“He’s over here! He’s over here!”
The policeman waved his arms, gesturing towards a solitary figure racing frantically about the ruins. In the moments that followed, several squard cars and a few dozen armed officers stormed to the abandoned railyard. In the chaotic dance of glaring red lights and rumbling vehicles, the group converged on the last known site of their quarry. Among them was a ruddy faced man in his twenties, brandishing a silver revolver and a glistening brass badge. He held both at arm’s length as he and the others closed in on the cluttered cavalcade of overturned railcars and shattered timber. A few minutes later, the man lowered his arms and spat in disdain.
“Lost him,” he cursed. “They’ve got this place figured out to the last nook and cranny”.
“Detective Riley,” called one of the policemen, “come over here and tell us what you make of this.”
Riley slid his gun back into its holster and made his way to the signalman’s booth, where the squad was assembling. He was joined by Detective Malson, his senior on the force by twelve years. The men lined up along the booth’s eastern wall, and gazed at the word crudely painted in trickling purple paint:
Riley scratched his head. “What the hell does that mean?”
Malson crossed his arms and faced Riley. “It means, Gadfly, that you’re dealing with a Barneyian cult.” The older man dropped his cigarette onto the ground and dug it in with his heel. “ The last time I saw this kind of thing was three years ago down in Brooklyn. The word, “NEARBY” is an anagram of “Barney”, that fat purple creep who caused the Purple Holocaust a few years back. You might be too young to remember.”
“We studied it at the Academy,” said Riley, “but we never studied anything in depth about the cults. Anything else to the anagram?”
Malson nodded his head and looked back upon the paint-spattered wall. “Yeah, there is. Aside from just reminding the public that Barneyism is alive and well, it also serves as a warning.” Malson sucked in his breath and his gaze narrowed. “Rumors keep floating about secret organizations made up of specialists, namely doctors, lawyers, politicians, and other bureaucrats. But namely its the scientists that have people worried. People may truly think Barney died some time ago, but some suspect a well-trained geneticist could recreate Barney some day. And that day, according to the cultists.....”
“.....is NEARBY,” finished Riley, shaking his head. “Christ, who in their right mind wants to bring him back?”
Malson chuckled in his heavy, bass voice, “that’s just it, Gadfly. The people who want to bring him back aren't in their right minds. Now let’s get back to the precinct and see what we can map out of this area. Looks like a storm front moving in fast and furious.”
The two detectives climbed into a squad car, and the accompanying policemen followed suit. As the sky turned into a rolling, turbulent sea of grey, Riley nervously looked back at the railway station and hoped Malson was wrong.
* * * *
The storm exploded across the sky like an angry god, brilliant spears of lightning cracking the air into shards of light and shadow.
The rain drizzled sloppily down the cavern walls, wiry ivy strung about the bricks and crumbling mortar. In the flickering glow of a rusting street lamp, a tall, gaunt figure clad in a tattered purple raincoat steadily made its way down the clammy tunnels. The figure clicked on a flashlight and made its way to a series of doors. Checking to see that it wasn't being followed, it turned to a door painted a sickly shade of purple and rapped steadily upon its rotting surface.
After a moment, a hinged-viewport opened from the inside. A raspy voice asked, "Who loves you?"
"I," replied the figure.
"And who loves me?"
"You," answered the figure.
"And what are we?"
"A happy family. Open the damn door, I was told it was an emergency."
The thick wooden door creaked open, and the rain-drenched figure entered. It was immediately greeted by a short, balding man with wiry spectacles.
"Dr. Copernicus, you didn't waste a moment! By all that is purple, I thank you!"
Dr. Copernicus wiped the water from his brow and produced a pair of glasses from his upper coat pocket. He slid them on and gazed about the concrete room uneasily. "You'll want to tell Merrick it may be a good idea to relocate the Assembly soon. I see more and more police in this area with each passing day. Earlier this evening, I was almost captured outside the old railway station."
"Noted, Doctor", the balding man answered. "Now come down to the central chamber, it's not looking good at all!"
Dr. Copernicus peeled off his raincoat and strode down the ramp after the other man, who clenched his fingers and fumbled nervously. As the two men neared the central chamber, he became aware of screams. Screams of delirium. At the chamber entrance, the bald man paused.
"He was our best hope yet. Yesterday he was singing, dancing, exclaiming his love everywhere. But now," he said, opening the door, "this is what’s become of our beloved lord.”
Dr. Copernicus entered the room. It reeked of ammonia. Gurgling, squalid creatures known as Loved Ones wandered about hurriedly, dressed in surgical smocks and handling crude tinsel instruments. Several humans, also in surgical attire, were circled about a wide table. The whole scene was lit from a ceiling lamp, that teetered about on a frayed cord. The Doctor approached the table and pushed the surgeons aside. What he saw startled him.
Strapped to the table was a large, fat, reptilian creature with purple, featureless skin. It rolled its huge dead eyes about the ceiling, while its perfect white teeth were clenched in agony. Dr. Copernicus lifted the clipboard off the edge of the table and read its contents:
BARNEY PROJECT #18, Gestation period 7 weeks
Developed by Dr. Krupper, Dr. Garrison, Dr. Gillman
Planned completion date: Within five months
Copernicus slammed the clipboard against the table. "The finest underground team of medical specialists has gone through eighteen specimens already? And this is the best they can do?"
"Dr. Copernicus," stammered a nurse from across the table, "your background in genetic engineering and alliance to the Church of Purple Love made us contact you tonight. Dr. Krupper and the rest have invested every ounce of their energy into making this project a success. Given what we have to work with, I believe we’ve done well".
"Thanks for the opinion," grumbled Dr. Copernicus. "But this is still slop-work at best. Look at the poor bastard! He's not lovable. Hell, he's not even purple, more a sickly pink. The skin's not plush and chubby, and those thick veins sticking out everywhere is a pretty long call from the one we all love and worship". He turned to the nurse and pointed to a bottle of pale blue liquid. "20 ccs of serum 33," he ordered.
The nurse filled the hypodermic and handed it to the Doctor. "What are you going to do?" he asked.
"I'm gonna put this miserable creature out of his misery," he replied, and stabbed the needle into the creature's shoulder.
The beast bellowed tremendously, and snapped apart its restraints. Its flailing arms struck Copernicus, sending him flying across the room. The deranged monster rose upon its spindly haunches, and tearing away the remnants of its restraints, began advancing towards a cluster of horrified Loved Ones, who were cowering in a corner.
"Looo-looo-loovvvee....me......loo-loo-loovvee...." hissed the beast, staggering and shaking spasmodically. Long tendrils of drool oozed out its jaws. When it got within a few feet from the whimpering mass of Loved Ones, it fell to the floor and died immediately.
The nurse ran over and helped Dr. Copernicus to his feet. "Are you okay, Doctor?"
Dr. Copernicus stared intently at the bloated corpse on the floor. "His maturity was something your bio-engineering didn't anticipate," he began. "The moment your precious little Barney Jr. hit the initial stages of puberty, those hormones of his began rejecting every chemical your crew fueled into his body. No wonder he was in so much pain. Practically every neuron of his body was on fire, his mind was blasted to ashes." He dusted himself off and cleaned his glasses. "Where’s Dr. Krupper?”
* * *
Dr. Krupper sat in his office, humming a tune reminiscient of “This Old Man”. His office was a dank, dismal cubicle of rock that was formerly a ticketing booth when the caverns were still a subway system. Following the alleged Purple Holocaust, the subway fell into ruin and was never reactivated. When the rebuilding of civilization began again, Krupper and some of his fellow cultists bought out the area and converted it into a secret headquarters for the Church of Purple. Worshippers of the Barney congregated on a regular basis, and Dr. Krupper was pleased to see that so many cultists were high-level officials. People of power, influence. Krupper idealized that the Church of Purple could inflict more organized impact upon humanity than the original Purple Holocaust. With all due respect to Barney.
Indeed, with all due respect to Barney.
For a moment, it had seemed that Barney was about to realize a second coming, with the generous aid of the late Disciple Thorton Marshall, a consultant of children's public programming. Marshall and his resources had brought the Beast of Purple onto the airwaves once again, yet the mighty plan fell through. Jeremy and Fran Phillips, long-time adversaries of Barney and his devotees, had somehow thwarted Marshall, leaving him, several dozen Loved Ones, Baby Bop, and most importantly, Barney.....dead.
Dr. Krupper closed his eyes and bowed his head. How could anyone do that to Barney? Didn't they see how much that wonderful purple dinosaur loved everyone? Wasn't that what everyone needed?
Still, the Church of Purple endured, hoping for a miracle. Then, in time, it became a very strong possibility.
Crucial breakthroughs in genetic cloning and cognitive implanting had occurred over the last decade. The founders of the Church of Purple Love secretly piped thousands of dollars into the illegal collection of Barney paraphernalia and eventually, reputed blood traces of the Purple God himself. The security and risk were high, yet it seemed immaterial when the chance to see Barney return from the lightless abyss was at hand. With some recent acquisitions from the black market, all the organic samples needed to recreate the Being of Purple Love were collected.
To date, however, the results were less than encouraging. Initial cloning attempts led to horrid and unspeakable mutations. It was as if the genetic codes were dilated and unstable. Experiment after experiment only yielded horror and frustration. Dr. Krupper and his team of specialists were becoming steadily discouraged.
Dr. Krupper looked at his aged, sallow face in the window’s reflection. Once he considered himself a happy man, very jovial and animated. But since Barney’s passing and the repeated failures to bring him back, the rosy glow in his cheeks and his deep-throated chuckle steadily disappeared. While many other members of the Church of Purple Love had somehow retained their perky and cheerful demeanor, he became what some of the church children called “a sourman”. He winced in the mirror again and pulled his goatee, making a dour scowel. Children could be so cruel.
Dr. Krupper jumped at the unexpected knock at the door. Dr. Copernicus walked in, a somber and disgruntled look on his face. He was a sourman, too. The two men stood in silence for a few, uncomfortable moments, then Copernicus spoke.
"My research into your last eighteen experiments show a lack of cohesiveness and organization. I'm not surprised you've had nothing but failures so far. Granted, this form of science is outlawed by mass society, but that's still no reason to be making monsters from the likes of Bunsen burners and third-grade chemistry kits. I'm asking you to let me work on the next subject."
A momentary flash of anger rose behind Krupper’s eyes, but the older scientist kept his calm and even managed a faint smile. "Please say what you would do different, Dr. Copernicus."
"You're working with genetically influenced embryos, based upon shaved cells from those supposedly belonging to Barney. What I plan on, Doctor, is to invest those genes in a more, shall we say, developed embryo. One with a more stabilized hormonal and physiological level, so we don't run into any more systems-rejections. I'm talking about a hybrid, Dr. Krupper."
Dr. Krupper's eyes widened. "You mean crossing those genes with an active, fully developed organism? Making Barney from a full-grown human being?"
Dr. Copernicus relished Dr. Krupper's astonishment. "Yes I am. A mature humanoid platform may make up for some of the instability we’ve been seeing in the clones’ maturational development. I’ve reviewed my notes and yours, Krupper. I need you and your team to find me living, human specimens to achieve success in recreating Barney. Then, and only then, will his Purple Supremacy fill the world once more”.
An unyielding silence fell upon the dark, gloomy chamber. Only a low whistling breeze and the steady dripping of water broke the stillness. Krupper smiled nervously at Copernicus, repressing his anger.
Outside in the rainstorm, a pack of gibbering, cloaked Loved Ones carried a squalid saurian corpse down a concrete reservoir and flung it into a churning whirlpool. The bulbous purple head glistened in the moonlight, its mouth frozen in an idiotic grin and its eyes rolled upward towards the frigid night sky. The corpse spun around in the polluted vortex of water for a moment, then was sucked down into the frothy blackness of the depths below.
One of the Loved Ones produced a small, hand-held cassette player and turned it on as if in reverie. The tape hissed and spat, then a spritely-sweet lullably broke into the night air. The Loved One held it out towards the whirlpool, swaying gently and cooing to the song:
I love you, you love me, we're a happy family
With a great big hug and kiss from me to you,
Won't you say you love me too?
A thunderbolt and flash of lightning shattered the violent night sky. The Loved One smiled, giggled, and returned to join his brethren as they returned to the secret caverns. On a nearby concrete railing, the steady torrent of rain began to wash away a recently-painted word, prophetic and ominous in its many meanings: