Tanks in the mist (2011)
... And so the old man came stumbling back into the bar ... ‘Engines of war!’ he muttered. ‘Engines of war! I seen ‘em – out in the mist …’
Nobody knew what he meant at the time. They just put it down to the triple whiskies and the heavy fog. You can see just about anything in one of those! But then, many years later, the army was doing manoeuvres around that area, and there they were! Engines of war. Just like the old man had seen behind the pub, all those years ago ...
– You mean tanks? Why didn’t he just say ‘tanks’, then? What’s all this stuff about ‘engines of war.’?
– Well, it’s quite an old story. My father used to tell it. It’s supposed to be set before the First World War, I think – back in my grandfather’s time. I guess that’s why the man wouldn’t have recognised a tank when he saw one.
– Oh. Okay. Fair enough. Well, anyway, my story was told me by a guy I’d never met before – or since, for that matter – one evening in Edinburgh when I was studying over there. I was having dinner with a group of friends, one of whom had invited her new boyfriend over for the first time. He was a medical student (as was she), so when the conversation got round to ghosts and ghost stories, we expected them both to be pretty sceptical.
That proved not to be the case, though. After we’d trotted out all the old chestnuts (‘Now we’re locked in for the night’ – after the old lady has checked all the doors and windows of her bedroom in the strange house), he said he’d once played a game with a group of fellow students where they’d tried to hypnotise each other.
‘What happened?’ we asked.
‘Well, one of the others had been trained in how to do it, and she put us under, one by one, and asked us questions about ourselves.’
‘You mean, questions about the future? That kind of thing?’
‘Yeah. About where we were then and what we were going to be doing in six months time.’
‘And did they come true? The things you said?’
‘Well, that’s just the thing, they did – more or less, anyway.’
‘That’s not much of a story,’ said Martin, the loudest and most vociferous of us.
‘Except for one girl,’ he continued. ‘She said she couldn’t see anything at all. Everything was blank, she said. Then she just went quiet.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, six months later, that girl was dead.’
‘You mean, she saw her own death?’
‘I don’t know what she saw. All I know is, she said she couldn’t see anything at all – whereas the rest of us saw all sorts of things ...’
I don’t know. Obviously he could have been having us on. None of us really knew him, not even Carol, the girl who’d brought him along that night (she stopped going out with him shortly afterwards. Perhaps she was a bit creeped out by what he’d said). He seemed pretty sincere – kind of a straight-up guy, actually. Afterwards we thought he’d maybe told us the story because he didn’t know any of us. It sounded to me as if it had been preying on his mind. Anyway, that was the end of that storytelling session – I’ve never forgotten what he told us that night, though.