The Killing Joke

In a box, in a plain brown paper box, they kept the killing joke. It was a result of the Cold War programs the military initiated when rumors about paranormal projects in the Soviet Union reflexively triggered a flurry of research in the United States. Clairvoyance, ESP, mind control -- nothing seemed safe to ignore.

The Killing Joke Project was intended as an assassination tool. Remarkably, of all the dark programs, it was the only one that produced a result yet it was the one that no one could believe. The man who wrote the joke was found dead over his work, as were three other writers who happened on the scene and also succumbed.

The project manager was the first to comprehend the events and, eyes averted, turned the paper over. The room was cleared of the deceased humorists and sealed. Autopsies indicated heart attacks and no evidence of any kind remained other than the sheet of paper. A new director was appointed to investigate and develop protocols.

Three more volunteers died before the validity of the concept was no longer questioned. Remote cameras revealed that upon reading what appeared to be a single line, the victims straightened up, smiled, and then died without laughter. Deployment of this weapon seemed impossible. Psychologists insisted that humor needed a cultural context and even if it was fundamentally funny, who could translate the joke into targeted languages? Another volunteer, a Russian with limited English, was also mirthlessly killed.