He opened his eyes to darkness. He felt around with his hands and found the wall to his right, along which his bed lay. He groped around until he found a switch and flipped it on. Harsh white fluorescent light filled the room and hurt his eyes. Reflexively, he closed them and groaned. His head hurt – no, pounded from within, and it felt like a million sledgehammers threatening to break open his skull. He turned on to his side and winced as sharp points of pain pricked his joints and when he couldn’t take it anymore, he sat up. Still dressed in his clothes from the night before, he looked down at his hands and feet, wondering how he ever got home. The last thing he remembered was his tenth beer. There had been a lot of shouting, a lot of music, loud music, and a lot of dancing. He vaguely remembered throwing up somewhere, and sure enough, he saw the dirty yellow stains on his white shirt and blue jeans.”Shit,” he muttered, and swung his legs off the bed.
Standing in the middle of the room, he stretched himself and took a step towards the bathroom when he stepped on something soft and furry. He looked down at the old stuffed tiger he used to play with as a kid, and kicked it under the bed in anger. He had suffered enough because of it, and he had no intention of ruining his life further.
“Twenty years,” he said to the bit of furry tail still visible from under the bed. “Twenty years of my life ruined because I thought you were real. They stuck me in a nut house and asked me to swallow pills every two hours. I don’t know what I was thinking.” Then, calming himself, he took a few deep breaths and said, almost chanted, “You’re not real. You’re not real.”
He walked into the bathroom, showered, shaved and came out feeling refreshed. As he stood looking at his thirty-year old beaten, worn-out, pot-bellied frame, he thought back to the day in his youth when he had burned his parents alive. The tiger had asked him to do it. The tiger had said it would be a good idea. He had listened to the tiger and killed his parents. Pain wracked through his mind and he shut his eyes tight as tears rolled down his wet cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he said to no one in particular.He was different then, before the medication, before the doctors, before the black-outs…
When he turned away from the mirror, he was about to reach down to grab a shirt from the floor, when he stopped dead in his tracks. The stuffed tiger that he had kicked under the bed was now back where it had been. The single remaining beady eye and the empty socket where the other bead had been looked up at him in a cold stare, unflinching, as if daring him to talk. As if daring him to scream, to shout, to say something. He stared at the tiger, frozen in mid-step and too scared to do anything. He swallowed a large gulp of fear and said, “You’re not real. You’re not real. You’re not real.”
He turned away closing his eyes and shut both his ears with his hands, still chanting his mantra. When he stopped to catch a breath, he heard someone call his name from behind him.
“Calvin,” the voice said. “Why won’t you talk to me anymore?”
“No!” he screamed. “Don’t talk to me! You’re not real!” He still was turned away, now crouching near the wall, his head resting against the corner. “Shut up!”
“You think I don’t miss you, Calvin?” the voice asked.
“You’re not real. You’re not real…” he continued in monotone, rocking back and forth, drowning out the tiger’s voice.
“Of course I’m real. I’m right here. Turn around, Calvin.”
And he didn’t know why he did it, but he did. He turned, opened his eyes and saw the tiger standing there in the middle of the room. The tiger was smiling at him, standing on its hind legs, holding out its hands as if waiting for an embrace. Calvin took a tentative step towards the tiger, still confused and the madness showing on his face with no inhibition. “NO…!!” he screamed. “You are NOT real!” and he ran towards the bed-side drawer, pulled out a gun from inside and put it in his mouth.
He looked at the tiger’s eye and saw the tears rolling down to its cheek and forming tiny puddles on the floor. He was crying himself. He couldn’t stop the tears.
“Don’t do it, Calvin,” said the tiger, stifling a sob.
“I’m sorry, Hobbes,” he said and pulled the trigger. As the last shard of life left his body, he thought he saw a stuffed tiger lying at his feet. He tried to smile and tried to tell himself that the tiger was not real. He tried, in vain.