When Our Bodies Are Not Our Homes: Annihilation & The Haunting of Hill House

A few years ago, a group of scientists published a study on screaming: the effects it has on those who hear it, and the type of screams that sound most fearful. “Scream science,” they called it. “A new kind of science.” The scientists had subjects listen to various screams and then judge them based on how afraid the screamer sounded. The rougher the scream, they found, the quicker that scream went straight to the listener’s amygdala, the brain’s fear center, and triggered fear responses––a boost in adrenaline and endorphins, sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, tense muscles. A primal and ancient reaction. In this way, a scream serves as both a release and a warning: I’m afraid and you should be too.

Which is to say: this past year has felt like one long scream.


2018 lived like a constant ache in so many of our bodies. Clenched teeth, stress dreams, knotted back muscles that felt like rocks. Which is why, moreso than usual, I’ve found myself drawn to stories about landscapes that sink into you—planting a persistent, rattling dread—and characters who turn their skin into a kind of armor in order to survive.

Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House begins: “No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.” Compare that to this quote from Jeff Vandermeer’s Annihilation: “That’s how the madness of the world tries to colonize you: from the outside in, forcing you to live in its reality.”

How many of us have remained sane?

How many of us haven’t been infected by the world’s madness?

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