An Eye For An Eye

"What the? Brad, come here! Now the black moor's eyes are gone!!"

"Jesus. Something is attacking our fish. It's gotta be the eel."

"You mean the eel we haven't seen since we bought him? We don't even know where he is. You're telling me he's eating the eyes out of our fish? That is just sick!"

"He must come out at night. Get a flashlight."

He is the biggest fish we have. Where could he be hiding? Brad gets down on the floor and points the flashlight up. 

"There he is. Somehow he got beneath the under-gravel filter." The black eel shifts uncomfortably in the glare of the flashlight. Ugh. 

So all day the rest of the fish go about their boring business until it gets dark and their tranquil home turns into a nightmarish hell where some predator is going to bite their eyes out? From the looks of it, he hits with the precision of a surgeon, leaving his prey with empty sockets but alive, floating in eternal darkness wondering if it will strike again. Fish eyes must be some sort of delicacy for eels. My stomach turns. This is the epitome of evil and we put that monster in there.

The eel looked so cool swimming around the tank at the aquarium store. He seemed like the perfect addition to our fifty-five gallon tank. It is the television of our living room: the soft glow at night, the gentle bubbling of the air filter, the ever-changing picture. We listen to music and stare at the tank for hours. So soothing.

When we're fully relaxed by the aquarium's hypnotic effect, we make the rounds turning off the music, shutting down all the lights, and head up the stairs to dream the night away. Now I imagine the fish watching anxiously from their glass prison, silently screaming, "NOOOO! DON'T GO!!! FOR THE LOVE OF NEPTUNE, AT LEAST LEAVE OUR LIGHT ON!!! Their eyes widen in gut-wrenching terror, trying to see anything, any movement in the water, as "it" slowly slithers up the tube, catching the moonlight reflected in their juicy orbs. 

"We're going to have to get him out."

"How? He's underneath the gravel filter! We can't even reach him. How the hell does he get down there?"

"He uses the tube that circulates the water in the tank. We're going to have to force him up."

"Oh Lord."

"We'll have to shine a bright light on him from below so he wants to hide somewhere else."

"Great. Let's get a tractor beam on that sucker."

"I think you mean a 'repulsor' beam in this case."

"Okay Dr. Who, let's just get this mother."

Brad turns off the light above the aquarium.The bright light shining up from below makes the eel squirm. Good. Just the sight of him squished under the filter and beneath all the gravel makes my skin crawl. He's dark. He's long. He's slithery. He is evil incarnate. What Freudian envy ever made me think this thing was cool?

Brad and I watch in awe as he swims straight up the water exchange tube and into the darkened tank with the rest of the fish. We keep the light glaring so he's not tempted to return to his lair. He's a stealth fish looking for a place to hide and wait.

Brad gets the net out. I can't believe he's got to stick his arm in the tank. He corners the eel, whisks it out and drops it into a bucket of water waiting on the floor. The agitated eel moves rapidly around the perimeter seeking any outlet to escape. Fascinating. Both of us bend down to see the dark, wiggling streak better, wondering what we're going to do with him. 

"We'll have to flush him."

"Seriously? That seems rather cold."

We peer into the bucket trying to get a better look when the damn thing breeches upward as if he wants to pluck our eyes out. Two high-pitched screams pierce the quiet. Both of us jump back so fast we practically knock over the aquarium.

"Oh, he's going DOWN!"

I run to get a platter and cover the bucket in case he tries to make a break for it. The learning curve on eels is exponential. They can swim fast in any direction, gravity is not a deterrent and the only thing more terrifying would be pulling this bastard from one of our faces as tries to snatch an eyeball the size of his head.

We muster up the nerve to move the bucket and carry it to the nearest bathroom. Donning thick leather gloves, Brad slowly carries the bucket trying not to slosh the water or spill the eel. I run ahead to make sure the lid and seat are both up. We strategize how he's going to pour it in. There is no room for error. This is a tiny space. If the eel were to hit the floor we'd kill ourselves trying to escape. [Tomorrow's headline: Young couple found dead in half-bath from contusions and spinal fractures. Police mystified by their tattered, empty eye-sockets.] Shudder.

"Okay, on the count of three, gently lift and tilt."

"Be ready to flush."

Brad starts to pour the contents of the bucket into the bowl. The eel is a streak of black as he races down the hole voluntarily. So much for flushing. I do it anyway. After staring for a few minutes to make sure he doesn't pop up unexpectedly, I flush again. 

"Did you see how fast he shot down that hole? He's probably three blocks away already."

"Good riddance."

We hug with relief. Brad hits the light as we leave the bathroom. I turn it back on.

"Keep it bright in here, ok? Remember the alien bursting out of John Hurt's chest just when the crew thinks everything is fine? We're leaving this light on all night."

It is weeks before I work up the nerve to use that bathroom. For months we watch for stories about sewer workers disappearing unexpectedly or reporting some Ness-like creature brushed against them in the murky waters. The eyeless rats stumbling around wondering what hit 'em probably go unnoticed. Years later parts of The Little Mermaid still make me squeamishbut I know the twin eels will get their comeuppance and I revel in their demise. "An eye for an eye" have become words to live by for me.