8. A Walk in the Park

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Artemis moved across the rubble, eyes scanning in every direction. Her left hand gripped her recurve bow, her right held an arrow at the ready. She never liked coming this way; the remaining walls of the warehouses could provide cover for Crazies or other enemies. In fact, she would have been a lot happier with Valinda along but in order to check all the traps before sundown, they’d had to split up. With every day that passed, food was becoming harder to obtain. She was surprised that any wildlife remained but the deer seemed to enjoy the open spaces and streams of Aureus Gate Park.

Once beyond the ruined building, she ducked through a hole in the wire fence and climbed up a short slope. She then paused and looked back to ensure she hadn’t been followed. Noting the ever-lengthening shadows, she completed her check, then continued into the woods on the eastern side of the park. It wasn’t difficult to follow the trail she had made while setting the traps four days previously. All three snares were placed within gaps in the undergrowth along the stream. Artemis had seen deer tracks at all three locations and felt hopeful about catching something. Then again, perhaps the deer had moved on. Things changed so quickly these days.

Blood. Several spots on a fern leaf close to the trail. She touched it with her gloved hand. The blood had dried - but only just. And when she looked closer, she realised there were some fresh footprints too. Artemis halted once more, listening carefully. Somewhere in the distance, a car alarm was going off. A light breeze moved branches above and she could hear the nearby stream too. But nothing more.

She continued along the path and approached the first location carefully. The snare was untouched. She continued along the stream, eyes fixed on the trees and undergrowth ahead. Twice more, she saw drops of blood. Two hundred yards later, she came to the second snare; it too was empty.

She didn’t get a chance to check the third snare. She was thirty yards away when a man appeared, moving away from the stream. He was crouched over, eyes wary, and across his shoulder was a small, dead deer. One forearm was covered by a blood-stained bandage. Artemis stayed low and waited until she had a clear shot before speaking. The thief was no more than thirty feet away, turned half away from her: a sitting duck.

‘That kill is mine.’

The man looked back. He was small, Latino in appearance, clad in dirty clothing. He turned around, one hand held up, one still holding his prize.

‘Por favor. Lo necesito.’

‘I need it too. I set the snare. It’s mine.’

Artemis kept the arrow aimed at his chest.

The man called out to someone.

Fearful of what would happen next, Artemis was relieved when a woman showed herself. She was behind a tree, some distance away. Beside her were two children, and all three looked as poor and desperate as who she presumed was the father.

‘Por favor. Para mi familia.’

She walked towards him through long grass. ‘I have a family too.’

In truth, she didn’t actually know if her family was alive; but Valinda and the others were her family now. She had been charged with supplying food and that was exactly what she intended to do.

By the time she reached the man, both children were crying. Artemis ignored the sound as she had many times before. Everyone suffered now. That was the new way of the world.

Seeing that her foe was unarmed, she shouldered her bow and took her hatchet from her belt.

‘Por favor.’

‘Hand it over. Now.’

He clearly was desperate because he simply shook his head. Artemis raised the hatchet, now having to ignore the cries of the woman too.

‘Now.’

Still he refused.

Aiming the hatchet at his neck, Artemis grabbed the deer and wrenched it from his grip. She then knelt down and set to chopping off a haunch. Blood splattered the man’s trousers but he looked on until Artemis had finished. She wiped the hatchet blade on the grass then stood.

‘Take it. Take it and leave and don’t come back here.’

He picked up the haunch and nodded. ‘Gracias.’

Artemis watched until the family had disappeared from view. Ideally, she would have re-set the third snare but the wood was now cloaked in the gloom of twilight. The deer would slow her down and she had two miles to cover. Leaving the bow on her shoulder, she kept the hatchet in her hand and headed back across the city.

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