sun breaking through branches of a large tree
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

The Everbloom by Michael Schultz

Alma was a nine-year-old girl who was raised in an orphanage in a faraway kingdom. She stood out amongst the other children with flaming red hair, sea-green eyes, and a host of freckles splattered across her cheeks like ink from a fountain pen. Lean and spry as a cat, she often snuck away to pick flowers in the neighboring forest. Alma sold lilies on the streets of the Venet kingdom, a land known for the Everbloom tree, which was said to produce fruit so sweetly that it grants everlasting life to any who taste it. It was a tree coveted by the royal family and one that many searched for but few ever found. Indeed, it was this tree that Alma stumbled upon one day in the forests where she picked colorful flowers. There, in a grove far from the busy streets of man, grew a gnarled black tree, one that had scales for bark and branches that twisted and spun around each other like snakes. Upon its winding trunk were deep scars that oozed a thick milky sap, and what few leaves remained were dry and cracked. To Alma, it looked as though the tree was dying. However, dangling at the tallest branch was a red fruit so brilliant the sun sparkled off the surface like morning dew. There was no mistaking it; this was the fruit of the Everbloom.

Every child grew up hearing stories of the Everbloom’s magic and, though Alma came upon the tree by accident, she wasted no time reaching for the fruit. Alma climbed the trunk of the Everbloom driven not by greed, ambition, or power but compassion, for there was a boy who needed the fruits magic more than she. A prince whose golden eyes once danced with the light of a luminescent stag but were now dull gray, a victim of a terrible accident that stole away his body and spirit. Alma, who couldn’t bear the thought of the prince’s suffering, reached for another branch while driving the tips of her shoes into the soft bark. The deep indents in the wood were like stairs with many branches to grab hold of, but the unusual bark scratched her palms and tore at her feet through her worn-down shoes. By the time she made it to the top, her skirt was sticky with sap, hair tangled with twigs, and her hands and feet were red and scratched, but before the girl was her prize. Dangling a few inches away was the fruit vibrant with that scarlet color. Indeed, the apple sang as it swayed in the gentle winds.

Stretching herself as far as she could, Alma plucked the fruit from the branch, and the Everbloom trembled. Then, with its last gift received, the bark became as soft as paper, and the tree broke apart, becoming ashes in the wind. Alma flung herself to the ground, landing on her back as she cradled the fruit in her arms like a newly born child. In seconds, a mound of black sand was all that remained of the gnarled tree. But in her hands was a succulent prize, cold yet soft like velvet. Her mouth watered as she touched the surface of that delicate fruit, smacking her lips.

“I’ll just have one taste,” she thought but stopped before biting the soft shell.

Alma remembered seeing the prince pulled down from his saddle and into his mother’s arms, the boy broken like a doll without a string. He wasn’t much older than she and was in desperate need of help. Then she heard and felt something hum from within the fruit. A fragile song like a whistle from a baby bird. She knew then that the Everbloom’s magic was as delicate as a cracked mirror. Disturb the fruit too much and its power would vanish. So she nestled the apple in a wicker basket and lay purple lilies over the top to blanket and conceal the fruit.

Alma returned to the streets with the fruit of the Everbloom, winding through the forests until her feet found cobblestone. There, near the city's center, stood a magnificent palace with a white tower decorated in gold,shimmering like a mirage. That was her destination, and so she walked through the busy streets with men and women who peddled goods and children who danced and played, twirling about in ways that made Alma eager to join them.

As she walked past a kindly man who peddled fish, he caught her hand, sneaking a glimpse of the scarlet fruit beneath the lilies.

“Young lady,” he said, breath stinking of salt and vinegar. “I will trade you one fish of your choice every day for all the days of your life if you give me a taste of that fruit.”

Behind the man was a treasure trove of fresh fish stacked on ice that smelled of the ocean. There were fish as big as Alma and some with scales that shone like rainbows after a storm. Still, the girl shook her head, apologizing to the man as she walked away. But she didn’t get far before another merchant stopped her, one clothed in finery and adorned with gaudy blue gems.

“Young lady,” he said, putting his arm around her shoulders and guiding her to his stall. “Look, I have the finest gems in all the realm.”

Upon those shelves were polished crystals so clear and smooth that they would make angels jealous. There were diamonds colored in reds, blues, and greens, and even polished glass shaped by the sea’s waves, art truly born of nature’s touch.

“Say the word, and I will make you a princess,” the man smiled fondly, patting her head. “All I ask is for one taste.”

Then, reaching into the basket, his hands pulled away the flower blanket, revealing the gift of the Everbloom, but Alma pushed him away. With tears in her eyes, she ran from the merchant who called after her. Soon the crowds turned their attention, and an ocean of hands reached out to stop her.

Young lady!” they called, but she would not listen, racing down the streets until she tripped on a loose stone, collapsing onto the ground.

The red fruit rolled from the basket, resting at the feet of the royal gatekeeper. He was a bear of a man clad in golden metal, wearing an eagle-shaped helmet. His legs were like tree trunks, and his hands were thick with scars, each earned from a long history of service. Without hesitation, he helped Alma to her feet, tearing a bit of white cloth that hung from his armor to wipe the blood from her nose and tears from her eyes. There was a gentle precision to his movements and a kindness that compelled him to gather scattered lilies for a clumsy girl.

“Please, sir, for the prince,” she whimpered, holding out her basket and pointing at the scarlet fruit that he scooped into his hands like water from a barrel.

The gatekeeper returned the Everbloom's gift to Alma and then hoisted her into his arms as if she were a garden mouse. Surprised, she yipped as the air rushed up to meet her, Alma’s cheeks turning as red as cherries.

Sitting in the crook of the bear’s arm, Alma was taken through the gates and past a mote filled with the purest water upon which light danced to music yet to be heard. Across the bridge, in a gilded hall where ten of the kingdom’s mightiest monarchs were crowned, she met the queen of the Venet Kingdom.

In Alma’s dreams, a queen was a regal figure who stood as tall as a mountain with a voice that commanded the heavens and sundered the earth. Yet, the woman who stood before her appeared no different from the young ladies who purchased flowers from her, full of dreams of handsome knights and flowing gowns. She wore no jewels, carried no scepter, and her regal garment was a dull white dress frayed at the edges. Upon her head was a tarnished silver circlet, the only sign of her mighty station the queen didn’t even wear shoes.

Alma stepped forward when even the tallest dropped to their knees, offering a gift to a woman in need. “My lady, for your son.”

The haggard queen, whose blonde hair hung in knots and whose eyes were cracked red and face stained with tears, took the scarlet fruit into her hands. Then, Alma noticed something flash in the woman’s pale eyes that had been missing. Hope.

Together the queen and the orphan ascended into the tallest tower where a young boy was bedridden, attended by the kingdom’s finest physicians. Like his mother, he wore a simple white tunic but had skin as pale as moonlight, and his eyes were gray and dead-looking. Upon his bed were a broken saddle and a lonely bow, remnants of a terrible accident that had left him without the use of his legs. However, to Alma, it was the severance of his spirit that was most tragic. For a young boy who once chased the winds with dreams of the great hunt, there was no fate worse. But his future was about to change.

The fruit of the Everbloom did more than just restore the boy’s legs; it returned his will to live. With each bite, his pale skin became flushed with color, and his eyes filled with a golden veil that pranced like a deer in a lush grove. When only the core of that fruit remained, he leaped from the bed and into his mother’s arms, shedding such tears of joy that Alma, too, cried.

So moved was the queen by the young girl’s compassion that she offered her any boon within a royal’s power to grant. Sniffling, Alma pointed to the fruit’s core.

“Can I have one seed?” she asked.

With a smile like spring after a harsh winter, the queen took hold of the fruit’s pit, which was as rough and black as a chunk of coal.

“Listen closely to me, young lady,” she said, splitting the core open with a crack. “Do you know why the Everbloom is so hard to find?”

Alma shook her head, red hair streaming back and forth like the ocean’s tide.

“It’s because no mortal has ever grown a fruit-bearing Everbloom.” Then, taking hold of Alma’s hands, the queen poured three tiny red seeds into her palms. “But I believe,” she said, stroking Alma’s cheek. “I believe you will succeed where many have failed.”

Alma left the palace with the queen’s kind words, skipping down the cobblestone streets and past the man wearing gaudy jewels and the one who smelled of salt and sea. She left thinking of the joy between mother and son, wanting to create a world where no parent had to watch their child suffer. So the girl returned to the grove of the Everbloom tree and buried red seeds beneath a mound of black soil rich with mulch and teeming with the life of a hundred critters that spun and skittered, tunneled and twirled.

Day after day, she returned to this spot, caring for the earth like mother and child. Alma dampened the soil using crystal-clear water from the palace moat and fertilized the ground with fish she bought from the pennies of her flower sales. Finally, after one week of care, a single sprout poked up from the soil as green as the forest and as fragile as blown glass. In her excitement, Alma built a crude wooden fence to protect the seedling from careless feet and hungry vermin.

By the time the icy winds came from the northern mountains, the Everbloom had grown tall and true, its bark strong and leaves a vibrant green with golden flowers. As the tree flourished, Alma pruned the branches and coated the bark in mud to keep pests at bay. Then, when winter came, she wrapped the base of the Everbloom in linens to protect it from the cold.

By Alma’s tenth name day, when the white blanket of snow melted away, her Everbloom was the tallest tree in the forest with bows that stretched high above the canopy. The tree burst forth with such color that the surrounding grove appeared dull in comparison. However, despite her best efforts, the queen’s warning about the Everbloom proved true.

Although the branches were long and thick enough to support a bounty of food, the tree bore no fruit. But Alma would not give up. Selling the golden flowers, she made enough money to support her efforts. Day by day, she tended to the tree, and soon spring turned to summer and summer to fall, and the Everbloom passed into dormancy until winter gave way to spring once more. Yet, to the girl’s dismay, the tree flush with green and gold was barren of the prize she sought.

Although disappointed, she worked so the tree would shine, hoping that one day she would find the fruit that healed a prince. However, when the icy mountain air returned, a terrible illness took hold of Alma, who collapsed in the grove before the Everbloom.

With a burning fever and shaking hands, she was far too weak to return home. Had she been alone, her story would have ended, but concealed behind an ancient oak was a bear of a man who once carried an orphan to meet a queen. By royal decree, he had watched her in secret, not an assistant but a guardian angel fending away unseen danger. He carried the trembling girl to the palace once more, where she was dressed in a white gown and taken to the top of the tallest tower. There, a court of physicians mixed remedies that were sweet, bitter, and sour, but the fever would not break, and days passed into months.

In Alma’s absence, the branches of the Everbloom grew out of control, winding around each other like snakes as vermin gnawed at the roots and feasted on the leaves. When the bark peeled away, the sap underneath attracted a grizzled old bear that tore into the base to sharpen its claws on softwood. Then came the tiny creatures that nested in the scars, building hollow galleries that weakened the tallest branches. When the winter months approached, a terrible storm called the eye of Cain brought winds that ripped through the forests like a flood. The tallest bows of the Everbloom swayed and bent, until, with a thunderous boom, the thickest branches tumbled to the ground, leaving only a stump of a tree suffocated by tiny winding branches. Finally, the softwood warped and darkened black in the bitter chill of a long winter, covered only by the barest patches of bark like the scales of a reptile.

By spring, when the winter chill retreated over the mountains, the fever that had burned for a year had taken to Alma’s heart. Beyond the skills of even the most talented physicians, the sickly girl wasted away, clawing at bed sheets with sweat beading across her cheeks. On her twelfth name day, she begged the young prince, who was now fair and strong, to take her to see the Everbloom one last time.

Eager to pay a debt owed, he carried her with a bow in hand down from the highest tower and through the busy streets past the man with gaudy jewels and the one who smelled of salt and sea. As Alma clung to the prince’s back, the cool morning breeze felt refreshing across her brow, and her eyelids grew heavy as she became numb to the fever. When the young prince found the grove, Alma barely clung to consciousness, and he laid her in a bed of flowers just before the Everbloom, gasping at what he saw.

There, in a grove far from the busy streets of man, grew a gnarled black tree. One that had scales for bark and branches that twisted and spun around each other like snakes. Upon its winding trunk were deep scars that oozed a thick milky sap, and the few leaves remaining were dry and cracked. Yet, there was a sickly branch bowed from the weight of a scarlet fruit upon which light danced and the wind sang. Then, with a single twang of the prince’s bow, the fruit was shot free and rolled to the ground, resting at Alma’s feet.

Touching the soft velvet skin of the Everbloom, Alma couldn’t hold back a gnawing hunger and so sank her teeth into the fruit, a succulent juice rushing into her mouth. It tasted of apples and honey but had the warmth of soup after a cold winter’s day. With each bite, she grew strong, and the fever was chased away like shadows in a sunrise as her eyes filled with golden light.

And so it was that the fruit that had healed a prince now saved an orphan. 

After that day, Alma’s legend would ascend taller than any tree, for she was the first to grow a fruit-bearing Everbloom, and from a handful of seeds, she would grow many more. Hundreds of years later, the citizens of the Venet kingdom became the fairest of all mortal races, and the bards still sing of an orchard tended by a young girl in a dull white dress, a young girl who learned a valuable lesson. For the Everbloom, strength earned by overcoming life’s adversities bears the sweetest fruit.


Michael Schultz is an immunologist researching infectious disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In his free time, he writes speculative fiction about time-traveling mice and interdimensional monsters that live in Ms. Crawford’s shoe box. Yes, her cat is missing, and she still doesn’t know why. Occasionally, Michael returns to orbit writing lighthearted fairy tales about dragons, fairies, mermaids, and little trolls that eat peach cobbler and live in the kitchen sink. Sorry folks, that’s as down-to-earth as Michael is going to get.

Author's note

My story “The Everbloom” was loosely inspired by the biblical passages on Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. I wanted to create a story about temptation where our main character didn’t fall but resisted. Alma faces many challenges but ignores her own desires for the well-being of another. The road she took was much harder than the momentary pleasures offered by the fisherman and jeweler, but what she receives, in the end, is lasting happiness. True to life, the easy way out is always there, but for those who choose to swim against the current, the rewards are greater. Finally, the Everbloom tree itself was inspired by a species of fire lily that only bloom when choked by the smoke of a forest fire. Protect and coddle them and they will never flower. Yes, as odd as it may sound, if you want to see them bloom, you must burn the stalk or drown the lily in ash. Imagine how hard would it be for a nurturing, selfless child to care for such a plant. Thus, Alma’s tale was born.

A slightly modified version of "The Everbloom" originally appeared here on December 2, 2020.