"Anna -" She said, and her eyes soon glared into mine, "- Sylvia's been sayin' things about her mother."

I had heaved my body up, yet I couldn't have escaped the eyes glowering at me from each direction. I was frantic, worried, anxious - you name it. All those emotions all at once couldn't have been healthy.

"I...I should go lie down..." I insisted, but my wish had been cut short. Even the most simplest wishes of free will had been stolen from me.

I couldn't have forgotten the stares from each person in the room, and yet I had only just heard the taunts and dares from the younger children.

"Rip her top off!" I heard somebody shout, as my eyes darted across to all the different faces, "- see if she's gettin' bigger in the stomach!"

"No, you're not!" I cried out, though my eyes suddenly caught sight of Shirley glaring at me.

I felt myself stepping back, only slightly before I felt the presence of somebody standing behind me - Johnny. His hands pushed against my back, shoving me towards Shirley as she stormed over. I attempted to walk back again, but it didn't do much. I felt a sudden breeze chill across my stomach as I felt the blouse tear from my skin. Shirley had torn it open, as her eyes stared into mine; nothing but hate, even for a girl her age. I clutched my blouse together as it was all I could have done, but nothing helped. I stood, dying with embarrassment that surged through my mind.

"Don't do that," Gertrude ordered, hurrying towards her daughter as she clasped her wrist, "Sylvia loves all that kind of attention."

"Just wanted to see if she's pregnant, mama." Marie insisted.

"She ain't pregnant, look..."

"She's lyin' again! Look at her stomach!"

Everyone joined in on making remarks about my stomach - saying I was lying, saying I wasn't pregnant. I made a glance in Paula's direction, as her mouth seemed to scream a silent growl. I retreated my eyes away, as Gertrude delved into my awkwardness and humiliation. I kept tugging the blouse as far as I could, trying to cover as much of my body as possible. It was no use. The room seemed to stand still, as everybody seemed hypnotised in what would have happened next; the suspense. But it was with that long period of silence that Paula's voice finally said an idea, and it was something that made me scream in my mind. I knew that it was going to happen. I couldn't have stopped it. I despised the sensation of falling, awaiting the moment I would lay almost paralysed at the bottom of the steps. I felt myself getting tugged by both arms, as the constant twisting like a knot in my stomach alerted me. Paula squeezed tightly around my shoulder, forcing me along. The basement door swung open, and I felt the damp air suffocate me as I struggled to take a breath. I pleaded, though it wasn't much use; I had learnt that as I hung on, what seemed like, half life and half death.

"We'll each do it together - ready?"

I counted down the seconds in which I would have been thrown into the dark abyss. Fighting had never worked - struggling had only made it worse.

"3...2...1!"

I felt the force of three people shove me off the edge of the steps; the steps which had become so very familiar. The air flew past my face, as I felt my body lift from the ground as though I was an angel; flying away to a place better. But that was never the case. I tried my best to count how many seconds it was until I would have hit the floor.

1...2...3...4...

And then...

...the eerie silence I always seemed to experience after falling from the steps.

________________

I awoke to my face buried into the concrete floor; my forehead seemingly keeping up a constant supply of red droplets. My head was thumping; the same thumping that followed after I awoke at the bottom of the stairs. It was a strange feeling when I heard, what seemed like, my own heart bashing away in my ears. It frightened me, and yet it also had a rhythm to it. I heard the ominous laughter and cheering from the top of the stairs. The door slowly closed, and the sounds soon became muted and muffled. I was once again in the basement; the one place I thought I had escaped from. And in the dimness of the room, I had no need to live. No need to breathe.

I just wanted to die.

I began thinking about my parents; lying there in the loneliness of the basement. I had thought about the shock they would get when they would finally be told the news. I thought about Jenny; who would look after her when I'm gone? I hated thinking about that; to have thought about life after I would have left Earth. It wasn't something any 16 year old wanted to think about, I guess. The light from upstairs seemed to flicker onto the floor where I lay, as the anonymous creaking of the door seemed to pervade off each of the basement walls. For some reason, I could almost immediately tell who was there; the different footsteps each person would have taken. One would be excitable, skipping two steps at a time; that would have been Johnny. The other was very clumsy and careless; that would have been Randy. They arrived down the steps, parading over towards me as I refused to lift myself off the ground.

Johnny smiled, before arching down, "- you'll love this."

I felt his hand pull on a chunk of my hair in a bid to turn me on my back. I let out a groan, and I felt his nails almost beginning to rip the hair from my scalp.

"That ain't anything." Anna scoffed; such a sweet girl I had remembered, and yet the hate she harboured for me was real

"You think that's all I gotta' show you?" He asked again.

"We ain't got all day." Randy argued, caressing his arm with his hand as he swayed on the spot impatiently.

My eyes flickered over to Johnny who stood over me. The eyesight I had been left with appeared foggy and dim from being closed for far too long. From behind him, he had pulled out an old rag or cloth of some sort - and without a hesitation, he shoved it into my mouth; unable to breathe as he stuck it between my teeth. His bawled fist soon swooped down into my cheek, but it was quick, with a violent thud to jolt my head against the ground. It wasn't so much the first second of being hit, but rather the agonising pain that followed after. With each step the pain amplified, my mind quivered, as though it felt my consciousness was ebbing.

"Pretty neat, huh?" He exclaimed.

Anna didn't seem to look impressed. She handed her books over to Randy as she paraded over towards both of us.

"You think that's cool?" 

The rag was still jabbed into my mouth, and the only thing I could have done was to have taken it all in silence; with the weak hopes that they would have soon left. Anna nudged him aside as she stepped closer, inches away from my head. It seemed the lie I had said earlier about being pregnant didn't stop this girl, that was for sure. She slowly lifted her leg behind her, it seemed purposely trying to get as much momentum as possible. I braced myself; each muscle clenching to the point I was sure something would have torn. Her foot abruptly slammed into my ribs as my back instantly arched away. The pain rippled throughout my torso, as though my ribs were rattling with the immense power packed behind such a young girl's kick. I prayed, just leave now.

Anna gave a proud, egotistic smile before turning back around to face them. I was thinking at that point - how I was only used for their past time now. I wasn't their friend; I was just something that they could kick, slap, burn when they got mad.

"Now that was good." Randy smirked.

Johnny stormed over to me, ripping the rag from my mouth as I quickly gulped down a mouthful of air. He stood back up, turning around to face them.

"As if you guys would know anythin' about boxing." Johnny snarled, as he hurried his way back over to the staircase.

The rest of them eagerly followed.

"Oh, that was boxing?" Randy sarcastically asked, "I thought you were just throwin' punches."

Their argument continued, as the basement door thankfully closed; drowned in the darkness, as I felt my stiff limbs lay defeated against the cool concrete hitting my skin.

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