Adrenaline slammed through my veins when I saw the text. I stuffed rope into a military-grade rucksack, grabbed the cooler and loaded everything into the back of my minivan. My nerves jumped higher than a Mississippi cricket on the sizzling summer asphalt; but only because it was my first time purposely kidnapping someone. I did not have second thoughts—this had to be done. We had to stop, The Critical Karen, from ruining more lives with her ugly, hurtful, lies.
See, Karen McDermott, the world-renowned food critic, wrote scathing reviews of Foodville’s most successful restaurants. Do you have any idea what bad food reviews do to the economy in a town called, Foodville? Trust me, it was not pretty. Panic and mass mayhem ensued. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but people actually threatened to cook for themselves at home.
Before she came to Foodville, Karen was known as a kindhearted and encouraging critic. My gang of restaurateurs had no problem with her before she unleashed her venom on our finest eateries. In fact, we invited her to our restaurants because she inspired our unique cuisine. In her reviews of dining in New York and Las Vegas, Karen spoke highly of “plastic-free”, “zero-waste cooking”, and “raw foods”.
Naturally, we thought she’d rave about our food. Instead, she insulted our restaurants with abrasive language and unnecessarily harsh criticism. The nerve! To make matters worse, she published her tyrannical rants on so many foodie platforms, we couldn’t possibly refute all the claims. And the minute her reviews went public, Foodville’s restaurant industry suffered. If we didn’t stop Karen before she hit another restaurant, our whole town was doomed.
We tried to reason with her by sending her hate mail and death threats, but nothing worked. The week after she posted her fiercely unfair review of Alton’s café, Creamed Steak Waffles, Alton filed bankruptcy and moved into a cardboard box in a back alley. That was when we’d had enough. A few of us got together and decided it was time to stop playing nice.
After receiving the text, we met in the back parking lot of Rubbers, a raw chicken and horse burger pub owned by Scout. Karen’s misguided review wreaked havoc on Scout’s business and finances. So what if a few regulars died from salmonella poisoning? Karen had no right to slander and abuse Rubbers’ reputation. So much undue adversity inflicted on innocent people…all because of a food critic looking for attention. That nasty woman had the audacity to call Scout’s food “sickening” and ridiculed her use of recycled rubber tires as plates; calling them “unclean” and “dirty”.
In our plan for revenge, Scout’s job was to follow Karen’s schedule and text the group when she got home.
“The tracker I put on her car showed she arrived at her condo an hour ago.”
“Does everyone know the plan?” Frank, the owner of, Moist, a hip, soggy-veggie-fries bistro, organized our group of revenge-seekers. He handed us each a snack baggie filled with his best-selling, gourmet, side dish: boiled okra-fries soaked in his special sauce.
“Can’t have you all going hungry, can we?” Frank, forever the optimist, grinned and slurped up a slimy okra fry. Curdled white chunks clung to his lip and oozed onto his beard; jiggling as he chewed. We thanked Frank and pocketed the baggies; saving our snacks for later.
“Hey Deidre, your place is the only one she hasn’t hit, isn’t it?” Frank asked as he saved the rest of his snack. I nodded and turned to greet Kate who joined our group.
“Yeah, but everyone already knows, D’s Bar and Grill, is the worst place in town, right, Deidre?” Kate took the words right out of my mouth. I barely got enough business to keep the place open. If Karen reviewed my food like the others, I’d have to close shop and join Alton’s cardboard box. To be honest, I was relieved she hadn’t targeted me. I knew my restaurant was nothing special, but I certainly didn’t want Karen to confirm it in writing. Furthermore, I wasn’t going to sit around and wait for her to strike. Better to nip her evil lies in the bud before she scared away the few customers I counted on for business.
“That’s why we’re force-feeding her Deidre’s food tonight.”
“Yeah! Let her know what bad food really tastes like.”
“She’s gonna eat her words!”
“Don’t worry, guys. I’ll give that critic a taste of her own medicine.” I patted the cooler full of my specialties and closed the back door of my minivan.
The crew whooped, high fived and fist bumped their enthusiastic agreement. Then, we all drove over to the witchy critic’s condo and crept up the stairs to her front door.
Kate, the owner of, XVX, a straight edge, vegangelistic tavern that sprinkled organic soil on every course, was our designated lock-picking genius. She went first, with her tools poised and ready. Gently, she grabbed the doorknob and…gasped when it turned in her hand.
“Huh!? It’s unlocked.” Her brow furrowed as she creaked open the door.
“Guess we didn’t need you after all, Kate.” We snickered and clapped Kate on the shoulder playfully as we pushed past her and entered the evil prevaricator’s lair.
Lugging my cooler and overladen knapsack, I entered last. In dire need of WD40, the door emitted an ear-splitting screech when I closed it. At the same time, an orange fluff-ball yowled as it dashed across my foot and disappeared down the hall in a blurry flash.
“Wow. It smells really good in here.”
“And it’s so bright and cheerful.”
“I feel so relaxed.”
“SHHHHH!” I hissed, but only half-heartedly. After all, they spoke the truth—it smelled heavenly in there. We stood together, inhaling the blissful aroma and admiring Karen’s well-lit, dreamy living room. That’s when a flashing light got our attention. It came from a teleprompter on the wall of Karen’s living room. Instructions scrolled across the screen.
Hello, friends! I’ve been expecting you. Please remove your shoes as this is a shoe-free home.
For some reason, not a single one of us hesitated. We un-shoed without a complaint and stood there wiggling our piggies; awaiting further instruction from the scrolling teleprompter.
My head swam and bubbles of giddy laughter trickled up from my stomach. Or maybe it was gas. Funny gas. Ha! Funny farts and gassy giggles. Frank waved at himself and Scout blew raspberries on Kate’s cheek.
“Hey, did anyone see the tiny unicorn that ran across my foot?” I whispered, spraying iridescent spittle that glowed and hovered like fireflies. I named it Julio.
“Pizza train,” slurred Kate. She jig-jagged forward and dove head-first into the sofa. I pulled her up by her arm and pointed at the teleprompter.
You may proceed, one at a time to the third door on the right where you’ll find my office. Kate, you’re first.
Kate licked my face and said, “tastes like raspberries,” before dancing through the third door.
I took off my knapsack and sat on the plush sofa. Frank sat beside me.
“What is that?!” He asked, and gestured toward my knapsack.
“I have no idea!” I laughed. Intrigued, Scout stood on the sofa next to me and squatted like a tiny bird. I chewed on her hair.
Frank opened the knapsack and pulled out the rope. He stretched it across the floor and walked on it like a tightrope walker.
“Look! It’s the tiny unicorn!” I clapped my hands and watched as an orange fluff-ball thieved a rope from my knapsack. “The tiny unicorn is a thief!”
“That’s a cat.”
“The tiny unicorn is a cat burglar!”
“I’m not high, you’re high.”
Now that I look back on it, the whole thing was weird. I mean, we were there to raise hell. We’d all been furiously stewing for weeks and this was to be our big finale. It was as if our vehemence magically evaporated upon entry to Karen’s apartment. I don’t know what sort of euphoric inhalant she siphoned through the ventilation system, but whatever it was, we liked it.
George, the owner of, Balls, a haute cuisine experience with every course handcrafted into spheres, was the next person to go into Karen’s office.
“Hey! There goes George.”
“Did you know George was here?”
I don’t know what happened next. Maybe I blacked out for a while. I might have thrown all the shoes out the window. I looked around.
“Hey, where’d everybody go?”
Then, this came across the teleprompter:
Your turn, Deidre, owner of D’s Bar and Grill, the worst, most unoriginal, dining experience in Foodville.
After grabbing my cooler and stepping over the empty knapsack, I opened the office door. In my inebriated state, I stumbled and fell just in time to avoid being sliced open by a katana-wielding Karen.
“This circus sucks!” I yelled and somersaulted myself to safety underneath a desk. The room spun around me, so I slapped myself and steadied my head with my hands. Feeling queasy and a little munchie at the same time, I knew I needed a snack to refocus. That’s when I remembered the goopy snack baggie in my pocket. Hoping Frank’s special sauce contained enough protein to snap me out of the daze, I swallowed its contents in one gulp. Like spinach to Popeye, the snack brought me life and reignited my soul’s purpose of vengeance. I peeked out from my hiding spot and gasped; shocked to see my fellow revenge-seekers tied together with my rope.
With a cleared head came better coordination, so I lunged forward; slapping my team members one by one.
“Wake up! Have a snack! Remember why we’re here!” I screeched and ducked, feeling the whoosh of the blade as it passed over me.
“What the…Seriously? You’re trying to kill us?” I yelled and distracted Samurai Karen as I discreetly handed my pocket knife to George.
“Isn’t that why you came here? Weren’t you planning to kill me because of those things I said about your food?” Karen jabbed the pointy end of the katana in my direction, but I blocked it with my cooler. She growled with frustration as she pulled the sword out of the thick plastic. A stream of water and liquid condiments spewed from the jagged hole in my cooler.
“No! We did not come here to kill you!” Frank objected and white spittle chunks flew out of his mouth.
“Honestly, talk about jumping to conclusions,” Kate spoke with a mouthful of soggy okra.
“What kind of people do you think we are?” Scout licked the baggie clean and tossed it aside. The orange fluff-ball zoomed into the room and ran off with the baggie.
Karen lowered the sword and stared at us with narrowed eyes.
“I don’t know what to do with that information. I prepared for every possibility except that.” She chewed her lip and tapped her foot.
My revenge crew breathed a unanimous sigh of relief when Karen shrugged and sheathed the katana.
“Well? If you aren’t gonna kill me, what are you gonna do to me?” One of her hands remained poised over the sword in case we gave the wrong answer.
“Strapyoutoachairandforcefeedyouterriblefood.” All of us spoke at once; saying the words as fast as possible. Our mighty plan of revenge suddenly sounded ridiculously stupid.
“Oh. Is that all? I eat terrible food all the time. In fact, as you well know, I recently visited each of your restaurants and ingested utterly horrid cuisine. I mean, honestly, Bear Grylls wouldn’t try some of your menu items.”
Too exhausted to react defensively, we sighed and nodded. Maybe she was right. One by one, the team members stood and walked toward the door with their heads hanging low. I grabbed my cooler and followed.
“Where are you going? I thought you planned to feed me terrible food. Aren’t you going to cook for me?” She tossed aside the giant sword of death and led us to the kitchen.
To our surprise, it turned out to be a delightful evening. Karen played 80s Disco and choreographed elaborate dance moves with the rest of the crew while I rustled up the grub. I didn’t know how to make fancy stuff like the other guys, so I served barbecued ribs, fried chicken, and old fashioned hamburgers.
“This is the most delicious, ‘terrible’ food I’ve ever eaten.” Karen burped and reached for another hamburger.
She gave my restaurant rave reviews and my business skyrocketed as a result. The other restaurateurs of Foodville tweaked their menus according to Karen’s suggestions and they’re successfully restored as well.
Don’t worry, we weren’t the only ones who learned a lesson from all this. Karen discovered better communication techniques that helped her offer more constructive criticism. She also changed her brand name to, Samurai Karen; warning off future revenge-seekers.
Karen invited us all over for karaoke. I don’t sing, but I’m still going. Someone’s got to find that tiny unicorn.