Threading his way through the charred ruins, Zack stumbled over a body.
What the... ? I thought everyone was rescued...
He jumped back as the body sat up, sneezed and opened it's eyes. He found himself gazing into red and pink orbs that seemed to glow from within. The soot begrimed face was that of a woman, who grinned at him showing perfect white teeth.
"You sure know how to awaken someone," she purred in mock irritation, giving Zack an exaggerated wink. "Are you a man or a fish?"
Zack shut his gaping mouth.
"How did you ... uh ... ahh..." he sputtered as the woman stood up in one lithe movement, soot and ashes falling from her body. She appeared to be young with a shapely figure, hair a reddish-yellow waterfall over her shoulders and clad in a tunic the color of drifting smoke.
"Oh my, a conversationalist too," she quipped. He would have sworn her voice sounded like crackling flames. "I stopped by to take a nap. I didn't expect company. I'm sorry the place is such a mess."
"Who are you? How did you survive the fire? We couldn't get near enough to fight it effectively. The paint and solvents burned at over 800 degrees. The foam could barely..."
He stopped suddenly, realizing he was babbling while she looked at him; her head cocked to one side and an amused grin on her face.
"Would you like to see how it started?" she asked playfully.
"Uh ... yeah ... sure."
"Follow me. No, wait a moment..."
A smoldering roof truss groaned and came crashing down before them in a blizzard of sparks. Zack flipped his facemask down as cinders peppered him. The woman stood calmly in the swirling cloud, unscathed.
"Now, it's right over here," she continued, stepping easily over the debris. Zack glanced down. Her feet were bare! Yet she walked through the glowing embers as easily as a cool green lawn. He shook his head and followed her, boots crunching, feeling heat through the thick soles.
"Here we are," she said, stopping before a wall of electrical panels. With a screech of torn metal, she effortlessly lifted one and pointed to a small skeleton.
"It was a rat gathering wires to make a nest. Completed a circuit, shorted the panel out and the whole place went up. I felt it from where I was and decided it was time for a nap. I love sleeping in a roaring fire, don't you?"
Zack lifted his face mask, stared at the skeleton, then at the woman, then at the jagged panel.
She pulled that panel apart as if she was turning the page of a book. What is she anyway?
The woman smiled at him again.
"I like you. You're cute. You needn't be afraid of me," she glanced at his name stripe, "Zack Pearson."
He felt sweat rolling down his spine.
"Who are you? What are you? I never..."
"My name is Mandy. I'm a Fire Elemental."
"A fire what?"
"A Fire Elemental, remember the four elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water? I'm Fire, but I'm different from the other Elementals. I'm half human. My mother is a Sorceress, my father a Vulcanus ... they fell in love and here I am."
"I do not believe this," Zack muttered. "I must have hit my head or something. I'm dreaming."
Mandy reached out and pinched Zack's nose. He cried out in pain. The touch of her fingers was like burning coals.
She pinched him again, and the pain was gone. He gingerly touched his nose it was unharmed.
"Okay, you're an Elemental ... you play with ... I mean you're fire. What are you doing here, besides taking a nap?"
"I played one too many pranks on the Lava Imps. They hate water balloons. The Supreme One banished me to this plane of existence until I learn to behave myself. I get my sense of humor from my mother, she's always doing mischief. Father shrugs and tends to his volcanoes."
Zack sighed; this was too much to comprehend. She wasn't lying, that was certain.
"Now that you've done my job for me, I guess I'll be going. Can I drive you somewhere Miss ... um ... Mandy?"
"You're cute. I like you a lot. Can I go home with you?"
Zack hesitated, he spent little time in his apartment, usually taking his meals and sleeping at the firehouse. When his wife Sheila had left him five years ago to 'find herself', he continued the lease hoping she would return, but knowing deep down she would not.
In spite of his desire to be alone with his memories, there was something about this ... this elemental ... that intrigued him. She was happy and smiling, two things he seldom was or did. Why not, she's beautiful ... and she likes me.
"Sure. C'mon, I have to stop by the station for a minute then we'll go to my apartment."
She flashed him a dazzling smile and her eyes glowed.
"Oh goodie, do I get to ride in one of those automobile things?"
"Haven't you ever ridden in a car before?"
"No. The last time I was here, there were wagons and oxcarts."
"Huh? Just how old are you," he blurted, forgetting his manners.
"I'm not sure. Mother was a Grecian sorcerer when she conjured Father by mistake ... I was born not too long afterward ... I guess about a 1,000 human years or so. Time means nothing when you're in the Supreme One's Realm."
"A thousand years? That's impossible."
"Hee ... Hee ... you're doing that fish face again. Nothing is impossible in the Realm."
Zack sighed. This was all too much. A 1,000-year-old woman who could sleep in a roaring fire seemed impossible, but whatever she was, he couldn't just leave her here.
"Wait a minute while I take some photos, then we'll go."
While he was photographing where the fire started, Mandy amused herself by examining Zack's red sedan, the words 'Arson Investigation Division' emblazoned in gold leaf on the doors. She looked curiously at the vehicles hood, then shimmered and disappeared.
Zack came walking up to the car wondering where she had gone when she reappeared, wiping a smear of grease from her cheek.
"I was curious about what made this thing go. It's a series of rapid, constrained detonations. My father would be interested in this, being into explosions and all."
Zach shook his head. This is not happening.
"You went inside the motor?"
"I didn't touch anything, just looked around. Pretty dirty in there I'll have you know."
Zack pressed the lock fob and opened the door so Mandy could enter. She tripped delicately to the opening, peered inside and gracefully sat down. The hem of her tunic rode up revealing shapely thighs; Zack couldn't help but stare. She saw him and winked.
He hurriedly closed the door and walked back to the car's trunk, removing his helmet, fireproof suit and boots. His t-shirt and jeans were soaked with sweat, sticking to him like a second skin. Sliding behind the wheel, Zack started the engine and turned the air conditioning on full blast.
Mandy stared at the air conditioning vents, and then settled back in her seat, looking out the window. Putting the car in gear, Zack drove to Fire Station Number Seven where he parked, told Mandy he'd be a few minutes and left the car running.
When he returned, the car's interior smelled of scorched plastic. Mandy was sitting innocently in her seat. The acrid fumes made him cough.
"Mandy, what did you do?"
She lifted in her seat showing him the melted cushion, her tunic unmarked.
"I was cold, so I warmed up. I didn't mean to damage your car."
"I guess I had the air on too high, huh?"
"Well," she giggled, "Maybe just a little."
They drove to Zack's apartment complex with the windows open.
"What a nice home you have here," Mandy said as she walked about the living room.
Zack was still trying to figure how he was going to explain the ruined car seat to the maintenance crew at the city garage. He mumbled "thanks" as he locked the door. Shelia had decorated the apartment and it was as she left it; Zack hadn't changed a thing. One of the few women he'd dated had called it a 'shrine'.
Mandy was looking at the volumes in the bookcase when Zack said "If you'll excuse me for a few minutes, I need to shower."
"Sure, no problem," she replied and continued looking.
Throwing his sodden clothing into the wash hamper, he turned on the water and was soon luxuriating under the warm spray. The stall door opened abruptly and Mandy was standing there, her eyes softly glowing. She looked appraisingly at Zack's broad chest, narrow waist, muscular arms and legs.
"Want some company?"
Not waiting for an answer, she pulled the tunic over her head and joined him in the shower. Mandy had a classic figure, reproduced in thousands of sculptures throughout history. Her breasts were plump and rounded; her waist was thick; her hips ample, her legs long and shapely, buttocks round and firm, her skin like velvet and pleasantly warm.
Their lovemaking was rapid, intense and the love they felt for one another was immediate. Neither had spoken, no words were needed. They reached the peak of desire together.
They lay entangled for several minutes, staring groggily at each other, overwhelmed by the intensity of their lovemaking, water cascading over them.
"Water's getting cold."
"I'll fix it."
The showerhead glowed and the water ran hot once more. Zack grinned and Mandy winked at him.
"I guess we better dry off."
Zack shut off the water, opened the stall door and handed Mandy a towel. She shook her head, motioned for him to step out and became enveloped in a cloud of steam, and then said, "All dry" as she fluffed her long hair with her fingers.
.... There is more of this story ...