Acrid wasn't an accurate description. Wasn't that how people used to describe smoke? "Acrid?" Acrid to him was a combination of sensations, involving both taste and smell. Like ancient pennies, daringly placed in the mouth in his childhood. Bad vaginas in his adolescence. No, this was a strictly olfactory sensation. A reminiscent smoke, recalling memories of the fireplace in his childhood home. Watching the flames come alive. Creating not a fear, but an admiration of fire that would follow him throughout his life. A respect for the duality of a singular force so destructive, yet so imminently restorative.
A change in the consistency of the earth under his feet brought his thoughts back to the present. The path, always unyielding to his steps, had become suddenly softer, causing him to stop. He looked down and noticed he had stepped on something. A stuffed bear, its fur tan and slightly matted, wearing what was once a pink jumpsuit. The splashes of color prominent in an otherwise nondescript brown landscape. He was struck then, not by the children's toy itself but, rather by the fact that it's appearance struck him. He thought back to a time when things of this nature had been utterly irrelevant to him. How many times had he walked by a discarded toy without so much as a second thought? An undersized sneaker gave him no more pause than a slight increase in the breeze or a near indeterminate decrease in temperature. That was before he'd had children of his own. Now these forgotten treasures made him wonder: Did anyone miss the things they'd lost? The thought of a child; possibly the same age, size, temperament of his own; wailing alongside his mother for his beloved plaything. His mother urging him that it would be alright, the toy/shoe/jacket/glove would turn up. Or they'd just replace it with something just as equally lost. Did that satiate the child's longing? Or was he still crying now, knowing that nothing could ever replace what was lost?
He bent down to examine the bear closer. The fur was dense with mud, and he could see the tracks of his boot on one glass eyeball. The pink jumper was less pink than brown. Stained with mud, feces, blood and who knew what else. On the bottom of one paw, the name "Fao Schwarz" had been expertly embroidered. He wondered if that was the bears name, or the owners. Hadn't his own daughter owned a bear identical to this one, or was that his minds way of satiating it's own longing for a lost treasure?
He unslung his pack and removed one of his last bottles of water, and his towel. He soaked the bear, rubbing its fur against itself in hopes of removing the bulk of the matted mud from the fur. He shook off the excess water, then rolled the bear in the towel. Savoring the last bit of water in the bottle, he put all the items back in his bag, slung it once again over his shoulders, and scanned the path in front of him. He didn't see any more discarded trinkets. Just the footprints of all the ones who'd came before him. He could feel the heat from the flames on the back of his ears now, and took one more breath of the reminiscent smoke into his nostrils, exhaling triumphantly before starting his walk again.
"Alrighty then, Fao," he said. "Let's see where the path leads us."
Somewhere, a dog barked, but only once.