"How come we can see you?" Dillard did a full 360 degree turn, looking at the whole cemetery but the scariest thing in view was Sam in his dark glasses. "We don't usually get to see... er... people in your condition."
"Between you, me and the backyard gatepost, I don't get to see many people in your condition either," said the Brigadier. "Still, room for all in the trenches, eh?"
"I suppose." Dillard looked at the Brigadier's grave. There was a bunch of lilac on it, brown with age but still recent. "Why the Lilac?"
"I died on the 25th May, under a lilac tree."
"That was ages ago." Dillard raised his eyebrows. "Who leaves you the flowers?"
"A woman from the church." He nodded in the direction of St. Pity's, the spire of which was visible above the trees. "I don't know why but it's nice to be remembered."
"Were you in the Normandy landings?" Sam was tracing the carving of a cannon on the gravestone. "That was 1944, wasn't it?"
"Well done, that boy." The Brigadier sat on a nearby gravestone, leaving Dillard to wonder why he didn't just sink through it. He looked as insubstantial as any other ghost. Not that he'd seen one outside of Scooby-doo. "I didn't get as far as Normandy. I was with the 22nd Armoured Brigade, and we were mustering in Ipswich prior to the big push. Waterproofing the tanks and all that."
"So what happened?"
"Some bright spark of a private thought it would be a spiffing idea to test the cannon of a Chieftain after the process. He aimed at a standard artillery target but forgot to adjust for wind velocity. It hit the lilac tree in the middle of St. Oswald's, right when I was walking beneath."
"What happened then?"
"Then?" The brigadier scowled. "Then they all had a jolly good laugh."
"That's... unfortunate." Dillard looked across the cemetery toward the exit, wondering if he could turn this new acquaintance to a fiscal advantage. Perhaps even a monkey's worth. He returned his attention to the ghost. "Brigadier?"
"Yes? Want a tale of my exploits, I shouldn't wonder. You young lads are all about the glory."
"Not so much, actually. Once we got footage of Viet Nam... Afghanistan... The Gulf... anyone with a brain realised that going to war was a good way of getting yourself killed. Mostly we just experience it vicariously through interactive games."
The Brigadier's frown had grown deeper and deeper as he spoke. "Sonny, I haven't the foggiest what you just said. It was a load of Johnny Foreigner to me. You need a stint in the King's Army. It'd give you a bit of backbone."
"Only if I wanted to end up in the cold ground here." Dillard shuddered.
Sam spoke up. "Would I get to drive a tank?"
"Possibly, if you've the aptitude for it and request the armoured division. It's not easy, being in a tank, you know. It's noisy, hot, cramped... Some people go mad from it."
"It's all done by VR these days," said Sam. "That's what video games were invented for, to make virtual soldiers. Pixillated Battlefields." Sam stared off into the middle distance. "I wanted to drive a mech when I grew up. Or a full Power Suit with chain guns and plasma cannons."
The Brigadier leaned closer to Dillard. "Is he all there?" he whispered, tapping his temple with a finger.