The Label

When Principal Alan walked up to the scanner at the local pizza place and waved his hand, it announced that he was under watch. They welcomed him in. The store owner was in the back and came out. “Hey, don’t worry about it. The whole store is under watch. I’ll be here making pizzas until they throw me out on my ear. They better not try to take my shop. You know how hard I worked to get this place?” He walked off, mumbling to himself.

Principal Alan picked up his one large pizza box and headed out. This was the last local place where he could even go in to get pizza. The main chain restaurants weren’t taking chances and refused him entry. It made him fume.

He had never done anything wrong. He was pretty sure the system flagged him for the conspiracy theory forums and the social media groups he belonged to online.

He had a decision to make, and he wasn’t going to have it made for him. Instead of bowing to the pressure, he purposefully rebelled. He doubled down on everything he knew would hurt his standing, including freely criticizing the government and the safety scan system. By Christmas, he was labeled a threat. In January, the TNT troops arrived to take him.

The black van showed up at his home and not the school when they came for him. They didn’t want any student sympathy to get in the way.

Michael answered the door that night. “May I help you?”

“We’re here for Thomas Alan.”

“Who are you?”

“We’re part of the Threat Neutralization Team.”

Michael knew what that meant. His dad had prepared him that this was coming. He stepped aside and let them in. Principal Alan came and stood before them.

“Surrender any weapons and come with us.”

Principal Alan produced a handgun and walked out with his head high. There was no time for a goodbye. “I love you, Mike” was all he said as they escorted him past his son.

Michael determined then and there to be cleared with a safe label and carefully chose the places he went, what he searched for, and the websites he visited. He made sure to remove Joshua from his contacts.

The Alan boys weren’t the only ones consumed with their labels. Pastor Jonathan felt an almost frenzied desperation to see his label turn back to safe. He chose to avoid everyone and everything that might hurt his standing. He asked several men and women in the congregation to speak Sundays and hadn’t even been to services in weeks. He started thinking through justifications for asking the Bible study group to leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to face Joshua and Peter. Peter tried to talk to him, but he either avoided Peter altogether or said he was busy.

Pastor Jonathan worked to leave a good impression online, liking and clicking on things that promoted the world’s idea of love and security, right and wrong. In time he was able to see his label turn back to “safe.” It was what he had wanted, but it didn’t bring peace. He would never know peace again.