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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46. Letting Go Of Memories

Some days were best left forgotten.

At least that was what I had always been told by my daddy. The hilarious thing was, I had actually forgotten what had happened the day before. Not on purpose, I just hadn't remembered anything.

I supposed, lying there in the darkness on my back, that I was dead - I was sure of it. That was, however, until the basement door lit up with a second round of footsteps and voices. It was the next day - morning, I thought. It was warm, but I was only cold; tired, similar to a walking soul wishing to escape from it's dead body. I had forgotten what had happened; the incident of me trying to run, the incident of being dragged to the basement and the incident of me being beaten. I had fell into a sleep; a long sleep at that. As I laid, waiting for the rounds of footsteps to reach me, I began to wonder why it was taking me so long to die; why my body was trying so hard to hold on, when my mind only wanted to let go.

My eyes gaped open, seeing the alarming, blurred figures of those looking down at me. I coughed, choking on the bloody discharge deep within my throat and the metallic taste that seemed imprinted on my tongue. I blinked - then again, and again. My vision was bad; it felt as though I was in a vivid dream. I was so hungry - food just didn't seem real anymore; it felt like I had never tasted food in my life. Gertie had made sure of that. Those blue eyes that made her seem calculating; vicious. She wasn't a person who would have been taken lightly.

I was shrivelling into a spec of dust. My pale complexion made it clear to all those around me that I was feeling ill. I was no longer crippled with fear. The agonising feeling of being ganged up on was something I was commonly used to; the way so many people could make one person feel like nothing. I stuttered quietly at first, not even realising I was speaking. Who are they? My subconscious was at it again. Who am I? My mind was slow; messed up beyond control that I no longer took command of what I wanted to say. The hazy images in front of me began to distort. They split into two images, and then back to one. Stay where you are, it's rude to move around when someone is talking, I thought.

"You're - you're..." I mumbled, reaching my weak, bony arm up to the woman who held her hands on her hips, "...you're Gertie..."

The way she had changed shape and had appeared smaller or larger, depending on how I had looked at it. I was confused; confused about who was standing in front of me, and confused about why I was feeling the way I was. I just didn't understand anything anymore.

"And... and - you're... Ricky..." I once again uttered.

"Shut it, you know who we are." Gertie growled, as she heaved up from her knees and stood; bellowing over.

I drooped my arm beside me; my head dragging behind as it took immense strength to keep it upright. It was like a weight was continuously crushing me, only tempting the idea for my body to fall and to allow my head to follow with it.

"Ricky, Johnny, whoever else I don't care; take Sylvia up for a bath."

I was tempted to resist, as the word 'bath' only symbolised an excruciating few minutes in a scalding tub of water. Oh, how I longed for a warm bath; bubbles and soap, maybe? As I laid sprawled on the floor, I felt the hands grappling onto my arm; tightly manoeuvring me to my feet as I shook with difficulty. It wouldn't work - and Ricky noticed that, as he gave out an exasperated sigh.

I heard the rapping on the front door, followed by the alarmed, frantic ringing of the door bell. Gertie watched me, then glared over to Ricky.

"Leave her for now." She insisted. I felt a rush of reassurance.

Ricky gave a sly nod, standing up from his position. Gertrude glanced at me one last time, before beginning to trek back up the steps to the awaiting visitor at the door. Ricky also took a last look at me, before emotionlessly turning away. However, Johnny stood over me; smirking, with his head tilted to the side.

"Shame..." He sighed, and I felt his fist smash hard into my arm.

The pain ignited, only for a second, before I successfully enclosed myself away from the pain. I heard the footsteps become fainter and fainter, until the basement door echoed shut. I fell to the ground, as my arms hugged the concrete floor beneath; my cheek pressed up against it. The coldness nipped at me, though I didn't care. I listened out to the world passing me by. I want to learn how to drive, my mind thought. My mind responded, well you won't be able to - you're going to die. I never understood why my mind had to be so mean.

Of course, I knew I wouldn't have escaped. So the next best thing was for me to finally be at peace. For one hit, burn, or scalding bath to finally kill me. If only it would happen...

If only.

________________

The slight smell of cigarettes pinched at my nose, though it wasn't unusual to smell it.

"She looks real bad." Came a voice.

My eyes - like little slits - began to peel open, as though I had been asleep for a thousand years and only just began awaking from the induced coma.

"She ain't no fun anymore."

I was hoping at by the sound of their disappointment they would have left me in peace. Though that wasn't what they had on their mind.

"Go on, then - burn her." Randy exclaimed, grasping a cola glass in his hand and watching intently.

Coy shook his head, "too old..."

Shirley quickly stood forwards, looking innocent as can be. Nothing was innocent about what she wanted to do.

"Can I have a go?" She pleaded.

Coy gave a quick jerk with his head, before inhaling the last breath from his cigarette.

"Give it then." She argued, tugging at the cigarette from his fingers.

Shirley pounced forwards, skipping slightly towards me as though I was a broken doll in which the kids had just started to take interest again. Maybe Johnny's gun had broken, I thought - I must be second best. Marie was soon to jump at the chance, as she claimed the newly lit cigarette from Coy. I laid; too cold and too exhausted to even react anymore. I knew that an unimaginable scream would have soon escaped from my lips, whether I wanted it to or not.

Both of them etched closer towards me, kneeling down to my battered body as my nails dug deep and hard into the floor, though surprisingly not making a dent. I was awaiting an eruption of burning, as I inhaled the smoke that was coming far too close to me. The heat was merciless.

"Just do it!" Johnny insisted, but the girls both seemed to count down from 5.

Both watched each other, as though to see who was bravest to go first.

"4...3..." They began to count together.

I squeezed my eyelids shut, as they quivered with anxiety. My teeth gnawed onto my bottom lip, making the severed cut already deeper than it had been.

"2...."

Then I waited; the dreaded countdown coming to an end.

I waited...

The unbearable heat on both my leg and my arm began wrapping and twisting itself around my body; forcing me to squirm into a tight ball to escape the ever inflicting pain. The heat had taken advantage of me, coursing itself through my veins as I pleaded for the cigarettes to be taken away. I wailed and cried, and Marie finally signalled with her head to release the cigarette from my skin. Shirley gazed down, as well as Marie, and both sisters finally stood up from their torturous game.

More scars that had blemished my skin.

"See who can make her cry!"

"We've already done that..."

"See who can..."

"- See who can knock her out first!" Marie chimed in.

As the vote was being decided, newly arrived footsteps began padding down the wooden staircase. Someone's feet, whomever is was, was dragging lazily across the floor.

"Randy..." Came the voice from beyond the audience; Paula, to be exact, "...your mama's here."

Randy gave an annoyed sigh, angry that he was going to miss out on the fun. I watched as one blurry figure began walking away.

"I'll see you later, guys." He said, before running up the basement staircase.

I was thankful that someone had left the gang, though someone had been quick to take the place. Paula stood with the others, only peering down at me for a few seconds. Johnny paraded over to me; not giving me a second thought as suddenly, his fist thumped hard into the side of my head. I felt the constant throbbing, yet my mind had focused on something else - a peculiar ringing echoing in my ears.

"Think I'd win that game!" He jeered.

"- Mama wants to know when you wanna' eat." Paula called, interrupting Johnny's triumphant moment of glory.

"We're busy." Coy grumbled, furiously flicking at his lighter.

You're not a part of the family, I angrily muttered silently.

"I didn't mean you, idiot." Paula argued; she knew how to put someone in their place, "Stephanie, please tell your boyfriend he has to leave."

"You're so full of crap, Paula - Coy's just a part of this family as Bradley is." Stephanie reassured, as she gently grasped his shoulders.

Bradley, I repeated the name to myself under my breath - such a harsh man.

"...You know what, maybe if you actually helped around here, Coy." Paula insisted, "- in fact, mama needs Sylvia tied up, I can't get her up myself - unless that's too difficult for you?"

"Oh, so now you need my help?" Coy snarled; aggression in his voice, and yet a playfulness to it as well. He liked to wind people up; all the way up until that person would snap.

"Just shut up and grab her arms."

The awakening alarms of violent hands tugging me to my feet had been enough to shake me. Paula grabbed one arm, while Coy had grabbed the other. Stephanie and the rest of the children gathered it was time to leave, as they all travelled back up the staircase that seemed to creak more often. I was forcibly heaved onto my feet as my head spun; deafening out what was going on around me. Coy tugged my arm up, leaving me half hanging from Paula's weak grasp. And I thought Paula was a strong one, I thought to myself.

"What's Gertie plannin' on doin'?" Coy questioned, as I was lifted slightly off the ground.

Coy didn't continue with the conversation, however I could tell he was talking about me. I was fully upright, as though standing; something which I hadn't done in a while. Funnily enough, I had seemed to forgotten that the two limbs holding me up were meant to carry me places.

"Those ropes hangin' down there," Paula weakly pointed with one hand that was free, "...take her there."

Coy obeyed the orders and began forcing me to two ropes hanging from the ceiling; the ropes that Johnny had put up once, hoping to hang me there one day. My feet slightly dragged across the concrete, as my head drooped down between the two people shoving me; a game of tug of war seemed imminent at times, as Coy would momentarily pull me closer to him, whilst Paula would then yank me back to her.

"Grab her hand and slot it through that rope." Paula instructed.

Coy roughly heaved my arm over head, sliding my hand through the rope as one half of me was levitated off the floor. For the first time, I imagined, Coy stood quietly and listened. He tightened the rope, as it squeezed around my wrists; the feeling of my shoulder blades burnt with pain.

Paula heaved my other arm through the loop, constricting them around my wrists so I wouldn't have been able to slip through. I was fully elevated from the ground; the tips of my toes barely touching the floor as I swayed slightly from side to side. My arms forced to withstand the excruciating pain, as I suspended from two thick ropes a few feet from the ground. An unusual thing to say, and yet I couldn't have helped but thought about what Jesus Christ would have felt on that cross; hanging there, beaten and scarred, and yet so defiant and strong.

"Do you think that'll hold her?" Paula questioned.

Coy gave a slight scoff, as he crossed his arms over one another, "- I'd be damned if it doesn't."

They watched me for a while, inspecting the ropes to see if it would have held. Finally they both began wandering up the crooked staircase soon after. They left me, hanging with a slight breeze that only worsened the chills running up my spine. It made me sad, it always made me sad - hearing everyone's lives moving forwards while mine was at a constant stand still. My old teachers at Arsenal Tech hadn't even blinked an eye as to why I hadn't shown up for weeks. The Reverent hadn't realised the truth. My parents had worked hard to try and support our family, though not realising I had been imprisoned by a woman they had put their trust in. What did I ever do to deserve it? I had never hurt anyone, or meant to for that matter.

I had been a normal teenage girl; gossiping, reading magazines about The Beatles and singing along to some of their songs with Stephanie. Hanging there in the morbidly dark basement gave me time to think, though not at all pleasant. It was hard to blurt out the pain. It was also hard not knowing when I would have been let down. That was the horrible thing; being strung up like some piece of clothing. The burning in my arms had lengthened all the way to my legs as they dangled, crying out to touch the ground. I didn't make a noise; my head hung low, as though I was ashamed, though for whatever reason was beyond me. The light from the window was dimming now, as though the sun was leaving me there - just like everybody else had. My eyes were still dry and emotionless - or that was what many thought when they saw me.

______________

The sharp pain surged through my shoulders. I refused to give it the satisfaction of succumbing to the pain. My toes begged, pleaded, to touch the floor, but they merely hovered over it; taunting me. Thoughts mashed into one, and none were sufficient to make sense.

A thousand stars in the sky... my mind began to sing hopelessly. Quick burning seconds of memories ignited, and made me forget the pain, even for a moment. I remembered sitting with Stephanie, after being pressured into singing to her. The song hadn't disappeared, even though other memories had. The perfect song on a date, I thought pathetically. I no longer begged for the release from pain, but rather begged that I could sing again; that I could speak freely with no sensation of swallowing glass. I wanted to sing so badly.

Every night I hope and pray, and dream lover will come my way...

I heard the distant record echo throughout the basement, and the wading footsteps joined shortly after. I hoped they would have left the door open, so I could have heard the music; so I could have felt more human, I guess.

"She ain't always tied up." Coy's monotone voice broke the once serenity of the music.

Go on, do what you came to do.

"I've seen her a couple times around - she been down here long?" Another voice joined the once deserved silence, and it was a voice that didn't register with anyone in particular.

I squinted my eyes; the vision was blurry, but I had made out another boy standing in front of me. The face matched with a boy I had seen in the house a while back; Mike Monroe. With curious eyes, and Coy's hand on his shoulder, he looked at me, and I wearily looked back.

"Lost track of the time." Coy muttered, taking a cigarette from behind his ear and placing it between his lips.

"...I heard the rumours she was spreadin'..." Mike said, but his eyes were transfixed. He...didn't have the same look in his eyes as Coy did.

Coy scoffed, and began lighting the cigarette with a match. A spiral of smoke enchanted the basement as quickly as he had lit it, and the smoke always found a way at seeping through my closed mouth.

He leaned in a little closer, as though trying to look me in the eyes.

"I bet she wants some water." He smirked, as he exhaled smoke into my face.

I allowed my nostrils to breathe in the poison. It didn't matter anymore.

"Doesn't it...freak you out...havin' her down here all the time?" Mike asked quietly. It was clear to see he was far seclusive than Coy.

Coy rolled his eyes, "it's not like I live here. I feel sorry for Gertie..."

His words brought amusement to my ears. Gertrude didn't deserve the sympathy the kids gave her. They seemingly thought the same about me.

"How come?"

"- Man, you've seen her round the house." Coy insisted, "she looks like a zombie."

Coy's words were funny to listen to; Gertie wasn't like a zombie when she was hitting me over the head with a broom. Most things seemed to go ignored in that house. People hated to face up to the facts; to real life. It seemed everyone was in their own world of make believe.

Mike leaned his head closer, with his eyes fixated on the burns imprinted on my belly. I was past caring about the scars; they were a part of me, for now.

"That must have killed!" He exclaimed, staring in awe, and with a finger close to touching it, Coy quickly pulled him back.

"So that's why she screams so damn much?" Coy questioned sarcastically, laughing in the face of what was right.

Mike shook his head, and stepped away slightly, "come on, let's go."

Coy shrugged his shoulders and glared, "what - you scared?" He taunted, and shoved him against the shoulder.

Mike shot him a glower, "- it stinks like shit down here, I don't wanna' throw up."

Coy looked at him, and then he looked back at me.

"Go on then." He murmured.

"- Go on what?" Mike repeated.

Coy began heaving himself back to the stairs, "buy me a can at the liquor store."

The liquor store reminded me of being there with Paula, and the first time she was so eager to introduce me to Bradley. It was strange to think how things had changed so quickly.

They both turned away, and began leaving the basement. Coy was without hesitation, and yet Mike looked back at me before taking the first step. In that one look, he seemed confused; desperate to know what to do. How do you face a situation like that? He finally turned away, and followed quickly after Coy. Much to my despair, the basement door closed, and Bobby Darin's voice no longer lulled me into a sweet sleep.

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