Fat, abnormally large bristles staring mockingly at him.
“Cully, look how ginormous this toothbrush is?” his friend Jacob gushed, his voice wrought with exaggerated incredulity.
“Yeah, I already saw it,” Cullen replied, irritated by Jacob’s fascination with the engorged personal sanitation device.
Now Jacob was worming his fingers into the plastic packaging, tugging the toothbrush out, marveling at it with his dumbly mystified eyes and shoving it into the back pocket of his jeans.
“I’m taking this, too. Might as well, eh? Fat toothbrush might’ve been a good thing to put on our list, we just never knew it, huh?” He snickered at his own non-joke. Cullen sighed, his nerves beginning to ware. It was enough he had committed to this in the first place but to be simply wasting what time they had exploding over an oversized tootbrush—despicable, it was. Well, he could only blame himself for all of it, really—it had been his idea, his own carefully-laid plan.
“C’mon, Jake let’s just focus, please. I want to get out of here as soon as we can.”
“Right,” he agreed, throwing the plastic packaging on the tiled floors of the general store. The lack of electric lighting in the store at the current time, one-thirty in the morning, had allowed a gray color to settle in, making everything, including the boys themselves, naught but dark, undefined shapes eerily cut into the darkness. Cullen ran a palm through his dark hair, finding it still peppered with the moisture of resting snowflakes. The two listened to the sound of their own breathing in the chilled air, poignantly audible in the dull silence.
Cullen walked past a row of perfume vials, following Jacob, and he sniffed reflexively as an aerosol battalion of fresh roses swarmed his face. He coughed, the roses tickling his throat. Jake was snickering once more, a red perfume bottle fitting the curves of his tacky hands. “You’ll smell like a princess now, won’t you Cully?”
In one quick movement of the hand, Cullen sent the perfume bottle flying across the room, shattering it into thousands of red sprinkles. The impact was bright, fractured, and enthralling to Cullen’s empty hand. Those sprinkles would make a perfect cupcake for Jacob, he thought. “Would you concentrate, Jake? Please?” he half-shouted, the irritation no long restrained from his tone.
“Relax, Cully, you smell beautiful.” His friend’s voice had lost a bit of its former comic zeal. Jacob peeled around the counter and began to maneuver a piece of metal into the lock, one of his eyes closed in dramatized fixation as he did so. Meanwhile, Cullen, as they had planned, scoured the stores, stuffing into his sack anything he thought worth a hearty sum. Not quite the easiest occupation, given the generally valueless inventory, but nonetheless he gathered a few things they had written on their list of what to find. But they had put their faith into the register for what it guarded; it was the prime object of Cullen’s deft planning.
The lock of the register clicked. “Got it!” Jake yelled out. Cullen was already on his way over. Together they began to swipe the stacks of cash into their sacks. Jacob’s former lassitude had quickly transformed into greedy excitement, his sack stuffed with what he had dreamed of—crisp-but-slightly-depressed-longitudinally dollar bills, stacks of them, at that. The money fell into their sacks like clumped confetti. How easy it had been, what perspicacious planning brought to impeccable execution.
But then there it was. A piercing of the ear, a congenial reminder that it is undesired by the owner for strangers to steal their money and merchandise. The store alarm whisked in Cullen’s ears but he was far from alarmed. He finished sliding his cash into the sack and neatly slipped it over his shoulders, Jacob following suit. Jacob had not made any noise of panic, but when Cullen glanced over, Jacob’s face was sheet white.
“C’mon, Jake. Let’s get outta here.” It was a sheepish source of comfort for Jacob. The two boys began to run to the front door through which they had entered. Cullen had grown accustomed to the persistent piercing now, really. It was merely a slight discomfort. However, what became sickeningly uncomfortable was the other, a walloping. A red and blue walloping that was so alarming he felt his bones locking up. He stopped walking towards the door, paralyzed. Jacob had stopped walking towards the door as well, but he was not paralyzed. His face had regained color, but upon noticing the condition of his friend, he felt a throng of stronger panic coming on. Not only would he have to successfully escape capture but he would have to guide his friend from it as well.
Painstakingly, Jacob uttered, “C’mon Cullen. We’ve got to get to the door. It’s the only way out.”
The response came surprisingly fast, as if prepared. “No, Jake. I can’t leave.”
“What do you mean, you can’t leave? Do you want to go to prison, Cullen?”
Cullen said nothing. Unlike the store alarm, the walloping sound became more forceful in magnitude, more nauseating. It tied ropes around Cullen’s limbs.
“Fine, then, good luck,” Jacob spat at him, and he booked for the front door. But he was soon sliding on his heels to a stop. Blinding red and blue had replaced the gray color of the store.
Jacob turned around, facing Cullen, and they locked eyes. Jacob had not a clue what to do, and it was his best guess that Cullen hadn’t one either. But suddenly, as dark figures began to take shape in the flashing colors, Cullen bulleted to the west side of the store. In one quick movement, he leapt into the window, shattering it into thousands of glass shards. The glass made the thick, white snow on the ground sparkle something beautiful.
Cullen, now embedded in the snow, came to with a lethargic hurriedness about him. A discordant harmony battering his ears, then he and Jacob running hard and fast into the night, cotton ball-sized snowflakes smacking their cheeks. A sharp glance behind, dark figures, red and blue cascading down the alleyway. Hard fast turns and the sacks were still heavy on their backs and Cullen started to taste blood and felt glass sprinkles in his eyes. Moonlit alleyways felt homelike, but the trudged footsteps through the deep snow were far from it.
In one quick movement, he flung his sack as hard as he could opposite the way he was running, and he felt as if his bones were shattering. He could still smell roses, actually. Taste them, even, acridly sweet amongst the warm blood.
And then suddenly it was no more, the cotton ball globs smacking his cheeks, the horrifying music in his head. His bones were refusing again, and he was locked from movement. Like a reluctant torpedo he pitched through the air and landed prostrate in the snow. He closed his eyes, squinting them both shut tightly and the pain was incredibly colorful to the sight. The roses were losing flavor but what flavor was left was slightly sweet.
He poked his head up for just a second, and he saw a wisp figure of Jacob, still sprinting against the horde of snowfall, his heavy sack bobbing against his back, and yes, even the large toothbrush protruding from his back pocket. Cullen replaced his head back into its impression in the snow.
He wondered whether if he simply laid there, the snow would cover him up and no one would find him, he could be alone with his frozen limbs and his roses and his glass sprinkles and the memory of the large bristles staring at him mockingly.
The two dark figures of policemen ran through the snow, their flashlights flooding the alleyways. Jacob they eventually caught pressed up against a wall hiding behind his sack of green, but they had run straight past Cullen, lying prostrate in the snow.
Cullen tried to remember why he had leapt through the glass. Perhaps he had only wanted to see how beautifully the sprinkles of glass would sparkle in the snow. As more snow fell upon him, he savored the image of the silver light that refracted thousands of times over in his mind.