Fiction: Grimly

By Peter Gutierrez 

Sometimes, when the mood struck, Amy Lynn inserted unnecessary adverbs into her self-narration, and grimly was her favorite. Grimly, she approached the bag of Cheetos, a popular snack food. Or: She lifted her head to see if it was daylight edging through the curtains or just the lights of a passing vehicle, motoring grimly. Silly stuff like that. 

(outside, last year’s leaves skidded down the curved gables, doing their modernist poetry thing and reminding her of the duties of homeownership)

The first time Amy Lynn threw his heavily-buckled belt over the bedroom door and closed it, she was pleasantly surprised at how straightforward the arrangement was. Pleasantly—and grimly. The door did in fact shut all the way, and the belt remained firmly in place even when she tugged down on the looped end. Keeping calm in this manner, as calm as someone conducting an oil-change, she imagined, helped her proceed to the next stage. She placed the loop, which was not as tight as it could have been, around her neck and then bent at the knees—slightly. Amy Lynn was doing this as the driest of dry runs, an exercise in proof-of-concept. The trick, she knew, would be to stay this detached, this mechanical, when the time came to act in earnest.

But that was hours and days earlier. The question now was simply the doing of it, and the chief obstacle in that respect occurred during the blackout swirls. That’s when she’d feel herself starting to pass out at the end of the belt, launching a dull and stupid panic that always ended the same way. She’d fumble to her feet, palms and elbows leveraging off anynearby surface while she somehow also removed the loop while she somehow also opened the door to release the tension. It worked every time, unfortunately, this vestigial survival instinct, and she’d be left sitting in a puddle of self-disgust. Still, maybe that was actually a good feeling to have: it propelled her, however sluggishly, into the next attempt hundreds of minutes later. 

(a vacation, she had told everyone, and that’s what it was: a stationary journey, a rendezvous with the winds, an evasion of all border control)

These sessions with belt and door—they weren’t how Amy Lynn knew she was serious, and she held nothing but blue-flame contempt for people who weren’t serious about such things. She’d proven her earnestness when she’d gotten rid of the pets. There was no reason to think of them now, or anyone else she had loved or been loved by. All that did was confuse the issue. She was not worthy of additional life: it was that simple. 

(outside, the weather continued to visit in long, languid swaths; it was close to silent now, the roof moss further thickening and soundproofing the country house with each passing mist; this overhead moss was an unexpected source of comfort: apparently she was already underground, and doing just fine, thank you)

Still, she wondered if there was some ultimate form of self-deception going on here. After all, if she was serious, how many attempts did it take? This was getting ridiculous, the way she’d awaken every morning convinced that this was the day, only to tell herself the same of tomorrow upon retiring that night. 

Recently she’d hit upon a new plan: downing some top-shelf bourbon, followed by a modest portion of Ambien. With these ingredients hastening unconsciousness, the idea was that gravity would do the rest as long as she remained in that graceless pose against the door, knees bent, hands as clumsy as catcher’s mitts at her sides. The aim was to smother the blackout panic before it had a chance to make her a liar yet again. Not enough for an overdose, which she feared botching, but enough to make her submit and allow the inevitable to be inevitable.

(a light springtime rain fell and was perhaps always falling, outlining each surface with a different tapping, one for the bowing maples, one for the softened soil where the summertime grass was as tall as children, one for the steel-and-aluminum roof of her Subaru, glossy and forgotten) 

As she sorted through envelopes and catalogs, she made a point of focusing on the words Amy Lynn and disregarding her surname. Disregarding grimly, she thought. She was consistent in retrieving her mail because she didn’t want to raise alarms too prematurely.

A larger concern was her own potential miscalculation. There were a lot of factors at play, and she had just enough steadiness of mind to realize how unsteady her mind was. There was the unpredictable interaction of pills and booze, the importance of angling the belt loop into her carotid, the possibility of shallow respiration that might result despite her being unconscious. That last bit recalled countless scenarios about the comatose survivor locked into permanent stasis and unable to communicate with the world beyond her own body. To fail at this project, then, would be nothing less than self-damning. 

Amy Lynn tried to use deep breaths and handfuls of bagged snack food to fend off such thoughts, but she couldn’t escape the sense that she was now at risk of botching death in much the same manner as she had botched life.

(outside, the snow continued to glide and settle while the wind arched its back and sang in all its tonalities; the taller trees bent under both visible and invisible weights, and a second snowfall could be heard thudding in the more distant parts of the property, away from the house and its warm skin)

Food was no problem. Amy Lynn had plenty, and the stores of it never seemed to diminish. She baked almost every day, partly because it proved an effective way to occupy her eyes and hands. As long they were busy, her brain avoided the tick-tick-tick that arrived with sundown. 

There were no longer any options for rationalizing postponement. Every night had to witness a sincere attempt. She had waited until after the holidays, so as not to spoil them for friends and relatives in the years to come. She had overseen the heating oil delivery and handled other household practicalities. She had written a note—even revised it. 

Yet the evenings always seemed to end the same way. After the bourbon shots and passing out on the couch, Amy Lynn would rouse herself to stumble to the bedroom and into sleep. Either that or a convenient headache or stomach pain would advise her not to seek out the belt.

Of course she knew this was absolutely illogical—one couldn’t delay self-annihilation because one didn’t feel well—but proceeding while under the weather went against a greater instinct. It was imperative that she be at peak performance before doing what must be done because any error could mean a swift trip to that partial starvation from which she’d never return. There she would wander through memories, unaware of time and repeating meaningless actions; her whole life reduced to the gestural, and not even physical gestures. To be enveloped, completely and grimly, in the same pathetic life she was trying to depart.  

(outside, the birds were buzzing and cars full of out-of-towners rumbled down the main road past the long driveway; at night the wasps sang in the eaves; the window over her bed was open an inch, and from time to time she could hear the cracking of a limb, as if a large mammal were about, or a too-heavy raptor had alighted; the heat made its own sound, which was called crickets)

The money seemed to be holding up very well, but then again, why wouldn’t it? There were few expenses, Amy Lynn reflected, when every day was scheduled to be your last. She baked and snacked, and at times watched television, an activity that became mocking and intolerable after a few minutes but that she consistently returned to, hoping for a different outcome. 

The belt remained hanging from the doorknob at her bedroom entrance. As for the belt itself—well, he had left it behind the last weekend he had spent there, but that thought carried next to no weight these days. The belt was now simply an object, just as everything everywhere was simply an object (present company included). She had left it on the doorknob because it was handy and also because seeing it every time she returned to her bedroom made it function as a kind of rebuke, daring her to take action. The number of times she had enclosed her throat with leather was now numberless. 

(the external continued in fits and starts: when a door or window was open, its dust and its moisture would enter as well as its absences and reminders; every sound was an echo, but not of any real sounds occurring in the present, only long-dying resonances; also, there was only one season, and it was called earthtime) 

Each day, the countdown; each night, the copout. Amy Lynn knew there was an absurdity to drawing things out like this, and she wished she could smile at the boredom and indecision. Some afternoons, when her bedroom was full of the scent of something like vanilla drifting up from the kitchen, she would lie on her back and look at the ceiling. There was a quiet beseeching in such hours: she hoped heart failure or an aneurism would take her before she did something irredeemably corny like laughing out loud in an empty house in the woods at the end of a long driveway.

When it became fully dark, she made a point of not moving a muscle in order to supercharge the waiting. She longed to hear moonlit boughs scraping against the windows as if in some Edwardian tale, but she knew she had been prudent and had scaled back the branches two, three years ago, or whenever it was. 

Self-care became a kind of lapsed hobby. And that was okay. After all, why was it so crucial when some force seemed to be handling that department on her behalf? The soreness of her neck—it seemed to vanish as if healed by an invisible hand. The thirst that arose when she was too lazy to fetch another water bottle and just kept lying in bed—it abated of its own accord. 

Now the universe was just a series of passing drafts and lights, lights that crossed and shifted as they came from wintertime and summertime visitors along the main road at the end of the long driveway. 

With the only note of true sadness she’d felt in some time, Amy Lynn noticed that the bag of Cheetos was empty, but then, when she looked again, preparing to toss it in the trash, she saw that it was not. In fact, it was nearly full. 

On some Saturday afternoon or Tuesday morning she became aware of not using grimly anymore, and then of ceasing self-narration altogether. There seemed to be little point in it as the world itself was now suffused with self-narration. She grinned at this, but the grin didn’t work; her skin was as tight as that of a black plum. The white noise swelled, and Amy Lynn grasped for some adverbs with which to fight it, but all that she sensed were the suffixes, like tiny bells attached to utterances that were trying to say goodbye and never quite getting the words out.

Peter Gutierrez's fiction and poetry have been published in a range of venues over the past twenty years: Misery Tourism, Expat Press, Gone Lawn, Apex Digest, The Dark, Read by Dawn, LIGEIA, Shock Totem, and he has been twice long listed in Best Horror of the Year. He lives and works--both terms used loosely--in New Jersey.


  1. Read this twice. Quite a buzz.

  2. Wry humor and fine-drawn horror perfectly married.

  3. Deep, powerful, hits hard. Beautiful writing.


Post a Comment