The first night on her own Carlone was too sick to eat or do much more than to sip at a nearby creek's water. Her cough was a hard hacking that she could not suppress. Blood trickled out of every orifice of her body. Her thoughts were fevered, yet she was able to stagger far enough away to avoid Faya who would surely come looking for her. It wasn't long before Carlone collapsed alone in the woods, coming to a day or so later. When the fever finally broke, she found herself to be more hungry than she ever had been. Although she was not her able-bodied self, she picked up whatever forage was close to her. She stuffed her mouth full of not yet ripened Sunchokes and blackberries. Back on the farm, when her aunt had been particularly intolerable Carlone's mother would take her on walks through the woods to find food to scavage to supplement what was withheld from them by the inhabitants of the main house. Her uncle would usually come by during these ordeals and bring a peace offering of bread, but always under his wife's nose and not dependably enough to live comfortably off of. As the days passed after her escape from the farm, Carlone improved little by little. She made the decision to slink away on the old supply line roads, which were out of use by anyone other than degenerates for decades since the last war. Carlone had set upon the mission to head southeast until she got to the chilly beaches where her aunt's beloved moonstones came from. It was the one place Carlone knew she could make her own way off of trade, which was everything for a pre-teen girl like herself who was too small to be a full time laborer. The trip would be a couple of hundred miles on foot, but to her, anything was better than going back from where she came.
Carlone had expected to have to hide from at least a few other travelers here or there along the way. However, the news of the fever had almost every person with anywhere to be bunkered down. The days of summer were coming to a close as the nights were getting longer as the mornings grew colder. Carlone soon realized that she was not dressed for the chill in the air after walking along the river toward her destination on a particularly breezy day. Her clothes were sacred to her because they were the last thing her mother had handed her on the day she died. At night Carlone piled dry leaves on top of herself to keep the morning dew from collecting on her while she slept. Despite being a novice to the world of survivalists even Carlone was aware that mushrooms, wild leeks, and forest berries would only hold her over for so long. Probably due to her state of mourning over the loss of her mother or because she was still not fully recovered from the effects of the fever on her body, Carlone was in no hurry to reintroduce herself to the world. She made her way slowly, while stopping frequently using any excuse her consciousness would grant her to meander the day away. Her trip made as little as two miles a day progress for the most part. The majority of her time was idled away by fashioning woven material from the honeysuckle vines into something of use to her or picking around the overgrown trails looking for anything edible she could use for herself.
Gently as she traveled it became apparent that fall had slipped past her notice until an early snow caused her to have to reevaluate her wayward plans. Carlone had lost track of where she was exactly by then. She had never been so far from the only home she had known until this point. It was late in the evening after a brisk day when some delicate snowflakes began to fall from the sky. Thus far, Carlone's grass-woven shoes and make-shift shawl were doing their job keeping her warm. This undeniable change in the weather gave her reason to fear frostbite. She paused trying to get a sense of any sign of a nearby township, breathing cold air deep in absolute silence. It was a solid several minutes before the clouds covered the moonlight enough for her to see some light-reflecting above the trees in the distance. She set off toward it, hoping there was a church she could seek refuge in and God willing get some supplies from. This was on her mind as she took each step. When she got to where she was going, she discovered that her destination was in fact an old house with a barn to its side. Carlone, not wanting to chance an unfriendly encounter with the residents within, crept into the barn where she slept nestled under the hay. By the time that morning broke she heard the farmer rummaging amongst his horses outside of the stable, which Carlone took as her sign to leave. Against all of her good judgment, she waited instead. She waited until the man was gone before she went out to the road by his home. It surely led toward a town of some kind she assumed and followed it to find out just that.
She walked until she thought it was a lost cause, but walked some more anyway. Then when her legs were too tired to keep going, she came upon a tiny village with a sign that read "Hillside." The main street was empty, with some shops that looked like they had not been open since the same time frame that the fever had come to Carlone's own town. The only place with its door open was the church. Carlone went in, hoping the people there were more helpful than the churchgoers she had known through her aunt. A middle-aged man wearing a clergyman's robe was inside, sweeping the dusty floor. Carlone greeted him and asked where the other townspeople were. "Did you not hear? When the fever came through, the people fled, and those who didn't died." Carlone was confused and asked why he had not fled or died, to which he answered that he was from the congregation to the west, sent to report on the abandoned places where the church had patrons. He stopped sweeping as he explained this, taking in the clothing she was wearing and her unkempt appearance. His eyes narrowed while he went on, "everyone went up North over the summer. It's the only place too cold for the fever to spread." Carlone didn't say that she witnessed a farmer who lived a few miles away, thinking it would only cause her to put the scrutinizing man in a foul mood. "Where did you say you came from?" The clergyman asked as he stepped back from her. She suddenly realized that if he found out she had survived the fever he would become enraged with her for possibly exposing him to it, because all survivors were said to be lifetime carriers. She felt both guilt and fear for forgetting this when they spoke. She wanted to lie to him to protect herself but worried that if the rumors were right that she may be killing this man just by being near him. In a reactive move, she ran away as fast as she could.
She was too exhausted to make the trip all the way back to the farm she had slept at the night before in one go, so she took a rest along a riverbed where the snow had not stuck to the ground. There she waited by the water and nibbled on the last of her forest procured snacks. It was all edible bark, crab apples, and chickweed from here on out she sighed as she finished off the final pear from her pocket. When the evening was beginning to set in, Carlone got back on her feet. The night was once again too cold for her to be in the elements by herself now that it was shaping up to be frostier than the night prior. The barn would have to do, Carlone reluctantly resolved. Carlone wasn't sure how long she could squat on that farm before she could move on. She understood that she needed some supplies very specific as the further south she traveled the less likely she was to freeze to death. Although, even in a temperate climate like that along the coastal region, the winters were still a bit on the trying side of comfort. Carlone made it back to the barn that night without being sighted by the old farmer, who was already in bed by then. She wondered why he had not left when the other townsfolk did. Maybe he had just come back after the fact she decided when she laid in the hay which was moldy in smell as if it had been sitting there too long for the horses to have been using it as a primary food source.
The next morning Carlone awoke to the farmer and the clergyman talking. The clergyman was asking if he knew of a young lady who had run away from her parents. The farmer responded in a grumbled tone that he did not, nor would he as he had come to inspect the property due to his brother-in-law having recently sold it to him at a loss in exchange for canceling a legal debt his wife owed their family. "I have not seen a soul, not that I would care to. I'm just passing through myself." Carlone smiled, she just had to wait out this farmer and she would have the place to herself for the winter. This was a relief since she knew she would not do so well when the winter was in full swing. She wondered if there would be anyone else coming by the place when he was gone. No sooner had she finished that thought than she realized the farmer was already packing up to leave with his two horses in tow. The clergyman walked alongside the man as they both agreed that a child on their own would surely die before too long. "Do you think she's a fever carrier?" The farmer asked the clergyman, "No she didn't have the green-hued skin that gives them away." Carlone held up her arm in the light as she heard the clergyman say that questioning what he meant and just like that the only two people she had seen in months were gone in the distance.
Carlone still concerned the farmer might come back, kept a low profile while she toured his house. The nostalgia of her having to carefully walk through the main house on the farm she was from came over her as she tip-toed in through the side entrance, always mindful of the door to run out of if she were found. She missed her mother so much it physically hurt her to think of her, as if her heart were being apart within her chest. Carlone gulped as she tried to repress those bittersweet memories. From what she could see it looked like everything was put away. The cabinets had only a few jars of preserves in them. A bin off to the side had some forgotten half spoiled onions and potatoes. The upstairs bedrooms reminded her of Faya and Kuli. Carlone wondered if she had been wrong leaving Faya and her aunt when she did. Poor Faya she thought. She was the only kind one of that bunch, aside from her mother and uncle. Carlone now had such pity for her cousin but reasoned that if she returned that Faya would always be stuck being the buffer between herself and her aunt. Carlone found some better clothing in a hope chest at the foot of a bed which was slightly big on her, but at least was weather appropriate. She put the clothing her mother had given her in a canvas sack. She refused to risk losing it, so she tied the sack's pull string across her shoulders tightly.
In the barn, Carlone sought out anything of use to her. There was a leather overcoat that looked like it was something for the farmhands to borrow when metal working, as well as boots meant to go over work shoes that she took. Carlone decided it was best to sleep in the barn and be in the farmhouse as little as she could. Thieves were not looked upon kindly anywhere that she knew of and she wanted to be able to dash off to the forest if she had to. That night she had troubled thoughts that prevented her from falling asleep quickly. She remembered how her mother had said that her grandmother had gotten the fever and lived. She decided that her family were not carriers. Did that mean that the people who said fever survivors were carriers were misinformed? Carlone considered this deeper as she tossed in her hay bed. There were so few survivors and those who had lived kept that knowledge to themselves. She resolved in her mind then to never reveal that she had survived the fever. She came to this conclusion after she realized the clergyman would have died had she been a carrier. She knew she was right but was terrified she could be wrong. By the week's end, Carlone had used up what little was on the farm for her to pick through. She packed up her canvas bag and started south once more. The winter was shaping up to be mild. She had more fear of being found squatting than she did of freezing to death.