“What are these red hearts?” asked 14-year-old Julia Genesee of Humansville, looking at the tiny flowers that resembled hearts, growing from the limbs of the Tree of Life in her backyard. The hearts grew between the twelve different fruits that grew on the Tree.
“I wonder if this is the beginning of another test?” Julia mumbled to her dog Meatloaf, who barked at her question. She wrapped a piece of her chestnut brown hair around her finger. “This would be my third test. First, there was the test with the Tree of Good and Evil, then the test with the Tree of Life. Weren’t two tests enough?”
As the third mysterious tree stood in full form, it looked almost like the first Tree of Life that had grown in her backyard after the Tree of Good and Evil had disappeared into the ground during an earthquake. Of course, this was the second Tree of Life that she had planted after the first one was struck by lightning, but now as this tree had matured, it started to change shape and bloom red, pink, and white hearts.
“The Tree of Bleeding Hearts is what this looks like,” Julia considered, adjusting her glasses, and studying the Tree, as it appeared to be bleeding. “Mom, do you think the flowers on this tree make it look like it’s bleeding?”
“Bleeding?” her mother Claire questioned, sitting in the backyard reading a book on gardening. “Oh, that’s silly, honey. Trees don’t bleed.”
“Yeah, the tree looks like it cut its finger,” her 12-year-old brother Nathan joked. "I might have blond hair, but I'm not that dumb!"
“Hurry! Call an ambulance,” her father, Jacob added with a chuckle. “I just hope it doesn’t get struck by lightning like the other tree you planted. It was a lot of work to clean up that mess.”
“No one ever takes me seriously, but I am the one who always fixes everything,” Julia complained, worried that this test might be the toughest one yet.
Deciding to ignore her family’s comments, she sat down at her player piano in the living room and pounded out J. S. Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” and “Arioso.”
“At least this piano was a reward from the Tree of Good and Evil for the other test that I passed,” Julia acknowledged. “And we could eat the fruit from the Tree of Life whenever we wanted after I passed its test, and it was really good.”
“You’re too serious,” her mother scolded her daughter, walking into the living room and listening to Julia speak to herself. “You overthink things.”
Instead of arguing, Julia took herself up to her bedroom to do her homework for eighth grade English. “I have a test tomorrow,” Julia told her mom. “I have to know everything about Ralph Waldo Emerson.”
“You’ll get an A plus,” her father announced. “You always get good grades.”
On the windy night when her family was fast asleep, Julia sneaked into the backyard with Meatloaf and a flashlight to further study the bleeding tree.
Her jeans had holes in them, and she rolled up the cuffs of her button-down shirt. She double knotted her sneakers so the ties would not come undone.
“What is to become of us this time?” Julia whispered to Meatloaf. She picked him up in her arms and danced beneath the Tree in a storm of falling hearts.
Fascinated at their shape, Julia grabbed the flowered hearts in her hands and studied them. “Why would a tree bleed, Meatloaf?” she wondered. “This is so hard to understand.”
Then, she opened the sliding glass door to her backyard and walked into the living room from the moonlight. Her dog jumped on the piano bench.
“Above all else, guard your heart,” Julia quoted a proverb like a poet, arranging the flowers on the top of the piano into a large heart-shape. As she did so, the player piano abruptly played the magical song that opened the window from Humansville to Eden for the third time.
“Do you hear that Meatloaf?” Julia stammered. “It’s the song that takes us to Eden. I wonder if Mom and Dad will hear it this time. I doubt it.”
Julia ran back to the Tree of Bleeding Hearts, which no longer had fruit on its branches, but had transformed itself into a display of red heart-shaped flowers.
She starred at the open enchanted window between Eden and Humansville, wondering why it had opened and what to do this time.
“Don’t jump through it yet, Meatloaf,” Julia instructed, watching him wag his curly tail. “We have to figure out what is going on.”
Free of her sentence of being chained to the original Tree of Good and Evil, Evelyn, a descendant of Eve from Eden, stumbled through the window covered in blood.
“I need your help,” the woman in a green-leaf body suit collapsed into Julia’s backyard. “I’m covered in Adam II’s blood. He opened the window to Humansville right before he died.”
“What happened, Evelyn?” Julia cried, grabbing a beach towel from a lawn chair in the backyard. “Are you hurt?”
“Adam II has been killed by Prince Asmodeus, the brother of the deceased Prince Ubel. Many of the trees in Eden are bleeding hearts!” Evelyn explained, wiping herself off with the towel. “After you saved Adam II and left Eden, everything went sour. Since you decapitated Prince Ubel, his brother took revenge.”
“How did Prince Asmodeus kill Adam II?” Julia squirmed, biting her lip.
“He was killed while sitting on his throne when Prince Asmodeus charged his sanctuary,” Evelyn told her. “I tried to save him, but I couldn’t.”
“I should have never left Eden,” Julia lamented, sighing, and sitting on the ground next to Evelyn. “If I had stayed, my parents would have wondered what had happened to me. There was no way that I could have stayed with you.”
“Please come back to Eden,” Evelyn begged Julia. “Help me protect the kingdom from Prince Asmodeus. We are so vulnerable since Adam II is dead.”
“I don’t know if I can help you again,” Julia considered, putting her head in her hands. “I made it through the first two times. This seems like the third test, but why can’t it come to me in Humansville? How much help would I actually be at protecting Eden?”
“If Prince Asmodeus gains full control of Eden, then he will come for Humansville next,” Evelyn clarified. “Don’t think that he won’t come for you! The original Tree of Good and Evil and the original Tree of Life still stand in Eden, and they are the only thing keeping Eden from becoming overtaken with evil.”
“What is this?” Julia squirmed as the Tree of Bleeding Hearts in her backyard started to drip blood. She wiped it off her arm. “I’m going to be covered in blood. Mom and Dad are going to have a fit at this mess.”
Meatloaf whimpered as the player piano continued its concert at the sight of Evelyn.
“I wish everything could be made right in the world,” Julia shed a tear, as the sun started to come up. “Fine, I will help you again. Meatloaf, do you want to come with me?”
Her faithful canine friend jumped into her arms, and she jumped through the window with Evelyn following her. She didn’t even look back.
As Julia traveled through the magical window to Eden, a vision of Adam II flashed before her eyes, and he asked her: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
“I thought you were dead!” Julia wondered, spinning through time and space with Meatloaf and Evelyn.
Shocked at the interaction, Julia arrived in Eden under the original Tree of Good and Evil in tears, asking Evelyn: “Are you sure Adam II is dead? I just saw him in the tunnel between Eden and Humansville. Did you see him?”
“No, I didn’t see him, but his blood is still all over me,” Evelyn motioned, sitting next to Julia. “I’m sure he’s dead.”
Julia looked at the blood-covered trees all across Eden, realizing that Adam II must have really been dead, but somehow alive at the same time. She wiped a drop of blood from Meatloaf’s nose. Red, pink, and white hearts covered almost every tree in the kingdom with dried blood, and the petals blew in the wind, catching Julia’s hair.
Evelyn brushed the petals from her face, so that she could see clearly.
“Let’s go wash ourselves in the springs at Adam’s II palace,” Evelyn suggested. “I want to wash the blood from my body.”
As Julia and Evelyn tread across Eden with Meatloaf in an attempt to defeat Prince Asmodeus, Julia began to have more visions of Adam II. She would see him in front of her, and then behind her, and even beside her.
“Did you see that?” Julia asked Evelyn, blinking twice.
“See what?” Evelyn responded, not able to see Adam II.
“I guess not,” Julia squinted, noticing Adam II again walking next to her with his crown, and then him disappearing. She wondered if he was secretly trying to give her motivation to save the land.
“Why did this have to happen?” Evelyn cried, jumping into the springs, washing herself of Adam II’s blood. Julia jumped into the waters as well, noticing Adam II standing next to the original Tree of Life that grew by the waters.
The Tree’s flaming sword swung around it, protecting it from people of ill will.
“I don’t know why this had to happen,” Julia moaned, watching the images of Adam II fade away a moment later.
Then, without warning, Prince Asmodeus marched into the grounds with a group of guards with weapons. They paced in a straight line behind him.
“Ssshh,” Julia whispered to Evelyn, jumping from the springs, grabbing Meatloaf, and hiding behind the Tree of Life. Evelyn swam and hid in the corners of the springs.
“I thought Asmodeus was in hiding, fearing for his life,” Evelyn mouthed to Julia silently. Neither Julia nor Evelyn could hardly breathe.
“Open the window to Humansville!” Prince Asmodeus ranted to his guards, studying the Tree of Life from a distance. However, he could not pass by the flaming sword, which kept him from touching the Tree. “Where is the window? Somebody, find it for me, and open it!”
“Yes, sir, but I think only Adam II could open the window,” the guards stammered, looking at each other in confusion and having no idea where to find the window. “Right away!”
“That brat Julia killed my brother,” Asmodeus raved. “I am going to kill her and take over Humansville.”
At the sound of her name, Julia quickly covered Meatloaf’s mouth until the evil Prince left. Then, Julia saw another split-second vision of Adam II with the flaming sword that protected the Tree of Life, after which Prince Asmodeus retreated with the guards.
“Hurry! Quickly, follow me before he comes back,” Evelyn jumped from the spring, sopping wet, whispering to Julia and Meatloaf. “We have to flee to the hills.”
“Why the hills?” Julia questioned. “Isn’t that too far in our current wet condition?”
“Adam II’s sister, Princess Bethany, lives in hiding in the hills,” Evelyn explained, running as fast as she could. “Bethany’s son, Jairus, is the next man in line to be king. We can stay with them for now.”
“I hope they won’t be upset that they need to hide us,” Julia worried, looking at Meatloaf.
“We will be safe with Princess Bethany,” Evelyn hoped against hope. “She is deciding if she wants to be Queen of Eden or pass the right to her son as its next king.”
Julia had a bad feeling, but she followed Evelyn into the hills. The two duo passed other residents of Eden who hid in their homes, never stopping to mention the courage that drove them to save the land.
As Julia, Meatloaf, and Evelyn approached Princess Bethany’s cottage in the hills of Eden, Jairus stepped out on the front porch with a spear.
“Evelyn and Julia Genesee! Julia, it’s an honor to meet you!” Jairus announced, running to meet them. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
“How would you know who I am?” Julia blurted out, looking at his large weapon.
“You rescued my deceased uncle, Adam II, and killed Prince Ubel,” Jairus affirmed. “Of course, I would know you anywhere. Come inside as my guests,” he motioned to the trio. “My mother will be glad to meet you.”
“I hope none of Prince Asmodeus’ guards followed us,” Evelyn considered. “The guard dogs can smell our path.”
Julia closed the door behind them as Meatloaf slipped into the cottage before her.
“I wish for the crown to pass to Jairus. It will fit his head well,” Princess Bethany explained later that evening during an elegant feast in her cottage.
The princess sipped wine and pointed at Adam II’s crown, which sat on the middle of the table. Glazed ham, turkey, potatoes, asparagus, wine, butter croissants, and grapes lined the table. Candles flickered on both sides of the room.
“We are in hiding until we can figure out how to defeat Prince Asmodeus,” the princess continued, raising her glass of wine. “We don’t think he knows that we are here.”
“I wish I could have saved Adam II,” Evelyn regretted, buttering a croissant. “I asked Julia to come back to Eden because I didn’t know what else to do.”
“I really didn’t think you would need my help again,” Julia explained with Meatloaf sitting on her lap, as she was feeding him a piece of ham. “I think Humansville actually needs me more than you do, but I was worried that if I didn’t help you that he might overtake us. No one there would believe me if I told them about the danger.”
Then, Princess Bethany raised her wineglass and announced: “To the memory of Adam II!” Everyone raised their glasses in agreement and took a hopeful drink.
After they finished their meal, they enjoyed toasted marshmallow butterscotch pie, chocolate cream pie, pecan tarts, and ginger toffee pudding. Even Meatloaf enjoyed the desserts. For a moment, all was well, and everyone forgot their impending troubles.
Evelyn wiped her mouth, placed her napkin on the table, and curled up in a side rocking chair besides the fireplace. “I’ll help you clear the table in a minute,” she told Princess Bethany.
“No need. I can clean up quite fine on my own,” the princess told her guests.
Then Julia looked at Jairus and smiled, saying, “Thank you for a lovely evening!”
“Dance with me,” Jairus grabbed Julia from the table, pulling her near the fire.
Jairus and Julia spun in a circle. Then, he kissed her and took the sapphire necklace from around his neck and placed it on her neck.
“This is for you in gratitude of what you did for Eden,” he thanked her, holding her hand. “It is my mother’s necklace.”
“Thank you,” Julia stammered. “It’s beautiful.”
She placed it under her shirt, having another momentary vision of Adam II, wondering why she was seeing his face again.
Before Julia could regain her composure, about a dozen of Prince Asmodeus’ guards burst through the cottage door and stabbed Princess Bethany in the heart.
“No! Mother!” Jairus screamed, watching her fall to the floor, gushing with blood.
Julia grabbed a sword from the wall and slashed the guards. She also fought them off by throwing the hot irons by the fire at them.
Meanwhile, Evelyn tripped two of them and caused them to fall onto the floor. Then, she cracked ceramic pottery over their heads, and Meatloaf bit their legs.
“You will die,” Jairus raged, stabbing the guards with his spear, and throwing kitchen knives at them. The guards collapsed on the floor before they could kill anyone else.
As all the guards seemed to be defeated, Julia lit a log from the fire and held it outside, so she could see if any more intruders were nearby.
“I don’t see anyone else right now,” Julia warned. “Who knows who is hiding beyond the ridge?”
Petals from the bleeding trees blew through the door into the fireplace as Jairus held his dying mother.
“I bless you as King of Eden,” Princess Bethany whispered her dying words. “Now take the throne in my honor.”
“I will help you as much as I can,” Julia promised in tears, looking at Jairus’ devastated face. Then, she kissed Princess Bethany on the forehead.
Burying his mother in the morning on the hillside, Prince Jairus collapsed in tears.
Julia gathered flowers from the high grass and placed them over the gravesite. Evelyn and Meatloaf kept watch for more invaders lurking in the distance.
“I know this is hard, but I think we need to leave before Prince Asmodeus sends more guards for a second attack,” Julia hastened. Then, Julia saw Adam II again, this time holding the bleeding hearts, as though they had the solution of how to defeat Prince Asmodeus.
She asked Jairus: “Do you think the bleeding hearts from the trees can be used to kill Asmodeus?”
“It has been said that the bleeding hearts act as poison to anyone who has evil in his or her heart,” Jairus explained, kneeling by his mother’s grave. “If the person has good in his or her heart, then the hearts act as protection. This is why the trees produced hearts when Adam II was killed. It’s like they were crying to protect Eden.”
“These hearts are so frail,” Julia pondered, catching them in the wind. “How could such a simple thing be used to kill such an evil person?”
As Jairus said his goodbyes to his mother, Julia gathered as many petals as she could in a wooden bin. Evelyn, pacing with a sword, and Meatloaf still kept watch.
“What if we made the petals into a serum that could be put on the tip of an arrow?” Julia suggested. “Maybe we could bait Asmodeus at the Tree of Life by the springs and shoot him with a concentrated dose of bleeding-heart serum?”
Rising from beside his mother’s grave, King Jairus agreed.
“It seems to be the only possibility right now,” he surmised.
So, Julia, King Jairus, and Evelyn collected as many bleeding hearts as they could and crushed the hearts into a serum. Once the gel-like serum was made, the group travelled to the springs by the Tree of Life with a special deadly-tipped bow and arrow.
Upon reaching the Tree, Jairus stood in front of it, screaming: “Come and find me! We are ready for war.”
“I’m a better shot than you think,” Julia assured King Jairus, holding her bow and arrow. Meatloaf held an extra arrow in his mouth.
“I’m so glad Adam II unchained me from the Tree of Good and Evil,” Evelyn recalled. “Otherwise, Eden might have perished. Oh, this is so overwhelming.”
Within minutes, Prince Asmodeus arrived with a legion of guards that surrounded him.
“How dare you defy me!” Prince Asmodeus screamed at King Jairus. The guards advanced toward Jairus with their weapons.
“I am now king, and I will avenge the blood of my mother,” Jairus screamed in defiance. “You will not take the throne of Eden.”
“I have one shot,” Julia whispered, as she lay in wait as a sharpshooter behind the brush. Meatloaf covered his eyes with his paws as he heard the two rulers arguing.
“I can’t look,” Evelyn worried, crushing more bleeding hearts for extra serum for arrows to kill other guards. “So glad you're doing the shooting, not me. Your first shot could be your last if you miss. Not to upset you or anything.”
“Do you want to shoot it?” Julia asked her in annoyance, still hearing Jairus scream at Asmodeus with his guards. “I got an A in archery in middle school.”
“Middle school? Not even high school? Wonderful!” Evelyn mocked. “I feel so much better, especially since I have never shot an arrow or know how to hold a bow.”
“I just have to wait for the perfect moment and aim for his heart,” Julia declared with confidence. “I can make the shot.”
Then, Prince Asmodeus charged toward King Jairus with his sword raised. Julia sent her first shot, and Prince Asmodeus collapsed to the ground, crying in pain.
One after another, Evelyn handed Julia more arrows with serum on the tips, and Julia sent the arrows into the guards. Meatloaf handed the last arrows to Julia with his mouth.
As the guards collapsed, Prince Asmodeus fought to stay alive, trying to stand and charge toward Jairus with his sword drawn. Before he could slay Jairus, he fell to the ground dead.
While King Jairus fought off the other guards, Julia ran from hiding and stabbed the dying prince in the heart with his own sword. Then, she saw Adam II standing next to him in grief. It was as if Adam II asked: “Why did it have to come to this?”
Julia had no answer for him, neither did Meatloaf, who whimpered at the dead bodies.
Now King Jairus was ruler of Eden, and peace was once again restored, at least temporarily. How long the peace would last would depend on subduing Asmodeus’ other guards.
“Jairus, you must now sit on your uncle’s throne,” Julia insisted. “I’m not leaving until you reclaim the throne.”
“Hurry to the palace before his other guards try to destroy it!” Evelyn agreed. “I will remain on the lookout at the Tree of Life until you reclaim the throne.”
As King Jairus and Julia, holding Meatloaf, ran to the palace and into the throne room, Julia hoped the throne was not already overtaken. They rushed through the doors into his inner chamber to find Asmodeus’ guards approaching the throne with torches.
The fire from beneath Adam II’s throne burned with orange, blue, and purple flames.
“Wait! Their torches carry natural fire,” Jairus warned Julia, anticipating at any moment the supernatural fire surrounding Adam II’s throne would devour them.
“Oh, someone once told me about the supernatural fire around his throne,” Julia recalled from her first trip to Eden. Meatloaf buried his head in Julia’s chest.
Sure enough, within moments, the fire from beneath Adam II’s throne blazed onto the guards with the torches and burned them to a crip. Their ashes fell onto the marble floor.
“Wow,” Julia gasped. “I have never seen anything like that before.”
“Those stupid guards thought they could burn Adam II’s throne, so I would not reclaim it,” King Jairus chided, walking past their remains, and taking his seat on his new throne.
“Long live King Jairus!” Julia chanted, as he sat on the throne of fire. She kissed him on the cheek, and Meatloaf barked in delight.
“What will I do without you?” Jairus questioned. “Where will I find a suitable queen?”
“I need to graduate from high school,” Julia stammered. “I’m sure my parents must wonder where I went this time.”
“Indeed,” King Jairus agreed, scooping fire from his throne into a glass flask. “This fire is to protect you until we meet again. Let it burn as a reminder of the covenant of peace between Eden and Humansville.”
Julia accepted the goblet of fire with tears, wishing she could stay with her new friend, but knowing that she did not belong in Eden forever.
Then, Evelyn and a group of triumphant citizens from Eden ran into the throne room. Of course, none of them carried natural fire with the intention of destroying Jairus’ throne.
“The trees have finally stopped bleeding,” Evelyn told King Jairus and Julia. She ran to hug Julia with gratitude, knowing that she could not have saved Eden without her.
“The legacy of Adam II lives on!” King Jairus stood to his feet and declared. “I will carry on the legacy of my uncle, and we will live in freedom.”
“I wish I could stay,” Julia cried, as King Jairus stepped down from his throne to kiss her.
“I hope you will one day return,” he longed, embracing her for a few moments.
Then, Adam II suddenly appeared to everyone in the throne room in a ball of light.
“Can you see Adam II, too?” Julia wondered, thinking she might have been imagining his appearance. “I am usually the only one who can see him.”
“I think we can all see him this time,” King Jairus chuckled. “My uncle! My lord!”
“I grant Evelyn’s request to become a human being,” Adam II bellowed. “After all the trials, she is finally responsible enough for freewill.”
“It is an honor,” Evelyn bowed with respect. “I will make you proud.”
Then, Adam II turned to Julia with praise. “You have not only saved Eden, but also Humansville, and I am eternally grateful,” he announced, bowing to Julia.
“All hail the Tree of Bleeding Hearts!” Adam II decried, motioning his hand upward, as a tree shot through the seat of his throne. King Jairus looked in awe as a tree with red hearts grew in the place where he sat a few moments ago.
“In the same place where I was murdered, the Tree of Bleeding Hearts will stand as a reminder that I am still alive,” Adam II declared. “All three legendary trees, the Tree of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Bleeding Hearts, stand tall in Eden, radiating domes of light as sacred testimonies to my reign. Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Adam II waved his hand, once again opening the window between Eden and Humansville. Julia looked sad, as she did not want to leave after such a great victory.
“From now on, King Jairus will be able to open the window to Humansville on my behalf,” Adam II clarified. “All my powers and duties transfer to him willingly.”
Without overthinking it, Julia jumped through the magical window with Meatloaf and her flask of fire, waving goodbye to King Jairus and Evelyn, only to return to where her adventures began—her backyard in Humansville.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” Adam II’s voice echoed in the tunnel. Julia decided that from now on she could do nothing but look for the living among the living.
“The evil that started in Eden had ended there,” Julia sighed, collapsing with Meatloaf out of the window into her backyard. She held the flask of fire at her heart. “Do you hear the player piano, Meatloaf?”
The instrument’s keys again played the magical song that transported people between the two worlds. Barking with joy, Meatloaf ran to his doggy dish for a meal. He had been without canine treats for at least three days in Eden, but just like last time, Julia’s family did not seem to miss her in the slightest. Then, Julia stood up to notice three trees in her backyard, not just one.
The three symbolic trees of the original Trees of Eden also now stood tall in Julia’s Humansville backyard: The Tree of Good and Evil, the Tree of Life, and the Tree of Bleeding Hearts.
“I wonder what dad is going to say about this small forest,” Julia considered. “At least the backyard is not covered in blood.”
“Julia are you ready for school?” her mother called to her. “There is always something new to learn. You have a full day ahead of you!”
“Don’t make your brother late!” her father scolded. “You’re always up to something!”
“I’m already dressed, Julia,” Nathan told her. “You’re running late today!”
“I’m not running late,” Julia said to herself. “For some reason, time works differently in Humansville than in Eden, but I can’t explain it to you.”
Walking into the house for breakfast, Julia looked over her shoulder, reminded of the battle between Eden and Humansville and that nothing should be taken for granted.
She thought she might have even imagined Adam II sitting beneath the three majestic trees in her backyard. Of course, no one could see him but her.
Copyright 2023 Jennifer Waters