h2>Dating : The Mud Springs
With a steady hand, I filled a vial with the warm, viscous mud; it coated my glove and fought against my efforts to shake it off. I kept my face away from the steam that rose from the pool and hoped my glasses provided some protection for my eyes. My job completed, I capped the vial, cleaned and sanitized it, and slipped it into a secure laboratory bag. I exhaled, letting my tension rush out.
“Come join us,” my colleague said with carefree laughter, beckoning to me from the mud spring. Though the mud unnerved me, she — like the five young vacationers in the springs — did not share my reservations about it. The mud coated every inch of her body save for her hazelnut brown eyes as she enjoyed the rejuvenation of the springs.
“It’s just mud,” she said, but I disagreed. This mud had unnatural effects, unlike anything that existed in our world, and nobody seemed to care. I would prove it dangerous.
As I left them and trudged back to the hotel, I wondered about the allure of youth, and how a mud spring might tempt so many to such a remote place. Though discovering an uncharted island this century was something of a curiosity, in the end it was just another volcano, no more than a mile in any direction, and boasting no native plants or animals, save the birds who used the rocky hills as resting points between more desirable locations. The only thing truly noteworthy was the hotel itself: built with classic opulence, boasting white pillars and magnificent doors. It was a romantic illusion; a diamond among the mud.
As the path turned to reveal the expanse of water in every direction, I felt like the island: a lonely rock in the middle of a glistening ocean.
A young couple hurried by, heading up to the mud, blissful on their exotic vacation. I let out an audible grumble as they passed, my mood as dour as theirs was joyful, but they did not pay me even a glance. Did they even see me without the rejuvenation of the mud? Was I the only creature here showing his age, a curiosity from another life that they tried to forget?
Once inside the hotel I removed a microscope from my bag, carefully packed among my clothes. I had not brought a single pair of shorts or bathing suit; I was here for work, I reminded myself. But now regret confronted me. Some brave youths had been in the mud fully naked, so that was always an option, but I shoved aside that thought immediately as if it offended me. Compared to their lustful, smooth skin, I was but a beast; if they did not shun me before, they certainly would if I joined them in the nude.
Shaking off that thought, I gazed into the microscope at the mud, willing it to reveal its secrets.
I saw nothing strange at first, but subtle changes began to take place; movement on the edge of the slide, invisible to the human eye. Soon the movement grew in fervor and the mud expanded, filling my vision, until I saw nothing but mud, coating everything, consuming everything. My body sank down, through the floor and into the island, and deeper still, to the depths of the ocean. I struggled and I fought, determined to escape, but something grasped my leg and dragged me down. It was a woman, like my colleague but with eyes the color of shimmering opal. I gave up the struggle, and she lead me to a vast and ancient city, with skyscrapers made of mud and unnatural angles. Others like her waited down below; they welcomed me as I entered their realm. “Come join us,” they said. I knew if I accepted I could be young and beautiful forever.
I would have left my life and my science behind and gone to them, but a knock at my door tore me from the dream, leaving only a vast longing for what I may never find again.
My microscope rested in front of me, and the mud waited, still and impotent. Ignoring my visitor I drew closer to the tool and placed my eyes upon it, holding my breath, remembering the dream.
Disappointment washed over me when I saw nothing out of the ordinary; it was just plain mud. What had I truly been hoping to find? Had I wished to prove it was dangerous and end their enjoyment, or did I hope to find a scientific truth behind the rejuvination, one I might apply to myself? Or perhaps, even, might I have secretly wished for something strange and wonderful and tempting like in my dream, something my science could not hope to explain?
Another knock at my door distracted me from my musings. I hesitated reaching for the lock, glancing back to my microscope and my still packed luggage, urging me to stop, to leave this place. But I shook off my foolishness and opened the door.
My colleague waited on the other side, looking younger than ever: her skin was porcelain smooth and her hair lustrous. The results of a mud bath.
“Come join us,” she said. “We’re going for another dip in the mud.” As she spoke I could not help but linger on her eyes. They drew me in and took any last reluctance out of me, and I found I no longer cared what dangers the mud held, for those eyes told me what I wanted to hear. “You, too, can be young again,” they said. “You are welcome in the mud.”
Somewhere in the back of my mind a part of me wondered if her eyes had always been this brilliant color of opal. I ignored that part of myself and went to bathe in the mud.