He was pointing at the tree trunks. Their bark didn’t have the usual tortoiseshell pattern like normal red pines. Instead they were covered in lumps that looked like tumors or cancer cells.
Then, I saw that some of them resembled human faces.
Faces twisted in unimaginable pain, screaming faces, faces of the dead.
I shivered and looked away.
I was almost prepared to face even more horrible sights ahead. Instead I was amazed by what I saw.
There was a slope that had been more or less cleared by falling boulders. The trees were sparse and the ground was full of mountain azaleas. What was weird was that even though it was already autumn, they were all in full bloom, covering the slope with red and pink flowers and filling the air with the most fragrant aroma I had ever smelled.
“How pretty…” I said, breathing in their perfume and going for a closer look.
“Stop. Don’t touch them,” Satoru caught me by the arm. “There’s something wrong with these flowers. Look,” he pointed down at his feet.
The ground was littered with the corpses of innumerable ants, bees, beetles, spiders, and other insects.
“Don’t you think this smell is way too strong? There’s probably some toxic substance in it.”
“In the azaleas?”
“They’re not normal flowers, no matter how you look at it.”
His words seem to break the spell. I looked at the flowers I had thought so beautiful until now, and shuddered at their deceptive poison.
No, that wasn’t the only reason I had shuddered.
“Where is this chill coming from?”
There was a cold wind blowing from the depths of the forest.
“…let’s take a look,” Satoru said, looking as if he were preparing himself for the worst.
As if possessed, we made our way toward the source of the wind.