A short composition based on the current week’s /r/worldbuilding subreddit weekly challenge: Waste Management.
From the sub’s blurb: This one won’t be as glamorous and fun as some, but it’s something worth thinking about: what do the people in your world do with their trash? Pile it up in landfills, burn it for heat and energy, eject it into space, toss it all into a Bag of Devouring (just look at the hungry little guy)? Tell us about creative or unique methods of “Waste Management” in your worlds.
The writing is from the point of view of a character who appears in the fourth book of my series, provisionally titled Achava.
From the notes of Franciszek Lipka, ethnographer and folklorist, 1,969th year, Insulan Calendar.
‘All human beings are inclined to adapt their lifestyle to the terrain, and the peasants of the Kila delta are no exception. Boreal marshland creates an instability in the soil which presents a known difficulty to securing the foundations in the city of Syevirmetyevo, but also has been found to cause problems with the burial of the dead. Corpses surface readily after a month or two in the mud, and so traditional burials are virtually unknown.
‘I travelled to the region myself to observe the funeral of a particular shaman, Vassilisa Smaragdova, a great ascetic who wandered the delta region proclaiming the coming of the apocalypse. What set her apart from the simply mad hedge prophets was that she did this in many degrees of frost in only the simple monastic garb. Her funeral in Mogilyovka – which means Gravestown – was attended by hundreds.
‘Even if Smaragdova had been the daughter of a landowner or peasant mayor, she would still have been buried in a simple shift. Unlike others elsewhere who will not violate a corpse lest they wound the soul in the next life, the peasants here do not believe that, after death, the human body possesses any special relevance. It is waste which might pollute drinking water if left to fester in the ground. Smaragdova was transported on a simple litter to the site by the elders of the village where she grew up, naked apart from a shift to protect her dignity; it would be wrong to waste good cloth on the marsh. As the foothills of the Middle Mountains rise beyond Mogilyovka, the ground is firmer and can take the bodies of modern townspeople without regurgitating them. For centuries, the peasants of the downstream region have brought their dead to large boulders littering the sides of the road – hence the town’s morbid name.
‘Accordingly, we tramped a verst from the road towards the river itself, and found a suitable rock on which to lay the shaman to rest. A priest said a few dry words, and then we left. A simple ceremony, conducted by simple people, for a simple person. Scavenging birds wheeling overhead indicated what would happen next.
‘Public health officials now forbid this practice in most ordinary cases, insisting on earth burials and so there were no other corpses surrounding the slab on which Smaragdova was laid to await her fate. I returned the following morning to see what might have happened in the night, and what a person eaten by buzzards might look like. I saw the ground churned up by the many booted feet, so I knew it was the right one, but it was empty. By the rock, I saw a single print from a naked foot. It is said some holy people do not decompose in death, but Smaragdova had ascended to Minerva.
‘Her body was too good for this world to simply be treated as rubbish.’