Klein had been a weird kid.
He hadn’t paid enough attention in class, even though he’d done well enough overall. He’d never cared for team sports. The other kids had made fun of him for being a skunk a lot. His parents hadn’t been quite as bad as Elizabeth’s but they hadn’t been as good as Mano’s. They owned a clothing company they hoped he’d take over someday. They couldn’t seem to find anything they could take away from him that would make him behave himself, and church had instilled no reverence in him. He’d usually gotten blamed whenever things had gone wrong.
He hadn’t minded church altogether though.
A griffin boy he’d noticed in the choir had kept him coming back. It’d started innocently enough. The bird-cat had laughed a friendly, angelic laugh when Klein had first approached him, and they’d started spending time together for a while. One day, out where no one could hear them, the skunk had admitted to him how he’d felt about him. But the griffin had gasped in shock – didn’t Klein know that the Lord frowned on such things? He’d said he couldn’t be his friend anymore. The skunk had run away from him in tears, devastated.
In his late teens he’d been introduced to a lion girl who’d made a move on him, which he hadn’t resisted. He wasn’t so into girls, but he’d felt broken from what had happened, and had hoped that seeing her would help him fix himself, but their relationship had deteriorated from the end of high school into their college years. She’d wanted to be a cop because she’d believed in discipline and in upholding the letter of the law above all else. She’d respected strength and hated weakness. She’d wanted kids from him someday, and talked him into moving in with her.
He’d never been able to do anything right for her. The presents he’d gotten her hadn’t been what she’d wanted, he could never find the right words to say, nothing he’d washed had been clean, no places to which he’d taken her had been right. She’d found his tears girly, his tastes pretentious, his hands clumsy, his friends bad influences. She’d steamrolled over him until he’d been so worn out that even agreeing with everything she’d said had no longer been enough to keep her from taking her anger out on him. Once she’d even punched him right in the face.
At least his mythology classes had been interesting.
“Myths are formidable things, Klein,” the archaeopteryx who taught them had told him. “They’ve been used to control a lot of people for a very long time, so they deserve to be taken seriously. People use myths to make people scared of things, but there’s always something behind that. Sometimes other people’s fear will protect you, sometimes it’ll destroy you. But if you learn to understand the reality that’s hidden behind myths, people won’t be able to use them to scare you. Remember that.”
His parents and girlfriend had pushed him into a supervision job at one of his parents’ factories. They hadn’t given him much training, but they’d figured he’d learn on the job, and he’d figured that someone would’ve been telling him if he should’ve been doing anything differently. He hadn’t felt too good about the conditions their employees had worked in but it hadn’t seemed like he could do much about it when he couldn’t turn down a job he didn’t want. Soon after, one of their machines had malfunctioned and an employee had lost a limb in a freak accident.
He’d been told that the employee would receive no compensation – that would’ve meant admitting that they’d made a mistake. He’d been told that someone else had been blamed and fired so that he could keep the job without making any of the wrong people look bad. He’d been denied the chance to own his own mistakes. Clearly accepting to bite off more than he could chew because people had shamed him into it had had consequences he hadn’t anticipated. Clearly his life had been built with someone else in mind altogether.
The night Klein had snapped and had quit his job, broke up, renounced his religion, been disowned and run away from home without looking back. He’d decided he’d do the exact opposite of everything he’d always done. He would walk through the Looking Glass.
He hadn’t had any specific plans in mind, but he’d been sure that he’d find something, if only he’d walked long enough. Hours passed as he’d walked through the woods, the dark foliage scary and beautiful all at once, as scary and beautiful as only newfound freedom and aloneness could’ve made them. Stumps, streams and ferns had peppered the area and cawing, croaking and buzzing sounds had resonated through the wilderness. The question of how he’d been going to survive in it without any wilderness survival training had wormed its way into his mind.
For a moment, he’d wished he’d brought a machete. In lieu of it, he’d started singing a short, simple song in Spanish to himself, trying to cheer himself up against the dark of night.
“El cameleon cambia de colores segun la ocasion...
Tu corazon cambia de colores como el cameleon...”
When he’d reached a clearing, he’d thought there must’ve been echo from somewhere, because he’d begun to hear the same song being sung back at him. When he’d stopped humming but the song had continued, a chill had gone down his spine. He’d tried to tell himself that he was imagining it because of the head rush of having stormed off, but he hadn’t been able to convince himself of it, or that he’d been dreaming. Had it been will o’ wisps? He’d seen pixels of various colors start coalesce right in front of him. Had he been hallucinating?
No, they’d been real.
As the humming had tirelessly continued, he’d distinguished the outline of a silhouette swaying like leaves in the breeze to the song. The mass of swirling colors had finally settled on green as a dominant hue as the creature’s eyes had stopped spinning in different directions to settle on him. “That’s a nice song,” the chameleon had asked. “Where do you know it from?” Klein had been too surprised to have known what to say for a moment. “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” he’d titled his head. “What... Who are you?” the skunk had finally asked.
“I’m Boko, at your service,” he’d said with a flourish. “What brings you here?”
Klein had shrugged. “What brings anyone anywhere?” Boko had seemed to like the answer. “And you are?” The skunk’s parents had taught him not to talk to strangers. “I’m Klein.” They’d taught him a lot of things. “Do you like the forest, Klein?” The skunk had scratched his head. “It’s all right, I guess.” The reptile had pouted. “Just all right?” Klein had smiled. “I just like it better in daytime, I guess.” The chameleon had clicked his tongue disapprovingly. “Everyone is scared of what they don’t understand. Do you want to understand the forest, Klein?”
The skunk hadn’t been sure of where Boko had been going with that. “You can help me with that?” The reptile had smiled. “Of course I can. I know everything. Oh look! The sun is coming up,” he’d said excitedly. Boko had run to the edge of the clearing and, using his coiled tail to propel himself upward, had bounced up to a branch he’d then grabbed to swing his legs up between his arms so he could pull himself up on it, standing on it to face the coming dawn. He’d breathed in deeply, palms upturned, enraptured as he’d drank the warmth and light in.
“Inti, Inti, amuaytaya, kisisaya, suwa suwa, hiiinata...
Inti, Inti, amuaytaya, kisisaya, suwa suwa, hinataaa...!”
It’d seemed to Klein that every color of the rainbow had coursed over Boko’s kaleidoscopic body as he’d chanted. He’d made the skunk fantasize about what his life must’ve been like, wonder what it must’ve felt to have been him. When the sun had finished rising, his body shifting back to green, the chameleon had leapt back down from the branch, using his coiled tail to break his fall this time, looking as rejuvenated as Klein had ever seen anyone. “You were right,” the reptile had winked at him, “it’s much better in the daytime after all.”
It’d really put his own song from before to shame, the skunk had thought. “Did you come up with that?” Boko had shaken his head. “It’s an ancient Incan hymn to the sun god Inti.” Klein had been impressed. “You speak ancient Incan?” Boko had grinned. “I told you I know everything.” The skunk had remembered. “Do you worship the sun?” The reptile had looked at him unwaveringly. “I also worship everything.” Klein had taken a moment to take this in. “So you just live by yourself out here?” Boko had hesitated. “Maybe it’d be easier to show you.”
So the skunk had started following the chameleon wherever he’d been taking him. “You must have quite a story,” the reptile had commented, “you should write it down someday.” Klein had been curious. “Why?” Boko had taken this tone he’d taken when he’d wanted Klein to know he’d known what he’d been talking about. “You should always be able to remember what happened to you,” he’d insisted, “it’s the most important thing there is.” As they’d walked Boko had turned his body black and white like a skunk’s, getting a laugh out of him.
Klein had already become furiously attracted to him.