Clocks run slow; cars misfire; dust hazes the air and sifts in through sealed windows; if you toss a baseball to your son, it will bounce off his glove and shatter a window far behind him. Floorboards warp like drying cheese; glassware bursts for no reason; food in the fridge fuzzes over with mold in just hours. A few years back, a TV crew came and filmed a story about the wholesome town of Calcutta and its historic springwater. When the segment aired, they gave directions that would lead visitors to a different valley named after a city of classical antiquity.

Above the town, in the woods where the leaves drift deep, you can still find the sagging ruins of the bottling works. The spring leaks from a slimy bank of clay that has slumped against the building, pushing it halfway over.

The water, acrid and green, flows over wavering tongues of algae as pink and lurid as antique marital aids. It is so bitter that its taste pollutes the memory: one can never again think of the forested hillside without a recoiling sense of injury to the throat.