When the police came knocking, Adam Scott Bell came to the door with a Smith ProGlide and a mouth full of suds. His parents were next door at the Harry's place, but they'd always trusted Adam to do the right thing. So he'd never open the door for a stranger. But this was the police. Adam swallowed the suds (good for the teeth, bad for the belly, he knew that well enough but he wasn't about to spit in the umbrella canister, was he?) and climbed the stool to look out through the little window. Two policemen, red-faced in the cold. Hands on the butts of their guns, with the little leather snap unsnapped. That, Adam decided, was cool. Definitely something he'd tell Zach about at school the next day.
He unlocked the door.
"Hey, kid," the taller of the policemen said. He had a voice like a steam engine, loud and foggy. "Your parents in?"
Adam was never to tell a stranger where his parents were. But these were the police. "No," he said.
"They left you alone here?" the smaller cop said. He was a quick little man with a face like a shovel, flat and almost featureless but for a humorless crack that passed for a smile.
"They're just next door," Adam explained. "If I need them, I have the number. I was getting ready for bed."
"Yeah," the bigger of the two said, wiping his nose on the back of his hand as he stepped in. "That's not going to happen, kid."
It began with a toothbrush. A pearly blue Smith ProGlide, discarded on the hardwood floor to the side of the front door. A Smith ProGlide and a slick pool of spit, a few bubbles still glistening in the overhead light.
- * -
Adam's parents called up the stairs, first amused and then worried, but Adam was beyond hearing.
It began with a toothbrush. A pearly blue Smith ProGlide in a plastic evidence bag. A Smith ProGlide and the taller officer's fingerprints in black dust.
- * -
The lawyers argued that the toothbrush was a plant. That their client would never rape and murder a nine year old boy with no provocation. That he was off-duty, with his wife, his partner, and his partner's wife at a private dinner. That recent allegations of lawlessness among police had no bearing on this case. That the boy's parents were rabid anti-police activists, and that they were horrible human beings for trying to turning the death of their only son into yet more activism while the real criminals were still at large.
It began with a toothbrush. A pearly blue Smith ProGlide in a woman's hand, thrust angrily toward the crowd below when the tears consumed her ability to speak through the microphone.
- * -
Her husband took the microphone. Told the crowd that the evidence was clear. That the jury had been compromised. He presented proof. Proof, he said, that he wasn't going to use in a court of law because the courts would find for the police, as they had so many times in recent months and years.
He read from the court decision:
In these lawless times, this court finds that the vigorous enforcement of law cannot and must not be impeded by those who would destroy the system.He demanded of the assembled masses exactly who would enforce the law when the enforcers were thugs and criminals, when the current regime demanded obedience and fear rather than the unity of the common cause.
He took the toothbrush from his wife. Held it high.
The crowd roared. A gun barked.
And the police rolled in.
It began with a toothbrush. A pearly blue Smith ProGlide, its bristles caked with the blood that pooled around the head of Adam's father. A Smith ProGlide and the click of a camera.
- * -
That night, the picture, a blue toothbrush in a pool of blood, led the evening news. By the next morning, the city was in flames. And the story had gone national.
Adam's mother, Kurt's wife, pleaded for peace. This is not what they would have wanted, she said, over and over. No one listened. Too long the current regime had knelt with its knee on the throat of the people. Police were assassinated in their homes, on the street. Good men, bad, it made no difference. The uniform was a death sentence, and so soon men in different uniforms, carrying fiercer weapons, were seen on every streetcorner in every major city and town across the country. And still the violence escalated.
It began with a toothbrush, and ended with a country set against itself.
- * -
Some say it was the economic climate. Others say it was God's will, or a long-overdue correction to American hubris, or an administration whose policies encouraged its citizens to feel powerless and afraid, and the inevitable explosion that resulted when those citizens realized the true power they'd had all along.
Whatever the underlying causes, it is beyond dispute that it began with the simplest of symbols. A pearly blue Smith ProGlide, gripped in the hand of a nine-year-old boy.
This was a response to a reddit /r/writingprompts prompt to "make the most mundane item you can imagine a symbol of ultimate revolution".