Shelly and Ron Jenkins both loved their daughter, Amy, very much. So who were they to tell the starry-eyed, curly-haired girl “No”? It was her birthday, and they did tell her that she could have anything in the toy-store that she wanted, so when the toddler saw the Actimates automated Barney doll on the counter and went completely ecstatic, they knew that the plush purple dinosaur was going home with them.
At a hard-hitting cost of $100, lamented the parents.
Amy’s eyes and mouth crinkled with glee when the store clerk cheerfully handed her the Barney-doll after the Jenkin’s made the purchase, and she hugged the automated figurine intensely as they family drove home. Shelly and Ron could only stare at each resolvedly, they were good parents for letting her choose, weren’t they? And Barney was a good influence on kids, right? The two discussed the matter between themselves on the wet, treacherous drive home and all throughout dinner. Despite the candles on the cake and the gaily-colored decorations, Amy’s attention was riveted on the Barney-doll, and after hastily finishing her cake and hamburger, the young girl retreated into the living room and slid in a Barney video.
“That’s one expensive playmate,” said Ron, updating the checkbook, “I think we can skip dining out for the next few weeks”.
“But she’s so happy, dear,” replied Shelly, watching Amy from the dining room as the girl stared absorbedly into the television set, clutching the Barney-doll between her arms. “And Barney’s been so good at making her behave. We now have more privacy when we need it, and more control over her behavior.”
Ron shrugged. “Yeah, you’re right there. Remember when she wouldn’t clean her room until that one episode where Barney showed kids how much fun it could be?”
Shelly laughed. “Yes, but if you remember too, she still wouldn’t do it until you asked her nicely in that voice. Barney’s voice.”
“Heh, that was some trick.”
The couple fell back into an uneasy silence. What they could not admit was how afraid they had become, feeling replaced by an imaginary purple dinosaur as the object of their daughter’s affections and obedience. One could say they felt resentment, but to hold resentment over a doll, a toy, seemed absurd to the adults. But it was there. And it smoldered like a dull flame on the verge of extinction.
Ron could not help but recall the look on the store clerk’s face as they had left the toy store with the automated Barney doll. He was a lanky, pimply-faced kid with long green hair and thick yellow teeth. He could see the smile on his face as the family left, an expression that struck him as condescending, almost even mocking, as their young daughter burst into “The Barney Love Song” while swaying the robotic purple dinosaur in the rain.
Come back again, the youth had sneered. There was something in his glazed dark eyes that troubled Ron Jenkins, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. His thoughts were suddenly disturbed by the exuberant, boisterous voice he and his wife had become all too familiar with the past few years.
“Hi there! My name’s Barney! What’s yours?” chirped the robotic Barney.
“My name’s Amy, and I love you Barney!” giggled the little girl.
Shelly and Ron turned and watched with curiosity as the doll moved its eyes and limbs, in perfect harmony with the specially encoded video they had purchased earlier. It was uncanny, even unnerving, to see how effectively the doll operated in accordance with the unknown codes plugged into the video. When a song began on the video, the Barney-doll began to sing too. At certain intervals, the doll would chirp, “I know the answer! I know the answer!” or, “This is my favorite part of the show. Won’t you watch it with me?” From all perspectives, Barney was no longer a TV character separated by a shield of glass; he was right here, in their own home, with their daughter.
They were good parents, thought Shelly and Ron. And it was time to assert that.
“Sweetheart, it’s well after your bedtime,” said Ron, standing up in his chair and pointing at his watch, “time for you to get some sleep.”
“Barney and I are still playing,” protested Amy, “Go way.”
“That’s not a nice way to talk to your father,” injected Shelly, “if you don’t behave, we’ll put Barney away and--”
Amy’s shriek rudely pierced the eardrums of her parents.
The young girl darted towards the front door, but was caught by the arm by her father. The child shrieked and flung her limbs, striking Ron in the legs numerous times before the man could subdue her. Shelly relieved the struggling child of the automated Barney doll, with a blatant expression of disdain. Holding on with all his strength, Ron began carrying Amy up the stairs, ignoring the tantrum his daughter was throwing with hysterical fury.
“No, no, no! I don’t want to go to bed now! Let me go! Let me go! I hate you! I hate you! Give me back Barney!”
“That’s enough!” snapped Ron, flinging the girl onto her bed, “Now we’re all going to bed, and that’s final! Your conduct is poor, young lady. Good night and let’s not hear anymore of this!”
Ron slammed the door, and retreated downstairs as Amy resumed screaming and crying, her wails muffled by the pink door decorated with Barney and Baby Bop decals. Turning to Shelly, the man slumped in his chair, feeling very worn and flustered.
“I hated doing that. I’m really sorry, hon.”
Shelly smiled, placing the Barney doll upon the kitchen counter. “It’s okay, dear. You had to do that. She’ll forgive you one day.”
She sat across her husband and gently touched his hand. The two adults looked wearily at each other and smiled. And then....
“I think you’d better let us play again, or you’ll be soorrrryyy!”
The couple jumped abruptly. Ron looked about the kitchen confusedly.
“Did you just hear that?”
Shelly looked at the Barney doll, which stared insipidly at the parents. Her pulse leaped when it waved its arms and opened its mouth at her to speak again.
“Barney loves his Special Friends, and will always protect them! I think you’d better put me back with Amy, or else!”
Shelly and Ron fidgeted uncomfortably, unsure what to do. A moment later, Ron began laughing.
“The damn television’s still on. Of course!”
Shelly frowned. “The television? What about it?”
Ron retreated into the living room, where a “Barney and Friends” episode rambled merrily from a video tape. Both the VCR and television had been left on in the wake of their daughter’s tantrum. Flicking off the power to both appliances, Ron smiled at his wife.
“The people at the toy store said this doll reacts to special codes and signals implanted in certain Barney videos and broadcast episodes, right? So it’s only logical that he moves, talks, and sings to whatever cues are presented. That’s what just happened. Sure spooked us good, didn’t it?”
Shelly returned her gaze to the now motionless Barney doll. “But Ron, it said our daughter’s name, it specifically said ‘Amy’.”
“I’m sure there was a kid character on the show named Amy he was referring to,” assured Ron, “it’s a pretty common name after all. Now let’s go to bed, and put this behind us.”
Ron took Shelly by the hand and the couple went to bed. Passing Amy’s bedroom, they could hear their daughter had quieted down. They smiled at each other.
“See?” whispered Ron, “out like a light already.”
As the young couple slid under the covers of their bed, Shelly laughed nervously. “It was pretty strange, you have to admit. What he said and when. A real coincidence. I was sure we had something really spooky going on there.”
“Yeah,” agreed Ron, turning out the light, “but that’s an overactive imagination for you. Now let’s sleep. We’ll make up with Amy tomorrow at breakfast.”
“We are pretty good parents, aren’t we?” smiled Shelly, adjusting her pillow and smiling at her husband.
“Good night, honey.”
“Good night, dear,” Ron answered, pecking his wife gently on the cheek, “I love you.”
When Ron Jenkins awoke, he felt hot and breathless. He looked over at the clock radio, it was still in the middle of the night. What was going on? Struggling to breathe, he fumbled for his pajama collar to loosen it but found it was already removed from him. Instead, two thick plush cords laced his neck, which were tightening every passing second. He sucked in a frantic gasp of air, feeling it surge hoarsely through his throat like fire.
Ron rolled over, hoping his wife could assist him, but when he turned he saw Shelly’s face, bright blue and goggle-eyed, staring back at him lifelessly from her pillow. Her neck was blistered and purple, and a thin trickle of blood seeped from her open mouth.
He reached for the nightstand, flicking on the lamp, and saw to his surprise that Amy was standing in the doorway, smiling. Her face was gleeful, yet cruel. As lights began exploding before his eyes, Ron stumbled and collapsed on the floor, as the last vestiges of oxygen were cut off. Beyond the steady, dull roaring of blood in his ears, he became aware of another sound. A moronic, chuckling voice from behind his head.
“I told you, I protect my Special Friends....and if you didn’t let me and Amy play again, you’d be sorrryyy!”
But the words were unrealized by the dying man, as the robotic arms closed fully on Ron Jenkin’s throat, crushing his windpipe.
Amy, giggling uncontrollably, thought the sound was very much like a stalk of celery being broken in half.