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The Passing of the Commander
Eye
hwrnmnbsol
When Bonnie was looking for a house in Houston, I helped her find one in my neighborhood. It was a very strange house with many strange features, but it was a good size for Bonnie and her dogs, so she rented it even though it cost more than she wanted to pay. When we moved in together, we wound up living in that house quite happily for almost a year.

I think the issue with the house is that it was occupied by people with great artistic vision and energy, but very little know-how about building houses and their contents. As a result, the house is full of unusual and clever space-saving cabinetry; it has a very nice jacuzzi-tub with a tiled-floor bathroom; it has enormous closets and a lovely 1.5-story guest house in the back yard and a landscaped garden.....BUT, the pipes leak, nothing was built to code, and everything is just laid out WRONG in some way.

One of the weird features of the house is the aquarium. The kitchen/breakfast area is separated from another public area by a large floor-to-ceiling built up piece of cabinetry that contains, among other things, a large aquarium. It's a good 100 gallons or so, and you can look through it from one room to the other. It's a very nice feature if you like fish, and if you don't mind a monstrous cabinet chopping up your house's public spaces. I actually do mind that very much, and I'm not so fond of caring for fish, but anyway.

When Bonnie moved in, she had the whole place to herself. The house had stood vacant for some time and was very musty and depressing. The tank pump hadn't been running in some time, and the water in the tank was so dark that it was hard to see through it to the next room. The house is also not very well lit in general, especially with many of the light bulbs out, so when Bonnie started to move in it was a deeply gloomy place to be.

She started cleaning the place up in the evening after work, and she was all by herself when she undertook the task of changing light bulbs in the kitchen area. She was on the ladder when she saw movement out of the corner of her eye.

She almost fell off the ladder, and she may have screamed, although I'm sure she'll deny any such thing. The movement had come from the aquarium - a tank filled with water so dark and brackish that nothing could possibly be alive in it -- or could it?

Bonnie looked closer, peering into the tank. Suddenly a pulsating maw pressed itself against the glass. It was a large sucker-fish that had somehow survived the months of living alone in a tank without any aeration or food.

The fish presented a problem. Bonnie had originally planned on draining the tank and putting some stuffed Nemo's in it or something like that. However, she didn't have the heart to evict the fish. After all, it had been there first. Also, it had survived enough trials that it seemed unjust to remove it from its home. Bonnie and I both admired its grit and determination to survive. Accordingly, the fish was adopted as a de facto pet of sorts.

We decided, however, that we weren't going to coddle the scum-sucker. Neither of us were wild about the idea of cleaning a fishtank. We told the fish: big guy, we'll turn on your pump and give you some food, but you're going to have to clean up after yourself. If your environment gets toxic, that's your own problem. The fish didn't seem to have a problem with this arrangement. Once he had his filter going and he got some algae discs, he seemed to be okay.

The fish liked to hunker down in the rocks at the bottom of the tank, or hide in the cracks of a large log. He also enjoyed napping close to a fake plastic skull ornament. It was on one evening, when I saw the fish glaring balefully from his skull lair, that I dubbed him The Commander and started speaking for him.

The Commander spoke in a voice very much like Plankton from the Spongebob cartoon. He's an egomaniac and aspires to take over the world. LOOK AT YOU PEOPLE, he would sneer while Bonnie and I were drinking coffee at the breakfast table. YOU THINK YOU HAVE IT ALL. BUT YOU ARE SOFT AND WEAK, MY LITTLE BIPEDS. AND SOME DAY, WHEN YOU LEAST EXPECT IT, IT SHALL BE YOU INSIDE THIS TANK!

"Yeah, how you gonna swing that?" Bonnie asked contemptuously.

WITH MY ARMY, the Commander deftly replied. ISN'T THAT RIGHT, MY CANINE MINIONS? And, of course, the dogs would reply by panting, or napping, or chewing rawhide, or licking themselves.

Later, when the kids were living in the house too, the Commander would exhort them to join him in his plans for conquest. YOU THERE, the Commander would challenge. YOU, BOY. WHAT DO YOU SAY TO AN END TO CHORES AND A LIFE OF EASE?

"Keep talkin'," Eric said.

WHAT YOU MUST DO IS SIMPLE, SIMPLE ENOUGH EVEN FOR YOU TO COMPREHEND. YOU MUST RENOUNCE YOUR FATHER AND SERVE ME. THINK OF IT: ENDLESS MAC AND CHEESE. NO HOMEWORK. DO YOU LIKE CAR SHOWS?

"Sure I do!"

THEN YOU MAY GO TO AS MANY AS YOU LIKE. AND YOU WILL HAVE 'MONEY', WHICH I UNDERSTAND IS VERY FASHIONABLE WITH THE YOUNG BIPEDS. ALL YOU MUST DO IS WAIT ON MY COMMAND, AND THEN BETRAY YOUR FATHER!

Eric squinted suspiciously. "Wait a second, you don't have any money."

OF COURSE I DO! the fish retorted hotly. I AM THE COMMANDER; THE UNIVERSE IS MY OYSTER!

"You can't have any money; you're just a fish."

There was a stunned silence. THE TIME SHALL COME WHEN YOU REGRET YOUR RASH DECISION, YOUNG BIPED, the Commander intoned icily.

And so it would go, with the Commander as this omnipresent vaguely-menacing comic presence in the background of our lives.

Moving forward to last month. Bonnie and I closed on a house, which we are almost completely moved into. Scheduling demanded, however, that we interrupt our packing and moving activities to attend the high school graduation of one of Bonnie's nephews. On our way out the door, Bonnie said: "I fed the Commander, but he doesn't look so good. He's just lying on the rocks and he's not moving."

"Well, he's gone through torpid phases before," I replied. "Maybe he's cooking up a really evil plot to rule the world." We left on our trip.

When we returned, the house smelled really bad. The Commander had died in our absence; most of him was floating up in a corner of the tank, and shards of the rest were polluting the water. Bonnie thought that perhaps the pump had overheated and cooked him, but I prefer the romantic view.

We were leaving the house, taking the Commander's army and servants with us. We had planned on possibly fishing him out of the tank and seeing if a fish store wanted to give him a new home, but I don't think he could stand the indignity. The Commander's collossal ego shielded a secret fear: that the loss of people to plot against would remove his raison d'etre. In the face of losing everything, he chose instead to go down with his ship.

I gave the Commander a full military burial, with honors, in the dumpster. He was easily twice the size he had been when Bonnie first moved in, so a life of nefarious plotting seemed to agree with him. It is my hope that when our trash winds up in the landfill, a zombified Commander will rise and command a legion of rats to do his bidding, and he may yet grasp the power that eluded him for so long.

But we won't be there any more. Thursday I walk through the old place with the landlord, and then we'll never see that place again. Perhaps somebody else will move in, rehabilitate the aquarium, and put their own fish in there to live.

And late at night, a malevolent spirit will inhabit the skull on the floor of the tank, and a deep gurgling voice will speak to the tropical fish, and together they will dream of a day when the waves claim humanity.