Sandra looked at the small patch of barren earth and sighed. Usually at this point it would be full of vegetables, the fruit trees would be producing fruit, but none of it was happening. The entire village was suffering, not just her small garden. The animals were becoming sickly and thin, despite attempts to feed them. Food was getting more expensive as it needed to be brought in from other areas. They had tried everything they could think of, bringing new soil in, using new and old fertilizers, but nothing was helping. What ever it was, it was affecting the entire village. But none of the other villages seemed to be affected, just theirs.
It had been happening for a few years now, the quality and quantity of their crops had steadily declined. No one could figure out why, there was no reason for it. As the crops began to fail, people in the village became meaner, nastier. There was no longer a sense of community, of helping one another. People started to look out for themselves and themselves only. Sandra understood why, but she knew that if everyone worked together they might be able to figure something out. Even now there was talk of abandoning the land, moving somewhere else and starting anew. Sandra didn’t want to leave, this was her home, it always had been, and it had been her parents home before that. She didn’t want to just abandon it all.
The large forest nearby was thriving, which confused everyone even more. Sandra often went on walks in the woods, before things started to decline. The woods were always bright and vibrant, but as time went on the trees began to look sickly, diseased. None of them died, they just slowly twisted and darkened. Losing their leaves or producing dark, poisonous looking ones instead. Things still grew in the forest and grew well, but anything that did grow was poisonous. None of the fruits or berries were edible, even ones that were previously found to be safe. A few of the children had died that way. Returning from their day of playing in the woods seemingly fine until later that evening. There was no cure for what ever had poisoned them. The mushrooms could still be eaten, but they gave terrible visions of death and destruction. One or two people, poor and desperate, had eaten them regardless. It drove them mad in a matter of hours and they had run, screaming, into the forest. The creatures that stalked the forest were changing too, becoming bigger, more dangerous. Before they would have avoided or ignored human presence, but now they attacked and sometimes seemed to actively seek out humans. Sandra knew the decline in the forest had to be connected, but no one seemed to know how. She was still competent enough to explore it and avoid most of the dangers. She and other hunters had stopped looking for meat in the woods though. It was always stringy and gristly, tasting foul and leaving the eater with cramps for a few days no matter how well it was cooked.
The river that cut through the forest, and the offshoot that went by the village, were still safe to drink from. Both here and downstream, so she knew it wasn’t the water that was poisoned. She suspected it was something in the earth, but there was no part of the forest that appeared worse than the others. It all took on a uniformed appearance of darkness. Sandra had looked for the source of the misery, but each time she found nothing. There had been no places in the forest that were dangerous or forbidden, no places that were said to cause sickness or death, not until recently.
At night she could hear them sometimes, animals or creatures, sniffing and snorting outside the houses, occasionally testing barriers on windows. People knew to be inside before full dark. No one knew what the things were, no one had dared look. When morning came they would have already slipped away, back to where they had come from, but they left behind no tracks. Sometimes there would be a gouge in a shutter, something knocked over or broken, but mostly there was no indication that anything had been prowling the village the night before, only the noises. Sandra had suggested they set a trap, try to capture one, but she had been shot down. People were frightened and didn’t want to risk upsetting the creatures or goad them into more frenzied attacks. Sandra knew people would start leaving soon. Taking what ever they could carry and setting out for other places to live. Soon she might be the only one left in the village. It was strange, when she was a child she dreamed of leaving, of setting off into the wider world and exploring, going to new places and meeting new people. Now that she was faced with this though, she pushed against it. She didn’t want to leave, not like this, forced out of her own home like some frightened animal fleeing a predator. She was stronger than that. If she did leave, it would be on her own terms and no one else’s.
Sandra went inside her small home and threw some wood into the fireplace. It would be a chilly night tonight, it would be a good idea for her to be properly prepared. She heard a noise outside, something clattering to the ground, a brief shout. She went to her window and looked out, another family were leaving. Their belongings piled high on a cart. The mother was berating one of the children. Sandra shook her head. It was too late for them to be leaving. It would only bring them trouble on the road if they couldn’t reach the next village by nightfall. She considered going outside, to tell them they should stay another night and leave in the morning, then she shook her head. She recognised the look on their faces, the tight fear. They would go now, no matter the danger. They couldn’t bear to stay here for another night. She turned from the window, not watching them go. It would be the last time she would ever see them.