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The Fountain of Youth
In a far away land, in a far away time, there lay a small kingdom on a green hillside. Tucked away past a bold ocean and through a dense forest the kingdom was left to flourish only by the hands of its hardworking people, under the rule of their aging King Leon. Curiously minded, the King set out on little explorations throughout the hillside observing animals and studying nature to fulfill his intrigued mind. As the King ventured to the valley’s end, and approached the dense forest, he wondered about life beyond his kingdom. Of course, he thought, there must be none. He looked back at his castle, the bright sun which cascaded upon his kingdom only seemed to trickle out of the dense forest. Life, he though, must end here. As he staggered back up the steps to his stone built home, he breathed heavily and was reminded of his ailing youth. The King stopped to catch his breath, and before he could even sit down on the moss covered step a young woman approached him with a glass of water to refresh his attitude. She had his eye, although she didn’t know it, ever since she was a young girl and he was new royalty he awed at her beauty. As the years passed, they grew an unspoken closeness. She was always the first to beckon to his call and he was always there to admire her in silence. Although both thought it better to not cross the strict lines of rank and social class, undoubtedly both were more afraid to cross each other. However, on this day, in this light, the King could not stop looking at her. As he drank the water, he gazed over her long brown hair and deep blue eyes, the way her pale complexion looked in the orange glow of the sun. She inspired him. “You look,” he said nervously, “beautiful today.” Although he was an aging man, who had conquered many feats as king, the sheer sight of this young woman made him nervous. She took the glass, and smiled. She thanked him. They walked into the house together, talking as equals. The King grew very fond of her, and she of him. She loved his patience, and the interest he took in the world as if he were still a young boy. Many townspeople, however, castigated the King, for loving a woman of such youth at his age. Although she insisted it meant nothing to her, it bothered him. It scorned him; the people whom he lived to serve did not support something so important to him. Some weeks later, the king was out observing nature and trying to inundate his mind with other things. As he walked through the dense forest, to the shore of the rough ocean, he slowly sat down on the white sand. He was tired, and his body ached from the long walk there. As he looked down beside him he saw the blue edge of something rough and ripped at his side. A small piece of something foreign, a color he had never seen before. It did not look like the blue of the ocean, nor the blue of fruit that grew outside the castle, nor even the blue of his beloved’s eyes. He touched the strange surface and pulled up the object from the sand: it was a strange thing that had washed up on his shore from a far away place, even more far away than his own. It was a piece of material on which there was a drawing of a person sitting in the most glorious looking bath of water, surrounded by trees from which hung peculiar objects in vibrant yellows, and flowers the most brilliant red he had ever seen. Atop the picture were the words “FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH” printed in a fancy script. Whatever else was written on the material had been swallowed by the ocean long before it had reached him. The King was in awe of the picture. Not a very religious man himself, although he took it as a sign from God. “This is what I must find, this is my chance to solve the problems that burden me,” said eager Leon. Having spent a great deal of his time searching the grounds, he knew the Fountain of Youth was far beyond the depths of his kingdom, and that a search for it meant he would have to travel past life as he knew it. Unsure of the future, and how he would pursue his journey, the thought of finally living happily with the one he loved triumphed over the fear of dying along the way.
The king hurried back to his home, where his love was quietly sitting by the garden. As he shared the mysterious card with her and told her of his plans to find the Fountain and become young again, she looked confused. He explained to her that if he could become young again they could live in peace and be truly happy. She tried to tell him that she was already truly happy, and no divine fountain could enhance her love for him, but his mind was elsewhere. In his head, he was already swimming in the fountain, returning home again as a young man, sweeping her away through the crowded streets of his people as they cheered for the beautiful couple. Despite her efforts to change his mind, he went back to the castle to plan his excursion.
The King searched the town for the most innovative and eager men to travel with him on his journey. The first man Leon came across was a woodworker not far from the hillside castle. Leon noticed the man had a bad hand injury, when he asked the man about it he said, “I was careless then, a lazy man. I did not take my work seriously and it resulted in the crippling of my left hand.” Leon questioned how the man could still work and build such magnificent objects with only one hand. The man explained that he never was able to quit his work because he had a family to support. Being forced to work despite his bad hand made the man a steadfast worker. Leon was impressed with the determination of the man. “My King,” said the worker, “It would be an honor to accompany you on your journey. If it would not be too much to ask, I would appreciate if you would let me use the Fountain to return to a time when my hand was not crippled.” The King could not see why not, and so they agreed.
The next person who Leon met was a very old man with an incredibly long silver beard. Although the old man admitted he could not offer Leon any physical strength for the journey, he preached about his wisdom that he had attained over his years of observing his community. Leon asked the man why he wanted to go to the Fountain of Youth and the man responded, “my King, my fondest memories were when I was but a young boy. My most cherished memories are of running and playing through these very streets that I can now only sit and watch through my door. My old age has prohibited me from enjoying life like I used to. It would be an honor to help you find the Fountain, and also restore my life back to a happier time.” Leon immediately accepted the old man’s request because he saw himself in the man: they both shared a love for the spirit of life that seemed to be slowly dwindling from them.
The third person Leon encountered was a fairly young woman. At first he could not understand why she would want to go on such a journey. He soon noticed something strange about her, her eyes were closed as she greeted him despite that it was but mid-day. Leon asked the woman why she would not look at him. The woman said, “My dear King, if I could look at you I would surely be doing so, but I cannot help the ways my eyes are now. A few years ago, while cooking a large meal for my family, some contents cooking on the shelf above me fell as I wasn’t paying attention, the accident left me blind in both eyes. Although I cannot offer you another pair of eyes on the journey, I can offer you an enhanced sense of smell that may be helpful to you while hunting for food. I would be overjoyed if you would let me use the fountain to restore my sight, for I have not seen my husband in years and have not been able to look at my own dear child.” Leon agreed to let the woman come, he was eager to help her because he could not bear the thought of not being able to look in the eyes of his own lover every day.
With the work of the King’s servants, and guidance from the woodworker, the men built a small vessel they would use to sail across the sea they had all barely stepped but one foot in. They carved and carved away at the wood until it was molded down into something suitable to float in, they then attached curtains from the houses as sails, onto which they painted pictures of the Fountain of Youth with juices from fruits of the forest. On the last day before the journey, the King was sitting with his love by the side of the newly built boat, she painted a small heart in the corner of a sail and colored it in with the juice from the sweetest raspberry she could find. She told him that on the most treacherous days, he should look at the heart and think of her. He agreed and kissed her.
The next day, Leon, the woodworker, the old man, and the blind woman set out for the vessel. The whole town walked through the dense forest to see them off, and cheered as the first people to ever leave the kingdom set off on their journey. As they pushed off the beach, they looked back at their loved ones with eager eyes, bidding a sad farewell yet excited for their return.
Days went by, and the food packed underneath the ship began to get scarce. Leon worried that they would not reach land before food ran out. As the group sat around the boat they thought about what they could do to solve their problem. Hours passed, they could not come up with a solution. The old man sighed, he turned his head and his incredibly long beard slipped over the edge of the vessel, it had grown so long that he did not even feel it touch the water. Soon the man felt a tug at his chin, as he looked down, several small fish were nipping at his beard. He called for Leon and together they reeled in the gray mess intertwined with fish. The group celebrated and happily ate their fresh dinner.
All was going well for a few days when suddenly a storm broke out above them. They rushed to safety underneath the boat but a single bolt of lightning created a hole in their covering. Water began to pour through the deck and every time the vessel rocked with the wind they would get splashed with a burst of cold, salty water. The woodworker, who had been trying to scrounge up some pieces of extra wood to repair the hole was at a loss. Then, with one quick motion, he used his hand to plug up the hole in the boat. At first Leon was in shock that the freezing cold water was not hurting his hand, but before he could question why the woodworker was sacrificing his own hand for the other three, he saw it was his bad hand that was being used to keep them dry.
More time passed, and although none of them said it out loud, they all began to wonder whether or not they would ever reach the Fountain of Youth, or if they would ever return home again. Soon, everything reminded Leon of his love, the blue of the sky was the same blue of her eyes, and the brown of the wooden vessel was her hair in the wind that day they first spoke. Despite beautiful views around him, Leon could not take his eyes off the raspberry heart in the corner of the sail.
Not a day short of insanity, Leon saw a glimpse of hope. As he peered into the blue, he saw a large object in the distance. At first he thought he was picturing his love, but soon realized the bright yellow color was unfamiliar to him. He squinted and tried to get a better look as they approached the object. His eyes were soon drawn to the most striking red he had ever seen. All of a sudden he recognized the colors, he ran down underneath the deck and rummaged for the card. He found it, “fountain of youth,” he said to himself as glazed over what he had just seen. The same brilliant yellows and vibrant reds were coming alive in front of him. Leon jumped from the vessel and swam to shore; exhausted and gasping for air he ran on to the beach that he had just approached. Soon the three followers came behind him, together they searched frantically for the Fountain. Not realizing how tired they truly were, they collapsed after about an hour of searching.
When dawn broke the next morning Leon, the woodworker, the old man, and the blind woman searched for food before continuing their expedition. The blind woman said she smelled something she had never smelled before, and she walked off in a westward direction. The three men followed her for what seemed like miles. As she got closer the men started to see something sparkling in the distance. They knew they had reached the Fountain and ran as fast as they could towards it. The water was bluer than anything they had seen before, clear smooth stones piled at the bottom of the waterbed. The edges of the water soaked into bold trees that lined the pool bearing the most delicious tasting fruits. Flowers sprouted everywhere in colors more vibrant and beautiful than anything they had ever seen.
Leon looked in the pool and saw a reflection of himself as who he wanted to be, younger, more handsome, more fitting for his beautiful lover. The woodworker stepped to the pool and saw his hand moving. With every step the old man took towards the pool, his beard shortened, and it seemed that the hair lost on his chin was displaced to his head. When the blind woman stepped towards the pool she could see herself, she saw her reflection, standing with her husband, someone she had not seen in years.
All four people stepped into the pool, stepped into the clear and clean water, stepped into their past, and the part of them that they wanted to bring back. And when they came out of the pool they were indeed different. They had gotten their wishes. However, what they lacked to consider before diving into their pasts was not only that they would look different, but they themselves would also be different people. The experiences and memories they had as older people would be washed away with the tide of the water. When they were done marveling at their younger selves, they tried to figure out a plan to get back; however, they could not completely remember where they were going or who they were before; soon they were just the beings that they were looking at in their reflection. They became their young selves again.
The woodworker tried to build a house for shelter but his lazy and careless working habits did not allow him to complete the project. The blind woman, who could now see, could not help to find food, and the baby who she was so desperate to look at did not even exist yet to her. She walked across the island searching for her distant husband, eager to plan with him the birth of their child. But he was nowhere to be found, and although the forest in which she walked looked unfamiliar, she could not remember ever leaving her home so she just kept searching. Although she could see, her husband became just the image in her head that she once longed to change. The old man, who was now a young boy, scampered around the forest in joy but lost all his wisdom and had no words of helpful advice. And just as quickly as the ripple Leon had made in the pool had disappeared, so did his recollection of his love. He knew he wanted to be younger for a reason but with each second passing he forgot more and more, and became what he now was. His very reason for being young was gone. As he walked back towards the beach he looked at the vessel, washed up on shore. The strong tides had washed away the fruit juice paintings and the sails were once again white. The reminder of his past was gone, except for a small smear of raspberry red in the corner. Leon looked at it, but could not remember what it stood for. He wasn’t even sure if the wooden vessel was his, he never remembered making it or even using it. He returned to the Fountain. Leon, along with the woodworker, the young boy, and the woman, made a home on the island, never to return to the far away kingdom again. How could they return to something they didn’t even know existed?