Diabolical Plots #94, December 2022
“Downstairs at Dino’s” by Diana Hurlburt
“Estelle and the Cabbage’s First Last Night Together” by Amy Johnson
Reviewed by David Wesley Hill
“Downstairs at Dino’s” by Diana Hurlburt, the first of two fantasy stories published this month in Diabolical Plots, takes us to the sleepy upstate New York town of Vestal, where the seventeen-year-old narrator is staffing the cash register of the bottle shop below Dino’s Italian restaurant when “the boys” roll in for a good time. Only these boys aren’t your usual “boys of summer” descending on a destination resort. They’re not even boys. Or human. They’re something else, something elemental, and are feared and adored by the townspeople, who look forward to their annual visit with both dread and lust. Unfortunately, no one bothered to clue in the new manager of the store—and boss from hell—Delia Montgomery, who obliviously takes it upon herself to card the boys when they come in to load up on liquor…. An entertaining contemporary fantasy with an engaging voice and a good sense of place. Recommended.
In the second story, “Estelle and the Cabbage’s First Last Night Together” by Amy Johnson, the titular character is out shopping for the ingredients to make bigos—a Polish cabbage stew. The thing is, Estelle is able to talk to plants, who are at least somewhat sentient, which makes for something of an ethical dilemma when you’re hungry. However, Estelle not only talks to vegetables, she can reanimate them and other living things, which allows her to offer the cabbage several options before shredding it and tossing the slaw into the pot…. A quirky and original tale with an interesting dialectic between humor and horror.