Barney the Dinosaur appeared especially merry that evening, his dance carried a heavier step and bounce than usual, and his singing more jubilant than before. Were he to realize that Jeremy Phillips was back that night, he may have been less exuberant. In fact, were he to know of the destruction of his secret nursery, the mass extermination of the Loved One infants, and especially the death of Baby Bop, Barney would not be happy at all. One would suspect he could fly into a murderous rage, though the very thought seemed absurd . . . .
But for the moment, Barney reigned triumphant. Hundreds of children danced in mindless abandon around the flanks of the fat purple reptile, while the cloaked musicians huddled in the center of the cavern, playing flighty melodies on rusted instruments. The whole scene was a chaotic sea of purple and green, and the air resounded laughter and singing. Were anyone to venture back out into the outer plaza above the cavern lair, they would be astounded to see the former White House shrouded in flame and smoke.
"Hey kids, isn't this some fun?" giggled Barney. "Playtime is always a good time. It's like having a circus in your very own home!"
Acknowledging the cue, the Loved Ones in the band picked up their instruments and began playing "A Circus In My Home", while Barney donned a ringmaster's hat and coat. The children watched in amazement as the dinosaur began juggling and singing of the wonders under the Big Top.
Outside the cavern entrance, Jeremy Phillips rechecked the shotgun and adjusted the sheath containing a serated hunting knife. He pulled the ragged purple and green cloak over his head and hands, then began making his way down the stairwell. His pistol lay with Fran, who he had instructed to stay behind outside the main plaza. While she did not care for the heavy firearm, they both agreed she may need protection . . . .
Jeremy ran a few movie scenes through his head, movies that featured a lone warrior against an overwhelming foe. He had particularly liked the Rambo movies, though his mother lectured him heavily about the needlessness of violence. His uncle showed him the entire series when he spent a weekend at his apartment once. Jeremy knew he was nowhere close to Rambo, and he wondered what the stoic war-veteran would've done against a fat purple dinosaur who smiled a lot.
The cavern echoed with the chanting of children, and the torch-lit shadows covered the walls with eerie figures and shapes. In the middle of this pranced the Purple One himself; inciter of riots, killer of children, father of monsters, maker of a world marked by terror and insanity.
Jeremy had feared that the closer he got to Barney, the weaker he would become. But as the weeks had progressed, he felt stronger than he ever had before. It was the lack of Barney-videos, the absence of his plush purple doll and blanket, and the time spent away from the Purple One's songs and false displays of affection that brought the boy to his senses. But maybe it was more than that; what if Barney's power only extended to young children? What if impending adulthood, with its major physical and mental changes challenged the control he wielded over the minds of the young? It would certainly explain the need to kill children on the brink of adulthood. Was it this that impelled Barney to kill Cameron and almost Jeremy on their thirteenth birthday? Could Barney simply be afraid of a child's change of life?
Jeremy had little time to ponder these questions, for as he cleared the landing, he came across a Loved One. The creature paused for a moment, confused. Jeremy, hoping his human features were not visible to the bloated, dwarfed monster, bowed his head and froze. The Loved One responded by gurgling out a few inaudible commands, and notioned Jeremy to follow. The two of them cleared another landing, and entered the circle of musicians playing for the children. Jeremy sat at the edge of the circle, terrified. What did they want him to do?
The Loved One who led Jeremy to the circle lifted the lid to a rotting old trunk and produced a flat, tightly-bound drum. He gave it to the boy and notioned for him to sit down. Jeremy sat between two Loved Ones playing the banjo and lute, and began to pound in rhythm with the music. It was a song about eating a balanced diet, and its hypnotic monotony began to entrance Jeremy. He managed to shake it off, though, for he kept thinking about Cameron and what lay in store for the rest of the children.
The folds of the cloak hid Jeremy's hands completely, though he knew that he looked extremely undernourished compared to the plump, blubbery creatures around him. On occasion, he caught the Loved One across from him staring, as if it was suspicious. But as long as he kept still and kept playing, Jeremy knew he'd be okay. He began to notice an odd texture about the drum, and upon closer inspection, saw several fine hairs protruding along the surface. In the upper corner of the instrument was a navel. The disguised boy swallowed hard, and kept promising himself he'd be alright.
Jeremy lost his self-assurance when he saw Fran making her way down the stairwell.
She was still clad in her purple and green pajamas, and had wrapped herself in a Barney blanket. Jeremy could not believe it. Was she reverting back to her unquestioning devotion to the Purple One? Hadn't she believed what he had shown her in the cellar?
"Why, look everyone, it's Fran!" Barney hollered.
Jeremy felt the world falling apart. His sister ran down the stairs and into the crowd of children. "Oh Barney, I've missed you so!"
"Why I've missed you too, Fran. Say 'hello' to Fran, everyone!" said Barney, who cradled the young girl between his fat, stocky arms. The mass of children all waved, and smiled. The young girl hugged the purple dinosaur, a tear rolling down her cheek.
"Barney, are you really doing these terrible things to us? Why must so many of us die?"
The bloated reptile paused for a moment. In the somber lighting of the cavern, one would be uncertain whether the dinosaur's coloration changed to a vibrant shade of scarlet or not. He relaxed his grip on Fran.
"Why Fran, I have no idea what you're talking about. I bet you just had a bad dream is all. Don't you know how much I love you? I wouldn't hurt a hair on your head or anyone else's? I think you better get back to sleep, you need your rest!"
Fran stepped back from Barney. "Jeremy never went to China. He said you killed Cameron and tried to kill him. Only because they turned thirteen. Then I saw those things in the nursery, the Loved Ones, and then I saw the girls who were made to bear your-"
"Get this kid to bed!" stammered the dinosaur, his head twitching nervously. "She's obviously had a real bad dream, and that gives me a great idea for a song! Off to bed, Fran, goodnight!"
Jeremy watched as a Loved One rose from the ensemble, it was the one who had been staring at him since he joined the circle. It pulled a set of chains from under its cloak, an iron muzzle hanging from the end. It was going to take Fran back upstairs, back to the White House cellar, where it would see the fire and the dead charred bodies of its kin and suspect that perhaps it was her doing and maybe....
Jeremy stood up and blocked the Loved One's path. It halted, then Jeremy flung back his cloak, revealing his human features. It was long enough to surprise the creature while Jeremy slid out the shotgun and fired.
The explosion blossomed into the darkness, splattering the Loved One's ichor against the rest of the musicians. It happened so suddenly that it never issued a scream. It merely flung backwards upon the cave floor, and twitched for another moment. The rest of the Loved Ones in the ensemble scrambled away into the crowd of children, who screamed in terror and surprise. Taking advantage of the moment, Jeremy slid another cartridge into the smoking chamber and reclipped the shotgun.
Unfortunately, Barney had seized the moment as well. When Jeremy turned back to face the Beast of Purple, the reptile had seized Fran and clamped his talons along the base of her fragile neck.
"Why Jeremy, what a wonderful surprise! I think you know everyone here, why did you shoot my friend, the Loved One? Don't you know that guns are dangerous? Put it away, Jeremy, and Fran won't be hurt."
"No," replied the boy. "You let her go first. I don't want to kill you Barney, but I'll shoot if I have to. You aren't going to kill anymore of us."
Barney giggled. "Look here, everyone. Jeremy is threatening me, your old pal Barney. I've done nothing wrong or bad. It's him, shooting my friends and he'll probably kill us if we're not careful!" It was noticeable that the dinosaurs voice was strained and quivering.
"Let her go!" yelled Jeremy. He looked at the mass of children, huddled in fear on the cavern floor. Many clutched their Barney dolls and looked at him with pleading wide eyes. Jeremy hesitated for a moment, then recollected himself as he pictured their delicate skulls littering the back plaza of the White House outside.
Fran struggled, but Barney had a firm grip upon her throat. "I have an idea!" said the plump lizard, "let's sing a song we all know and love. Maybe that will make you feel better, Jeremy." He motioned for the cloaked musicians to come back, and they slowly picked up their instruments and began playing an all-too familiar melody . . . .
It was the Barney love song.
"Stop it!" cried Jeremy.
Barney had chosen the song for several reasons. Mainly, it was the most recognized and entrancing songs he could arrange. But it was also sufficient to distract Jeremy while a Loved One who was previously guarding the back entrance came around from behind the boy.
I love you, you love me, we're a happy family . . .
The entire crowd of children joined in, while Barney swayed in rhythm, his hands still clasping Fran's neck. Jeremy was completely disoriented. As he listened to the music, he wished to liberate his sister and the rest of the children, but at the same time, he wanted to join in and sing a chorus himself. Harsh reality awakened the boy when the Loved One grabbed him from behind and clutched for the shotgun.
"Yes, yes, get the gun away from the boy!" commanded the chubby reptile. In his excitement he released his grip from Fran, who ran over to the aid of her brother. The three struggled for control of the weapon, while Barney conducted the body of youngsters who were entirely hypnotized by the music and the dinosaur's swaying.
Fingers clutched for the trigger, while the barrel rocked crazily in many directions. The Loved One kept hitting away at the two children, who were steadily wrenching the gun out of its grasp.
With a great big hug and kiss, from me to you, won't you say-
In a desperate attempt to reclaim the shotgun, the Loved One yanked hard, the trigger meeting flesh and slamming the hammer. The three fell backwards, as Barney's right arm exploded at the elbow.
As Fran pinned the Loved One against the floor, Jeremy pulled out the serated hunting knife and slid it firmly under the Loved One's chin. It cleared its oral cavity and the blade tapped the inner surface of the creature's brainpan. The half/human-half/reptile creature gurgled and died immediately.
The multitude of children screamed as Barney slouched forward, clutching his shattered limb, which was spraying pink blood violently upon the floor and himself. The creature fell to his knees, reeled back, and let loose an unearthly howl that echoed frighteningly against the ceiling of the cavern. It saw the childrens' fear and realized that his power was endangered. With great effort, Barney collected his composure and desperately pleaded with them.
"Children! Please, don't be afraid! It's still me, your old friend Barney! Don't cower away, don't you know I love you? " He paused and grimaced in agony, then stood up. "Why, I'll take myself to a doctor, and fix me up . . . remember our songs about doctors, kids? They're our friends . . . like I'm your friend . . . ." The children cowered even further when he leaned toward them, his hand clumsily clenching the broken, bleeding end of his forearm. "Dammit, you worthless little bastards, come back to me! Come back to me!" The creature hissed and growled at the children in frustration, then shifted his gaze upon Jeremy and Fran, who were watching in horrified astonishment.
"You sniveling little brat-bastard! It's your fault! You came to rob me of my precious children, and murdered my spawn! I'll kill you and your slut-sister!"
Jeremy gaped in terror as he looked at the squalid purple creature, gasping in pain and hate. Barney's eyes had taken on an evil, reptilian look and his teeth, once clean and smooth-edged, were now jagged and yellowish. The creature rose on its haunches and plodded towards the boy. Jeremy instinctively raised the shotgun, leveled it at Barney's face, and pulled the trigger.
The round sputtered and smoked. The cartridge was a dud.
The next moment the purple monster lunged upon Jeremy, his thick talons sinking into the boy's chest and legs. Jeremy screamed and thrashed wildly, trying to keep the dinosaur's teeth away from his soft stomach. The creature cursed and began muttering guttural phrases and sounds. The boy frantically hit at Barney's eyes and snout, while the reptile thrashed away at his clothing, tearing away the cloak and dousing the child in pink, pasty blood.
"I'm going to rip every ounce of flesh from your bones, boy! I'm going to break your spine and eat you alive, I'm going to take your lungs and wrap them around my-"
The next instant, a clap of thunder broke through the frenzy. The fat dinosaur's body shuddered and froze. It rolled off of Jeremy and fell upon its back. A thin trickle of blood seeped from its nostrils and its entire body slumped. Jeremy staggered back upon his feet and saw his sister standing before him, clutching the pistol he had given her earlier outside the White House plaza. Thin blue smoke rolled lazily out of the barrel.
"I shot Barney, Jeremy," said Fran. ". . . I shot Barney".
Jeremy put his arms around her and gave her a firm hug. They stood there for a moment in silence. Then they both turned and cautiously made their way over to the fat, blubbery body of Barney.
The creature's breathing was faint and raspy. Tears flowed from the corners of his eyes. Blood seeped from underneath him, and his body was getting cool and wet. It cocked its head towards the children, fixing its gaze upon the two, and muttered sadly, "Why won't you love me anymore?" The next instant it was dead.
Fran dropped the gun to the floor, and leaned against the cavern wall. "I want to go home."
Jeremy examined his wounds and looked back upon the crowd of children, who stood in silence. "We'll go home", he said. He motioned the rest of the children to follow him and his sister up the rocky stairwell.
As dawn broke over the desolate horizon, Jeremy led the children outside of the caverns. The children huddled in awe and amazement. Many hadn't seen the light of day for years.
It was five years ago that Jeremy and his sister Fran killed the Purple One. Barney, propagator of lies and false love, had met his fate at the hands of two children on the verge of adulthood. Now the world was returning to normal.
Jeremy sat at the window of the coffee shop, sipping hot chocolate and watching the cars drive by. In the distance he saw the familiar silhouette of the Capitol building, which was now restored to its pristine white and cleared of the horrors that lay within. The White House, though completely destroyed, was being steadily rebuilt since the cellar had been cleared of its ghastly debris.
The waitress came by with the check, he placed a couple of dollars upon the table and left, waving to her and smiling. She and her husband had been among the first of adults they had met when the children left the caverns. It had been an awkward encounter, it seemed that the adults were as fearful of the children as they had been of them. But as time passed on, life resumed its rightful path and many families were reunited. While many adults had been killed during the Great Act of Love, many more had escaped the onslaught by prowess, chance, or in many cases, mercy. Barney's influence had destroyed many adults, but several had seen the evil early and prepared for the holocaust.
As Jeremy walked down the sidewalk, he was greeted warmly by many of the shopkeepers and businesspeople, it was widely acknowledged that he had played a major part in the Purple One's downfall. His sister Fran had her share of admirers too, in fact she still received invitations to this function and that, along with the occasional wedding proposal from men she had never even met.
While Jeremy and Fran had yet to discover what had happened to their parents during the Great Act of Love, they remained hopeful that one day they would be reunited. But for now, the two lived together in a comfortable duplex on the east side of town. Checking his watch, Jeremy waited at the corner and boarded the bus a few minutes later that would take him home. The bus was filled with adults, and he took comfort in that.
Were it not for some of the rubble and missing adults, it would almost appear that Barney never even existed. Then again, city ordinance made every step to make it appear so. Once the government was refounded, it was unanimously decided that all Barney and Baby Bop paraphernalia was to be promptly and completely destroyed. The color purple would never be quite a popular color again, unless it was a distinct shade different from that of Barney's.
Then there was the question of the Loved Ones. It was hoped that many were killed during the destruction of the nursery. It was also hoped that most were in the caverns at the time it was sealed off by carefully arranged explosions last summer. A bounty was placed for any Loved One captured, dead or alive. A few had been taken in, but they were always dead and cold by the time they were brought in. Most hunters couldn't take the sight of the creatures, and destroyed them out of a sense of loathing. It was also reported that some parents were telling their children that Loved Ones still survived in the city sewers, and if they were bad, the creatures would come at night and take them away. Jeremy didn't know what to make of that.
The bus arrived at a cool, shady intersection and stopped. Jeremy stepped out and made his way home.
Upon unlocking his door, Jeremy was met by an unusual sight: two birthday cakes sitting on the table, their candles lit and shining bright. On the other end of the table sat Fran, smiling.
"Happy Birthday, Jeremy."
He laughed. "It's not our birthday, what are you-" He paused. There were thirteen candles on the cake.
"I though it was time for a real celebration. Then maybe we can plan to send you to China for real", she said, pushing the cake towards him.
Jeremy sat in silence. Words escaped him. He looked back at her, made his wish, and blew out the candles. A moment later, she did the same. The two siblings looked at each other, and laughed.
"Thirteen," she said.
"Thirteen," he answered.
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