Calvin grimaced as he struggled to maintain altitude. Below, a lava lined asteroid gorge writhed with purple slime monsters that whipped giant sucker covered tentacles at his red space wagon. His ship was damaged and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he crash landed on the asteroid’s barren surface. If he survived the crash, the only thing between him and certain disaster would be his trusty space zapper.
But for how long?
Wait, what was that? Calvin could hear his name through the vast emptiness of space, then his body shuddered as he struggled to open his eyes. His eyelids felt heavy, like the first morning of school after a summer that seemed to last forever but never did.
He finally noticed Susie, his childhood sweetheart/nemesis and wife of over fifty years, and their family gathered around his bedside.
“Calvin, everyone is here to see you,” Susie said.
Calvin glanced around the room with an obvious feeling of annoyance. He strained to lift his arm and cradle his chin in one hand, then squinted his eyes and raised one brow. “Where is Hobbes?”
Susie said, “I… I don’t know dear, I haven’t seen Hobbes in a long time.”
Calvin said, “Put some tuna out, tigers can’t resist tuna.”
Susie sighed and stayed strong, the tremble in her lower lip barely noticeable. “Calvin, we…” A commotion from the attic stairs interrupted Susie. Everyone turned towards the bedroom door as a young boy with messy blonde hair barreled into the room with an orange, black, and white dust ball in his hands.
“Grandpa Calvin,” he yelled, “This tiger attacked me! There was a box with an arrow and a dial and when I opened it he jumped out and said he was going to eat me!!!”
Hobbes shrugged his shoulders and failed completely to appear innocent as Calvin said, “Hobbes, Francis is my youngest grandson. He wouldn’t taste good, and, he’s not educated in the ways of tigers.”
Hobbes put his hands on his hips, leaned forward and grinned as he said, “Well, then it’s about time he learns, don’t you think?”
“Francis,” Calvin said, “This is Hobbes and he’s a dangerous tiger, especially when he’s hungry.”
Francis’ eyes widened as he asked, “Is he hungry now?”
“I’m afraid he’s FAMISHED.” said Calvin. “He’s been in the attic for a long time without any tuna fish sandwiches.”
Hobbes crossed his arms and lifted his nose and said with an air of sophistication, “Don’t forget about salmon.”
“Or salmon.” said Calvin.
Francis said, “Do you have any tuna fish sandwiches? He does look kind of hungry.”
Hobbes pointed out, “Tigers are always hungry.”
Calvin looked at Susie and she said with a sigh, “We always have tuna, um, just in case of tiger attacks.” She turned towards the bedroom door with a small tear in her eye. “I’ll go get some.”
As Susie slowly walked to the kitchen, the rest of the family, his children and grandchildren, were all giving him a look he was well acquainted with. Like the day he learned how to hammer nails into wood. On the coffee table. In the living room. “Calvin!” his Mom had screamed, “What are you doing?!?” Calvin remembered giving her a questioning look before replying, “Is this a trick question?”
Calvin brought his thoughts back to the present, cleared his throat, and looked directly at Francis. “It takes a certain kind of boy to be best friends with a tiger.” Calvin said this with a very serious voice and a brief worried glance at Hobbes.
Hobbes had begun licking his chops and eyeing the young and the weak gathered around the bed. “Especially a hungry tiger,” added Hobbes.
Susie walked back in and gave young Francis a sandwich. Hobbes eyes widened as he asked, “Is that a tuna fish sandwich?!?” Francis took a bite, looked up, straight at Hobbes, and said, “This might be the best tuna fish sandwich ever made.”
Before Hobbes could even begin to coil up for the attack, Calvin said between painful breaths, “Hobbes! Go with Francis outside and eat that. You’re too messy when you pounce on your food.” Hobbes proclaimed, “It’s the tiger’s way. Until you stalk and overrun, you can not devour anyone.”
Francis eyed Hobbes suspiciously and said, “You devour people?” Hobbes nonchalantly examined his claws, blew a bit of dust off, and replied, “Oh, all the time, but they never taste good…” At that point Calvin said, “Francis, take Hobbes outside before he can’t control himself.” Francis said, “OK Grandpa Calvin,” and went outside with Hobbes in tow.
Susie waited until Francis had left and then said, “Calvin, it’s not nice to fool Franc-”
“Fool him?!?” Calvin asked. “Francis and Hobbes could be best friends but someone needed to warn Francis about tigers before it was too late.” Calvin took a wheezing breath and continued, “And without Hobbes, who will bring him home when he falls in the gorge? And who will eat that slimy stuff his mom forces on him at dinner, huh?”
“Calvin,” Susie sat on the bed next to him and took his hand in hers, and replied with a gentle smile, “That’s your daughter’s cooking you’re talking about.” Calvin said, “I know! Have you seen what she tries to make me eat? It’s worse than the time you gave me that raw rat shake blended with polliwog whiskers and garnished with the grease of a thousand cooties!”
Susie sighed and said, “Calvin, that was a protein shake.”
Calvin said, “Sure it was,” before closing his mouth in a tight line and lowering his eyebrows. He would have liked to fold his arms and look out the window, but his arms felt heavier than normal.
Susie looked at the dozen or so people around the bed who never quite knew how to react to Calvin, even their own son and daughter. Of course, everyone knew Calvin was a little off, but he had a brilliant mind and a good heart and for the most part was pleasant to be around, and she loved him dearly. Life was going to be so different, so very different without him. His stories, comic strips, and general bending of reality to fit his vision had given her a life of joy and laughter. She knew they had very little time with Calvin left.
The spell was broken when they heard Francis scream for help. “Oh what now!” said Francis’ mother. “Probably a tiger attack,” Calvin said with a half chuckle.
Everyone but Calvin rushed outside to find Francis and Hobbes sitting on a branch in a maple tree. The closest branches were at least six feet from the ground. “How on earth did you get up there young man?!?” said his Mom.
Francis replied, “Hobbes gave me a boost, but I can’t get down!”
Hobbes said, “Tigers love climbing up trees.” Francis said, “Well, I wish you would have told me that tigers can’t climb down trees!” Hobbes shrugged. “Even tigers aren’t perfect all of the time.”
Hobbes abruptly went rigid and closed his eyes and held his breath for a moment, then hurriedly said, “Francis, I need to go do something for a few minutes, be right back!”
Hobbes jumped out of the tree and ran tiger fast back into the house. “Hey, where are you going?” yelled Francis. Francis’ Mom said, “Who are you shouting at?” Francis replied, “Hobbes, he just ran back into the house!”
As Francis’ Dad went to get a ladder, his Mom said, “Francis, Hobbes is right there.” Francis briefly glanced down at the small stuffed tiger on the branch next to him and said, “Mom, this isn’t Hobbes, Hobbes is in the house!”
All the while Calvin had propped himself up on his elbow to watch the scene outside unfold. It took almost every bit of strength he had left. Being sick for so long didn’t give him much time for fun, but it was nice seeing everyone and he was thankful for that, even though it was a bit strange to have everyone hovering around the bed every time he opened his eyes.
A moment later there was a peculiar noise in the attic, then Hobbes burst through the bedroom door. Calvin let himself back down into the bed and while trying to catch his breath said, “Hobbes, I thought… you were going to take care of Francis? He’s just a little guy… like I was, he needs you.” Hobbes sat on the bedside and brushed a bit of hair, still blonde, from Calvin’s forehead and said, “You still need me too, ol’ buddy.”
Calvin smiled and after a moment said, “Thanks, you know, for everything. You’re the best friend a guy could have ever wanted. I’m not sure what I would have done without you.” Hobbes said, “Same to you… although I always felt a little bad about not eating Moe. Think of all the tuna that lunch money could have bought.”
Calvin sighed and said, “It’s OK, he would have tasted terrible anyway.”
Hobbes nodded and said, “You’re probably right.”
After another moment, Calvin asked, “Hobbes, do you think everything ends when we die?”
Hobbes said, “Ends?”
“Do we just disappear and leave no trace,” Calvin continued, “Or does entropy rule and does our energy move on to something else? Einstein said that energy is neither created nor destroyed, so where does that leave us?”
Hobbes said, “Maybe death is another adventure. Anyway, aren’t you ready for another adventure? I know I am!”
Calvin took as deep a breath as he could, then was overcome by a wracking cough that caught him by surprise, and for a moment Hobbes watched a lifetime flash over his old friend’s face. Calvin’s breath became very shallow and Hobbes said, “Calvin, it’s OK, don’t be afraid. Just hold onto my paw and follow me. I won’t let go.”
Calvin whispered, “How could I be afraid when I’m with my best friend?”
Then Calvin’s chest stopped moving and the pulse in his neck slowly disappeared.
Young Calvin stood at the foot of the bed, holding Hobbes’ paw until the last drop of life ebbed from the old man that Calvin had become. Hobbes said, “We should leave now. The ship is warmed up and waiting for us just over the hill, not far from the tire swing.”
They took a few steps out of the bedroom when Calvin suddenly looked up and said, “Wait, you have to stay here with Francis!”
Hobbes smiled, then pointed back to the window. “It’s OK, look.”
Calvin ran back into the bedroom and pushed a chair over to the window. He climbed up just in time to see Hobbes help Francis out of the tree. He turned around and saw Hobbes standing behind him, then looked outside once more before jumping down. Calvin scratched his head and said, “Well, that’s good then, but… I don’t understand…?”
Hobbes smiled and winked at Calvin, then explained, “As one of my best friends once said, it’s a magical world, Calvin ol’ buddy!”
Calvin put on his space helmet, took a deep breath, and said, “Ok, I’m ready, let’s go exploring!”
Calvin and Hobbes ran outside to the backyard. They ducked and dodged trees and shrubs to keep their escape secret. They climbed through the fence and then disappeared over the hill into the pastels of late afternoon sunshine and oak trees. A minute later a muffled roar was followed by a spiraling bolt of sizzling light that tore through the watercolor sky, just for a moment, and then vanished in a quiet “boink.”
Francis looked up just in time to see the light trail fade away, and asked, “What was that?” Hobbes said, “It sounded like scientific progress!”
Francis considered the possibilities, his mouth twisted in concentration, his eyes squinting with one brow raised. He stroked his chin with one hand and supported his elbow with the other. Finally his eyes widened as he looked up at Hobbes and said with growing excitement, “It sounded like… like a red rocket ship being chased by dangerous green space aliens!”
A wicked grin spread over Francis’ face and he asked in a low voice, “Do you think they left any evidence?”
Hobbes said, “There’s only one way to find out…”
Francis turned towards the great unknown beyond the back yard and replied, “Let’s go exploring!”
They crawled through the fence and ran past the rope swing and disappeared over the hill, and then Hobbes’ voice floated back through swirl of leaves and twigs picked up by a random late summer breeze, “Did you bring the tuna fish sandwich?”