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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31. The Picnic

It was the day of the picnic in which I had been asked to go by Benny. Nerves seemed to hypnotise my stomach in dancing spirals; they were the type of nerves that felt good, however sickly. I brushed my hair through, admiring the curls that seemed to flick around lively.

I gazed at myself through the mirror reflection, and the persistent memory of what had happened the day before had already reminded me that it was all too real. Placing on a floral blouse with a pleated skirt, I began to think to myself - overdressed? Possibly. Though, in my eyes, being overdressed was far better than not making an effort at all. I tiptoed out of the doorway, trying my best to cover the slight heels on my shoes. I ventured slowly down the stairs, pinning my dress down tightly - somehow thinking it would have flown up.

My eyes had soon met with Gertie and the children. She leaned against the couch, and the rest of the children stood at the doorway; all waiting for me to arrive. Her face seemed to grow disgusted at my look. Though, what else could I have expected - her to compliment me?

"Who you tryin' to impress?" Her voice grumbled, as a puff of smoke circled around her head.

My heart began to beat slowly and erratically at first; my eyes beginning to burn in their sockets as a lump forced itself up my throat. I prayed, please don't say anything. I wanted to get out of there - away from Gertrude, if only for a day.

"No one - I swear." I objected, continuously pulling my skirt down as I tried to mask the lump in my throat, "...just thought it'd be nice to dress up."

She scoffed slightly. The rest of the children glowered with dark intensity. I didn't want to stand up for myself. I knew what would have happened if I had.

"Come on, we don't wanna' get there late." Gertrude finally spoke.

A day out felt as though I had been granted a guaranteed place in Heaven; away from the house and away from the hate. That was all I could have asked for.

________________

We arrived at the open park; the fresh smell of cut grass and cooking pervaded the air. Stalls, much like the ones daddy would have set up at the carnival, all placed around the park; eager people queuing up to see if they could win a toy. It made me smile stupidly to myself; it reminded me of a place I had always found comfort it. I stood at the food stand, picking up chips and other treats - and yet, unwillingly, I began to reminisce about a punishment I had received last time for eating too much at the church. My hand worryingly began removing pieces off my plate, as I placed them back into the pile. I figured I was just acting silly and paranoid, but I would have done anything to have gotten Gertie off my back.

I felt a presence beside me, and by the vibe I was getting off them, I was certain on who it was.

"Sylvia..."

I reluctantly turned around to see Jenny, her eyes were wide and her lips were parted as though ready to say something, though I knew she was struggling to find the words. It was hard to speak to Jenny; always having to hide my emotions from her. Still, it had to be done, whether I felt like bursting into tears.

I forced a smile, though I was hoping she didn't notice.

"Listen, Sylvia, I'm really sorry -"

"- It's fine." I forced my voice against her's before I had even thought about what to say. I didn't want to hear her apology, because there was no reason for it.

She sharpened and intensified her gaze, "- Sylvia, I'm just sorry for what - -"

"- Mama and daddy will be here to pick us up soon." I once again interrupted. Stern was something I never wanted to be with my little sister, but it seemed the words had already left my lips. I didn't want to be horrible to her. I didn't want to push her away. But at the same time, I didn't want to bring her down with her being around me.

Jenny smiled, but it was an anxious smile, I could tell. At that moment I thought of nothing but the warm breeze gliding across my skin, and I felt content. I should explain that this feeling only lasted a few seconds, before I felt an arm brush against my shoulder. I quickly turned around - probably too quickly - only to find a boy that I hadn't been expecting. Ricky. His arm reached out beside me, gathering treats from the table as his eyes didn't once connect with mine. Why is he ignoring me?

"That doesn't taste too good." I forced another smile, as I pointed to a plate of pickles that had obviously gone past their date.

"Whatever." He muttered harshly, and the sudden outburst startled me, to say the least. Something was wrong with him; the way he acted as though he didn't even want to know me.

"What?" I asked, refraining from jumping to conclusions about why he seemed off with me.

No response looked inevitable, as he began to walk away with his chin against his chest. I felt a tear beg to escape from my left eye, but I held it. I immediately linked it all up as soon as I saw Ricky taking a seat at a bench where Gertrude sat with baby Dennis in her arms. As quick as my heart had been lifted at meeting Benny that day, it had suddenly fallen. Funny how your emotions could change so quickly. Emotional pain wasn't felt the way a cut or bruise was. It was much different, and only I could tell it was there. Sometimes the pain was at the back of my mind like a pulse. At that moment, it had pushed itself forward, demanding attention; cutting my heart and mind in half, and stinging with every breath I took.

"Hey!"

A voice propelled me from my own thoughts, and without even looking at the person, I had already imagined the face in my mind. I turned my head, and saw Benny smiling; that smile never changed or had any less effect on me.

"You, err -" His hands pointed to my clothes awkwardly, "- you look real nice."

Could you be any sweeter?

I grasped my plate tighter as though an automatic reaction, "oh, really?"

Children were running around with balloons and ice creams, screaming and playing. Parents sat on blankets, chatting and enjoying the spare time they had left in the day. It seemed like a day that I was eager to cherish forever. That was until I looked over to see Gertrude, and yet her eyes were not fixed on the baby, but rather on...me. She was refusing to look away, as though, once again, I was disobeying her. Just leave me alone, my thoughts attempted to say what I was terrified to speak out loud.

Just talk to Benny, don't think about her, I thought. Knowing she was still observing me made me feel sick to my stomach, as though I could have thrown up all those chips there and then.

"You from Indiana originally?" He asked, and his voice thankfully pulled me from my worries.

"I was born here," I insisted, munching on a few treats here and there, "I travel a lot."

He gave a slight chuckle, nearly choking on his food, "what - you a hippie?"

I laughed, "I just - I don't know really, my parents just work with a travelling carnival so I have to move around a lot."

It was funny that he had said that, only because I had been called a hippie before. I guess travelling around so much gave people that impression.

"Is that your mama there?" He pointed to Gertie who was glaring, scrutinising, daring me to edge over the line. The way her eyes were glued to me, like an over protective parent, but it wasn't her being over protective, and she certainly wasn't my parent.

"No..." I paused for a second, turning my head away from her, "- she's just lookin' after me and my little sister for a while."

I wanted to forget about Gertrude for that day, even for just a couple of hours. I was there to enjoy myself, and most of all, I was there for Benny.

"You, err - OK there?" His hand gestured to my face uncomfortably.

There was no relief or moment to escape from the burdens of the past, and I knew that it was to be another lie that I would have to spill him.

"- Same door again?" He smiled sympathetically.

I gulped deeply; a nervous gulp, "- well, can't help being clumsy."

I hated lying to him, but if I couldn't have told Diana, my own sister, I couldn't have told anyone.

He smiled awkwardly, as though behind his mind all sorts of worries and concerns were battling against him. He reached out a hand and, suddenly out of nowhere, placed a finger on my chin, as he carefully lifted my head to look at him. His touch sent my heart beating away like a nervous wreck, and yet looking into his deep hazel eyes gave me comfort. He leaned in closer; my heart hammered against my chest as though I was in a line for a roller coaster, not that I ever went on one again after nearly puking from fear back at the carnival. His eyes stared deeply into mine, as though trying to read my mind or my thoughts. And yet, with a smile on his lips, he spoke nine words that could have fought away the fear and the loneliness.

"...Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you are?"

And I remember the feeling of being with him that made each day longing to meet him again. His face leaned in closer; my mind frantically whirling about possibilities. He's going to kiss you, Sylvia - come on, kiss him back...just lean in and place your lips on his.

I accepted my inner confidence, even though I wasn't entirely sure if it was best. I leaned in like a puzzle; my head going right, Benny's going left. Our lips were close to touching, I could have almost smelt the mint from his breath.

So close....

"- Hey, Benny!"

Benny quickly pulled away, with one of his friends nudging him on the shoulder. He smirked at me, and I smiled back. Maybe one day, I thought in my head.

"- We were all thinkin' of going over to the beach for a bit. You wanna' join us?" The boy asked.

Benny raised an eyebrow, turning his head to look at me as though secretively.

"You er... you wanna' come too?" He smiled awkwardly, though it didn't help with his friend practically sitting in-between us.

I smiled. It was the first time in a long time any boy had wanted to invite me anywhere. I was so eager to answer - though before I could, I remembered one crucial thing.

"...I should probably ask Gertie first." I muttered.

Gertrude had once again stopped me from enjoying myself. It made me sound like such a goody-two shoes. I hated it, but if it got me out of a punishment, I didn't care.

"Come on, it'll only be for a few hours?" He grinned; a rebellious grin that made me feel safe with him, but it felt exciting too.

"Yeah, honest, Benny will take care of you!" The boy laughed, though was soon propelled back by Benny's hand.

He looked at me again, "...let's get outta' here!"

He glared at me with seductive eyes. I couldn't resist. One time wouldn't do anything, would it? I loved the feeling of disobeying Gertrude. I wanted to have gotten up and walked in that van right in front of her face. But there was always me having to go back afterwards. Forgetting those thoughts in my mind, I rose up, folded the blanket and skipped over to the van with Benny. I was happy; cheerful. I was enjoying my freedom like any teenager should, and I was in the company of people who didn't make me feel worthless.

________________

It was the beach that always helped with a worried mind. The stillness of the water, and yet the chaos of the beaches seemed to lift a mood that was miserable. I liked the beach, second best, whilst the park remained number one. I despised being around the children, Gertrude, for all she ever did was strike fear into me. Jenny was whom I felt sorry for. I wished I could have done something to help her, yet I only felt myself become paralysed whenever I was face to face with that woman.

I remember sitting on the sand, the individual grains even burning at my legs from the sun scorching down upon it for so long. The public beach bustled with people from all walks of life; maybe that was why I enjoyed it, there was no judging or looking. People were there for themselves and nothing else. The bright ball in the sky blinded me as it emerged even higher each minute I stared up to it; it rose like a yellow figure on the distant horizon, and made me question if it was God's doing. Crashing against the shore, small waves washed swimmers, dogs and whatever else onto the crowded, golden sand as far as my eyes could see. Soothing; a gentle sea breeze rustled through my hair, and amongst the relaxed families adorning the beach atmosphere, there were a few birds pecking at the rubbish left by yesterday's visitors.

I felt a nudge on my shoulder, and a sudden presence of someone beside me. I turned my head, and saw the one person who made me smile as though the expression was second nature.

"You enjoyin' yourself?" Benny smiled, nudging me playfully against the shoulder.

I squinted against the sun hitting my eyes, and awkwardly smiled back.

"It's nice -" I continued to blabber on stupidly, "...I mean, the beach is nice."

He laughed a little; his smile alone was enough to force me into a trance. He made me feel so very special.

"You always so awkward?" He smirked, and a finger gently spiralled a lock of my hair behind my ear.

"Yeah..." I chuckled, "you could say that."

He leaned back against the sand, but never retreated eye contact with me.

"I like awkward." He said.

You really know how to make a girl blush, I thought. Luckily, the redness on my cheeks was probably camouflaged by the heat that day.

"You want an ice cream?" He asked, slowly rising up as he brushed the sand from his shirt, "- I'll pay?"

I felt the recurring feeling of guilt. I hated people buying me things; I despised the feeling of not being deserving of it. Maybe Gertrude inflicted those thoughts even more...

I shook my head, "oh, no - that's alright."

Benny raised an eyebrow, "you don't like ice cream?" He sure knew how to test someone, "...please tell me you like ice cream, or this just isn't gonna' work."

I couldn't help but hold back my laughter. He wasn't the only one who could hand out sarcastic comments.

"And what is 'this'?" I questioned.

His cheeks immediately turned a faint red. I was glad that I wasn't the only one who burnt red whenever I became embarrassed.

"Are you a little embarrassed?" I teased, poking at him a little more. I could sure wind someone up, and Diana was a good example of that.

He placed his hands on his hips, "you know what, you, Miss Likens, have got a lot of attitude. Maybe we should just..." He sneaked over, as though he thought I wouldn't have noticed him getting closer, "- take a little trip to the sea!"

As quick as anything, he lunged towards me, and picked me up as though it was no trouble at all. I suddenly doubled up and felt myself burst into a loud harsh cackle of laughter. I was in that state of intoxication when I couldn't have found any release from the maddening self-consciousness. He knew what he was doing, he did it deliberately. And yet he was also beside himself, in a sort of hysterics. The happiness at that moment was pure, and it wasn't something I was going to take for granted. But it was at that moment that a memory of a punishment ignited, as a sharp pain attacked my leg.

"Wait!" I screamed; the usual pain biting the longer he carried me, "- please put me down!"

Finally, he released his hold, and gently settled me on the ground. The pain, as quickly as it had alerted me, had disappeared. The next emotion battered me relentlessly; humiliation and guilt. Benny was only trying to have some fun, and yet I knew the cause to the sudden shock of pain...a bruise from a beating before. He can't find out - lie.

He stared at me, confusion taking over his once happy face.

"I...I'm sorry if I..."

"- No, it wasn't you." I insisted. I didn't want him to feel he was the reason for it.

There was silence between us. A once happy moment, filled with laughter and elation, had become tense and awkward. It was my fault.

"...I'll go get us some ice creams." He smiled, but it was a smile that held back questions and worries.

What could I have said? I wasn't going to let Gertrude ruin that day. Benny's personality was caring, calm, considerate, what was there not to like? I wasn't like Stephanie, I didn't feel comfortable with being around somebody like Coy. Coy was very sure of himself; he liked himself, probably more than he thought was wise. At times, it seemed as though he liked himself more than Stephanie, but she was too love-struck to notice.

And just when I thought I had escaped the house for a few hours, I saw something else that immediately brought me back to the house as though I was standing in the living room.

Randy.

He was walking with a group, as usual having his head smothered in a cigarette. As though instantaneously, I tried to cover my face with my hands. I don't know why I didn't want him to see me, but the relation he had with the Baniszewskis made me weary of even being around Randy. I hated that I was nervous about every little thing, and I hated that I felt insecure and paranoid when I was supposed to be enjoying my day out with Benny. I was 16, I was supposed to be care free and happy.

Yet there I was, my mind being invaded with intrusive, unwanted thoughts of Gertrude.

________________

"How'd you enjoy today?" Benny asked; his hands gently caressing the steering wheel.

I was sat next to him in the passenger seat, as we cruised gradually down the street. The slight warm breeze kissed at my flustered skin, as my arm slid out of the rolled down window.

"It was great!" I insisted, "thanks for invitin' me."

A heart warming smile rose upon his face. That day had been the best in a long time; the freedom I had to go to the beach and be around people my age - strange at how great you could feel after being around so many lovely people.

"I...I'm sorry about earlier..." He said, held back from asking questions.

"- Honest, it wasn't you!" I pleaded for him to understand, but I knew there was no way he did, or could.

"Maybe we can do it again some other time?" He assumed.

You want to see me again?

I began thinking, as he pulled up into the driveway, that if daddy was planning on staying in Indianapolis for longer, I could have met up with Benny some time after school. It was obvious we both really liked each other; maybe just a friendship, or maybe something more - I would never know if I didn't make the effort. Daddy didn't worry too much about boys. I had grown up with two brothers, so I could have handled boys with no problem at all. But as always, that plan - the plan that had lifted my spirits so high I was certain they wouldn't have come down - began to trickle away into the mist of my imagination.

The eyes of Paula and the other children caught sight of me arriving, as there they were - playing out in the front yard. 

"You so sure you don't want to spend a few more hours out?" I heard Benny's voice ask.

I felt like screaming, crying, running, anything to avoid going back in that house. I bit back the shriek that swelled at the back of my throat, but it stuck; a lump that was harder to breathe past than I would have liked.

The children glowered at me; rage, hatred buried behind seemingly calm eyes. Benny seemed oblivious to what I would have to face.

"No - I, I'm late as it is..." I uttered; I felt sick to the stomach.

I wanted to scream to Benny to drive away quickly - to take me anywhere but there. But then I would have been leaving Jenny - I just couldn't have sacrificed that.

"So, I guess I'll see you at school then?" He speculated.

My mind was too frail to reply. I stepped out from the van, and slammed the door behind me. Everyone watched me; that was until Paula ushered them into the house. Her face was stern, as though held back from wanting to drag me into the house by my hair. A tear-track of sweat slid behind my ear, though I had guaranteed that it was not the heat causing it. I heard the engine behind me start up again, and the van pulled out of the driveway. That was it.

Another punishment; another scream that nobody will hear, I thought.

I reluctantly heaved myself towards the house and up the unsteady, wooden staircase. I was there again - facing the door reading 3850. The drummer in my chest pounded out a melody in my ears. I demanded that it slow, but it didn't. I couldn't help it. I was terrified.

I carelessly opened the fragile door, and stammered inside. As always, I saw the sight of the children and Gertie expecting my arrival. Coy had also decided to stay and watch, as well as a certain young looking boy watching on. It was Randy; his eyes were dark and withdrawn. Whether he had seen me at the beach, I didn't know. Also there was Ricky, someone whom I thought I could have trusted.

All I could do was stare to the floor; hearing voices emanating around me. Before I could walk in any direction, I had felt Gertie's hand cup onto my shoulder; she maintained a firm grip, but it was also a grip that screamed authority. I was surrounded by all those people who never seemed to truly understand me, and who seemed like they would never have understood the fears and deepest thoughts that tugged at my heart.

"I got told about all those boys in California, Sylvia," Gertrude muttered; her head shaking between her words, "...Ricky, did Sylvia tell you about all those boys in California?"

I felt as though I was dying, or as though I could have died right there. Each stare hit me like a wave; throwing me against jagged rocks as I would struggle helplessly. Each child would look at me in a strange way, as though they were careless; no questions asked. I felt like I could have drowned in the air.

Ricky gave an uncomfortable shrug, "...no..."

I knew no matter what I would have said, no one would have believed me or even listened. I was just a mumbling noise to them.

Gertie nodded her head in despair, "...of course not. Well, if you ain't gonna' listen to me, maybe I can get through to your sister."

But as I heard these words, I forced myself to look up to Gertie; my eyes pleading what I was too frightened to say. I would not let anything happen to Jenny - I couldn't have risked that.

"We can keep her from makin' the same mistakes," Gertie continued, "- Jenny? Do you wanna' be like your sister?"

Jenny sat, burying her head to her chest as she tried so hard to keep those tears in her eyes. The children glared at her; all circling around her as though she had been thrown into the ocean with 7 starving sharks. Just tell them you don't want to be like me, I thought - as though telepathy had actually been proven to work between siblings.

She quietly shook her head, "...no..." she cried, and a single tear rolled gently down her nose.

At least they would leave her alone, I thought.

"That's a good girl, Jenny," Gertie assured; the way her voice was sweeter towards my little sister.

I felt so alone; more alone than I had ever felt - and moving around as much as I did caused me to feel alone a lot of the times. I thought I would have been used to it, but I wasn't. I could never have prepared myself for feeling the way I was - standing there by myself.

Gertrude's eyes pounced back onto me, "- go and sit down, Sylvia."

I stayed quiet; the pressure of everyone looking at me. I felt humiliated. Silently, the pearl-shaped tears had began rolling down my cheeks from wide luminous eyes. No matter how hard I had strained and fought against letting them escape, tears would always find a way of showing. When I began crying, there was a rawness to it, like the pain was an open wound.

"Givin' her a ride in his car." Paula insisted; standing across the room with nothing but a snarl rising on her lips.

I didn't know what to say. I gazed down to the floor, trying to avoid Gertie's glares; being engulfed by Paula's harsh words. Gertrude began looking down to the floor as well; thinking - concentrating. I didn't want her to burn me again - I begged in my mind that she wouldn't.

Inside, I was pleading for them to stop this madness. But this time, it seemed madness was becoming far too real.

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