Check out our episode here! Here There Are Monsters by Amelinda Bérubé
Skye is startled awake by her mother running into her basement bedroom, asking if she's seen Deirdre. Yeah, she was playing outside in the woods after school. But now it's late into the night and Deirdre hasn't been seen in hours. How could Skye have fallen asleep when she was supposed to be watching her sister?! Yep, that's right, it's all Skye's fault that Deirdre is missing. At least that's how her mom always makes her feel. They scour the house and when they check Deirdre's bed, they see it's full of sticks and pinecones and leaves. That's got to mean something, right? Better call the police.
When the police arrive, they ask all sorts of questions about Deirdre and it's evident that she is not your typical thirteen year old. She has never had any real friends, only her older sister, Skye, and the ones she makes from sticks and bones. Skye, Deirdre and their parents, Sarah and Brent, just moved into this new house for a fresh start and Skye hopes she'll be able to actually do that. She wants to make and keep friends of her own and to not have to constantly play with Deirdre and pretend to be her knight in shining armor. Skye always has to defend her younger sister from bullies, but if she'd have just grown up and washed her hair, people might have left her alone.
Skye and her mother make missing posts on social media while her dad and the police and news crews mill around outside. The neighbors start to bring over food and that's when William arrives. He's one of Skye's best friends, maybe even boyfriend one day, and he shares his condolences and invites Skye over to Kevin's house later. It's Halloween and they're having a party, but yeesh, Kevin is kind of a dick. Sophie, another of Skye's friend group, will also be there, but it's not like Skye can go now, what with Deirdre missing.
Janelle, a social worker, comes by and talks to Skye and her mom and dad about Deirdre. It's obvious that Sarah and Brent don't get along too well and are often too busy for Skye and Deirdre, leaving the sisters together to fend for themselves. Janelle talks to Skye privately about Deirdre, too, and about how it's tough having to feel responsible and how weird growing up is. But why did Deirdre have to make things purposefully awkward? It's like she refuses to grow up and so Skye always has to be there. But how many times should she have to rescue her sister? She's thirteen. Isn't it time she starts rescuing herself?
Four years ago was a different story. Twelve year old Skye and nine year old Deirdre, dressed as Queens of the imaginary world that Deirdre invented, went out trick or treating and some bullies stole Deirdre's candy while Skye stood by helplessly and watched. She was frozen. After the bullies left, Deirdre scowled at Skye, muttering about her not being a good champion. Shortly afterward, Skye started taking martial arts lessons and the bullies didn't stand a chance. Skye twisted arms and became the protector her sister needed, her Queen of Swords... until Deirdre entered the seventh grade and Tyler came along. He egged everyone on and made everything worse. No one feared the Queen of Swords, but Skye doesn't like to even think about Tyler anymore...
In the present, Skye and her parents are pretending to eat dinner, but no one really wants to be at the table. Then they hear a scratching and clambering on the roof. Could it... Could it be Deirdre? Or maybe Mog, their kitty who ran away? Everyone runs outside to look, but they don't see anything. They do hear the tinkling of a bell though, so maybe it could have been Mog, but they can't see anything out there now. Skye follows her mom up to Deirdre's room and they begin cleaning, Sarah putting away clothes and Skye cleaning the leaves and pinecones off the bed. Underneath the pile, hidden from view, is the wooden sword Brent made for Skye a few years ago. Is that a sign? Did Deirdre set all this up as an elaborate scheme to get Skye to play with her again? Well, if so, Skye's not having it. She throws the sword out the back door and walks away, texting William about the party.
Back in August, just after they moved in, Skye and Deirdre go out to explore. Deirdre loves the new house since the backyard is basically a nature reserve. It's swampy and full of trees and lots of animals that Mog keeps slaughtering and delivering to the doorstep. The girls trudge through the woods, Deirdre mesmerized by how magical she finds it, Skye just thinking it's a sticky hotbed of mosquitos. They come across a huge dirt pile which Deirdre immediately declares their castle. She plunges a stick through the top of the pile like a flag and tries to get Skye to claim it with her "by wood, stone, water and bone." Skye is sick of playing Queen of Swords and Deirdre thinks it's because of Tyler. She thinks Skye should be over what happened to him now, but she's not. She doesn't want to play anymore and she really wishes that Deirdre would just grow up.
Time passes and Deirdre keeps trying to get Skye to come explore, but she declines as amicably as possible. Deirdre won't give in and complains that she needs her Queen of Swords and says that her kingdom wants to meet her. Skye is more interested in the real world, but Deirdre says the kingdom is real, too! Skye refuses to be sucked back into Deirdre's games. She can just keep making herself a target for bullies. Skye refuses to get involved.
Later, some neighbors come by to welcome Skye and her family to the neighborhood, the Wright family. William Wright V will be at school with Skye and his sister, Christina, will be at school with Deirdre. Skye knows clean and prim Christina will hate Deirdre, but she tries to get her to join them for a board game anyway. In their room, Skye finds Deirdre playing with mouse skulls. She doesn't want to meet the Wrights and calls them intruders. When William comes to introduce himself, Deirdre tells him he's an intruder and says that if he goes into the woods, they'll chew him up and spit him out. Okay, uh, yikes. Deirdre comes out of her room later to stand creepily in the corner until the Wrights leave.
Back in the present, Skye sneaks out of her house and goes to the party at Kevin's. Sophie and William are there, and several others, and it's awkward because everyone is grimacy about Deirdre's disappearance. Kevin talks about Deirdre being a freak, which yeah she is but you don't SAY that to people, and Skye gets mad and leaves. William tries to walk her home, but she insists on leaving alone. As she gets closer to her house, she hears the tinkly bells again and starts calling to Mog. The sound leads Skye toward the swampy woods and she slips in a stream, alerting the searchers and police outside her house to her presence. When her mom rushes out, thinking it's Deirdre, she doesn't hide her disappointment when it's only Skye instead. They go back inside, but Skye knows if Deirdre heard the tinkling, she would have followed.
In September, Skye was invited by William to a party at Kevin's. It's weird because she's the new girl at school and Kevin's talking about Sophie's boobs, but she says it's okay because Kevin would never talk about her boobs because he knows she'd kick his ass. And she does. Well, not really. She does show off her martial arts skills by teaching William how to punch, and then she really demonstrates and punches Kevin in the face. Everyone likes her after that.
Later, Skye finds William shooting arrows at the "castle" after escaping a Deirdre meltdown. They talk about zombie apocalypse skills and William needing to get away from his dad, but then Deirdre shows up, yelling at Skye for coming to *her* place with an intruder and calling her a traitor. Something good comes from this interaction though... Skye and William exchange phone numbers! She says she'll talk to her parents about Deirdre being weird about *her* place.
In the present, Skye wakes and realizes Deirdre is still missing. She apologizes to her dad for falling asleep and letting Deirdre disappear, but then they see tiny skulls out on the porch railing, just like the ones Deirdre was collecting just a couple of months ago. They definitely weren't there the night before. They talk to the police about the skulls, and also about Skye finding her sword. Maybe Deirdre meant for her to find it and find her. The police won't let her help but they do bring a search dog out to sniff around. The dog gets scared of something though and runs off. Strange.
Back in September, Skye is getting along well with William and Sophie, and Kevin by association. This makes Deirdre jealous of course. Their mom has a conversation with Skye about what to do with boys and about spending more time with Deirdre, but they share a room, they're always together! Deirdre overhears this and gets upset, so Sarah stops the only halfway meaningful conversation she's had with Skye in a while to placate Deirdre. That night, Skye has a nightmare and wakes to find Deirdre staring at her. No thank you.
In the present, Skye joins William for pancakes and to shoot arrows. Sarah is upset that Skye is leaving the house again, but she's only going to her friend's house for breakfast and Sarah's guilt trip will not stop her. William talks about how overbearing his dad is and how he's afraid that he's going to wake up one day and be just like him, and then, speaking of, William IV comes strolling outside talking about how if he were in charge of the search for Deirdre, he'd have everyone looking. Skye leaves while William's dad takes over the bow and mansplains some more.
On her way back to her house, Skye hears the tinkling bell again and takes off trying to find the source. She goes to the castle and sees old weird shit of Deirdre's, circles of stones and animal bones, and her one and only sparkly dress that Sophie talked her into buying, ripped up and tied to the tops of several trees. Skye knew Deirdre took her dress, but she couldn't prove it. As if that's not bad enough, Skye then comes across Mog's body. But then she hears the bell again. If it wasn't Mog she was chasing all this time, who was it? Or what?
Back in time now, to the beginning of October, Sophie invites Skye out shopping and to talk about William. Skye goes, really pretending to want to do girly stuff and acting like Sophie to fake fitting in. They shop and talk and finally Sophie asks about William. She and William used to date, but then she kissed a girl instead and so they decided that they probably shouldn't date anymore. Skye's not sure William would actually like her close up, but after Sophie puts her in a sparkly blue dress and turns her to the mirror, she maybe changes her mind.
When Skye and Sophie get back home, they go to the room Skye shares with Deirdre. Deirdre is in the floor, surrounded by sticks and cut up sheets. She's trying to tie some of the bundles together, but it's not working well. She tells Skye to bring her string, but then she realizes Sophie is there too and starts shouting. They get into a big fight and Skye asks why Deirdre can't just grow up and start fresh. In response, Deirdre throws rocks at Skye. Yikes. When she goes to show her mom the dress Sophie talked her into buying but then doesn't find it, she shakes Deirdre and yells. Shortly thereafter, Brent begins converting the basement into a bedroom for Skye and Deirdre throws away all her dolls and dioramas and makes plans to do just what Skye says and start over.
Back briefly to present day, the police show up with Skye's wooden sword that she found on Deirdre's bed and threw out the back door. They found it on the edge of their search radius for the day, not in the backyard, but much farther away. Is Deirdre out there, just feet away, messing with her? Skye tromps outside to the edge of the stream, shoves a stick into the ground, turns it like a key, and demands, by wood, stone, water and bone, for Deirdre to be given back. She yanks the key out and storms back to the house.
Earlier in October, the night that Mog disappeared, Skye had to go out looking for Deirdre. She discovers a circle of stones full of bones, but no Deirdre. She calls for her with no response, but when Skye goes back inside, her sister is there. It was like she wanted Skye to find what she had been working on. When Mog doesn't come home, Deirdre gets upset and says she wishes they had never moved to the new house. That it was her fault Mog was gone. Surely not. Skye finds Deirdre outside at night after that at the edge of the property, crying. Some days pass and Skye asks if Deirdre is working on a new kingdom, Deirdre says *kind of.* The night a little later that Deirdre disappeared because Skye fell asleep, she dreamed of following her sister to a new kingdom.
Skye wakes up in the present to a scratching at her window. She runs outside, thinking she sees Deirdre, but no. That's not Deirdre at all. It's a monster she made from sticks and bones and torn up dresses and sheets. It has antlers for fingers, a deer skull for a head, and a necklace that belonged to Deirdre. Is this a message? A cry for help? A dare? Skye runs back inside and grabs her sword. She's taking up the mantle of the Queen of Swords again. Just what Deirdre always wanted.
Skye goes back out to the edge of the swamp and demands her sister back. There are more monsters made from sticks and bones now and they bow to her as she approaches. A voice fills her head, mocking her, the Queen of Swords, come back to claim her kingdom. All she wants is her sister back. But no, she doesn't love her sister, *they* love her. Skye bargains for Deirdre and the monsters set her a challenge. She must give up a secret, but no, not to them. She has to tell her friends the truth and make them hate her. And she has until the full moon to do it.
Skye tries to work up the courage to lose her friends with the terrible truth she has to tell them, even going to a party at Kevin's and getting drunk, but she can't do it. The full moon comes and with it, roots creep out of the crawl space in Skye's basement bedroom and take it over. It's been a week now since Deirdre disappeared and Skye decides to go back to school. She's got to do something to get her sister back. As she and her friends wait for the bus, monsters lurking everywhere around her, Skye tells her friends that she almost drowned someone once.
Tyler, the leader of the bullies, the one who never did anything obvious to Deirdre, but who was responsible all the same. Skye led him to a river in the valley near her old house. And she held his face in the water. And she enjoyed it. But that story isn't enough to make her friends hate her. They pity her. They pity her until she twists William's arm back almost far enough to break it. Then Kevin steps in and she pushes him down effortlessly, his face cracking against the pavement. Sophie makes a frantic call as Skye runs away, past her house and to the swamp. Was that enough for the monsters?
No. Of course it wasn't. Now they task her with creating a guide to lead her to Deirdre, but she'll have to pay for it, whatever that means. Skye's parents find her and they're freaked out and mad because of what happened at the bus stop, and because the police have decided to stop looking for Deirdre, so they confine her to her room. She tries to sneak out in the middle of the night to make her monster, but her mother catches her. Skye makes up a lie, saying that she was going to go apologize to William, but that can wait until morning and so she's sent back to her room. She's got to get out of the house and William is her best excuse, so she texts him to apologize and he comes over the next morning.
Skye decides to tell William the actual truth about what's happening, and what happened with Tyler, and she asks for his help. She begs him not to tell the police about what she did to Tyler and he says he'll wait a few days before he does. Then she asks him to meet her out at the castle after school. When the time comes, she leaves him, saying she needs time to herself to do something for her sister and goes a little ways into the woods to build her monster and tells him to stay away. She builds her guide but the voices tell her she needs to pay for it, to pay with the blood of William Wright. No! And then he comes to find her, sees and hears the monsters, and promptly freaks the fuck out. The monsters make a deal with William to pay for Skye's guide and she agrees for him. Now *he* has to bring them the blood of William Wright.
They run back to Skye's house, to her room, and talk about what the hell just happened, but at least Skye knows she's not crazy because William can see the monsters, too. He realizes the monsters took Deirdre and everything that Skye has done lately has been to get her back. He suggests they go to his house to make a plan because the creeping crawlspace roots are probably listening to them right now. William wants to fight the monsters, but Skye knows that won't work. They just have to do what the monsters say to get Deirdre back. William changes his mind, says he won't pay with his father's blood, so Skye leaves. This is the only thing that will work, so when he's ready to actually make a plan, he can come get her. She can't let him ignore this. So, she goes to the monsters for help.
Skye tells the monsters that William needs more time, she needs to convince him to help and in order to do that, she asks the monsters to give her something messy and dead to lure him out. They give her a raccoon corpse and she leaves it outside his front door. The next day, she expects William to come knocking, but Sophie does instead. She's mean and threatens to ruin Skye's life if she doesn't leave William alone. Skye tries to tell her to stay away because she could get hurt, but Sophie just takes that as a threat and is even more awful. Well, great. Skye leaves two dead animals at William's door that night and finally he contacts her the next day.
William asks for Skye's help to get rid of the rabbit and porcupine that were left on his doorstep. She goes over but then William's dad comes out and pokes fun at William for needing Skye's help and at Skye for beating William up. And then Sophie drives by and says she's coming over that afternoon. Fine. Skye will just have to deal with Sophie telling her parents about what she did to Tyler. Whatever. When Sophie arrives, just as she's about to tell Sarah, William comes in, too, and says Sophie's making everything up because she's jealous and is blackmailing Skye to keep them apart. Sophie is furious with William and he tries to explain, but she won't listen. And then she gets hurt.
William and Skye meet up later to make a plan and William tells her about Sophie getting in a car accident on her way to work. He said something weird wandered out in front of her car and caused her to crash. Now he wonders if he should tell Kevin to try to keep him safe, but there's no way he'll believe what's happening. William decides he's going to have to go through with what the monsters asked him to do and says that he's supposed to go hunting with his dad this weekend, so maybe there will be another accident. William doesn't want to hurt his dad, so he comes up with a different plan and pulls out a knife. He slashes his arm, but his blood is not the blood the monsters want, so he just hurt himself for nothing.
The next day, Sarah tries to talk to Skye about what's going on in her life, but honestly? It's too little too late. William calls and asks Skye to come to Kevin's because he's going to tell him everything that's going on. Kevin is his friend and he's going on the hunting trip too, so William's got to tell him what's happening. This goes about as well as anyone would expect, but as Kevin is yelling at Skye for brainwashing William, a monster bobs out of the woods, makes a shushing motion with its ribcage fingers, bows, and slinks away. Well, at least Kevin believes them now, but he's still not going to let William hurt anyone, because then what's next? What is Skye going to do if the monsters still won't give Deirdre up? What if it's Deirdre or William? What’s she going to do? She can't answer that.
William and Kevin go on the hunting trip and, when William texts Skye to meet up with him at the castle, she hurries to him. He tells her he wasn't going to shoot his dad, but then the monsters got Kevin. They yanked him into a hole in the ground and started eating his leg. William had his bow drawn, prepared to shoot away anything that came for them, but then he let loose an arrow right into his father. He'll be fine and everyone believes it was just an accident, everyone but Kevin. But he's here now with a bloody sweatshirt and they tie it on to Skye's monster's shoulders like a cape. The monster comes to life and beckons them to follow. Skye tries to make William leave because he's done his part, but no. They go inside the castle and end up in Skye and Deirdre's old house.
Skye leads William through the weird, mossy, wet version of her old house and then out into the yard and down the valley to the creek. She tries again to tell him to go, but he's here now and they're going to save Deirdre and get the hell out. But that's not what's going to happen and Skye knows it. She knows she still has a price to pay and she knows that William is it, but he doesn't. They kiss and she lovingly braids his hair and then she chokes him out and ties him up with wire. The monsters come out of the woods to claim their prize as Skye hears the tinkling of a bell, twists a stick into the river and disappears, by wood, stone, water and bone.
Skye reappears with a gleaming sword in her hand instead of her wooden one. She's in the water now and trudges through, calling for Deirdre. And then she appears. She's huge at first, as big as a mountain, her hair the lightning in the sky, the moon her crown, but then she is normal sized again. Skye tries to get her to leave, but why would she do that? Skye pleads that she's paid the price to let them go, but Deirdre just laughs. She did this. She created this kingdom, just for them, and she's not going to leave. She paid a price too, and she can't go back. Was Mog her price? As Skye asks that, Deirdre makes Mog appear from nowhere. Mog is there forever now, and Skye will be too.
Skye doesn't want to stay, but Deirdre doesn't believe her. She brings up Tyler again, saying she knows why Skye hurt him, and makes her explain. She reveals that she hurt him because she could. She sat on his back with his face on the water because she wanted to. She loved the feeling of power she had. But she wants to go now. She started a new life and she wants to live it. Then Deirdre makes William appear, but he's not really William. He's a weird, ghostly shell. Deirdre tells Skye that if she stays, William will be hers and they can be Queens, but that's not what Skye wants. She wants to be herself and to choose her own life, with or without her sister. She declares, by wood, stone, water and bone, that she's leaving and taking William with her. Deirdre cries and fades away into the sky as William collapses into Skye's arms.
Skye wakes up to someone screaming her name. She's covered in mud and snow and a man picks her up and carries her away. She's put in an ambulance and hears someone say they've found him, too. Him. William. He's alive. The police say something attacked him, but Skye saved him. Skye brought him out of the woods. Skye tells her mom that she found Deirdre at the end of the creek, but she's gone and she couldn't get her back. The police find her dress in the water, but nothing else. With that, and the idea that a wild animal is attacking, it's enough to believe that Deirdre is dead.
Later, at Deirdre's memorial, William's mother thanks Skye for saving her son. But did she really do that? Did she save him? Skye runs down to her basement bedroom but is followed by Kevin who tells her a story about a guy who used to beat up on William and how he made up a story about the guy's girlfriend cheating on him so they'd break up and ruin his life. He did it because he could. He did it to protect William. Just like with Skye and Tyler and Deirdre. But is it the same? Are they friends now because they’ve both done terrible things?
Skye goes back to school after that and whispers and rumors surround her. Sophie won't look at her, but Kevin stops people from talking badly about her. And then William walks through the door. His face is bandaged and bruised and cut up. Skye runs to him, making sure he's okay, but he turns and walks away. She brought him back, but does that really mean anything? After school, Skye goes out to the edge of the woods and calls for Deirdre, but she doesn't hear anything in response... No monsters, no tinkling bells, just the sound of the snow falling in the trees.