(Story begins here) “Where are we?” shivered Pete.
“We’re in like late Georgian Edinburgh, around 1828? I’m going to show you what I mean?”
“’scuse me, gentlemen, ye d’nae have a few ha’pennies for an auld soldier?” Pete instinctively started rummaging in his pockets, but Bud held his arm.
“He’s like, not talking to us, he can’t see us?” An old man with long, ragged hair sat on the ground, his breath clouding as he shivered beneath a filthy tartan blanket. The remains of a threadbare red coat suggested that he was a veteran of the Napoleonic wars. Pete saw that he was talking to two fairly well dressed men who were taking an interest.
“What you doin’ oit here den fella?” one asked in a smooth Irish accent.
“Bless ye fur askin’ sir,” replied the homeless man thankfully, “I’ve had a few problems ya naw? Since the wars, I sometimes think I’m back there. The noise, the musket smoke, ma pals fallin’ all aroond me, the shoutin’ the screamin’, I never know when its gonnae happen or why it happens, so a cannae hold doon a job.” One of the well dressed men raised an eye brow.
“Indeed? But surely you have a few folks who’ll look oit for ye? Sons, nephews, pals?”
“Was in the army too long tae find a wife, and ma brother threw me oot when I started screamin’ in the night three nights in a row. In fairness to him, his missus said she’d leave him if he didnae. Av got nae one,” muttered the veteran sadly. The two men looked at each other in the blank emotionless way of the truly evil.
“So, no one would miss ye?” The old soldier’s expression changed, he had spent most of his life identifying mortal danger. The difference was, this time he had no means to escape it. But he’d also learned not to show fear.
“Naw, sae any chance of a few pennies?” he asked petulantly, aware of what was to come. The men quickly extinguished their lanterns and pulled out cudgels as they looked furtively around. Satisfied, they began beating the homeless man violently around the head, who screamed and tried for a few seconds to protect himself with his knarled hands before slumping into unconsciousness.
“That aught to do it,” panted one of the men eventually, feeling the man’s head to check that his scull was heavily fractured, “get the cart and a good story about hoi we found him.” The other grinned.
“Aye, we’ve done the wee medical students another favour eh? Too kind for our oin good!”
“Getta oighta here!” laughed the other in mock disbelieve at his partners callousness.
“Like, are you okay?” asked Bud feebly.
“I… think so,” said Pete no longer merely shivering from the cold, “that was so, horrible. Who were those men?”
“Burke and Hare, they like, murdered people and sold the bodies for medical dissection?”
“No one asked where the bodies came from?”
“No, demand was high and those buying them could claim to do so in good faith so didn’t really care?”
“What a senseless waste, how can anyone see a human in terms of the value of their corpse?”
“That’s the trouble with the universe? Your soul projects things onto it that your mind sees and interprets. It’s like, how karma works? Why particles don’t really exist until seen? Souls of different ages can interact and see the same basic things, but see them so differently.”
“So an older soul would not see a homeless veteran?”
“Like, no one’s really dead, only the universe’s illusions die.”
“Yeah, they would, the wave function of particles only allows for so much spatial variation, so they see the same thing but they see something different?” Bud pulled out a Mars Bar with a biodegradable paper cover and began knawing at a corner of it.
“I don’t understand.”
“I’ll show you what happens when an older soul meet the man.”
“’scuse me, Sir, ye d’nae have a few ha’pennies for an auld soldier?” Pete turned to see the veteran once more sat up and uninjured.
“He’s not really dead?” exclaimed Pete with delight.
“Like, no one’s really dead,” said Bud finishing his Mars bar, “only the universe’s illusions die.”
“Very profound,” smiled Pete.
“Not really, just true?”
“So, who’s the veteran talking to this time?”
“For pity’s sake man, what are ya dein oot on a neet like thus?” The veteran once more explained his plight to a rosy cheeked man clad in Harris tweed.
“So are ye gonnae give me a few pennies?” asked the veteran hopefully.
“Ah most certainly am no,” said the man firmly, but his eyes twinkled. “Am gonnae give ye a job.”
“Why would ye wannae de that?” asked the veteran in genuine surprise.
“Well, hoo else are ye gonnae be safe from the cold man? I’ve got a big auld farm oot in the hills, ye can come with me noo. Av got a number of shepherds that all live in little cottages oot in the fields. There’s firewood for the whole winter and ye can eat with the rest of the farm hands. It’s perfect as if you have one of your queer turns, you’ll have nae one to disturb, though I appreciate it still willnae be very pleasant for ye at the time, but am no a doctor and I don’t think the sheep will mind as long as ye look after them well the rest o’ the time.”
“But why choose me?” asked the veteran still baffled as the farmer helped him shakily to his feet. “Surely ye can find a more experienced shepherd that’ll fit in better?”
“I didnae choose ye,” said the farmer solemnly, “the good Lord clearly chose me, one of my shepherds handed his notice in this mornin; and ah know why noo. For pity’s sake man, if I’d no come along, you might have been frozen to death by mornin’.” Pete smiled happily as the farmer lead the shivering veteran away, draping his coat over the man’s shoulders.
“You see, older souls see the same collection of faint probabilities in empty space between atoms, but their souls project, like, a different image onto it? So some see a way to make money regardless of the human suffering, some just see someone that needs help? Even see a value in someone that no one else can see?”
“But how can there be a value in something that doesn’t really exist?”
“Remember, other souls exist in incarnation, along with the forms, they’re the only thing in the universe that are real, they’re not physical but we can only try to glimpse them by like, highly inaccurate physical means? That’s what everyone gets so wrong in your time, with like materialism? They think the only thing that doesn’t exist, physical so called reality, is the only thing that does exist?”
“Fascinating. The farmer seemed quite stern for an old soul?” mused Pete.
“Yeah, like mannerisms are similar to appearances, they don’t really measure the soul, only capacity for compassion does?” Pete was still thoughtful.
“So, if the human realm is so chaotic that it doesn’t really exist, what is hell? Lisa showed it to me once, on the cone of creation. What’s more chaotic than our physical universe?”
“That’s quite a good question? I can show you but you will see things that will make a homeless guy being beaten to death for his corpse look comparatively, like pleasant?” Determined to learn, Pete steeled himself. (to be continued)