The 13th Floor

Is “Happy Puppet Syndrome” a Genetic Experiment Gone Horribly Wrong?

Today’s tale pivots around a single piece of evidence: a manuscript allegedly left “as a warning” in a long-defunct medical facility at an undisclosed location. No one has been able to prove the document’s authenticity, and the user who transcribed it remains anonymous.

But at least one aspect of this story is undisputed fact: the condition once known as “Happy Puppet Syndrome” actually exists, and according to the United States National Library of Medicine, is estimated to affect 1 in every 12,000-20,000 individuals.

"Boy with a Puppet" by Giovanni Francesco Caroto
Giovanni Francesco Caroto, “Boy with a Puppet”

Renamed “Angelman Syndrome” (AS) after the British pediatrician who first identified it in 1965, this is a rare mutation which affects the natural process of “genomic imprinting,” in which certain genes on the #15 chromosome, inherited from the mother, may be missing or inert; this anomaly then negates an otherwise normal copy on the father’s side, resulting in an inherited generic defect.

AS often reveals itself through severe developmental difficulties in the afflicted; these can include a lack of verbal ability (up to and including total speech impairment), difficulty in normal movement and balance, and intense limb spasms known as ataxia.

But the most unsettling symptom of AS is the way it can radically alter a person’s behavior and personality: the most common symptoms include a look of extreme euphoria, often punctuated by bursts of uncontrollable laughter and a constant beaming smile.

Those are the facts, and I want to be clear that the following story is not meant to belittle a very real and debilitating condition.

With that said, let’s get to the content of that manuscript.

Image Credit: iStock/Wicki58
Image Credit: Wicki58

The document in question seems to be more of a personal journal than the clinical observations of a scientist, so the writings within are highly suspect… but the gist of the document suggests that the lab where it was discovered was once the site of an experiment involving the origin and nature of human emotion.

The journal describes the work of geneticists, psychologists and other medical professionals, whose goal was apparently to isolate emotional states in such a way that negative emotions such as fear, sadness or anger could be literally switched off at the genetic level. The author doesn’t go into extreme detail about the experiments performed in that facility… but admits that he and the colleagues who undertook this experiment did “terrible things.”

The writing then devolves into a bizarre fusion of scientific note-taking and the confessions of a man driven half-mad with guilt.

“The goal was to create a being which felt only happiness,” the author explained. “But something went wrong.”

He then goes on to describe what that “something” was.

Image Credit: iStock/Leonardo Patrizia
Image Credit: Leonardo Patrizia

“Half of the test subjects died unexpectedly, without warning and without cause,” the author writes. “The remaining half were mostly born hideously distorted.”

It’s never specified exactly how many subjects were involved in the experiment, but at the time of the journal entry, only three subjects remained intact and well. More than well, actually… he described them as “perfect.” These three were apparently locked into the euphoric state which was the team’s ultimate goal.

But in the eighteenth month of the experiment, the first abnormal symptoms began to surface: the subjects began to twitch and shudder constantly, and their erratic movements made them appear as puppets on strings. All of these symptoms we now know to be telltale signs of Angelman Syndrome.

But their conditions didn’t level off there… they became much worse.

According to the author, it began to appear as if the subjects were mocking the doctors, daring them to inflict further harm on them… and this quickly began to wear on the team’s collective sanity.

“Two of my colleagues had already quit because they could not stand it,” he writes. “I never heard from them afterwards. They are most likely dead.”

This persisted for several more months before the remaining team members made a horrific decision to terminate their subjects’ lives.

“It was a painful thing to do, but it had to be done.”

But it didn’t work out as planned. When one of the author’s colleagues set the last meal before one of his perpetually smiling, giggling charges, the boy’s beatific expression and nervous laugh abruptly stopped. He looked up at the doctor before him, his expression stony and serious, eyes blank and cold.

The doctor’s body suddenly began to twitch, then the twitch gave way to extreme convulsions. Though he made no sound, he appeared to be in extreme pain, as his body doubled over and crumpled to the floor. By the time the other scientists rushed to his aid, he was already dead.

Then the boy began to laugh again… but this time, the laugh was different. It was no longer the nervous titter of a child, but the ranting, uncontrolled, full-throated laugh of a full-grown lunatic. Shortly after the boy began laughing, he was joined by the other two AS subjects. They were still smiling… but the smiles now seemed cruel and menacing.

That’s when the lights went out.

In the darkness, the author mentions hearing screams, breaking glass and furniture being violently moved around the floor.

When the lights came back on, the subjects were nowhere to be found… but several of the doctors were discovered lying in pools of their own blood, their bodies twisted and broken… but somehow, against all logic, he swears he could hear them laughing.

The journal’s closing pages describe how the author and his only surviving colleague closed down the facility and barricaded the building, running away and never looking back.

Image Credit: iStock/Allan Swart
Image Credit: Allan Swart

“I still feel like I am watched,” the author concludes. “I still hear the laughing, the whispering, in my dreams… and sometimes when I am awake. When I do, I run… I’m not able to stay in the same place for more than a few days.”

Angelman Syndrome is now a well-documented condition, with medical institutions around the world seeking a cure… and although we know the cause has been thoroughly explained by genetics, the author of this manuscript still maintains the true source came from that horrible secret experiment.

He also believes that the three subjects are still alive… and that they are coming for him.

“I leave this letter here as a warning,” says his final entry. “They are coming for you, too. They are coming for all of us. If ever you hear whispering, laughing, at the edge of your hearing, run. If ever you feel as if something stands right at the edge of your sight, but you cannot look at it… run.”