“What now Cindy?”
“That damned food critic from The Commercial Appeal. He gave the restaurant a one-star review. That asshole!”
“What’d he write?”
Cindy murmured unintelligibly as she skimmed the newspaper. “The fried chicken was of obvious low quality with generally bland flavor, the collard greens were drenched in oil (and not in a good way), and the sweet potatoes tasted fresh…from the microwave.”
“What the hell! Earl, we don’t even have a microwave in the kitchen!” Cindy huffed in disbelief at the review. She continued reading: “With lack of creativity, low quality ingredients, high prices, and undistinguished service, Cindy’s Cafe is a needless addition to the Memphis meat-and-three scene. The only thing memorable about my experience at Cindy’s Cafe is that I’ll remember to never go back. One star.”
Tears filled Cindy’s eyes as Earl got up from his recliner to try to comfort her.
“It’s just one guy from a newspaper that nobody reads anymore. Everyone goes online now anyway, and you’ve got 4.2 stars on this Yelp website. Who cares about that review?”
“Earl,” Cindy wiped away a tear from her left eye as she placed her readers snug on the top of her short, wavy blonde hair. “We don’t even have a microwave.”
Earl kissed her forehead and embraced her. “It’s ok darlin’. Just forget about it and keep cookin’.” Cindy rolled her eyes and turned around towards the kitchen, her natural inclination.
Cindy had opened the cafe just six months prior, using equity from their home to open the business. After 26 years working as an administrative assistant at the Shelby County Auditor’s Office, and seeing their youngest son graduate from college, it seemed as perfect a time as ever. And business had been relatively good. She was making money, not a lot, but certainly more than breaking even. She was keeping herself busy, running the restaurant every day but Sunday, allocating well deserved time for rest and of course church, where she had taught Sunday School going on two decades.
As Cindy prepared supper for Earl and herself, she couldn’t stop thinking about who the critic might have been. How could she have not seen him? And what would it have mattered anyways? She always treated every customer with respect. Treat ever’one with kindness, her Mama would always say, Ya just ain’t sure who’s a preacher or a lawyer, and ya gonna need one of each at some point in ya life to be ya advocate. What great advice Mama always gave.
“AHHH, God dammit” Blood squirted out the side of her finger. Cindy had stabbed her pointer while chopping onions. So trapped in her own thoughts with this negative review that she wasn’t paying attention.
“Earl, grab me that first aid kit under the damned sink.” Earl was already up and on the move from his recliner. She reached for the rubbing alcohol and poured it over the cut in the sink. White bubbles rapidly fizzled to the edges of the dark velvet blood on her left pointer finger. Earl began bandaging the wound as Cindy looked at the cut, her thoughts drifting back to review. That should be his blood, not mine. Mine is in that café, blood, sweat, tears. Lots of tears. Back breaking hard work. And for him to criticize me like that. How dare him. I could just stab him, watch all the blood drip from his arteries…
“All done darlin',” Earl said, bringing her back to reality. “You know, why don’t we just get takeout. Maybe some Chinese?”
“Ok sounds fine honey, but let’s go pick it up. I don’t want to pay for delivery.”
They got in Earl’s Silverado and as he backed out of the driveway, Cindy looked out the window at the Spanish moss hanging off the sprawling Southern live oak in the front yard. It was a hot, humid August evening, thunderheads bellowing in the distance. In the muggy mist of the dim twilight, she could almost make out the critic’s body hanging from the large limb, swaying back and forth in the still of the summer dusk. Why should I suffer? He should be the one to suffer, nefariously ruining folks’ good reputations like that.
“20 minutes, he said,” Earl told her as he climbed back into the truck. “Wanna take a swing around Walmart while we wait?”
They sauntered aimlessly around the store, nothing specific in mind to buy. As they rounded the corner of the appliance aisle, Cindy’s eyes fell immediately upon the microwaves, sending her back to the review…and the sweet potatoes tasted fresh from the microwave. Her eyes glazed over as her mind drifted back to the cut on her finger. She looked down at the bandage where a small stain of blood and puss and rubbing alcohol had seeped through to the surface, reminiscent of the grease-soaked bottom of a brown paper take out bag at the café.
“Earl, we don’t have a microwave at the café.”
“I know that darlin’, you said that earlier tonight.” Earl let out a slight chuckle.
“Well let’s get one. You know, just in case.”
Earl looked puzzled. “I’m not sure what scenario could require it, but if it makes you happy, I’ll buy it for you.”
They paid for the microwave, grabbed their pizza, headed home, and sat down to watch TV while they ate. Cindy didn’t pay much attention. All she could think about was the review. She decided she’d call the critic first thing in the morning to invite him back. I’ll cook him the best he’s ever had.
“This is Bob Sanderson.”
“Hi Mr. Sanderson! This is Cindy Rainey.”
Silence on the other end.
“From Cindy’s Café.”
“You reviewed my restaurant for your column. We’re a meat-and-three on Highland Road.”
“Oh yes, good morning Ms. Rainey. What can I do for you?”
“Well,” Cindy cleared her throat. “I saw that you weren’t satisfied with your previous visit at my café, so I wanted to personally invite you back to fix you something better to show you that…”
Sanderson cut her off. “That’s fine ma’am. I’d be happy to come back, but I won’t necessarily change my review. Lunch today work for you? About 12:30?”
“Oh yes sir,” Cindy said excitedly. “I know just what I’m cooking! You won’t want to miss it!”
Cindy arrived early to the restaurant, eager to get it opened for lunch. She put the new microwave on the top of the stainless-steel counter and plugged it in and set the time clock according to her watch and got to work preparing fried chicken and catfish.
With only two take out customers in the first hour of business, Cindy knew it would be a slow day. She tidied up the tables, vacuumed just to make sure it was as clean as could be, and then she brewed a pot of coffee and waited for Sanderson to arrive. As the clock on the new microwave read 12:24, a black Cadillac pulled into the parallel parking in front of the storefront. Cindy watched the car rise a few inches as the weight of the man inside released as he got out. A tall, slender man who had been at the restaurant the week before. She remembered that he had ordered two plates of different meats and sides. I want to try a bit of everything, he had said.
Cindy met him at the door.
“Good to see you again! Come on in!” Cindy excitedly said to the man.
“Oh, I’m surprised you remembered me.”
“How could I forget?”
Cindy gulped as she locked the door behind them. Cindy looked down at the bandage on her finger. The dried splotch of blood peaked at her, the cut she gave herself reminding her of his words that cut so deep into her heart.
“What are you cooking today? Sure does smell good.”
“Why don’t you come back to the kitchen? I’d love to show you.”
Cindy led him through the empty, dimly lit restaurant to the kitchen hallway, like a pirate walking the plank. She could feel his footsteps behind her, every single step. His breath drifted down the back of her neck, ready for the final takedown of her pride. Everything she had worked so hard for. Everything she had. Cindy picked up her pace and met the kitchen door at a light jogging speed. She grabbed the butcher knife from the cutting board and whipped around so quickly that her short hair briefly covered her eyes. As her hair settled, her eyes met his as he walked through the archway. She charged forward with the knife and yelped as she slammed the blade sideways in the right side of his neck. He screamed and dropped to his knees. She pulled the knife out and squeaked as she drove the blade back into his neck, twisting it as she pushed deeper into his artery.
His body fell limp to the floor without any sound.
Cindy grabbed the knife again from his neck, blood squirting out of the side of his collar, like the blood from her finger the night before. She immediately began butchering his neck like a rack of baby-back ribs, severing the bones and cartilage, a huge pool of ruby red blood splattered across the floor, blood squirting across the floor of the kitchen with every swing of Cindy’s arm. His head severed from his body and dropped to the floor, briefly rolling before coming to a stop right side up, his headless torso propped against the deep freezer on the wall. The head was still warm as Cindy scooped it up and put it directly into the new microwave, the first item the microwave would have the pleasure of cooking. Cindy hit the quick cook button for 30 seconds. As the turntable came into view, Cindy’s cold, raged eyes met the dead gaze of the man’s head as his skin began to melt off his skull.
“Still taste fresh from the microwave, asshole?” Cindy let out a low mellow chuckle as she watched Sanderson’s head melt and turn.
Knock, knock, knock. Startled, Cindy looked out the service window of the kitchen that overlooked the small bistro. A short man stood in the early afternoon light, his shadow silhouetted by the dimmed café lights, his hands cupped his eyes as he looked inside the restaurant from the glass door. Cindy recognized him as a diner from the week before. The man shouted through the locked door.
“Cindy? It’s Bob Sanderson.”
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XD This was a fun story!!! I did find one flaw though....At first, Cindy and Earl were going out for Chinese takeout, but then they ate pizza? You might wanna fix that. Apart from that, the story was fun, a little funny, and definitely edge-of-the-seat-read....
I'm glad you enjoyed it Dhwani! The pizza/Chinese error was an editorial oversight on my part from a subplot that didn't pan out. Haven't been able to figure out how to edit it since it's already been approved. Please let me know if you know how!
XD I don't know how to do that, but that's fine.
Oh my gosh I love it! The twist at the end was shocking but perfect! I can't believe this is your first story, you are going places, my friend. Great job!
Thank you so much, Kate! That's such a big compliment! :)
What a great story Ryne! Very entertaining and well written. I was wondering if you would give me permission to read it on my YouTube channel? Sincerely, Cindy
Hi Cindy! That sounds so fun! I've made some edits to the story based on some constructive criticism here on Reedsy (very small pieces that do not change the plot of the story), so if you could please send me an email to my address below and I'll send you the updated story. Also could you please share with me your YouTube channel so I can check it out? :) Thank you! email@example.com
This was amazingly blood chilling I swear my blood ran cold when I realized she killed the wrong person . And just a theory but I think she most likely killed Earl her own husband and in her rush didn't see his face because who else would come to the back if they were not Bob? Edit : Omg this is you're first story ?? It's an absolute master piece!!
One submission, one mention. What other indicator do you need? You're highly welcomed to the show not to the tell. Fine work men.
I can't believe this is your first story! It's fantastic. Well done.
Thank you so much, Kevin!
What a story for a first submission. Congratulations, Ryne! Very well written. Especially the unexpected ending, that fabulous last line. Brilliant. I am a bit confused about one line, though: "She looked down at the bandage where a small stain of blood and PUS and rubbing alcohol has seeped through to the surface..." Pus means infection. And it takes days for an infection to occur. I thought she cut her finger on the day she read the one-star review. Or does that scene happen later that week? It's not clear to me. Maybe I'm too anal abo...
Hi Gabriela! Thank you SO MUCH for the constructive feedback! Can't get better if opportunities for improvement are not brought to your attention, right!? - The line you pointed out did happen the same day, so you are correct that it would not make physiological sense. Something I want to do as a writer is deliver well researched material, that while the general plot might seem far-fetched, the smaller details of the story are accurate. So I appreciate you pointing this out. My current story I'm working on for this week's submission also d...
Hi Ryne. It gives me no pleasure to point out to small errors I find in these stories sometimes... I don't want to sound like a know-it-all, when in fact I am a beginner (like you) and writing in a second language at that. But if my observations help you grow as a writer, I'm more than happy to offer my CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. And you're right. Compliments sound good, but if people would rather not hurt our feelings or ego and ignore our errors, how would we learn? Grow as writers? Keep writing and delight us with your submissions. You mus...
Gabriela, I am so impressed at your ability to write prose in a second language. I live in the Philippines presently and I am consistently in awe at people who are multilingual because I have had so much trouble learning Spanish and now Tagalog. Look forward to reading more of your work as well. Thanks again for all your kind words and support! :)
Oh! Didn’t see that coming! I love the surprise at the ending.
Glad you enjoyed it :)
Hahahah omg the end was so great! The stewing of her anger was done well. I didn't see it coming and I love that. Congrats on the shortlist!
Thank you so much, Rachel! :)
This is an amazing short story that made my eyes widen at the plot twist at the end. 😂 Keep up the great work :)
Thank you Jada! Glad you enjoyed it! :)
OMG THAT ENDING!! I did not see that coming. The murder, yes. That was foreshadowed, I thought she was going to kill him. I would never have thought she would kill the wrong person! Five star twist there, that las line truly makes this story. Well done!
Thank you Riel!
Back to say congrats for making it onto the shortlist!
Thank you so much! Was a pleasant surprise! :)
Wow, I enjoyed reading it. Who did she actually kill if it's not Sanderson the critic?
I love this story so much and an incredible ending!
Ryne, this story had me hooked from the word go! Fantastic, Great work :)
I'm late to the party, but loved the story. I didn't expect it to turn so dark, and I sure didn't expect the twist at the end either. My minor suggestions would be: 1. Since you mentioned cleaning her cut with rubbing alcohol, is to point out that alcohol does not fizz and bubble on cuts, but hydrogen peroxide does. 2. The used of "peaked" in "The dried splotch of blood peaked at her." Did you mean "peeked"? 3. Others have already mentioned the Chinese food/pizza issue, so enough said. I frustrates me that I cannot continue to edit a sto...
Hi Sylvia! Thanks so much for reading and your comments. I love the feedback and completely agree with your points. Hydrogen peroxide would have been better. For the second point, yes I used the wrong form so thank you for pointing it out as I had not yet noticed that. Thank you again! ~Ryne
Bruh, that ending was wild!
Others have said it, but OMG that last line made me gasp! Then laugh. What a story. I dont like horror, but this was awesome. Next time I give a 1 star review I will be careful.
Congrats to you on your Shortlist Ryne!
Thank you!! Congrats to you as well! :)
Ryne, I always look forward to reading horror genre on this platform because each person who contributes to it has such a unique take on the genre. I love that it seemed like a sweet old couple who just wanted to prove that they were good enough at what they cooked. I worked in the industry for years, and these reviews could be so off based that we'd want the critic to come back into the kitchen and see how the sauce was made if you catch my drift. I love that she snapped. I love the twist at the end. I love that she used the microwave ...
Hi Shea, Thanks for reading and for the detailed comments. I don't read much horror genre, although I love horror movies. That said, I have been messing around with writing some horror lately, heavily influenced by Southern gothic literature (probably due to reading some Flannery O'Connor lately). So I definitely appreciate the encouragement. The pizza/Chinese food... Sigh. Editorial oversight due to a subplot that I moved away from and failed to catch during editing. Good catch on your part though! If you know of any way to edit it once ...
Ryne, I love the twist! Great story!
Thank you so much Ron!