(In 1952, polio reached its peak in the United States with 21,000 cases of paralytic polio. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955. By 1965, the total paralytic cases had fallen to 61. In this fictionalized history series, we will be experiencing the aftermath of polio, before the dramatic triumph of a vaccine. If you're just joining us, go back to Part 1.)
Twenty-Four Years and One Month Since Hospital Admission
August 1976 (31 years old)
Blistering heat from the engine seeped into the passenger compartment. The smell of oil. Burning plastic and rubber.
The twilight forest blurred into rainbows of indigo and blue. So much speed.
Far behind, the clattering colors of police lights flashed at the early moon. A helicopter probed the horizon.
"Here," he said, pointing.
She yanked the wheel and stomped the brakes.
Their bodies lurched against the curve.
The car thundered onto the path and bottomed with a shower of sparks.
"Go!" he said. "Through there!"
She ducked off the trail.
Bushes ripped under the bumper. Their fender clipped a decayed tree and sent it tipping.
Her eyes widened. "There's a--"
The suspension bounced into the air, then plummeted into a hollow. Wheels locked and scored the leaf litter. Still, they hit a boulder at the bottom with speed.
Blood trickled down her face where she must have hit the steering wheel. She shook away the fog
"Cut the engine!" He already scrambled out the door.
Fast as the pain her side and the raw panting allowed her.
Still, he pulled her on. Until she crashed over a fallen limb and didn't get back up.
"Not here!" he hissed, dragging her feet in a wavy line back to the shadows. A place where rocks closed around a clump of trees.
She grasped his chest and closed her eyes as the rhythmic thumping of helicopter approached.
She jumped. The real world crashed back down. The typing stick dangled in her mouth. Damn, her writing was really rolling this morning.
"Julia?" the nurse said again.
"I have something for you."
"Oh, a slice of Boston creme pie?"
"No," the woman said, grinning. She brought a square package from behind her back. "The mail came today."
Julia dropped the typing stick. "Oh my God."
"Here it is."
"I didn't dare to expect it this soon."
"Well...," the nurse said, holding it higher.
"Well open it!"
Julia watched her hands work. Tearing the cardboard and pulling out the beautiful cover and neatly cut pages.
"I'm so proud of you," the nurse said.
"Put it against my face," Julia said.
She drank in the novel's glossy surface. The smell of glue and wonderful paper. The smell of her lifeline. The smell of where she lived.
Tears blurred the vision of her name printed on the cover.
"Sorry," she whispered.
But the emotion only lasted so long. After she touched it from every angle and understood it was really real, her mind drifted to the forest and being crouched next to her man.
She picked up the typing stick and began to tap the keys.
"We're going to get out of here," he said.
"God, I love you," she whispered back.