“…Reuben Remus mowed deeper into Ustronie. Abandoned buildings began to show through the foliage. Broken wood splinetered out, fallen brick walls piled under the grass, houses hung from the tops of gigantic pine trees, and the Gryfino Forest continued to circle about him. Ustronie was starved and beaten. The demoralization turned contagious, and as Reuben Remus looked upon the extent of his injustices his courage took a violent turn. Impossible hurdles lie ahead, and all he saw was failure. He was afraid of the Gryfino Forest — afraid of the piques that he had not yet discovered. But still he mowed forward.
He mowed until he saw the sun warming a one-story brick house that rested atop a small hill just under a suicidal woman with one foot over air.
The one-story brick house was covered in mildew and stained by the looping marks of vines that had once snaked over the dirty surface. An enormous pine tree had grown through the east part of the house, spiraling up and up until it dominated all the sunlight that lingered, casting a dark shadow over the nearby walkway so the wild shrubbery could grow unnoticed. And that tangle of sharp plants thrived in the shadows, growing until its leafy fingers had climbed the sides of the neighboring homes. Reuben Remus grabbed his hedge clippers and began to carve a hole. Curious eyes pirched overhead like a pattern of illusory owls gleaming from the cover of giant burrows. The bodies of those curious eyes suffered from such a profound vitamin D deficiency that their bodies had shrunk in size. Their skin was wrinkled with thick crevasses as if the attitude of the Gryfino Forest had shaped them herself. The old folks crowded around open spaces or stared down from the giant tree branches overhead to watch Reuben awkwardly tug at the underbrush and gently stroke the grooves of the spiraling pine trees. Some souls went mad at the sight of deliverance. They banged on their windows and called out to Reuben desperately, but the thickness that still clouded the atmosphere deafened their pleas for rescue. Their purgatory was a vacuum — a glass bubble that would keep them alive forever, taunting them over the ledge with promises of freedom. Reuben Remus continued to cut away at the Gryfino Forest ignorant to the deteriorating bodies that cried from the trees overhead, and from within the grassy prisons that had been swallowed up by Terra. Reuben Remus worked casually without the pressure of savior pushing him forward, and he was slowly rewarded with more sunlight, and with more sunlight came more hours in the day that he could dedicate to reclaiming Ustronie from the Gryfino Forest. The sun began to clear the atmosphere, lifting portions of the dense muskiness that formed in the darkness. That is when Reuben Remus heard the thud. Gina took her leap of faith and fell to earth like any angel would. Her spirit drifted away as Reuben Remus looked upon her broken, shriveled body, and upon seeing the smile that lingered behind her dead eyes he began to cry. As he breathed past his tears he heard the exhausted please for help all around him. The torment shook his reality. He tried to beat the curse from his chest, crying into the air over Gina’s body, but was forced to listen to their prayers. A rising nausea brought him to his knees. His guilt was all that remained. The mayhem of lives lost sent his mind racing through the reality of their torment. The indignation changed him, it clarified his responsibilities, and he knew the Gryfino Forest could not be landscaped by his music. He knew he had to be harsh to Terra. Reuben seized his hedge clippers and attacked the prison around him. He worked all throughout the night and next day cutting at the angry vines. The forest resisted, tangling its many bodies around his blade until the edge was dulled, but Reuben fought through the labor. Liberation came at a price, however; creating two more heads for each one eradicated. Every time he cleared a section of foilage the tail of another vine would inch its way towards the new real estate. Progress was taking its time, and by morning he had only liberated a single doorway. That meant freedom to an elderly couple who were hunched over with dirty, worn rags clothing their tiny bodies, hiding in a corner nibbling at a giant leaf that protruded through a broken window. They had gone blind in the darkness, but when the old woman heard Reuben Remus’s footsteps she spoke out, believing that he was the Gryfino Forest. “You’ve come to take us? I’ve prayed for this day,” then she stretched her arms out wide. Reuben Remus picked her up and she wrapped her arms around his neck like a child. He delivered her from the darkness, warming her face in the light for the first time in many years, and she believed the forest had taken her to heaven.
A pitiful symphony defined these liberations, and the music stuck with Reuben Remus as he tried to sleep, and, still, Terra was absent in his heart, leaving him to dwell on the sadness they had brought to Ustronie alone. There was Józef Korzeniowski, a rickety old soul who had sculpted the terrarium growing in his home. When Reuben found him he had small vines growing over his back and shoulders, and he had forgotten how to speak. He growled when Reuben entered his home, and fought against him as he tried to show him into the daylight, biting at his forearm with a toothless weapon. There were the twins Otylia and Teresa Pawlowski who had been separated from one another when one of the giant, dipping pine trees broke through the center of their house. Its low-hanging trunk divided them with an obstacle their old bones could not traverse. Their muscles were too weak to shout to one another, so their house was filled with crumbled up letters that they catapulted to each other. Their sea of crumpled emotions was their only joy, so when they ran out of paper to write on they began peeling the wallpaper to use as stationary. And when they ran out of wallpaper they were forced to turn inward and began writing on the walls to themselves. Their sad lives were inked on the walls of their home and carved into the trunk of the massive pine tree that separated them. Two stories, two lives lost: a tragedy Reuben Remus was responsible for. He spent his nights reading their letters, no matter how badly they hurt. He lost sleep thinking about Zbigniew Majewski who remained trapped on the earth while half of his home, including his beloved wife, were lifted skyward. She, too, soared past the sun like any angel would, freeing herself right before Zbigniew’s eyes. Reuben found him dressed in his wife’s clothes, pretending to eat dinner with her at the kitchen table. In his delirium he addressed Reuben as if he was himself, telling him how sorry she was that she left him behind. There were many nameless discoveries, as well. Like the man who served as nutrition for his dachshund, or the bodies that had fertilized the Gryfino Forest while still alive, their bones growing out of the foliage that had taken over their homes. Who could argue that Terra is not a carnal lover?
Each day brought new bodies.
A soul to be rescued comes at a price. And whichever god had calculated the value of lives that were trapped in the Gryfino Forest was charging one life for another, so each liberation brought with it a corresponding free fall. From heaven to hell, so the story goes. And what of the price of jubilation? Just know that Reuben Remus showed with new wrinkles about his eyes, that his fingers were too gnawed and calloused to play the violin, that he no longer smiled or sang aloud — that he was the grave-robber. He replaced the true language of heaven earth with that of the contemporary; praying to a god that was not his own without a true emotion teeming in his mind. Those were the dark days when the world tested Reuben Remus.