It happened, not that anyone was willing to take credit for it. The Left blamed the military. The Right blamed NASA. Many Americans blamed a variety of foreign nations -- even those lacking the expertise for such a project. But one simple fact remained, during the middle of the night, between Madison, Wisconsin and Frederick, Maryland, an artificial satellite malfunctioned, spreading its chemical payload between those two cities before crashing into the Atlantic ocean off Bermuda.
Many of those awake at the time, woke up the next morning to find their skin was now a shade of purple (although some scientist insist the color is violet). The CDC quickly learned that while disturbing, the discoloration was not life-threatening in any way -- information many wished would have been released much sooner.
Doctor Kareem Abdul Farnsworth, Harvard-educated psychologist, was more concerned how being such an unnatural (for humans) color affected those psychologically. Hundreds had posted their experience on the Internet, and over a dozen had been interviewed on television -- before such details were banned for reasons nobody was sure why on both television and social media. So he arranged for private interviews himself. The one outstanding fact he found was that still thinking their condition was fatal, over 80% of those affected now participated in activities they'd long thought about but had always backed down on actually doing. The Purple Bucket List, he mused.
"You see," Bobby Norris, a 35-year-old Black man, now a grape color, said, "my dad was a serious alcoholic -- the rum-in-his-corn-flakes sort. My mom had a opioid problem -- she'd take Oxycontin for a headache, downed with a beer. So I became terrified of ever trying anything. But, you know, I always wondered what going on a real bender would be like."
"How was it?" Doctor Farnsworth asked.
"Fun -- well, except for puking my guts out later on."
"Don't know," Bobby said. "Maybe once every month or so wouldn't be that bad. Maybe even learn to stop at one or two drinks."
"You think you can manage that?" Farnsworth asked, professional skepticism in his voice.
"Yeah," he said, smiling. "You know, puking can leave you all stopped up. Waking up the next day constipated with a bad hangover was enough to make the thought of getting wasted again unappealing."
Farnsworth nodded his head.
"A friend," Bobby continued, "talks about all the flavors he can pick out of a single malt Scotch. You know; nuts, toast. Man, I want to learn that!"
Next came Cora Gonzales, a mauve-colored woman of Puerto Rican heritage. "Look," she said, perhaps unintentionally sounding like a complaint, "I know I'm fat. But I've seen all these people who've climbed some mountain or other -- some fatter than me. So I started to thinking. Everest? No, too many dead bodies laying around. De ... Dell ... Delaney ... Oh, fuck it! Mount McKinley -- the one in Alaska. Still too risky. Then I read about the one in Africa being pretty much a long hike."
"Easy for you to say. But yeah. I signed up and did it." She pulled out her cell phone and tapped it a few times. She pointed the screen at the doctor. "See. That's me up there. Little Cora on the highest peak in Africa."
Delbert Reynolds was a 33-year-old, tall, thin, and with a distinct Appalachian accent. "You see, back when I was at Stonewall Jackson High, they had this modern dance group come in and give a performance. Most of my class was bored to death. I enjoyed it and thought about taking classes. But you know what they say about dancers -- and I don't dance that way. One morning, I was showering and noticed my skin made me look like I was wearing a heliotrope unitard. So, I figured what the hell? What can I say, it was fun."
"So you wouldn't say it changed your life any?"
He started to laugh. "Ms. Rosenberg, one of the principal dancers, took a liking to me and asked me to join the group. I saw her and me in the mirror, standing together in spandex, a shit-eating grin on my face. Things have picked up. A hick and a Jew, who'd have thought?"
"You still call her Ms. Rosenberg?"
"Something she likes. Come to think of it, so do I."
At 21, lavender-skinned Chrissy Barkwell was the youngest person willing to be interviewed. "I went to a school that taught abstinence only. I was terrified of getting pregnant or catching a disease. I was almost out of college and still a virgin. Then, thinking I only had a few months left to live, and feeling all frustrated, I decided to loosen up."
"Well," she replied, smiling and blushing, "I learned orgies are vastly over-rated."
"The first six or seven people I had sex with still call asking for a one-on-one. I do take the nicer ones up on it. But I've learned to be careful." She giggled. "It's funny. Before I had a holier than thou reputation. Now I don't know that I have any reputation, bad or good."
"I notice you said 'people.'"
"You can," she said, again breaking out laughing, "take that any way you want. I do have pics. You want to see any?"
Doctor Farnsworth published his report, concluding that he was unsure if it was the color itself or the thought of imminent death that prompted his subjects to take the actions they did. Perhaps it was the combination of the two -- which he admitted was something of a cop-out.
Bobby Norris learned to drink without following in his father's staggering footsteps, becoming an authority on single malts. Cora Gonzalez lost fifty pounds and climbed Denali -- even if the name still gave her problems. Delbert Reynolds married Ms. Carolyn Rosenberg and became a principal dancer in the troupe. Chrissy Barkwell wrote a successful memoir of her sexual awakening whose second edition contained over one hundred full-color photographs of her wide-ranging exploits, quickly becoming a best seller. All retained their purple (or violet) skin tone and sense of adventure.
A mysterious one thousand dollars started appearing in the bank accounts of all those "colorized," with an unsigned, untraceable email apologizing and saying the payments would continue indefinitely.
Scientists were eventually able to confirm that the change had required the person be wide awake during the satellite's descent, engaged in Internet arguments, the glow of their computer monitor being the only source of light. The rest remained a mystery.