Monster Tales : Octavia Cade

Wishful Monsters
By Octavia Cade

Monsters are strange things.
We’re fascinated by them. There’s whole industries devoted to bringing them to life, to packaging them up in consumable form so that we can be briefly entertained by fright. And it’s fun because it is brief. I can enjoy spending two hours watching a zombie horror film precisely because zombies don’t actually exist. If my life revolved around fending them off, I’d not be turning towards them for my leisure hours. I’d be refilling the flame-thrower and any moments I could snatch for escapism would tend to the absolutely harmless.

We generally don’t want the monsters to be real. But sometimes it’s just so disappointing when they’re not.
Especially when we hold the burden of having removed them ourselves. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend turns an individual amongst monsters into the monster those monsters fear, and on a species level Matheson isn’t far wrong. Extinction took a lot of monsters from this world long before humans came alone, but we’ve certainly done our best to slaughter the rest.

This can best be seen in the lands where humans are not. And, for longer than anywhere else, New Zealand was that land. The last major land mass to be colonised, absent of any native mammal but small bats, it was for millennia a land belonging to birds. Flightless, many of them, and some not. The most dangerous was the largest eagle to ever exist – Haast’s eagle. It died out when humans killed its food to line their own stomachs.

That food was my Pacific monster. The tallest bird ever known, the giant moa. Females were as much as 3.7 metres in height, and all of them were flightless.
All we have left of it are bones. Bones, and stories…

Every so often the rumours start back up. That down in the remote, unexplored back blocks of Fiordland the moa survives. Perhaps not the giant moa, which would be genuinely hard to miss, but one of the smaller species of the genus. There’s sightings, a blurry photo or two. Tracks in the earth.

When my Pacific Monsters story was being edited, Margrét commented on the character who’d just found a moa footprint. Wouldn’t she wonder what it was?
There isn’t a person in this country who would see a three toed footprint that size and not think – not hope – that it was a moa. We’re a young country. We take our monsters where we can get them.
Do I think they’re still out there? Honestly, no. Do I want them to be? Oh, so much.

Jurassic Park

It’s wishful thinking, I know. Imagination layering itself over science, and with just enough hook to cling to, because, Jurassic Park-like, there is an astronomical outside chance that discovery of ancient DNA might be enough to bring them back.
But what would we do with them if we did? If we found them, alive still, in the dark and distant corners of the bush?
I’d like to think we’d be happy. That, as a nation, we’d pull of the mother of all conservation efforts, exceeding even that of the black robin – a native bird pulled back from the brink when once there were only seven individuals remaining.

But then I remember the context of monsters, and how the moa met a monster new-come to their shores… and it was us.
They didn’t survive the human race.
If they’re still out there, I hope they stay far, far away. That they’re rumours forever, because some monsters survive best in wishful thinking.

Monster Tales : AJ Fitzwater

Spine of the Dragon

by AJ Fitzwater

Walking on dragon backs and swimming in their tears is a large part of my history.

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the Marlborough Sounds at the top of the South Island of New Zealand, a series of waterways stretching between Cloudy Bay and Tasman Bay. My grandfather was a builder, and during weekends and holidays I’d often join him on his rounds on his boat, or as a family we’d stay in a bach (holiday home) belonging to one of his clients.

Swimming, fishing, being on the water, golden sunshine; all taken for granted. In my child’s imagination, the water valleys weren’t created by plate tectonics – the Alpine fault that stretches along the back of Te Waipounamu (the South Island) terminates off the northeast coast – but sleeping dragons, the humps of hills their backs, the peninsulas of the bays their snouts dipping into the water. The small earthquakes I experienced living in that area was them rolling over and grumbling in their sleep. The Māori mythology I absorbed, imbued with taniwha and Papatūānuku (the earth goddess), strengthened my fantasies.

The South Island, image via

I am Pākehā, New Zealand European, white. I recognize my colonizing roots, and that I walk on stolen land and benefit from its fruits. I recognize the weight my voice has been given in telling a story with Māori mythological roots, and hope to do my best by the people this land belongs to. As a white writer, it is my duty to understand and interrogate how colonial interference has changed the structures of mythology. If I have failed anyone in any way, I accept this criticism and will work to better myself. In my story, the figures of Papatūānuku, Ranginui, and Rūamoko are all part of Māori earthquake mythology while the character/dragon E is purely fictional.

I did not intend earthquake themes to become such a large part of my writing, but the events of February 22, 2011 came only 18 months after I began my writing journey. Brought up in an earthquake prone area (Marlborough), living right on top of the large Alpine Fault, the geography of the area and earthquake drills were an integral part of my schooling.

When the big one of my generation happened, it wasn’t the overdue Alpine Fault. Previously unknown faults broke to the west and south of Christchurch, 6.3 in magnitude. 18 months of aftershocks followed, including at least half a dozen of equal and larger magnitude.

The Alpine Fault eventually did move. Arterial offshoots to the west of the island’s back caused a 7.8 on November 14, 2016, badly damaging the coastal Kaikoura area, uplifting seabed by over a metre, and disrupting major road and rail arterial routes.

I have lived in Christchurch for 20 years, and 6 of those has been disaster and post-disaster conditions. Of course, this would work its way out through my writing.

In my story “From the Womb of the Land, Our Bones Entwined,” I wanted to examine the cowardice that sometimes erupts in the face of trauma. Often, heroic stories are about strength, physical and mental. But what do the heroes look like who walk away, who take time to find their way through, often in unconventional ways?

Sometimes that journey is a no win situation, as my character Hine discovers. It’s merely a negotiation with your monster, finding level footing, to stop the ground from moving under you for a while so that win is simply a little bit of peace, a place to breathe. Unfortunately, your monster will come back to haunt you, bigger, nastier, more powerful, unless you find a way to rein it in or come to terms with it. Sometimes your monster needs love, a little feeding, some recognition. If one is stuck with your monster, one should make the best of it, even if in the strangest ways.

The story also examines themes of found family and queer identity in a post-colonial society. Our indigenous people have strong connections to whanau (whether biological family or the wider community) and the land. The way our colonial society has sought to mould people to the white ideal is to breach these connections, often violently. This can be seen in Hine’s disconnection from her language and mythology, her fear of her aunty’s mental health, and her distaste for a power she feels doesn’t belong to her and an anger she doesn’t believe she is allowed.

The earthquake monster E took the form of a sinuous dragon, it’s long body the spine of Te Waipounamu and the great fault, the arterial faults that fan out to the coast like whiskers, tendrils, or grabbing fingers. I chose a dragon-like form because of the ouroboros relationship I have with them. I am in equal measure fascinated by their myriad mythology, rehabilitating their violent and adversarial nature in modern fantasy, and also creating new mythology for them.

And with E in particular, I come back to my original childhood vision of the dragon backs as the spine of the world, a full circle imagining, a completed journey or telling. Hopefully the dragon lies at peace for some time to come.

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: