Fruits may be a malleable motif in myths and legends all across the world, but where they occur in observable supernatural phenomena they often play a more sinister role.
Sometimes, usually amongst those of an already nervous or neurotic predisposition, people can develop a preoccupation with the idea of biting into food - often and especially fresh fruits or vegetables - only to discover that they are spoilt, rotten or otherwise infested. Such obsessions can develop in the abstract or can be the result of an unfortunate and unpleasant experience, but encounters with certain extraordinary and inexplicable phenomena can cause these fears to gestate into full-blown phobias. With the omnipresent fear of rot and decay already indicating a somewhat morbid outlook, one can only imagine the horror of teeth crunching - sometimes cracking, even breaking - against an unexpected seed that, when spat out hurriedly, is revealed to be a tiny, perfectly-formed skull.
This is the result of a rare and unnatural mutation which can affect various examples of the vaccinium genus (whose fruits includes blueberries, cranberries and lingonberries), creating a new subspecies. Now generally known as Vaccinium Infernus, the name is a reference to the oldest recorded instance of the phenomenon where, per legend, the roots of the affected bush were believed to have grown deep enough to touch the edges of Hell itself. An apparently spontaneous transformation, there are no visible markings or indicators to signal that a plant will suddenly grow these macabre fruits, and the phenomenon may only affect a single crop or yield. Most never get a second chance though, as the offending examples are usually - and quite understandably - uprooted and destroyed.
Structurally, the skulls (sometimes just the cranium, but usually complete with a fused and unarticulated mandible) are proportioned exactly like those of adult humans and, under more careful testing and examination, they are accurately detailed down to a microscopic level. Whilst seldom appearing in the colours more typical or expected of bone - since the berries’ juices act as mordant stains - they are nonetheless formed from the same mixture and ratios of organic and mineral compounds, being chemically identical to their full-scale counterparts. There is, however, no evidence that they were ever enrobed in the flesh or muscle of human tissue: To the best of our admittedly-limited understanding, the skulls are not the remains of a secondary species but are native to the berries in which they are discovered.
Though the sudden appearances of these fruits are often (and somewhat reasonably) assumed to be the result of either a hoax or a gruesome practical joke, undamaged and unmolested samples from the offending plants have been used to prove that this is not the case. The affected berries form with a small, calciferous seed at their core and this seed, which grows and reshapes itself into a more complete skull inside the berry as it develops, is fed by the plant. When the berry is ripe, or if it is prematurely picked or dislodged, this process stops. Never quite alive in the manner their form suggests, at this point the skulls nonetheless become completely inert: Seeds that will never bud or blossom, no matter how carefully or deliberately they are cultivated.
With so much about Vaccinium Infernus remaining resolutely inscrutable, maybe even unknowable, a speculative patchwork of symbolism, myth and pathetic fallacy has come to dominate discussions of the species’ origins and functions. Much of this work can be dismissed or disregarded out of hand: Suggestions, for instance, that these berries grow to mark unobserved graves (or the undiscovered remains of murder victims), have not borne out under even the most invasive investigations. It seems that death, even death that results from some terrible and unpunished injustice, is too ubiquitous to adequately explain or to mark out areas in which the Vaccinium Infernus have appeared. As neat as such a connection might be, the truth - if it is ever uncovered - will likely be less tidy.
There are also those believe that plants of the vaccinium genus have some shared ancestry with the hybrid-cultivar Zagreus Greys, and that the echoes of their transmissions might result in their mutation into Vaccinium Infernus. There is however (and although efforts have been made despite the relative scarcity of available samples) no evidence of this; nor is there any indication that the known appearances of these fruits line up with the currently mapped paths of the networks between those trees. Clearly, we are still lacking some key piece of knowledge - or perhaps some basic and fundamental understanding - by which we could begin to make meaningful progress into explaining how such a uniquely nightmarish crop could come to be.
As much as speculation around their mysterious origins might fascinate, the experience of discovering Vaccinium Infernus berries has often proven to be extremely traumatic. Repellent on some deeper and more profound level than the physical reality of the tainted fruit might suggest, those who have found the skulls - particularly if they found them whilst eating the berries - seem to suffer lasting effects that go beyond the obvious determination to never touch the affected type of food again. Scarce and scattered though such people are (and they are far too few to draw conclusions as to the underlying aetiologies behind their resulting issues), they all speak to developing fears around their mortality and to an insidious and pervasive dread that poisons their everyday lives.
Despite this, berries from Vaccinium Infernus have become somewhat prized for their ritual value. Granted a poetic significance because of their ominous appearance - they are sometimes seen as a powerful omen or portent - practitioners from a number of fringe religious, magical or spiritual beliefs attest that they unify representations (or, alternatively, represent the unification) of life and death. Paired with various entheogens and, less commonly, with more abrasive modern psychoactives, they are believed to help bridge a connection between a living consciousness and the afterlife, though there is a certain scepticism as to whether the berries actually enhance the ritual or merely provide a totemic focus. Regardless, consuming the berries under these circumstances does not appear to have the same deleterious effects.