"I could call you an elemental," Bjorn offered. "I think."
"You could what me a who?" Jenny paused, lacing up her boots, and directed a puzzled look up at Bjorn.
"An elemental," Bjorn repeated, sitting down on the bench next to Jenny. "I'm a little rusty, but I used to be able to conjure fire elementals. I'd feel better knowing
you weren't going to freeze to death out there."
Jenny laughed. "Isn't that a little ironic, considering the way you showed up in my life? Unlike you, darling, I'm smart enough to wear the right clothing when I'm out
in the elements."
Bjorn gave a bark of laughter and protested, "I didn't have much choice in the matter. You try getting a snowsuit over a full coat of fur. Then try keeping a bear in
said snowsuit through a summer."
"Same sorry excuse as always," Jenny teased him. Bjorn's curse had become an inside joke, something the two of them spoke of easily, even in front of others, if in
code. It would become less humorous in the spring, as his transformation loomed closer in their lives. For now, though, it was months and months until the snow
melted, and they could laugh over the idea of him spending his summers as a bear.
Jenny finished lacing her heavy black bunny boots and stood up. "So tell me what an elemental is," she invited. "And why on earth I'd want one conjured."
Bjorn obliged, as Jenny pulled on a sweater over her snowpants, and tucked her turtle-neck collar down. "They are small, spunky little spirits with great senses of
humor. They are very, very literal, a bit selfish, and have a fair amount of power over their chosen element. Fire elementals can light anything on fire, given enough
oxygen and fuel."
"Like road flares, then," Jenny said. "Except with a sense of humor. Nope. I don't think so."
"I'd feel better," Bjorn cajoled. His protectiveness was endearing, but Jenny wasn't about to indulge it.
"I don't need an elemental," she insisted. "I'll only be gone for a few hours, and I know my way around. I've been doing this for years now."
"It's fifty below!" Bjorn protested.
"Exactly," Jenny agreed. "And this is the only kind of weather I can get the kind of pictures I want. February sunrise ice fog at 11:30 in the morning over the
"I'll come with you, then," Bjorn countered.
"No!" Jenny pulled on her coat, and zipped it to mid-chest before wrapping a scarf around her throat. The coat was zipped up over the lump of wool. "This is my
art time, and you can go stuff yourself. You'll only be in the way and distract me." She sighed. "We've been over this, sweetie. This is *my* time."
Bjorn apparently knew when he'd been outmaneuvered. He conceded the battle, handed Jenny her gloves and kissed her goodbye. "Happy picture taking," he
"Couldn't leave well enough alone, could he," Jenny muttered crossly into her scarf.
There was no doubt that the creature hovering in front of her was an elemental. It couldn't have been anything else. It was about as long as Jenny's forearm, and
appeared to be composed of a spongy material soaked in diesel and lit. It had a featureless cat-like face, and six or seven arms or legs, but they were moving so
restlessly that Jenny couldn't have sworn to any number.
" it hissed at her. "You are mine
"I'm nothing of the sort," Jenny told it with a puff of frozen air through her scarf. "In another month, unless I get a fat paycheck from Penguin, I will belong to the
IRS, but in the meantime, I'm not anybody's."
" it repeated. "Bound to you. Mine." It was advancing on her, floating about two feet above the surface of the snow, and to Jenny's horror, it snapped a
tail, or some kind of flexible limb, out at her. Her snowpants melted before the onslaught, not designed to take great heat.
"Woah, woah," she begged, back-peddling through the snow. She'd been walking on snow-machine tracks, unexpectedly broke through the crust of snow, and
was trapped, one leg caught in the crust.
"You're an element," Jenny said desperately, trying to remember what Bjorn had told her. Sense of humor
could start a fire with almost anything
" the elemental told her. "Element
It had been distracted, at least for that short time, so Jenny tried talking to it again. "You have a sense of humor, right?"
She searched her pockets, as she spoke, for something - anything - that could be a weapon or deterrent to the creature. Keys, a wad of receipts, some cat treats,
lip gloss, a few dried pens, and a bottle of lotion that hadn't been in her pocket long enough to have frozen solid.
." Jenny wondered if it was her imagination that made the hissing voice sound hopeful.
"Well," she said nervously. "Then this is worth a shot."
Bjorn must have been watching for her through the window, because the door leapt open as Jenny put her hand on the handle, and Bjorn ushered her in, worried as
a mother hen.
"I'm so sorry, Jenny-O," he told her, brushing at the burnt spots in her snowpants. "It wasn't supposed to be bound to you, just sort of follow you at a safe distance.
I must not have remembered the spell correctly. How on earth did you get free?"
Jenny laughed, and pulled off her fur hat and mittens. "No problem," she said cheerfully. "I put on lotion."
"Lotion?" Bjorn asked in astonishment while Jenny tugged at her ice-encrusted bootlaces. "I've never heard of lotion stopping elementals."
"I wasn't sure it would work," Jenny answered. "But you said they were very literal, and that they had a sense of humor." She pulled the bottle out of her coat
pocket and showed it to Bjorn with a crooked smile. Near the bottom of the label was a row of little white lettering that read "Protect yourself from the elements."