Chapter Seven: The Ghosts and Lies We Hold Dear

The distance that had taken Carlone months to travel on foot after she had run away from the farm, took a few short weeks with a horse-drawn cart. The major difference was that before she was unsure of if she wanted to actually end up where she was wandering toward. However, she was now positive that she wanted to go back to the farm. All the way there though, her mind was in a whirl with the mounting "ifs" she may encounter. How would the people of the town receive her? Would there be mostly new people or all the same that used to know her? Would her family turn her out and if so would Viktor still treat her like a cherished sibling? She could not know the outcome, only worry about it, which she did as the beaches grew further behind them and the flat plains came into view ahead. She had not realized how inward she had withdrawn into her own mind until Viktor pointed out an inn in the distance. "Finally a real place to stay!" He said with glee, Carlone was happy too, the bedding for their trip had become flattened with overuse, making it little better than sleeping on the hard ground itself. She welcomed the idea of a warm bed to rest on.

Carlone had not known this inn when she was living in the area with her mother, but it was familiar to her anyway due to the customs she was raised under. The clothing the keepers wore was much like her aunt's. The food served in the tavern was full of nostalgia as she hadn't had mutton and butternut squash soup since she was a young girl. She laughed at Viktor while he ate, taking each mouthful slowly, "what's the matter? You miss your ocean food of boiled sea bugs too much?" They chuckled because she was partly right. It was odd that two people from such different worlds were the best of friends, yet they were. Straightening up to change the subject Carlone cleared her throat before suggesting that Viktor get his foot looked at by the village doctor while she made a supply run in the morning. There was no way for Carlone to know what supplies they would need on the farm. Instead, it was an excuse for her to get a feel of the town without Viktor next to her, in addition to Carlone wanting to have her cart ready in case she did need to make a quick exit if the rumor of her being a fever survivor caused her more trouble than she could handle. Viktor unwittingly agreed to his fool's errand and they went into their separate rooms with two very different days planned out. If all went well they would meet up once more in the afternoon, if not Carlone would probably never see her adopted brother again.

Carlone got an early start before the daybreak. She filled the cart with supplies enough to make the trip back to the quarry and some extras on top of that too. She was sure to keep her head down or not to get caught up in chitchat. Her plan was to see as few people as possible, and vice versa with others. The town was so strange to her now that she was an adult. In the town before the fever, her mother was well respected, while she was a child who people would pat on the head but not particularly knowledge otherwise. Carlone walked to and fro as the townspeople came out for the day. Still, no one recognized her or stopped to speak to her at all, she blended in for the most parts a traveler and nothing more. As for her, Carlone did not see anyone she knew from her younger years. The town's hallmarks were there still, yet they were also ghostly in a manner she could feel but not describe. The church was still a white building with a tall steeple, but now it was quiet, there were no old women talking in hushed tones on the wooden pews like she remembered. The market was open, but none of the farmers she knew were there anymore. Of those that were there were a far lesser number gathered than she remembered was the norm. The people were all busy, but no one looked engaged with one another. It was all quite brief and impersonal for every exchange she had or saw. Carlone wondered if it were that her mother was just that warm of a person or if the fever had altered the personality of the township in totality, she couldn't decide. She was, however, relieved that she would in fact still be meeting with Viktor for lunch and not have to resort to her backup plan of being run out of town by anger fever survivor intolerants armed with pitchforks.

Carlone greeted Viktor at the inn's tavern with a bit more joy than she had meant to reveal. As they sat down to eat Viktor told her his news that his foot would not need an amputation, but that he would likely have to manage the irreversible "clawfoot" of his remaining toes. Carlone was just glad she did not unintentionally aid her friend in his own destruction. "I have to wear an insole in my shoe from now on and I won't be able to work in the quarry anymore." He explained. Carlone could see he wasn't too heartbroken over the ladder regarding his career abandonment. She could also see that his crutch was upgraded instead of thrown out, something she knew better than to ask about, but that she took as meaning that he would need it for the foreseeable future. Viktor finished by asking her about her day, realizing this was her chance to keep her secret of the fever safe, Carlone told Viktor that she used to be called "Bunty" and to address her as such in town. The following day under this assumed name, Carlone introduced herself to any person she met. Through this Carlone asked all who would give her the time of day what had become of the farm. Of course, she made sure that she did so while Viktor was being fitted for a foot brace at the doctor's office. Not a single person could give her a straight answer as if the farm had disappeared the night her mother died. The only information that Carlone could surmise was that the farm was no longer sending crops to sell at the weekly market and that people were aware that the parents there had died some years ago. This only confused Carlone who thought about her aunt and cousins. Surely they had been doing more than hunkering down all this time. She had to know her family's situation, but she did not want to risk visiting with Viktor fearing that her aunt would have them run out of town if the exchange became volatile.

Making her excuses to disappear for a few hours Carlone took the horse and cart to the farm, but only after placing some extra money for Viktor in the toe of his boot in the off chance that she had to dash off and leave him behind. There were so many memories that pulled her back to her past as she approached on the same road her uncle and mother used to take home from the market. However, it was arriving on the farm that caused both anger and sadness to come over her as the wound of her mother's death was now being ripped open once more. Her expression was grim, with her knuckles white as she tried to control herself while holding the reins. She was ready to reprimand her aunt, no longer concerning herself with the opinions of the townsfolk who would cast her aside for the fever that had nearly killed her all those years ago. This emotion was immediately quelled when it was Faya who walked out of the main house, with her wrinkled brow trying to make out the person stopping by unannounced. Carlone could tell that Faya did not recognize her as she pulled her horse-drawn cart in front of the water basin. "Faya!" Carlone called out to her cousin. Faya stood there looking at her until her expression suddenly lightened when the sound of Carlone's voice caused her to realize who she was. "I thought you died," Faya said in shock as she hurried to embrace Carlone, "I thought I was the only one left all this time." Faya broke down crying as she spoke. Carlone then realized there was no one on the farm at all but the two of them. There was a silence there that was deafening. Carlone took this in as she now truly saw the place, no longer with eyes only seeing from her experiences, but in the stark light of day. Everything had grown over, the fields were unplowed, the house had chipped paint where the whitewash was once well maintained. Nothing was as it had been, time had damaged too much. Then Carlone turned to face the sight behind Faya, the graves of Kuli, her uncle, her mother, and her aunt. Each marked with a wooden tombstone, each with fresh wildflowers the isolated Faya had placed there recently. Carlone was shattered for Faya and furious with herself. Why did she wait so long to come back for the one person who saved her that terrible night her mother died?

Carlone had to make this right, she felt it in her very soul. She pulled up the weeping Faya by her hands. The girl's body was thin and her arms ropy with too many years of too many tasks to be done on her own. Carlone had been well fed at the quarry because the company provided free meals to the workers. She had had a warm bed to sleep in with laundry done by the old village women the quarry hired just for that purpose. Carlone had grown to be strong and healthy, all while Faya had become weak with neglect. It was heartbreaking for Carlone to realize, yet it was the total truth that she could not deny. "Let's go inside, I have good news for you," Carlone said knowing that was what her uncle would say when they were sad as children to soothe their tears. Faya looked up at Carlone, with a glimmer of hope in her tired eyes as they walked to the kitchen that Carlone was prohibited from using by her aunt when she was alive. The room was dark, with cobwebs in every crevice. The cupboards were all bare and Carlone wondered what Faya had been living off of until she saw what looked like butchered rat meat on the countertop. The tails were on the top of a heap of the garbage bin, making Carlone shutter for a moment before she composed herself. It didn't take much thought to put together that Faya had likely sold anything of value that was laying around the house years ago in order to survive. All the antique furniture was gone, including a gilded clock her aunt had prized as their sole family heirloom. "It went last," Faya said as Carlone seated herself at the only chair left where the dinner table once was. Carlone must have been staring at the empty place where the clock was in the entryway. "Mom would have been so disappointed with me for selling it, but the winter was so bad a few years back, it was either I do that or die." Faya didn't have to continue anymore for Carlone to know that what was unsaid in that statement was that Faya wasn't sure if she had made the right decision of not letting go.

Calone began before Faya could say anything else. It was like whenever Faya spoke that she was reliving her trauma, something Carlone was eager to interrupt. "I've come from the coast, working at a quarry actually. I have a friend with me too, he's in town right now. We can help you. We want to help you." Carlone realized in saying that she was speaking for the absent Viktor, whom she had no idea of how he would take Faya in her downtrodden status. "This farm is not impossible to get running again. If that is something that you want anyway." Carlone caught herself midway through her sentence, suddenly unsure if Faya would even want to stay there anymore. Carlone did have roughly half of her wad of money left from the quarry, as well as the moonstones. Using herself as a farmhand and if Viktor could pitch in with anything he could do, they could get the farm back to a minimum level of functionality, but it would wipe Carlone's funds out completely, something she hadn't anticipated happening so soon. "This is my home, it would be an honor to restore it to like when everyone was here, but do you really think we could do it?" Faya gushed as if in a fantasy. Carlone looked out of the once sparkling clean window that was now too dingy to see through. The planting season was upon them, Carlone knew simply from the way that the sun was shining just then. "If we get to work quickly, yes." She replied to Faya who was clutching a dishrag like a handkerchief. Carlone forced a smile as she answered, trying to comfort Faya as much as she could. Faya ran to Carlone and hugged her, just as Carlone started to quietly doubt her promise.

The main house was far too depressing for Carlone to want to linger in any longer than she had to, so she asked Faya to show her around all of the places that needed the most work. This was naturally an asinine task as Carlone knew fully well that the entire place was falling apart. Faya showed Carlone the fields, with the old smokehouse behind them. The building was completely unsafe to try to enter, and Carlone made a mental note to try to pull it down and salvage as much of the timber from it as possible. The gazebo was mostly standing, it just needed to be sanded and revarnished, something that was very low on the priorities list for her. The barn was the most noticeable missing building. When it burnt down, Faya never tried to rebuild it, but instead used the remaining wood from it to keep her warm in the winters. There was nothing left to it other than the beaten ground where it had stood. Carlone froze as she looked at it. "I never saw if mom had started the fire, but I know she bolted the doors that night." Faya sheepishly admitted to Carlone who turned in reply to say "she did start the fire. It took me years to realize that the flames were all from the same side as the main house and there's no candles that could have caused the burn, only a dropped torch." Faya took a step back as Carlone finished. Carlone sighed, "my mother was already dead. Your mother always hated my mother. I think her being sick was her chance to end the ordeal she couldn't handle." Faya looked confused as Carlone spoke. "Then why come back? Why help me at all?" Carlone couldn't directly answer that herself, but she tried to put the words together that made the most sense anyway, "As much as I loved my mother, and I do, I know that I am your sister because we share the same father and that it drove your mother mad to see it. Your mother wasn't right in what she did by burning down the barn, but I knew she was out of her head at the time too. I'm grateful you saved me and sorry that you have suffered from all of it." The wind seemed to nearly howl as Carlone finished, she had never admitted out loud what they both knew until that moment. There was an absolution she felt from it as if it had been pressing on her somehow. It was so obvious and yet something they all tried to hide despite it being so glaring.

Carlone knew she had to take her to leave for the day but also let Faya know she wanted to make good on her word. "I have to go back to town since I have a room at the inn for another night. Tomorrow I will bring Viktor by and we will see what he can do to help. I'll buy what we need too, you don't need to worry about it. Actually, I brought a cart full of supplies just for you if you aren't too prideful to take it." Carlone gestured toward the cart, which she had let the horse off of to roam while they surveyed the farm. The hungry Faya ran to the cart laughing "I'm not too proud!" as she grabbed the goods up to bring them inside. "there is one thing to know about Viktor. He's a nice person, but I never told him about the fever. I'd appreciate it if you could keep that under wraps." Faya popped her head out of the house's doorway, "I wouldn't be so silly as to incriminate myself to throw mud on your name, you have nothing to fear from me." She said as she finished, going back to chucking the crates of canned food, jerky, blankets, and oats inside. Carlone shrugged her shoulders realizing Faya was right, and that she had nothing to fear as she picked up a crate to carry for Faya. Things seemed to fall into place better than she had hoped.