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.


44. Planning An Escape

I had decided to take refuge on the old mattress that had been laid out before me, instead of cowering on the concrete floor. I had been lying there for the past 4 hours. 2 hours of that time was spent sleeping, which I had been surprised about. The other time was spent gazing at the ceiling of the basement. The sun's bright rays that sneaked through the window were enough to tell me it was morning. Though somehow it felt like no time had past. The lightness from the hallway enchanted only part of the basement into a flicker of light for the first time in a long time. It had seemed someone had left the basement door peeking slightly open. I watched it. It couldn't have been Gertie; she was far too concerned about me escaping. Paula, maybe? Though she had still been furious with my rejection to her offer of escaping. Marie, Shirley? Frankly, I didn't know who could have been that stupid to have left the door open. Could it have been Jenny trying to help me escape? Whoever had left the door unlocked, it sparked an idea.

I didn't hear anybody in the living room. Maybe it was time? Maybe I could...get Jenny and we could run for it? A daft plan that was more than likely to go wrong, and yet I had to try. I slowly rose into a seated position on the mattress; my eyes hazily focused on the distant light calling my name once in a while. The palm of my hands dug deep into the floor, heaving myself up to a stable position. Walking was only supposed to be a challenge for a toddler, not for a 16 year old girl. My eyes carefully monitored the top of the stairs. I fell onto my knees, grazing them though not making a difference to how they were before. I clutched my skinny arm tightly to my chest. I had lost weight; far too much weight. My skin hung from me like I was only stick and bone holding it together.

I carried on, clawing at the only stabilisation I could have found. The concrete wall was in my reach; my nails chipping away at the worn down wall as my feet fumbled to stand up. My breathing was short and quick. My mind was committed to reaching the light. My ankles struggled to hold a stance; shaking violently as though they would have crumbled under my weight. It didn't bother me - not anymore. I didn't care about the pain battering through my soul. It had been far too long for me to have cared.

I arose; my legs shaking uncontrollably. I felt like a triumphant warrior making it out of a battle, even though I knew I hadn't escaped it yet. My bare feet dragged, one by one a step closer to the bottom step on which I had been pushed down far too many times. It seemed extraordinary at how well a human body could have adapted to any surrounding or environment; even one as chilling as the basement, in which I had grown accustom to. My feet dragged like a bear struggling to keep itself up right. My hands were tracing the wall beside me, keeping me up for any balance I needed if I was ever going to get to the top.

Step, breathe, step, breathe, step, breathe.

Careful co-ordination seemed necessary, though my mind was far too frazzled to even think about what I was doing. After a supposedly short distance to the stairs, I paused. I stared up towards the light of the hallway as though it was heaven beating down on me. It seemed Gertie and her children were growing more and more exhausted of having to make sure I didn't do this or that, like a child too bored to care for a puppy they had only recently gotten.

My feet began stepping up the treacherous mountain, however known only to everyone else as the stairs. I bleated out as my weight crushed down with the first step. I held a stern face; a Sergeant refusing to laugh. I had let go of the wall beside me, roughly falling onto the steps on all fours. I began crawling, as though rock-climbing with no harness. My nimble, bent and broken fingers struggled to grip onto the edge of each step. I crawled up; tripping up here and there through no fault of my own. The stairs were faulty, you see; some steps were breaking off, seemingly from how many times someone had fallen from them - or been pushed off them...

The light began to become more apparent; my pupils dilated with the blinding of the light enchanting my vision with a blessed few seconds of spiralling colours. My hands clutched and my foot etched itself over the very last step. I had made it. It was an achievement in itself, considering my state.

The eerie silence of the basement seemed to disappear, as the light I was heading towards was unfortunately filled with the voices of Gertrude, Coy and Ricky. I could tell that the rest of the children had lounged in the living room as always, even if I couldn't have heard them. I summoned the strength to haul myself to my feet, wobbling as though I was on a thin beam of platform about to snap. I limped my way from the basement door, hobbling like an old woman struggling to understand what was around her. I was determined not to make a noise. If anything, it would have alerted Gertie - but the floorboards underneath me in the hallway were creaky. Some of them were even stained with old blood that had been left, which Gertie had obviously forgotten to clean up. The sounds and tones of those talking forced me against the wall - as though a spider clutching on with eager hands. I was frightened; afraid someone would have walked down the stairs to have found me awkwardly avoiding being seen.

"Marie, give it back!" I heard Shirley scream.


From what I could have heard, most were there. Paula, Coy, Johnny, Marie, Shirley...

Jenny; poor Jenny.

It seemed I had arrived just in time to have heard my name being dragged through the mud.

"What are we doin' about Sylvia, mama?" Paula questioned.

"I've been meanin' to talk to you about that, Johnny."

Johnny? Why would he have anything to do with me?

Gertrude continued, "- I can't have that girl appearin' when she likes when I have guests over."

"What do you want us to do?" Johnny argued, as though Gertrude's words were hypnotising him; making him hold on to each letter pronounced from her wrinkled, sour mouth.

I was paralysed to hear what her plan would have been. What more could they do to me?

"That girl needs to be gone - I don't want her in this house no more." She nodded along with her words, as if to remind herself it had to be done.

I felt a chill shudder my whole body; clenching my jaw and bawling my fists with the only strength I could have summoned out of me.

"Well - what should we do to her?"

"I don't know when -" Gertrude paused, slowing down her words carefully for the younger ones to have understood, "...but soon I want you and Jenny to take that girl some place. As far as you can get her."

She couldn't have said what I had thought she had said?


The heads of those around quickly peered over to where I was standing. I was furious that I had let myself get caught like that, as I began to hear the heels of shoes pounding over to where I was. I released myself from the wall and stood as upright as I could, before Gertie's grimaced face peered around to where I had stood. Her face was not angry, sad or upset. She just looked at me, as though the bruises and scars on my skin suggested nothing had happened. I didn't make a squeak, and yet Gertie had seen how reluctant I was to speak.

"I'll get you some food." She said, lightly clutching my wrist as she led me out in front of the children.

She sat me down on the couch, as the light from the lamp refracted into my eyes. Gertie hurried away into the kitchen, as the children all kept their eyes glued to me; somewhat worried I would have done something suspicious. My legs hung over the couch; my toes only slightly reaching the floor underneath me as they seemed to sway from side to side - along with my head. As the shoes dragged their way back into the living room, Gertie had reappeared, grasping a plate of burnt toast in her right hand. She walked over, thudding the plate of crispy mess in front of me. I was hungry, to say the least. But the sore, irritation in my throat just wouldn't have allowed me to swallow. I knew that, as Gertie bellowed over me.

"I ain't got all day." She huffed, itching at her wrist with her nails.

"I - I can't eat it." I admitted; the same words I had spoken when Gertrude had brought me down crackers. It was dry, what part of that didn't she understand?

She threw her head back in exhaustion, "what d'you mean you can't eat it?"

My mouth was numb, and the look on Gertie's face suggested she was ready to lash out. I gulped slightly, struggling to keep down my own saliva.

"It's too -" I forced what little voice I had left, "...I can't swallow..." I whispered, but Gertie's eyes seemed to darken with rage.

"So, I do this for you and you won't even try it?" She demanded.

"I...I can't..."

"I don't care, Sylvia. I really don't." She muttered, reaching her arm behind her as she revealed a long, thin wooden rod.

I flinched - as though flinching would have prevented it - but her strong hands had already clasped onto the object. Before I could have even processed the rod speeding towards me, it had already lashed into my mouth as quick as anything, as I found my mouth searing with unfathomable pain. My blood-blushed cheeks grew pale, as I concealed a gasp at the brute force. Gertrude tripped back, dropping the curtain rod; the red rubies dripping from the corner of my mouth.

"I need my medicine." She whined, storming off towards the coffee table.

I had thought while sitting there - my mouth bleeding onto the floor - that it was my chance. The door was right there. I could see it in sight. If I didn't try then, I would never try. My eyes fixated on the door, only slightly noticing Gertie in the corner of my eye, gulping down that bottle of medicine. Gertrude was going to dump me some place; I wasn't going to see my family again. She was going to dump me in the dirt and mud, hidden away and left to collapse by the side of the road like a dead animal. I have a chance, I screamed in my head, run - get up and run!

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