I sat in the motel room and watched old Willie wiggle his ears. It’s how the magic worked.
When Willie told me he was a necromancer I got confused and thought he meant necrophile. It probably says more about me than I’d care for anyone to know, that when I found out that he actually meant he was a practitioner of the black arts, I was a little disappointed.
I remember the night Willie said he could bring the dead back to life. I doubted him, I laughed in his face. We’d been friends for about a year, and I think I hurt his feelings. He was still cautious and waited months before letting me sit in on one of his midnight rituals. To say I was astonished would be an outrageous understatement. But, and I’ll remember this until the day I die, I watched in astonishment as he made a corpse walk and talk and sing and then go back to sleep.
‘Can you make him come back to life again?’ I asked him as soon as the cadaver had closed its eyes.
‘Sure,’ said Willie, ‘You want him to dance?’
‘How many times can you do that? Wake up a dead man?’
‘The same guy? I dunno,’ he said, ‘I’ve only ever tried maybe twice’
That night Mr Jones, Willie’s ancient postman who had dropped dead that morning on the corner of Maple and Dryden, re-entered the land of the living on more than thirty distinct occasions. I was intrigued – I yearned to know more. How long could the spell work for? How many dead people could be brought back simultaneously? How far from a body could Willie be and still achieve a positive result?
I became Willie’s unofficial manager, discovering new ways to test the limits of his talents. I was obsessed.
That night in the motel was different, though.
We took it to a whole new level.
Stealing the star from Hollywood Boulevard was difficult but not impossible. People had done it before. James Stewart and Kirk Douglas both went missing during road works and someone had sawn Gregory Peck out and ran off with him.
Willie needed something physical, you see, in lieu of a body. Which is why we needed the paving stone. A friend who works in construction got me some philophorbic acid, which dissolves concrete. We poured it into the cracks liberally about six hours before midnight, so that when we went back we could hack it out of the street as quickly as possible.
As soon as we had it we raced back to the hotel, placed the slab on the pillow and Willie went to work. The acid bit into the bedding and a thin chemical fog filled the room, which just made it even more thrilling.
Willie’s ears wiggled, as his head bobbed from side to side.
His power was the only thing that made my life worth living.
I loved that old man.
I could tell he was as excited as me. He was confident, too, which was good. It was a huge leap, to be sure, but he believed in himself, and so did I. Bringing the dead back was one thing, giving life to something that had never really lived was entirely another.
The knock at the door startled me, but Willie was deep in his trance and couldn’t hear it. When they announced they were lawyers I knew that they were on to us. How, I’ll never know. I told no one, and I doubt that Willie did. They’d followed us from Hollywood. Bastards.
I got up to move furniture in front of the door when it happened – sparks, rainbows, cartoon stars, the whole thing. Willie grinned. Even though his mind was somewhere else, he knew it was working.
I looked back at the bed and he sat there. It sat there. Whatever.
It was grotesque. But incredible.
Taller than a man – I now assume it was the size it would have appeared on the silver screen, but at the time it distressed me. Its gigantic monochrome body bulged and bubbled, as perhaps you’d expect something from another dimension to do upon entering our world. Huge white buttons shifted in the fabric of its shorts as it slowly solidified. Its head floated around its shoulders, making it look like it was filled with helium. It grinned at us, black oval eyes sparkling in the cheap motel bedside lights.
‘Captain Pete?’ it said in that familiar falsetto voice, ‘is that you?’
Just then the lawyers burst in – I hadn’t gotten as far as pushing anything in front of the plywood door.
They had guns. Three bullets in Willie’s head. Three in the thing – one in the forehead, one through one of its ears, one in the gut.
‘Steamboat?’ it cried in pain, before falling off the bed.
‘Willie!’ I screamed as my friend passed away.
The lawyers served me with copyright infringement papers, but we all knew it wouldn’t make it as far as any court. They might own half the world, but even they couldn’t keep this story out of the papers.
That was three years ago now.
I’d picked up enough from watching him all of those times to do some of what he did. But nowhere near as well. Every night just after twelve I bring him back – only for ten minutes or so. And it’s always the same. He doesn’t say much. Just points at the TV.
And I switch it on.
He does love those cartoons.