Hauntr

It started with the little things.

None of them realized how bad it would get. None of them understood the gravity of their offence. But that wasn’t because they weren’t smart.

On the contrary, every employee at the mobile app startup known as Jumpr was very smart. There were six members of the team in all, typically hunched in front of one or more computer monitors typing on wireless keypads. These were the technological elite, coding away in a Gastown brick building with hardwood floors, a meeting room with a donated leather couch and an unimpressive if functional kitchen island.

They were smart. They simply lacked something in them that the pre-hipster generation might have called a conscience.

No one talks about consciences anymore. Maybe they should.

Randy Ritter spiked Matt Mortley’s coffee at 7:35 am on an otherwise perfectly normal Tuesday morning at the office. With a wink to Bobby Hamish, sitting on the other side of Matt, it was done.

It wasn’t a lethal dose of turpentine. Indeed, it wasn’t even enough to make Matt stop drinking his morning java. He’d been up until nearly 4 am the night before working from his computer in his living room, while his wife slept. He didn’t even notice.

Randy and Bobby could barely contain their giggles when Matt looked down at his stomach, winced and shuffled off to the washroom.

The next dose was at 2:17 pm, administered by Mark Golan, who’d just been apprised of the prank minutes earlier. Three drops of white-out to mix past the cream Matt had added.  As before, the victim was unaware. The three jokers went into the lunchroom and laughed their asses off at getting away with their fun.

By the fourth day, the entire office was in on it. Printer ink. Windex. Toilet water, carefully scooped up by giddy hands into a plastic cup. Hair gel. Expired yogurt. Radiator fluid. A constant supply of toxic additives, administered surreptitiously in tiny doses, sometimes served up with a smile and a mocking flourish.

Those first few weeks, Matt felt the effects of a lingering hangover that would never go away. He had such upset stomach that after much internal debate, the intensity of his intestinal distress forced him to a medical clinic.

The shrugging doctor diagnosed him with irritable bowel syndrome and pronounced him incurable.

The months passed. The poisonings continued, with no protest among the original group of funny men, who considered their prank to be the most incredible inside joke in the world.

Matt forced himself to keep working longer hours to make up for the lack of productivity caused by frequent bouts of illness. After four months, he developed a hacking cough and his vision started to get blurry. By six months, he was losing his hair. Ten months in, he was an emaciated, nearly blind wreck, barely able to haul himself into work.

Fourteen months in, he was dead. The other team members of Jumpr acknowledged the news from Matt’s wife with a shrug, not looking at each other for fear of breaking out in a hysterical laughing fit. Matt’s desk sat empty as they neared launch into Beta testing. The launch was about a month later than anticipated, since Matt’s coding work had fallen behind, but they still made the deadline set by their funder.

It was just a few days after a launch to invited customers on their purchased contact list that things started going badly for the rest of the Jumpr team.

Randy Ritter was the first tragedy. In the morning for breakfast, he drank a glass of whole milk to wash down his cream cheese bagel. The milk was infected by listeria. Fortunately for Randy’s girlfriend, she only drank the soy milk. Unfortunately for Randy, he would spend the last three hours of his life projectile vomiting before leaving behind a pasty-white, blue-lipped corpse.

Mark was next. He was celebrating only a week after Randy’s funeral, his mind entirely devoted to the company shares that would fall to him, doubling his stake by nearly 50 percent, fortuitously timed to their IPO. A full bottle of Jack Daniels later and an ill-advised drive to the “massage parlour” next to the Penthouse nightclub wrapped his car and his head around a lamppost on Richards Street.

The team might have suspected then that something was up. Certainly, they knew their startup was facing some serious hurdles, what with the loss of half their management team in a single month. Their financial backer noticed as well. The next draw from the company account on payday faced an unexpected 48-hour delay. The next draw would not happen at all in two weeks.

The newly appointed CEO and CFO did manage to reassure the funder of the bright future for their enterprise. Unfortunately, they died along with two other members of their highly intelligent group with their plane crashed at Toronto airport.

Apparently, the pilot had been drinking.

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