Close to Home

By: Jeannie Sandefer

When I started reading “Dionaea House” this week, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a website that’s all black, with some flickering lights and an interactive house? I read the blog post by the student who recommended it, and then I got a different idea: some creative uses of transmedia all housed in this website to create a story. Sounds interesting enough. But then I read the word Houston and I froze.

I’m the only person from Houston in this class, and probably one of the very very few who have taken this class in semesters past. At first I thought No big deal, it’s just a setting. Houston is just a city, this is just a story. But I got only a couple of emails into the story when I realized I was horribly, horribly wrong.

From the names of the highways and streets I’ve driven on millions of times, to the references of neighborhoods I know and places where my friends live, this story feels like my story, and in turn, feels real. Each time I recognize something, and I think back to what that area was probably like in 1999, I feel a small chill go down my spine.

Houston, as many people know, is a huge city, but it’s always changing, always morphing into something different than it used to be. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the country, and I’ve watched it grow, from my place in the suburbs. Shopping strips and grocery stores will be erected within months, and it’s hard to remember what the landscape looked like before then. I’m privileged to be able to use the stores in these ever-expanding suburbs, but there are still areas of town where the landscape is wild and untamed. A family friend of mine now lives in a neighborhood where she’s backed up to the Brazos River, and frequently gets alligators on her back lawn. I’ve seen woods, thick groves of trees that conceal whatever lays inside. These things are still common on the outskirts of Southwest Houston, where I live and where this story is set.

And that is why I can only imagine what it was like in 1999. Out off of Highway 6, with barely any streetlamps, just a collection of houses that make up Pecan Grove, I can picture a house, a withering, solitary house, waiting for a teen boy, possibly a friend of mine from high school. I can see Mark, walking up to the house, trying to figure out what it was that made Drew go crazy. I can see this boy, walking up to the house, and getting spat back out.

I’ve never particularly thought that the setting for a horror story was all that important. Sure, the backwoods of Kentucky makes for great ambiance, but does it really matter if it’s set in a state I’ve never seen, or somewhere close by?

By the increase in my heartbeat, I can confirm that yes, yes it does.

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11 thoughts on “Close to Home

  1. That’s really creepy. I don’t know much about Houston, but I have family that lives in Houston, and I have visited there as well. I assumed that this would be like a lot of the readings; creepy or insightful, but not anything that I would think about much. I was wrong. Every time one of the writers posted a link to click to direct me to another blog, I became more and more hesitant to click them…

  2. Having never stepped foot in Houston, I sort of made up this little dream world in my head. Oddly, I’m pleased by this because this story would’ve been scarier if it were set in my hometown. I think this is related to people being more afraid of things they know and things are easily pictured. I would cry and refuse to move if I read a fictitious story set in house similar to my neighbor’s house, a house I know quite well. The more we can picture something horrific, the easier it is to believe it can really happen.

  3. I totally agree that a story set in your hometown makes it all the more terrifying. I was scared enough reading Dionaea House and I have never even been to Houston. Last night in my room after finishing the story, I kept imagining that I would receive a text or email with some creepy article about another killing. While I am sure these visions will fade for me as we move to the next scary story in class, unfortunately every time you see a sign for Pecan Grove you will be reminded of Dionaea House (although I hope it doesn’t scare you too much!) It just goes to show how courageous the author was to write himself into the story in order to make it seem more real and more scary.

  4. I have never been to Houston either. I think what makes it so scary is the familiarity. Any time we get crime alerts from something happening on our campus, I get really scared and I am afraid to leave my house. However, when I hear about something happening halfway across the world, I get scared but not nearly to the same extent. The familiarity is what freaks me out. I hope that I never have to read something scary about East Lansing. I don’t know if I would ever go back home.

  5. I’m so glad that I’ve never read a horror story that takes place somewhere that I’m familiar with! I can’t imagine being able to pinpoint where my life and a horror story overlap on a map. Yikes. You wrote a truly excellent post that makes The Dionaea House seem all the more real for me.

  6. When I first read Dionaea House, I thought it was extremely scary and creepy and 100% real. I could only imagine how much more freaked out I would have been if it was set in a place familiar to me. Having the story set in Houston, I could see how a Houston-native would get the chills when reading. When a place we know and trust so well becomes scary, we become more afraid because we know what it should really look like; in your case, it should just look like your hometown, a safe and friendly place.

  7. I feel really bad that this story was 100 times more scary for you since it was set where you were familiar with. Reading Dionaea House, I was already extremely freaked out and starting to believe it could be real, but adding the element of it being set around where I lived and where I could recognize the street names and neighborhoods, would freak me out way more than I already was. You hear about myths and old scary stories set around your town sometimes, but reading one through a blog and online makes it seem so much more scary. I guess since it’s interactive in that you have to follow all these links and read people’s comments to get the whole story that you feel sucked into the story like you’re a part of it and that it could be real.

  8. I was already terrified while reading this story, but after reading your blog, I actually kinda wish that I lived in Huston or that the story took place in my hometown. I LOVE being scared, but I feel that this takes it to a whole other level for you and I really wish I could experience that! Do you think you will ever go visit that street again and actually look for the house? Or try to find any of the characters near there? That would be totally awesome and I’d love to hear more about it! *wink wink* You should do it Winter break and blog about it! 😀

  9. This goes along with Mcloud’s idea that it’s easier for you to place yourself in a situation that is more abstract, however, for you, the abstraction actually correlates with your own life and life experiences. This is much more terrifying because the Dionaea House actually mirrors your own experiences. Personally, I would have stopped reading if it was based in my tiny little hometown, Franklin, MI. However, Franklin has a population of 4000 which would have just made it incredibly unlikely. I thought Dionaea house was terrifying in itself but having it based in my hometown would make it so much worse!

  10. I concur that any story that takes place in your home town makes it way more scary. The movie the exorcist was shot just off the lake at the overnight camp I went to. After seeing the movie, i definitely felt the presence of the exorcist way more because of our proximity to it. And just by looking at that house, you knew it was horribly terrifying.

  11. It would surely be scarier if you knew the streets and the area. The concept of the house which is like a venus fly trap that catches its prey and turns them into killers or killed is just terrifying. Houston is one of the top 5 most populated cities in America and the largest in Texas. I used to live in Dallas. Go Cowboys! However, I can see what you mean about it hitting close to home. If I read a ghost house story and its setting was in the Florida Keys (where I was born) I would surely be more scared as well as interested.

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