Monster Tales : Kirstie Olley

The Dark Canvas of the Imagination
Let’s All Stop Pretending We Aren’t Afraid Of The Dark

by Kirstie Olley

It’s the middle of the night, you wake up throat dry and just know you aren’t going back to sleep until you’ve had a drink of water. The only problem is your bedstand doesn’t have the usual glass of water on it. Sure, you’ve lived in this house for five years now, you can travel the path in the dark without stubbing any toes or smashing any shins. And you’re thirty now, too old for this heart-flip moment.

Your husband’s sleeping soundly beside you and the baby’s in the cot at the end of the bed – you haven’t slipped off into some empty other world with no life in it. But in a way you have. Here in the dark is where your imagination does some of its finest work, whether you’re a writer of horror or not. The dark is a tapestry for your creative side, and if your creative side is anything like mine it can be a vindictive little asshole. That lump of laundry that didn’t quite make it into the hamper? Well that’s a serial killer crouching, hoping you won’t notice him and leave the room so he can murder your family.

What’s that, standing by the TV, silhouetted weakly by moonlight through the window? It’s not the speaker tower which your oldest threw their pyjama shirt over in a final defiance of bedtime, no, it’s a small skinny creature science has yet to identify which has a penchant for the delightful flavour of human blood.

And what lies behind the door leading into the kitchen? You can’t even see it yet! Damn it you just wanted a drink. Something scapes on the linoleum floor and you just know it’s something with sharp, hooked claws that will pierce your skin. And you’re right. You just had the size and fluffiness wrong. It’s your cat.

You’ve made it to the sink now at least, and relieve your dry throat. While Sockies rubs on your leg, asking for one last serve of wet cat food you try to remind yourself you’re an adult now. Only kids are afraid of the dark.

Thirst quenched and cat fed, you make the return journey. You’re almost to the bedroom door when a shuffling noise catches your attention. From the further dark of the hall something charges at you. Before you know it, something has latched around you. Your mind vanishes into a moment of black and white static and hiss like a TV channel when the antenna’s off-kilter. Then you realise it’s your oldest, come from their bedroom, freshly woken-up from a nightmare. They cling to you, shaking. With care you scoop them up in the cradle of your arms and bring them to bed with you. After all, it would be too cruel to leave them alone in the dark with all that canvas for their imagination to paint on.

Kirstie Olley writes horror and fantasy and her overactive imagination enjoys painting the canvas of the darkness full of all manner of things. She still expects, every time she throws the garage door open to put the bins out the night before pickup, that she will be greeted with a shambling crowd
of zombies. She’s still undecided whether she’ll be excited or terrified when it actually happens. You can read her latest horror story “Mudgerwokee” in Pacific Monsters, or if you can’t wait that long  (or want to join her in obsessing over the Bush-Stone Curlew (screaming woman bird)) check out her website: