By: Jessica Dennis (Horror alum, Winter 2013)
We were getting bored – well, not exactly bored, but the stories we were reading were beginning to get repetitive. Just the same old “traditional” literature: short-stories and poems. That’s when someone in the RC Book Co-op decided to step outside the comfort zone that we had unwittingly created to suggest a story for the following week that was told in a very untraditional way.
“Has anyone heard of ‘The Dionaea House?’” she asked.
We shook our heads, some half-heartedly, thinking this would be another dramatic story requiring an online search of The New Yorker archive. Instead, what she told us piqued our interest.
“It’s kind of like House of Leaves,” she said, referring to the notorious ergodic (a text that requires effort by the reader to follow logically from beginning to end) and epistolary horror novel by Mark Z. Danielewski, “Except that it’s all told online. There’s like a bunch of different blogs and websites you have to go between to understand the story. The ending is kind of a cliffhanger too – that’s what made it really scary when I read it awhile ago. All you have to do is search ‘dionaea house’ on Google and the first website should start the story.”
That Friday night, I was up late (or early) clicking around the web as I attempted to piece together the different parts of the multiple-narrator online tale. With each new e-mail, text-message, and blog post message I read, the knot in my stomach grew. While mundane frights such as serial killers, nuclear weapons, rapists, or natural disasters are indeed terrifying in their own right and have a much more real-world impact on our lives, I’ve always been more afraid of those things that have no concrete explanation one way or the other. Aliens, ghosts, deadly diseases, and other supernatural or mythological things or beings – these are the stories that have made me turn the nightlight on in my room and sleep under the covers with the thought that my bed was some kind anti-monster force-field lulling me to sleep.
To give you an idea about how much Eric Heisserer’s “The Dionaea House” impressed me, it is the only story I read that semester in Book Co-op that I remember with any clarity, and in reflection, continues to give me chills today.
So, the story: enter Mark Condry, friend of the fictional version of “Dionaea House” author Eric. Mark e-mails Eric out of the blue after receiving a newspaper clipping in the mail about an old mutual friend, Drew, who murdered two people at a diner then turned the gun on himself. Disturbed by this information, Mark soon finds himself obsessed with understanding what drove Drew over the edge, unintentionally drawing Eric into the investigation as well. Together Mark and Eric remember bits and pieces about Drew from five years ago when he was a part of their Saturday game night gang – in particular, the drastic personality change in Drew after house-sitting a place for two weeks that his stepfather owned. Following the trail of these half-forgotten memories, Mark finds the house that altered Drew. And what Mark and later Eric learn is that the house is not all it appears to be – harboring characteristics that, according to Mark, are reminiscent of the alluring but dangerous carnivorous plant, the Venus fly trap.
As Mark and Eric become more and more entangled in the mystery of the house – as we become more engrossed in the story – the more and more the house lures us in, evidenced in Mark’s offhanded yet smart remark, “something else is eating at me.” The house is dangerous because of its unrelenting grip on our curious nature – gambling on humanity’s search for answers to lead them to the house’s doorstep, where, by then, it is too late.
When I think about the story of “The Dionaea House,” I doubt whether it would be successful if it was told through another medium. If it had been a linear short-story, the creepy atmosphere surrounding the house would likely remain, but the level of suspense that the abrupt e-mails, text-messages, and blog posts created would have been lost. As a movie, “The Dionaea House” would run the risk of sounding overdone, for many movies have examined paranormal houses, such as Poltergeist (which you will watch or already have). “The Dionaea House’s” existence online may cause some of us to call into question the veracity of the narrative, especially considering the various narrators that contribute to the story and the easily faked sites that we, as readers, are asked to explore. Yet the Internet is also very fluid; it is a medium that requires constant reader engagement as you click from one webpage to the next, comment on posts, receive updates, and view images and videos. We become part of the story ourselves as we constantly return to the blog sites in order to check for new updates on the investigation (as readers most likely did between the years 2004 and 2006) and comment on the story so far (many of the comments on Eric’s blog, for instance, do come from “real” readers). How you appreciate the story depends, in the end, on how much effort you put into engaging with it, whether it is scrolling through every single comment, researching the Venus fly trap, or forwarding the story for others to read – all of which, I admit, I have done. My doings have probably increased the potential victims for the house a millionfold!
And for those who still find the premise of this story too over-the-top to believe, to you I say this: much of what constitutes “horror” today requires us to abandon disbelief and open our minds to the unbelievable in order to be carried away by a story that excites our imaginations and often holds more kernels of truth about our society than realistic fiction. For once, destroy those walls and let in the possibilities as you move your way through “The Dionaea House.” The door is always open.
- Start the story here!
- Continue the story at Eric’s update site, which includes links to the blogs of Danielle Stephens, Eric Heisserer, and Loreen Mathers.
(Note: When reading the online journals, make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the page for the earliest entry. For Eric’s blog, make sure you click on the earliest post under “Previous Posts” and then follow them in order based on the date.)
- Here’s the TV Tropes link to “The Dionaea House,” which gives the chronological order of the stories and brief summaries of each.