There has always been that one empty desk at the farthest corner of the classroom. It was a rickety small black desk that didn’t match any of the other student desks. Many kids had taken it upon themselves to trash the desk even further. Gum and tape stuck to the bottom of the desk and awful crude drawings covered the top. Only today, that desk was no longer empty. The kid occupying the desk was unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time. Nobody had seen him before, but he seemed to fit in with the classroom. His dark black hair covered his straight eyebrows and light gray eyes. Nobody had questioned him because he was wearing the gray school uniform with the peace sign logo; Everyone assumed he was merely a new student, joining their class for the first time.
“Hello, class! I’m sure all of you remember from yesterday that today is our family tree presentations!” Mrs. Lynch, the homeroom teacher, announced. She paid little attention to the new addition to the classroom. For her, no student stood out. As long as the student wore the proper gray uniform, Mrs. Lynch welcomed them with open arms. Names were of little importance. She paused to write down “Family Tree Presentations” on the whiteboard with her only blue marker. “Now who would like to go first?” She turned around. Her outfits were always were infamous. A grandmother's pink ribbed sweater, a long folded blue skirt, gold-rimmed circular glasses, and bright red lipstick. Even her big smile revealed a small piece of broccoli stuck between her teeth. A few students snickered, but nobody pointed it out.
“I would like to go,” volunteered the new kid, raising his hand straight up into the air. All the kids swiveled their heads around, curious to find out who volunteered as tribute. Everyone knew Mrs. Lynch graded presentations hardest in the beginning; By the end of class, she would have dozed off.
Mrs. Lynch raised her eyebrows. “Come on then. Let’s hear your presentation.” The young boy stood up from the black rickety desk, holding a large rectangular poster. He walked to the front of the classroom, paying no attention to all the stares he was receiving.
Seconds ticked by as he hung up the poster on the whiteboard using four different magnets. All the children tapped their feet on the ground, completely unaware of what was to come next.
Finally, he flipped over his poster. The poster was sure a sight to digest. From top to bottom, the poster was covered in small handwriting facing in all directions. Brown branches connected ovals. Some ovals had been angrily scratched out with a black marker while others contained an impossibly accurate sketch. Under each oval, there was a piece of ribbon with a name written on it.
“Hello everyone, this is my family tree,” explained the student, ignoring the stares. “My name is James Wright and I am the son of Lauren and Kieran Wright.” He lightly touched two of the black circles above his own picture. “Unfortunately, both of my parents passed away in a fire,” he paused, turning to face the class. His whole expression had changed; It was as if a demon had just possessed a little boy, ready to harm anything in its way.
“WHICH WAS ARSON! My aunt and uncle surely started the fire. Ever since they were young, they were ALWAYS jealous of our family. WHY WON’T ANYBODY BELIEVE ME?” he screamed, slamming his fists against his poster. All the students jumped back into their seats. One even whispered to the other, “The demon of the old rickety desk must have possessed him.”
The teacher instead had walked up to James; She stood only a foot away and leaned real close to his face; Her glasses slid down her nose before she reached up to readjust them. “James, I know it is hard, it must be. I can’t even fathom what you must be going through. But now is not the time or the place. Either you continue with your presentation calmly or I will ask you to sit back down?” James stared right back into her eyes. It was almost as if he was burning holes through her skull.
After minutes of uncomfortable staring, James broke the silence. “Fine.” He turned around and mumbled something about “You wouldn’t understand anyway.” All the students in the classroom were murmuring to each other; They were all eager to spread rumors about how the new kid was a complete and utter psycho.
“He’s just like the clouds outside. Dark and scary and unpredictable,” whispered one kid.
James cleared his throat. “To continue, my dad had a brother and a sister-in-law. You probably even know this couple.” He walked around the teacher’s table and stared at each and every one of the students. Slowly, he clearly enunciated every syllable. “They murdered over 10 women together.” Smacking the table, he continued, “My despicable uncle had always been on the dark side. Ever since he was a kid, he had been caught for petty crimes: stealing from his friend, murdering the neighbor’s cat, getting into fights at school. He was and always will be an awful man.” James slowly walked back to his poster. Using the yardstick, he pointed to his uncle’s picture. “Everyone, take a moment to stare at him. Every detail, every crease, every wrinkle. Every single part of him is what made him who he is. This is the face of a murderer.”
He slammed his fist against the picture one more time. “Once he turned 24, he decided what he was doing wasn’t bad enough. He wanted a partner in crime. Someone he could take down with him. While attending some bar, he met my aunt or his wife. Elle. She was a good woman with no previous criminal records. HE cast some spell on her and forced her to be part of his crimes.” James turned to face everyone again. Quietly he whispered, “Do you want to know how they killed those women?”
A few brave students shakily raised their hands. James nodded. “Elle would lure the women to their house. Their ruse always changed. Sometimes, it would be asking for help with groceries or a nonexistent baby. Other times, she would invite them over for tea or a midday snack. Then, my uncle would ambush them and tie them up. The rest is history.”
One of the students piped up. “Are they both in jail?”
Without turning around, James answered, “Yes. Sadly, Elle has to pay for his crimes too.”
The dark clouds outside slowly moved away, allowing the sun to shine through. “On a happier note, here’s my sister.” He pointed to a picture of a young beautiful girl bearing a strong resemblance to James. “She’s a violin prodigy. At age six, she had already won the International Johannes Brahms competition and the Pagnani competition.” A genuine smile spread across James' face. “She’s unbeatable,” he paused before continuing, “I even tried playing the violin. My god, it was so hard just to play one note!” He turned to face the classroom and asked, “Has anyone played the violin here?” Nobody raised their hand even though three kids played the violin. James nodded. “That’s what I thought.”
He turned on his heel and smacked the yardstick against his poster. This circle was empty and white. “This is mom’s sister or my aunt: Chloe Yates. She’s an FBI agent. Of course, she’s the best of the best. I tried tracking her down once and failed miserably. Those FBI agents are always on the move.” James sat down at the teacher’s desk and folded his hands. “In fact, Chole was the one who brought in my uncle and Elle. SHE was the one who handcuffed them.” He dropped his head and mumbled something about how she just wouldn’t believe him.
“Why don’t you have a picture for her?” asked a student from the back of the class. James looked up and slammed the table.
“I already told you. She’s on the move and I can’t even track her down,” he yelled with a look of disapproval. He sighed. “Now onto my mom’s father or my grandfather. He was the prime minister of Ukraine. A great one too. He only left office because his term had finished. Nobody hated him. He was and still is a great man.” James turned and stared at all the students. “Does anyone dislike my grandfather?” A few students managed to stare right back at James while the rest all glanced nervously at each other.
One even whispered, “Next time, I am going to sit at that old rickety desk. Maybe then I’ll get a life like his.” James ignored all the side comments. Mrs. Lynch glanced over at him, tapping her watch. A few students swiveled their heads to look at the clock. It was almost time for brunch.
“Okay, last family member. My grandmother or my father’s mom,” announced James, pointing to a picture of a very old lady. Her wrinkles almost covered her entire face and her eyes were so small such that all you could see were her pupils. “My grandmother was probably what turned my murderer uncle overboard. She paid no attention to my father and uncle. Every day, she would lock herself up in her room and paint question marks.” James drew a question mark on the whiteboard. “She would spend hours drawing only a question mark. My dad called her delusional. After spending hours on each question mark, she would leave the house, holding the large canvas. Hours later, she would return holding only five-dollar bills. My grandmother claimed she was making thousands of dollars off her paintings, but in reality, she only made five dollars off of each painting.”
“Wait then how did your grandparents make a living?” James shrugged.
“I tried asking around, but nobody knows. It’s weird but somehow they managed,” answered James.
Another student raised his hand and asked, “How are all these people connected?” James swiveled around.
“Have you not been listening? These are all my family members. Connected by the family tree!” he yelled, slamming his poster for the hundredth time. It was a miracle there wasn’t a hole in the poster or a dent in the whiteboard. The school bell interrupted him.
“Class you are dismissed,” announced Mrs. Lynch, standing up from the back desk. All the students immediately ran out of the classroom, buzzing about James’ family presentation.
Once the class settled back in, everyone took notice of the lone desk in the back. The black rickety desk was empty once again. “Look!” one kid exclaimed, pointing at the whiteboard. “There’s a new picture.” All the kids swiveled around to stare back at the whiteboard. There it was. A picture had filled the once-empty slot for the FBI agent aunt. Many children gasped. The picture was of Mrs. Lynch. She was part of the tree.