Fandom: The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
Story Title: "The Funeral Rites of Tributes"
Character/Relationships: None; gen Panem fic.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. All characters, settings, and proprietary language are owned by the author of the work from which this is derived.
The Funeral Rites of Tributes
They are a disgrace. They weren't raised to die, weren't trained to fail, weren't supposed to display weakness to all of Panem, weren't supposed to make the heathen Districts think, maybe One is as bad as the rest of us.
They're tossed in a big hole when they get shipped home, bones on top of bones. Varying stages of decomposition; sometimes there's an eye left, sometimes hair. Always the smell.
It's at the furthest point from Victors' Village, but not so far that the stench of rotting corpses doesn't carry all through the District on hot summer days: a reminder of the choice between what you had to do in the Arena, and what you could allow done to you.
They died heroes. The strongest and best and bravest, the shining examples of what Two should be.
The plain white-cork Capitol coffins they're shipped home in, if there are bodies at all, are replaced quickly. Golden death masks made from the casts that the Volunteers sat for every year before the Reaping. Broken, bleeding bones anointed with sweet-scented oils. Treasured belongings lowered into the vault first.
It's a huge crypt, built at the onset of the Games: space for 500 Tribute bodies to lay to rest with their pets and their hatchets and their maces and their armor. It towers over the Southernmost border of Two, framed by the spillover Capitol lights, its long shadow beaming this is the best of what you can become.
The coffins sent by the Capitol are flimsy things, but the undertaker does not charge the families of fallen Tributes for an upgrade to steel casket. Wakes are held at home. Sometimes, the caskets are even left open, if enough of the Tribute's face was left – not that their death had been secret; if the coffin is closed, everyone jerks back, remembering the way the mutt sucked out their eyes or the mace took off their faces or the fire consumed them, slow and terrifying and full of screams.
Before the casket is closed, squares of soft, white bread are placed inside. Just a little something to take with them.
The land is not sound for a cemetery.
It roils and shakes and the rains turn it over and the tides and waves come in and toss up the ground and everything buried comes up again.
They are a close-knit District, all affectionate people bound by a fear of the sea and its powers and its mysteries. Funerals of the Tributes are for everyone, and Tributes are treated the same as their grandmothers.
The dead are laid to rest at sunrise, when the sky is still dark but the night creatures in the water have eaten and disappeared back into the deep. Bodies are lain in plain, whitewashed wooden boats and set gently adrift into the sea. A processional follows, everyone carrying a candle.
The flames touch the wood, and the smoke from the pyre rises in spirals, visible from the shore all day until, with a tiny gasp, the cinders fold under and are gone.
The Capitol embalming is thorough and noxious.
They freeze the bodies anyway, just in case.
Before they go under, into the cryo mausoleum below the city square, a diffraction photo is taken of the Tribute's DNA, framed, and presented to the family. It poses a more dignified, elegant last impression – perfect, personal, irreplaceable.
Like Four, Six is framed by the ocean and wracked by earthquakes. It exists only because what used to be there fell into the sea.
It is not a kind ocean like Four's beloved sea: it is poisonous and radioactive, and the only creatures that can live in this sea are like nature's own answer for mutts, misshapen and dying from the moment they're born. When they wash up on the shore, they are left to rot.
The fallen Tributes are buried deep, far inland where the border juts up into a point with Three and with Seven and the ocean can't taint anything.
It used to be a desert in Six, long before there were Hunger Games.
They bury their dead in pine, with their heads pointed away from the Capitol. If they had faces when they were returned to Seven, their eyes were covered with a sprig of spruce. The leichenbestatterlives in a little house overlooking both the burial ground of the fallen Tributes and the cemetery of all others from Seven, and burns cedar over the graves day and night to ward off the wolves.
Like everything else in Eight, the funerals of Tributes are methodical. The cheap Capitol coffins are dismantled. The bodies are wrapped in linen. Caskets are lined in muslin. Funerals happen the day after the bodies return home, lids closed, dirt on the wood by third shift-change at the factories.
They are the only District that honors their dead with individual headstones. Those are installed in private ceremonies on holiday leave from work, heavy and engraved with the names of those they left behind: family, friends, and District partner alike.
The cemetery is on the Western District border, far from the water flanking the Northeast and far from the fenced border of Seven. The embalming of the Capitol is clean and efficient and the caskets are lowered into thick cement vaults to prevent ground contamination. It is sanitary and quick and the ground is clearly marked with warning stripes of yellow, and everyone knows to keep away.
Like Four, they set their bodies out to sea – the angry cold of the water bobs the coffins aloft until the white mist over the horizon swallows them from site. Small children tell tales of where the dead eventually come to rest on the other side of the world: they rise up out of their coffins, whole again and healthy but with a sheen of blue ice on their skin. The other side of the world where the dead live is snowed on with snow and smitten with rain and locked away from the living with huge iron gates, so you can't chase after them.
Funerals in Eleven, especially for Tributes, are celebrations of life. The caskets from the Capitol are painted bright colors with fruit inks and are loaded onto the carts with black wheels, to be carried all along the long District line to the Tributes' Cemetery up on the North border. More people join the procession the further it goes from the familial home to the cemetery, as the harvest permits. They sing and play music along the way, clattering spoons and banging drums and the mockingjays join in from the sky, echoing refrains.
Everyone stops at the cemetery gate and keeps singing, keeping time for the family as they lay their child into the ground. They become fertilizer, and keep on giving back even after they're gone, and that's something to thank them for.
The white Capitol coffins are buried without pomp or circumstance in neat, small rows along the forest edge. The Victor's Village is just far enough away that it looks like a patch of dull black earth, and not the unmarked cemetery that it is. Coal dust is always sprinkled over the dirt after the first rain of the year; one portion of tessera grain after the annual Reaping. After a toasting, if family lies in the Tributes' cemetery, burned bread is lain over the dirt, and more often than not, it provides a feast for the birds.