The trail along this, the Western side of the hill, is a series of switchbacks cutting back and forth-a twisting serpent crawling toward the sunlight leaking over the trees at the summit. This morning, the man hadn’t summited. He had taken what he called his “vertical constitutional” and turned back about two thirds to the top. He didn’t have time to go all the way up today, nor the energy.
About halfway down he noticed the two kids heading up. Relative term; to him kids could be anyone under 30 but he judged these, from two switches away, to be a boy and a girl. Two more turns and he was able to correct himself “Hello boys”, he greeted as he stepped aside and uphill on the slender trail so they could pass.
“Morning”, said the slighter of the two who was in the lead. “Hey”, nodded the second, the taller and burlier. They were head down-seemingly determined to reach the top-and not interested in talking. “It’s all yours up there boys”, he called over his shoulder. There’s nobody up there but squirrels..”
“What did he mean by that?” Frank whispered back to Bob.
“Relax. Just a duffer talking. Just saying there is nobody up there.”
Relax…sure, thought Frank. Easy for him to say. He sipped nervously at the water bottle he carried but he wasn’t really thirsty-or rather it wasn’t the climb that was drying his mouth. It was what was going to happen at the top of the hill that had the butterflies rising in his chest.
The boys had spent as much time trying to make their spanking game appear-or feel, if only to themselves-spontaneous. Unplanned for sure. Something that happened organically. Just horseplay talking a turn. There were a couple more forced wrestling matches that ended the same way the first one had-with Frank on the bottom getting his ass slapped. Then they moved into card games, which Frank always managed to lose. The penalty-the lost bet-always played out in some variation of the same theme: smacks on the butt, swats with a wooden spoon with Frank leaning against the wall in the kitchen or a yardstick that stung like hell through nylon sweat pants as Frank lay over the back of the couch.
Then, just last week, he came back to the apartment to find Bob leafing through “Appalachian Folklore” book he had used for the paper. “So”, Bob asked, “What do you think about that witch’s caning?”
The fact is Frank had not been able to get the idea of the witch’s caning out of his mind since he had read it. He studiously avoided including anything of it in the paper he had turned in-and got a B on-but the idea of a caning in the raw openness of a clearing in the woods excited him. Of course all he had to do was mention it to Bob once and the plans were made.
As promised, at the top of the hill was a ruined stone wall-a remnant of a garden wall from a hundred years before. Whatever else was here had been retaken by the thick woods around them.
Frankie’s fingers shook slightly as he cut what he thought were acceptable switches. Bob was on the other side of the clearing cutting others-they would choose the best ones. Even though they had reasonably decided that thorned branches might be appropriate for a witch’s bare bottom they might be a little much for his-these were going to hurt. At least sting…He was counting on Bob not to hurt him. Well, at least too much.
They met at the wall. “Are you ready to do this?”
In answer Frankie turned his back to face the low rock wall. He took a few steps closer to it so he could bend right over-hands on its’ top. Bob, the thickening in his crotch expanding into a full shaft erection moving down his leg (How quickly that happened!) stepped to his left and measured his swing. Frank, about to free his own stiffening hard-on to the morning air took a deep breath to settle his fluttering heart while he unfastened his belt and unsnapped his jeans. He was standing thusly, unzipped and ready to lower, when in a rush of crackling leaves and snapping twigs, a large dog burst through the brambles to their right.
It was an Irish Setter-a big puppy actually-loping and jumping around the clearing happily ignoring them sniffing and pawing at everything striking his fancy. The boys were frozen in place watching him as a tall blonde woman in followed the dog out of the brambles. “Dammit, Chloe”, she said with a laugh, “Would you slow down a little bit…” She froze when she saw the boys not three paces away. “Oh-good morning,” she said. “Sorry about Chloe-I thought we were alone up here.”
Frank froze. If he removed his hands from his pants, the belt would pull them straight to the ground leaving him standing there in his underwear. If he zipped up and snapped himself closed…the implications would be obvious. Bob, for his part, let his arm fall to his side and opened his hand so the switch could fall unobtrusively, he thought, to the ground. “No…” he stammered moving away. “No problem…Chloe, you say? Nice puppy.” The dog, no longer on-site, was happily bounding through the brush on the other side of the clearing.
Two long strides put Liz in the middle of the tableau. She registered the smaller guy, back turned, pants coming up or going down. Whether he had moved off or not, she saw where the other guy had been standing when she got there. And there was a pile of sticks and switches on the ground which she regarded carefully, stroking her chin theatrically. She felt as if she had walked onto the stage in the middle of a play she had written.
“He must have been very bad”, she said looking up from the ground breaking the nervous silence.
Frank shifted nervously and opted to button his jeans so he wouldn’t have to hold them. Bob who was looking hopefully away for the distraction of the puppy half turned back to face the woman. Neither boy seemed to remember how to talk. “Well?” Liz asked. “Very bad?”
Frank had zipped his jeans and was now turned looking at her. She was taller than he was-about as tall as Bob-wearing snug jeans, hiking boots, fancy $120 wicking shirt turned up and buttoned at the forearms topped by a nylon ballcap out of which her blonde ponytail hung in the back. He recovered his voice first.
“Somewhat bad”, he almost whispered.
“Somewhat? A switching is pretty severe for ‘somewhat bad’, don’t you think?” There was a hint of a smile on her lips and Frankie saw a glint in her eyes that he recognized as a reflection of his own feelings. “Not my rules”, he said.
“So”, she addressed Bob. “This is your doing…”
“Not entirely”, he said fumbling-as if he really owed anyone an explanation.
“Have you ever used a switch before? Either of you?”
“No”, Bob answered.
“I can tell by the pile of twigs you’ve put together here.” She bent to pick through them and Frank could positively not stop himself from stealing a look at her bottom. Seemingly obliviously, she shifted her backside slightly toward him while picking a few good switches from the pile.
“These ones are fine”, she said testing them through the air once after the other. “Some are passable. You there, big guy, what’s your name?”
“Bob”, he said. “Bob Wil…..” and bit his tongue before giving his last name.
“That’s OK”, she said. “I don’t need your last name or your social security number…You”, she tapped Frank on the bottom with the switch she was holding. “Who are you?”
“Hmmm…OK. Here’s what I’m thinking. You guys-you in particular” pointing the branch at Bob “don’t know much about the how’s of switching, right?”
“Never done it”, said Bob.
“Exactly”, she said. “I have. And I’m good at it…So what I’m thinking is that I should take over here. I’ll take the switches to Frankie here-as a kind of tutorial. You can see how it’s done so you’re not fumbling around in the woods with twigs that won’t do the job.”
Chloe bounded back into the clearing and over to Liz, panting, her red coat full of burs that Angie would have to spend the rest of the afternoon brushing out. “Good girl-good Chloe….Go lay down now…take a rest…let us know if anyone’s coming….” As if understanding the command, the dog moved to the edge of the clearing and crashed. “So”, she said turning back to Frankie.
“OK” said Frankie.
“OK then”, Liz said. “Turn around and take down your pants young man.”
To be continued….