This is the introduction to my novel Aristeia. I am proud to say that I have been working on this novel for over three years. It has turned into a bigger conquest than I initially anticipated, but it has been quite a thrill seeing it take shape. I am almost at the point where I will have enough content to seek publication, but first I need to iron out the fine details. This is the edited version of the edited version of the introduction I wrote three years ago.
– Connor Wilkins
The Clematis Ballroom
“As Reuben Remus skipped past the smoking barrel of Leutnant Vroeng’s Walther p38 his humanity was suddenly restored and he could once again remember what it felt to be human, and with that restored vigor he fell into a reverie, which took him back to the first time he ever admired the smell of freshly cut grass. The next bullet would introduce Reuben Remus to his god and mother, forever intertwining his fate with hers.
Reuben’s providence was sealed before his conception, when god’s voice came in the dead of night, as neither a whisper nor a shout, and told his mother to flee to Galicia with Reuben’s father, Benjamin Remus, so they could escape the Polish rebellion that threatened their lives. A decade later, in 1915 when the Germans took control of Warsaw from the Russians in the first great war, and publically supported the resurgence of Polish intellectualism, Benjamin Remus, accompanied by his wife Martha and ten year old son Reuben, returned to the University of Warsaw with a new wave of Polish educators, bringing Reuben to the same neighborhood that he would be forced to play ring-around-the-rosie with Leutnant Vroeng decades later, during the second great war. The homecoming of an exiled intellectual and his young family coincided with the beginning of the end for the small town of Ustronie, which hid from the rest of the world behind the thick canopies of the Gryfino Forest. The first Great War was slowly stealing the last breathes from the exhausted town, aging the seniors by killing the youth. The paint on the shops and the houses were chipping away and their foundations wobbled from years of neglect. The floorboards dried up in the winter and the roofs fought against the heavy winds tunneling through the Gryfino Forest during summer. Those that could migrated to Warsaw or to the nearby town of Piaseczno to escape the collateral damage of the Great War, while others ran towards it and perished in the trenches. The only people that were left in the town were the old persons who were incapable of doing neither. For years they were left to die in a ghost town, unable to care for it and fill it with life. All they could do was watch as their homes decayed and their roads cracked to pieces all under the weight of the invading underbrush from the Gryfino Forest. Every passing day the forest grew more feverishly, until one day in 1925 when the energy of a distant melody filled the forest with enough vigor to swallow up Ustronie entirely. The shrubs crept from the edge of the woods, growing without constraint, and the grass was so untouched that it grew to the height of a man. Pinecones rained from the trees above, and rolled over the backs of the invading foliage until they came to rest on the edges of houses, or scattered throughout the cracks in the empty roads, or germinating in a decrepit cash register over a pile of pennies and abandoned notes. The forest evolved with the skill of the distant melody, growing larger and more surreal as the strings of the violinist grew sweeter. The pine trees flourished with a bulbous growth that spiraled towards the heavens and added to the cluster choking the neighborhood. Their rapid growth increased the old people’s state of confusion, taunting them, leaving them to regularly question the year and the rate of their aging. Some poor souls went mad, lost in a sea of their own years and plagued by the sudden change that had consumed them, but there was no escaping the vortex of passing time they had been cast in. The forest personified the music, changed with it, filling its soil with a flora of different species; some of which stretched their branches towards the clouds and others that dug their roots deep into the underworld. The pine trees snaked their way out of the earth and spiraled their way towards the sky, or dipped their base towards the soil like melting spoons. The tip of each tree remained as wide as its base, and the grooves along the trunks twisted with deep, spiraling grooves that picked up anything that was in their path. The pine trees claimed the land, swallowing houses and buildings into their furrows, breaking through the base of any structure in their vicinity and lifting the foundations into the sky. The spiral towards heaven, the false deliverance, made people go mad. Throughout the night and day those that fought for their sanity were forced to listen to the crazed ones, who would shout their religious frenzies from their windows and preach their suicidal leaps from the trees. Their praise turned into scowling and their scowling into depression. Skip the five-step program and they find themselves in decomposition: the final step. Those that lived fed on the bark of the pine trees and licked the sweet dew from the colossal blades of grass. Only the darkness remained. The outstretched and the untamed cultivation of shrubbery had completely blocked out the sun, leaving the old ones in a musky silence as they awaited their deaths. They prayed to their gods pleading to be remembered, pleading to be saved, not to perish completely unknown to the world; but only the thickness of the Gryfino Forest answered, sliding her reach under their doors and through their windows, strengthening their trepidation that they would be eaten up by the earth. How does one deny their fate? Is there a shortcut or was that always determined to be the end? Perhaps a woman grinned as she stared down her freefall from the ledge of a branch protruding through her front door. Perhaps she found a way, or perhaps it was all written in the stars. Either way, she stayed her foot when she and saw a young man carving his way past the wall of plant life and into the town. She watched him with a confused curiosity. She remained rooted on the branch as he moved his belongings into the only house that could still peek out of the shrubbery and see the light. Her name was Gina, and she ate on bark while Reuben Remus walked about tugging at overgrown shrubs and gently stroking the spirals of the massive pine trees. Gina sat above him as he sat on the curve of a bent pine tree, hunched over bearing the burden of guilt. She questioned his sanity each day during that first week, philosophizing about his attempt to tame the rebellious forest, eating her bark unknowing that he was the one who had shaped her prison. Look no further than the music, Gina… it is Reuben Remus’s life…”