The stream burbles low in its bed, its brown water thick as stew. Rocks and the corpses of small animals tumble downstream slowly, languidly, turning over in the syrupy stink.
A turtle drags its bloated body towards you, its shell black and distended like a blood blister about to pop. It hisses wetly as it snaps at your leg and, instinctively, you kick at it. The toe of your boot sinks into its shell and a thick, grey ichor seeps over your foot.
The sound of insects drones on endlessly day and night, and the high-pitched keening reminds you of nothing more than an injured animal seeking comfort but finding none.
A thin wind blows through the dead branches, whistling its tuneless, shrill song. You hear the breeze like the breathing of the forest itself. It is the weak, rattling breath of someone who has suffered long and is now, finally, close to death.
A deer crashes through the underbrush, its brown hide riddled with fist-sized green tumors. Its black eyes stare about wildly as if looking for escape from some unseen pursuer. The tumors split and leak reeking fluid as it flees through a neck-high bramble, oblivious to the pain.
It is impossible to start a fire here. The wood decays at your touch and the unwholesome air seems unable or unwilling to support flame. Even the kindling you brought with you seems moist despite being in your pack.
A tree sags under the weight of its fruit. Bulbous and purple, the fruit splits at the slightest touch, spilling mealy, dark pulp on everything below it. Even insects do not land on the sickly sweet-smelling carpet of fruit that ferments underfoot.
A starling falls dead from the yellow sky, landing just in front of you. Then another. Soon a hail of small, speckled corpses falls around you as the flock drops en masse. A cursory glance shows no injury, though all seem terribly thin and many are missing feathers.
Exhausted, you lean against a twisted old willow for support. Your hand sinks wrist-deep into the wet wood and a thin, sour-smelling sap soaks into your sleeve. The smell does not come off regardless of how hard you scrub.
Your eyes itch. Sleep comes fitfully if at all. A deep, persistent cough rattles your aching chest and the straps of your backpack dig into your collarbone. You’ve started noticing bruises on your legs and arms that you can’t explain. Last night a tooth fell out when you were eating your supper. You know deep in your heart that you will never leave this place.