I do not believe in anything. My dear wife was always more religious than I. That is to say she was more open-minded when it came to matters spiritual and incorporeal, tending towards a polite agnosticism over my own intractable atheism, and general scepticism towards the supernatural beyond the pages of my own fiction.
The current fashion for talking to the dead started about four years ago. While Europe was in revolt and the Chartists were falling apart, across the Atlantic the veil was lifting. It began in a desolate farmhouse in the Hudson Valley, where the Fox Sisters, Kate and Maggie, struck up a dialogue with an entity that had been nightly tormenting the family by banging on walls, doors and windows. They asked the presence questions which it affirmed or denied by rapping, clearly indicating some sort of intelligence. The girls called it ‘Mr. Splitfoot.’ They said it was the ghost of a murdered peddler.
I first cultivated something like a friendship with Billy, the lonely old boy upstairs, because he reminded me of my dad. But the longer I lived in that little ground floor flat the more he reminded me of myself. The low-rise flats were red brick and post-war, and I had grown up in one just like it myself, with the same narrow hallway with bedrooms in an inverted ‘T’ shape at one end and a heavy door topped with a single panel of frosted glass at the other.