“So, this is the Fountain of Youth.”
Will grinned. “Yup.”
Toby rubbed his head, the top of which was shiny with sweat. “In a park right next door to a Florida retirement community. I suppose I don’t have to comment on the irony.”
The two men stood in a wooded area of the park, over a small pool of clear water. Despite there being no visible disturbance in the water itself, bubbles continually rose to the surface.
“Doesn’t look much like a fountain, does it?” said Toby.
Will was silent for a moment, then said, “Well, I guess the word must have meant something different when they named it. But that’s it alright.”
“And how exactly do you know that?”
“Because I drank from it.”
Toby snorted. “That don’t prove anything. I drink my tap water everyday. I’m still alive. Hey, there must be eternal youth in there!”
“First off,” Will said indignantly, “there ain’t no eternal youth in that water. I drink it every day. Do I look any younger?”
Toby pretended to size up Will. “No, you look like an old bastard.”
“Exactly. ‘Cause that’s what I was when I first drank it.”
“You know,” Toby mused, “when you’re on your deathbed, I’m gonna remind you of this. We’ll have a good laugh about it before you croak.”
“I said there wasn’t any youth in there. But there’s health, lots of it. And I swear I haven’t aged a day since I started drinking that water.”
“You don’t have any proof.” Toby turned around and started to shuffle out of the woods.
“My being here is all the proof I need,” said Will.
“Yeah? Howzzat?” Toby called over his shoulder.
“Because without this water, I would have been dead years ago,” Will returned quietly.
Toby snorted again, and continued to walk away.
“Cancer,” said Will. “Inoperable. Terminal. And it’s gone now. It’s all gone.”
Toby stopped. He didn’t turn around. But he didn’t keep walking.
“First time I drank that water,” said Will in a hushed voice, “I didn’t believe it either. Guy who showed it to me, I thought he was senile, just like you think I’m crazy now. But what the hell, I thought, worst thing that can happen is I’ll get the runs. I felt the water go down. And then I felt the cancer burn its way out of me. It hurt like a sonofabitch, I’m not gonna lie to you. But it was gone. It was gone that very same day, that very same hour. And all my aches went away too. I look 78, I am 78, but I feel like a prime cut of beef, every single day. Doctor thinks I’m a medical miracle. But none of it’s to my credit. It’s all here, Toby. And you can have a sip too.”
Toby stood still for a minute. Then he spoke.
“Suppose I was to believe you,” he said. “What about Louise?”
“Hell, sure, let her have a sip too!”
“So I can just bottle some of this up and—”
Will shook his head, even though he knew Toby couldn’t see him. “Nope. That’s not how it works. You think I haven’t tried that? You think I haven’t thought that if I could bottle this, I’d make a fortune? It won’t stay in a bottle. In your hand, yes. In your mouth, yes. But not a bottle.” Will paused. “If I could sell this stuff, I’d be the richest man in the world.”
“Well, the city would be, anyway,” mused Toby. “It’s their land.”
“You bring Louise here, Toby. Bring her here, and the two of you can drink with me.”
Toby turned around. Will thought he looked shaken. “Why me?”
“Because, dammit, I hate everybody else on the block. But you two, I like.” Will smiled. “Come on, Toby. We’ll terrorize that place for decades. Stay young along with me…the best is yet to be.”
Toby chewed on that for a minute. Then he smiled back. “Sorry, Will. But no.”
Will felt his face flush. “What? Do you know what’s here?”
“Okay, so suppose you’re right. Which I’m still not sure about,” Toby added hastily. “What the hell fun is staying old? Even if you get to feel young when you do it? You miss out on the last years of your life.”
“What’s so great about dying?”
“It’s the way of things, Will.”
Will pointed desperately down at the fountain. “This, Toby, this is part of the way of things too! Who knows why it’s here, but it’s real!”
“But not everything that’s real is good for us.”
“Exactly! Like dying!”
“Now, I’m not gonna argue with you about this. You asked, and my mind’s made up.”
“So, you feel free to answer for your wife too?”
“I don’t have to ask,” Toby said gruffly. “I know what she’d say. There’s an end to everything beautiful, Will. A climax to every symphony, every novel. A last brushstroke to every painting. Who wants to listen to a symphony go on and on forever?”
Will drew himself up. “I do.”
“That’s fine, then. But I don’t want to hum along.” Toby walked up to his friend, clasped his shoulder. “If what you’ve told me is real, then thank you for showing me. But I wouldn’t take that water to live one more day. We live, Will, and we’re constantly surprised by life. Then death brings peace, and an end to all surprises.”
Toby walked away without a backward glance.
“And an end to all joy,” Will added sadly.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.