So here it is. The year you see up there in the header is not a misprint. King was in college when this one published. To some extent, his youth shows.
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The story is simple: a third-grader, Charles, needs to go take a leak, gets sent to the bathroom by his hag of a teacher, and finds that there is a tiger trapped inside by the toilets.
An incredulous classmate gets devoured, and then the teacher comes to investigate, whereupon Charles goes back to class. I say that as a positive, by the way; no maligning of the story is intended.
Instead, I think it makes the story both fun and oddly touching, and I certainly think that a great many kids would enjoy reading it. It functions on a childlike level of logic that would appeal to younger readers, even though their parents might not approve of a few of the words King uses. His bladder was screaming at him, and Miss Bird had caught him squirming. From another vantage point, it is a technique that is sure to be relatable to virtually any reader.
This might not always be the case; if the robots are still reading Stephen King after the Great Machine Uprising and its attendant apocalypse take place, they might not empathize with what Charles is going through in these opening lines. But us flesh-and-blood humans are bound to. Who among us has not needed to piss at some point and been unable to do so as urgently as we wish?
I had braces when I was a teenager, and having them put on was a several-hours process. It was bad enough on its own, but about halfway through the ordeal I realized that I needed to do a Number One. Had I foolishly drank a bunch of water before the appointment? In any case, things eventually reached a bit of a fever pitch down there in the reservoir, and I spent roughly the last hour of the process in sheer agony.
That sucked. In the great Bryant vs. Piss championship bout of the late s, Bryant emerged shaken, but victorious.
I later won a similar -- but even more intense -- World Championship bout vs. Not you, Stephen Hawking; you are understandably immune to this issue. Has that helped a few of them engage with the story over the years? Trask, shaped "like a Moorish pillow" and prone to booming laughter; and Miss Bird. He had known that. It had been inevitable.
Dreadful children by which I do not mean Honey Boo Boo, but instead children who are prone to feel dread over things confronted by a fate that involves one of three teachers, one of whom is patently wonderful, the other of whom seems less wonderful but nevertheless essentially decent, and one of whom is a horrible hag of a woman, will of course see it as their innate destiny to end up with the horrible hag. It may be that this is where the idea for horror fiction comes from.
If you are that child, then -- even if only while the lights are out and you are trying vainly to get some sleep -- such ideas seem real.
Charles is of the opinion that Miss Bird is out to destroy him. His rationale for this is that she will not allow him to say "go to the basement" instead of "go to the bathroom. Outside of this story, I have never heard anyone refer to "going to the basement" in that sense. The idea in-story, then, is probably that Miss Bird has some sort of pet peeve about hearing children say "go to the basement," and has launched a one-woman crusade to stamp the saying out.
So by pretending they are going to the basement, nobody can make fun of them. For the sake of moving on, I am going to simply assume that the scenario works more or less the way I laid it out in the foregoing paragraph. The story begins with Charles needing to go pee very badly, and Miss Bird noticing and calling him out on it. What follows is a brief bit of rather intense harassment, which Charles receives from at least three people: Miss Bird herself and two classmates, Cathy and Kenny.
If your initial impulse here is to roll your eyes and think how incredibly goddamn stupid kids can be, welcome to the club. I mean, Jesus, everyone has to go to the bathroom. I remember going to elementary school with a girl named Agatha. Agatha was a relatively homely girl, and was unpopular, and the reason for that was that she had supposedly farted in class once.
She was an absolute pariah. I also remember that if you got caught taking a shit at school, there was no hope for you.
This persisted into my high school years with an odd exemption being the football team locker-room, where shitting before or after practice was considered to be a point of pride , and I do not believe that I ever defecated while upon school grounds until I was in college. Not even in the locker-room. Beats the hell out of me. Some psychiatrist somewhere is probably nodding along with all of this and mentally judging me. That might even be the correct reaction. For all I know, the social pressure upon males in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, between the years and to avoid defecating while at school warped me beyond the point of repair.
There were other similar no-nos. For example, if one was caught wearing non-name-brand tennis shoes, you could forget ever having a social life. Generic shoes were referred to locally as "Buddies" alternative spelling: "Buddys" , and woe unto the poor wretch who wore such things.
Also massively verboten: wearing any sort of generic clothing that was an obvious attempt to copy one of the various name-brand styles of the time. Two examples: there were shorts called Jams which were a big deal here in town, and there were various knock-off brands that could be bought as cheaper alternatives.
I got the fake Jams, and I got made fun of. A lot. Another priceless example is the Coca-Cola rugby shirt, which was hugely popular in the mid-eighties, at least around here.
I begged to be allowed to wear something else to school; no dice. It makes sense to me now. It made less sense then. And it had ramifications. As stupid, shallow, and senseless as that sounds, it had ramifications. And the more I think about it, the more serious they seem. So what Charles is going through here, with Cathy and Kenny laughing at him and Miss Bird all too happy to inflame the situation, makes sense to me.
I bet it makes sense to a lot of kids; and maybe to a decent number of adults, too. King was certainly still writing about similar themes several years later, in Rage, Carrie, and -- to a lesser extent -- The Body. Elements of it pop up in Hearts in Atlantis, even, and that was nearly thirty years later. As is bound to be the case for any child who knows dread, things get worse.
Miss Bird asks Charles for clarification. Is that what you need to do? Charles, humiliated and chastened, leaves the classroom and goes off down the hall, alone with his thoughts, and once inside the bathroom he receives a bit of a surprise: The tiger was lying down at the far end, just underneath the pebbly-white window.
It was a large tiger, with tawny venetian blinds and dark stripes laid across its pelt. It looked up alertly at Charles, and its green eyes narrowed. A kind of silky, purring grunt issued from its mouth. Smooth muscles flexed, and the tiger got to its feet.
Its tail switched, making little chinking sounds against the porcelain side of the last urinal. How surprising this moment must be to the hypothetical reader who has no notion of what to expect from the story. But imagine the UM student who bought that issue of Ubris and was determined to read it cover to cover.
She had no idea who "Stephen King" was; she just wanted to read the journal, and was humoring the story about the kid who needed to pee, and then BAM! Her surprise must have been nearly as great as that of Charles himself. The closest I can come is Rage, when Charlie -- another Charles Or perhaps the childbirth scene in "The Breathing Method. For people who dread things, it may be true to say that what they are really afraid of is being afraid.
Roosevelt was onto something when he said that thing about fear itself, but what does it matter? Being afraid is a scary enough thing in ad of itself, because when you live your life in a fearful manner, there is always potential for horror around each and every corner. And some fears simply cannot be overcome. The tiger represents that idea, but not in the way you think. His heart was thumping so hard he could hear it.
He still needed to go to the basement, worse than ever. He squirmed, winced, and pressed a hand against his belly. He really had to go to the basement. It was right across the hall. Charles looked at it longingly, knowing he would never dare, not in a million years. Consider the implications. The tiger stands up, giving you the hungry eyes, and you do what any sane person would do: you GTFO.
What would you do? Go to the opposite-sex bathroom across the hall? Piss your pants? Drop trou and let it loose onto the floor? None are great options, but I think we can agree that all become immensely appealing in comparison to the idea of going back into the bathroom with the tiger. And yet, that is exactly what Charles ends up doing. But hold the fort
‘Here There Be Tygers’ by Stephen King
The story is simple: a third-grader, Charles, needs to go take a leak, gets sent to the bathroom by his hag of a teacher, and finds that there is a tiger trapped inside by the toilets. An incredulous classmate gets devoured, and then the teacher comes to investigate, whereupon Charles goes back to class. I say that as a positive, by the way; no maligning of the story is intended. Instead, I think it makes the story both fun and oddly touching, and I certainly think that a great many kids would enjoy reading it. It functions on a childlike level of logic that would appeal to younger readers, even though their parents might not approve of a few of the words King uses.
Here There Be Tygers
Here There Be Tygers (1968 short story)