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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54. To Mr And Mrs Likens

Feeling unwanted - unneeded; unnecessary. A dead leaf blowing in the autumn wind - that was how I felt as I sat, bound against the post. I watched around the basement; my eyes scanning, for some reason, many things I may have missed. A rocking horse in particular, stuffed in the corner of the basement, dust covering it as it must have died a good few years back. It had reminded me of something.

The carnival.

My daddy always let us go on the rides whenever we went with him. The horses that would always take you in the same direction; I always felt safe. You would go round and round and up and down. I never seemed to get anywhere, but there was a sanctity about it.

I heard the bustling of the children upstairs; their footsteps creating a continuous sprinkle of dust on my arm. I gazed up, seeing them through the rectangular window as they all left for a new day of school; their silhouettes cast on the wall. My body had grown numb to the everlasting pain that seemed to be inflicted onto my body. I had to give it to Gertie, though - she had done well at keeping me a secret. I would have described my sadness like death by a thousand paper-cuts, for every time I remembered I was still in the same basement of the same house, it was another cut to my already damaged mind. None were enough to kill me, but overtime their accumulation would have bled me of the humanity I had once had. I once was gregarious and generous, and yet laying there in that basement made me understand I was now just gaunt and melancholy. Who was I?

It had seemed that as the basement door creaked open, there was more than the same skinny figure hurrying towards me. There was another, both stepping down the stairs clumsily as they reached the final step.

Gertrude and Paula.

The worst people I could have possibly have been left alone with. I supposed - sitting there awaiting another beating - that if that beating should have been my last, how would Jenny know I loved her? What if she would come back to find me lifeless, with no blood running in my veins? In my life, I had given more of myself than perhaps was wise. I had loved without boundaries. I didn't want to die; the process of dying was more cruel than any book I had ever read. The pain would have been with me until the end, everyday a battle not to lose hope. Whatever the punishment Gertie wanted to put me through that time, I had an advantage - I no longer cared.

They both neared me, and Gertrude appeared first as she grasped, what looked like, a piece of a paper and an ink pen. She stopped, before kneeling down slightly in a bid to get my attention. Paula bellowed over, folding her arms in a withdrawn anger. I still seemed to stay in the same position as though my body was stuck there. I did let out a few mumbles I think, though I could tell by the look on their faces that nothing I was saying had made much sense. Moving without pain, without aches, was just one thing I had used to take for granted. It seemed the muscles felt as though they had been flash-burned with acid from the inside - just sufficient to make them shake, but too weak to lift. I no longer felt like my limbs had belonged to me; no longer were we one cohesive machine of blood and bone. It was frightening to think that they were the enemy; decaying and angry.

My eyes looked up to the two people looking down at me. My mouth was sore and dry; no water to moisture my tongue. I gave up trying to communicate, as Paula stood back up, going back to her boxer-like stance. Gertrude glared at me for a while, before shoving the ink pen into my weak and nimble fingers. I couldn't have grasped it; my fingers felt as though they were holding onto air, only to fall back down beside me. No-one would have wanted to die young, but no-one would have wanted to have gotten old. We all had wished for perpetual youth in our gyms and beauty parlours. And yet it seemed death, when the time had come, couldn't have been avoided, similar to the coming of a tide. I could only have met it with grace.

Gertrude's emotions was weary, yet determined. She could have done whatever she wanted, and yet I had so much that she couldn't have stolen away. My heart was an archive of old records that used to play my lullabies of carnival music and happy smiles.

I felt a light brush against my cheek, seemingly Gertie's way in a bid to keep me coherent. Don't worry, I thought sarcastically as my thoughts were hidden away where Gertie couldn't have hurt me - I wouldn't miss your beautiful face for the world.

"Wake the hell up!" Paula called out, as a shape of a hand smacked hard into the side of my head; almost rattling the bones in my body as I struggled to keep my head afloat. What do you expect if you keep hitting me like that?

Gertie's eyes watched me eagerly, "you grab this here pen," she demanded, forcing my fingers apart as she placed the pen more gently into my hands, enclosing it inside, "- you write what I tell you to write."

She placed the paper down in front of me, as I felt a hand rest against the back of my head - it seemed Gertie's attempt at trying to keep my head up.

"Sylvia!" She shouted, slapping me across the face as my eyes tried their very best to stay open. That slap didn't hurt - bet you thought it did though.

She clutched onto my hand, and the pen touched the piece of paper. I was doubtful that I could have even wrote one letter, let alone what Gertrude was expecting me to write.

"...To Mr and Mrs Likens..." Gertrude began.

A letter to my parents? My eyes fluttered open slightly. Why would I need to write a letter to them? I tried to enclose my mind that questioned everything, as I wrote away, trying to ignore my body's cries to stop.

"...I went with a gang of boys in the middle of the night..." Gertrude continued, and I looked up at her; unsure about where she was going with it. Surely she wouldn't make me lie to my own parents?

"...And they said they would pay me if I would give them something..." She carried on, and her eyes scrutinised me.

I couldn't believe what I was being made to do. I felt the first spark of fear ignite in such a while, and the thought of what my parents would have said after receiving the letter would not easily be extinguished. They would never know the truth.

"...So I got in the car and they all got what they wanted..."

I felt the grasp on the pen fail as my fingers could no longer take much more. My eyes slowly began to close as I begged for it to be over. Unaware of my own heart beating or the steady rise and fall of my chest, my eyes had distinguished the white, short figure hopping towards me. That damn rabbit again - you left me and you laughed at me, why are you here now? The rabbit made no noise; it still had the same human like eyes, and the same mouth that morphed words silently. Instead of laughing, and conjuring up an image of my parents leaving me, it simply bowed its head.

"- Write, Sylvia, write!" Gertrude's voice shrieked, and had somehow intruded my own thoughts, as she forced my hand back onto the piece of paper.

I tiredly gazed up to her; that rabbit didn't stay long, Sylvia - maybe it didn't like you.

"...And when they finished, they beat me up and left sores on my face and all over my body..."

Paula stood behind like a bodyguard, as though she believed I could have actually summoned the energy to run. The words were gradually being carved into the paper - lie after lie. And that was what I figured I was - somebody who lied.

"And they also put on my stomach, 'I'm a prostitute and proud of it!'..."

At least Jenny would know the truth, I thought. I figured that was how my life would have ended. The police would have found me - dumped some place, grasping a letter weakly in my hands. A lie that would have soon been believed.

"...I have done just about everything that I could do just to make Gertie mad..." She muttered, seemingly angry at her own words, and yet my fingers struggled to keep up with her speed, "...and cause Gertie more money than she's got..."

Gertrude's eyes gazed down to the letter as she read it back in her mind. Her finger pointed back to the paper, forcing me to carry on.

"...I've tore up a new mattress and peed on it..."

Paula scoffed, "...you got that right, mama..."

"...I have also cost Gertie doctor bills that she really can't pay -" Her eyes monitored me; my grip surrendered to weakness, "- we ain't done yet, Sylvia!"

She snatched my hand back up and threw it to the paper. I had no will to fight back; powerless to resist.

"...And made Gertie a nervous wreck and all her kids..."

I felt myself tip back. From the carousel of random dreams, had finally arrived some order - a subtle awareness of who I truly was under the flow of thoughts with their loose connections to my waking life. Why, I'm Sylvia...Sylvia Likens - born 1949 in Indianapolis, Indiana. After a few moments more I had begun to analyse them in a lazy way; perhaps those ideas had meant to be kept. Some had been composed as if from a book I had once read; my own biography to my life. And yet, as quickly as I had remembered so many crucial facts that had made my personality, they had disappeared; leaving no trace. Come on, remember - why can't I remember? My subconscious had only made me more confused - you know who you are. My eyelids flickered open to the unlit room; Gertrude's eyes bulging from her skull. Paula stepped closer.

"Just leave her, Paula." Gertrude warned, standing in Paula's way of her ravenous anger, "...this will be fine."

No daylight.

I closed them again, willing the carousel to return, for my mind to have tumbled back to dreams, but it wouldn't. I didn't want Gertie to send that letter to my parents, and yet I knew I would have had no say in it; for I would have been dead by the time my daddy would have received the writing of lies.

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