Calvin and Hobbes

No More Tigers

The minute he stepped off of the bus, he ran and he didn't look back. He was finally free of the horrible place, and the last thing he wanted to do was to ruin his evening ahead by thinking about it. He shivered as his mind rapidly expelled the worst parts of the hours leading up to his escape: being forced to do multiplication tables for hours, or properly pronounce the names of countries he'd never visit, or learn about the lives of men who had died centuries before he'd been born.

Fortunately, by the time Calvin had taken twenty steps, he'd shaken off the worst effects of the brainwashing. Later, he'd expel the rest of the miserable facts still clinging to him later, by sitting and watching TV until his eyes watered. For now, though, he dashed home at top speed, stopping only when he remembered that horror was waiting behind his front door.

Everything looked innocent enough. It was a pleasant fall day, and the bushes and plants around the front of Calvin's house were well-kept. The yard was freshly raked and still relatively clear of leaves, but that was bad. If Hobbes had decided to change things up and stalk Calvin from outdoors, there was no hope of hearing him coming until it was too late.

Calvin got his back to a wall as quickly as he could. Hyperventilating, he clutched to his lunchbox and looked around for the telltale orange flash of an attacking tiger. He almost panicked when something in the periphery of his vision moved—but it was just a leaf being blown across the yard.

It took everything Calvin had in him to edge toward the door. Once there, he pressed his ear up against it, listening hard for breathing or muffled giggling. He shivered when he thought about that; it was the mark of a true psycho to laugh at the idea of pouncing on a perfectly innocent kid who was just trying to walk into his own house.

A long time later, Calvin turned the doorknob. He nudged the door open with his foot, braced himself, and…

Nothing happened.

Calvin peered inside, and rather than taking the full force of Hobbes' "affection" to the face, he saw that his best friend in all the world wasn't there. He pulled a grimace and stormed inside, throwing off of backpack, jacket, and lunchbox in just the way that his mom hated. In moments he was upstairs, glaring at the so-called king of the jungle, curled up under the bedcovers. The big lout wasn't even in his real form.

"Hello to you, too," Calvin growled. "It was really nice coming home to such an enthusiastic greeting, you know. I'll remember this one for years."

Hobbes said nothing, so Calvin reached forward and gave his tail a yank. "Get up, lazybones, I've got big plans for today. Our sworn enemy is hosting a meeting with the notorious Mr. Bun, and as ranking officers of GROSS, it's our duty to sabotage it. I suggest a danger-close pinecone strike, what about you?"

Hobbes was still inert. So, Calvin shook his friend a little more gently.

"Come on, aren't you the El Presidente? Hey, you're not sick, are you?" Calvin paused, waiting for Hobbes to answer. "Or… are you just trying to get out of a risky mission?"

Calvin's lip twitched. A moment later, he stormed out of his room. "All right, you get five demerits for cowardice, desertion, and driving me up AWOL," Calvin shouted. "And if I survive, I swear on my dictatorship that you'll be Last Tiger by the time I'm finished with you!"

Two hours later to the minute, Calvin was covered in scraps of leaves and dirty, exhausted, freezing, and triumphant. Without bothering to wash up, he entered his room and dove onto the bed, roughly on top of where he'd seen Hobbes.

"I ruined Susie's tea party. It was complete pinecone devastation, you should have seen it. I got her right on the head with the first one, and the second—you won't believe it, but I got one into her teacup. It was a glorious chapter in GROSS history, and I awarded myself a well-deserved Oreo of Honor, straight from the enemy's cookie jar. I'm sorry you weren't there, Mr. President," Calvin said. His voice grew stern and he sat up to look at the lazy tiger still lounging around in bed. "It was quite a battle, and I could have used a crack shot like you."

Still, Hobbes said nothing.

Without knowing why, Calvin fidgeted and then sat up. "But, uhm, as Dictator-for-Life, I reverse my previous rulings. You're back in the club's good books—I'll even restore your pension if you want. Just—please, Hobbes, say something." Calvin nudged his friend, waiting for a groan to inform him that he'd finally gotten through to the tiger. But still, there was nothing.

Calvin sighed. A moment later, he picked Hobbes up by the scruff of his neck and marched him downstairs. "All right, then," he said stiffly. "If you don't want to do anything, I'll make you do something. Come on, buddy." His voice was suddenly weak. Almost drained. "We can at least watch TV together."

"TV? Shouldn't you be outside building character?"

Calvin stifled a groan. "I just came in, Dad. I spent two hours building character. Isn't that enough for one day?"

Calvin's father looked up from what he was doing, fiddling with an aircraft model or something. He seemed impressed, and he even smiled. "Well, what do you know, I guess some of my genes did come through after all. All right, kiddo, go ahead and have some fun. Not that building character's not fun, but, uhm, just go ahead and watch TV. Hey—you did wash up after coming in, didn't you?"

"Yeah, sure I did," Calvin said, ducking out of sight and thanking the Great Generals of GROSS past that his father was near-sighted. "It's not like I'm some grubby little disgusting maniac, right?"

Calvin entered the TV room, ignoring his father's uncertain laughter. He turned on the magic box of brain melting and began to look around for something to watch. He passed several channels of racy drama, paused on a news channel to watch a car chase, and then settled on National Geographic.

He wasn't sure why he did that. It was fun to watch wild animals fight and tear one another apart, but there was nothing like that playing. It was only a gray-haired man in a suit, speaking in a somber tone as images of tigers drifted on the screen behind him.

"Hey—it's about your people, Hobbes," Calvin said. He sat up a little straighter and held his buddy close. "Come on, wake up and let's see what's going on."

Calvin turned up the volume until his father started to yell and left it there. The presentation going on was live, it seemed, because of news that had just broken just that day. And when Calvin heard what it was, he felt something change in him.

"If you're just joining us, this is a special story by the National Geographic Channel on tigers, because as of early this afternoon, there are no more tigers alive in the wild. The last one was shot in rural China by poachers, and its hide was presumably sold in a black market shortly afterwards. There are several thousand tigers in captivity in the US and elsewhere, but to the best of our knowledge, panther tigris is now extinct in the wild."

The newscaster continued on after that, but Calvin barely heard a word of what he said. One phrase kept repeating itself through his mind: no more tigers. There were no more tigers left alive, except for prisoners whose lives were to be pitied.

Calvin's father had joined him at some point, and was staring at the TV screen with the same shocked disbelief that Calvin did. As for Hobbes… now, Calvin and his father both saw what had once been a majestic part of the world as an empty imitation of life. Life itself would go on, surely, but yet another little piece of the beauty of the world had been sucked out, and nothing Calvin or his father could do could ever bring it back.

(Please review, favorite, and watch as necessary. Thanks for reading my piece.)