Through A Child's Eyes, The Frightening Can Be Fascinating

By Mariana Dale
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 5:05am
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2018 - 7:13pm

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Maland Frehner
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
Maland Frehner based the monster in his story, and the illustration, on the Komodo Dragon.

“Just a couple weeks ago in the town of Mesa, Arizona

— Wait, wait, wait, hold it —
“So you guys made a genetically engineered giant venomous lizard?”

That’s the opening lines of 9-year-old Maland Frehner’s idea of a scary story. He’s one of a few dozen kids that entered the Mesa Public Library’s scary stories writing contest.

Lydia Matthews, 10, has a bat protagonist named Billy that takes on Queen Halloween — a fearsome witch with a black cat accomplice!

In his story, Garrett Harshbarger, also 10, falls asleep at Dobson Ranch Park only to confront a tentacle-d creature!

He tried to escape via Uber, but—

“The app said nobody was available right now. Then my phone stopped working and it was fully charged!”

Mariana Dale/KJZZ
This is the fearsome werehedgehog! Everything terrifying about a werewolf in a more pokey omnivorous format.

Frehner’s story was called “Lizard on the Loose.”

Like the name implies, the lizard in question, Veranus Giganticus, escapes from his exhibit to menace Mesa.

Among the victims are scientist who engineered the lizard and Harold, a middle-aged guy who becomes lizard lunch when he lets out his dog one night (Frehner thought it might be too scary to have Giganticus eat a kid).

The characters in the story also encounter some frightening legal implications.

“You guys have any idea of how much money we’ve been sued?”

In the end, the military saves the day and brings down Veranus Giganticus, but the story ends with a twist!

“The 23-foot long, 2-ton lizard is free again, and he could even eat you!”

If you’re thinking the story sounds a bit like Jurassic Park, you won’t be surprised the movie is one of Frehner’s favorites, but not because it’s scary.

Yes, the story was inspired in part by Jurassic Park. A movie that he actually doesn’t really find scary at all. He loves lizards.

“I just love the scales, and how they run, and how they’re really prehistoric like dinosaurs,” Frehner said.  I just love all that.”

He told me about lizards with yellow heads (the Eastern Collared Lizard) legless lizards and worm lizards, which are different and not to be confused with snakes.

Frehner has no patience for common reptile misconceptions.

“Everyone always says ‘I saw a really poisonous snake,’” Frehner said. “That really makes me mad because I know it’s not poisonous. It’s venomous. They are a big difference.”

His encyclopedic reptile recitation is fueled by research in the library and online and outside. He estimates he’s caught about a dozen lizards in his backyard and at his grandmother’s house in Mesa. They’re mostly Ornate Tree Lizards.

“The 23-foot long, 2-ton lizard is free again, and he could even eat you!”
— Maland Frehner

“My typical reaction is like, ‘Whoa, it’s a lizard. I’ve got to catch it quick.’”

I do not love catching lizards. I’m a very intentional lizard catching novice.  In case you’re curious, here are some pro-tips:

“You can’t just run for it,” Frehner said. “You have to approach it slowly. Reach out your hand slowly and then you suddenly put it down and trap it.”

He cups his hand and makes a scooping motion.  

Same rules apply to trapping toads.

Frehner thinks some of the varieties he’s been catching might be posionous. I asked if he’d reconsidered scooping them up.

“Absolutely not. They are awesome.”

scary story illustration
Mariana Dale/KJZZ
The undead, cannabalism and decapitation were also big themes in the story submissions.

His mom, Erin Frehner, who’s been sitting with us during the interview, said Maland’s pretty fearless.

In addition to the reptile wrangling, he loves climbing.
“I’ve always kind of wished a little bit that he was a little more scared so he wouldn’t climb as high because I’m just left at the bottom feeling the fear for him and knowing, what really happens if he falls,” Erin Frehner said.  

Motherhood adds some fear to your life, but it also helps you see the world from a new perspective.

For example, he's taught her to be more comfortable with holding scurrying scaled creatures.

“Maybe it will run away, but it’s more afraid of you than you are of it,” Erin Frehner said.  

Erin said her son’s love of lizards, reptiles and what I could call creepy crawlies may come with some harder lessons in the future.

“Maybe he’ll get bit or stung by something that he didn’t realize was a threat,” she said.

Even though she’s talking about animals, I think these lessons have a wider application and they don’t have an age limit.

“There are so many variables in the world,” Erin Frehner said. “It’s easy to think that things will go a certain way and you’re in control and nature just kind of had its own course.”

Maland Frehner has done something to combat this though. He’s learning as much as he can about the world around him.

“I know what to do and it’s like my specialty,” he said. “I know how to deal with it. I know what’s good and what isn’t good.”

That means knowing what’s poisonous and venomous. Where animals live and what they eat.

And, I think, we can all take comfort in knowing there are no lizards in Arizona, or anywhere, that are as terrifying as the one he imagined in his story.

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