Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they’ll never face the same fate…
We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Gretchen Felker-Martin’s Manhunt, an explosive post-apocalyptic novel that follows trans women and men on a grotesque journey of survival. Manhunt is available from Tor Nightfire on February 22, 2022.
Beth and Fran spend their days traveling the ravaged New England coast, hunting feral men and harvesting their organs in a gruesome effort to ensure they’ll never face the same fate.
Robbie lives by his gun and one hard-learned motto: other people aren’t safe.
After a brutal accident entwines the three of them, this found family of survivors must navigate murderous TERFs, a sociopathic billionaire bunker brat, and awkward relationship dynamics—all while outrunning packs of feral men, and their own demons.
Fran, squinting in the early afternoon glare, watched through her scratched binoculars as the man knelt to drink. The forest pool was dark and brackish, scummed with blooms of vibrant green algae. Skinny pines, bare-branched for a good twenty feet under the canopy of needles, surrounded it. The man’s matted, filthy hair floated on the surface as he gulped down greedy mouthfuls, tilting his head back to swallow like an alligator horking down a fish.
They had trouble with swallowing, these things the plague had made out of anyone with enough testosterone in their system to put out a decent crop of back hair. Mostly they ripped their prey apart and gulped the meat down in chunks, or dug up grubs and beetles and whatever roots they could get their gnarled claws on. They’d eat pretty much anything if it came down to it. Fran had seen one choke on a tennis ball.
“Well?” asked Beth, kneeling on Fran’s right.
Fran lowered the binoculars. “He’s alone. Can you one-shot him from here?”
Beth was already unlimbering her compound bow. “Sixty yards,” she said quietly, smirking so that the scar at the right corner of her mouth drew taut and pulled at her bottom eyelid until a little crescent of wet pink showed under it. “Which eye socket you want it through?”
“Don’t be a cunt,” Fran hissed back. “Just do it.”
Beth’s smile widened as she nocked a carbon fiber arrow and drew to the bow’s full extension, the muscles in her long, thick arms standing out. She squinted along the arrow’s shaft. “Lick my taint,” she whispered, and took the shot.
The high-tension bowstring twanged. The arrow buzzed through the air like a thirty-inch hornet, its arc carrying it up, up, up into the branches above. The man, far downslope in a basin choked with years of rust-colored fallen pine needles, looked up from the pool, cracked and scabby skin splitting along fresh fissures to reveal raw pink flesh beneath as his face contorted into a snarl, exposing a mouthful of rotting snaggleteeth under a nose pounded flat and smeared onto the thing’s left cheek by God knew how many unset breaks.
He drew a breath and for an instant Fran was sure that he would scream, that he would make that horrible fucking sound she heard ring out in choruses every night the second she dropped into REM. Then the arrow hit, punching through his skull with a distant thunk, and he toppled face-first into the pool and lay there, not moving. A few mourning doves cooed angrily from the branches above.
Beth touched her thumb and forefinger together and raised them to her lips, then kissed them and opened her hand, gesturing as though to let the kiss take flight like a cartoon chef just after tasting a perfect sauce. “Bella, bella!” she yelled. “Bellissima!”
Fran laughed in spite of herself, her legs going loose and shaky as adrenaline flooded her system. “God, Beth,” she giggled, picking herself up to follow the taller girl out of their small brake of fiddleheads and chokeberry and down the slope. For a single blessed heartbeat she felt weightless, her nostrils full of the warm cinnamon smell of dead pine needles, her neck and back slick with sweat under her sodden tank top. It felt like summer used to feel, itchy and restless and golden. “You’re such a fucking dumbass.”
Fran cut him open, a V incision to either side of the spine, and sliced his adrenal glands off the tops of his kidneys. Then she fished his balls out of his rashy scrotum. When she cut it open, his ballsack exuded a stink like a bath bomb infused with rancid pork. She packed his giblets into her duffel between layers of dry ice wrapped in yellowing newspaper. She tried not to look at the other things growing inside him, at the squirming tumors that flinched from her hunting knife and scalpel, hiding among bones and fleshy membranes like goldfish in the archways and battlements of an aquarium castle.
Birds gathered in the branches overhead as she worked. Crows, mostly, and the wide-winged shadows of turkey vultures sweeping in long, lazy circuits over the forest floor. A red-tailed hawk kept silent watch over the basin and its little surgical tableaux. Beth stood guard nearby, an arrow nocked, her own knife loose in its sheath at her hip.
When Fran was done, she washed her hands in the pool and dried them on the front of her bloodstained, moth-eaten tank. The dead man stared at her accusingly with one bloodshot golden eye, his face still twisted in a vicious snarl.
“You good?” Beth asked. The shadows were getting longer. The birds would draw attention. No more laughter.
Fran shouldered the rucksack and stood, knees popping after forty-five minutes spent squatting over the dead man’s gaping back. She looked away from his baleful, unseeing gaze, feeling suddenly absurdly guilty. “Yeah. Let’s boogie.”
They scaled the slope in silence, Beth in the lead and Fran following close behind, neither of them looking back as the watchful croaking of the carrion birds became a ravenous cacophony, black wings flogging the hot summer air.
A few miles from where they’d left their bikes at the forest’s edge, they paused to drink lukewarm water and wolf down stale protein bars. Fran tried to imagine the taste of fresh biscuits drowning in sausage gravy, rich and buttery and shot through with a smooth, dark tang of smoke. Instead she imagined one of the dead man’s tumors slithering back behind his left lung, its half-formed mouth agape in a wheezing grin.
The plague, t. rex, was as reliable as the atomic fucking clock. First, relentless hunger pangs. Mood swings. Fever. Dermal fissures that wept pus and cloudy blood before scabbing over, bursting, and scabbing again until the skin was nearly an inch thick in places. Delirium. Intense spikes of aggression. Once the initial lava flow of symptoms cooled and hardened into the shrieking, ravenous things that seethed like lice across the entire American supercontinent, something clicked on inside whatever remained of the man’s brain and he started looking for something to rape, maim, and leave half-dead like those wasps that laid their eggs in living tarantulas. The good news was that pregnancy was shorter now. Much shorter. The bad news was that the babies ate their way out.
Out here on the coast, the things that had been men were scarcer, at least. They couldn’t swim, so fish held little allure for them, and most of the big game had been killed off years ago. Still, sometimes one caught sight of you and before the echoes of its first scream faded there were thirty of the fucking things pelting after you on all fours through the rotting innards of a Walmart Supercenter like a pack of rabid dogs.
And if I ever run out of spiro and E I’ll be one of them a few weeks later, and then some other t-girl’s gonna put an arrow through my skull and slice off my balls. Oh well. So sad.
“Let’s boogie,” said Beth through a mouthful of protein bar as she straightened up and brushed crumbs off her ratty, threadbare hoodie. Letsh bugey.
“Let’s,” said Fran.
They were almost to the forest’s edge, making good time over level ground between the pines, when Fran heard voices. “Wait,” she hissed to Beth, flattening herself slowly into the sparse underbrush. “Down, get down.”
Beth dropped onto her elbows at her side. “I don’t see anything,” she whispered back. “Are you sure you’re not just a jumpy bitch with clinical paranoia you’ll never get diagnosed because all the psychiatrists are dead or living in, like, Monaco in some really tacky American slum?”
“Shut the fuck up and follow me. And be quiet.”
They wormed their way forward for a good five minutes, pausing intermittently to listen. Beth’s expression sobered when they both heard a high, scratchy woman’s voice shriek “Oh my GOD!” in a breathless titter. Other voices answered. Fran and Beth squirmed onward until finally, from the relative concealment of a patch of goldenrod growing in a clearing, they saw the TERFs.
They were a hundred yards off, half-hidden by the thinning pines near the forest’s edge. A dozen women, most of them in their late teens or early twenties, a few younger, all in fatigues, most sporting undercuts, stood clustered around the bikes where Fran and Beth had left them leaning up against a rusted metal rack, a holdover from when this place had been shot through with hiking trails for rich yuppies from Boston who wanted somewhere serene to surround themselves with nature and stargaze and do cayenne-and-lemon-juice cleanses. And blow.
“Fffffuck,” Beth groaned, rocking back up onto her haunches and settling into a loose, ready crouch. “It’s the fucking chromosome crusaders.”
Suddenly, the group of girls fell silent. They parted as smoothly as a set of drapes and a thin, pale woman of unremarkable height, maybe forty years old, strode through the divided group toward the bikes. She wore crisp fatigues and a short, tight leather jacket zipped up to her collarbones. On her forehead, dead center above the bridge of her pert little ski slope nose, was a stark tattoo: XX. Pussy certified all-natural by the Daughters of the Witches You Couldn’t Burn or whatever Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival bullshit the TERFocracy in Maryland bowed down to. Fuck.
“We can wait them out,” Fran whispered, chin practically kissing the dirt, hair stuck to her neck with flop sweat. “Worst case is they take our bikes and we walk home. We have enough meds to get us there, I think. It should be fine. It’s probably going to be fine. Hey maybe get down a little more?”
“Oh motherfuck me,” whispered Beth, not even pretending to listen. “That’s Queen TERF. That’s fucking Teach.”
Fran’s eyes widened. She stared at the thin, long-haired woman currently sorting through the contents of Beth’s bike basket. They called her Teach, she’d heard, because she’d been a psychological consultant at Guantanamo before T-Day hit. She was a medical doctor too, according to the rumors at the Fort Fisher trading post up near Seabrook when they’d gone to find a buyer for their excess E. Whatever her deal, and wherever she’d come from, there was no doubting she was hardcore. She got her hands on them and they were fucked. Dead. Done.
The tattooed woman said something that made her retinue laugh. Fran watched her lips move, watched the play of muscles under her smooth face as she smiled. A cold thrill went up her spine. God, you don’t need to have a wet dream about a fucking gender-essentialist neofascist. She squeezed her eyes shut, nipping in the bud her imagination’s little spurt of latex tight against pale skin and thighs divided into lickable quarters by garters edged in delicate black lace, of a hand on the back of her neck squeezing tighter and tighter until—
She bit her lip, cutting through the haze, and the world swam back into normalcy. Well, except that Beth was standing up, and she had her bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. The broad-shouldered girl was squinting. It was past noon and the sunlight seemed to be aimed right at them. The shadows were getting long again.
“What are you doing?” Fran hissed, spittle flying through her teeth. Her cock was hard, tenting the front of her stupid cargo shorts, and she was seized suddenly by the ridiculous fear that the pale woman could see it. “Beth, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Making the world a kinder, gentler place,” said Beth, grinning like a fox with its head through the henhouse door as she nocked an arrow to the bowstring and drew it back level with the unscarred corner of her mouth. “I’m gonna put one through her fucking neck.”
Excerpted from Manhunt, copyright © 2022 by Gretchen Felker-Martin.