's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Rahkshasarani

The year was 1912, and "Sweethearts" were the watchword of fashionable lovers in the city. The so-called Sweetheart blossoms owed their popularity to two things. One was their appearance: said to resemble both the shape of Valentine's hearts and a lock-and-key motif (though older generations sniffled that they closer resembled less public body parts) that led to them being sold only in pairs. A man would give a female Sweetheart bloom to a girl, and keep the male for himself. The female Sweetheart had a notably potent aroma, one that was said to far outstrip even the other exotic flowers available at the time. The second boost to their popularity was their exclusivity. The blossoms sold only from one shop,

Eve's Garden on 9th and Washington. They were the work of one man: Emil Prender.

Little is known about the man who created the Sweetheart craze. He refused all publicity stills or interviews. Newspapers at the time scratched up that he had just returned from Borneo, and that he did the bulk of his work in a greenhouse with blacked-out panes. Perhaps the furor around the Sweetheart blooms were engineered from the start, and Prender knew to keep his identity closed off as possible.

The Sweetheart craze grew to an inferno. Few young men and women were seen out in public without a Sweetheart boutineer. If a woman had few suitors, she was said to be "not worth a flower." Just as soon as Eve's Garden got a shipment in, the flowers were gone. When the first acid attacks hit the newspapers, they were speculated to be the work of a jealous or jilted suitor, a woman spinstering too soon or a man whose lover had gone elsewhere.

The city had never seen such a savage or puzzling crime spree. Young women were found dead in their own homes, victims of an acid attack so potent it took their lives along with their faces. The scenes showed no signs of forced entry, no struggle, no clue as to what the attacker was thinking. If it was an outraged moral guardian or bitter loner, a note would almost certainly have been supplied. But no, there were only the fallen women cut down in the prime of their youth.<

Young couples stopped flaunting their Sweethearts, keeping them at home or covering the blooms with scarves and shawls. It made no difference, the attacks continued.

What turned the tide of investigation was one Teresa Bailey. Edgar Everett had been courting her for some time, and had bought her the Sweetheart blossom that dwelled on her bureau. Teresa kept the flower in a vase rather than pin it to her lapel, and often remarked to her friends at how the bloom changed with the weeks. The shape became fuller, the color scheme shifted to a bright cherry-red. A week before her death, Teresa excitedly wrote to her sister in Boston how the Sweetheart seemed to be developing seeds within. She imagined selling the seeds to a competing florist for a tidy sum.

On Saturday, the 24th of February, a maid discovered Theresa's body. Her face and bosom were completely unrecognizable. The vase with the Sweetheart blossom was clasped to her middle. Her heartbroken fiance took the flower to the botanists at the nearby University, who had been itching to get their hands on the flowers since the craze began. The true nature of the Sweetheart was finally dissected, and it led to the abandonment of the floral craze once and for all.

The "Sweetheart" flowers were unlike any plant that had been seen before. The blossoms acted typically in the way of many angiosperms: the "male" blossom pollinated the "female" and thus seeds developed. But that was where the similarities ended. The female would develop a deep "throat" not unlike that of a pitcher plant, apparently used to gather extra nutrients for the developing seeds. The sweet smell that made the plants so popular was actually a powerful natural acid, said to be 3.8 times stronger than sulfuric acid, that developed in the throat. It would sit in the flower, waiting for a passing insect or an unsuspecting girl to tilt the blossom down for a sniff.

With her death, Teresa Bailey broke the spell that Sweethearts had on the public. Eve's Garden was forced to shutter its business after a rash of break-ins and building defacements. Emil Prender fled, leaving behind immigration documents that were eventually found to be forgeries.

The black greenhouse was empty when police raided it, save for a single male Sweetheart that lay on his workbench.

Despite all concentrated efforts, botanists were unable to nurse the remaining specimens through the seed process or propagate the flowers. The last remaining blooms were pressed between glass plates and remain on display in the lobby of the University's biology building.