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Literature / Gil's All Fright Diner

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Gil's All Fright Diner is a 2005 comedic Urban Fantasy novel by A. Lee Martinez.

A werewolf named Duke and a vampire named Earl run out of gas in the creepy desert town of Rockwood. Taking a break at a Greasy Spoon named Gil's All Night Diner, they discover that the place has become an inexplicable magnet for zombie attacks, and the owner Loretta is at her wits end to deal with them. After the two amicable monsters help repel the latest attack, she offers them a job tracking down the source of the problem (and doing a few other chores around the place as well).

This leads to a veritable Monster Mash of events, as in addition to the vampire, werewolf, and zombies, a witch, some ghouls, a couple of ghosts, The Old Gods, and a herd of undead cattle are all involved. But what is it about this diner that attracts such weirdness?

The short story "Bigfoot Dreams" is set after the events of the novel, where Duke and Earl hunt a rogue bigfoot, was published in the 2013 anthology book Robots versus Slime Monsters.

Gil's All Fright Diner contains the following tropes:

  • Animal Lover: Animals adore Duke, and he likes them right back.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: When Earl's asleep, he's basically dead, but terrible events of significant enough psychic power can briefly rouse him. Things like deadly earthquakes, the Nazis invading Poland, and The Green Hornet being cancelled.
  • Back from the Dead: Short of silver, decapitation, or the total destruction of their bodies, it's hard to keep Duke and Earl down.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Tammy needs to contact a spirit, so she goes to her closet where her Ouija Board is kept - then swats it aside to consult a Magic 8-Ball instead.
  • Batter Up!: One of Cathy's fondest memories is of playing baseball with her father. It's strong enough that as a ghost she discovers she can summon a bat to her hand, making her far less defenseless.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Loretta is overweight, but appealing enough that Duke knows that a couple of beers would be enough to make him sleep with her. He vows to avoid beer while in Rockwood but eventually gives in.
  • The Big Guy: Duke is a 6'5" pile of muscle and fat described as resembling a small planet at one point. As a wolf, he's even bigger.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Being any sort of supernatural being in this world seems to be a combination of these tropes. You get all the cool powers you'd expect, but they usually come with drawbacks, are difficult to master, and make you a natural Weirdness Magnet.
  • Brains and Brawn: Earl and Duke, though Earl's hardly a weakling (nor terribly bright) and Duke isn't stupid at all. But Duke usually does most of the fighting and Earl tends to gather information and perform the rituals.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: In a way. Earl's no genius, but as a vampire, he has a lot of powers which would be really useful if he had only the will to develop them.
  • Casts No Shadow / Living Shadow: Earl sometimes has a normal shadow, sometimes has a shadow that has a mind of its own, and sometimes has no shadow because it has wandered off somewhere.
  • Clown-Car Grave: One of the early signs that there is more going on than it seems is that the nearby graveyard has produced more zombies than there are bodies buried there.
  • Dumb Jock: Chad. Tammy would never choose someone like him to be her follower, but since he's the only one she's got, she makes do.
  • Eldritch Location: Turns out Gil built the diner on top of just such a place, to focus and intensify its powers. A side effect is that the surrounding area is ground zero for all sorts of paranormal activity.
  • Elite Zombie: the Ghouls Tammy creates from some pilfered bodies, which are far more deadly than regular zombies.
  • Fire Keeps It Dead: Loretta is smart enough to have the zombies she kills burned, to prevent them from rising again. Also a good way to permanently deal with vampires and werewolves.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire and Werewolf: Both Duke and Earl can be dangerous and violent when necessary, but neither is really a bad person.
  • Fur Against Fang: Discussed. When Loretta brings it up Duke and Earl (and even she) aren't really sure why the trope exists, and the two of them are Vitriolic Best Buds. At one point later, Earl reflects to himself about vampires (creatures of stealth and shadow) being a bad match-up against werewolves (killing machines) and about the time Duke easily killed five vampires at once.
  • The Ghost: Hector is a mage friend of Duke and Earl whom they frequently consult for advice.
  • Ghostly Chill: Cathy's touch feels cold even to Earl's undead flesh.
  • Greasy Spoon: The diner wouldn't exactly be a five-star establishment even if it weren't for the frequent zombie attacks.
  • Hero of Another Story: Sheriff Kopp has been dealing with the town's weirdness for decades by the time of the story. A vampire and werewolf showing up to help fight off the zombies plaguing the diner barely registers to him, and as the book ends he drives off to respond to another radioed in supernatural event.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Averted for Earl, although he's met other vampires who play it straight. He assumes it's because he's an atheist.
  • Hot Witch: Tammy is a very attractive (but underage) practitioner of the dark arts.
  • Hypnotic Eyes: As a vampire, Earl has the power of mesmerism. Too bad he's awful at it.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: How Tammy keeps Chad in line. He's not 100% sold on her plans, but All Men Are Perverts.
  • I Love You Because I Can't Control You: Duke is big and fat, with greasy hair and club-like hands, but he becomes the first man Tammy genuinely wants because he barely glances at her when she tries to get him and Earl on the hook.
  • Interspecies Romance: There's one between a vampire and a ghost.
  • I See Dead People: Earl and Duke can both see and hear ghosts. Duke can only see a hazy outline and barely hear them, while Earl as a fellow undead can see and hear them clearly and even touch them. Being at ground zero of Tammy's failed summoning has the side-effect of giving Loretta and Kopp the ability to see and hear ghosts, too.
  • The Jailbait Wait: When introduced to Duke and Earl, Tammy (affected by Earl's aura) immediately blurts out that she's three months away from being eighteen. Both of them are smart enough to know better, but she doesn't make it easy.
  • Jerkass Woobie: Earl can be an ass when he wants to be, and plenty still when he doesn't. It mostly stems from the fact that he genuinely believes that only four people in his life have ever liked him as a person, and one of them was his pet turtle. He's genuinely surprised when Duke says that he considers him his best friend.
  • Missing Reflection: Earl has none, but he can still see his clothes in a mirror. Not his hair though, which explains the terrible combover.
  • Mundane Utility: If Tammy's plan doesn't come to fruition, she threatens to simply move to California and become an actress. She can do it too, her eldritch grimoire of arcane spells includes rituals especially for this. Apparently a three-picture deal with a major studio requires Human Sacrifice, but a simple incantation can land you a sitcom.
  • Never Gets Drunk: Being undead, Earl is immune to the effects of alcohol. Much to his regret; he keeps trying in the hope that somewhere there is a brand of beer that can affect vampires.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The ritual to summon the The Old Gods requires a sacrifice to be performed by someone who doesn't know what they are doing. At first it seems Tammy is setting up Chad to perform it, with him not really understanding the consequences. Instead Chad is the sacrifice; she had him preparing to kill Duke while he was regenerating, fully aware that the blade she gave him isn't silver, and when the werewolf wakes up he's gonna be pissed.
  • Noodle Implements: A magic user with three yards of duct tape, a PEZ dispenser, a CD player, and a pair of clown shoes was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. Don't ask how they managed that before any of those objects existed.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Every cemetery has one, usually the last person buried there who must stay behind as a guardian. Sucks if the cemetery has been out of use for a long time, and you've got no one to talk to.
  • Our Ghouls Are Creepier: They are green-skinned monstrosities created from normal bodies who aren't entirely solid in darkness, making them very hard to dispatch.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Earl has most of the classic traits, but averts Cannot Cross Running Water, Must Be Invited, and Holy Burns Evil, isn't very good at shapeshifting or mesmerism, and only occasionally follows Casts No Shadow.
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: Duke can transform at any time (though the full moon makes him stronger), has a Healing Factor, and when he changes shape the monstrous form bursts out of his skin. He also wasn't bitten, but inherited the curse by accidentally killing a werewolf.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: They combine traits of voodoo zombies and Romero zombies, being mindless flesh-hungry corpses, but they follow orders and aren't infectious.
  • Precision F-Strike: Tammy's Magic 8-Ball telling her "Go fuck yourself."
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The ghouls seem to be this. As their bodies dissolve in the sun, they chat amiably amongst themselves, complimenting each other for their performance, and wondering where they'll be summoned next.
  • Punny Name: Sheriff Marshall Kopp. Also, Duke & Earl.
  • Raising the Steaks: A herd of cattle appear to be ill. When Duke examines them, he diagnoses their condition as undead instead. Unfortunately, while he's explaining this to the cows' owner, the herd manage to surround them, and even a werewolf's Healing Factor would have problems recovering from being eaten.
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Good way to deal with zombies. Even cow zombies.
  • Resist the Beast: Duke's lupine instincts are strong enough for him to have trouble resisting sometimes. After the wolf notes that Tammy would make an ideal mate, he tries to limit the time he spends with her as much as possible.
  • Seers: When Earl's asleep, he's largely dead in body, but his mind can sense things beyond normal perception.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Loretta's weapon of choice.
  • Sliding Scale of Vampire Friendliness: Earl's a decent guy, but can be obnoxious.
  • Small Town Boredom: Rockwood doesn't even have a movie theater or swimming pool. The only form of entertainment for miles is a crummy mini-golf course, and even that suffers from the town's Weirdness Magnet tendencies.
  • Super-Senses: As a werewolf, all of Duke's senses are better than a human's. Unsurprisingly, his sense of smell is best of all.
  • Super-Strength:
    • Duke's strength depends on the phase of the moon and whether he's in wolf form. Even at his weakest time (noon on the day of a new moon) and in human form he's still somewhat stronger than a baseline human.
    • Earl, as a vampire, also has superhuman strength. However, Duke is usually far stronger.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Tammy gets her witchcraft gear from a catalog that can send you the items before you've finished ordering them (if you spring for the rush delivery, that is).
    • Also, whatever happened to the Roman Empire.
  • Transformation Horror: Duke's transformation features his werewolf self bursting out of his human skin.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Rockwood's populace is rather blasé about the supernatural, with most people just accepting it as an annoying part of life. It's explained that humans have a natural Weirdness Censor, and things have been getting increasingly weird in Rockwood for so long that everyone's used to it.
  • Vampire Dance: Earl is a terrible dancer.
  • Vampires Are Sex Gods: Less convenient than it sounds. Earl can't control who it affects and doesn't, wants to avoid trouble with jailbait like Tammy, and has encountered his share of angry boyfriends and husbands (including one who was handy with a chainsaw). The worst part is that he can't tell if a woman's interested in him for himself or because of the vampire aura he puts off. Cathy, a ghost, isn't affected by the aura and genuinely falls for him.
  • Vampires Hate Garlic: Getting stabbed with a spoon is barely even annoying to Earl, but the fact that the chili it was in contained garlic makes the wound itch something awful.
  • Vegetarian Vampire: Earl drinks animal blood, opting to drink from livestock - although he dislikes the taste of most kinds - because it's a lot less trouble than finding a human donor. He prefers it fresh, turning his nose up at blood squeezed from raw meat at one point, and can feed without killing his prey. He also doesn't need to feed very often, which helps with that last bit.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting:
    • Duke can transform whenever he likes, but during the day when it's a New Moon his powers are much weaker.
    • Earl can become a wolf, a bat, or mist, but finds it difficult and uncomfortable, so he doesn't have much practice. At one point after becoming a mist, he's pretty sure he forgot to put his spleen back.
  • Voodoo Zombie: Played straight in that the zombies are intentionally summoned and commanded, but averted in that Duke and Earl acknowledge that Voodoo is a real religion that doesn't actually get up to this sort of thing, and that anyone can study Black Magic.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Being any sort of supernatural being seems to make you into one. The whole town of Rockwood is one as well.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Earl muses that while the undead may claim they will live forever, deep down they all know that they won't, and don't really want to anyway.
  • Wolf Man: Duke's transformed shape. Ironically, he hates that movie. He prefers Young Frankenstein.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: As a newly-minted werewolf, Duke suffered from a number of misconceptions about his condition thanks to horror movies—one among them being that he needed to eat human flesh to sate the building hunger within himself. Fortunately, his first "victim" was the very rotten-tasting Earl, and the annoyed vampire set him straight while shoving his own organs back in. Especially fortunate as Duke had been contemplating suicide rather than living the life he thought he'd be forced into.
  • You Kill It, You Bought It: How werewolves are made; kill one and you become one. In Duke's case one ran in front of his 18-wheeler (possibly intentionally) and got its head crushed.
  • Zombify the Living: One sign that things in Rockwood are getting bad is that a herd of cattle become zombies without dying first.