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When your child suffers from night terrors and no one takes you seriously.

By Sam H ArnoldPublished about a month ago 6 min read

I'm going to tell you my story. Not that you're going to believe me. No one believes me. Not the judge that convicted me, my family, or the public who hounded me. I don't expect you to believe me. But this is my story.

Shay was three years old when the night terrors started. I don't know what prompted them or why they started. Two or three times every night, I was awakened by my little girl screaming. My husband Michael did everything he could to help, but he worked with machinery all day. He needed to sleep; otherwise, I would worry about him. Over the months, I dealt with 90% of the night shifts. Shay would then stay up most of the day as well. She was too frightened to go to sleep. Where she found her energy, I don't know. I was running on empty after six months.

Most nights, she would wake up screaming about the man under her bed. She said he had long fingers and was trying to drag her into his world. I tried everything, night light and monster spray; we even tried a new bed, but nothing stopped the dreams. Every two hours, I was woken by the sounds of my beautiful girl screaming for her life. I would calm her down and get her back to sleep, only to be woken again, later.

After six months of no sleep, Shay began to withdraw from us. The constant terror was taking its toll on my baby. We took her to the doctor, who suggested a child psychologist. On the first visit, the psychologist was very friendly. He reassured me this was a stage she was going through. I hoped so; everything in the house had changed. Michael and I were arguing; the house was a mess, and I no longer had the energy to function. The only thing I still managed was to look after my little girl day and night.

Within two months, the psychologist's questions changed, and they became more sinister. Had Shay experienced any childhood trauma? How was I coping with the lack of sleep? Did I ever lose my temper with her because I was tired? On and on, they went, constantly questioning me, never dealing with the underlying problem of my poor girl's inability to sleep. My bright little girl was disappearing in front of my eyes.

I used my last energy reserves on Shay's fourth birthday to throw her a massive party. Friends and family came over. We sang Happy Birthday and played pass the parcel. Shay acted like an average child for the first time in six months.

From Nanny and Grandad, she received a chalkboard. Oh, how she loved that toy; she could practice her writing, she said, and learn her letters to be ready for big school. She spent an hour taking all the chalk out, testing the colour and then returning them to the box. She asked if she could take it to bed with her, and we agreed, standing it in the corner of her room.

I don't remember putting Shay to bed that night; I was so tired. I know I did, but I have no memory of it.

The following day I woke with a start. I had slept all night. Where was Shay? Why hadn't she woken me up? Heart beating out of my chest, I sprinted into her room to find her curled up, fast asleep in bed. On the chalkboard was a funny drawing of two friends holding hands. I didn't pay much attention to it; I was so pleased Shay was okay. Maybe the night terrors had finally left her.

She woke up with a smile and, seeing my concerned face, asked me what was wrong. I asked her how she slept, and she said okay. When I asked her about the crawling man, she said he had visited, and Isabelle had scared him away. When I asked who Isabelle was, she said she was her friend.

Isabelle had scared the crawling man away; she had then promised to sit on her bed and make sure he didn't return. When I asked Shay about the drawing, she said Isabelle must have done it while she was sleeping.

This is how the next couple of months went. Life started to return to normal. Shay slept all night. Every morning, there was a different picture on the chalkboard. Shay never admitted to drawing it; always the same answer: Isabelle drew it.

When we spoke to her psychologist, he puffed out his chest and told me he had been right. The night terrors were a stage Shay was going through. He seemed to have no concern over the imaginary friend. According to him, this was normal behaviour for an only child.

Two weeks after the psychologist discharged Shay, the chalk drawings became more sinister. Pictures of two friends, one with a dripping knife in her hand. Pictures of little girls hanging from a tree. Always the same answer from Shay: Isabelle does the drawings. I started staying awake at night, trying to catch Shay drawing. I thought she might be sleepwalking, as I had as a child.

For six weeks, this went on. I was again running on my reserves, desperate to stay awake every night to see what was happening to Shay. Michael started worrying about me. He suggested I go to the doctor for pills because I was having a breakdown. My tiredness, mixed with his lack of understanding, finished our marriage. I threw him out of the house. He could see Shay whenever he wanted, but she would not stay with him until he had his own place.

The morning after Michael left the house, the drawing stopped. Instead, there was the number 10 written in chalk. Shay seemed to have adapted well to the change with her parents. She carried on being the bright, cheerful child.

The following day, written in chalk, was the number 9. I again smiled, wondering if Michael had been responsible for the sinister drawings. Since he left, Shay had returned to practising her numbers, ready for big school in two months. Every morning, it was the same routine; a different number had been written in chalk. Every day, counting down from 10.

The morning the chalk said 3, I asked Shay about the numbers.

"Shay, darling, what happens when you get to zero? Do you start again?"

"No, Mummy, when I get to zero, that's the day me and Isabelle are taking a trip. Silly Mummy, I told you I don't write in chalk. That's Isabelle."

The strange sleep writing had never left, just taken a different form. I was at my wit's end. I had no one to talk to, and none of this made sense. I tried to talk to Shay, but she was too young. There was nothing left to do; I would need to stay awake and see what happened when Shay wrote the numbers.

For three nights, I stayed awake, pumped up on caffeine. There were times during the day I hallucinated I was so tired. Still, I resolved it was only three nights, and then we would reach zero.

Shay woke up happier than usual on the morning that one was on the chalkboard. She asked if we could spend a special day together. We went to the park, ate ice cream and went swimming. Exhausted from the activities and the nights without sleep, I went to bed with Shay. Kissing my beautiful baby on the head, she told me she loved me; she had never said it before, and it made my heart jump.

The next morning, I woke feeling better than I had felt in weeks. It was later than normal; Shay must have got up and played in her room. When I opened the door, my heart stopped. Shay was nowhere to be seen. I checked the whole house, and she was nowhere. I screamed her name, but no answer came back. I returned to her room to search the cupboards and under the bed, thinking she was hiding from me. That was when I noticed the 0 written in chalk.

One year on, they have never found Shay's body. The police searched for weeks. Then, after my husband's statement and that of the child psychologist, they arrested me. Lack of sleep and depression had made me kill my baby and dispose of her body, the prosecution said. I have no defence; no one would believe the truth if I told it. I know now that Shay was telling the truth; Isabelle took her. I will know that for the next 30 years whilst I sit dying in this tiny cell.


About the Creator

Sam H Arnold

A writer obsessed with true crime, history and books. Find all my dedicated newsletters whether you are a true crime fan, bookworm or aspiring writer on Substack -

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Comments (2)

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  • Esala Gunathilake10 days ago

    Oh it is brilliant.

  • ROCK about a month ago

    This was a nightmare I can relate to; sleeplessness, parenting on caffeine and doing one's best only for it all to fall down on the good parent. I am left wondering of the father stole her or Isabella was real! Well done!

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