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Witness Blossoms

Murder is not only a terrible and much too commonplace crime but, in any number of faiths and natural philosophies, is seen to create an imbalance that must be redressed.


Eventually almost all burial sites are left untended, falling into disarray and becoming overgrown with whatever opportunistic local weeds happen to chance upon the soil. Nonetheless, even the most scrupulously maintained of resting places can - in rare cases and certain circumstances - become the home for a handful of a flowering plants whose identity is more likely to be known to those versed in the esoteric than the vast majority of conventionally-educated horticulturalists, naturalists and biologists. These small flowers (none of those recorded have been measured at more than two or three centimetres in diameter) with their inflexible star of a dozen glossy stiletto-slim petals are far, far scarcer than the injustice that they represent. In knowledge that went from anecdote, through folklore and to recognised phenomena we know that the blood-red blooms of Witness Blossoms marks out one of two things; either the grave of an unavenged victim of a murder or the home of their killer.

Technically weeds, Witness Blossoms are hardy and delicate by turns. Those few attempts to deliberately cultivate or even transplant them have, uniformly, been failures. The slight scent of copper and salt - blood and tears respectively? - is carried on the inert pollen of a plant that has no apparent means of propagating itself. They sprout from the grave dirt with no apparent need for spore or seed, shallow roots clustered into tight bulbs. If pulled, they pop from the ground whole and, despite leaving no trace, regrow in a matter of days. Defoliants and poisons are similarly inefficient in killing them; whilst the original growth might eventually be overwhelmed and die off it will leach away the harmful elements and, again, be replaced by another group of flowers. Where they mark the guilty Witness Blossoms can be even more tenacious, budding from the smallest cracks in or between stones or concrete.

The oldest of scant historical references to the appearance of Witness Blossoms comes from an unknown artist whose work dates back to sometime in the earliest centuries of the Shang dynasty in China. This artist carved a detailed relief in bronze that shows the body of a man surrounded by mourners and, beside his body, a sprig of small, star-shaped flowers is visible. Whilst their undeniable resemblance to Witness Blossoms could well be coincidental, there is a second set of these flowers shown garlanding the brow of one the one mourner who - unlike the rest of those in attendance - has his eyes averted from the body: perhaps a sign of guilt? Other accounts come later and are found in writings from all across the world and throughout history until they became, in certain times and places, common enough to begin to be familiar to those with a particular niche bent to their reading.

One element that accompanies this slow proliferation is first mentioned, to the best of my knowledge, by the ancient Greek historian Memnon of Heraclea: the appearance of Witness Blossoms at the home of a murder is attached more to emotional guilt than to legal culpability. In one brief passage in his histories Memnon mentions, almost as aside to another story, that a rich merchant who had killed a delinquent client was apprehended after his guilt - repeatedly piqued by the “blood-star weed” that he felt was following his as he moved all over the country to avoid the pangs and pricking of shame - led to him turning himself in. Despite the spectre of suffering represented by their presence, the solved or confessed cases in which Witness Blossoms are known to have been found at a murderer’s home have not generally been tied to lurid tales of mass murderers, methodical serial killers or calculating criminal genii.

A conscience, a capacity for both understanding and keenly feeling the remorse of harm committed, is clearly part of whatever criteria causes the conjuration of Witness Blossoms. Most of the murders marked by them have been committed by fearful and pathetic people, people caught up in circumstances that show their weaknesses exploding into violent and deplorable actions. Far from hardened criminals, they are of the kind likely to have descended into self-destruction as a way of pushing down their guilt. If they hadn’t been caught or, in some cases, given themselves up, it seems that they may have ended up taking their own lives or putting themselves in harm’s way one too many times. As with other occasions and instances where some people are able to rationalise the evil that they have wrought, it is often those with the littlest regard for the fault of their faults who are most easily able to slip the bonds of responsibility and emerge unscathed.

It is perhaps this focus on an individual’s faculty to feel guilt that leads to some of the most obvious and unbearable absences of Witness Blossoms: As far as I know - or have been able to uncover - they have not been seen to grow on mass graves or battlefields; the palaces and mansions of genocidal leaders are not surrounded by red tides of these flowers. My greatest fear is that there is a natural order to which murder is an affront, but that whatever oversees it observes even more horrendous crimes and sees them either as a matter of course or does not see them at all. Perhaps, no matter how bleak such an outlook might be, I should be grateful for the relative scarcity of a phenomenon that might otherwise have choked the world to a standstill in red flowers signalling our disregard for each other.

A grave marred by the red scar of Witness Blossoms is a weak beacon; a tired call for justice that, sadly, few will recognise and that fewer still will be able to answer. Some overtures have been made to make the significance of Witness Blossoms understood by those who claim the right and the authority to see that justice is pursued, but without the requisite openness to the stranger realities of the world these powers are usually intractable. The natural world cares nothing for justice, at least not in any manner we can understand, so whatever intelligence or force directs the growth and spread of Witness Blossoms is not recognised and easily written off. Evidence becomes coincidence, murderers less than suspects - less than persons of interest - until even the resolve of the natural world fades and the Witness Blossoms on a victim’s grave wither up and die.


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