Tuesdays with Morzant: Getting to Know a Reader
MORZANT: Zulko, humans. I’m here on the beach awaiting Penny’s arrival. She’s agreed to an interview. I’ve known her a long time and I tend to take for granted much of what I know about her. Nonetheless, I’ll endeavor to ask probing questions so you can get to know her as well as I do. From her advocacy for lamprey literacy to her fear of raindrops, she is a fascinating being. There she is now. I’m over here, Penny! By the sand model of the Great Wall of China. The other end! Here!
PENNY: Hi, Morzant. Wow. This is really, really, really big. It must have taken forever to build.
MORZANT: On the contrary. This version came together in a fraction of the time as the first two.
PENNY: You’ve built three of these?
MORZANT: Six, actually. It took me two tries to formulate a building compound with the ideal sand-to-water ratio given the current temperature, level of humidity, and wind direction. The third wall was sound; however, I realized belatedly that a critical miscalculation had resulted in a model that was not to scale. Obviously, I couldn’t allow that version to stand. The fourth wall was flattened by a petulant beachcomber in need of a nap. The young human seemed heartened by his violent rampage, so much so that I found it difficult to resist trying it myself.
PENNY: Meaning what?
MORZANT: I kicked the fifth wall to smithereens. Which brings us to number six. I can hardly wait to see how the seashell reinforcements hold up. What time does the tide come in? Actually, nevermind that. We’re here to talk about you. Let’s start with your origin. Where were you born?
PENNY: In Lake Michigan, but my family moved around a lot when I was growing up. Lake Athabasca, Lake Bled, Loch Lomond, the Fleet Lagoon. It can be hard to make new friends. Maybe that’s why I’ve always liked to read. It’s hard to be lonely when you’re reading.
MORZANT: Aside from your rather long tail, you resemble a plesiosaur. Most Earth scientists believe the plesiosaur became extinct long ago. Do you believe you’re a remnant of that prehistoric creature?
PENNY: Being called a “remnant” isn’t very flattering, Morzant. I'm not a leftover carpet sample. I don’t know if I’m a descendent of those plesio-whosits, but I’m not a one-of-a-kind. There are lots of us out there, whatever we are.
MORZANT: Really? Are you related to the famous Loch Ness Monster?
PENNY: No, but my great uncle Bill went out with her a few times before he met my great aunt Georganna. I’m glad he ended up with Great Aunt Georganna instead. She’s the one who gave me my first book.
MORZANT: What was that book?
PENNY: THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK by Jon Stone.
MORZANT: Ah. So that’s when it began.
PENNY: When what began?
MORZANT: You’re incomprehensible attraction to the horror genre.
PENNY: THE MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK isn’t a horror story. It’s an early reader with Grover. He’s a Muppet. And what do you mean “incomprehensible”? Lots of readers love scary books.
MORZANT: I’m quite aware of that bizarre truth regarding Earth readers. I’ve actually devoted much of my study of Earth literature this month to those readers with a predilection for the macabre.
PENNY: And what did you find out?
MORZANT: Nothing. I have found no explanation whatsoever as to why anyone would purposely read a book in order to become frightened. Perhaps you can enlighten me.
PENNY: Being scared is thrilling. Like riding a roller coaster. You’ve ridden a roller coaster before, haven’t you?
MORZANT: And risk retinal detachment and whiplash? I should say not.
PENNY: Forget roller coasters. You’ve read a scary book before, right?
MORZANT: I read THE ENEMY by Charlie Higson. It can’t be considered scary specifically to me, though, since the book’s zombies attack humans rather than visitors from the planet Zeenton.
PENNY: That counts. Did you like it?
MORZANT: I was enthralled when I thought it was a historical account of a plague. I was disappointed to learn that it’s fiction.
PENNY: It wasn’t a relief to find out that there aren’t zombies in real life?
MORZANT: It was to Mortimer. Even so, he insisted on sleeping with the lights on for two weeks.
PENNY: Maybe you should try a good ghost story instead. Zombies aren’t very subtle, you know? What you need is an old-fashioned, creepy ghost story.
MORZANT: Thank you for trying, Penny, but I just don’t believe I’ll ever understand the allure of the horror novel. We should get back to our original topic—you. If you were to write a horror novel, what would it be about?
PENNY: It would have to have ghosts, definitely. Vengeful ghosts on a rainy night, with lots of thunder and lightening. And there would definitely be newts.
PENNY: Newts are terrifying, don’t you think? There would be swarms of newts. Oh! Even better—ghost newts! Vengeful ghost newts.
MORZANT: What enraged these phantom newts?
PENNY: Um. Hmm…I know. Some kid picked them all up and made their tails fall off. And it really ticked them off. So when they come back as ghosts—
MORZANT: How would they become ghosts? Newts don’t die when their tails fall off.
PENNY: Well, then they live out their lives, humiliated because they have no tails. Then when they die, they come back—
MORZANT: But the tails would grow back. Your mishandled newts would experience no humiliation due to tail loss. Come to think of it, I'm not entirely certain newts are autotomic.
MORZANT: Autotomy is an amazing feat of nature whereby a being can disengage an appendage when attacked. Lobsters can shuck a claw and some lizards can shuck a tail. As a matter of fact, if you were to shake my hand too vigorously—
PENNY: Okay. How about this? The kid purposely cuts off the newts’ tails.
MORZANT: Compelling. Perhaps he’s a scientist intrigued by the regenerative properties of newts. He dismembers them so he can study them as their limbs grow back. That’s appropriately gruesome for this type of story.
PENNY: Newts can do that?
PENNY: I told you newts are terrifying.
MORZANT: As I tried to say earlier, I myself share that ability—
PENNY: How perfect for a horror novel! Forget the ghost part. The newt swarms just keep coming after you. Even if you chop them up, they can’t be killed.
MORZANT: Zombie newts? I’m not sure that’s scary. Maybe zombie leeches. No, leeches would make better vampires. Would zombie crocodiles constitute a redundancy?
PENNY: Forget newts and zombies. My book would have a haunted ship that sails the ocean, appearing only on nights of a new moon to take on new crew members. So they’d recruit new members by making ghosts out of unsuspecting sailors. Or scuba divers. Or maybe marine biologists.
MORZANT: That’s erie. What then?
PENNY: Then the sea monsters come to save the cruise ship passengers—yeah, it’s a cruise ship being attacked—the sea monsters save the cruise ship passengers from the ghosts on the haunted ship.
MORZANT: Sea monsters have the power to defeat ghosts? How so? Ghosts are immaterial manifestations.
PENNY: I don’t know. They just do. Anyway, it would be plenty spooky. With a happy ending of course.
MORZANT: A happy ending?
PENNY: Sure. I like happy endings. You know, now that you’ve made me think about it, I’d say part of the fun of a scary story is getting goosebumps from being scared, but knowing when you shut the book you’ll be back in your relatively safe world where there are no zombies or ghosts. Only newts and raindrops.
MORZANT: Speaking of which…
PENNY: What? Did you feel a raindrop? Is there a zombie newt? I’ll see you later, Morzant!
MORZANT: Wait! We’ve barely begun. I haven’t had a chance to ask you what your middle initial stands for. Is it Callidora? Clementine? Wait, Penny! Watch your tail! My wall!
Oh, well. Good-bye for now, humans. This concludes a partial interview with Penny Cecilia? Monster. Please come back next week when I'll try to steer the conversation away from the topics of zombies, ghosts, and newts.