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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39. Friends Are Enemies

Looking back on it all, I had wondered why I didn't do something. Anything. Then I remembered...

I was dying.

I had realised that after a while. The sun from outside seemed to shine through the only opening that gave me a sense of promise. Hearing the children laughing in the warmth of the summer sun; acting as if everything was normal had been keen to bring a tear to my eye, but there was nothing. In a biology class at Arsenal Tech for the short time I had studied there, I had learnt that if a human did not receive the right amount of water or fluids, then they wouldn't have had the necessary amount of water to cry. I found that interesting, but I never thought I would be laying down in a basement reciting it in my head and actually relating to it. It was a strange thing - depression I mean, how it could have set in so easily. Maybe I was better off in the basement.

As I heard footsteps above me, trickles of dust began settling down all around me. I had started to think about what would have happened if the basement ceiling suddenly collapsed. The simple answer would have been death, and yet I knew it would have been more quick and painless and less of a torture than I was receiving alive. How sad - wishing death on myself. It was the only thing I could have thought of, along with all the pain and defeat I was feeling on a daily basis. The basement door echoed, as the steps creaked. The silence was deafening as the eyes of someone across the room were glaring at me. I could have made out, only slightly, the blurred out figure of Gertie. She was clutching something in her hand - a broom. I found it odd that she was planning to sweep up with me still there. She started to pace towards me; the broom firmly grasped in her fingers. And it was then, that I could tell what she was planning - what she had wanted to do. I tried my best to heave myself onto my legs, but they immediately crumbled under the force.

"Please - don't!" I pleaded, but the weary, frantic woman held the broom high above her head. I braced myself for the impact; clenching every muscle I had in me. And then...

The first blow to my head rained down, as I felt myself getting knocked sideways. Out of nowhere, the wooden broom came swinging.

THUNK. The sound of it hitting my skull echoed in my head. I felt woozy. All I saw were the colourful and black spots slowly blocking my vision, as I felt my head becoming heavier and heavier as if someone was crushing it down. The broom repeated itself; smashing down onto my merciless body - down and down, again and again.

"Stop!" I tried my best to scream through my teary speech.

Her face seemed determined to knock me out cold. She held the broom tightly as she smacked it into me, which only resulted in my horrific scream becoming amplified.

"You've ruined me!" She shrieked, as a fourth blow and then a fifth blow came crashing down onto my head.

I doubled over, trying to protect my already bruised face. And then finally, as quickly as she had started, Gertie retreated away; throwing the broom to the other side of the basement. I kept my head firmly down just in case, and I heard her panicked breathing decrease. But it didn't matter that she had stopped - she had done what she had intended to do. I heard the dragging of her footsteps become fainter and fainter, until, finally, the basement door had slammed shut. I kept myself glued to the ground; bruised and battered. I wanted to fall into a sleep so time would have gone quicker - so it wouldn't have felt as long. But, of course, my mind still raced from what had just happened. My head still pounded with hysteric pain, and the ominous, disturbing taste of copper remained permanent on my tongue. I knew that I wouldn't be getting any sleep that day. No matter how hard I would have tried.

________________

The light shone through the basement, only illuminating the walls as though God, himself, had cast his light onto me. The basement door hammered open as, what sounded like, thousands of feet began descending down the stairs. To my relief, it was only a small group of them. The nausea swirled unrestrained in my empty stomach. My head swam with half-formed regrets, and my heart felt as if my blood had become tar as it struggled to keep a steady beat. Even the colours of the summer sunshine beating down on me were drab to me now, and the birdsong continuing outside was growing old and distant.

I was fully awake by then, and my eyes could see the detailed faces of each figure standing over me. Some looked amazed, while others looked disgusted with my mangled state. Sometimes I thought about what they saw when they had looked down at me, and yet I failed to believe they had thought of me as innocent.

"How long has she been down here?"

"Few weeks or so I think."

It was a shock to me - for it had felt like I had been there for years; left to rot away. Ricky arched over me in disbelief as he began lighting a cigarette.

"We should have a game?" I heard someone announce; it was Anna, who began circling my body. The girl whom had hammered a kick so forceful into my stomach, I had questioned where such strength was kept in such a small body.

"How about - what if..." Marie began thinking carefully to herself.

Another game that I wanted no part in, yet I would have been forced to. So many games that had no meaning; that had no reason behind it.

"- We spin her around, she gets sick, falls over and each time she falls someone gets to punch her as hard as they want - ain't rocket science, Marie." Someone interrupted; they were excited, to say the least.

I gazed around as the words I was hearing sounded almost muffled, as well as mad. Maybe I could force myself to sleep, or even better, to faint? I didn't want to feel through it; I wanted to sleep - just for an hour if that was all my body could have allowed. Just so I could have slept through the pain and the hurt.

"Johnny, get that rope over there!" Marie cried out.

I kept telling myself that everything was going to be fine, that there must have been a deeper reason for all this pain. And yet, I also realised as I laid there - cold and scared - that the life I had once had, would have never have been the same again.

I noticed Johnny stumbling back with a thick rope, and I imagined myself hanging from it and sleeping peacefully. It was a disturbing thought of suicide, but it would have been the easiest way out than suffering the way I was; no way out was the way I had begun to feel. The sound of a muted background noise of violins scratching away that seemed to be ever increasing in speed and out of sync - while the outside world seemed dampened and fading.

"Now, all we have to do is tie it around her feet and hands."

I felt the rope being tied around my hands. It began to feel tighter and tighter; constricting until I could see each bony finger becoming slightly purple, as the sensation of numbness surged through my hands. Coy tugged on them again, and again to make sure that they weren't loose; continuously wrapping it around my swelled up feet as I questioned on when he would have stopped. I felt myself being forced up and held up by Coy and Ricky; my hands and feet tightly bound. I felt like an animal they had just hunted. I was now going to be killed and skinned.

"Now what?" Johnny asked.

Just as he had said this, I heard the faint sound of heels wading down the wooden steps.

"What you lot doin' here?" The tall woman nagged, limping over towards me.

The sensation of utter exhaustion reminded me of falling into quicksand; a viscous, heavy, pulling feeling that ordered me to fall, but if I had tried to fight it, it would have only robbed me of breath. I heard more graceful footsteps descend down the stairs. To my discomfort, it was Jenny and Paula. Jenny had her head drawn down, sobbing quietly. I pleaded with eyes that had darkened over time.

Gertie glared at me as she crossed her arms, "- your sister's been much better than I can say you have, Sylvia." She hissed, taking Jenny's shoulders as she guided them towards me.

My sister still refused to look up; her head dangled down as though she was lifeless. All the children watched as Jenny was broadcast for all to see.

"- I want you to slap her, Jenny." Gertude said.

An order given to my little sister that caused her to stand and stare.

I wriggled slightly, but my shoulders were still being gripped relentlessly by Ricky and Coy. The room fell silent. Jenny gazed up; she looked up at me first, and then darting her eyes to Gertie who seemed persistent on making her.

"But - I, well - I don't have a reason to slap her?" Jenny insisted.

"Slap her." The old woman ordered again; Jenny's words had fallen on deaf, ignorant ears.

Jenny looked up at me; with her voice silent and her emotions softened, she carefully whispered the word 'sorry'. I had tried my best to morph my lips into a strained smile. I knew that Jenny didn't want to do it. She still cared, and that was all I could have asked from her.

"Go on then, do it." Gertie pestered.

I tiredly watched Jenny comply; a girl whom would never have swatted a fly. But her kindness still radiated, as I noticed that she had lifted up her left hand. She was right handed, you see - and I knew that she was doing it so it wouldn't have hurt as bad. Jenny slowly lifted her arm and stood rigid. There was a deafening silence yet again in the room.

"Do it, I said!" Gertrude argued - and with that, Jenny's hand swung down into my cheek as my head was jerked suddenly to the side.

I could stand the slaps, but I couldn't stand the sight of Jenny crying. I wished I could have hugged her; to feel her closer. I guess, to reassure her that she wasn't hurting me.

"I, I did it..." She begged; her body shook from those tears she tried so very hard to control.

"Is that all?" Gertrude growled; the outline of her jaw bawling and clenched, "I want you to do it until her face goes red!"

"I can't - -" Jenny almost choked on those tears streaming down her face.

"Damn it, Jenny!" Gertrude barked like a ravenous dog tugging madly on a chain, "- you don't do this and I'll keep you down here just like your sister!"

The only thing I can say was that it broke my heart. Jenny being with me in the basement would have meant we were together - what was I thinking, it would have meant Jenny would have been beaten everyday. I was protecting her, like any big sister should. She never had to thank me, or feel guilt for what was happening. I was taking it all because I loved her, and no matter how Gertrude saw it, love always found a way through evil.

Jenny's eyes were lit up with fear; all bodies in the room scrutinised her. She once again lifted up her left hand. As tears streamed from her face, she repeated the process just as Gertie had ordered. Her hits hadn't hurt very much, but obviously Jenny wouldn't have believed that. And finally, as quickly as the first tear had left Jenny's eyes, Gertrude stopped her.

"That'll do, Jenny." She finally spoke; calm.

Jenny's head fell back to her chest; a 15 year old girl with nothing but the hopes they would leave her big sister alone.

"I'll need you guys gone by 3." Gertie announced, and she began heaving her way back up the basement steps.

I felt the sharp tugs as I was shoved out to the centre of the basement; a tight circle began surrounding me. My feet were too bound for me to move, so I could have only hopped the best I could.

"All we have to do is push her. She'll get sick soon." Anna grinned.

Everyone seemed amazed with the idea, but little did they realise my mind was just too restless to give in to screaming.

"How about - whenever she falls, someone gets to kick her?" Johnny quietly suggested.

Everyone seemed to nod in agreement - and it was then that I felt the first tough shove against my back as I began hurtling towards Johnny and Anna. With yet another push, I was chucked back around the circle as my head began to spin rapidly. All I could have communicated with was slight murmurs of discomfort, as I seemed to rebound off everyone I was pushed into. I felt like I was being weighed down, as if I was trying to walk up to my neck in a deep, muddy river in heavy, wet clothes carrying bags full of rocks. And after too many shoves, pushes and colliding with too many hands, I felt my knees collapse - and I fell onto the concrete floor. I felt a few seconds of comfort and sanctity as I laid; exhausted and tired, but not a tear in sight.

I felt some fingers dig into my shoulder; dragging me up onto my sore feet. It was Coy, as he roughly forced his arm around my throat, and the other behind my back. I knew what he was about to do; the infamous choke hold that Coy had showed us before. I felt his fist thump into my back, and I tried my best to arch as forward as possible to escape the pain, only to be throttled back by Coy's arm. He squeezed tighter and tighter each time my back automatically flinched forwards; a snake paralysing it's prey. That was how I had pictured Coy to be - a predator. There was no escaping his restricting hold. My teeth were grinding so brutally together I thought they would have cracked.

"Coy, bring her back here!" Shirley called out, as if she was a spoilt child not getting to join in.

I felt Coy finally release his fist from back, as he shoved me to the middle of the circle. I forced a gallon of air into my lungs as my feet dragged across the concrete floor. My legs were shaking, vibrating - begging me to fall and to give in to gravity. I felt my weight crash into one person, only to be flung into another. I was just hoping to faint again; praying to pass out so I wouldn't have to go through the ordeal. However my mind never seemed ready to give up - even if my body had. As I felt an agonising shove to my ribs, I felt my body plummet back to the concrete floor as my knees had gave way once again. I heard the muffled laughter of the group as they all bellowed over me.

"Can I have a go!" Johnny shouted out; his face determined and ready.

He strutted over towards me, and tightly gripped the ropes around my hands. He hugged the ropes in a fear I would have escaped, and yet I didn't know why everyone was so afraid of me running away; I couldn't have ran anyway, not even if I wanted to. Randy volunteered in helping, and he began walking towards me; grasping the back of my shoulders. I squirmed slightly as my feet were heaved across the floor to the bottom of the dreaded steps. I glared up at them slightly, praying they wouldn't have made me walk up them.

"You're gonna' need to walk." Johnny demanded, as he still held onto the ropes.

I peered up towards the steps as they haunted me endlessly.

"I can't..." I mumbled quietly.

But even my pleads had fallen on deaf ears, as they began lifting me roughly by the ropes. My feet stammered up the steps, but I sputtered out in pain. The ropes seemed to dig into my flesh, as they grew more constricting the more I lost balance, or struggled to keep up with them.

"Move it!" Randy barked; his spit hit at the nape of my neck.

I tried my best to throw my weight onto each step, but the pain rumbled it's way through my powerless body. Finally, I felt the last step reach me, as I breathed out a deep sigh of relief. I knew I would have been chucked back down, but at least I would have laid at the bottom of the steps in tranquillity. It was beginning to become second nature of mine to get thrown down the stairs and taken back up and thrown down again. As I wearily looked back down, I had noticed the rest of the audience gathering at the bottom. I felt like I was in a circus - expected to do tricks.

"Shove her hard!" I heard repeated voices declare.

It was weird to have looked down at all the faces I thought had liked me. Shirley and Marie; the girls whom had admired my dress sense. Paula; the girl whom had showed me around and made me feel at home. I heard Johnny's countdown as it seemed to be played slower in my head. Everything had seemed to stop moving; the Earth around me had halted. Everything in my vision was now slow motion. It was like I was taking pictures in my head and each frame gradually rose up to the exaggerated and rough push from Johnny's cold, trembling hands.

"3...2..."

"Just shove her!"

I made my best efforts to swallow, but my mouth was not even damp enough to spit. I wanted to rest, but didn't dare take the chance, as I felt the faintness coming on fast; my mouth going clammy, my damp palms bound by the rope. I felt a sudden sickening sensation throughout my body; a chill creeping up my spine. I fully understood that the cause of the sensation was my body suspended in space and time. One quick and numb shove had turned into an entire staircase I would have descended down, but luckily the descent went quicker that time.

I fell head first down the remainder of the stairs, landing in a miserable clump on the cold basement floor. Tranquillity never came that time, and more feet waded down the steps.

"Pick her back up - Randy take her over here!" I heard someone call out, as I felt a sudden hand lift me from the concrete.

Will this ever end? Even though it would have stopped that day, I would only have been faced with the daunting ordeal yet again the next day. It would truly never end. My ears could pick up the muffled and, what sounded like, distant footsteps echoing throughout my mind. I was so used to it all; it seemed normal. I was sure my tormentors felt exactly the same about it all. I was their secret toy that none of the adults knew about.

As the footsteps came as close as I could have made out, I heard the one name I thought I would have never heard.

"Darlene, over here!"

Shivers were sent through my body, and I couldn't have believed what I had heard. Surely Darlene wouldn't do this? My old friend. As I stood rigid - my legs numb from being forced to stand - I could only fathom that I had heard a different name, and not that of Darlene McGuires. But I was wrong. My eyes fixated on a certain thin, pale young girl nearing closer towards me.

"Sylvia..." The young girl spoke.

I was somewhat scared for her; a certain fear I also felt for Jenny. She etched closer towards me, and her face looked confused and dazed. Probably because it hadn't been that long ago when she had first saw me bright and healthy in her house. I missed those times...

"What happened to her?" Darlene stuttered. She was the only one who's face looked disgusted at the sight of what had been done to me.

"Mama kept her in the basement." Johnny blurted, somewhat proud of Gertie's actions.

"Why?"

"She's been sleepin' around with boys - she's pregnant too."

Lies - I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs for all to hear. I was sick of hearing those pathetic lies about me.

"That doesn't sound like the Sylvia I used to know..." Darlene muttered.

Out of nowhere, I felt my body being thrown back to the concrete floor. I gasped, as any breath I had contained was squeezed from my lungs.

"Johnny!" Darlene cried out.

"It's OK," he reassured, "trust me, she's had worse."

"You can burn her?" Marie asked, as she snatched a cigarette from Coy and handed it to Darlene.

Her head shook violently as if disgusted she had been asked to do it. Johnny spitefully glared at her.

"What - you chicken?" He accused, as he still loosely held out the burning cigarette.

Darlene gazed down at my trembling figure.

"It's fine." Shirley insisted, "mama said you can."

Darlene looked innocent enough. She didn't want to proceed, but she had no choice. She nervously grasped the cigarette from Johnny's hands as she began kneeling down beside me. My back arched as I braced myself for the aggravating pain that would have soared throughout my body. My eyes closed tight and I hoped to die right there; just to get it over with. My head began pounding with the anticipation. I didn't look - I couldn't; watching the cigarette being brought down upon my skin only made things worse. I squeezed my eyelids shut, as I began feeling the heat from the cigarette corrupt the skin on my arm. I felt the sudden need to scream - and with that, the cigarette was leached onto my skin like a virus taking over my whole body. I dug my nails into the ground and tried to distract myself from the agony that had consumed me. My teeth, yet again, had dug into my already severed lip. It was no use in trying to ignore it. I felt an ear wrenching scream escape and I felt my vision beginning to dim. The echoed voices of those around me seemed to become fainter and fainter, until...

I was alone in my own mind.

Tranquil, at last.

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