The Contour Path

by Winterton4 <>

The South African mountains are beautiful beyond imagining, with grassy meadows and streams and mountainsides, and craggy peaks towering above them all. If you climb high enough—and it's only a few hours' climb from one of the holiday resorts in the valleys—you will come to the Contour Path. It's a relatively level path that hugs the mountainside high up and winds endlessly into the heart of that achingly lovely terrain. It takes several days to walk the Contour Path, and there are huts strategically placed for travelers to spend the night—the only manmade structures as far as the eye can see, for the resorts themselves are tucked into the bases of cliffsides and overhangs.

Even at age 12, Martin had developed a deep appreciation for those mountains. His family had stayed in a different resort each summer since he was very young, and he would go horseback riding or hiking into the mountains, often on his own once he was about 10. Those were safe parts and those were safe times.

As he had passed into the latter stages of his boyhood, his love for that land had continued to grow.

The resorts were not extravagant. There were no spas or casinos. Each was just an airy 2-storey hotel surrounded by thatched cottages, like medieval huts clustered under the protection of the manor. You could stay in either. Children universally liked the cottages, for they were more cozy and evocative. Adults liked the convenience of staying in the hotel. For Martin, the resort was just a springboard for the exploration and the freedom, and a simple, welcoming place to return to.

To celebrate his 12th birthday, his parents had allowed him to invite his two best friends to come on this year's holiday. Rodney and Anthony had been with him all through school, and they were all about the same age, Martin being the youngest by a few months.

What Martin really wanted to do was walk the Contour Path with his friends—just the three of them. His parents, unfortunately, decided the boys were too young for that. Then Martin remembered Rodney's 17-year-old brother and asked if his accompanying them would make it all right. It was agreed, and 17-year-old Richard became the last invitee.

A few days before Rodney's 12th birthday, his parents and the three guests climbed into the rambling family car and set off on their holiday. After many hours of driving, they turned off the main road. The side road was paved for some distance, but as it approached the mountains it became gravel and very bumpy. It wound through the foothills, and Martin remembered how when he was a bit younger he had been afraid that Indians would come suddenly pouring down in an ambush. (It's a pity he never shared those fears with his parents, or they might have mentioned that the Indians were in America).

As mentioned previously, the resorts were well hidden to keep the mountains pure, and when the hotel suddenly sprang into view they were just a hundred yards from it, and very ready to end their jolting ride.

The four boys were booked into a cottage; Martin's parents had a room in the hotel. It was decided that they would settle in for a few days and do excursions by day to get themselves ready for the great adventure up to the Contour Path.

The first night, as they were undressing, Martin noticed fading black stripes across Richard's buttocks (surprisingly small, round, and soft cheeks for a 17-year-old), and couldn't help commenting on the stripes.

"Couple of weeks ago - caught smoking," he answered briefly – one of the few offenses that would earn a boy of 17 a school caning. He pulled up his pajama pants, and with the evidence now hidden, the subject changed. Soon they were lying on their stomachs in front of the fireplace examining the map that showed the route of their first outing.

The next three days were delightful, a mix of hiking and swimming and horseback riding. Martin could see Richard's fading stripes when he was in his speedos at the pool—those skimpy speedos left quite a lot of the lower cheeks exposed-- and wondered if any of the other guests lounging around the pool noticed. Perhaps not—perhaps you had to be looking for them to notice them.

The night before their journey to the Contour Path, Martin's father registered them for a hiking pack at the reception desk—sandwiches, drinks and canned goods to put in their backpacks. Martin had also got chatting with another guest at the hotel who had heard that there was often food left in the mountain huts by travelers for following travelers. So they were unlikely to go short.

"Richard is now the adult in charge," announced Martin's father firmly as they prepared to depart—an announcement that Martin found faintly amusing, considering the fading evidence of Richard's own recent misbehavior.

The three boys and the older teenager crossed the wildly swaying planks of the suspension bridge that traversed the river at the border of the resort, found the path they were looking for, and began their journey.

They began to climb steadily, grassy mountainsides beginning to fall from their path to the valley below. The drop below the path became quite sheer. "When we come to three stone pillars, we'll be very close to the Contour Path," said Martin, panting slightly. "I read that in one of the pamphlets."

"Seems like you should be the adult in charge, as well-informed as you are!" remarked Richard. "Here – you lead the way." Martin passed to the front and led the group. It wasn't long before their path dead-ended into another that ran more or less level from left to right.

"The Contour Path!" exclaimed Martin triumphantly. His soft blue eyes shone with excitement, and Richard noted anew what a good-looking boy he was. The three friends were actually quite a good-looking trio: Martin blonde with startlingly blue eyes and a wiry body, Rodney a similarly wiry blonde with green eyes, while Anthony, built a little more sturdily, contrasted further with his black hair and dark brown eyes.

They all paused and looked down into the valley, then their eyes swept forward along the track of the winding Contour Path. The path disappeared into the heart of the mountains. Behind them it stretched far to the south. The travelers sat on a rocky outcrop and had some lunch in the warm sun.

"Let's go!" said Martin, eventually, and they scrambled to their feet and moved on.

They walked for a long time—they felt they could walk forever—and in the late afternoon the path climbed to a plateau where another, less well-defined path forked to the left. A small wooden finger, marked, simply, "Hut", pointed in the direction of that side path. The boys turned off the main path and walked several hundred yards along the high grassy plateau, then the side path suddenly veered right toward a clump of woods, in which they came suddenly to a simple hut next to a gurgling stream.

They knocked on the door.

No one answered.

Richard pushed against the door and it opened.

Inside, a dim light came in through the unshaded windows. There was a rough wooden table in the center with bench seats attached to it, and floor cots were arranged along the outer walls. Besides that, a few wooden chairs were scattered about, each with seats that curved downward in a wild exaggeration, so that if you sat down in one it was no easy task to get back up.

The boys sank somewhat wearily into the chairs. Though fairly hard, the chairs were welcome after the long journey. Richard decided to explore outside a little and left the three younger boys on their own.

No sooner had Richard departed, when Rodney noticed a wooden cupboard attached to a wall. He heaved himself out of his chair, walked over to the cupboard, and opened it.

"Biltong!" he yelled.

If you don't know what biltong is, no description can do it justice. Americans call it beef jerky, but beef jerky is thin and useless cardboard compared with the rich tastiness of a big hunk of biltong. It is, essentially, dried meat with wonderful seasonings that the Boers invented when they were on the run from the English invaders.

And it was biltong that Rodney found in the cupboard.

"Someone pass me a knife!" he called.

Anthony looked dubious.

"But it's not really ours."

"Well, it's really no one's," chimed in Martin. "Remember, that man I talked to at the hotel pool said that travelers often leave food behind, and no one else is here."

A short debate (very short) ensued and finally it was decided that it was all right to eat the biltong. Truth to tell, they would probably have gone for that biltong had it been guarded by a tribe of heavily-armed Zulu warriors. Without further ado, the three lads tore into the biltong like lions into a carcass, and were completely caught off guard when the door suddenly swung open and two strangers appeared in the doorway.

They were young men in their early-to-mid twenties, tanned and fit-looking. They looked quite pleasant until they spotted what the boys were eating. A suspicious look came over their faces, and one of them suddenly strode over to the cupboard. He opened it.

"Hey!" he exclaimed. "That's our biltong they're eating!"

Or were eating. It was virtually all gone.

"Did you never learn to respect other people's property?" said the man who had opened the cupboard in exasperation. "That was our evening meal!"

The boys began to profusely apologize and Martin even offered their own rations. But the men were not particularly appeased.

"Thieves, that's what you are! What you need is a good hiding! Who is in charge of you?"

At that moment, hearing the commotion, in walked Richard, who, upon seeing the men for the first time, stopped short and wanted to know what was going on. Somewhat heatedly, the first man told him exactly what was going on, and repeated that what those boys needed was a good hiding.

Richard looked over at the boys.

"Did you really take their food?"

"Yes, but – but – but....." began Martin (the schoolboy's most-often used conjunction before a hand of justice falls).

"I think," interrupted the man, turning to Richard, "I think you should agree that they deserve a hiding. That's theft. Six of the best is what they would get back in school!"

The idea intrigued Richard. He remembered Martin looking at his stripes. It might be fun to turn the tables. But there wasn't much chance of that.

"There is no cane here," said Richard.

"We can improvise," replied the young man, and taking from the table the penknife that had been used to cut the biltong, he strode out, his companion following.

Martin thought of the fading stripes he had seen a few days before, and the realization grew that he was at great risk himself of being similarly adorned. He felt both intrigued and anxious.

Anxiety prevailed.

"Don't let them beat us!" pleaded Martin.

"Well," said Richard, barely containing his growing anticipation at what might unfold. "You did take their food without asking. I can't blame them for being angry."

Martin unconsciously rubbed his bottom, which Richard noted with a stir.

"What can't they just take some of our food?"

"They can and probably will," replied Richard. "But they want to punish you first and I can't say I blame them."

The boys lapsed back into their chairs and sank into a heavy silence. Time passed. Steps were heard outside, the door opened, and in walked the two men. Each bore a triumphant expression and a whippy-looking length of bamboo, thin and smooth except for a few knots at intervals along the length. The boys stared at the sticks, hypnotized.

"We found a stand of bamboo quite close to here. But there are some knots we need to get out," said the man who had first proposed the punishment. "Barry, where's your pen-knife?"

Barry dug into his knapsack and found the penknife. The men sat at the bench by the center table and began to whittle at the knots in the shoots to even out the surface of the emergent canes. There was dead silence in the room save for the tiny scraping sounds.

"I think mine's ready," said Barry eventually, matter-of-factly.

Martin's stomach turned to ice as his eyes fastened onto the cane. He looked over at his two friends, who were quite ashen, and he deduced they were feeling the same as he. Caning was fascinating—Martin had always found it so—but that did not make it less terrifying.

Barry ran his finger over the smooth surface, then flexed the stick almost end to end.

"This will do nicely for a cane," he said. "How about yours, Robert?"

"Almost ready," came the reply from the other man, and in short order, Robert was flexing his own cane.

"I think we should the three of us take one boy each," announced Robert, whipping the air with the surrogate cane.

Richard felt a further stir. He looked over at Martin.

"Who is first?" demanded Robert, tapping the cane against his leg.

No sound.

"Then let's start with you," he said, pointing the cane at Rodney. "Come over to this chair." Rodney rose slowly out of the chair he had been sitting in, as if in slow motion, and tiptoed over to where Robert was standing.

"Drop your pants and your underpants and bend over the front of this chair."

Rodney was almost paralyzed and willed himself to undress; then he bent over the front of the chair and down the exaggerated slope of the seat, his cute little bottom raised. It looked so smooth and round and soft, thought Richard. Spongy even.

Robert stood to the side and tapped the buttocks once, twice, then raised his arm and THWIP! CRACK!

Rodney gave an involuntary yell as the cane bit and the buttocks shuddered and a red stripe appeared across the center; but he did not move. A second tap and a second crack of the cane, and a line appeared just below the first. This time he did not yell, for he was over the initial shock, but his hips started to sway slowly from side to side as he struggled to absorb the sting. A third crack followed, quite low down, and now there was a line right on the sit spot, and Rodney could not avoid yelping out another "ow!"

All eyes were fixed on the three red lines.

The cane came down again, right between the first two, joining them together, and Rodney's bum bucked up with a jerk, but he made no sound this time, and his bum settled back down with the same slow swaying from side to side.

The last two wallops filled the space between the center and the earlier low stroke, each crack accompanied by a gasp, and Robert then slowly placed the cane on the table.

"You can get up now," he said. Richard glanced over at Robert's face and noted a faint flush. Robert had probably never caned a boy before, and clearly had played it for all it was worth. Rodney's bottom was red and welted, and when he painfully rose, his face was also red and his eyes puffy, but he was not crying—just close to it. He stooped forward and clutched his seat, mouthing a silent yell.

The other two boys sat in their places, their faces like they had seen ghosts.

Barry picked up his cane and pointed to Anthony.

"I'll take you next," he said.

Anthony rose and walked slowly over. When he lowered his shorts and underpants, he revealed a bottom that was fleshier and wobblier than Rodney's and protruded provocatively into the room. He bent over the chair reluctantly.

Barry appeared to have poor hand-eye coordination. His strokes were all over the place, and the buttocks wobbled and bounced under the assault. Some cuts were at a slant, some across one cheek only, some horizontal—by the time Anthony was writhing and yelping under the sixth stroke, his bottom looked like it had been birched rather than caned. At the conclusion of this torture he straightened up with a jerk, then jumped up and down like a boy jumping on a bed, but with quite a different expression, before finally settling down.

Neither he nor Rodney went back to their seats.

Richard took the cane slowly from Barry and looked over at Martin. Martin was staring at him open-mouthed, but truth to tell he felt a little hope. His friends had been caned hard by strangers, but he was to be caned by one of his own. He rose and walked over to the chair, looking at Richard with pleading eyes.

Unfortunately for him, Richard had been stimulated by the previous two spectacles and was ready to join the party. When Martin dropped his shorts and underpants and revealed a pert, perfect little bottom, Richard could scarcely contain himself.

Martin stood for a moment.

"Bend over!" said Richard with a slightly quavering voice.

And as Martin did so, Richard brought back the cane and then slashed it down with an almighty crack across the middle of the target. Martin gave a howl of anguish and jerked his head round. He saw Richard's arm raised again and hastily buried his head back in the seat. The second stroke came down just as hard, slightly above the first, and the third was slightly below the first two. Richard was clearly working his way from the center upwards and downwards, but keeping the strokes tight since he did not have a large target to work with.

Martin was squirming frantically, yelling after each stroke and gasping in between.

The fourth was higher up and the fifth lower down, leaving one strip of unmarked bottom low down for the final stroke. The 17-year-old Richard raised the cane high; it sang in the air, and sank deep into the sit spot with a final piercing crack.

Martin gave a howl like a jackal and leaped up, and began leaping around the room, frantically clutching and rubbing and stumbling over the shorts and underpants around his ankles.

The canes were replaced on the tables. The three older travelers glanced at each other and then at the boys. It was getting noisy in the hut, and the two young men decided to leave until things had calmed down.

Richard stood by the table and observed the boys, none of whom had yet pulled up his pants, and Richard noted the dancers' movement in front while hands rubbed the rear.

"You didn't have to hit me so hard!" said Martin to him reproachfully through watery eyes.

"It wouldn't have been fair to the others," replied Richard with a somewhat unconvincing expression of sympathy. "I couldn't go lighter on you just because you happened to draw your friend's older brother as your executioner!"

Martin did not appreciate the whimsy and looked away sulkily, then continued rubbing.

Eventually Richard, feeling sorry for them, suggested they go and sit in the cold mountain brook bubbling near the door. The boys needed no persuasion; they removed their shorts and underpants completely and went outside and cautiously lowered their bottoms into the icy water.

After a while they were somewhat recovered, numbed by the water. The two men had returned by this time and were amused by the spectacle of the three 12-year-olds (well, one a day shy of 12) sitting in the water. Dusk was settling in and crickets started up in the gloaming. As darkness fell, the six travelers finally went inside to share their rations. The door closed, shutting out the night. They gathered at the table, some sitting while others chose to stand. The pain in the boys' tails had settled into a milder sting that prickled but was still not conducive to sitting.

Lanterns now burned brightly in the hut, and a pot of cocoa simmered invitingly on a propane stove. A pack of cards appeared, and the late afternoon trauma was now gradually transformed into an evening of fellowship, and after a while even into laughter, which included some cautionary tales about the high plateau being reputedly inhabited both by bears and biltong thieves.

The following day dawned bright and clear. The travelers rose and the two groups resumed their journey together, soon rejoining the Contour Path and proceeding northwards. After walking for some time, Robert said he believed they would shortly come to another fork which led to a pond and a waterfall. It being a hot day, they decided to look for the fork.

They did in fact come to a fork but there was no sign. They decided to try it anyway because the lure of a cold pond and a waterfall and a picnic lunch was an irresistible possibility. They followed the path for a short distance and then heard the unmistakable sound of running water, which got louder, and rounding a corner they suddenly heard a roar and beheld the waterfall cascading into the mountain pond. Exuberantly, they scrambled down to the water and cast down their knapsacks. All six flung off their clothes and dived into the pond. The water was icy and refreshing.

They did not stay in long, for it was very, very icy. When they clambered out, the boys found a wide slab of warm rock to lie on, stomachs down, while the gathering strength of the sun dried them off.

The two adults and the near-adult sat together in silence a short distance away. Richard was drawn to the view of the shapely, vividly striped and welted backsides. He could see that the two young men he sat next to were, too. The slab of rock before them seemed to be the focal point of the beautiful mountain scenery.

Finally Richard spoke.

"Barry, your aim was horrible. Those stripes are all over the place. I mean, really."

There was a shared chuckle, shortly after which Richard suddenly slapped the side of his head with a realization.

"My word, today is Martin's birthday!" And he repeated it again loudly. The boys heard and looked up, and Martin blushed.

"That poor kid came within a hair of being caned on his birthday!" remarked Barry.

This remark was particularly poignant, given the legend in those parts that whatever happened to you on your birthday would happen all the year round.

"However, I think he's supposed to get a birthday spanking," grinned Robert in reply, looking over at Martin.

"Not hard, though," said Richard, seeing the look of alarm coming over Martin's fair face. "I think he may be a bit tender still."

He strode over to Martin, who scrambled to his feet in increasing alarm.

"Calm down!" said Richard. "We'll go easy on you. This is a birthday present—all we have to offer up in these mountains, I'm afraid!"

Martin let his hands drop resignedly to his sides. Richard sat on a rock and pulled the boy across his lap. He stared down at the two spongy mounds that their six parallel welts and placed his hand on a round cheek, a perfect fit under the palm of his hand. It felt very soft except for the raised welts, which were quite hard. Richard smacked Martin six times lightly on each mound, and Martin wiggled slightly. Then he passed the boy to Robert, who repeated the procedure, and finally to Barry, by which time Martin was giving little yelps at the increasingly forceful taps. He jumped off Barry's lap before he was through and scampered a short distance away, looking back at the group with a guarded and embarrassed grin.

It was time for lunch, and the provisions were pulled out of the knapsacks. By the time lunch was over, everyone was dry. They dressed, packed up, and prepared to continue their journey, clambering up the short, grassy hillside to the spur that would lead them back to the Contour Path.

As they walked silently in single file, Martin reflected on the unexpected turn of events of the last 24 hours. None of the boys, including Richard, would reveal upon their return what had happened—it was their shared secret embedded in a memorable adventure. It wasn't the sort of thing you would bring up in a conversation anyway, certainly not with someone who had not been there. Martin glanced back at his fellow travelers and suddenly felt at one with this group, even the two strangers, in an odd sort of way, as they all walked steadily on in unison. As he looked forward again and contemplated the winding track of the Contour Path stretching toward the northern spires, a feeling of peace came over him.

More stories by Winterton4