As the night terror begins, I'm reading the Arizona Daily Star. It's not clear where I am since swirling fog totally surrounds me, as if I were suspended in a fog bank with no terra firma under my feet. I see a headline: "High-tech tags may track kids in TUSD." The fog lifts, but I am still floating while the scenes change (there is just no hope for a decent segue in a dream) as successive images of young children getting ready for school flash across my nightmare-addled brain.
"Mommy! Mommy! Where's my BusPass? I can't go to school without it," a teary-eyed 7-year-old cries.
"Christopher, put on your BusPass immediately! I must get you to the bus stop no later than 7:17 a.m., or my ParentAlert buzzer will shock me at 30-second intervals until you arrive," says a frazzled mother dressed in a gray flannel suit.
A 10-year-old boy with bags under his eyes and mismatched socks wails, "Daddy, my GoodNutri nail implant is flashing. It means the breakfast you gave me was substandard. It won't stop until my morning nourishment requirement is met. If you make me go to school with my GoodNutri implant flashing, the Perfect Health for Future Human Resources Monitor will pull me out of class and call you. It will be so embarrassing!"
Without warning, the scene shifts to the interior of a school. An American flag in every room, and photos of all past presidents adorning a wall framed with faded plastic laurel wreaths, confirm it's a school. But it is difficult to tell what level of institution, because the children plodding along the halls range from toddlers to conscription-age. If they have a purpose, it remains a mystery. (So what did you expect? Clarity from a bad dream?) They keep their heads down as they shuffle along. Their furrowed brows indicate a one-dimensional determination.
Dreams and nightmares being what they are, it's difficult to say where the young people are going or what their intentions are. (Time for classes to change? Bathroom break? Mass detention?) One thing is certain: They avoid making eye contact with each other.
The children slowly morph into adults. They are sitting in rows in a square cardboard box the size of a small auditorium. I can see large cables on the outside of the box with what appear to be electronic connections attached to each corner. There is a peculiar haze floating above the box. Thin spirals of grayness emanate from the core of the haze to a metal nodule located at the base of each person's neck.
The people's eyes, resembling glazed, lifeless orbs, do not focus as much as stare. They seem to be concentrating on some sort of task or tasks. It is unclear whether they are worker bees tracking one goal, or if they are immersed in individual drudgery. The only sounds are a barely audible hum and occasional clicks.
Without warning, a disembodied voice intones: "Good afternoon, section Z-4893. A nutritious midday meal is ready for your consumption. Please remove your nodule and attach it to the proper aperture in the center of your torso. You must immediately do so at the sound of the bell, or your nodule will not release, and you will fail to enjoy the benefits of InstanSlop. Have a good day, and remember, work makes you free."
I awaken, trembling and in a pool of sweat. The night terror ends just after the voice utters its last four words. What can it mean? Do dreams have meaning? Is there meaning? Lost in existential angst, I am plagued by the nightmare, trying to unearth the possibility of portent from layers of sludge.
The body nudges me along as reality beckons: Time for morning ablutions followed by blueberry pancakes. It's the Sunday before Memorial Day and, as an Official Holiday Weekend, one of the few times it is permissible to not be busy.
A hard-core news junkie, I promise myself to ignore the morning rag, but as I sneak a peek at Page 1, my heart pounds to the primal beat of fear, and my hands turn cold. The headline reads: "High-tech tags may track kids in TUSD."
And here I was concerned about a national ID card. That is so yesterday.