Pursuit of Happiness

By on Sep 12, 2011 in Fiction

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Pursuit of Happiness graphic

For two months his life moved close to unconditional happiness. Sometimes the long hours of physical work became unusually oppressive, but he could tolerate it. Once in a particularly long discussion, he confessed to Angel that he often desired her physically; she explained that this was a sign the devil was attempting to work in him, and she prayed with him until the devil was vanquished.

Yet a sense a restlessness grew in him. The devil continued to plague his nights with dreams of his narrow tutor, in spite of his prayers asking God to help him stay spotless even in sleep. One evening in November, as the life of the forest was falling brownly all around them, the entire community met to pray for one of their critically ill older brethren. Mark knew that he would live, for God had said: “Ask and it shall be given unto you.” But the old man died, and almost overnight Mark lost his hard-earned faith. A joyous funeral service was held to celebrate their brother’s ascension to join the Lord in heaven, but Elliot instead walked alone in a disillusioned fury down a lane, wading in mud and frost, into the dying woods. They had lied to him — it was all a trick. The pale sun set, and he returned chilled and pale out of the darkness.

That evening, he told Angel of his discovery. But although she explained they had prayed for the old man’s soul and not his life, he paid no attention to her lessons; instead he remembered his dreams of her. Just as she was saying “God has a plan for all of us,” he seized her arm roughly.

“Mark,” she said, “what are you —?”

She wept quietly, even after he released her. “Come on,” he said, “don’t be such a hypocrite. You know you liked it. You did plenty of this before you got so holy — you told me.”

She looked at his eyes. “You don’t understand anything, do you, Mark?”

“My name is Elliot,” he said.

They gave him a backpack full of food and dismissed him from the colony. As he trudged back into the gloom of the mountain forest, his soul shriveled into a single blackened kernel of hatred. He knew now where happiness was to be found.

He opened the door to the dim and forbidden world he had yearned toward so long. In that world, nothing was restricted, nothing was impossible. There were chemical agents that killed pain and anxiety for hours; others that produced brilliantly colored images of fantastic science-fictions worlds; yet others that turned him into part eagle, part tiger, part man. He thought he had finally found his elusive happiness, but soon people began diluting the drugs just as they had the liquor, and he was forced to take them just to kill the pain of his need.

He and his friends turned to innovative means for obtaining the money they needed. The excitement of belonging to a lawless society promised much, but his sense of joy in violating the world of lies was soon blighted by capture, trial, and imprisonment. His year of entombment was unrelieved torment, beginning with the unbearable pain of heroin deprivation, passing through violence and fear, and ending in the boredom of the laundry, the yard, the mess, and the stained, sneering walls.

Free again, he vowed he no longer would be forestalled in his pursuit of happiness. He seemed to have approached closer to the secret when he touched the fringes of what the lying establishment called depravity. He knew now what they were hiding from him. Like a diver pressing the air release button on his buoyancy compensator, he sank deliberately into a sea of perversion. He no longer recognized any limits. He would do anything at all, the more forbidden the better, if it included the possibility of even momentary pleasure. He sank deeper and deeper into that sea, searching forever, and the light around him slowly faded to blue and then nearly to black. Always he felt he was on the verge of capturing his quarry, but always it escaped and sank deeper. Now the light was so faint that he could barely see, and even gravity had weakened.

Finally one midnight, in a murky room over a warehouse, with the windows sealed and the fire doors chained, he saw himself again and for the last time. He seemed to float across the floor and halfway to the ceiling, so he could watch the actions of his ruined body and his incinerated soul from a disinterested angle. It was the last scene his mentality saw before it was snuffed out like a melted candle.

Someone carried him downstairs, drove him to a fenced estate in the countryside, and dumped him out on the grass before the guarded gatehouse under the oak trees.

Six months later the operators of the establishment determined his identity and located his wife. She and her parents arrived at 6:10 p.m. on Thursday, in time to observe a perpetually smiling middle-aged man greedily devouring a plate of meat loaf, new potatoes, and turnip greens, all of which he ate with his fingers. The turnip juice ran off his grizzled chin, but his lips remained locked in a delighted smile, and his eyes danced right and left.

“Elliot, use your fork,” called his wife, but his eyes only danced right and left, and she found herself invisible. “Why does he eat like that?” she asked peevishly.

“He’s a bad boy,” said their prissy host, “but we love him. You should see him at night — he’ll sleep anywhere except where he’s supposed to sleep. He’ll just plop his blanket down in the hall or the game room and sleep right underfoot. When it’s warm he sometimes sleeps outdoors under a bush, but we don’t like him to do that. A naughty little boy all right.”

“What is he smiling at?” his wife asked. “I never saw him smile before. He looks silly.”

“As to that, dear lady, I believe he has found what few of us ever find — complete happiness. He has made contact with the natural world. He cares nothing at all for the silly little amenities we think we need  — he finds his comfort wherever it is. He may not be entirely whole, but at least he’s happy — a happy, happy boy.”

“Well, I wish he’d use his fork.”

The sun began to sink behind the distant hills, and his heart sank with it. He would have to get his blanket and lie down on that hard floor again. If only he could tell them, but everything around him lurched back and forth like an ape in a tiny cage, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. Oh, that hard floor! The hated night came closer. He tried again and again to tell them, but his lips froze in an upward grimace and they only smiled at him.

There was something under his bed.

Passion contents

Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5


Burt Brodt is a retired chemical engineer living in Easton, Maryland, with his wife and several assorted animals. He is a published author, a former marathon runner, and currently a high school track coach.