10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2…1!

10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2…1!

“Mommy,” said seven-year old Timmy Spearz. “Why did I have to go home today and why can’t I go to school tomorrow? I’m not sick.”

“You aren’t allowed back in school, Timmy, until next Wednesday, that’s a week from today.”

“Am I in trouble?” he asked.

“We’re in trouble, honey. Daddy and I will have to see your Principal next Monday.”

“Why are we in trouble, mommy?”

“Because you brought a weapon to school today.”

“I didn’t bring a weapon to school, mommy. I didn’t!”

“The Principal found a weapon in your school bag when you were at lunch. Where did you get it?”

“I didn’t bring a weapon to school, mommy, I really didn’t!”

His mother pulled the car over and stopped abruptly. “If you didn’t bring a weapon into school with your then why did the Principal find it in your bag? Do you understand what this is going to do to your father and me? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU HAVE DONE TO YOUR FAMILY?!” Timmy’s mother rarely struck her son but this was one of those rare occasions; she smacked him as hard as she could, square in the face. This took some effort as Timmy was strapped into the back seat and she had her safety belt firmly connected. “YOU STUPID KID! WHERE DID YOU GET THE WEAPON?!”

“But mommy, I told you, I didn’t bring a weapon to school! I swear it!” Timmy’s demeanor began to alarm his mother. Normally, he’d start to cry by now, especially since it was one of those rare occasions when she hit him. And normally, when he’d been caught doing something wrong, he began crying before the confession. This time he wasn’t crying.

••

“OK, so tell me again how you found the toy weapon?” asked Mr. Spearz.

“As I said,” began Dr. Machemar, the Assistant Principal. “We came across it during our lunchtime search. It was in Timmy’s schoolbag. We could see it plain as day from across the classroom.”

“The kid says he didn’t bring it in with him. And for the life of me, I don’t know where he would’ve gotten a weapon.”

“Maybe,” said Dr. Iddingz, the Principal. “Maybe Timmy’s keeping something from you, Mr. Spearz. I can understand you’re not wanting to believe that he had access to handweapons, but the fact is he had it in his possession.”

“I believe my son. Didn’t you check for fingerprints? If you’re going this far, don’t you think you’d want to at least give him the benefit of the doubt? I mean, at least give me credit for raising a kid who’d be smart enough to not leave it out in the open for all to see.”

“We asked Timmy about that and he simply denied ever seeing the weapon before,” replied Dr. Machemar. “We simply cannot afford to take chances.”

“Did you even think about why he had the weapon or that it could have been someone else’s old toy?”

“We told your wife,” said Dr. Iddingz, “when she came to pick up Timmy, that even though he’d no history of violent behavior, we may had averted a massacre.”

“The child is only seven years old!”

“Mr. Spearz,” said Dr. Machemar. “As I am sure you’re aware, two years ago, a five year-old shot three students at Smallville Elementary School. In that case, too, there was no prior record of violence. And as I said before, we simply cannot afford to take chances.”

“But you haven’t investigated every possible element, have you? Can you understand where I’m coming from? Timmy’s a smart kid, and I want him attending a decent high school. This could ruin everything!”

“If I might,” Dr. Ramsey, another Assistant Principal, said as he entered the Principal’s office. “Let me suggest this: Talk to your child. Get to the truth.”

“The truth may end up being that he’s telling the truth and you people are too hard-assed to believe it!”

“That’s quite enough, Mr. Spearz,” said Dr. Iddingz. “If you’re not going to be able to conduct yourself in a professional manner, this discussion is over. Timmy may return next Wednesday. Here’s a list of approved Child Therapists, let us know which one you’ll be seeing with Timmy.”

“I swear, I’ll take this to the State school board!”

“Sir!” exclaimed Mr. Freedman, the Chief Security Officer, as he walked into the office. His badge shone in the sunlight coming through one of the windows. “Is there a problem?”

Mr. Spearz stood up from the meeting table and took the folder Dr. Iddingz handed to him.

“You people can’t do this to me!” he screamed as he stormed out of the school.

••

Tim Spearz approached the Vice-Principal’s office with little trepidation, he’d been through it all before. He opened the door and approached the Secretary.

“Timmy,” she said. “Dr. Ebert is expecting you, go right on in.”

Tim, who hadn’t liked being called “Timmy” since the fifth grade, did as he was told. Dr. Ebert was sitting at his desk and told Tim to take a seat, motioning to the chair in front of the desk. The two were facing each other.

“Tim,” Dr. Ebert said. “You’re a pretty smart kid. I can’t understand why you keep doing this to yourself.”

“Doing what to myself?” replied Tim. “Speaking my mind? Not taking shit from anyone? What’s wrong with that?”

“Tim, what you can’t seem to grasp is that next year you’ll be a senior. I’ve spoken to your father and mother, and they don’t know what to do with you. You had potential, it seems, until…”

“I’ve heard all this shit before from you. You’re going to bring up that shit about the toy weapon in elementary school.”

“All right then, Tim, all right. I guess you have heard it all before. But you don’t seem to have learned from it one bit.”

“You’ve been riding my ass for three years! I’ve learned a lot! I’ve learned about what it’s like to have everyone think you’re a murderer.”

“You’re not helping things, Tim.”

“What else could go wrong? My grades are good, what else matters?”

“Grades aren’t going to be enough, I’m afraid.”

“Why are you afraid? You’re not the one who’s never been given a chance to-“

“A chance, Tim? A chance for what? Like I said, you’re a smart kid. You’re smart enough to make something of yourself, but you insist on going in the wrong direction –“

“Wrong direction?!”

“You do not have the right to be a threat to other students. Can’t you figure that out, Tim?”

“What am I doing that’s such a threat, anyway?”

“Tim, your choice of reading material for one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about late twentieth century magazines about weapons, for starters.”

“Come on! I haven’t been reading any old magazines–“

“Oh yes you have, Tim. Yesterday you downloaded some old articles. Right here in the school library.”

Tim looked grave.

Dr. Ebert continued. “That wasn’t smart at all. I don’t like your fascination with weapons one bit.”

“But I was just reading alone, that’s all. Just reading. I can’t do it at home, you know that.”

“I certainly do. And I’m concerned about what’s going on at your home, too. For your own good.”

“For my own good I’ve been expelled every term because you didn’t like my book reports!”

“Calm down, Tim! We will not tolerate violence any more. You can understand that, right? We won’t take a chance. A chance is what gets people killed and we’ve never had an incident here. And we will never have an incident here. I’ve contacted your mother and father already, and they’ll be here in about,” he looked at his watch, “…ten minutes. I suggest you simply let it all out then and we’ll be able to get on with your education.”

“This education is bullshit!”

“No, your life is bullshit.”

••

“Tim,” said Mr. Spearz. “I want to believe you, but it’s all documented. You know you’re not supposed to read stuff like this, and you went ahead and did.”

“Then why is it there if I can’t read it?” asked Tim.

“It’s there,” said Dr. Ebert, “because some people still tolerate violence. And as long as this material is available to someone like you, it is dangerous.”

“But I’ve never–“

“Yes you have, Tim.” Dr. Ebert pulled a mid-sized binder from a desk drawer. “In ninth grade, you did a book report about the American-Vietnamese War. During your oral presentation, you read from the book out loud scenes of extreme violence, I believe your teacher described you snickering over the, here it is, ‘taking of ears.’ That cost you a week. The next semester, for another book report, you built a diorama for a report on mid-twentieth century wars. This photograph I have here looks like you used cut-up paper soldiers to illustrate wounds and–“

“Mom, dad! This is insane!” shouted Tim. “I’m not even allowed to read history books?” His parent looked at him and said nothing. He saw a tear well up in his mother’s right eye.

“Tim,” said Dr. Ebert. “Most people are able to read about history, or anything for that matter, and if it’s violent, they’ll react appropriately, which means with such a loathing… Tim, you’re not getting it: you simply don’t understand that violence is a disease. A sickness. And you are showing signs of being sick and you should appreciate that it’s been caught early. Can you figure that out? I don’t want you to spend your life in jail or worse because of a stupid, violent act. Neither do your parents.”

“But I haven’t done anything!” Tim’s parents closed their eyes.

“And you won’t. We have you for one more year, young man, and… now I’ve spoken with your parents about this, and your last chance is to be tutored.”

“For what? I haven’t been in a fist fight since sixth grade!”

“No, but your credit card record over the last month shows you’ve purchased a number of books and magazines devoted to violence. Why the stupid cashiers forfeited their jobs by selling them to a minor is beyond me, but… And the downloads here at school. You’re a pretty smart kid, as we’ve been saying all along. You managed to hack our system good enough to satisfy your need for violence.”

“Tim,” said his father. “We’ll have to take in a State Tutor. I have no choice.”

“Listen to your father, Tim,” said Dr. Ebert. “Twenty years ago, you may have been sent to a special camp, with the result being you coming back more violent than ever and ultimately being committed. The Tutor system works, and it will work for you.”

“But all I’m doing is discussing things! History, that’s all. Why do I need a tutor?”

“There are laws, Tim,” replied Dr. Ebert. “Laws that protect the community and you. You’re only sixteen, you don’t know even know what you’re capable of.”

••

The Tutor arrived the next afternoon, about an hour before Tim would get home from school. He introduced himself as Officer Quigley. Like all the tutors, he was a trained policeman, and single (widowed or divorced). And like all the tutors, he was within two years of retirement. The Tutor System was reserved for police officers whose investigative skills were too valuable to lose to a desk job, but whose physical prowess had seen better days.

The Spearz were able to convert their guest room into quarters for Officer Quigley, who, as part of the program was to be provided with a bedroom, three meals a day and a separate telephone line. These costs were borne by the Spearz, but they could all be deducted from their taxes the following year.

Officer Quigley’s job was to make sure Tim made it through his senior year of high school without incident. After graduation, the Tutor would make a report to the school board pertaining to Tim’s potential for violent acts contrasted with the one-year tutoring period. Most tutoring periods lasted two years (10th and 11th grade), with a few going for as long as five years.

“Tim,” said Officer Quigley, “you and I are going to have an understanding. And that is: I will not tolerate any hint that you’re engaging in violent activity. That’s all.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It means I am going to watch you. You’ll report to me every day after school and we’ll go over what you did. A simple meeting, that’s all. I’ll leave you alone, but I’m one floor below you, just remember that.”

Tim nodded reluctantly and headed off to his room. There wasn’t much to it, really. There’s just a police officer living in my house, he thought.

••

Tim came running down the stairs, livid.

“Where’s my great-uncle’s CD music collection?!”

His father began, “Tim, Officer Quigley and I went through your room before you got home. We had to take your discs, they’re weren’t–“

“–what your father is trying to say, Tim, is that that kind of music, and those old comic books — I’m amazed they ever published anything like that — are not the sort of thing a young person with your history should have in his immediate vicinity.”

“This is insane! He willed those to me!”

“Tim,” said his father. “Listen to me: what have you really lost? When you’re an adult and have children, you’ll understand. I’m surprised I forgot about uncle Dave’s disc collection. If he were alive today, he’d have been locked up early-on.”

Tim returned to his room and slammed the door.

Officer Quigley followed him, opened the door and entered Tim’s room.

“Young man, I’m here for your own good. If you don’t want to spend the rest of your days in an asylum for the criminally insane, you’ll listen to me. There will be no slamming doors, no outbursts, nothing.”

“Yeah? What are you going to do about it?”

“For starters, the State has already done something about it, and that’s where I come in. You are doing it to yourself. Now you’ve had your chance. I only warn once.”

••

A week went by before they came for Tim and took him away.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Spearz,” said Officer Quigley. “You did all you could. But I had to do it.”

“I don’t know where I failed,” said Mr. Spearz.

“Will we be able to see him, at least?” asked Mrs. Spearz.

“He needs to be under careful observation,” replied Officer Quigley. “I caught him reading some documents known to promote violence on a grand scale.”

“I thought we’d cleared his room of everything,” said Mr. Spearz.

“Well, he’s a smart kid and he figured out a way to hack around the restrictions. He found an old archival site, something that someone must’ve forgotten about long ago, and accessed some documents I’d never even heard of. Very dangerous, for a child of his age to read.”

“What were they?” asked Mrs. Spearz.

“He found a copy of the Bill of Rights.”

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