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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59. "I'll Tell You Everything"

It towered over me.

3850.

How the house once stood. The paint was weathered and peeling off in spots, and the shutters on the upstairs windows were mostly broken out. The sun, high in the sky, seemed to illuminate the upstairs rooms, as though making the two windows facing me look like dime red eyes glaring out. It haunted me; towering over my body who stood, as I looked up at the house that had showed me no mercy. I remembered; "there was something I had to do, somewhere I was meant to be". But I was soon led to the same door.

I was afraid.

I knew that if I went in there, I may have never came out again.

I knew I had to find the courage to follow through. The door, with an eerily familiar creak, opened slowly, as I began to hear the faint whispers of the dead. I wanted to follow them, to find a way out. But I knew I had to go back into the house to release myself. My feet stumbled up the steps, as the same anxious feeling tore away at me from the inside. Each foot came in front of the other; a steady rhythm, like a heart keeping a constant beat. My right foot was first to step into the living room that had been engulfed in a darkness. Suddenly, before my left foot could follow, I felt my body jolting forwards, as though someone had shoved me, but I knew from before that it couldn't have been. I felt my heart skipping; the similar feeling I had felt each time my foot left the basement steps. I was falling; falling into an unknown darkness that I hadn't been able to see.

The sensation, as quickly as it had began, had stopped. I felt as though I was suspended, staring up at the ceiling on my back and yet I felt myself floating; floating down like a rock that had just been thrown into the endless currents of the sea. I was suffocating in darkness, as I felt my back finally make contact with the cool, concrete floor beneath me. There was no pain, no weakness, and yet I knew where I was - the basement. The empty room was how it always had been, but I was not that girl lying vulnerable in the basement - I had to realise that.

I stood up, and my feet slowly began to guide me to the basement stairs. The lighting was dim; the musky, sharp scent of faeces that nipped at my nose each time I inhaled. My hand reached out, coming into contact with the splinter-infested banister of the steps; steps that I had pleaded to reach for when falling into the darkness, and yet I had never been able to reach them. Each step groaned underneath my feet, and each memory from a haunting past flickered in my mind the further I got.

It was one more step until I would reach the basement door, and yet before my hand could have pushed against it, it had already begun to open; slowly and hauntingly, as though it had sensed my presence. I didn't want to breathe in the putrid air around me, and yet I had to, so I could ease my worries. Gertrude couldn't hurt me. Not now.

I made it to the last step; each foot stumbling over the other as they creaked against the wooden floorboards. The living room was light; rays of the sun beaming in through the windows, as well as the certain, unusual light filtering the room, as it lit up the area around me in a spectrum of blue and red. The muffled echo from sirens belted from the street outside, and the panicked footsteps pounded in the rooms upstairs.

"Mama!" A young girl's voice shouted in urgency from the top of the stairs, "- it's the police!"

My eyes looked up to see Marie, and her eyes were not their usual cheerful expression. Instead, the young girl, for the first time, looked scared.

"You remember what I said, Marie - if they ask you anythin' you say Sylvia ran away!" The haggard voice of a woman ordered Marie; panic in the woman's voice, "go let them in, Marie - you let them!"

The young girl sprinted down the stairs; her tiny frame running towards the door as she opened it carefully. The sight of an awaiting police officer stood, awkwardly gazing down to the young girl that looked up at him. The officer smiled kindly; it was clear to see he thought of Marie as innocent.

"Oh, thank you so much!" The sudden voice shifted the atmosphere back into panic, as the woman stumbled down the stairs, cradling her head in her hands and weeping softly.

The woman was Gertrude, though funnily enough, not a cigarette in sight.

"Where is the girl, Ma'am?" The officer asked sternly.

The sight of Gertrude made the anger in me boil. I had never hated anyone when I was alive, and yet in that moment...hate was all I had.

"Up here, officer - oh Jesus, the girl is up here!" Gertrude cried. I had to give it to her, her acting was phenomenal.

The officer hurried behind Gertrude, Marie following, as they all piled up the small staircase at once. I didn't understand why they were so eager to witness my dead body. I followed them quickly, before another policeman could have beaten me to it. The scene wasn't as hectic as it had been before, in fact there was no tears or screaming. I came to the same empty room as before, and the familiar sight of a body laid on a mattress halted me in my steps. I had accepted I was gone, but craved justice.

The officer knelt down beside my body. I felt embarrassed with such an older man seeing the state I had been left in. The children were huddled in a group in the corner, but no words were exchanged. The man in uniform put a hand to his mouth, and did not say a word in the silence of the room. You would think with all the horrifying crime scenes police officers have to deal with every day, that my body wouldn't have came close to causing an officer to turn speechless. But he didn't say a word.

He finally stood back to his feet. Gertrude watched him with careful, beady eyes; ready to give a logical answer to any question.

"What happened?" The man in uniform questioned, as he began retrieving a notepad and pen from his coat pocket.

Another officer entered the room, with the same horrified expression and the same voice unable to speak a word. Gertrude was trying hard to force tears from her eyes, but she was a monster; infinite, faceless. She couldn't have cried a real tear, not like I had done so many times.

"Well, what can I say officer?" She stuttered; her words jumbling as she went, "...she just ran in the yard -"

"- In this state?"

Gertrude breathed out deeply, "a horrible state, Sir. I didn't know what to do you see, we just laid her on the mattress, patted her down with a wet towel."

The words she was saying were all lies, though it brought a strange amusement to my ears at the thought that she still hadn't given up her relentless weaves of fabricated stories. My soul pleaded for a wish from the dead, that the officer would see past Gertrude's mask.

The officer turned to his colleague, "call for some backup."

I could have seen the worry strangling Gertrude as she heard those words.

"You know the girl?" The officer persisted his questions, as his colleague steadily made his way out of the room.

Gertrude nodded slowly, "her parents left her with me - they work with a carnival, you see."

She had no right to speak about my parents. She didn't see the goodness in people like my parents did.

"What was the girls name?"

'Was' - a simple word. Even though I had already accepted it, it hurt me to hear it.

Gertrude stared blankly ahead at the officer's face. She was in no hurry to speak my name, and I hoped it haunted her; I wanted my name to haunt her in every waking moment.

"Her name, mama?" Stephanie called out; she could see her mama drifting.

Gertrude cleared her throat, "...Sylvia, officer. Sylvia Likens."

The name scorched at my murderers like a burning needle; it rekindled memories and moments. My torturers could feed off an entire memory for ages; it was something to look back at with discipline, and a way to comfort themselves if ever they felt mad. It gave them the same recurring satisfaction.

The officer wrote away in the notepad, crossing out a few things before writing something over it.

"She, Sylvia, gave me a note, officer..." Gertrude insisted, and the officer looked up slowly.

The note that I had been forced to write had successfully made it to Gertrude's final plan, apart from she didn't have the chance to dump me some place. The note, beginning with 'To Mr and Mrs Likens', was written in a moment in the final week of my life; a moment where weakness overpowered me, and I gave in. But I was still there, and Gertrude would never realise that I wasn't the dead girl she had left me to be.

"A note?" The officer repeated, and I could sense the doubt in his voice.

Gertrude nodded frantically, reaching into her cardigan pocket as she pulled out a folded piece of paper. The officer maintained a curious moment of eye contact with her, and he carefully took the letter in his hand. Gertrude began to feel safe. She knew she had the note, and the witnesses to tell the police what she had planned. She took comfort in the thought that the police wouldn't look at her.

"She had this in her hand when she came in - I read through it but I just -"

"- - Ma'am?" The officer interrupted.

My heartbeat struggled to remain steady, with the hopes that he would see past the frail woman so many had fallen for. Gertrude's eyes widened as much as mine had, including the children who watched silently.

She was reluctant in replying, "...yes, Sir?"

The officer's eyes skimmed through the words, "...it says here she went off with a gang of boys?"

Gertrude's shoulders fell slightly, as though relieved.

"Oh, yes it does, officer -"

"- So did you not keep an eye on the child?" The officer made a point of interrupting once again.

The man was doubtful, and yet I was hopeful; I could see him tempted to question her on the story she was telling him. He didn't believe it, I could see behind those eyes of power and experience.

"Well, officer, that child was a loose cannon - I couldn't control her -"

"- Whether your child or not, she was under your supervision."

Gertrude's eyes settled to the floor, succumbing to the words of a man that intimidated her like she had done with me so many times.

"- She was real bad, Sir..." A voice appeared from behind us, and the smug, manipulative face of Paula looked on.

And yet before the officer could have focused his attention on the girl, a sudden voice screamed from the doorway.

"Oh my god..."

The eyes in the room darted to the culprit, and I followed; my eyes scanning the room until they settled on a young girl standing at the door.

Jenny.

My little sister stood with a face that had lost a battle; perfect tears hanging onto her cheeks as she stared ahead, with the sight of her older sister laying motionless on a dirty mattress. She didn't speak, she couldn't. I wished I could have yelled, and for her to have somehow heard me. She needed to know I was safe, and that I wasn't trapped in the body laying in the middle of the floor.

"Jenny, oh..." Gertrude began a pathetic attempt at comforting Jenny, before facing the officer, "- oh, she was Sylvia's sister..."

Gertrude didn't realise that Jenny is still my sister, and always will be. She also didn't realise the love a sister could have for her sister.

"Syl...Sylvia..." Jenny whimpered; her voice calling my name made me want to respond, but I couldn't.

I was in the 'in-between'; a place where I was between Heaven and Earth, and a place where I was still reminded of the life I had been neglected.

"Jenny?" Paula stepped out of the group; an act of kindness, as a way of hiding her true identity. She, too, was faceless; able to shift into a different personality if needed.

"Sylvia..." Jenny cried out again; a whispered cry. We had both cried far too many tears for it to have felt meaningful. And as Jenny stared ahead, she had not realised one of my murderers walking towards her, lending out a hand as Paula placed it on her shoulder.

Jenny suddenly nudged Paula's hand away. I had watched my little sister cry so often when I was on Earth in my last few weeks, and yet as I saw her standing up to Paula, I felt a love that no one, not even Gertrude, could have stolen away.

"Jenny..." Paula spoke quietly; a violent twitch in her eye as though tempted to raise a hand, though careful not to in front of the officer, "...if you want to live with us, Jenny, we can treat you like our own sister?"

Jenny's eyes drove daggers into Paula's heart, as did mine. It was an offer that sent an unnerving chill racing down my spine, and an offer that wrestled with the person Paula had been whilst Jenny and I had lived with her. She was vile, revolting; a human born into a family of hate and neglect, as it seemed with the other children. Jenny focused her eyes away from the family that once terrified her every thought, and away from my body that laid behind Gertrude's feet, and rather stared up at the man in uniform. She spoke one sentence, and did not flinch or worry. She said it as a last answer to my prayer.

She stepped forwards, and said, "...get me out of here, and I'll tell you everything..."

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