At eight fifteen in the morning, a tiger knocked on six year old Manny's door.
"Ah, Manfred," Hobbes grinned.
Despite it being a bit early, Manny didn't seem sleepy or like he just woke up.
"You're early today, aren't you Hobbes?" Manny said.
"Well, Calvin was spoiling the morning peace and quiet. It looked like he would carry on for a while. And I felt like stopping by your, um, beautiful and tranquil abode to be in your company for the time being."
Hobbes gave Manny his most endearing smile. Manny just raised his eyebrows.
"And?" he said.
"And we've run out of tuna," Hobbes finished sheepishly.
Manny sighed. "Come on in."
"Gladly," Hobbes said and stepped inside.
"In the kitchen, bottom cupboard, second one to the left of the sink."
"Yes sir," Hobbes hurried down the hall, rubbing his paws in anticipation. "I trust you have some bread too and a toaster. And mayonnaise, hopefully? Some ketchup wouldn't be too bad either."
"Oh yes, we've just opened a household manufacturing business for mayonnaise, ketchup and other similar products," Manny said with a sigh. "Help yourself."
When he entered the kitchen, Hobbes had already begun making his tuna sandwich. His hands moved with precise and careful movements and he watched everything with the sharp eye of an expert.
Manny opened the fridge and took out a fresh pack of orange juice.
"So what has Calvin done today?" he asked.
"Voila," Hobbes said with a flourish. "A standard and satisfying tuna sandwich made with a practiced hand." He held the sandwich in both hands, and demolished half of his masterpiece in a single bite.
"Sorry, wha' did oo say?" he said through a full, munching mouth.
"I said what happened with Calvin today?" Manny said then added, "Hobbes don't drop crumbs all over the counter. My mother takes pride in her spotless kitchen."
"Sorry," Hobbes mumbled and swallowed. "I'm not really sure what happened with Calvin. He started screaming and shouting early in the morning. Said something about a great tragedy and how his life had been ruined." He paused, taking another thoughtful bite from the sandwich, this time smaller. "I think it had something to do with his cereal."
"Uh, cereal?" Manny said.
"Cereal," Hobbes shrugged.
They were interrupted when the doorbell rang.
Then it rang again.
And again. And it kept on going.
"I wonder who that is," Manny groaned.
"You just can't get a peaceful breakfast," Hobbes sighed. "I'm betting his parents kicked him out."
"Can you get it Hobbes? I need to get back to the attic. I was doing something up there when you came."
"Is your mom not here?" Hobbes said through his again full mouth.
Manny shook his head. "At the hospital. Emergency call at three a.m." He added with a shrug, "We were supposed to go to the park but, well, duty called."
"My dad always sleeps late. Unless he's tinkering with gears and bolts in the garage, in which case, he doesn't sleep at all."
Hobbes nodded. Manny's dad worked at an electronics store and spent his free time hammering away on machine parts and gadgets in the garage. He would end up making a lot of weird inventions which usually didn't work, or, at the best, malfunctioned.
The doorbell began ringing more furiously.
Hobbes hurried to the door while Manny went up the stairs. He heard the door open and a loud, shrill yet very familiar voice shout something.
Manny sighed and walked to where the attic's string was hanging. He pulled it and ascended the set of stairs which unfolded. He reseated himself at the low table on which he had been working but left the trapdoor open in anticipation of Hobbes and his other visitor.
Half a minute later, Hobbes poked his head through the trapdoor, sandwich in hand, to see Manny scribbling away on a piece of paper.
"Hey, move it, fleabutt!" a voice shouted from below him.
Hobbes pulled the rest of his body through and was followed by a yellow spiky-haired kid with a striped red shirt and plain black pants.
"Hey Calvin," Manny said, looking up. "So how are things today?"
"Completely terrible!" Calvin groaned.
"I see. Great." Manny continued scribbling away.
"I love what you done with the place," Hobbes commented, stroking his chin thoughtfully while observing their surroundings.
Half of the attic was being used by Manny as a kind of workplace. His table was covered with papers and a bundle of files and a small pile of books lay beside it. The rest of the attic was strewn with boxes and large piles of broken, unused and unwanted household objects or to put it more simply- junk.
"Yeah, most of the stuff which is no longer used or needed is dumped here," Many shrugged. "It's become quite a mess."
"I'll say," Calvin said, stooping over the edge of massive dump. "A hammer, an old blanket, a screwdriver, a small box of nails and something that looks oddly like the chewed up remains of a teddy bear."
He held up half a stuffed toy with most of its insides ripped out.
"That must've been Stix," Manny said.
"Urgh. Dried up dog saliva," Calvin said in disgust, quickly tossing the poor chew toy away. "And what's this?" He picked a large, thick book. "A book or an assault weapon? This thing is as thick as my head."
"Which is a commendable feat," Hobbes mused.
"I know, just look at the size of this- hey!" Calvin glared at Hobbes.
"That's one of my mom's old textbooks," Manny said. "When she was doing her medical studies in college."
Calvin scoffed. "Who in their right mind would want to be a doctor?"
"Well, doctors are one of the most overpaid people on the globe," Manny said.
Calvin studied the tome with sudden interest. "You don't say."
Manny put the pencil down and studied what he had written for a few seconds. Then he turned to Calvin.
"So, apparently, a great misfortune has befallen you."
"Oh, right," Calvin tossed the book away and went to sit down at the table. Hobbes followed him.
Calvin sighed. "You won't believe it, Manny. It's simply horrible! The worst thing ever has happened to me! My life has been completely disrupted by a horrendous calamity!"
"I think I didn't put enough mayonnaise in this," Hobbes studied what was left of his sandwich regretfully.
"Shut up, fleabait!" Calvin snapped. "This is all because of you!"
"Me?" Hobbes said. "What did I do?"
"You have taken the greatest opportunity that ever came my way!" Calvin said, gritting his teeth and raising his eyes to the heavens. "You have a reduced young six year old's life to shambles! You have destroyed every chance I had of getting that which could've so easily been mine! Because of you, the whole world seems empty and dark for me! You-"
"Calvin," Manny said monotonously.
"Tell us what he did or put a sock in your mouth."
"I can see a few lying among the trash over," Hobbes pointed out helpfully.
Calvin glared and huffed. "Fine, fine. So yesterday, I had got a new box of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs. Today I opened it the first time and I noticed a coupon stuck on the back of the box. It was a jaw-dropping triple-deluxe offer guaranteeing you a discount for the next five purchases and a free Captain Napalm toy for each purchase! I couldn't believe it! I went upstairs at once to tell Mom but she kicked me out of the room complaining about it being seven-thirty in the morning. Pff, parents."
"Go on," Manny said.
"Well, I went down stairs thinking about taking the coupon when find that the whole cardboard on the box's back has been shredded away! Every single bit! Somebody just couldn't hold off his daily claw sharpening ritual."
Hobbes seemed to be suddenly interested in the palm of his hand and ignored Calvin's glare.
"You shredded his coupon, Hobbes," Manny said.
"How was I supposed to know there was a deluxe coupon stuck on the back of the box," Hobbes protested.
"Yeah, but do you just go and sharpen your claws on the first cardboard box that's in your way?"
"I didn't know! I'm always half asleep when I sharpen my claws. It's an early morning ritual of mine."
"Well next time let me splash some water on your face before you do it," Calvin said. "Once you tried to sharpen your tiny little toothpicks on the back of a pair of my pants- the same ones I wore to school that day."
"Huh, when was that?" Manny asked.
"Around two weeks ago."
"Hmm, I think I had been in the sick room at that time. Bad stomach, I guess. I remembered I could hear people screaming- or were they laughing?"
Calvin lowered his eyes bitterly, as if remembering the shame. "It was the same day I wore the Bugs Bunny underwear."
"Ow," Manny grimaced. "Speak no more. Well Hobbes, what do you have to say?"
He turned to the tiger who was shuffling uncomfortably.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," he mumbled. Then, as if trying to find an excuse to not speak anything else, he stuffed the rest of his tuna sandwich in his mouth.
Calvin grunted. "But now what do I do? The greatest opportunity of my life came my way and I lost it- because of a bunch of toothpicks that needed pruning!"
"Stop calling them toothpicks," Hobbes muttered.
Calvin didn't notice or just ignored him. He sighed with despair.
"Oh well, I guess it was just a coupon code after all," he said sadly. He let his forehead drop and hit the table. "I'll just have to accept it and move on, always wondering, always regretting."
He sighed again.
Manny and Hobbes exchanged glances. Then they looked at the morose six-year old. For a few moments, they just watched him in silence. Then Manny spoke tentatively.
Calvin made no response.
"I just think I should say that we got a new box of frosted sugar bombs just yesterday. It might be the same one-ack!"
Calvin's head whipped up faster than lightning, startling Manny.
"WHERE?" he practically screamed in poor Manny's face.
Manny blinked. "Uh, on top of the fridge, I think."
Later on, Manny couldn't recall just how fast Calvin had disappeared down the trapdoor. In a matter of seconds, he was gone and they could hear him pounding down the stairs.
Manny noticed Hobbes was staring at him with an expression of disbelief and disgust.
"You actually eat that thing? Do you have any idea how much sugar they dump into it?"
"I don't eat it," Manny said. "I had it once and nearly choked. My mouth never felt the same for months."
"Then why the heck do you still have it?"
Manny groaned. "It's for Stix."
Hobbes stared at Manny. "Stix? It's for Stix? You've seen what that junk can do to a full grown six year old and you let your French bulldog eat it?"
"It was Dad's fault. Mom had to take me to the dentist once. Dad was left alone to babysit Stix. Stix was being loud and noisy- and you know my dad never likes noise unless it's made by a machine- so he gave Stix a bowl of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs to shut him up. Ever since then, he's been addicted!"
"Urgh, poor guy," Hobbes said. "That's harsh, even for a dog."
"Mom's been getting worried about. Says he'll gain weight which is unsafe for bulldogs, seeing as they're already a bit plump."
"A bit?" Hobbes snorted.
They were interrupted by a familiar scream of despair.
Hobbes looked down. "Hmm, now that doesn't sound reassuring."
Manny sighed and got up. "What happened now?"
They went down the ladder and headed for the kitchen. When they reached it they found Calvin kneeling over a cereal box. The box's back cover had been ripped to shreds and the pieces of printed cardboard littered the floor. But how?
The answer sat a little distance away, sitting on four pudgy feet with its stubborn head in the air.
" Stix!" Manny said. "No! It's not sugar time yet!"
The dog glared at Manny and Hobbes and growled.
Calvin wrung his hair. "My last chance!" he cried. "My last chance! And foiled by a dumb animal again! Your dog is a menace!" He glared, pointing at Stix.
Stix met his gaze with an expression that clearly said, Don't point that finger at me.
"Move it, you bad dog!" Manny said. "Get out of here!"
The French bulldog padded away and settled down in a corner.
Calvin stood up and angrily kicked the box. "My dreams have been dashed away over and over again!"
"Come on, Calvin," Manny said. "We don't even know if it's the same box with the coupon."
Hobbes picked the box up and studied what seemed to be the only unscathed area.
"'To learn more about this super deluxe offer look below'," he read. "Uh, that's all that's legible."
There was a moment of silence. Then Calvin seized the box, threw it on the floor, and started stamping on it. When he was done, he stomped angrily out of the kitchen saying, "Dogs and tigers! They're all the same!"
"Hey!" Hobbes cried out crossly. "That is not true. Tigers have better hygiene."
Stix barked from his corner.
"You better believe it, bulldog," Hobbes sneered. "When it comes etiquettes and manners, we tigers are in our prime."
Stix growled a reply.
"Ha! You wouldn't know etiquette even if it punched you in the face!"
Another bark. Another growl.
"Well, I can demonstrate it for you if you want." Hobbes showed his fist.
A few more barks.
"What's that supposed to mean?" he said angrily.
And another growl.
"Hey!" Hobbes paused then turned to Manny and said grudgingly, "He may have a point."
Manny stared at him and the bulldog. "Right, so I'll leave you too to continue this friendly discussion."
"If it keeps up the way it is going it might not remain friendly for long," Hobbes muttered darkly.
Stix growled a challenge.
"Oh yeah. You think you can take my claws, can you?" Hobbes spread out the fingers of one hand, showing off his pointy claws.
Stix barked sniffily.
Hobbes gritted his teeth. "Why does everyone call my claws toothpicks?" he asked Manny.
Manny rolled his eyes and walked out the kitchen, deciding to look after Calvin. He couldn't find him in any of the rooms downstairs so he went upstairs again. There he saw that the trapdoor was open again.
"Calvin, are you there?" Manny called.
"Currently there, soon to be dying," came the grumbled reply.
Manny sighed and climbed up the ladder.
Calvin was sitting cross-legged and slumped at the low table. Manny went to sit down next to him, then decided on the opposite side of the table. You never know when he would burst in a rage-filled tantrum.
"Calvin," Manny said in the gentle way an adult would talk to a child.
"I'm sorry for your… uh… loss. I know it must be very hard for you right now."
Calvin sighed grumpily. "I guess it was fate," he muttered. "It's like I always said, no matter how hard we try, in the end we always have to face the tragedies and losses which fate throws in our way. Who are we to go against our destiny?"
"So true," Manny said, nodding. "So I guess that means you're over the whole incident with the Sugar Bombs coupon."
Calvin scowled. "Heck, no! I'll go home and grumble and complain about my horrible luck for at least an hour before I'll be over the coupon incident."
They sat in silence for sometime while Calvin's eyes glared out at nothing under his furrowed eyebrows. Then they were joined by Hobbes, who looked just as grumpy as Calvin.
"Your mutt sure knows how to debate," he muttered to Manny when he sat down with them.
Manny said nothing but sighed again mentally. What a cheerful morning this was turning out to be. He picked up the nearest book- something about the history of medieval art- and buried himself in it, hoping to ignore the grumpiness that was in the air.
Hobbes started reading the papers on which Manny had been writing out of boredom while Calvin sat and glared at thin air.
After sometime, Hobbes spoke, thankfully breaking the silence.
"What is all of this?" he asked, holding up the sheaf of papers. Most of his moodiness seemed to have gone.
"Oh that," Manny said, looking up. "It's just a paper I started writing recently. An essay, you could say."
"'The Inner Workings of Greater Minds'," Hobbes read. "'A sample study of some of the greatest personalities on the globe and the psychological influences on their life and decisions."
Calvin snapped out of his gloomy reverie, leaning forward to get a look at the paper. Hobbes gave Manny a quizzical look.
Manny shrugged. "I was writing it for the Scientist's Journal of Pyschology," he said. "It's a science magazine. "
"You're gonna get it published there?" Hobbes asked, raising an eyebrow.
Manny's face reddened. "Hey, I know I'm six years old. Fine, that's still-"
"I'm not insulting you," Hobbes said quickly. "Anyone who knows you well could easily see that you are smarter than the average six year old. Way smarter. I just never knew you were this smart."
Manny's face turned redder. "Now come on, you guys are acting like I'm some child prodigy."
"I think you are," Calvin said. He took the sheaf into his hand and scanned the first page. "I mean, all this stuff you wrote…"
"It sounds professional, right?" Manny asked a bit nervously."
"Professional? I can't understand a word!"
"Which is a sure sign that it's professional," Hobbes assured.
The duo was not exaggerating. From the day they befriended Manny they could see that he was surprisingly intelligent and had a vast knowledge ranging from different topics ('Though he doesn't have the dashing flair that is the mark of a true genius,' Calvin had said haughtily).
He was an ace in school even though he would skip it every two or three days. When asked for the reason, he would simply say that a lot of times he would get bored in the class. The same excuse with Calvin though for a different reason. Manny already knew what was being taught in the class better than the teachers who taught it while Calvin simply didn't care.
It was plain to see that Manny's IQ was beyond first grade. Most likely beyond high school.
"So you're actually going to try and publish this in a renowned, national science journal?" Hobbes said.
"Well I did submit two pieces in National Geographic last month," Manny said with another shrug. "They both got published."
Hobbes whistled. "I might be in the company of this century's Albert Einstein."
"Oh come on," Manny protested. "I'm nowhere near Albert Einstein. I just have some extra knowledge and a scientific curiosity. That's all."
"Mm-hmm," Hobbes grinned. "Just remember that when you go on talk shows be sure to mention your two best buds, Calvin and Hobbes."
"Ha, ha," Manny muttered. "Enough, okay. I just wanted to research and study the psychological influences on the lives of people like Leonardo Da Vinci and Newton."
"Right. Hey Calvin, let me see that first-grade thesis… uh, Calvin?" Hobbes stared.
Calvin was reading the papers with intense concentration, his eyebrows furrowing as he thought hard about something. Hobbes and Manny had never seen Calvin read even a school assignment with that concentration let alone a scientific thesis.
Calvin slowly put papers on the table but he still had that concentrated, thoughtful look.
"Uh, Calvin?" Manny said.
Calvin didn't seem to hear. Then all of a sudden his face lit up with a grin and he sprang up with a cry, pumping his fist in the air triumphantly and startling his two companions.
"I've got it!" he said. "By golly, I've got it!"
"Got what?" Manny asked.
"The coupon," Calvin grinned. "The code on the coupon! I still have it!"
"Where?" Hobbes said. "I thought I scratched it to its doom."
Calvin shook his head, like an adult explaining something to an uncomprehending child.
"When I read the coupon on the back of the box I also saw the code," he said. "So it got stored away in the one place from which it could not go!"
Manny and Hobbes stared at Calvin blankly.
"In here," he said, tapping the side of his head with his finger.
A silence followed in which Hobbes and Manny exchanged looks.
"What is he talking about?" Manny asked.
"I think he's saying he kept a copy of the coupon code in the place where his brain should be," Hobbes shrugged. "That would explain a lot of other things too."
Calvin glared at him.