Spring was becoming summer in such a way that it was difficult to tell which was in charge. Every other day, dark clouds rolled over the skies of our ranch bringing with them the storms that I so dearly loved. I was twenty years old at the time, living with my mother on the land my father had used to provide us with a living. The beef market had been good to us, and though my father had died two years previous, my mother and I were comfortable. We still had several horses which we bread and sold, but it was comparitivly small business.
My mother was a dear woman in her mid fifties, her hair going from red to white and her skin showing the signs of hard work and age. Her blue eyes were fading as well, making it difficult for her to read her favorite books, and so I would read them to her. She had attended a university in the east, my mother, and it was her wish that I do the same and so I had for four years, finishing at the age of nineteen, having studied philosophy and business.
But it was at home that I was happiest.
On those days when the storms came, I would sit on the bench swing of our roofed porch and shiver in excitement as the storm displayed its power and magnificence all around me. Mother used to call me in from such occasions when I was smaller, but by the time I was twenty, she would wrap in her favorite quilt and sit next to me.
“Ah my little storm seeker,” she’d say to me. She’d called me that whenever I sat and marveled at a storm since the age of three. “You’re as wild and free as nature herself.” We’d smile at each other and watch the storm.
It was that summer when Mrs. Benigan and her daughter arrived. Mrs. Benigan was an old friend of mother’s who had fallen on hard times. Mother had offered Mrs. Benigan a home at our place and she had accepted. Mrs. Benigan was as friendly as my mother, and I liked her a great deal. She had read Kant and Socrates and we enjoyed many the debate. But that was all later as I got to know her better. Mrs. Benigan’s daughter, Mara, I had a very different relationship with.
“I want you to meet Mara,” my mother told me. “She and her mother will be living with us now.”
I smiled and shook the girl’s hand, but she didn’t look at me. I put it to nervousness. I was to soon learn I was wrong. That night at dinner, the four of us sat around the table as I got to know Mrs. Benigan and began to realize how much I would like her. Mara did not contribute to the conversation. She just stared at her plate and picked at her food.
In an attempt to include her in the conversation, I directed a question at Mara. “So what do you think of the Great Plains, Mara?”
The look she gave me made me sit back in my seat. I was surprised at the vehemence in that glare.
“I hate it here,” she said. “I wish we’d never come.” Then she turned to her mother. “If you hadn’t made daddy go away, we’d still live in our real house. We’d still be rich and we wouldn’t have to live in this… place.”
“Now Mara,” Mrs. Benigan started.
“No!” screamed the little girl. “I hate you and I want to go home!” Then Mara sprang from her chair and ran up the stairs to the room we were now sharing.
I raised an eyebrow and looked to mother who just shook her head.
“She’s just upset,” Mrs. Benigan sighed.
“Perhaps,” replied my mother, “But she shouldn’t be so disrespectful. Such behavior shouldn’t go un-dealt with.”
Un-dealt with indeed. Such behavior from me would have got me a switch to my bottom at that age.
“You know I don’t agree with spanking, Suzan,” Mrs. Benigan said.
My mother shrugged. “I don’t necessarily mean a spanking, Beth.” I nearly chocked on my potatoes at that. Mother shot me a small smile before continuing. “I mean this is a hard time for her and she needs to talk about her feelings.”
The rest of the night was uneventful. I didn’t get to sleep until late as Mrs. Benigan was talking with Mara in our room and I didn’t want to interrupt.
The next morning mother and Mrs. Benigan left to go to town from business dealing with her divorce. They wouldn’t be back until the next morning or maybe even afternoon.
“There’s some laundry to be done,” my mother told me at the breakfast table.
“You can help with that,” Mrs. Benigan told Mara. “And be sure to mind Alyssa while I’m gone,” she added.
I had a feeling though, that that wasn’t likely to happen. I also felt that if Mara insisted on continuing her bratty attitude that a day alone with her wasn’t likely to be very enjoyable. The two women left and I cleaned up after breakfast. I noticed that Mara had just left her plates at the table. As I went to the yard to start on the laundry I spotted Mara sitting on the bench swing.
“C’mon,” I called to her, “let’s get the laundry done.”
“I don’t do laundry,” Mara replied sulkily
I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. So much for ‘minding me’. So I did the laundry by myself, while Mara watched. It wasn’t much and took only an hour. When I was done I changed clothes and came back down to the living room, ready to pick up the novel I’d been reading. Mara was there and she looked up as I entered.
“You have a lot of horses here. Do you ride?”
Again the girl had shocked me. Was she coming out of her grumpy shell? I leapt at the chance.
“Yeah, we ride. Would you like to?”
“We used to have horses,” Mara said wistfully and I felt sorry for her. “Saddle me a horse. I would like to ride.”
My pity quickly turned to anger.
“Around here we saddle our own horses. And you’re not going anywhere without me.” Without waiting for a response, I went to the kitchen and made a couple of sandwiches, wrapping them in waxed paper and grabbed a couple of apples as well. Then I went to the stables where Mara was already waiting. But she was just standing there.
I bridled my favorite horse and set blanket and saddle and saddlebags upon his back, strapping and buckling the appropriate straps and buckles. Mara still hadn’t done anything; she just looked at me expectantly. I was looking forward to the ride now, but I couldn’t leave the girl behind. Sighing, I selected a horse for her and saddled it.
Mara smiled as though at a victory.
I barely kept from smacking her.
The ride was relaxing and just what I needed. We didn’t talk much, just rode out on the gently rolling land. We passed the east barn, an out shelter and storage place from the days when the ranch was active. A few minutes after that, I noticed a faint flash of light and caught the sent of rain. My eyes widened and a thrill of excitement ran up my spine. I urged my horse up the next hill at a trot and stopped there. Mara was soon beside me.
We sat atop our steeds on top of that hill and looked at the horizon, black with the building clouds. I glanced at Mara and realized that I had found a companion to my fascination with storms. Too bad the girl was such a brat. A cool breeze enveloped us, tousled our hair playfully then moved on, leaving us with pimpled skin and a pleasant shiver that danced along our spines. Mara gasped in a delighted way and I knew how she felt. Light flashed on the horizon.
“We should find some shelter,” I heard someone say in a reasonable voice. It was my own, though I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I wanted to stay and wait for the storm to get closer, to revel in its power. Mara didn’t respond. The dark clouds came closer still and lightning flashed again. This time I heard the faint rumble of thunder. The wind began to pick up more steadily now, blowing my hair back from my face. I sighed in contentment, in pleasure, and in resignation all at once. “Really Mara, we don’t want the horses to get spooked. Let’s go back to that barn.”
“No.” Mara was staring at the coming storm, her blue eyes intense and wild, a reflection of the storm. “Let’s get closer.”
How I wanted to agree with her, but I knew the folly of such actions. These storms could be dangerous and we had the horses to think of.
“No Mara,” I replied. “We’re going back.” But I hadn’t labeled the girl a brat for no reason. She ignored me and spurred her horse forward, moving quickly to a gallop. “Shit,” I muttered and urged my horse to follow.
The two of us raced across the rolling grasslands into the steady wind that smelled of rain and life and furious unfettered nature. Lightning continued to dot the horizon and the sun no longer shone directly upon us. I breathed as deeply as I could, taking it all in. The first drops of water began to spatter my face. I closed my eyes and bent my neck to face the sky. I almost forgot how irritated I was with Mara for disobeying me again.
With difficulty I brought myself back to reality. The rain started coming down harder now.
“Mara!” I shouted.
The girl reigned in her horse and turned it around to look at me, a big smile on her face. “Isn’t it amazing?” she marveled.
“Yes, it is,” I replied. “But it would have been safer to view it from the shelter of the barn.”
Mara laughed dismissively at my reprimand. “You’ve no sense of excitement, Alyssa,” she told me.
I frowned, but before I could reply, lightning flashed right above us and thunder roared so loud I could see Mara scream, but not hear it. My horse reared and bucked, but my superior riding skills kept my in the saddle. I felt my hair standing on end. Frantically I looked around and found Mara clutching precariously to her horse’s mane as it sped back toward home. Then lightning struck again and her horse bucked, Mara went flying, but I could see no more as my own horse bucked as well.
As soon as my horse was under control, I rode to where Mara lay on the wet grass and mud of the prairie. Swiftly I dismounted and knelt beside her.
“Mara, are you okay?” I asked.
She groaned and lifted herself to her knees. “Oh…”
The rain was falling steadily now with no wind, but the dark sky above flickered ominously with continued lightning. I gripped Mara under her shoulders and hauled her to her feet. The girl was surprisingly light. “C’mon, get on the horse,” I instructed and helped her to mount up into the saddle.
Then I swung up behind the saddle. Not the most comfortable position, but I did have much choice.
“Are you okay?” I asked her again.
She nodded mutely and I started us off at a steady walk though the pouring rain. By the time we reached the barn, nearly fifteen minutes later, we were two girls in sopping wet clothes on an unhappy, wet horse. Neither of us said anything.
The east barn had used by the ranchers years ago as extra storage for livestock food and in the really harsh winters when the long trip back to the main house was too dangerous, as a place to take shelter until the worst had passed. There wasn’t much left in the way of feed, and most of the food supplies were gone as well, but it was a roof and right then that was all I wanted.
Mara clumsily got off the horse and found a handy bench on which to sit and shiver. I dismounted as well and led the horse to the stables, unsurprised to find that Mara’s horse was already there, giving me a grumpy stare.
I sighed and got to work. I unsaddled the horses and rubbed them down, checked their hooves, gave them some grain and fresh straw and generally made sure they were all right. Then I turned to my human charge. All my movement in taking care of the horses had kept me relatively warm, but Mara was just sitting there as a cold breeze and occasional rain droplets came in the wide open barn doors.
“You’ll catch cold like that,” I told her. I closed the barn doors and set the wooden beam in place that would hold them shut.
Mara looked at me with deepest loathing. “Well what do you expect me to do?”
“Follow me,” and I headed to the back of the barn where a couple of sets of bunk beds were located along with several storage trunks, a small table, a couple of chairs, and fireplace. “You’ll never get warm in those soaked clothes,” I said as I rummaged through a dusty trunk.
Unfortunately, there were no actual clothes, just lots of blankets. I chose one and snapped it in the air producing a miniature dust cloud. Mara coughed and waved a hand. I tossed her a blanket and took one for myself. Then I began stripping off my soaked clothes.
“Wrap up in that,” I instructed, “Then we can get a fire started.”
I quickly undressed, placing my clothes on yet another blanket I had spread on the floor for this purpose. Then I rubbed myself down to warm up a bit. I didn’t pay much attention to Mara as I got myself warm, so I was surprised when I looked up and found she had draped the blanket over herself, wet clothes and all. I shook my head.
“Mara, you won’t get warm that way. Your clothes are too wet, you need to take them off and dry off first.”
Mara just shivered and shook her head.
“Hurry up now, I need help making a fire.”
“I think you can do it just fine,” she told me as she shrugged off the blanket and began slowly taking her clothes off. "Don't look."
I frowned, my patience just about at the limit. She was the one shivering, the one who had to be told how not to catch her death of cold when it was her fault that she was so cold in the first place. I turned my back to her and began stacking wood from the bin in the fireplace. I had to abandon my blanket for this task as it would have only gotten in the way. After several minutes of preparing the wood, looking for and preparing the kindling and finally getting it started, I turned back to retrieve my blanket and warm back up only to find that Mara had taken it in addition to the one I had given her. She was sitting in one of the wooden chairs at the small table looking at the dancing flames.
I made an exasperated sound which Mara ignored and got myself another blanket. I sat in the other chair and watched the flames. The orange tongues flickered and danced over the logs, blue at their base, orange at their tips. Rain continued to beat upon the roof of the barn and thunder echoed faintly but continuously.
Unfortunately there was still work to be done and it was unlikely Mara would do any of it. I got up again and set to it. I laid another blanket out by the fire and laid my clothes upon it to dry. I considered doing Mara’s as well, but decided she could do it herself. Mara didn’t even look at me; her eyes were fixed on the fire.
I went to the saddlebags and retrieved the food I had prepared earlier for the ride and brought it back. I set Mara’s on the table and opened my own, my stomach rumbling at the sight of food. It wasn’t much, but I was no longer hungry when I had finished the sandwiches and apple. Mara ate as well, but there was no word of thanks for bringing her the food and no conversation.
Just as well, I thought. I wouldn’t want to tell her what I thought of her.
“Isn’t there anything more to eat?” Mara asked interrupting my thoughts.
“Shall I say it slower?” her disdain was evident. She proceeded in a slow loud voice. “I’m still hungry.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “No, that’s all we had.”
Mara sneered. “I hate this place. I wish I’d never come here, and I wish I’d never met you.” That last was thrown with a glare at me.
“What have I done to you?” I asked as I stood and walked around table to face Mara with the fire at my back, my blanket clutched around my shoulders.
“You mean aside from ordering me around?” she asked.
“I’ve only asked you to do your share of the chores. I’m not your maid, Mara. Your attitude and behavior since you’ve been here has been absolutely deplorable. My mother said I was to treat you like a sister and let me tell you, no sister of mine would have gotten away with as much as you have, nor would she have tried.”
The rain on the roof continued to pelt, louder in the sudden silence. A faint draft made me shiver. I’m not sure what I expected of Mara after that, perhaps continued sulking, or mild insults. Perhaps I expected an apology. I did not expect the words that came out of her mouth.
“Fuck off, Alyssa.”
There was another silence in which the rain commanded the conversation. In that time, I made up my mind. I let go of my blanket, letting it fall to the floor, gripped Mara by the shoulders and lifted her from her seat. She protested, of course, but I didn’t care. I sat in the chair she had recently vacated and bent her over my lap. Her physical resistance might have had more effect if she hadn’t been wrapped in two blankets. I then took hold of said blankets and jerked them from around her body leaving her naked as I was and trying in vain to get off of my lap. She was still damp from our journey through the rain and cold as well.
It was strange having someone over my lap. I had been in that position many a time, having my behavior corrected, generally with the help of a switch, but I’d never been on the giving end of things.
“What are you doing?” Mara screeched at me, but her hands came back to cover her bottom so I think she had the general idea.
I took hold of her wrists and moved them.
“I’m giving you what you deserve,” I told her.
And then I started. I started slow and relatively soft, just popping the girl’s damp bottom, with little noticeable effect.
“You can’t do this, Alyssa!” she yelled at me. “You can’t!”
“Oh yes I can,” I replied. I started spanking harder, leaving faint pink spots, the smacking sound loud in the barn with rain still pouring outside. “This if for the disrespect you showed your mother last night.”
Mara had given up protesting and was instead trying hard to get away, but she was a waif of a girl and I was ranch-bred. I started spanking faster and harder eliciting squeals of distress from my little detainee and pink splotches from her bottom.
“For not helping with the laundry. For not minding me like your mother said too, for not clearing your dishes from the table.”
“Ooowieee!” Mara squealed again. “No! Stop it, stop it!”
“I will not,” I replied, pausing for a moment to rub my smarting hand on my own bare thigh. “You’ve been nothing but a brat since I met you, and I intend to make you understand how brats are dealt with out here..”
“I’ll tell my mama,” Mara threatened though a faint sob.
I shrugged, though the girl couldn’t see it. “I hope you do.”
And I resumed the spanking, moving fast and hard. Mara’s bottom was turning a faint shade of red and I was sure to cover her entire bottom, from the base of her back to the crease of her thighs.
“This if for making me saddle your horse and complaining about lunch. For not turning back when I said to. For not helping with the fire.”
That was about all I had to my lecture, so I stopped talking and focused on spanking. Outside, the storm bellowed, thunder rumbling and the rain pounding—the backdrop to my hand on her wet backside, to her shrieks and sobs.
By the time I was done, Mara’s words were incomprehensible. I released her wrists and kept her over my lap while she cried. When finally she seemed to be quieting down, I laid a hand on her bottom.
“No!” she yelled and her hands flew back to her butt. I took hold of them again.
“Are you going to continue with your bad attitude?” I asked her, then smacked her sharply.
“Owie! No, I’ll be good, I promise,” Mara sniffled.
“You’d better, because if you otherwise we’ll do this again.
Then I lifted Mara to her feet and led her to one of the bunks, where I drew back the covers. Mara lay down on her stomach and I drew the covers over her. Minutes later, she was asleep.
I wrapped up in my blanket and went to the side door of the barn and opened it to the small covered porch. Daddy had built that little porch especially for me, so I could watch storms just like this. It was dark, the sun having gone down as I was spanking Mara. I sat on the porch, back to the wall, and watched lightning light up the plains and felt thunder rumble through the clouds. I put my hand out into the falling water and felt its cool wetness and loved it.
I’m not sure how long I was there, but I started out of a doze when I heard the door open. Mara stepped out onto the porch, wrapped in a blanket. She closed the door and sat next to me. Again time passed without marking. We stared at the storm around us.
“You know what they call people like us?” I asked her.
Mara shook her head.
“They call us storm seekers.”
There was a beat of silence.
“I never had a sister before,” said Mara.
“Alyssa? Could we… could we maybe go out in it? Not far, just…”
I smiled at her.
And we shed our blankets and stood in the rain and spun about, staring into the black sky. The lightning lit us like prarie nymphs and the thunder shook our bones. The breeze tickled out skin and the rain kissed our faces.
We were the storm.
When we grew too cold, we hustled inside and sat next to the fire to dry, and when we were warm, we went back outside and did it again and again until we were exhausted and sat on the porch, wrapped in blankets. I woke from a doze at a nearby flash of lightning long enough to carry Mara inside. She did not stir as I tucked her into bed.Outside, the storm was tireless.