STUMPS

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STUMPSStumpsChapter 1: The Marathon Early morning, southern California in early autumn, a lovely crisp Saturday, perfect running temperature. Her first marathon, now just ten minutes to the starting gun. Carrie had wheeled up and down the sidelines to warm up, felt reasonably composed mentally, and ready physically. She glanced down at her registration number: she’d registered at 00:01 hours on day one, hoping to get a single-digit bib. Almost. Thirteen wasn’t bad, she had always as a k** felt it to be lucky. Irrational. There were 211 wheels registered, plus nearly ten thousand runners. She’d been working towards this for three years. No, more — she’d been a runner before The Accident — in her mind it was always capitalized. “Hey, Stumps! Hola! You look ready!” — only two people called her that, nobody else had either the balls or permission. She spun about, waved and grinned at the pair of handsome early-thirties men. Identical twins, her “running” buddies even though she was now a wheel. She’d met them over two years ago in the first race she’d done in a chair. Since then they had routinely encountered one another at races, but never elsewhere — they didn’t actually train together — more ‘racing acquaintances’ than running buddies. Abe and Bob — Abe being (of course) forty minutes the elder. Nicknamed (also of course) Alpha and Beta. Tall blonds, very Scandinavian, she could tell them apart only because Alpha had a moustache and Beta a significant motorcycling scar on one forearm. After that very first race as a wheel, the twins had declared themselves her official fan club (“Nobody else need apply, membership is closed!”) — embarrassing but nice. Even after many races over many, many months, she knew little about them beyond names — knew that they were both highly-placed technical people in surviving dot-coms: they lived in the two halves of a duplex in a very good part of town; they were intensely hetero bachelors, but gentlemanly about indulging their appreciation of the swarms of sexy near-naked female bodies at races. Gentlemanly, but insistent, too. She rather liked that. They trotted up, leaned down team-wise to hug her. They were good-looking men – tall, lean, heavier-muscled than most good runners, and still considerably faster than she, although she planned to fix THAT eventually. The Twins’ goal for today was to do way, WAY under three hours — possibly to break two thirty if it stayed cool. Her goal for today was reasoned, carefully rational, the specific goal of her training regime — to do the 26.2 miles without stopping, and hold an 8 minute pace, thereby finishing in just under three hours thirty minutes. A whole two seconds under, but UNDER. Carrie’s long-term goal was more extreme. Wheels in top shape could beat almost any runner — in fact, good wheels both male and female routinely beat the men’s world record for the marathon. She wasn’t that good — “Not YET!” As always the wheels would get a five minute head start — five minutes being an easy mile for a wheel, that much lead-time would spread the chairs out enough so they wouldn’t interfere with the professional speed-demon runners at the head of the foot-pack, the folks who would run the entire distance at a sub-five-minute pace. But undoubtedly several wheels would beat the foot-winner’s time by many minutes. There was some sort of cosmic justice in that, wasn’t there? Most wheels in this raced were male, but there were a dozen or more women, almost all acquaintances from previous races – but none had risen to the level of ‘friend’ — in fact, none approached A & B in that regard. Carrie wheeled into place at the back of the 211:– no point in being in anyone’s way, and she sure as hell wasn’t going to repeat the dumb-dumb performance of her first wheel race. It was just a 10k loop, 6.2 miles, a purely local thing, maybe a thousand entrants. But she’d been in a chair less than four months, and done all her training up to then on a glass-smooth highschool track. On the real course, beat-up public roads, she’d found herself in an unexpected, exhausting fight with the potholed, universally uneven, unpredictable, high-crowned road surface. Not to mention the goddamned hills, sneaky sons-of-bitches, imperceptible in a powered vehicle! Plus, as a racing-rookie, she’d started out way too fast. Far, far worse than the race itself had been the ten minutes just before the start. Beset by an excess of nerves and unpreparedness and over-hydration, she found herself desperate to pee. Genuinely desperate. Amongst the two dozen or so porta-potties there was ONE handicapped edifice, and its line was ten deep. Alpha and Beta had arrived to do their own bladder thing, noticed her obvious — to them — distress. Alpha had been totally blunt, walked up to her, introduced himself and Beta, then said “You look like a five-year-old boy with his legs crossed. Which means we’ve been there, done that, and understand completely. You’ll never get through that handicap line before the gun. If you don’t mind some help from two strangers, me and my bro here can pick you up and carry you into one of the regular potties. Bang on the door when you’re done, we’ll bring you back out. Instant relief, plus you get to the starting line on time. AND, as an extra added side-benefit, you get to meet US. And we you.” Then Beta said with a silly, boyish grin “We assume that you can handle all the clothing and such while you’re in there — but of course if you need help with that, we might be available!” She nodded, said “Thanks a million — you’re on!” No nonsense: she undid the harness, they picked her up between them by both arms as if she were a feather, hurried her into the nearest empty. She made it to the starting line with a minute to spare. Most of a mile out, fifteen percent of the race, she was already getting tired when the twins passed her, shouting encouragement, and disappeared. She was almost done-in by mile four, could hardly move her arms, was way, way back amidst the slow runners. All the other wheels were long-ago out of sight ahead of her. Discouraged, she was seriously contemplating simply giving up. Then, running upstream right towards her came The Twins, returning from the finish line, carrying two peeled oranges, a bottle of reconstituted sweat (aka Gatorade), a thumb-sized chunk of fudge, and a cup of ice. They had blown through the finish line, discussed her likely situation, and decided an emergency aid mission was in order. As she wheeled, they fed her: on the next long downhill, she coasted briefly whilst demolishing the oranges and fudge — and with one Twin on each side she’d made it to the finish entirely under her own steam and by no means dead last. It was the start of a subtle, and much appreciated, ongoing relationship, entirely centered around races. Chapter 2: The Accident In an alternate universe, long, long ago and far away, she had come awake abruptly, knowing she’d not actually been asleep but in some other state. She swam upwards through a fog of genuinely unpleasant but not defined sensations. Her whole body and being seemed one huge, throbbing ache. She tried opening her eyes — slammed them shut instantly, it was unearthly bright out there. Carrie was a rare breed, mentally — superb at math and logic, one of a very small group of computer programmers who actually could think in binary, program in binary — ones and zeros, the ultimate foundation of all modern digital computing. “Web designers and physicists,” she thought — “…are idiots, with no idea how their machinery actually did its thing at their commands.” She had an ability to turn on the purely rational side of her brain rather like flipping a light switch, overriding the emotional half completely until further notice. It was an ability for the use of which her employer paid her well beyond handsomely — and which confused and irritated her friends when she occasionally used it in social situations. She flipped that switch now — it seemed likely to be the best idea. Then she waited for the mental fog to clear. She listened attentively while waiting — generally quiet, but some background noises. Air conditioner humming? Clicks, like wheeled carts on tile, soft, then louder, then fading. Funny smells. She squinted tightly, allowing in a tiny bit of light, letting her eyes adjust. Where was she? Last thing she could remember was finishing the half-marathon, getting into her car with her new boyfriend George. Nothing beyond that, nothing more recent. This place FELT and SMELT and SOUNDED like a hospital. Lack of most-recent memory plus her new surroundings — to her, those observations combined to suggest a car accident. Interesting, but just a theory. She got one eye slightly open, then the other. She was on her back, looking straight up at a white ceiling with one recessed four-tube fluorescent squarely in her field of view. No wonder it hurt to use her eyes! “Dumbshit design, or dumber-shit bed placement!” she thought. She got the eyes open fully, looked left — that direction, her visual field was dominated by an IV rack holding a single plastic bag, labeled “Normal Saline”. A good sign. At least it wasn’t blood or plasma or something even more exotic. Time to study the situation. Her brain seemed to be functioning okay. Good omens first — she could see and hear and smell and read and think. She assumed she could probably taste — all major senses accounted for. Good. She looked right: ten feet away a nurse sat in a comfortable chair, engrossed in a book. Intensive care of some sort — obviously she, Carrie, the patient, was not to be left alone. Of course, with the nurse’s nose in her book, Carrie might as well have been alone. Didn’t anyone train these people? The arrangements suggested serious injury — probably life-threatening, and not yet fully under control, perhaps? Carrie contemplated attracting Nurse’s attention, decided against it. Not yet. She needed more data. She closed her eyes, let them dark-acclimate for a few seconds, then opened them one at a time, watching the light field and imagery change as each adapted — things seemed symmetrical, so probably no concussion. Now that she was functioning mentally, her whole-body ache was dichotomized, very different above and below the waist. Was she paralyzed? Had she broken her back, cut her spinal cord? Coldly, rationally she suppressed emotion and incipient panic. NO, not so, no such disaster… she wiggled her head — no head or neck restraint, hence no neck damage. No respirator, so she wasn’t a quad. Besides, she could feel the mattress and sheet against her body. All the way down to where the sensation, the aching, changed nature. Not at her waist: lower, the change was lower, near the bottom of her pelvis, maybe lower still. She tried to wiggle, beginning at the shoulders, working down: all seemed in order, except that there were two wide, soft cloth straps holding her in the bed, not completely immobilizing her, but very nearly so. One covered her chest and biceps, the other went across her pelvis just at the top of her hips. The straps, she thought, mean I’m capable of doing myself some damage, I can move, say, roll out of bed, and they don’t want that. Movement capability meant no paralysis — double check on that horror, spinal cord intact. She re-studied the sensation-miasma, the huge two-phased aching, and couldn’t get a handle on it, neither a good description nor an explanation. And Oh-by-the-way, where the hell was George? If they’d had a car accident, it should be HIM, not nursey-p*o, keeping vigil in her room. Perhaps he was injured, too? She took a long, slow breath — that didn’t hurt, said part of her brain, hence no chest injuries severe enough to break ribs. Puzzlement! Time had come to let Nurse Cratchitt know that the actual owner of the patient in her care had now returned and was more or less in command. She ahemed. Nurse jumped up gratifyingly, dropping her book on the floor. “Carrie! My goodness, we didn’t expect you to come out so quickly! It’s only been fifteen minutes…” Carrie eyed her, then said, slowly and carefully, “‘Come out’ means general anesthesia, which means surgery. But what the hell for? I’ve been lying here studying myself and can’t figure out what happened. I suspect a car accident, but I didn’t break my neck or back, and I don’t even have a concussion. You’re not feeding me blood, so neither the injury nor the surgery was all that radical. I’m strapped down, so you don’t want me moving, which means I CAN move and could hurt myself. I would like to know, and right NOW please, what happened, what my injuries are, and all that sort of interesting stuff — including prognosis. I’m tired — your turn to talk now! And turn out that goddamned ceiling light!” Nurse was completely nonplussed — patients were not supposed to snap out of general having done a thorough self-analysis, then instantly launch into a diatribe and demand details of their problems. “Um… I’m not supposed to discuss things with you until you’ve seen the doctor. I think I can catch your surgeon, he can’t possibly have cleaned up yet.” Carrie looked sourly at Nurse, who picked up the phone, said “Go find Dr Jameson! Carrie, today’s patient, is awake, coherent and demanding information. He needs to come to her room at once and talk to her. STAT, please!” Two minute later Dr Jameson, still in scrubs, leaned into Carrie’s room, motioned the nurse to join him in the hall. Seconds later, he re-entered, stared at Carrie for a second: she stared back. Not quite believing what Nurse had told him, he silently stepped up to her bed, took out the required little flashlight, then paused and said “Excuse me… do you know your name?” She glared at him, snapped “Yes, I certainly do! Do you know YOURS? And don’t shine that thing in my eyes, I already checked and don’t have a concussion!” He was taken aback, but recovered quickly, something Carrie appreciated. She knew full well how disconcerting her own behavior could be — knew it and used it. “Well…” he said, “…you do seem to be wide awake and functioning mentally. What’s twelve times twelve?” “In base what?” she replied, then said “Base two it’s one zero zero one zero zero zero zero.” He grinned broadly, and the fact that he understood improved things greatly — not a total dodo. She let herself mellow a bit. “What the hell happened to me, and what did you operate on me for?” He pondered, then shrugged. “Nurse told me about your internal analysis — you’re quite the logician, aren’t you?” She nodded: “Yes… It’s how I think, it’s how I try to live, and it’s my occupation too. So quit shilly-shallying and doing the mulberry bush thing and tell me what’s going on here. After all, it’s MY BODY, not yours.” “This is quite anomalous… you’re twenty minutes out of surgery, and we’re having a philosophical discussion about free-will and kaçak casino self-ownership? That’s mighty odd. Are you sure you’re up to knowing everything? Even if it’s bad?” She nodded: “Look here, Doctor… I already KNOW it’s BAD – else you would have simply told me by now, and then I could say something profound like “Oh SHIT! — but I suppose I’ll live…” and then we’d get on with it. If I were going to go all hysterical on you I’d have done it immediately. Now if you want to keep THIS particular patient calm, prevent her agitation, and hew to the Hippocratic tradition, you damn well better start talking. No bullshit, please. Words of one syllable would be good, my head does ache but it’s from that damned ceiling light, not whatever happened to me. Something is seriously wrong with me — WHAT!?” “Car accident” he said, arms folded, studying her non-reaction. “Four hours ago. You’re alive because there was an ambulance about four cars behind you, with a good EMT. He stabilized you, got you out, called for a chopper, which brought you here — we have an awfully good trauma unit. A very odd accident, yours was. Fluke. You were headed into an underpass beneath the interstate, the right rear double wheel of a semi doing about seventy up on the highway came off, bounced over the guard rail and landed on your car. A lot of mass, traveling pretty fast.” He was still studying her closely. She nodded, said “Jeez! — and?” He took a deep breath. “It landed pretty much in your lap. The pictures are spectacular. About a thousand pounds or so. Lots of energy — you were doing maybe fifty, it was moving even faster and at right angles to your path. Squashed things pretty badly. Not so much a guillotine as a rock-crusher. Did a huge amount of damage to both your legs. You got a face-full of glass shards, too, but that’s all trivia — your glasses protected your eyes quite nicely.” He shrugged again. “You were actually lucky — once you get past the bad luck of the whole damned thing… it could have gotten your pelvis, in which case you’d be dead most likely, or dying very slowly but inevitably — crushed pelvis equals dead soon, even today. But you’re not dying, not at all. No spinal or brain damage. Missed your pelvis, abdomen, chest, head, hands. Just got the legs.” “Just legs” was ominous. She kept a firm mental thumb on her “Logical-Self-ON” switch, stared at him, chills and goosebumps running over her chest and arms. It took a few seconds, during which she once again inventoried her sensations. Then she consciously tried to move her legs. Something was VERY wrong — and she was suddenly quite sure what. She watched his face — he had noticed the movement, stayed impassive, stared back at her. Her next question came out of the wild blue, caught both him and her off guard. “Were you a military surgeon? You’re about the right age.” He raised one eyebrow in surprise: “Yes, I was.” She nodded: “Combat?” He nodded back at her. She took a deep breath, let it out: it felt as if she were staring into an unlit, bottomless abyss as she asked softly “How many times have you had to tell a soldier that he — or maybe SHE? — had lost a leg? Or even two of them?” Jameson studied her yet again. “Far more times than I liked or wanted.” He stopped: ball in her court. “Doctor Jameson, are we having fun yet?” He shook his head emphatically — most definitely not! “I was afraid of that. Both legs?” He nodded. She stared back at him, took another long breath, nodded grimly. “How much do I have left? And what about George, my boyfriend who was in the car with me?” “That’s two different topics…” said Jameson. He mulled things over, decided that there was no doubt Carrie could handle it, and that there was no other way, or time, to deliver the news. Besides, it was clear that she already intuited the answer: she was visibly steeling herself. How many times had he been through exactly this scenario, modified to “roadside bomb plus soldiers”? “George wasn’t as lucky as you. He’s dead. At the scene. Head injuries. As to your legs, you’ve still got about two inches on the left, four or slightly more on the right. Things were so badly smashed that there never was any hope of repair. Basically, to be blunt, the tire made hamburger of both thighs. We can’t yet heal hamburger. Sorry. But for what it’s worth you have no other injuries, which is flatly miraculous, and you’re in such good shape that the surgery went far, far better than anyone could have predicted. One pint of blood, mostly precautionary — amazing, a trivial amount.” He smiled lopsidedly: “I did save your racing bib. It’s a bit messy, though.” She smiled up at him wanly. “More questions.” He waited: they came in a rush: “How long will I be in here, how bad is the pain going to be when I can feel it, what about prostheses — two and four don’t seem like much to work with and I’m going to walk again. And what did you do with the legs?” He grinned at her, his whole body relaxing in relief at her aplomb. A rare thing, that. “More answers, Carrie. In order. Three weeks max if you heal well and I bet you will; pain we can control without making you an addict, and the fact you don’t have huge phantom pain right now is very encouraging. You’re right about the lengths– the short one isn’t enough stump for the current generation of articulated whole-leg prostheses but things are improving all the time and you can certainly learn to use the non-articulated variety meanwhile. And there’s good news about where the legs went. Want to hear?” “Sure… Whack me with all the good news, Doc. God knows it’s way overdue. What’d you do with the hamburger?” She tried to grin, almost succeeded. “You carried an organ-donor card, and the fine print covers situations like this. Our transplant and organ folks tore them apart… got half an acre of fine skin, lots of usable bone and marrow, a bundle of smaller veins and arteries, plenty of good tendons. It’ll all get used, believe me — a lot of folks are going to benefit from your misfortune. But the best is the skin. Two days ago our burn-center put out an emergency call for a small boy with about half his back, his buttocks and the backs of his thighs almost charred, deep third degree burns, all skin gone.” After a moment, he slogged onwards: “He happens to be black, almost identical to your coloring. Burns like that are invariably fatal unless you can get them covered up fast. There was enough of your skin to do the entire burned area all at once, instantaneous full coverage — which is incredibly rare. They’re working on him as we speak, and I’ve talked to the team twice already. My guess is he’ll live, probably recover just fine — he seems to be a tough little bird. Keep your fingers crossed.”Carries eyes filled again, but didn’t quite spill. “Sheesh. Good. I mean, GOOD! Burns scare the living shit out of me, so I guess I really could be in much worse shape, yes-no-maybe? If he lives, can I meet him?” “I’ll make sure you do!” he said, releasing her hand. “Now I know you’ll be okay — anyone who can say seriously, as you just did, that things could be much worse, well, you’ve got hold of reality. Bravo!” Carrie sniffed, shrugged, said “Logic is me, I guess. Lots of my acquaintances don’t like it when I get this way. But elsewhere madness lies.” Nurse reappeared with a tray carrying three syringes. “What are those?” Carrie demanded. Nurse looked inquiringly at Jameson, who nodded and said “Speak completely freely with this one! Anything she wants to know, just tell her straight out. Understood?” Nurse nodded and said “That’ll be a relief, for a change!” Then to Carrie, “One each; antibiotic, pain killer, and antidepressant. All as needed until further notice.” Carrie looked at Nurse, then at Jameson, and said “Yes, Yes, and not only no but HELL NO. I’m not depressed… woozy and angry and put-upon maybe, plus scared and other things as well, but not depressed. At least, not yet, with all this adrenalin. If I want any of that crap I’ll let you know. And since I’m sane and conscious and rational, I hereby order you both not to even TRY to slip any of that stuff into my body. Okay? You think I need it, we discuss it, and I have the final say.” Jameson looked at her with something approaching affection, said “Understood, Carrie aka She Who Must Be Obeyed! You’ll do just fine. Wish more of my soldiers had handled it like you. Get some sleep. You’ve got a very busy couple of weeks ahead of you. Like it or not, we’re going to give you 24 hours of rest and then start rehab. And by the way, your friend Gail who ran with you in today’s race, says to tell you she’s used your hidden key to get into your place, and that she’ll stay there until you get home, however long it may be. She’ll take care of the cat and plants and aquarium. You are to call her any time, day or night. She’ll be here camped on our doorstep when visiting hours start tomorrow.” He paused: “She saw the whole thing, you know — she was just two cars behind you and helped the EMT get you out. Did as told, didn’t panic or freak, even though she knew your legs were gone as soon as they got you on the stretcher. Helped the EMT with tourniquets. Rode here with you in the medevac chopper despite being scared shitless of heights. Didn’t leave until I ordered her to go home and come back tomorrow. Good friend, that one. Keep her. And I’m sorry about George. See you in the A.M.” Carrie didn’t let loose of her logical switch again until midnight: she waited until Nurse was gone, then let herself go, and was down to mere snuffling when Nurse returned. During that first night, through a mild narcotic haze, she pondered, never allowing herself to go maudlin, being her best analytical self. By three she had her plans outlined — not in detail, but firm. She was going to beat this thing, whatever the hell that meant! She slept surprisingly well once the analysis and decision were on mental record. Next morning, as promised, Gail was bedside when Carrie awoke. Gail had been briefed by the nursing staff. First thing she did was hand over Carrie’s laptop, plugged it in. “Knowing you, I figured you’d want this thing instantly.” Carrie nodded, said “Thanks… good call. I have a lot of research to do. Supposedly they have WiFi.” They chatted, plans were made — visiting, care of apartment, contacting Carrie’s employer. Then, just before Gail had to leave, Carrie asked a favor — would Gail find a mirror, hold it for her — she really wanted, needed, to actually see her lower body. Nurse overheard, expressed strong disapproval which Carrie overruled. The mirror appeared. Carrie remained reasonably impassive as she studied the bandage-swathed remnants. After some time she finally said “Well, hell. So much for my love-life, I guess.” A pair of tears broke loose: nothing more. Gail had no idea what to say, but Nurse spoke up with a quiet vehemence that got their attention. “Now you just quit that sort of moping, Carrie. Quit it now! That’s utter nonsense! I’ve been working amputees for thirty-plus years — there are plenty of men who will find you just as attractive now as before… sure, there are some amputation-fetishists and you’ll be able to tell them instantly — you don’t want their attentions, not now, not ever. But any man worth a damn, worth making part of YOUR life, won’t care. And there are lots of them out there — you’re just as pretty as ever, you won’t lack for male attention. Quite the contrary, oddly enough. Trust me, please? This I do know!” A long pause. “I know first-hand. I got into this business because my husband lost a leg right after we got married. It’s just another personal awkwardness to deal with, not some demon. Trust me!” When Gail left, Carrie threw herself into the internet. Next afternoon, although she hadn’t yet sat up on her own, three wheelchair sales-reps arrived, almost together. Nurse tsk-tsked but allowed the mob in. The racing-chair rep arrived in his product — the other two wheels were brought, incongruously she thought, by walkers — truly poor sales tactics! Carrie told the reps that power-driven chairs were off the table at least for now, ordered trial-time on one lightweight racer and two heavier “civilian” versions. The racer-rep, a youngish man, educated, pleasant, and articulate, had more of a physical problem than Carrie, she had to admit. His legs were shriveled and useless from a c***dhood spinal injury — she had movable stumps that would — once healed — lend themselves to at least some forms of prostheses. Extended discussions with the racer gave substance to her plan — she was going to run –that is, “wheel”- a marathon. ASAP. And otherwise demand of herself as nearly normal an existence as possible. But the focus was going to be a marathon. The racer-rep waxed enthusiastic but cautious, having done several marathons himself. He gave her personal-experience advice: she paid close attention. She had no significant upper body mass, would have to fix that, weight training and LOTS of miles in a chair — it would be more work and take more time than she could imagine, but the eventual thrill of blasting down the road in front of, and gaining on, world-class runners was the damnedest adrenaline rush, a special experience forever denied to non-wheels. A karmic balancer. She believed him. Day two, as promised, the PT began. She forced herself to be attentive, enthusiastic, uncomplaining, and a serious overachiever. And she healed, as Jameson had predicted, spectacularly well and fast — even the drain tubes came out in 5 days, near-record time. Experimentation produced a d**g cocktail that killed most of the pain but left her reasonably clear-headed. Day six brought an insurance agent with a check for $250,000; an ‘initial deposit on the eventual settlement.’ The trucking company and its insurer had researched her already, knew they were on the hook deeply — a pretty, intelligent, professional young black woman in this condition because of their mechanical negligence. NO, he said, there would be no in-court wrangling over fault, just some careful thought about what it might take to ‘make her whole again’. She snorted at the term, he went red. The attitude in a nutshell — “Shit, man, just pay the lady — and be the Good Guy by starting immediately. Decide later on a final sum total.” She threw herself into PT — went at the equipment with a vengeance, and on day ten she managed to get herself out of bed and into the chair — and back again — entirely unaided, using a t****ze-bar hung from the ceiling. Nurse watched, was impressed. Outside of the PT, she contemplated and prepared for the future, mostly doing internet shopping and research. Carrie was out of the hospital in two weeks, with entry-level calluses on her hands from wheeling (often far too fast) through the corridors, and her shoulders were giving gentle hints of eventually mimicking canlı poker oyna those of a competitive butterfly-stroke swimmer. When she was discharged, Gail and a specialty-motors fellow met her with the new van, outfitted for a wheel to operate — hydraulic ramp and door, special controls, the works — and (pure bureaucratic idiocy!) NO special training or license required by the State! Any old driver’s license would do! Carrie got the needed instructions, and for practice drove the b**st around the lot for ten minutes, then accepted it and set off home quite confidently. Her apartment was going to be a problem — third floor, tiny elevator, lousy layout for wheels. One day of that and she called the insurance people — she would need their guarantee of another $500k so that she could go new-apartment shopping at once. She got no argument — negotiations weren’t complete, but the final settlement would be well into the several millions, they had no problems advancing against it. She found a condo project not far away, still in the “selling air” stage. A long confab with the architect and builder, discussing worst-case survival scenarios. She wasn’t afraid to pay, and got what she decided upon, including special modifications and facilities. Ground floor with dead-level entry, special parking arrangements, all doors pocket-style in special steel frames to be earthquake-proof. Sprinkler system. Hallway wide enough for two chairs side-by-side. No bumps on the floor anywhere. Bedroom to be double-raftered and then ceiled and walled in ¾ inch plywood so she could string up ropes and such anywhere she chose. All doorknobs and handles low enough for her to reach easily while lying on the floor. Oddly-shaped floor molding that would give a good finger-grip for dragging one’s self along the floor. Wide entryway with room off to the side for three parked chairs, out of traffic. Utilities all normal-height rather than specialties for wheels, since she fully intended to stomp about the place on artificial legs sometime in the reasonably foreseeable future, and meanwhile a few inches of pillow in her chair would raise her adequately. For the six months the condo was a-building she struggled with the old apartment –feeling that doing so was probably good for her, a constant training ground for the real world that -so she discovered on wheel-day one- failed so utterly to accommodate wheels. Meanwhile, she flung herself back into work, politely refused most co-workers’ condolences and invitations. And developed an all-consuming training program that gave her an interesting reputation at the gym — a strikingly pretty woman utterly consumed by her bodily goals, a loner without even a steady gym companion male or female, apparently un-social if not anti-, and without an emotional compadre of any sort. The reputation was accurate — she shut herself off from male companionship, buried herself in work plus these activities to the utter exclusion of things emotional or sexual, despite her strong pre-accident involvements in both. In fact, she was excruciatingly well aware of her estrangement from such things, and in her bouts of self-analysis acknowledged a terror at the prospect of having to deal with her new condition in those contexts… hence she opted out of even trying. Her non-work world was the impersonal weights and machines at the gym, and going ’round the local high-school track in her wheel, miles and miles, rain or shine.The condo wasn’t quite done when she’d entered that first race, learnt its lessons. After the run she’d thanked Alpha and Beta profusely. They had chattered disarmingly frankly about her injuries and the consequences, and they had helped slog her chair through the deeply muddy parking lot to her van. She gave them a short demo ride (the men eventually –not immediately!- christened it the Stump-Mobile). And they’d arranged to meet again at another 10k two weeks later. That one she had handled much more satisfactorily. At it, the men hugged her at the start and finish, and again escorted her across the finish line – the beginnings of a tradition. Having moved into her new digs, she briefly contemplated having a housewarming, then rejected it as emotionally unworkable — she didn’t need to expose herself to multiple happy-couples, or to the possibility of rejection by A&B for whatever reason once they saw her outside of the racing milieu. More sensible to just hold her course, use that time for emergency drills such as pulling herself about in the bedroom using the half-dozen strategically place knotted ropes, and practicing ‘worst-case’ escapes, like “EARTHQUAKE!” — in which she was knocked out of bed and onto the floor on the far side of the bed from her chair. In the dark. Get to the chair, use the ropes to get into the seat, then GET OUT! She practiced until she was very good at it. Paranoia, perhaps, but recheck — nothing on the walls, no shelved materials, no art, that could fall into her escape path. Nothing. Over the next couple of years fifteen or twenty races ensued, including a few half-marathons, nice in themselves but always seen by Carrie as merely training for the real event. A&B were always present, solicitous, helpful, open and warm and friendly in a way she encountered almost nowhere else. Increasing compliments on her developing upper body — she was strongly — and beautifully — muscled now, up perhaps twelve pounds of pure muscle in her torso and arms, and all of it in prime condition. Even an occasional oblique compliment from The Twins on the changes in her chest — she’d always been proud of her boobs, the added muscle certainly enhanced their firmness, gave an illusion of an extra cup-size, but she knew the reality — two inches of added chest yes, but with cup size holding steady. Such comments were rare, the twins understanding intuitively that they were on the edge acceptability, but that they were also vitally-needed ego-strokes. Sparingly applied, they were welcomed with minor embarrassment and obvious appreciation. Chapter 3: Denouement So here it was, marathon day at last. All participants had arrived early at the finish line in the stadium, parked, been bussed en-masse to the start several miles away, a huge exercise in public transportation. Announcement — loud! — “Wheels ONLY, get in place NOW please, starting gun WHEELS ONLY in two minutes.” She stripped off the black plastic trash-bag that made a perfect disposable warmup shirt, stuffed it into a roadside box labeled “recycle only”. She had studied the weather predictions, opted for maximum ventilation, and was sans bra. Who needed a sport-bra anyhow, if there were no vertical accelerations to counteract? In the dawn cool her nipples stood up rigidly erect and obvious under the racing singlet. The Twins openly ogled her boobs for a second: Alpha muttered “Well, lookie who’s here!” while Beta shook his head approvingly and said with a near giggle “Stumps, after all these races, it’s about time — dammit — that you brought the girls out to play!” Before she could react the two men bent down together, hugged her one final time, stood up, grinned at her, said “See you at the finish! We’ll meet you near mile 25 if we can. You look GREAT! Love your little friends! Remember, don’t go out too fast!” BANG! Starting gun, then twenty seconds before she could roll — the rest of the wheel-pack had to move first. The twenty counted on total time, too. Things were much worse for the runners — the back of the pack wouldn’t even be able to walk for two or three minutes after their gun, probably five minutes to get to real running-room. She set off, pacing herself carefully, but even so she passed more than a dozen wheels before the runners’ gun went off far behind them. Rolling smoothly on the first, nicely level, mile, she felt good, kept checking her speedometer — she COULD go faster — much! — but doing so would destroy her long before race’s end. Moderation, no heroics! Mile three, the front-running professional speed-demons steamed past in a tight knot, silent, intense, efficient. A pause in the flow-by and then came the long surge of fast, really good amateurs, less intense, openly friendly, throwing occasional words of encouragement at her. Mile five and The Twins caught up, ran beside her for a few seconds, with Alpha saying again how strong she looked, and that they would come back upstream and meet her at mile 25 or so – if they didn’t drop dead at the finish. Then they were gone, she was on her own, no coach, no companion. Onwards she rolled, sweating, sucking water from her stash — six level miles, then the long, 300 vertical foot downhill that would have to be made up just before the end, no overall net change of altitude permitted in a sanctioned run like this. She worried about that hill– as a wheel she’d been unable to go over the course in the detail possible for runners, but she HAD driven it repeatedly, trying to be hyper-sensitive to road conditions and slopes. So far, so good. Right turn, a slight uphill through orange groves, past teenage junior and senior highschool girl cheerleaders. Watching them jump about on their lovely legs gave her a momentary envious gut-clench, but it passed — she was preoccupied. Out into the sun, hard left, and BINGO, face to face with an all-MALE cheerleading squad from Chippendale’s, working the crowd beside a big sign reading “Something for the Ladies!” — five gorgeous hunks in running shoes, breast-cancer pink jockstraps and little masquerade-ball eye-masks, nothing else, bumping and grinding and handing out drinks as needed. She grinned at them, waved, wondered if they were straight or gay, declined the water, and kept on. And on, and on. She studied herself carefully, considered the weather, the course, added a tiny increment of speed beginning at mile sixteen. A smidgen of insurance on reaching her goal. Started on water-bottle #2, especially laced with glucose for the final ten miles. The compensatory uphill lasted two miles: other wheels (and lots of runners) had gone out too fast, were s**ttered sparsely along the route now, paying the price, stopped and panting, some actively being sick: most of the stopped folks looked to be non-finishers. She dug into her store of energy, worked the rims. The talc inside her gloves long-since turned to mud by her sweat, but even so was still helping prevent blisters. At mile twenty-five, the finish line was theoretically in sight but actually hidden deep inside the football stadium, a long circuit of the parking lot first, then up the ramp, through the goalposts and around the infield to the actual finish. She checked her time — four minutes ahead! – and she was tired but quite short of exhausted. The realization finally hit – she was going to do it! Hard right, many acres of asphalt to circle, a sign and more cheerleaders at one actual, statute mile to go. And now, charging towards her came the Twins, Alpha shouting to her from a hundred meters away “BRAVO! You’re WAY ahead of time, we almost missed you!” They joined her, gasping a bit as they kept alongside and she didn’t slow one iota. At the end of the final lap around the infield they peeled off to let her charge down the finish lane solo. Through the actual line she went, surrendering the racing-bib’s little rip-off “finisher” tag to the official. Proof forever, on the public record! Three twenty-four and ten seconds — including the starting-line delay! Arms raised with hands clasped over her head, watching her Twins lope in her direction, she screamed to herself “I DID IT!” And then, as The Twins neared, her local universe went into the slowest of slow motion, her vision went crystal clear as if a fog had lifted, her hearing seemed unnaturally acute. As if some huge, all-pervasive weight were suddenly lifted off her, physically, mentally, emotionally. Something clicked: she knew, of course, that there would be plenty of other races, but she also knew that in this instant she had conquered something critical. Now she could set aside — intentionally and with understanding- the obsession to prove herself to herself: she could return to something more nearly her own ‘normal’. Her pre-accident ‘normal’. With a jolt, she realized that that term ‘The Accident’ was no longer capitalized. She felt exactly like being set free. Free in the midst of the finish-line crowd, the whole area a-swarm with thousands of sweaty, attractive bodies of both genders, the calm humid air full of something just the far side of tangible, redolent of clean sweat and human sexuality. Immersed in her unexpected new freedom, just breathing the air here generated an adrenaline jolt that sent her pulse soaring well beyond its race-rate. The Twins were on collision course with her, cheering. Crystal-vision: there was something strange about the fronts of their running shorts — an unusual lumpiness. Odd, she thought quite analytically, them having hardons after running so far! Hardons required BLOOD and lots of it — the Twins’ blood should have been 100% in use elsewhere, she felt, almost giggling to herself. Then a bit of her brain wondered to the rest of her just why she had never, ever noticed before what lovely crotches and butts –and legs, of course -The Twins had? How could she possibly have missed that? Had she been otherwise obsessed, or WHAT!? Milliseconds later, something exploded deep in her lower belly, a powerful, gut-wrenching twist that made her gasp out loud. A round of congratulatory and very sweaty hugs which Beta turned into a long, deep kiss, completely unexpected, absolutely delicious. Thirty seconds of that and Alpha was pushing his brother aside, claiming his turn. In her bemused, self-studying state she hardly noticed the anomaly — being actually KISSED again — but was aware enough to note the Twins’ radical differences in technique, and to decide that the differences were certainly not grounds for establishing a preference. Either was nice — much more than merely adequate! – and both together were more than twice as nice as either singly. An emergent phenomenon! Moments later the analysis was swamped by sensation and a tsunami of neediness — and a sense of ill-defined wonder: howcome she’d not even THOUGHT about being kissed for these three years, yet now, so very suddenly, it was desperately, achingly necessary, so fulfilling? From within her confusion, Carrie quickly realized she was impossibly, mind-bogglingly horny, it had descended on her without the least warning, out of the blue, something she’d not felt for three years — the instantaneous explosion of need was so intense that it was almost nauseating. But nicely nauseating — a sign of returning humanity, perhaps? The Twins had quit for the moment, backed off slightly, were advertising a special picnic they’d brought, the basket was in their car, Alpha would go fetch it — lots of juicy canlı bahis stuff, champagne, energy-replacements. A victory celebration. As the Twins talked, Carrie realized that she had an internal victory which needed celebration, needed it desperately, immediately. She made a decision partly analytic, mostly emotional, shook herself, reached out a hand to each Twin, squeezed hard. Which she could now do with authority, given her new musculature. They looked at one another, then down at her. She took a prolonged, deep breath, let her eyes flick back and forth between theirs. “Like riding a bicycle…” she thought — “Three years of no practice and I can still read them perfectly!” And she was pleased with what she read… they were every bit as interested as she, just uncertain — like so many men, they needed guidance. “Hold on a second, you two.” They paused, puzzled. “Can I be just as straightforward right now as you were when you picked me up and threw me in the porta-potty that first race?” Again they looked at one another, back to her, said simultaneously “Sure! What?” She squeezed again. “Okay — here goes. It’s been over three years since I was kissed like that — much less anything beyond kissing. Not once since my accident. I haven’t allowed myself the luxury of horniness — just focused on my injuries and this marathon. The race has been a sort of self-evaluation goal, and now that I’ve done it, well, frankly…” She grinned at them — they were extraordinarily serious-faced. “…FRANKLY, Gentlemen, my libido has just now ripped its way out of the bag I kept it in, and I have the goddamnedest case of the screaming hornies, like a supernova in my belly. First time I’ve felt like a female human for three years. And…” She stared briefly at Beta’s crotch, then at Alpha’s, then back to their faces. “… it’s all focused on you two. If you happen to be free this afternoon, and can handle a hyper-horny black double-amputee as a third in a ménage-a-trois, then I suggest we adjourn — with your picnic — to my place. Immediately. It’s about ten minutes away. Shall we?” She paused, thinking, then grinned at them: “You know, I’ve never even dated white… what a way to re-start!” The Twins looked momentarily addled, then, precisely together, they grinned at her and laughed. Beta said “Stumps, we’ve been speculating about you since day one, at the porta-potty, wishing we could get through to you and make love to you. Talk about fantasizing! We’d just about given up, too! And HELL YES we can handle it — just try us, we guarantee it! You’ve never dated white, and neither of us has ever dated black, so that’s a wash. We’re pretty sure the sexual basics are the same regardless of skin. Black and white, yin and yang, sweet and sour, all those contrasts — what would the world be without them? But you’ll have to drive your van — we’ll flip to see who rides with you and who drives our car. Shall we go NOW? If you can be horny, well, so can WE! Running always makes us both super-hot.” Then, sotto voce, Alpha said “But today’s hardons are very specifically YOUR FAULT! In case you’d like to know.” Carrie appreciated the information, flushed invisibly, squeezed their hands again, muttered “Sorry, guys… I truly didn’t mean to be a prick-tease, if that’s what I was. I’ve been preoccupied all this time, you know. I’m blushing, under the melanin! But…” She grinned broadly up at them both, “… finishing this race seems to have unleashed something. Broken the dam or some such. I hope you can handle it! And why didn’t you ever SAY anything about the fantasies?” Beta shrugged, said “They weren’t shared by you — like you said, you were preoccupied and we understand. Given your state of mind, it would have been totally inappropriate, a sort of breach of confidence. An imposition. Last thing you needed was two extremely horny guys sniffing around you, putting on pressures that you really didn’t want. But hey! — who knows? Maybe today we can explain a few of them? Maybe even try a few on for size? Let’s GO!” Enroute home with Beta riding silently in the passenger seat, letting her drive without distraction, the rational side of Carrie’s brain popped up to query her — had she done a thorough analysis of this situation and what it might become, of what it could mean, of possible consequences? Another part of her psyche was in charge however, and squashed the question, saying in essence that “Ms Rational” should pipe down and get out of the way — that in fact there was a higher-order rational analysis, already completed, that not only permitted but actually demanded this course of action. The vehicles arrived in convoy. Carrie opened the condo’s front door, led the way inside. Alpha brought the big picnic basket from The Twins’ car. Beta shut the condo’s steel front door with an authoritative thunk. She led them straight to the bedroom, wheeled in, watched their reactions to the dangling knotted ropes she used to get around. Beta grinned, said “Interesting possibilities!” Carrie was fully pleased, and half intimidated, by the now full-grown hardons the men sported beneath their running shorts: the hardons’ existence demanded resolution of tension, and she’d had precious little recent practice, and never a twofer. Then Alpha sat down on the bed, reached out for Carrie’s head, leaned forward to kiss her. It went on for quite some time: when they broke, she was shivering violently and he asked with concern “What’s wrong? Getting cold feet?” She shook her head, tried to smile, managed to say “No… not at all. It’s just that, well, I’ve never done anything this wild, two on one, and I’m for sure not used to being so blatant and aggressive. I really don’t know what I’m doing. So I’m nervous and a bit scared. I haven’t had a date, even, since the accident…” She realized again that the event was no longer capitalized — that must be significant! “…PLUS, dammit, I haven’t had an orgasm of any sort for at least three years, and who knows whether I’m still capable? And I’m really truly scared of what it’s going to be like fucking without legs… for both you two men and myself! What are you two going to actually think about my body when you see it naked? That’s scary in itself! I think my boobs are okay, and I don’t have a traditional black female big-booty, but man, NO LEGS? I was always pretty seriously vain about them. Lots of unknowns. So that’s why I’m shaking. But cold feet? NOPE!” She ended her litany of doubts and worries with “Now then, Gentlemen – how shall we start this thing without feeling awkward? God knows, I’m ready!” “k**do,” said Beta, “… your Twins here have never done a threesome together, so we’re all three of us on equal footing. As for starting, why don’t we stand where you can take our clothes off — if the merchandise is still interesting after your inspection, we can do turn-about. By then I suspect things will be evolving nicely, no blueprints needed. And at some point we’ll probably need to open the basket — but not right away. Do we all need to shower first?” Carrie grinned, shook her head, said “No shower needed on my part. Clean sweat is sexy as hell. Besides, what would be the point? With any luck we’ll all be good and sweaty again very shortly!” She grabbed a rope, and using just one arm flipped herself onto the bed with consummate ease, the dark-chocolate smooth ends of her stumps somewhat startling when so blatantly on display. “Come over here you two, where I can reach your shorts.” The merchandise was thoroughly acceptable — a perfect matched set except for Alpha being circumcised and Beta not so. And Beta was clean-shaven, vs Alpha’s pile of tightly-curled, translucent blond pubic hair. Interesting contrasts, she thought — having never before seen either an uncut cock or a white one — or a clean-shaven one, either. After initial introductions during which Carrie discovered that for deep-throating, rather like bicycling, there was nearly 100% skill-retention despite long disuse. She quizzed them as to their crotch differences. Mom and Dad had had disagreed about circumcision — Dad was cut, himself, hence voted YEA. Mom felt it to be a seriously unnatural practice, quite savage, hence voted NO. Compromise – one of each, as determined by flipping a silver dollar. The one who lost the flip — and his foreskin — got the dollar at age 21. The shaving was a fillip laid on by a long-gone girlfriend, something Beta had come to enjoy: Alpha thought it silly. The Twins clambered aboard the king bed, settled one on each side of Carrie, and then together, glacially to the point almost of reverence, they stripped her, singlet first. Her released boobs were tennis-ball solid with need: with one Twin suckling each side, she very nearly came in the first minute or two. When her shorts and thong came off, leaving her exquisitely naked with men for the very first time since the accident, huge swarms of goose-bumps flooded over her, driven partly by worry, partly by appreciation of their combined touches. She had her eyes closed; somebody deeply engaged her mouth with his. Meanwhile, someone else was doing delightful things to her stumps with the other mouth: the sensations were startlingly intense and pleasant. Then he moved to cup her bottom in his warm strong palms, saying firmly, authoritatively, “Jeez, Carrie… your stumps are actually attractive, and with a bottom like this, who’s ever going to miss the legs? You are GORGEOUS!” Warm, gentle, knowing fingers spread her pussy lips, followed by a short sigh of delight: “Man, this pink inside of black is a whole new world of turn-on!” as a hot, soft mouth took possession of first her clit, then her soul. Four male hands, aided by two mouths, were infinitely better than a single set, she quickly discovered. Especially when they truly knew what they were doing, and were driven by minds perfectly attuned to her needs. Less than a minute more, and an enormous orgasm wracked her, shattering any remaining worries. Having mouths simultaneously working both ends as she came was incredible… not to mention three hands on her boobs and the fingers of the fourth drilling firmly, full-depth, into both pussy and bottom. Before she had fully alit, The Twins changed places and started over. She didn’t protest. Different techniques, as also in mouth-kissing: different results, a long string of mini-orgasms, then another volcanic one as a temporary finale. When she could open her eyes she said, slowly and dreamily, “Guess what? I could FEEL my feet each time I came! They were making fists, just like before. Isn’t that the silliest thing?” Then, “Let’s try real fucking now. Please? Which of you gets to go first? I refuse to make a choice! But it’s way overdue to start… after all, we do have to take care of you both! We can watch ourselves in the wall mirror — I love to watch, and the contrast between our skins should make it easy to see what’s actually going on. A subtle advantage of interracial lovemaking!” The Twins looked at one another, exchanged knowing nods. “Maybe there’s no need to make a choice, Carrie. Feeling truly adventuresome, M’Lady? Genuinely, thoroughly adventuresome?” She nodded, wondering. She found out. “Dibs on front for starters!” said Beta. He rolled onto his back, pulled her up to lie atop him chest to chest, reached down for her stumps, spread her wide, slipped himself full-depth into her pussy in a single long, slow stroke that left her gasping nicely and waiting for a second helping, muttering into the long kiss that accompanied the joining, “Screwy, but it really does feel like I have my legs wrapped around you!” Then, behind her, Alpha busied himself getting into position, and she realized exactly what was happening. Realized, was grateful for George having turned her into an anal-sex enthusiast, and relaxed into the intensity of having this pair of identical cocks plunging in perfect syncopation into pussy and ass. And there were plenty of available, talented hands to deal with boobs and back and clit and bottom all at once. It took a while — a deliciously prolonged while. She had never had such an orgasm in her life… and when finally she had recovered her breath, The Twins gave her no quarter, merely took ten seconds to change places, and they went through the entire drill again, but much more slowly and thoroughly, which generated no complaints. Half the afternoon was spent overtly — and enjoyably – exploring what was missing in lovemaking possibilities due to her absent legs. The major findings were (a) yes, some few things were missing, some positions, some techniques were no longer possible, but also, astoundingly enough, (b) new possibilities were opened up as well. In fact, there were times when legs would actually have been in the way. Hardly worth amputation to discover so, she pointed out, but interesting nonetheless. The other half of the afternoon was spent consuming the picnic-basket’s contents, then a long adventure in showering-with-friends in which soap and hand-held showerheads were featured items. Followed by serious pizza, delivered. Late in the afternoon Carrie proposed that the men stay overnight — if they happened to be available and interested. After all, the trio seemed to be fully compatible in all directions –she was frankly amazed at The Twins’ ability to cooperate and avoid competing, not to mention how totally natural it felt to have TWO all for herself! Maybe this was nature’s way of letting her make up for lost time? Anyhow, she for one was nowhere near satiated… plus their hardons kept on returning, suggesting that the men needed more for themselves? Something she could provide? The night was spent in such deep darkness that Carrie literally never knew which man was in her hands or mouth, or pussy, or butt… and although in theory she could have found out — given circumcisions and shaving — the reality was that she hadn’t memorized what condition went with whom, and on top of that she most definitely didn’t care. When early in the AM yet another sandwich occurred, it was unknown and immaterial to her which man was fore and which aft… the important thing was the pleasure all three gave and got in return. Morning, she awoke first, looked at the sound-asleep bodies on either side of her, reached for a rope, hauled herself quietly clear of the bed and men, swung into her chair. Still nude, she wheeled to the kitchen. Twenty minutes later, the smell of coffee roused her Twins, and they appeared, newborn-naked, sporting morning half-erections, looking both awed and sheepish at finding her already up and making breakfast for three. “Shit! Damn!” she said, and finally took her thumb off the switch briefly, let the tears roll. Jameson reached out and took her hand, held it firmly, silently, waited for her to finish. When she was down to sniffles, he said “Glad to see you can cry- you’ve got to let the emotions IN and then OUT, or else they’ll destroy you. Believe me, I know. The ones who can’t cry for themselves usually don’t ever get back to living a decent life, never accept and move on.” Report Story

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