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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41. Leaving Reality

I had made out the surroundings again, as much as I didn't want to. I was kneeling almost; my legs to the side as my arms were tied up to a post. It was an uncomfortable position, but I felt the need to stay. Regaining consciousness, my mind slowly explored my battered body. No broken bones, and yet I had been sure an arm would have broken if I had stayed tied up any longer. My stomach seemed tender, filled by a deep, dull ache that threatened to turn into a burning agony should I have moved. Each bruise was tender; too tender to move, sore to touch and yet I had guessed that they would have been an almighty mess to look at.

The basement was empty and quiet; how I liked it, even though the silence sometimes made me feel mad. Usually I awoke at the bottom of the steps, though this time it had seemed someone had tied me up whilst I had been knocked out. Light still shone through the rectangular window, so I imagined it was still in the afternoon. I didn't know how long I had been passed out for.

My eyes were being tempted to close, but I soon noticed the basement door open. A tall, skinny figure ushered down the basement steps; the mimicking sounds of heels crushed all around me. Something seemed to cripple me - fear or being tied up - that was freezing every muscle of my body. The woman was nearing me, and yet all I could have tasted was the sweat dribbling down my forehead and into the corners of my mouth; reminding me of ice-cream on a hot day when it immediately turned into a race to lick it all before it ended up all over your hands. It gave me a bastion of warm comfort in a moment of primal terror; thinking about how Jenny and I used to buy two ice-creams, and swap over after each lick to see how they compared. However, the pungent odour of smoke that permeated the air was enough to draw me back from thoughts that could have almost made me smile.

I held my position tight, and my eyes gapped open, only slightly, to see Gertie kneeling in front of me; her face surveying my body with careful eyes, however no words were said. In one hand, she held a plate full of plain crackers and in the other, a cup of water. Clean I hope, though not that I cared too much. She crawled closer towards me, but it seemed my muscles still couldn't have helped but flinched at the sight of her.

"I have food for you, Sylvia." She declared, and she threw the plate down beside me.

Some of the crackers seemed to leap from the plate and break as they hit the concrete floor. Gertie calculated me, with an expecting expression as though she thought I could have easily wriggled free from the ropes with ease.

"You gonna' eat?" She asked; her eyes still scrutinising any move I made.

I had no energy or power to make it clear that I couldn't have moved my arms. And yet I also knew there would have been no point in eating anyway; that because of my dry throat, I would have only choked if I began eating. I had already been left without food for too long; it was too late. Couldn't she understand? Why did she suddenly care now if I was hungry?

"My mouth - it's - it's too dry." I stuttered; each word made each laboured breath difficult.

"Well, who's gonna' eat it then? I will not be havin' rats down here." She argued, as she straightened herself back to her menacing, lanky position.

I flinched once again, afraid she was going to kick me with her sharp heels. That was what always seemed to happen if I was unfortunate enough to be under her shoes.

I realised my body had been bruised, beaten and burnt to the point I couldn't move without something hurting. And yet, there were so many wounds - maybe even more than on the outside - that never showed on my body; wounds that were deeper and more hurtful than anything that bled.

"Just - just - give it to the dog. They're more hungrier than I am..." I whined quietly, as I rested my head back against the post.

I didn't care. I just wanted her to go away. I just wanted to sleep. That persistent growling in my stomach would have never disappeared, and yet after a while I hadn't felt as much. It was merely a reminder that I was going to starve to death very soon, and starving to death seemed better in a way; better to have no more marks imprinted on my skin. I didn't want to die; I kept thinking about how my parents would have found my body. I didn't want them to bury a body that was bruised, burnt and bloody; I didn't want to leave them with a memory so harsh.

The basement door slammed shut, and I soon began thinking about things. What if I never went to Darlene's house? I thought about it, and it immediately seemed simple; I wouldn't have met Paula. My daddy wouldn't have left us with Gertie. The payment would have never have been late. Jenny and I would have never have been paddled - and I would have never have been locked away from everyone. If I never did any of those things, I may have still had a life.

As much as I wanted to cry at my own depressed state, tears still wouldn't flood. The worst type of crying wasn't the kind everyone could see -- the wailing on street corners, the tearing at clothes. No - the worst kind happened when my soul wept and no matter what I did, there was no way to comfort it; a section withered and had become a scar on the part of my soul. That seemed like the worst type of crying.

________________

I felt as though I was in the golden zone; a place outside the physical world of space and time. A place where I felt I could look at the universe in front of me while the sunrise shined through the rectangular window, and warm air gently brushed against skin that had not felt it in such a while. My mind couldn't understand the logic of what was happening.

Am I going crazy? Are my eyes deceiving me?

I smelt the perfume; I felt the gentle hands. The room seemed calm. The basement, for once, seemed secluded. Then I saw it, two apparitions began to hover towards me. I was fearful at first, but my fear soon subsided - as I wearily looked up to see the people I had hoped to be reunited with.

"Don't worry, Cookie." I heard someone whisper through their caring voice, "...we're here."

I had found my dear mama and daddy looking down at me with care; their hands caressing my bruised cheek, as my arms were too tightly bound behind my back to feel them. No movement. No reason to scream. It was daddy alright; with his old, worn down top and his cuddly bear physique. I knew it was mama too; with her vanilla perfume wafting into my nostrils and her smile protruding across her rosy cheeks.

I couldn't explain it, but the way the room seemed to shift like nothing I had ever seen. The way my parents looked see-through, like some ghosts from the supernatural. I enjoyed seeing them. I wanted to shout; to scream for Jenny to come and join me but, alas, my voice was useless; I could have hardly mumbled a word anymore. The company of my parents seduced me into thinking that everything was going to be fine - that I had nothing to worry about.

My mama knelt down beside me; her soft hand laid upon my leg as she stared into my cold and frail soul.

"What happened to you?"

I tried my best to murmur through lips that had screamed so much.

"She...she...Gertie..." I whimpered; that was all that would come out.

My mama looked at me; confused at the sight of her daughter dazed and unwilling to live on.

"Gertrude?" Daddy murmured, crouching down beside my feet, "what did she do?"

I wanted to tell them - I needed to. Gertrude wasn't there; she was no where to be seen. No one would have known if I had told them. It would have been our secret.

"She did this...did it." I confessed; a confession that had taken me too long to speak. I felt the urge to cry through my beaten, black eyes.

"It'll be fine, Cookie." Daddy smiled, "we'll just go talk to her right now."

Hearing those words made me wish I was able to cry. But not from sadness - from happiness. I was finally getting out of there; I knew they wouldn't have left me there. I just wanted to hold them - to hug them. My arms thought otherwise as they were wrapped across my back. The pain in my body seemed derelict, as I could have only made out the pain searing through my arms from behind. I had admitted it to myself, that it was unusual that they were standing before me. But to see my parents again was like a gift from God - and I treasured every second of it.

My eyes opened once again, excited to the sweet sight of them waiting for me. However, strangely, they just glared. Their eyes had gone from worried and caring, to spiteful and unforgiving.

Similar to Gertrude...

"Mama?" I quietly whispered, but their eyes were still glued to my face; watching me and grinning.

I called out again, "MAMA!"

I hoped for a response; hoped for them to comfort me again, just like before.

My mama fixated on me; a devilish smirk arose on her lips where a smile had once laid.

"Wake up." She calmly spoke; her face still carved with a scowl that only resembled one woman.

I felt the room around me begin to, somehow, dissolve. I winced, as the pain that had, for the meantime, disappeared, was overpowering my body once again. I wanted to scream for God to just take me; to put me out of my misery.

"Daddy!" I shrieked again, but he just stared at me; mesmerising my discomfort.

"Why wont this bitch wake up?" He said, still gawking at me with beady, watchful eyes. The kind of glares that had sent shivers throughout my already freezing body.

I wanted to cry, as I felt my body seize with fear. My vision began to distort. To my devastation, mama's face began turning; morphing into, what looked like, Gertie - the same wrinkled face growled at my state.

I couldn't breathe.

I couldn't think.

The disturbing reality began hitting me - as daddy's face, also, began morphing into Coy. I felt the basement sink into a further darkness, as I felt every emotion and feeling I had felt when I was awake. The surroundings started to become apparent, as distant faces had begun glowing through the dimness. First Johnny, then Marie, and then Jenny. It had hit me.

Everything was, and had been, an hallucination.

I wasn't going to get saved - I never would. I felt the hope and happiness slowly slip away from my soul, as the basement was how it had been before; filled with onlookers tormenting my crippled state. Mama and daddy had disappeared. They were never there.

"Wake the hell up!" Gertie yelled, and her hand whipped across my already bruised cheek.

I felt nothing; only numbness from too many hits colliding with my body. However, I had gotten the message, as my eyes stretched open. Every slap, punch and burn became easier for take me to take; every beating I was given had begun to feel more painless. It was like I had become a toy for everyone to play with. No emotions, no feelings, and no awareness of the people around me; something a kid could beat up and throw away. That was what I had become, and I couldn't have helped thinking that it was what I would always be. I just wanted to know when I would be thrown away.

I imagined myself screaming in my mind, even though I wasn't. I couldn't. Coy knelt down, as I could just about make out a flicker of light aiming closer towards my arm. I wanted to flinch at the sight, but my body couldn't have moved. I was stuck. The light came closer and closer towards my damaged skin. A searing pain infuriated it's way across my arm, and I struggled the best I could to release the flame burning my skin. I howled through my croaky voice, but Coy's face rose into a smile. I tried my best to shriek as the burning blistered and scolded throughout my limb. I wriggled, hoping to shrug off the last painful leftovers it had left on me. My eyes expanded, as they focused on a raw, fresh burn implanted on my forearm. I wanted to weep at the sight, as I hadn't seen the wounds for a while. I was emaciated with them. Every bare patch of skin had been covered with something; a scratch, a burn or a bruise.

Gertie spat, as she lowered her fatigued face towards mine, "I know what'll wake you up."

I cringed at the sight of her wrinkled and washed down face. She crawled towards the post as I felt her nails dig sharply into my hands, undoing the tight ropes that had cut off any feeling I had once felt in my bony arms. Coy stood rigid behind her, like a bodyguard; his face was straight and emotionless. He seemed use to beating my fragile figure; it made him feel powerful, like it had with everybody else. Somehow hurting me, burning me, beating me, slapping me and scalding me made everybody feel good. I figured that was how it would have worked out. I was like the endorphin to everyone's sick minds.

________________

"Please, Gertie don't!" I howled.

I clung on tightly to her arms. She ignored my pleas, as she tried to lower me over the bath of scalding water. I had felt the searing steam bite at the flesh on my thighs. I tried to push back in retaliation but could feel myself slipping closer to the water. An unwanted shriek escaped my lips as I fell into the searing liquid. It seemed like a recurring moment; the instant memory that sparked in my mind from when I was forcibly dunked into the scalding water. The water that began to rip at my throbbing flesh, rupturing any life I had left in me. I thrashed around, surprised I had that much energy left.

"Paula, hold her under." Gertie demanded, and I felt tough hands force me under the water.

I violently kicked my legs around, hoping to catch her in the face. Every old and new wound was being burnt beyond what I thought I could have withstood, as I felt each nerve tear with no relief in sight. As I was under the water, my eyes glimpsed up to see the watery figures standing over me. I felt my mind empty, as I felt the surroundings leaving me. I felt the urge to let go; wanting release myself from the pain and distress. My movements had become weaker, as I felt my heart pump rapidly through my chest, struggling to keep up with the pain that no human could have endured. My eyes began to shut, as I had realised my thoughts had left me. I felt paralysed; I couldn't move. I hadn't even noticed I was still being held underwater. The light in the bathroom began to dim, as I finally felt my self become calm; at ease from everything. I felt...safe. I was in my own little world, where darkness surrounded every corner. I couldn't hear, couldn't see, couldn't move and couldn't think. I was a human that's punishment was to forever be a statue. But as long as I didn't feel anything, I was fine.

THUD. I felt my head smash into the side of the bath tub as I heard the rapid screeching of Gertie's voice.

BANG. Another slam into the side of the tub as I began to come around; my eyes hazily gazing up from my peaceful slumber.

CRACK. Yet another smash against the tub, as I felt my skull beginning to shatter. I let forth a cry. Why won't she stop, I screamed in my mind.

"Stop!" I pleaded, as loud as my voice could have handled.

"Get up!"

I felt my body float into mid air as I began getting dragged by my arms across the hallway; leaving a trail of water behind me.

"Where do you want her?"

She took a while to decide about my destination.

"Just chuck her on the bed, but tie her arms." She ordered.

For once, it seemed Coy was the one who had placed me down onto the mattress, as my arms were once again stretched out above me. The constricting ropes were again tightly bound around my wrists, as my arms were then suspended. They seemed tighter this time, and I was sure that Coy had been well aware it was. Before going, he quickly took a last glance at me, and a malicious grin appeared on his face. He seemed happy with his rope tying, as his eyes seemed transfixed; capturing a memory for him to take home and brag about to his friends. He stood back to his feet and began walking out of the bedroom, leaving the door open. I heard the muffled, and distant voices of those outside.

"Wanna' drink?" I heard Coy's voice say. It was followed by a reply that I hadn't been able to make out.

It was worse when the door was open. It didn't feel as tranquil as it had been before. I could hear everyone's conversations; everybody enjoying their lives. It seemed to sink me into a deeper depression than I had already found myself in. For as long as I would have been in the bedroom, I had to relish in the chance of finally sleeping on soft bedding in a warm, heated room with no one bothering me. There was no basement door which echoed when it rattled open. There was no urine left upon the concrete floor that I had been forced to sleep in. There was no chance I would have been beaten in the bedroom. I was safer in there than I was down in the basement. I could hear myself scream down there and yet, others could not...

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