Story rating: 18+
Genre: Fiction, Dark Comedy 
For those interested in a Trigger Warning that contains what some may consider *spoilers* please read between the llama lines. Otherwise, scroll past the llamas and artwork to start the story.


*Trigger Warning*
This work contains themes some may find disturbing, including those of domestic abuse (physical and mental), burning, and homicide. Theres also mild gore, grief, dark humor, and cheeseburgers.


A Good Day for Grilling


“Red, I just wanted to let you know that Rob called this morning. He’ll be home from his trip tomorrow,” Nana tells me hesitantly.

I let the pencil I’m holding clatter to the desk.

Rob. He’s my “new” uncle but he got old the moment he walked into our lives a year ago. I couldn’t believe it when Nana married that loser. I knew he’d be nothing but trouble. Sure enough, the day after their wedding, he started acting like the douche I always knew he was.

I brush the eraser shavings off the dying stick figures I drew in my notebook, contemplating the steps that brought us to this point.

Nana remarried soon after her last abusive husband, Tony, my original uncle, suspiciously burst into flames while lighting a grill. This happened after their divorce when he suddenly came over acting like he was “the man of the house.” He showed up with a six-pack of beer, ransacked our fridge, and went to the grill. Drunk, he caught himself on fire. In trying to put himself out, he impaled himself through the mouth on the hand of a lawn ornament shaped like Jesus. Fortunately, I was able to salvage the burning steaks that Nana had saved up for a week to buy.

Rob is basically just another Tony. I’m nineteen and could move out, but I don’t have the heart to leave Nana here alone and she doesn’t have it in her to move out with me.

I sigh as my aunt slumps away. I think she may have said something else, but her words are lost to me. I guess Ill try to rest up before the walking tumor comes home.


When I wake the next day, I feel that a change has come over me. I’m not sure how or why, but I feel . . . better. Of course, it’s always easier to recharge when Rob’s absent. I listen to the silence for a while, content to lie there and relish the feeling of . . . feeling. Most of the time I’m numb. Today, I don’t particularly feel happy or content, but I feel . . . capable.

I sit up carefully, afraid that one wrong move could shake the feeling into oblivion. For once, I had a good dream. Rob was burning under the grate of a huge charcoal grill with steaks roasting above him. My aunt and I were free, living somewhere near a beach, waiting for the steaks to finish cooking. I don’t know what beach, but it was warm and welcoming. We were happy.

Maybe that dream is what dug this buried feeling out of the graveyard of my emotions. I’m starting to recognize other feelings, like hope. Then the front door bangs open. I forgot about Nana’s news yesterday. My good mood turns to ash.

Rob says nothing when he comes in. I can hear the coarse green surface of a sponge grating over our cheap wood counter as Nana starts cleaning the kitchen. I wait silently in the uneasy stillness of my room, breaths quiet and shallow. I wonder if today will be the day he snaps.

“Dinner’s in the oven. It’s almost ready,” Nana says by way of greeting, voice wary.

“How soon?”

“Thirty minutes, I think.”

“You think or you know?”

“Thirty minutes.”

“I’ll hold you to it.”                                                                  

It’ll only get worse from here.


“I saw a blue SUV on the road today. It cut me off as I was getting ready to make a turn,” Rob mentions around a mouthful of potatoes.

I school my expression into one of neutrality, but inside, I’m seething. My parents were driving a blue SUV when they died.

Nana’s silent. Any reminder of my parents’ demise, no matter how vague, throws her into a funk, which is why he always makes a point to bring it up one way or another.

“Never know what idiots are going to do,” he goes on with a shrug.

“Some are predictable enough,” I say pointedly. Louder, in the hopes of changing the subject, I say, “Nana, did you see—”

“It looked like your sister’s, except it wasn’t all smashed up,” Rob adds with a chuckle, talking over me. I glance at my fork, contemplating whether to drive it into his eye.

“I never should have let them leave that morning,” she mutters, and I know there’s no salvaging the situation now.

“I don’t want to get into that,” Rob snaps, but his eyes are smiling.

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have reminded her,” I say before I can stop myself.

“Shut up. I’m not talking to you,” Rob barks, whacking my face with the back of his hand.

Before I have time to steady my vision, Rob has gotten back to stuffing his face like nothing happened. I glance at Nana, waiting to see if she’ll do anything about it, though she stopped trying long ago. Her head is tucked between her shoulders, eyes focused on her plate. She reminds me of a child hiding under the covers, trying not to be seen by the monster creeping out from under the bed.

I size Rob up for perhaps the thousandth time. He has to weigh at least three hundred pounds, all his vital organs at once choked and guarded by layers of lard. I could be exaggerating. Even if I am, he’d be a hard one to take down, especially for a tiny person like me.

As usual, I decide that now’s not the time.

I swallow my fury and go to my room, but I keep an ear out in case Nana needs help. An electrifying current of dread and rage runs through me, making it difficult to clear my mind. Finally, I manage to pull the plug on my emotions before they consume me. I then take out my laptop to scroll through job listings, though in my mind’s eye, I see a charcoal grill winking at me in the sunlight of a warm summer’s day . . .


A few days later, I pull out the grill and wait for Rob to get home. He always gets home early on Thursdays, and this one is no different. Like clockwork, he oozes through the front door at noon. Nanna’s volunteering at the community center, the kiddies are still in school, and most other folks will be indoors, avoiding the scorching sun while they eat lunch.

Time to get to it.

“Hey, I’m just getting ready to cook some burgers on the grill,” I say, knowing he’ll have an issue with that.

“You always burn them,” he grunts.

“Well, Nana’s sick,” I lie, “and I can’t expect you to do it, so there’s no other way.”

He grumbles something under his breath. I make a show of heading for the backdoor with the tray of burgers. I don’t get but a few feet before he snatches the tray out of my hands and shoves me into the wall.

“Stay out of the way,” he growls, heading outside.

Silent as a cat stalking its prey, I follow him. My muscles twitch in anticipation. The grill gleams seductively in the middle of the patio, beckoning me with its luster. I go over my plan again. I don’t have alcohol this time to make it look more authentic, but he’s such an idiot no one would have trouble believing he set himself on fire trying to start a grill. As long as no neighbors are out—

“Hi, Red!” Mrs. Slade calls from the other side of the chain-link fence, making my stomach clench. With a sour look on her face, she stares Rob up and down, offering him no greeting.

“Hi, Mrs. Slade!” I force myself to call back.

“Beautiful day, isn’t it?” she chirps.

It will be once you leave.

“It sure is! I hope you enjoy it,” I reply with a smile.

“You, too, hon.” She grins and makes her way back inside, urging her little collie along.

Oh, I will.

“She’s such a basket case. Where’s the lighter fluid?” Rob barks.


I grab the bottle from behind me, practicing my next moves in my head as I pop the lid. I’ll extend the open bottle to him and—

“Red, starting the grill, eh?”

Mr. Norton’s voice almost makes me drop the lighter fluid. Fortunately, I catch myself and force another smile. Meanwhile, Rob takes the lighter fluid from me to douse the charcoal.

“Hi, Mr. Norton! Yeah, I can’t wait to get started! You off to the landscape dump?”

Mr. Norton shuffles along his side of the fence with a bag of weeds.

“Yes, but I won’t be gone long. I have a ton more to do. It never ends.” Pausing, he looks up from the weeds again, giving me his serious teacher face. “You be careful now, especially on a windy day like this.”

Shut up.

“Will do! Thanks!”

Without a word to Rob, Mr. Norton continues on his way to his garage. Rob already has the burgers cooking. I curse as I realize I’ve missed my window. Mr. Norton watched him light the grill without setting himself on fire, so I can’t use that excuse. But one way or another, he’s not going back into that house the same way he came out. I step up behind him, considering the best way to get the job done without losing the burgers. I really want those tonight. I even ran to the store earlier to get some gourmet cheese to top them with.

I lean down to grab the lighter fluid from the ground by Robs feet as he lifts the tongs to scratch beside his eye. Gross. I can’t let him put them back on the meat now. They’re contaminated. Maybe I can still go through with—

“Red, where are you?”

Nana’s high-pitched voice makes me jump.

What’s she doing here?

My body uncoils like a snake, all my pent-up aggression and anxiety making my movements more forceful.

I smash into Rob’s elbow, knocking his arm upward. He shrieks as the edges of the tongs slice into his eye. I cover my mouth with my hands as he stumbles back, upturning the bottle of lighter fluid. The idiot didn’t close it. It squirts out a stream of fluid as he accidentally steps on it. Holding the tongs in a death grip of pain, he slips on the bottle. In his attempt to catch himself, he unwittingly positions the closed tongs under his body. His weight and the force of his fall are enough to send the tongs through his meaty throat. Looking at him like that reminds me of a lopsided kabob made with a slice of meat thats too large for it.

As he lays there choking on his own blood (I guess hes either too stubborn or too stupid to die yet) the wind picks up, blowing some sparks from the grill right onto the puddle of lighter fluid he landed in. He’s set ablaze with a whoosh! and for a few minutes, I just stand there in awe. I hardly even notice Nana hovering on the sidelines, screaming in terror. I dont snap back to my senses until the wind changes direction and blows the scent of almost-singed beef into my face.

Its time to put the cheese on the burgers!

I step around Rob and Nana to collect the cheese and a spatula from the house. Nanas still sobbing when I return. Shell get over it.

Smiling, I flip the patties and top them with the gourmet cheese, then blissfully take in a deep whiff of sizzling cheeseburgers and charred Rob-kabob.

I knew today would be a good day for grilling.


Copyright © 2021 by Kayla Cook


Boring Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction and is in no way intended to offend, threaten, alienate, or persecute anyone. Names, descriptions, entities, and incidents included in this story came entirely from my (Kayla Cook’s) imagination and any resemblances between them and those in the real world are purely coincidental.