There are many kinds of doors. Some close, some remain open, some never exist, and some … remain unseen. Until it is too late.
It is the season for horror. But, for online horror, the season started early. Just three months ago My dead girlfriend keeps messaging me on Facebook was a story spread like a trail of goosebumps from the subreddit r/nosleep to creep out and outright terrify readers on the Internet.
I am very interested in these kinds of stories. They are often called creepypastas: essentially online urban myths and, for lack of a better word, folktales with elements of the uncanny copy-and-pasted across many forums and message boards. Some of these stories have no authors, or none have disclosed themselves while other writers proclaim themselves and their stories as works of fiction and horror after they have become viral. Jeff the Killer is a haphazard example of a creepypasta without named authors that’s circulated for some time, while Candle Cove is the creation of Kris Straub which got circulated and promoted as true on other sites.
But then there are the others: the ones that write their narratives as though they are true and they leave it open as to whether or not you, as the reader, should believe them. They create a door out of the corner of your perception to let your imagination inform you of what you will see if you dare to step through.
Enter Eric Heisserer and his … door.
Eric Heisserer himself is a horror writer and director but, before that, he created an online epistolary horror story called The Dionaea House: a narrative made up of a series of correspondence outlining the investigation and disappearance of friends in a particular house. You see, I thought I knew Heisserer from his directing work but I actually remembered coming across this story in my research for creepypastas. Eric Heisserer created this work in 2004 — a piece that actually gave him the opportunity to get into screenwriting and directing — and, as such, is no stranger to the kind of writing and mentality in creating a creepypasta. So that might “solve” some questions with regards to the truth behind his current story.
Cautionary message: do not read past this point if you don’t want spoilers. You have been warned or if you’d like, I’d turn back if I were you.
His account begins as Information I’m dumping here for safe keeping on reddit. You might want to view Dread Central‘s version of the story in their article Eric Heisserer Details a Truly Horrific Account as well: not only does it seamlessly incorporate the hyperlinked images directly into the text, it is also easier to follow.
With regards to this story, there is already some suspension of disbelief needed by that title alone, but r/nosleep has a policy for interacting with any story in its jurisdiction as true. Basically a friend of a friend named Kevin is searching for his sister who went missing in her house some time ago. You then find out that Kevin’s sister Gwen and her estranged husband Robert lost their child Dash: who simply vanished from his room in that same house.
Robert moves back into the house after Gwen’s disappearance and starts to impede any investigation on Heisserer or Kevin’s part. So we already have a few horror tropes and devices happening here: the series of derivative horror stories sent to Heisserer and the one exception, the “friend of a friend,” a suspicious husband, and of course people going missing in a house. You can also see the similarities between this situation and the disappearances within Heisserer’s The Dionaea House along with some of the epistolary format — what with the first-person perspective and the addition of journal entries — but there are some differences.
For instance, Eric Heisserer is the primary narrator of this story as opposed to his persona and the other fictional narratives that made up The Dionaea House. And there is the nature of the epistolary format. While it’s true that in The Dionaea House Heisserer creates constant additions and updates to Mark’s investigation with links to other characters’ blogs, chat logs, text messages and the like, his subreddit account has something else.
This is in the form of Gwen’s hobby, created to deal with the obsessive compulsive disorder she apparently developed after Dash went missing, and it’s the element that expands the scope of the story and makes it both truly creepy and utterly fascinating.
Essentially, Gwen began researching and practising an obscure form of photography: branching from her fascination with its infra-red variant. This leads to the inclusion of some interesting graphic evidence and the addition of a journal written in the Philippines from 1954 by a photographer’s assistant named Salazar.
In the initial thread of the story, we see that the scans of the journal entries are all in a dialect of Filipino which Eric Heisserer and Kevin can’t read. Instead there are some disturbing images there to entertain us in the meantime.
And then we get updates and some translations. It also gets better due to the fact that while The Dionaea House adds to its narrative through hyperlinks and blog comments, commentaries in the subreddit actually expand on what could be going on in the latter narrative. The story seems to be participatory: like an improvised collaboration around a camp fire of digital information and helpful hyperlinks. People seem to be helping Eric Heisserer build a nightmare. They are building a nightmare together. This is how viral creepypastas happen
I honestly hope that this story will continue or lead into another project despite “Robert” filing a “cease and desist order” against Eric Heisserer. But in any case, there is a very intriguing comment with which I’d like to end this article.
In the special form of photography that Salazar creates and Gwen adopts from his journal, one of the chemical developing agents is derived from the leaves of balete or banyan trees. According to an excerpt from a Wikipedia article the commenter StudiousIdiot, among other spiritual connotations “A number of these [balate trees] are known as strangler figs wherein they start upon other trees, later entrapping them entirely and finally killing the host tree,” to which the commenter adds “That other photo we haven’t seen yet – the one with the unseen house? It chills me to read that while thinking of what might be growing there.”
The Jungian image of a new home connected to an old and decrepit old larger house that you can only see when something else points it out to you is precisely just what a creepypasta can become: a story that is linked to an ordinary reality that can turn into a viral meme, an ever-evolving horror mythos, and even a dionaea — a venus flytrap — that can capture your fascination, your fear, and swing shut behind your soul forever. And I hope I and others will get to see the process of its expansion and entrapment over the imaginations of many more.
Pleasant dreams everyone.