Wayne slid out from under the bush, knits and barbs caught tangled in his hair. The sound followed him from his dream… a mouse’s head sewn onto a cherub with thick, black sutures, zig-zagging around the neck. The ruddy cheeked monster’s wings flapped soundlessly while its head squeaked like a dog’s toy. Squeak, squeak. Wayne covered his ears with his palms. Slowly, the nightmare slipped away… but the sound remained. Squeak squeak.

Spegg. Those goddamn lips, those fleshy, gray balloons. He sucked on them when he was idle—and that horrible sound, as his spit passed between his teeth and lips—tore at Wayne’s ears. Over and over again. Squeak. Squeak. Squeak.

Wayne dug his fingers into the cold, Hokkaido soil and hurled a dirt clod at the sinewy transgenic.

“Gah!” Spegg twirled in the moonlight, wiping the dirt from his eyes with his bony fingers. “What the hell, Chikushou?”

“Stop sucking on your lips, goddammit. I’m trying to sleep.”

“I’m bored!” Spegg scurried up the trunk of a pine tree and snapped off a short branch. He dropped back to the forest floor and batted the comb-like needles against his back. “Asshole.”

“That’s it.” Wayne scanned the ground. Volcanic rocks were strewn about, mixed with a thick layer of pine needles and moss. He fingered a fist-sized stone and cocked his arm.

“It’s okay,” the boy said. He put his hand on Wayne’s and gently squeezed. “I know you’re upset. But hurting Spegg isn’t the answer.”

Wayne let his shoulders drop. The boy’s soft, innocent voice calmed him, changed him. The stone tumbled from his hand.

“You’re right,” he told the boy. “Sorry.”

“Goddamn right he’s right,” Spegg said. He tossed the branch on the ground. “We’re all just waiting on you, Wayne. Wayne the pain.”

Wayne’s lip curled upward.

“Don’t listen to him,” said the boy.

“Shut the hell up, boy,” Yumi said, slashing the dirt with her katana. “You just want Wayne all to yourself.”

“That’s not true!” The boy cried. “I just don’t want anyone to get hurt!”

“You stupid child. Wayne could throw a hundred stones at Spegg and he wouldn’t even get a scratch,” Yumi said. “And you know that.”

“So what,” said the boy.

“So you’re manipulating Wayne’s brain,” Spegg growled. “Trying to turn him against us. And we’re not going to let that happen!” He lunged for the boy.

Yumi’s sword flashed. “Back off, fish.”

Spegg gulped, the point of her blade stuck beneath his ridiculously long chin.

“Shut the hell up, all of you.” Wayne said. He got to his feet and brushed the debris from his clothes. “There’s a town about twenty kilometers from here. If the forest isn’t too heavy, we can make it there by nightfall. But I can’t have you assholes going ape-shit on me all day. Settle the fuck down or I’ll switch you off for good.”

Yumi sheathed her weapon.

“I knew it,” Spegg said, rubbing his chin. “The boy’s in your head!”

“That goes for the goddamn boy, too,” Wayne barked. “Now give me some space!”

The three figments slowly backed away.

“I’m going back to sleep. Wake me up when you see the sun,” he added, crawling into the bush.

Spegg feigned a jab at Yumi. She turned, rolling her eyes, and took to the sky. The boy watched her go, a pair of silvery tears on his cheeks.