Many thanks to the wonderfully hilarious Jeff Blomquist for guest writing this fabulous post. In addition to being laugh-out-loud funny, it also confirms that this entire, horrendous adventure actually happened. Enjoy!
I am not a social person. I’m a scientist and engineer by trade, and a science fiction reader and science fact writer by hobby, which means that most of my time is spent crunching numbers and studying alone. I have a few very close friends that I really extend myself for, and otherwise, I wait for people to make plans and coast through books about robots and quantum phase theory.
I helped Kari pack up what few belongings had not been molested or stolen by drug dealers, and she and NE nestled comfortably into her new row home apartment. It was clean and quaint, in the way that city homes are, and boasted clean street, completely void of burning cars. I was immediately relieved to find that the drug traffickers in her new neighborhood employed unparalleled organization and professionalism when measured against the tenants in her old apartment: territories were fastidiously marked with sneakers on power lines, and syringes and used foil were properly disposed of in dark alleys. This may seem shady, but residents in Kari’s previous residence had left used needles in their arms, and disposed of themselves in the wide open sidewalk. This new house would be a home.
Kari is a creature of social poise when playing the hostess. Remove her from top billing and she becomes a rowdy, gin-soaked laugh track–precisely what every party needs. It’s no secret that her ability to bolster a party is something of a coveted skill, especially by someone who studies electrical harness drawings for a living. Between the moving assistance and her desire to meet my new girlfriend (who, for the sake of convenience, we will continue to call GF), Kari had plenty of excuse to throw a dinner party. I dropped by often enough with invitation that the formality of “Coming Over for Dinner” startled me: it was as if someone had written me a formal invitation Brush My Teeth.
“You and GF should Come Over for Dinner,” she had told me over lower-case dinner. “What are you doing next week?”
I cowed over my red beans and rice. GF had never met Kari before. Two smart, attractive, strong-willed women, in the same room. It was doable, I supposed, but with a vague, mild distress. I paused to think about my calendar.
“I’ll serve drinks and everything,” she said, spinning her vodka cranberry innocently.
I broke out in a cold sweat. A klaxon wailed in my brain. Red spots swam across my vision, and I saw the end of days. It was a warning, void of subtlety or interpretation. Two smart, attractive, strong-willed women with vodka. This idea was, unequivocally, a bad idea.
“O-o-okay,” I said. The angel on my shoulder sagged in shock, packed his halo and harp into a suitcase, and retired. I have not seen him since.
“That sounds like fun!” GF said with honest excitement. “But we have to be careful, since I’m allergic to dogs.”
GF and I both had free schedules and, by the time the dinner date had arrived, I was quite excited to be attending. I would be able to relax and share some time with the two most prominent women in my life but, most importantly, I would be able to sit back and drink while it happened. I grabbed a beer and gingerly initiated a common topic of discussion to get the girls comfortable with each other.
“I said something dumb today,” I began. It was all I needed to say; the two girls marveled openly to each other at the degree of obscurity and absurdity I had become capable of achieving in what should be candid and casual conversation. I sipped at my beer, pleased with GF for being able to hold her own with Kari, and stared at the rat of a dog at my leg. It wanted to bite me. I thought about kicking it when I noticed a disturbing absence.
“Where’s NE?” I asked.
Kari led GF and I to the backyard, a pleasant plot guarded by a wood fence and boasting a handsome table and chair set. A pair of tiki torches planted in the back helped to light the scene, and the grill glowed near the back of the house.
Glowed is not the right word. The heat coming off the grill was so intense that I could feel it from more than two yards away. The rear window of the house, some four feet away, seemed to ripple and bend with the nearby disturbance.
I asked a simple and leading question about the grill itself, noticing that it was a gas setup with no propane tank, and followed it up with a disturbed realization:
“That looks like you used an entire bag of– NE, you didn’t use that whole bag of charcoal, did you?”
He shrugged, and affirmed my fear–the grill shell was home to 20 pounds of charcoal and enough lighter fluid to run a motorcycle for a year. I began to panic.
“That’s too hot,” I said, dumbly.
NE and I stepped to the grill. I should have gotten there first, but panic tends to debilitate me, and I had slowed to a near stop. The grill was too hot.
The lid was a faint orange, and NE burned himself on the lid’s handle. He leaped backwards, shaking his hand and cursing. The temperature on the built-in dial registered above the design of the thermometer. Still cursing the burn, NE grabbed a pair of tongs and threw the lid open.
I immediately realized that I was experiencing something very special. This was what the surface of the sun felt like.
Convection currents spewed up alongside arcs of flame as they were released from the containment of the grill. The fuel inside the thin metal casing glowed angrily and tried desperately to ignite the surrounding atmosphere. Demons rended the embers to appear for a solitary moment in our world before being ignited and swallowed again by the hellish nightmare before me. I watched, still planted almost four feet from the grill, as the hair on my arms began to singe and curl.
“That should be hot enough,” NE decided. With a gentle toss, he sacrificed the steaks to the pyre before us.
And then he closed the lid.
“Not good,” I said. “May I?”
I took the tongs and tossed the grill open again. The temperature was well above 600 degrees Fahrenheit. The steaks had cooked in seconds.
“I think they’re dead,” I muttered, flames dancing like so many unearthly creatures.
Which was when Kari discovered the second fire.
NE sprinted off for a towel. It would be the fastest I would ever see him move. With the grill to myself, I lunged tenaciously into danger, trying to remember whether or not a Baldwin brother died in Backdraft. I flipped the steaks, counted to 3, and dragged them, one by one, to safety. Perhaps 27 seconds had passed, and dinner was served.
NE beat out the flames as I watched. With the second disaster averted, I began the painstaking surgery to save the steaks. I eyed the grill suspiciously. It was too hot.
“That grill is too hot,” NE said, marching over to it. It was a determined gait, that shouted boldly, This is my home, and you will not consume it. I imagined how you would fight a force of nature, how you could banish a demon of that strength, when I realized all too late what he intended.
The bucket of water instantly vaporized, with little or no effect on the temperature of the charcoal. Part of the grill collapsed under the tremendous heat. NE had succeeded only in pissing off the ravenous fire, whetting its appetite for destruction. He had also pissed off Kari, who tried desperately to maintain her composure. Until she couldn’t, because her annoyance morphed into despair.
“The rest of the food. It’s all on the stove.”
She forced her way into the house, kicking at the very same dog I had thought about punting earlier.
“We can salvage this,” I told her. I put my hand on her shoulder. Touching is not something Kari and I do, as a matter of neurotic politeness, and the touch (however brief) must have convinced her to let me try to fix it.
We gnawed at the dinner. The meat was done on one side and partially cooked on the other in an effort to achieve balance. The green beans were mortally burned, but I ate them anyway, as firefighting works up quite an appetite. We resolved to play a board game inside.
The board game went better than dinner, and extraordinarily well compared to other board game nights before and since, until Kari’s dog tried to sit in GF lap.
“YOU’RE CUTE BUT GET AWAY FROM ME RIGHT NOW.” I had to take a double take to ensure GF wasn’t talking to me. “Sorry. I’m allergic,” she shrugged.
The delicate balance had been shattered. It had been held by a single strand of spider web until then, and now the night was officially over.
“I think we should go,” I said. “But this has been a very exciting evening.”
“We’ll do it again,” NE said.
Kari finished her third glass of wine since dinner. The fire in her eyes was gone, even as the grill continued to fuse hydrogen into helium on her back porch.