I’m gonna tell you my story. Not that you’re going to believe me, no one believes me. Not the judge that convicted me, not my family, not 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 woken to the sounds of my little girl screaming. Michael, my husband, 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 it was me that 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 from, 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 under, to his world. I tried everything, a night light, monster spray, we even tried a new bed, nothing stopped the dreams. Every two hours I was woken with the sounds of my beautiful baby screaming for her life. I would calm her down, get her back to sleep, only to be woken again an hour 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. 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, 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 psychology questions changed, 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 Shay because I was tired? On and on they went always questioning us. Never dealing with the underlying problem of my poor girl’s inability to sleep. The bright little girl was disappearing in front of my eyes.
On Shay’s fourth birthday I used my last reserves of energy to throw her a massive party. Friends and family came over. We sang Happy Birthday and played pass the parcel. It was the first time in six months that Shay acted like a normal child. 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 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 direct memory of it.
The next morning 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. At the time I didn’t pay much attention to it, I was so pleased Shay was ok. 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 fine. When I asked her about the crawling man, she said he had visited, 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 whilst 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 all along. 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 started taking a more sinister tone. 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, 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 went to the doctor for pills as 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 she always was.
The next morning written in chalk was the number 9. I again smiled to myself, wondering if Michael had been responsible for the sinister drawings. Since he left Shay had gone back to practising her numbers ready for big school in two months time. 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 on 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.
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.
On the morning that 1 was on the chalkboard, Shay woke up happier than normal. 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 three 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 first before, 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 sound came back. I went back into 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.