Although night was less than an hour away, the heat was still unbearable. It clung to me like some incredible and monstrous beast: the weight of it smothering me, pressing my body into the rocking chair and crushing the air from my lungs. I leaned back, put my feet up on the porch rail, and my eyes closed gratefully.
With my eyes shut against the glare, the heat seemed somewhat lessened. Groping, I found my glass and drained the last dregs of warm lemonade. Swallowing painfully, I listened to the faint squeaks coming from my wife's rocker and tried to think of cool things: a mountain stream splashing over rocks under a canopy of trees; pale green and white icebergs the size of apartment buildings floating in a dark blue sea; huge moss-covered trunks towering around me like great emerald pillars in a dim forest temple. But the images did not help and I could feel the sweat trickling down my legs.
I heard a distant noise and opened my eyes. The air instantly sucked them dry and I blinked to try to relieve the scratchiness. And then I had it: it was a fuelcell tricycle whining and buzzing in the near distance. I closed my eyes again and listened to the cellcycle approach.
The cycle wheels crackled on the gravel drive and then spun to a spattering stop. The engine gave off high-pitched whining noises as it idled, sounding unpleasantly like a gigantic mosquito had just landed in my yard.
A horn warbled softly and musically, and a nanosecond later the screen door crashed open! The footsteps of my fifteen-year-old daughter stomped across the porch and thundered down the stairs. The gravel crunched and sprayed as she ran across the drive to meet her boyfriend. How anyone so petite could create such a turmoil would ever be a mystery to me.
"Bye Daddy, Bye Mom!"
Maw's rocker creaked, and I knew she was waving goodbye to our perpetual-motion daughter. I waved vaguely in the general direction of the noises and added my own goodbye.
"STEFFY! Did you finish your chores?"
"Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.... Daddy! Of COURSE!"
"O.K. sweetie. Have fun and be sure and be home by eleven."
The gravel crunched again: "Daaadddddy! That doesn't give us ANY time at allllll! Can't we stay out until midnight?"
"Mmmmm.... well, O.K. But you better not be late! Do you hear?"
Then I added a stronger reinforcement: "Freddy, you're the driver, and you are seventeen. I expect you to be responsible about getting my daughter home by midnight: especially if you want to keep living! Do we have an understanding?"
"Yes SIR! I promise to take reeeaaaal good care of Stephanie!"
His voice wavered between a braying tenor and the deep bass it would someday become: if he lived that long! Like most fathers, I loved to put the fear of God into any young man with the gall and unmitigated audacity to even think of dating my darling daughter. Even a rich kid like Freddy wasn't good enough for my lovely Stephanie.
Not that I sometimes wouldn't mind seeing the last of her. On many days I prayed for some reasonably nice creature to come and carry her off to never-never land where she could live happily ever after--- just not under my roof! It never ceased to amaze me, how a sweet six-year- old could morph, in reverse butterfly fashion, into a rude, loud, argumentative, angry, disobedient, money-wasting, schizophrenic, nincompoop, near-woman!
I opened my eyes just in time to see Stephanie wave blithely from inside the clear plastic bubble of the cycle: she was already hanging all over dear Freddy, with a huge grin smeared across her shining face.
I didn't want to think about what Freddy and my sometimes-darling, more than likely would be doing, as soon as they found the requisite privacy. Unfortunately, I remembered all too clearly my own highly agitated hormonal urgency at Freddy's age. I knew that short of a jail cell and/or a steel chastity belt, there wasn't much that I could do to prevent the ineffable from becoming inevitable and the irresistible force from meeting the all-too-movable object!
The cellcycle horn warbled again and the giant mosquito whined with a satisfied I-just-sucked-your-blood tone. The gravel churned and spattered and the angry pulsing thump and rattle of what my daughter's generation calls music suddenly blared. The beat and the motor whine got louder and then faded as the vehicle receded. In another minute or so the noise was gone and in the silence the heat seemed more oppressive than before.
"Son of a bitch! I'm just about to melt into a puddle. Maw, sweetie, would you pleeease get me another glass of your exceptional delicious lemonade?"
"Alrighty, Daddy, I believe I'll have a second glass for myself. I declare, I'm so parched my mouth feels like the inside of King Tut's Tomb!"
My eyes were still closed, but I could follow Maw's every move with my ears. Her rocker squeaked just a bit louder as she rose, and her hearty and comforting cackle was a musical accompaniment to her footsteps and the creaking of the old wood porch.
The screen door twanged and slammed, and her footfalls faded. A moment later I heard the unmistakable double click of the refrigerator door, followed immediately by Maw's strongest curse: "Oh My! Mercy, mercy, mercy!"
Her steps got louder, and the screen door twanged but did not slam.
"Daddy, would you believe? The power is OFF again! That must be the third time today. Well, there still isn't any ice; do you mind? The lemon drink is pretty near cold."
Ice had become a luxury again, and we made and used it sparingly.
"Dammit! OK, Honey, pretty cold lemonade is better than warm lemonade. You better check the auxiliary power. It should have switched in automatically! We better get it back on, before the frozens start to defrost!"
The door twanged; her steps receded, and I sat there in my sweat-soaked undershirt with my butt sticking to the chair. Once again, I wished we could afford to turn on the air conditioner: when and if the electric came back on. If wishes were fishes, I'd have the world's biggest aquarium; and I didn't. At almost two dollars a kilowatt hour, we did not use the air conditioning anymore: only the rich could afford to be cool.
On the other hand, city folks had it much worse than we did. The heat in those concrete canyons was appalling. There was no shade except in the enclaves of the wealthy: any tree unguarded had long since been cut for winter firewood. What with the riots, the fires and the food shortages, I was very glad to be living ninety country miles from the nearest metropolis.
"George, I think you better come look at this."
Maw's use of my given name was an immediate alarm that catapulted me out of my chair and slam bang into the house. Inside was dim, oven hot, and it was hard to breathe. I followed Maw down the hall and out to the back porch where we had our electric generation system. A red light blinked like a big angry firefly, and I knew we were in trouble!
The indicator meant that we had no reserve power and the batteries were almost drained. Our solar panels were only big enough to provide hot water, lighting and minimal reserve. We used human muscle to power us through the brown and black outs. If we had the money, we could have a solar roof: real high efficiency panels that would make electricity to spare and to store. But we didn't have any money to speak of; just enough to scrape by and not much more.
I strode over to the powerbike, took one look at the gauges and knew instantly the cause of our electric shortage. Sweet little Steffy had been skipping her power chores. We all took turns pedalling several hours of every day to charge the batteries and build up our reserve. It was her week to pump power, and the meter clearly showed that she hadn't! She could watch TV and listen to the latest tunes on her 3D-V headband while she pedaled, so although it was a hot and sweaty two or three hours each day, it wasn't exactly slave labor.
I mounted the bike and began to pedal furiously. Little Miss I'm-Too- Pretty-To-Pump-Power was in very deep manure and I was all too ready to push her under! The harder I pumped the angrier I got: soon steam would be coming out of my ears. Somebody was going to be in for a very rough time when she got home from her date!
As I pumped, the sweat spattered in all directions. The harder I pedaled, the hotter I got: both physically and under the collar I wasn't wearing. Gritting my teeth, I grimly resolved that this time my darling daughter was going to be taught a lesson she would never forget! My chest was tight with outrage and I suddenly realized that I was holding my breath and clutching the handlebars in a death grip. I gasped, sucked in air, tore off my sodden undershirt, splatted it against the nearest wall and tried to calm down. It was a good thing Steffy wasn't within reach: perhaps I would be calm enough not to commit murder by the time she returned.
Night had cooled the air a bit, and my anger had also cooled: I was now only simmering. Maw and I sat on the porch in the darkness, quietly rocking and waiting for our errant female child to return. We hadn't turned on any lights, preferring the night and saving power. The Milky Way was stupendous on these late November evenings; the clear sky of our drought-plagued countryside perfect for star gazing. I took out my pocket comp, curious about the time. I never wore a wrist comp any more, as the rash could be nasty.
"Rumpelstiltskin, Time and temperature."
The comp answered immediately: "Twelve-forty-three aye-em, eighty-seven degrees, your Majesty."
My pot of anger immediately boiled over. When Steffy got home there was going to be hell to pay, and she was going to be making all the payments! Maw's rocker squeaked and creaked and her voice, sounding both melancholy and indignant, came out of the darkness.
"She's late, Daddy. Are you really going to spank her?"
"I'm going to paddle her petunias until she can't sit, that's what I'm going to do! When I get through with that girl, you'll be able to use her behind for a lantern, cause it'll be glowing, but good!"
I reached down next to my rocker, and touched the paddle. It was hard and ready for action. I closed my eyes and waited.
"And I'm not just going to spank her tonight! When she finally gets home, Miss Stephanie is going to get her little bottom blistered for skipping her power chores. And tomorrow morning, she is due for another dose of the paddle for lying about it!"
A few minutes passed and I wasn't any cooler or calmer. A mosquito was whining nearby and I was ready to swat--- when I realized that it was a cellcycle somewhere in the distance. I sat up and opened my eyes, expecting to see lights approaching. The night and the stars were unchanged, but the whining had stopped. I peered into the darkness, straining to see something, anything. There wasn't anything to see, but I could hear something, and it was coming closer.
I took out my pocket comp again, held it to my mouth and whispered:
"Rumpel, yard lights ON!"
Mouth agape, eyes wide in the sudden glare, Steffy stared back at us with an animal-in-the-headlights shock. So help me, she still had one bare foot tiptoe-in-the-air, and a shoe in each hand. The term guilty expression' was surely coined for this naughty little Miss!
She wore a flowery spaghetti-strapped sundress, too short by half a leg, but just perfect for what I had in mind. Those bare shoulders were going to be draped with that excuse for a dress; and whatever wispy bit of nylon that was underneath, was coming right down to her knees. I wanted two clear and unimpeded targets for my paddle practice this morning.
Steffy lowered her raised foot, and carefully skirting the gravel drive, walked the 'last mile' to the base of the porch steps. She tried to wipe the guilt from her face, putting on her best angelic expression, but her eyes betrayed her fear. She attempted a smile, but her mouth wanted to pout, and the grimace that resulted just looked worried and afraid. The face I saw staring up at Maw and me had suddenly lost all its grown-up veneer: it was the same fearful countenance Steffy had worn as a naughty seven-year-old about to be spanked.
I got right to the point: "Do you know what time it is, young lady?"
There was no reply, so I carried the conversational ball all by myself.
"It is ten minutes to one, Missy, and you are way over your curfew time! What do you have to say for yourself? And by the way, where is Freddy? Is he such a gutless wonder that he's too chicken to bring you to your door and face the music? Can you give me one good reason for being nearly an hour late?"
Still no answer. My catalog of questions wasn't getting me anywhere. It was time for action.
"Get your behind up on this porch! RIGHT NOW!"
I have never liked to holler at Steffy, even when provoked. The longer I waited, the angrier I would get: and more likely to blow my top! I wanted to punish her while still cooly determined and furiously motivated. The sooner I had her over my knees the better!
Steffy mounted the four steps with the slow reluctance of a prisoner on her way to meet the noose. I was up off the rocker, paddle in hand as soon as she reached the top. Grabbing her arm, I dragged her over to the porch bench, sat and pulled her down over my lap. Now she was ready to talk.
Pleeeeease, Daddy! I'm sorry I was late! We meant to be home on time, but we kind of got involved......"
She trailed off, realizing what she had just implied. She turned, looking back over her shoulder, her eyes already teary. I ignored her discomfort, lifted her dress, and draped it over her shoulders. Her panties were a surprise: full cut, yellow cotton, decorated with tiny lavender flowers. They came down. Her bottom was shining with sweat: quite understandable considering the temperature and her current situation.
I switched the paddle to my right hand, and placed it firmly on her trembling cheeks. I rubbed the blade across the cleft of her beautiful buttocks, watching her flinch and clench. A twinge of sympathy tugged at my heart, and a small lump formed in my throat as I glanced at Steffy's face. She was terrified, and with good reason. She had been in this position before, and her memories were not pleasant. But my compassion was brief, and didn't alter my righteous determination to teach my daughter a very painful lesson!
My sermon was next, and I swallowed the lump and began.
"Stephanie, you have really disappointed your mother and me! You are old enough now, that we should be able to count on you to do your share of the work that keeps this family going!"
"I know, Daddy.... and I'm so sorry!"
"You KNOW? .......you're SORRY?"
Her response really put me over the top! I was in high dudgeon now, and it was all I could do to keep my anger under control.
"Don't be ridiculous, girl! If you know how much we depend on you, why do you act like a five-year-old? Skipping your chores, lying to us; that's the kind of behavior we'd expect from a small child. When are you going to grow up and become responsible? Don't you realize how bad things are, right now, all over the world?"
"I'm sorry, Daddy. I really mean it!"
"Of course you're sorry, Steffy! You've been caught, and your irresponsibility has gotten you turned over my knee. Sorry! Anyone would be sorry who was face down, with her dress pulled up and her panties stretched between her knees, waiting to be spanked! But you're not as sorry as you're gonna be when I get through with your behind!"
Then I dropped the bombshell.
"In the morning, before breakfast, you and I are going to have a second spanking session: to deal with the lie you told us, about doing your power chores. And... tomorrow night, at bedtime, you have another appointment with the paddle, to handle your being fifty minutes late coming home!"
Steffy burst into wracking sobs; wriggling and bucking over my knees.
"Save some of those tears, girl. You're going to need them!"
Reaching across her back, I grabbed her right wrist and pinned it against her side. Lowering my left knee slightly, and elevating my right one, put her plush bottom into perfect punishment position. I pulled her torso firmly against my belly: lifted the paddle; gently patted her behind three times; raised my arm high above my head; took careful aim and slammed the hard wood against her buttocks!
The paddle made a very loud and highly satisfying SPLAT! Steffy yelped and the sheen of sweat on her bottom showered me as I struck again, slamming the hard blade down with more force than I had used for the first spank. She continued to yelp as I walloped her tender behind fast and furiously. Steffy's legs were kicking spasmodically with each resounding smack of the paddle, and her yelps changed into howls, punctuated by gasps as she sucked in air. Her bottom cheeks went from pink to red very quickly, and I was just getting into the rhythm. The awful cracks and thwacks were very loud in the hush of the early hour, and the stars glittered in the ebony sky.
I closed my eyes again: now that I had the range, I didn't need to see Steffy's bottom to find the target. The night air was still unbearable, but little Steffy was going to be a lot hotter before I was through. We were going to have a major temperature increase in a very specific local area. Global warming can be a very unpleasant consequence of human carelessness.
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