THE ROOT • by Timothy Miller

The classroom was clean, Mike gave it that much. The walls were a dull yellow, empty, unadorned by colorful animals holding up letters of the alphabet or animated posters encouraging children to read. The bright fluorescent lighting gleamed off exacting rows of spotless, child-sized desks lined up before a larger, albeit just as uninteresting, desk at the front of the classroom.

A gaunt woman sat at the larger desk with her hands folded in front of her. “I’m not sure why you’ve come, Mr. Lee.” Mike didn’t miss the scarcely concealed annoyance in her tone. “The matter has already been turned over to Officer Beech, the school security advisor.”

“I know that, Ms. Berger.” He shifted a little in his undersized seat. The air was dry, sterile, with an underlying chemical smell. Bleach? Some other disinfectant? “I’ve spoken with Mr. Beech. He informed me it was you who brought the drawing to his attention.”

Ms. Berger raised a pencil-thin eyebrow. “Did he? I’ll have to file a complaint with the district office. The reporting party is supposed to remain anonymous.”

“He said your complaint described John as a threat to the entire class. Don’t you think that’s a little… exaggerated?”

Ms. Berger’s lips tightened. “Since you’ve spoken with Officer Beech, I assume you’ve seen your son’s drawing.”


“Then I fail to understand your confusion. The Federal Student Safety Outreach Program has a zero tolerance policy when it involves threats of violence or injury. John is a murderous sociopath in the making. Frankly, we’re fortunate I caught his tendencies this early. Who knows what bloodshed we’ve averted?”

“Threats of violence or injury?” Reaching into his coat pocket, Mike pulled a folded piece of construction paper from his pocket and spread it out on the desk. “This is a drawing of a stickman shooting a ray gun at a Tyrannosaurus. How can you think this is a threat to anyone, except maybe time travelling dinosaurs?”

Ms. Berger shook her head. “Officer Beech gave you a copy of the picture as well? My, my, I will indeed have to file a complaint.” She leaned back in her chair. “Do you know how many conversations like this I’ve had, Mr. Lee? Do you know how many crying or shouting parents I’ve had escorted from this very room?”


“Dozens, scores even. It’s never easy, but it is my job.” Ms. Berger’s tapped John’s picture with a boney finger. “You see this as nothing more than a cartoon, a fictitious vision in your son’s young mind drawn out in crayon.”

“It’s not?”

“No. It is the first outward manifestation of rebellious antisocial behavior. On a mental level, there is absolutely no difference between this picture and the act itself. Who knows what this drawing truly represents? Your son is obviously the stickman with the weapon, but who is the dinosaur? Is it a fellow student, a teacher, the president? Trust me, Mr. Lee. John needs to be locked away before he can do any real harm.”

“Real harm?” Mike picked up the drawing, stared at the anemic hero vanquishing a poorly drawn lizard. A frigid sort of unreality gripped him. “He’s six years old.”

“As I said, we’re lucky to have caught this behavior so early on.” Ms. Berger stood. “Now, I’m very busy, Mr. Lee. If you’ll hand me that copy, I’ll have it filed and you can be on your way.”

“I was going to burn it.”

“That is school property, and evidence, Mr. Lee.” Ms. Berger held out her hand. “Please, don’t make this any harder than it has to be. The Office of Student Safety won’t have my report until morning. You and your wife should be spending what time you have left with John as a family.”

“I agree. And I will cherish every second I have left with them.” Mike stood. It was hard. The cloak of his misery, of the dark future of emptiness to come was a crushing weight on his back. “Before I go, let me ask you something. Do you honestly believe what you’re telling me?” He held up John’s drawing. “You truly see no difference between this and actual violence?”

Ms. Berger scowled impatiently. “There is no difference. What you’re holding is nothing less than a murder in the making. It is a root of violence waiting to grow. Accept it.”

“I do.” Producing a lighter from his shirt pocket, Mike lit the edge of the picture.

“What do you think you are you doing?” Ms. Berger jabbed the intercom key on her desk. “Officer Beech! We have another code twelve in room 214. Officer Beech!”

“He won’t be answering. And this isn’t a copy by the way.” The flame grew, quickly consuming the stickman and his reptile nemesis. When the flames licked the tips of Mike’s fingers, he dropped it to the floor. “The report you filed has been destroyed as well.”

Ms. Berger backed away, pressing her boney back to the blank chalkboard. “You’re insane.”

Mike shrugged. “I’m a father.” A knife appeared in his hand, parts of the long blade still stained red with Officer Beech’s blood. “Now, would you like to know the difference between my son’s picture and what I’m about to do? Do you want to understand the real root of every act of violence?”

“Please,” Ms. Berger begged. Her lips were trembled, and bright tears filled her eyes. “Please… I was only… they trained us to…”

Mike lifted the knife. “Motivation.”

Born in May of 1974, Timothy Miller has worked at a farm, a meatpacking plant, a pickle factory, a casino, and a rowdy nightclub as a bouncer. Currently employed as a repair technician for a large telephone company, he writes in his spare time. His biggest fans, his family, spend many frigid Wisconsin nights in their home, listening to his stories and encouraging him, despite the nightmares.

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