Sarah Hartwell, 1993

My new home, built during the 1970s, was the last place you would expect to find a ghost. You find ghosts in creepy old houses, not modern properties in the middle of housing estates.

I moved into the house in spring and was only the second occupier of the house. The previous owner had been an elderly man who had recently died and I had inherited some of his furniture when I bought the house. The second-hand furnishings came at no extra cost since his grown-up children were pleased not to have the task of completely clearing out the house. My two cats, Polar (white, but able to hear a can-opener three rooms away) and her brother Bandit (white with a superb black mask), investigated every nook and cranny of their new home, particularly the unfamiliar-smelling furniture. After a few weeks, life settled down as the cats and I settled in.

One of the inherited objects was a large bed-settee in the lounge. Polar and Bandit had taken to staring at the ugly old thing. It was unattractive, but useful, so I exiled it to the spare bedroom where the cats often sat staring at it. I couldn't work out what they found so fascinating about a large, lumpy piece of furniture covered in red flock-type fabric with a tasselled fringe. Most cats would have found a tasselled fringe a fascinating play thing or at least used the fabric as a scratching post, but Polar and Bandit were content to simply sit and sofa-watch.

I was sitting down watching TV one evening when I caught a movement out the corner of my eye. I glimpsed a little tabby cat jump from the floor onto my new futon sofa and vanish in mid-leap. At first I was disbelieving. I was convinced it was either a trick of the light or we had an intruder in the house. Polar and Bandit stared at the futon, glanced briefly at me, and then back to the futon.

It was not to be an isolated incident and over time I got used to seeing 'her'. The small tabby always vanished in mid-air and I began to feel sorry for the little spirit trapped eternally in the act of jumping. Needless to say, none of us ever sat there, even guests preferred to sit elsewhere. For some reason the futon just seemed to hard, or was in an uninviting position. My own cats eventually tired of furniture watching and resumed their normal occupation of watching TV and bringing me undamaged specimens of wildlife so that they could watch me chasing it round the house and occasionally lend a paw when I looked particularly inept.

One Autumn night I was watching the TV with the cats lounging around on other seats (except for the red sofa-bed). Suddenly Polar sat bolt upright, ears pricked, whiskers agog and her fur bristling as though full of static. I was certain that I'd have received a heck of a jolt if I'd stroked her. Her eyes were fixed on something descending the stairs directly behind me (the stairs descended straight into the living room, there being no hallway in the house). Even I sensed that something was there, though it didn't feel threatening. Polar's gaze tracked the entity down the stairs, around my chair (I swear I felt a sudden draught and shivered) and towards the futon before losing interest. A few moments later, tabby ghost jumped and vanished.

Although the cats occasionally watched 'something', I didn't see anything any more exciting than the tabby ghost and the novelty value of having a resident spook had long since worn off. I regarded her as one of the family and when asked how many cats I had, I often answered 'three' and had to recovered the situation by saying a neighbour's tabby cat sometimes visited. She was so much part of the household that it was hard to remember to buy cat food for two since cat number three didn't need to eat.

I explained to visitors, "Oh no, I never feed her. I don't mind her visiting, but I wouldn't want to entice her away from her own home. If you hang around she might put in an appearance." Sometimes she did put in an appearance doing the 'futon leap', but if they noticed her they never mentioned it. When no-one else was about I even talked to her the same way I talked to Polar and Bandit: "Good evening Spook, it looks like a chilly night again. Go careful now."

Next spring, while redecorating the spare bedroom, I saw tabby ghost appear in mid-air, land on the old red bed-settee and vanish. The penny dropped; tabby ghost had been trying to jump onto the bed-settee which I had moved. Several times she appeared in mid-air and landed on the dust-sheeted bed-settee. She must have been awfully confused and disoriented, poor little spook, taking off in the living room and landing in the back bedroom.

That did it. The bed-settee was shifted back into the lounge. Tabby ghost now leapt and landed before vanishing. I still felt sorry for the little cat - even putting the furniture back hadn't set her spirit to rest and I had to make up some tale to explain to visitors why a perfectly good (though never used) futon had been moved to the back bedroom ("it's more convenient there since it converts into a double bed and is much more comfy than the bed-settee"). What if I got rid of the bed-settee? Call me tender-hearted, but I couldn't bear the thought of spooky tabby taking off in the living room and landing on a soggy pile of rusting springs and rotten fabric at the municipal rubbish dump. So there it lurked, red and lumpy and, what with the other furniture, too large for my little living room.

One May night, Polar again watched 'something' walk downstairs. The dodgy third step creaked and made me jump. Bandit sat upright, woken by the unexpected sound. Both cats watched something walk behind me towards the reinstated bed-settee. Tassles on it moved as though caught by a draught. Poor little lost-in-time tabby spook jumped. As she landed I saw a hand reach out to stroke her before both vanished. It was not an old person's hand, but a large, strong hand which might belong to a man who does hard physical work; not the sort of hand you'd expect to see tenderly stroking a small cat.

That was the last time I saw tabby ghost; even Polar and Bandit completely lost interest in furniture watching. Even the bed-settee felt 'empty' and lifeless. I could, I suppose, move the bed-settee upstairs again, now that tabby cat is at rest. But somehow I feel that it belongs downstairs, for now at least. After all, it's surprisingly comfortable and I might even get some new covers for it so that it matches the rest of the decor.

One day I tentatively mentioned the ghost to a neighbour. She told me that when the old man died, no-one would take his little tabby cat so she was put to sleep. She'd been such a sweet little thing, as old in cat terms as he had been in human terms, and totally devoted to him so it was a kindness to put her to sleep. I wonder, was his cat waiting for him to come and fetch her? Another friend, a follower of New Age (she prefers to call them 'traditional') beliefs, told me that the nights when the cats saw something come downstairs were probably Samhain (October 31st) and Beltane (May 1st) when the boundaries between this world and the spirit world are weakest.

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