They had passed the last town more than an hour ago. Elizabeth May glanced out the window once more, forehead creased with the worry that she had missed her stop. It was hardly possible; she’d watched the scenery so intently in the two hours since the train had left the city. The dark concrete of the urban core had given way to the whitewashed fences of the suburbs, which in turn had given way to the incandescent countryside, all green meadows and golden light in the late afternoon, which Elizabeth took in with a wide-eyed bewilderment that betrayed her own policy of nonchalance.
For the billionth time today, she unfolded the letter from Mr. Clayton. The instructions were clear. She would get off at Steepfield, half an hour past Oakbend, which was where he would come and collect her from the train station and take her to the farm. Per his written directions, she had locked her cell phone in a small safe in her luggage. She was wearing jeans but had in her suitcase a knee-length dress that she would change into before the train arrived in Steepfield. No makeup. Hair in a single braid down her back. Failure to follow directions would result in a consequence.
Relief smoothed her brow when the conductor finally announced Oakbend, and in a matter of minutes, they had pulled up to the station, where every single one of the passengers around her gathered their belongings and disembarked the train. Alone now, Elizabeth May took her dress to the bathroom and changed. Afterwards, she stood in front of the mirror and deftly swept her hair off her shoulders, plaiting it into a neat braid. She regarded her reflection. Her friends in the city might not even recognize her. She brushed her fingertips over her face, all her freckles on display with no foundation to smooth them out. It’s only a week, she reminded herself. If she couldn’t stand this, she’d be right back on this train in a week.
The train station in Steepfield was little more than a platform with a kiosk for tickets, right on the dwindling end of Main Street. She could see some of the town itself from the platform. It looked clean but antiquated, as if it hadn’t seen an update in at least fifty years. She doubted very much that there was WiFi in a single building, let alone a data network. Besides, her phone was already locked away, and the rules had been clear: Mr. Clayton would not permit the use of electronics at any time during the week. She’d just have to get used to being in her own head.
It wasn’t long before an old truck rumbled into the lot. The girl watched as it rolled to a stop and Mr. Clayton got out. He was a jolting sight for a man his age: tall, with deep-set eyes and a startlingly stern face. He caught her looking and raised his hand in greeting as he opened the passenger door. A woman emerged from the truck—his wife, Elizabeth May assumed. She hadn’t anticipated meeting her yet. She was almost as tall as Mr. Clayton himself, and although her hair was greyer, her face was youthful and kind. It was hard to picture her as the strict disciplinarian that Mr. Clayton had described at their meeting.
“Elizabeth May!” the woman called as they approached. “Oh, don’t you look darling!” She swept her eyes over the younger woman. Elizabeth May’s hand went involuntarily to her face again, grazing her naked skin.
Without warning, the farmer grasped her firmly by the arm and she felt two sharp spanks land on her bottom. “Around here, polite little girls say ‘thank you’ to compliments.”
Her mouth opened with shock, but nothing came out. Wasn’t this what she had spent hours contemplating on the train? And yet, here it was, not more than a minute since meeting the Claytons, and her face was already burning with embarrassment from a spanking.
“I don’t mind correcting your manners over my knee right here and now if I need to. Go on and say, ‘Thank you, Miss Anne.’”
“Thank you, Miss Anne!” Elizbeth May blurted quickly, making only very brief eye contact with the woman.
It seemed to satisfy Mr. Clayton. He picked up Elizabeth May’s suitcase and gestured her towards the car. She climbed somewhat ungracefully into the back seat of the cab, still feeling small.
It didn’t take long for the neat rows of houses to give way to more sprawling properties, with large yards and chicken coops, and from there to a wilder landscape. They drove for half an hour without seeing a single building before Mr. Clayton turned down a dirt road and the truck bounced and bumped its way underneath a sign that read “Skinnycreek Farm”.
The house was farther yet, and when they arrived in the driveway, Elizabeth May couldn’t see any sign of civilization, no matter which way she craned her head.
“Looking for something?” Miss Anne asked, with a hint of a smile in her eyes.
“It’s just—this is really out in the middle of nowhere,” Elizabeth May said.
“We were fortunate, weren’t we? Inheriting the farm was a stroke of luck for people with interests like ours. Look—you can see the outbuildings that way. There’s the barn and the workshop, and over there is the woodshed. I’m sure you’ll get to see the inside soon.” She said it so casually, but the younger girl’s stomach clenched.
The house itself was bigger than she had expected. It looked like it must have at least three floors, and wings extended from either side, probably additions to the original farmhouse, she guessed. Mr. Clayton, carrying her suitcase again, paused at the front door and gestured for Elizabeth May and Miss Anne to follow. “Anne,” he said. “Show Elizabeth May to her room, and then bring her to the study for a chat.” He handed the suitcase off to Anne, who took it easily.
“This way, all right,” Anne said, hoisting the suitcase up the stairs. The room was on the top floor, in an attic that had been transformed into an expansive but somehow cozy compartment. The quilt on the bed looked handmade, and just worn enough that perhaps it had been sewn a generation or two ago. Elizabeth May’s own childhood bedspread had come from Target.
“Thank you,” she said, when Miss Anne placed her suitcase on the floor next to the bed.
“Anything for you, darling,” Anne said. She dropped onto the bed and patted the quilt beside her. When she perched next her, she wrapped her arm around the girl’s shoulder. “We’re so happy to have you, really,” she said. “You can’t imagine how Mr. Clayton beamed when he came home from meeting you in the city, although he’ll never show it to you quite that way. I hope you’ll be happy here. It will be different, though. I imagine you know that, hmm?”
“I think—it’s exactly what I’ve always wanted. I’m pretty sure,” Elizabeth May said.
“If I know anything about the way you are, I think you’ll be as content here as we are. But let’s get you down to Mr. Clayton. Here, straighten out your dress a little. There. Aren’t you just dear?” Anne handled Elizabeth May as if she’d always known her. It wasn’t, Elizabeth May mused, as disconcerting as it ought to have been. “Oh, and don’t forget your safe, sweetheart,” Anne added. Elizabeth May looked to her suitcase, and in no time, Anne had swept it onto the bed and opened it to find the small safe. Well, Mr. Clayton had warned her about privacy, hadn’t he?
Holding the box to her chest, Elizabeth May set off to Mr. Clayton’s study according to Miss Anne’s directions. Something fluttered deep in her belly as she raised her hand to knock on the door.
It was clear, as Anne turned the knob and stepped in, that the plain wooden door hid a sumptuous room that felt out of place with the quaint, sunny house. Mr. Clayton was sitting behind a desk; he looked up from his papers when she entered. She approached, and he held his hand out expectantly for her safe. He said a rather gruff, “Good girl,” as she gave it to him. He pulled out one of the desk drawers, placed the safe in, and locked it with a little key that went directly into his pocket.
“Now,” he said, “Elizabeth May. You’re here because you want firm, consistent family discipline.”
He waited, as if it were her turn to say something. “Um,” she said. “Yes, Mr. Clayton. That’s why I came.”
“Around here, we have certain expectations for girls like you. We won’t be having any of your city girl attitude, is that clear?” His face was stern; she gulped and nodded.
“When I ask a question, I expect an answer.” he said. “Am I clear?”
“Yes,” was her reply, only a little wavering.
“Yes, sir. It looks like we’ll start correcting those city airs right now. You’ll learn some country manners by the end of the week, little lady. Come put your naughty bottom over my knee. I’ll teach it a lesson.”
She didn’t know why she was shocked; this was why she was here, after all. But then, she hadn’t expected to end up over his lap quite so soon. She was startled into action when he barked, “Now!” As he very deliberately positioned his chair away from the desk, she walked around and placed herself by his side where he gestured. “There,” he said. “Bend over my knee. Let’s get that bottom nice and high where I can spank it.”
How embarrassing to have to bend herself over his thighs, hardened from years of manual work, and to feel his strong hand patting her bottom through the light fabric of her dress. “We address our elders with respect in this house, young lady. Maybe in the city, age doesn’t earn you a whit of deference, but we do things differently here. And I intend that you’ll remember that.” With that, he lifted his broad hand and began to spank Elizabeth May’s bottom firmly. When she gasped and wriggled, his other hand only tightened on her waist, pressing her down into his lap. “Oh, you’re not going anywhere until you’ve got a rosy little bottom to remind you of your manners. In fact,” he paused to take hold of her hem and flip it above her already-pink cheeks, “I think you need the shock of good old-fashioned bare bottomed spanking. That’s how we teach lessons out here.”
“Oh!” she cried out in surprise. “Please!” She tried to reach her hand behind her to cover up her now almost-nude buttocks, but he was prepared for that. He took her wrist in one hand and used the other to sweep her panties down to her thighs.
The spanking sounded crisper and louder now that it was bare hand on bare bottom. The burn was even fiercer as Mr. Clayton spanked up and down the girl’s bottom, from the very roundest part to the tops of her thighs, alternating cheeks all the way.
Elizabeth May screwed up her eyes but didn’t cry, although her face was just about as red as her bottom. She didn’t even beg for him to stop, although she might have if he had continued longer.
With four mighty swats, Mr. Clayton finished spanking her poor bottom, now a deep pink, and continued his lecture. “In this household, young lady, you’ll call me sir or Mr. Clayton. My wife is ma’am or Miss Anne to you. You may not be used to respecting others in the city, but you’ll be respectful here, always, or you’ll end up with a red, spanked behind just like this. Do I make myself understood?”
This time she didn’t hesitate to get out the words, “Yes, sir!” she said.
Mr. Clayton walloped the very tops of her thighs twice. “You remember that, Elizabeth May,” he said. “Or you’ll end up right back here over my knee every time.” He stood her up and started for the door while she rushed to pull her panties back up over her sore bottom. “Let’s go see Miss Anne in the kitchen. She’ll have some work for you to do preparing dinner.”
Miss Anne was chopping vegetables next to a giant pot of something bubbling away. “And what have we here?” she said, putting down her knife and wiping her hands on a towel as Mr. Clayton entered with Elizabeth May trailing behind. Anne understood what had happened with only a glance at the girl’s face. “Did we get in trouble with Mr. Clayton on our very first afternoon?” she asked knowingly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Elizabeth May mumbled, with no small degree of embarrassment. She flicked her eyes towards Mr. Clayton, who nodded with approval.
“Oh, go on, let’s see your pretty pink bottom, then!” Anne said.
“Go ahead,” said Mr. Clayton. “Lift up your skirt and show Miss Anne your bottom. You know there’s exactly as much privacy here as we allow, and no more.”
Elizabeth May wanted to argue, but she knew full well that Mr. Clayton had warned her in advance about privacy in his home, as well as what would happen should she refuse. She tugged up her dress and turned to show Miss Anne what Mr. Clayton had done to her bottom.
“Oh, you poor dear. Mr. Clayton really taught you a lesson, didn’t he? What a rosy little bottom!” Miss Anne exclaimed, reaching her hand out to squeeze Elizabeth May’s cheeks.
Casually, as if Elizabeth May weren’t standing there with her panty-covered bottom on display, Mr. Clayton asked, “We thought Elizabeth May could help you with dinner. Do you have something she can do?”
Anne grinned in delight. “There are plenty of vegetables to be chopped, if she can handle a knife. But—,“ here she paused and went to one of the kitchen drawers. She retrieved something small in her hand and carried it back to them. “If she’s going to be helping me, I want to see that darling pink bottom on display!” She was holding a safety pin, Elizabeth May saw over her shoulder, and Anne wasted no time pinning the hem of Elizabeth May’s dress up to the waist so her bottom would show even when her hands were busy. Elizabeth May groaned aloud, which only earned her a light smack from Anne. “No complaining, now,” Anne said. “You look adorable.”
And here Elizabeth May had begun to count Miss Anne as an ally against the stern Mr. Clayton.
“Let’s get you set up,” Anne said, leading Elizabeth May to the cutting board at which she had been working. As Elizabeth May chopped vegetables, she was acutely aware of Miss Anne next to her and Mr. Clayton behind her, and most of all, she was aware of her glowing pink bottom peeking out around her panties, on display for anyone who walked past.
Elizabeth May cursed silently to herself as she tried to cut the carrots and potatoes evenly, but she so rarely cooked for herself at home that she had no real handle on working with a knife. She worked slowly and primly, shaving each piece down to the size of the others. That’s what the chefs at the restaurants where she ate did with their impeccably plated meals. It wasn’t long before she noticed that Miss Anne had stopped her own tasks to watch her.
“Here, honey,” she said, when she noticed Elizabeth May looking at her. “Let me show you how to do it faster.” And she took the knife and demonstrated chopping in a less precise way. “We call it rustic around here,” she said cheerfully and handed the knife back so Elizabeth May could try it.
It wasn’t too long before two farm hands came in from working outdoors, and Anne, after shooing them off to clean up, explained that they had been at Skinnycreek Farm for years and were considered a part of the family. They wouldn’t be surprised to see a girl with a red behind on display, but Miss Anne unpinned Elizabeth May’s skirt all the same, to save her some embarrassment on her introductory night at the farm.
The tall, sandy-haired Elijah returned first and introduced himself. “It’s nice to meet you,” he said, shaking Elizabeth May’s hand. “I’m glad you’re here—you can do some of my chores!” He winked at her and went into the dining room for dinner. Sam was shorter and a little more burly. He shook Elizabeth May’s hand, too, but he wasn’t nearly as charming as Elijah, nor as handsome.
Elizabeth May helped Anne carry dishes of cornbread and salad into the farmhouse’s large dining room, and they sat down to a home-cooked dinner. They served family-style, with Mr. Clayton serving himself first and passing each dish to his right. Elizabeth May watched them scoop chili into their bowls. Her family had never eaten this way: she’d grown up on takeout and microwave dinners in front of the tv. When it was her turn, she carefully spooned a dollop into her bowl and passed the chili to Elijah. He looked doubtfully at her, and then ladled more into her bowl. “Eat up, Lizzie,” he said. “Farming’s hard work, and you don’t look like you could lift a chicken egg,” He was teasing her, she realized. She smiled at him before he turned away. No one had ever called her Lizzie before, and she thought she might like it if he did it again.
Across the table, Sam watched with a peculiar look.