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It begins with a match. A spark. Birthed of sulfur it sputters and
burns. Bringing the spreading smoke. Down into throats and lungs;
burning and clogging
and choking and squeezing. Searing rains of black ash fill skies;
simmering and grey with death. Somewhere, in the cold dark, a child
screams. Flames creep from the corners a room, gliding eagerly up and
over the
covers of the bed. Flames cradle him; embrace him; destroying all he is and all he
might have been.

In time: Flames are quenched. Dawn breaks upon pillars
of smoke. A man prods at
a smoking husk and it crumbles to ash. He shakes his head, moving
on. And why? Simple. A lit cigarette flicked from the window of a
car by a careless motorist. The butterfly effect: A firebug flaps its
tiny wings in Yellowstone Park and miles away an innocent child is
broiled alive. I'll make things right. I'll make them burn...

“RSP-426.” I growl.

The young man’s eyes dart around the room. He swallows and gasps, a dark stain creeping down the leg of his khaki pants.

I squeeze harder. His eyes bulge slightly. I look down at his nametag.

Edmund Forrest

Customer Service Specialist

Department of Motor Vehicles

“Come now, Edmund,” I whisper, “R S P Four Twenty Six. Black Ford Excursion. Local plates. Quickly now.”

No response. His
eyes widen, his right leg beginning to twitch. There is a crunching and the limbs
hang limp. Someone begins to scream. I bellow and toss him aside and the body
slides across the room, coming to rest against a desk, head cocked
awkwardly like a discarded marionette. I cross to the
other side of the room where a small woman frantically hammers keys at a computer.

“Do you have it? Is it there?!” I hiss.

“Y-yes
mister S-S-Smokey, it b-belongs to a Harold Yeats at seven oh eight
f-f-fourteenth Avenue in Springb-b-brook.” She begins to sob.

“Never
fear,” I say, stroking her hair, “I’ve got what I came for. Shame your friend there
couldn’t be more forthcoming. You, on the other hand, shall see another
sunrise. Warm yourself in the glistening auburn sunlight and drink
deeply from the bittersweet cup of life.”

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“Th-thank you so much m-mister Smokey, sir” she says, wiping mascara streaks across her face and handing me a printout.

“Not
a problem ma’am,” I say, pulling my hat down low and turning towards
the door, “All in a day's work. Oh, and if you please: call me Smoke.”

She purses her lips and mutters something incomprehensible as I step
outside into the moonlight. I grasp the computer printout in my
powerful forearms, sniffing at it eagerly. Streams of saliva pour from my curled lips, spattering across its surface into a
makeshift Rorschach. It's said that what a man sees in the shapes is a window into his soul. All I see is black. And once you go black, you never, ever, go back.

“The wheels of justice are in motion
dearest Harold,” I cry, raising my arms to the sky, “My advice was
simple and sensible, and yet you have disregarded it. I shan't
disregard you though. I shall spear you upon a spit. Burrrn you. Slice open your tender belly and feast upon your squirming entrails while you still live. It is time to pay. To cook. May the mountain soil drink deeply of your wicked blood this night.

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I
begin to run. My nostrils flare. I mutter through gritted teeth.
“…prevent forest fires…death of the boy…death of yourself...joy and
pain and everything between...the sins of evil men and the untrodden path of the
Shepard...overgrown with tendrils of darkness and suffering...”

Somewhere in the distance I can hear the wailing of sirens.

I run faster; leaning into the wind with sparkling eyes.

-Smokey
The Bear
is
a syndicated columnist and Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution For
Higher Learning at Stanford University in Stanford, CA.  He is
48 years old.