The Pandemic Nightmare

Note: Typically, I don’t publish or discuss my dreams publicly. This one, however, I felt compelled to share.

I walk through the aisles of the Target store in Tulsa. (For those who live locally: 71st and highway 169.) It’s 11:35 AM, March 20, 2030 according to my iPhone. I push the cart down towards the pharmacy section. I put a bottle of Tylenol in the cart for my mother, who is at home. Then, I amble towards the counter.

The line is extremely long. There are about a dozen people in front of me. Some have carts, some do not. One is holding a basket with a vitamin bottle in it. The people filing out are repositioning their N95 masks. The line moves at a decent pace, about one person per minute.

Finally, it is my turn. A short Cherokee woman, about 5’4″ with long brown hair with blonde highlights, asks in a small voice, “what will it be for you today?”

She shows me a small printed menu. Chamomile, lavender, peppermint, honey, rainforest, spring blossom, … ah. There it is. Cinnamon bread.

“Cinnamon bread”, I politely respond.

“30 seconds for 4.00$, 60 seconds for 8.00$, or we can do the premium package for 10$.”

“Premium package?” I ask, being quite unfamiliar with more options than just duration.

“The scent will surround your whole body, instead of just being a scratch and sniff card,” she replied. “It’s an aerosol spray. You can turn around in the chamber for the entire duration, which will be 60 seconds.”

A full 60 seconds in the chamber… with the scent around my entire body, not just in a scratch and sniff card? How exciting!

“I would love the premium package. Can I still tap and pay with Apple Pay?”

“Yes, ma’am. Of course you can. Just tap, then follow me.”

I tap my iPhone against the reader, then walk behind the counter, leaving my cart in the waiting area. She leads me to a small chamber made of clear plexiglass. It’s just big enough for someone of my size. Next to it, there is a chamber that would be more suited for heavier set people.

She opens a small hatch and I stand inside. She closes the door. I take my N95 off. The smell rains down from the ceiling. I twirl around, closing my eyes and feeling warm and happy. I almost begin to dance, my arms flailing in slow, rhythmic movements as I breathe in deeply.

There is a slight ding. The scent stops. I walk out and take a quick gasp before putting the N95 back on. The inside of a Target store still smells how I remember it.

I look at the woman and quickly apologise. “I’m sorry, I know the mask has to go on as soon as the door is open, I just…”

“Don’t worry about it. Most of my customers enjoy the smell of the store, some more than the scent chamber itself.”

Just then, I see two uniformed Tulsa Police officers walking up the main aisle. I quickly run to my cart.

“Everyone hold it,” one of the two officers shouts. He’s a stern looking man in his 40s with visible stubble and a head suit covering his hair. His partner is younger, with thick glasses and a machine gun carried on his back.

The officer looks at the woman behind the counter. “Picking up a prescription, sir?” she asks, timidly.

“Ma’am, we have reason to believe you are running an illegal scent shop here. You know President Cornyn outlawed the sense of smell in 2029.”

“This is a pharmacy counter. That’s all!”

“Why is everyone fidgeting with their masks, then?”

I try to push my cart into the main aisle, towards the grocery section. The younger officer sees this, and immediately takes out his machine gun and points it at me. “HALT!”, he shouts.

“I just wanted to finish my grocery shopping,” I say in a breaking voice as I begin to cry. I reflexively put one hand to my head, desiring to survive this encounter. I use the other to hit the Emergency button on my iPhone, to clear all data from the past 10 minutes so they can’t use it to determine what I was doing.

“What were you doing at this counter?”

“I was… asking where the minerals and supplements were.”

“Then why were you going the opposite direction? Alright, hold it ma’am, you’re under arrest for suspicion of smelling!”

I awaken to my alarm. The sun is peeking out through the blinds of my window, and I can faintly hear Mum watching TV in her room.

This pandemic cannot end soon enough.