Great Balls of Fire

Billy R Watts was a terrible writer, or at least he used to be. He’d been turned down by every publishing house on the planet for almost a decade, but that hadn’t been enough to stop Billy R Watts. He’d turned to self-publishing, and bashed out a new novel for every single one of those nine years, and a couple more besides. And they were all complete shit. Billy R Watts wrote such total shit that his novels didn’t just fester in the stagnant soup of mediocrity, they went viral as the worst books ever written, and he developed a small fanbase who would marvel endlessly over just how flamboyantly terrible Billy’s books really were. His first characters were cardboard cutouts with stilted, awkward speech, then later on in sheer desperation he began giving them jarring, demented character traits, like the postman who liked to carefully unseal people’s letters before sucking the residual saliva from under the flap, but who was so terrified of germs that he wrapped his neighbour’s cat from head to toes in silver duct-tape, so that its toxic faecal matter might never again soil the sanctity of his lawn. That twisted postman had been the chief romantic interest, the glorious hero of a book called Lovingly Licked, and he was a 6-foot tall black man with rippling muscles, and a mane of inexplicably blonde hair. By the year 2012, everybody knew it – Billy R Watts was a fucking terrible writer.

But less than a year after the release of Lovingly Licked, Billy’s reputation had changed completely. In August 2013, he released a book which shocked his mocking fanbase, silenced his critics, and rapidly shot to the top of the bestsellers chart. Five months later, the sequel repeated this feat, and most of the readers who fawned over his every word had no idea that Billy R Watts used to be terrible. On certain internet forums though, the debate was heated – Billy’s name was synonymous with Epic Failure, on writing forums in particular – on Reddit he had been a running joke for years. And now all those jumped up little teenage tossers convinced of their own verbose brilliance were completely baffled, and the discussion rolled on for weeks. Had Billy sold his soul to the devil? Was Billy R Watts actually a fiendishly devious troll, playing the longest long-game in internet history? Or were these latest pieces of sizzling genius simply penned by a ghost writer? But what ghost writer on Earth would wish to be associated with Billy, particularly a ghost writer of such undeniable calibre? There were no easy answers, and the mystery that shrouded Billy’s change in fortune only served to propel his books still higher up the charts – even those steaming heaps of dung like Lovingly Licked were being bought in their hundreds, as people strove to understand this enigma of a man.

But the thing was, none of those internet opinions came anywhere close to the truth. Only two people on Earth knew the truth, and one of them was dead. Dead, but surprisingly vocal. Billy hadn’t realised that his partner in fame was dead, to begin with – he thought the ideas were coming from his own mind, and it had pleased the hell out of him. After all those terrible reviews, the perpetual struggle to put words on paper, all of a sudden it was flowing. He was experiencing all that tripped-out shit other writers talked about in interviews – characters that came to him from nowhere, ideas summoned from the ether, as though some external force was filling him with electrically charged genius, and he sat up night after night, his fingers flying across the keys as stories formed themselves as if by magic. His entire house was covered in a drift of hastily scribbled post-it notes, because the ideas were fucking impatient, and they came to him everywhere, in bed, in the shower, in the middle of a shit, words pounding round his head until he released them onto paper. And then the first novel went fucking supernova and it got even more intense.

Soon the ideas were no longer in his brain – he heard them spoken to him by a voice in his ear, a voice he immediately recognised, because he’d described it so many times. It was male, with the heavy twang of the American south, cool and drawling and a little bit drunk, slightly hoarse with cigarettes, but still young. It was the voice of his main character Eddie, who was a Cadillac-driving, whiskey-swilling, leather-wearing badass kid from the 1950’s, and Eddie’s voice occasionally lapsed into strange 50’s slang, complete nonsense to Billy, but when he googled those terms every one of them touched home, and Billy felt even more amazed. It was life imitating art, a little more each day, and he began to wonder if he wasn’t just a genius but some kind of psychic, tapping into the unseen reservoir of human experience, pulling memories and fantasy from the ether and spinning it all together into scorching novels that made him rich. In Eddie’s words, Billy was cookin’.

When the second novel killed everything in its path and topped the charts for a straight month with negative perspiration on Billy’s part, he started getting interviews all over the place, people paying for his swanky hotels in London, and he loved every second of it. Even the mention of his previous novels, those steaming lumps of shit, didn’t bother him anymore because Billy was a legit genius now, respected all over as one of the finest novelists of his generation, and still only 34 years old. So Billy just laughed off those questions, said that any worthy endeavour took some hard work and practice – it had just taken him a while to find his muse. And that drawling voice snickered behind him, made a comment that wasn’t a muse supposed to be some kinda Dolly? And as Billy turned back to the interviewer, just for a second he saw a strange mirage in the corner of his eye. A tall thin boy with greased back hair was dancing mockingly around in nothing but blue jeans and a pointy pink bra. And then he blinked, and it was gone.

Two weeks later Billy got the biggest break of his career so far, and was flown out to New fucking York for a signing, and a quick promotional interview of his series. He was already halfway through the third book in line, and its release was hotly anticipated. The signing was a riot, four straight hours of gushing compliments and adoration, and the interview went just as well. Billy had had a couple of tequilas in the hotel bar beforehand, and he let a few things slip, that his main character was so damn real because Billy was beginning to think the guy really might be real. And the interviewer lapped up every word, then Billy went back to his room to raid the mini-bar in victory.

That was the night when Eddie finally made his presence known. Round about the fifth mini-bottle of Jack Daniels, Billy was lying sprawled across his bed, wondering whether he should go buy some cigars or something – it seemed like the thing to do, right now, though he’d never smoked one in his life before, when he caught that same shimmer of movement in the corner of his eye. He turned his head, and there he was – Eddie, in the flesh, or so it appeared. His black hair was perfectly greased back, a battered leather jacket hanging from his bony frame, his white t-shirt and blue jeans a little stained with engine grease. Billy stared at him in amazement – Eddie was a tiny bit translucent in places, the painting on the wall slightly visible through his left shoulder, but despite this he was undeniably real.

“Pretty wild stuff,” Eddie commented, reaching down to insert his hand directly through the door of the mini bar. He retrieved the one remaining bottle of Jack, and cracked it open. “I never been to New York before. Always figured the cars’d be bigger though. And how come they give us these mouldy little bottles of whiskey when they dig us so hard? We’re fuckin’ radioactive in this place and they’re givin’ us baby bottles!”

“I’m not this drunk,” Billy said aloud. “Am I?” He began regarding the bottle in his hand with suspicion, beginning to wonder if someone had spiked him with liquid LSD, but nothing else seemed strange. The hotel room was just as it should be, except for the figure of Eddie, knocking back whiskey at the foot of the bed.

“Say,” said Eddie, “Are these things really for babies? Ain’t no point in somethin’ so damned small unless it’s for a baby, but that’s pretty far out… New York sure is a crazy place!”

“It is,” Billy agreed. “It most definitely is…”

Eddie tossed the empty bottle over his shoulder, and reached his hand through the mini-bar door again, coming out with a handful of tiny vodka bottles. He grimaced at them in disgust, before cracking one open and downing it with a visible shudder.

“Why d’you have to go ’n drink all the good stuff?” he complained, with an incredulous gesture. “My first night in New York and I’m stuck with this lumpy old crap!” Nonetheless, he continued onto the second bottle with an even more violent shudder, and finally Billy answered,

“I suppose I wasn’t really…expecting you. And I certainly wasn’t expecting you to want a drink. Am I dreaming or something?”

Eddie gave him a mischievous grin, and yelled out,

“THINK FAST!” before hurling an empty vodka bottle at Billy’s head. It caught him a glancing blow off the ear and he swore, staring at Eddie in horror.

“That feel like a dream to you?” Eddie asked, with obvious satisfaction. He reached back into the mini-bar and fished out a handful of gin, regarding it with incredulous disgust. “Mouldy old momma’s drink,” he muttered, cracking one open.

“You’re…real?” Billy asked, holding his stinging ear and feeling deeply confused. “How can you be real? I made you up! Am I schizophrenic now? Have I got a brain tumour?! Am I going-”

“Cool it, would you?” Eddie interrupted, “You ain’t going mad, so stop being such an old party pooper, this is the first damned drink I had in decades ‘n you’re just moanin’ all over it! I don’t get why you ain’t fired up to see me, all the things I done for you – you think we’d be sittin’ here in New fuckin’ York if it wasn’t for me?” He paused in his gin-swigging, apparently expecting a reply, and Billy hesitantly conceded,

“No…I suppose not. But I made you up! You’re fictional! And now you’re drinking all my booze and throwing things at me, so how do you expect me to feel?!”

Eddie rolled his eyes, and downed the final bottle of gin with a grimace and a shudder, then he dumped himself down in the chair by the window.

“You want me to clue you in?” he asked. “How I’m here and tossin’ things at you and all’a that?”

“I think…that could be helpful,” Billy agreed, still feeling deeply uncomfortable about the fact that he was now conversing out loud with a disobedient fragment of his own imagination.

“I’m dead,” Eddie stated, sounding irritable about it. “I been dead since I was 23. And it’s a real drag bein’ dead. But since you’re still alive, I guess I gotta clue you in on the whole thing of bein’ dead, so listen up. The power you got in the spirit world is all about the people thinkin’ of you, so when I first died and everybody missed me real bad, I could gather up all kinds’a things out of ectoplasm. I’d about built myself a new Chevy for a while there, and when this girl Peggy died across town we had a good thing going for a while, but you know people forget real quick, and you start to drift away. I guess if you drift far enough you end up in some whole other place, and maybe it’s better’n this one, but I wanted to stick around – I was curious about the new kinds’a cars and all that, even if the music got real lumpy after a while. But then once my family was all dead, that was a real bleak time – I just felt kinda…grey, and weak, and so I kept tryin’a break through to people, get them to notice me. I only had a little luck with the psychics, most of ‘em are downright liars ‘n nothin’ more, but you was a whole different story. You been reachin’ out for characters so hard for so long, like scrapin’ round your own brain for ideas and reachin’ out into the ether for somethin’ to come save your mouldy career, and you was reachin’ so hard that I finally broke through! And now I made us both famous, and people all over the world are readin’ about me and thinkin’ about me, and it’s brought me back so damn hard I can stand in this room near as solid as you and drink all them baby bottles of liquor. So I think I done us both a pretty big favour, all round, and it’s only gonna get better. We goin’ for some smokes now or what?”

“I…well…I suppose so,” Billy said dubiously, shuffling off the bed. Eddie stood up too, strode across the room, and slid smoothly through the closed door, disappearing out of sight. Billy stood in the empty hotel room for a few moments, and his sanity gradually returned. He must have been dreaming, or having some strange hallucination brought on by jetlag and exhaustion. Shaking his head, he moved to return to the bed, when the door began to shimmer, and Eddie leaned back through, demanding,

“You comin’ or what?”

“Oh, shit,” Billy muttered, opening the door.

 

 

When they reached the nearest booze shop and wandered inside, a question occurred to Billy, and he hissed,

“Can everyone else see you?”

Eddie threw him another mischievous grin, cupped his hands around his mouth, and hollered,

“OI, NOSEBLEED! MY GRANDADDY’S HOG WEREN’T AS FAT AS YOU!”

Billy shrivelled into his jacket in horror, awaiting a violent altercation with the huge man behind the cash register, but it never came. The huge man just carried on reading his newspaper. Billy frowned, and moved towards the counter to buy some cigars, but Eddie whistled loudly, and Billy glanced over to find him standing by the whiskey, performing some kind of dramatic interpretive dance. Billy suppressed a snort of laughter, and went to grab two bottles.

They made it out of the store with no further dramatics on Eddie’s part, and after a quick trip to the hotel’s rooftop patio for a cigar each, Billy became uncomfortable about the fact that he was talking to an invisible entity, and they returned to his room. Eddie launched himself onto the bed and sprawled out across the pillows, and when Billy sat down by the window, Eddie reached over and snatched a bottle of whiskey, cracking it open. Billy watched him with a frown, and asked,

“If no one else can see you…but you threw that bottle at me earlier, can you…throw things at other people, too?”

“I prob’ly could,” Eddie agreed, nodding appreciatively, “Now I’m such a big star ‘n all that. I’m feeling pretty good, like powerful. Reckon I could even hurl this bottle right through that there window, if I put my mind to it!”

Please don’t,” Billy intervened, as Eddie was already regarding the window speculatively, apparently measuring his desire for whiskey against the urge to cause mayhem. In an attempt to distract him, Billy continued, “So…if no one else can see you…what would happen if someone walked in right now? Would that whiskey bottle just be floating in the air?”

Eddie shook his head, taking a gulp of Jack. “Stuff just disappears, generally, when I pick it up. You see how I brought all them baby bottles right out through the door of that silly little thing? Now I got so much power, I’m like…flipping all the rules, I ain’t just in the spirit world, but I ain’t all in your world neither. I’m guessing some of the stuff I could do right now would even surprise me!” He took another gulp of whiskey, and frowned thoughtfully, before shuffling up the bed and gripping the whiskey bottle between his knees. He held up his right hand, and as Billy watched, it began to shimmer, until a burning cigarette appeared between Eddie’s thin fingers. Eddie grinned, and took a deep drag on it.

“That’s pretty damn good,” he reported, blowing out smoke all over Billy. “Sometimes I forget just how it should be and they come out kinda mouldy, but this is pure chilli! I reckon I could do my own whiskey too, now I’ve had some’a this to remind me!”

Billy frowned, watching as clouds of smoke drifted up to the fire alarm, but didn’t trigger it. He still wasn’t wholly convinced that he wasn’t going insane. After a moment, he asked,

“If you’re really…dead, then how did you die?”

“Went out in fine style!” Eddie replied, blowing out a cloud of smoke and taking a gulp of whiskey. “Not that I ain’t still pissed about the whole thing, but I guess if you gotta go, then you might as well go out with a bang.” He paused to take another drag on his cigarette, and continued, “I had my own ride, this souped up Chevy, black and white, blew the doors off’a everythin’ in town. But my dad was kinda…a big shot, and he had this Cadillac, ’56 Coupe Deville, baby blue with the gleaming chrome all over, and I loved that goddamn car, but he wouldn’t ever let me anywhere near it. Then one night we had a big old fight about somethin’, and I just thought, well, fuck you then, so I took the damn thing, his keys were hangin’ up by the door like always and he didn’t even notice those were the ones I took. So I bought some liquor and agitated the gravel all across town, got some cops on my tail for a mile or two but left ‘em in the dirt and kept on rolling, and then the next thing I know it’s all gone to hell and I’m in the trees, and the fuckin’ thing flips and catches on fire and I couldn’t get the lousy door to open so I just fuckin’ burned up in a big old fireball.” He paused to raise his whiskey bottle in respect to his own demise, before taking a gulp and continuing, “I felt pretty bad about it afterwards, that my dad lost his son and his car all in one mouldy fireball, but it was kinda all his fault. He knew I wanted to drive that goddamned Caddy more’n I wanted anything, I’d been hasslin’ him for months and he kept blowin’ me off, so in the end when I took it I guess I kinda flipped – I knew he’d never let me near it again, so I had to give it a real wild ride just that one time. It ain’t my fault that Caddies can’t steer for shit, I hit one lousy bump and we were in the goddamned trees. And I was meant to be meetin’ a girl in an hour – that was all I was thinkin’ about while I burned up in that goddamned lumpy car – why couldn’t I get one last fuck before I had to die? Whole thing was just fuckin’ mouldy.”

“Sorry to hear it,” said Billy, after a slightly awkward pause. He wasn’t exactly sure what the right thing to say was, when offering condolences on a person’s own death. After a moment he added, “Then…all the stories I’ve been writing about you, the stories that…you’ve been telling me to write, are they all true?”

“There or thereabouts,” Eddie stated, with obvious pride. “I fabricated a little on the finer details here and there, for dramatical effect, but they all got their roots in truth.”

Shit…” Billy muttered, taking a large gulp of whiskey and feeling all the jubilation of the weekend go out of him. “I thought they were all my ideas… I thought I was a fucking genius, and it was all a lie… It was all just you…”

“Well, the whole world thinks you’re a genius – ain’t that enough?”

“But it’s a lie! The only thing I’ve ever really written were the books that everyone hates, the books that everyone laughs at!”

“Nah, not really,” Eddie disagreed. “I gave you all them ideas, true enough, but you’re the one wrote ‘em down like that. You never was such a lumpy writer when it comes down to the words, you just had real shitty ideas. We’re a team here!”

“I guess so,” Billy conceded. Eddie picked up his bottle of whiskey, and clinked it against Billy’s. Billy gulped down more whiskey, and a moment later, Eddie said,

“Anyhow, now I’m back, I got things to do, ‘n things to see! Whole’a New York’s out there and we’re just sittin’ up here yappin’. I’m goin’ for a walk, you gonna come?”

“Umm…” said Billy, “No…I think I’m going to stay. There’s something I need to do…”

“Alright then,” Eddie agreed, taking a gulp of whiskey and slithering off the bed. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow!” He strode across the room, and slid right through the door, taking the previously solid bottle of whiskey with him. Billy watched with a frown, before crossing the room and firing up his laptop – it was time for the acid test of his failing sanity.

For two hours, Billy dredged through the internet. He knew every detail of Eddie’s life from the stories they’d written together – his full name, his hometown, the name of his high school. And if Eddie’s dad had truly been some kind of ‘big shot’, there had to be records of his life somewhere – something, anything, to prove that this was really happening. Though Billy had initially been deflated to learn that those books hadn’t really come from him, a new feeling of excitement was beginning to overtake him. Thousands of people wrote successful novels, but how many people got visited by a legitimate ghost, a ghost who not only told them stories of the afterlife, but helped to make them rich and famous? If he could just find some shred of evidence that Eddie had been a real person, that all of this was really happening, he could give in to the elation of that feeling, and brush off the anxiety that clung to it. The anxiety that told him he was going insane, that his brain was riddled with tumours or worms, that he was turning into a raving, incurable lunatic…

After two hours, Billy found that proof. Deep in the archives of a small Tennessee newspaper, was the faded report of Eddie Swanson’s death. 8th October, 1959, mayor’s son tragically killed in automobile accident. It even had a small, grainy picture of Eddie and his father, the mayor, standing next to the gleaming majesty of the Cadillac that killed him. The article gave no mention that alcohol had been involved, or that Eddie had been driving recklessly, had taken the car without permission, but these things didn’t surprise Billy, if Eddie’s father had truly been the mayor. He stared at the picture for several minutes, feeling equal parts elated, and saddened. Eddie was real, a real ghost, who had summoned himself up from the ether to save Billy’s failing career, but only hours ago, Eddie had been Billy’s character, his creation, and now he was staring at Eddie’s obituary – his own character brutally killed, without Billy getting any say in the matter at all. Finally, he shut down the laptop with a sigh, and went to bed.

 

 

Three days later, Billy and Eddie returned to England, and within a fortnight the third book was completed and emailed in. Billy had really enjoyed the past two weeks, working with Eddie as a proper team, discussing ideas over whiskey, Eddie occasionally doodling rough pictures of cars or people to give Billy a clearer visual. It seemed to be no time at all before the book was polished up, released, and shooting to the top of the charts once more. Billy was doing interviews all over the western world, but it was quickly becoming clear that the fame and adulation was going directly to Eddie’s head. The things he could summon up out of ectoplasm now were almost unlimited, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for Billy to concentrate on interviews and signings, while Eddie was zooming round the parking lot in a ghostly Chevy, or lying sprawled across the desk swigging whiskey and making lewd, slurred comments about women’s breasts. More and more often, Billy returned to his hotel room to find Eddie noisily fucking some kind of ectoplasmic whore in his bed, and the sleepless nights were really starting to get to him. Eddie’s new favourite trick was to summon up an ectoplasmic piano while Billy was out shopping, skidding through the aisles of Sainsbury’s slamming on the keys and howling out Great Balls of Fire, until Billy got so damn sick of the song he shouted “WILL YOU JUST FUCK OFF!” in the middle of the cereal section and nearly got barred from the shop.

On the plus side, Billy had been able to upgrade his living situation, selling off the crappy little place he’d been in for years, and buying a nice secluded house in the countryside. He also rented a swanky flat in the city, figuring that while a writer needed a bit of peace and quiet, it was good to be around people as well – real people, flesh and blood people, who could distract him from Eddie’s ongoing ego trip. But though Eddie was always there, loud and drunk and obnoxious as hell, Billy was finding it near impossible to get his ghostly partner to discuss the job at hand. After Eddie shirked his responsibilities for a straight month, Billy had a bit of a meltdown in the street outside his flat, which was mercifully empty at the time, as they walked back from Sainsbury’s. Eddie was sitting at his piano, as usual, drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes, rolling down the middle of the road alongside Billy, while he voiced his slurred opinions that the next thing to do with their money was to get a decent ride.

“Most’a the cars round here’re ugly’s all hell, but last night I went on that damn internet-thing’a yours, and I saw these rides called Aston Martins, and they were pretty slick! We should get us one’a them, and I want that paint job I saw th’other day, kinda changes colour with the way you look at it, an’ then-”

“We cannot afford a fucking Aston Martin!” Billy snapped, “I’m not blowing all my money on a stupid sparkling car! And I’m not buying anything for you until you tell me what the hell we’re doing with the next book!”

“Ah, cool it would’ya?” Eddie groaned, “What’s the rush? We been slammin’ out books for months ‘n months, it’s about time we got a damned vacation…”

Vacation?!” Billy repeated, flinging his arm out in incredulity, “You’re DEAD! You’ve been on vacation for decades! I’ve got editors and agents and publishers and journalists breathing down my neck all day long about this fucking book and I can’t even give them a plot layout because you haven’t told me a damned thing! What are we-”

Eddie tossed the whiskey bottle over his shoulder, and started pounding on the keys, howling through the cigarette gripped between his teeth,

“You shake my nerves an’ you rattle my brain! BUM BUM BUM BUM-”

“EDDIE WILL YOU SHUT UP! I’m-”

“Too much love drives a man insane! BUM BUM BUM BUM-”

“…trying to talk to you, this is important! What the hell are we going to-”

“YOU BROKE MY WILL! WHAT A THRILL!”

“EDDIE, JUST FUCKING SHUT UP!”

“GOODNESS GRACIOUS – GREAT BALLS OF FIRE!!!”

And Eddie was speeding off down the road on his piano, slamming on the keys with his head thrown back in jubilation. Billy snarled with annoyance, dumping his shopping bags onto the pavement and beginning to hurl jars of sundried tomatoes at Eddie’s receding back. Only one was a direct hit, but it plummeted right through Eddie and the piano, and smashed on the road.

“Fucking hell…” Billy muttered, snatching up his bags and resuming his irritable progress down the road.

That night, he received a worried call from his agent. It appeared that one of his neighbours had heard the shouting, and recorded the entire thing on his phone, which was now going viral on Youtube. Bestselling author Billy R Watts having a psychopathic screaming match with his invisible friend. Billy did his best to reassure the agent of his sanity, that it had all been an elaborate prank, but as soon as he hung up the phone it blew up with calls from journalists wanting an exclusive. On the spur of the moment, he came up with a half-baked idea, and told them he was a Method Writer –

“It’s a lot like method acting,” he explained, “But not so well known. Same principles apply though – you have to stay immersed in the world you create, as though your characters are really real, and the way I learn about my characters is to just…talk to them. As if they’re really there. And…I guess if you’ve read my books, you know that Eddie can be a bit…rebellious. So sometimes…things get a little heated, and I suppose…from the outside it looks a bit crazy, but…anything in the name of art, you know?”

As soon as he’d said his piece, Billy hung up the phone, and left it off the hook. To his extreme surprise, the story flew, and his fans heaped even more respect on him – the eccentric, tortured artist, going to crazed extremes to write the best novels of the 21st century. The downside of this wave of hype, was that Billy found himself under even greater pressure regarding the fourth novel. And he still didn’t have a damn thing to tell anyone. Eddie hadn’t told him anything – they hadn’t written a single word. For all Billy knew, the fourth volume could be about Eddie befriending a unicorn and flying on it into outer space. He’d even tried making the whole thing up, just fabricating a continued plotline, but everything he wrote went directly into the bin – his ideas were as shitty as ever. Finally, to escape the hype, Billy returned to his secluded country house, in the hope that a bit of peace and quiet might mellow Eddie out, so they could finally get down to business.

 

 

After four days in the country, Billy was tumbling rapidly into the depths of despair. Nothing he said or did could rein Eddie in – the kid had been stumbling round drunk for days, fucking ghostly whores in every tree in the garden, and for the piece de resistance, at 4am Billy was woken up by an ugodly racket. When he shuffled out of bed in his pyjamas, he found Eddie going crazy with a guitar while Jerry Lee Lewis himself pounded away on an ectoplasmic piano, out of which flames were flickering and smoke was belching. Billy promptly had another screaming meltdown, and Eddie finally made the entire scene disappear, before sprawling out across the carpet with a cigarette and calling him a “Buzzkillin’ square…”

Billy turned away, but then frowned and glanced back, asking,

“How the hell did you summon up Jerry Lee Lewis’s ghost? He isn’t even dead, is he?”

Eddie gave him a drunken grin, and slurred back,

“Don’t matter that he ain’t dead, ‘spific ghosts is hard t’find anyhow. Jerry when he was young ‘n fun is like…an icon, I guess, all them people still thinkin’ about him, gives that icon some kinda…ectoplasmic shape. So I just kinda…whipped that up. Better’n the real thing anyhow – folks get awful borin’ when they’s old, I jus’ wanted him how he use to be…”

“Bloody hell,” Billy muttered. “You can summon up whole people but you can’t give me five minutes of your precious fucking time to talk about the book. You are a complete pain in my arse!”

“Oh, quit buggin’ me,” Eddie mumbled, closing his eyes. “’m on vacation…”

Billy let out a sound of irritable disgust, and stomped back up the stairs to bed, trying in vain to twist the phrase “I’m very sorry to disappoint my thousands of fans, but my ghostly muse is on vacation” into a suitable public statement. As he wandered into his bedroom, he paused, frowning – the light was on, when he could have sworn he’d left it off. And something smelled absolutely horrible, like a concoction of stale beer, bad breath, and stagnant urine. He barely had time to register this stench, when its origin came shuffling out of the en suite bathroom. The man had a filthy woollen hat over his matted grey hair, several of his teeth were missing, and his eyes were wild with insanity and hatred.

“What the hell are you-” Billy began, but the man stepped forwards, hissing,

Necromancer! Unholy fiend! DEVIL FROM THE ABYSS! Communing with Satan and writing his demonic tales! The whole world doesn’t see, but I SEE IT ALL! I SEE WHAT YOU ARE!” He paused in this manic diatribe to reach into his filthy pocket, from whence he produced a scrunkled bit of paper, which he thrust into Billy’s face. It was the newspaper article from 1959, reporting Eddie’s death, and the reeking man’s crazed eyes lit up with insane jubilation as he repeated, “I know what you are! THE PROPHECISED ONE – THE NECROMANCER, BEAST OF THE BLACK HOLE, FIEND FROM THE-”

“It’s just research!” Billy blurted out, backing hastily away. “It’s just…umm…faction, you heard of that? Like fact and fiction? Half made up, half research, it’s just-”

“YOU’RE A FUCKING DEMON!” the man shrieked, hurling himself at Billy and knocking them both to the ground, his grimy fingers closing around Billy’s throat. “THEY CALL ME MAD BUT I SEE THE TRUTH! BEELZEBUB, GET BEHIND ME DEMON! GET-”

His tirade was cut short when something shattered violently over his head, and Billy sucked in a grateful breath as his assailant went limp. Eddie was standing over them, clutching a broken whiskey bottle and looking rather bemused. Billy hurriedly shuffled out from under the stinking body of the lunatic, and went to call the police. Eddie seemed to catch on to the situation, and began binding up their new friend’s wrists with duct tape. As soon as Billy had summoned the police, and put the phone down, he asked,

“Does this guy know about you? Can he see you too? He kept calling me a necromancer!”

“Nah,” Eddie replied, sitting down on the bed and summoning up a cigarette. “Just a fuckin’ loony. I saw him sittin’ outside earlier and he didn’t notice me once. Not even,” he added, smirking, “When I was fucking Cindy-Jane in that big old tree!”

Billy rolled his eyes, and went to check that the intruder was safely restrained.

 

 

The police arrived promptly, and after a tedious round of questioning, the lunatic woke up and continued his manic babbling, at which point the case was deemed closed – attack on famous writer by dangerously unstable madman. The police took him away, and Billy went to pour himself a large whiskey. Eddie followed him down the stairs, and when Billy sat down in the living room, asked,

“Ain’t you gonna thank me then, for savin’ your life?”

“No,” Billy stated, frowning into his whiskey. “My life’s worth absolutely nothing right now. How long do you think I can keep fending off the entire world while you’re on ‘vacation’? Would it really kill you to give me an hour a day of your precious fucking time to get this book back on track?”

Eddie looked slightly uncomfortable, slinking across the room and dumping himself down in an armchair. After a long silence, Billy sighed irritably, and continued,

“I know it means nothing to you, since you’re dead, and you’ve already got everything you wanted out of me, but I have fucking deadlines here – I’m being hassled into an early grave by everyone on Earth, and it’s all your fault! Why the hell won’t you write with me anymore?”

Eddie sighed, muttering,

“‘Deadlines’ is the right word… I just didn’t want the party to end, is all…” He glanced up at Billy, and continued bleakly, “How long d’you expect me to keep this shit spinning? All these stories I been giving you, they’re all true or thereabouts, just like I said, but I died at fuckin’ 23 man – honestly, how many stories you think I got in me? You know what happens next just the same as I do – I get in that fuckin’ Cadillac and it’s curtains for the both of us.”

Shit…” Billy muttered, taking a gulp of whiskey. “Don’t you think we could just…make it up, lay out a fictional plotline for a few more books, before it ends?”

Eddie laughed bitterly. “You ain’t no ideas man and we both know it. And I ain’t no writer, never was. I just been telling you the truth is all.”

“Shit,” Billy repeated. “Shit, shit, shit…”

“Nah…it’s alright,” Eddie said quietly. “We had a good run of it, and it ain’t like it ends here. You gonna be famous for life, you got all the cash you’re ever gonna need, and it ain’t so bad for me, either. People gonna be readin’ about me and thinkin’ about me for years ‘n years, so I ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

“Well…I guess that’s that then…” Billy conceded, draining his whiskey glass. “Will you help me write the last one, at least?”

Eddie nodded glumly. Billy sighed, and went to put some coffee on. For the rest of the night, and most of the following day, they sat at the computer, pounding out the fourth and final volume. It would be slimmer than the others, but that couldn’t be helped. When they reached the final scene, Eddie swigging back liquor and squealing across town in that baby blue Cadillac, half pissed off and half elated, accelerating madly towards his own violent death, the real Eddie crouched down behind Billy, reading the words from over his shoulder as they poured onto the page. By the time it was finished, they both had tears in their eyes.

The next night, Billy emailed in the manuscript, and half an hour later, Eddie said his goodbyes, and went sloping off into the world. The house felt strangely empty without him. Even though he’d been annoying the hell out of Billy for weeks, as soon as he was gone, Billy missed him. When he got the call from his agent, she tried to haggle him into writing a longer series, a few more books before this, but eventually she accepted that an ending this poignant was probably the perfect way for it to go.

When it hit the shelves two months later, it topped the charts for several weeks, but Billy got no pleasure from it. All the talent he’d ever had had walked out of the door and left him – he had no answer to the journalists’ questions, all the phonecalls from his agent. He felt like a complete fraud, and he knew full well he could never write another word again. For the past two years his life had revolved around those books, had revolved around Eddie, both the fictional version, and the drunken pain-in-the-arse ghost version. And not only that, but his whole status in the world, the way he viewed himself, everything he was proud of about himself – all that had been about Eddie too. Even if the ideas never came from him, he’d been part of a world-class team, and together they’d made something truly special. But now it was over, and Billy had nothing.

 

 

Three months later, Billy had grown a straggly beard out of sheer morose lethargy, and spent most nights drinking whiskey in front of the TV. Sometimes when he got really drunk he’d try to write again, but every damn time it just made him hate himself even harder, and some of those times he wound up listening to Jerry Lee Lewis and weeping hopelessly into his whiskey glass. It was on one of those drunken, maudlin nights, that he heard the distant sound of a badly played piano, coming closer and closer. He frowned, and zapped off the TV, turning around just in time to see Eddie’s piano come rolling through the wall, Eddie sitting behind it with a huge grin on his face. Billy smiled reluctantly, feeling happier than he had in weeks just at the sight of him. Eddie emerged from around the piano, and observed,

“You look like shit, Daddy-o. Some people just don’t know how to cope with a good vacation!”

“It’s not a vacation though, is it?” Billy said bitterly. “It’s the rest of my life. Nothing and nothing, and more nothing, with a side order of uselessness and failure…”

“Doesn’t have to be,” Eddie pointed out. “Truth is, I been kinda bored without you too. And you looked pretty happy to see me, so I reckon you might just be happy to hear this, ‘n all. I had an idea… An idea about how we can keep on writin’!

Billy just carried on staring at him glumly, so Eddie continued,

“We write the truth, right? We always been writin’ the truth, and that’s what’s been selling?”

“Yeah,” Billy agreed, frowning, “But that’s the whole point – the truth is that you died that night in ’59. And that story’s been published now, so what else can we do?”

Eddie grinned, and threw his arms out wide in exultation. Billy continued to stare at him in bemusement, until Eddie let out a sigh of impatience, and said,

This is the truth – I’m the truth, standin’ right here in front of you! Isn’t all this the best damn part of the whole story? That I fuckin’ died in that goddamn lumpy Caddy but I came back? There’s whole buckets of stories I can tell you, man! How it was when I died, all about my girl Peggy, and then fadin’ away when I got forgotten, and then best of all there’s all this! You put your goddamn self in your own books, man! They’ll go mad for that shit! Every damn word we tell is the truth – all that lumpy old shit you used to write, then I turn up and we go radioactive together! And the only thing we gotta do to keep the stories comin’, is to never stop havin’ adventures! You ain’t limited by nothin’ anymore now – you ain’t puttin’ down old stories you can’t change – you can write about any damn thing you like, so long as we go live it first! So where d’you wanna go?”

After a moment, a slow smile spread across Billy’s face, and after a few seconds’ thought, he suggested,

“We could go back to America? You could teach me to drive a Cadillac!”

Eddie pulled a face. “And just die all over again? If you die we’re both stuffed, I ain’t gettin’ in no damn Cadillac! But I reckon we got enough money to get us a decent Chevy, and I’ll show you how to soup her up, and we’ll just drive all the way round the damn States together! You can write up our adventures as we go, and just shoot ‘em on over to that paper-pushin’ lady through the internet-thing!”

Billy might have been drunk, but he was still pretty sure this was the best idea he had ever heard, and that night, he booked two tickets on a flight to Tennessee. He didn’t care anymore if the world thought he was crazy, sitting next to an empty seat and talking to the empty air. The books they wrote now, he and Eddie really would be a team – Billy would be author and character alike, and the ideas were all around them, just waiting to be plucked out of the air – just waiting to happen. Even though Eddie was invisible, he was the best friend Billy had ever had.

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One Response to “Great Balls of Fire”

  1. Loving the Terry Pratchet’s ‘small gods’ – Fight Club crossover!
    (Have said hi more protractedly on VFeaks)
    Best,

    Miser

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