When the Sharks Come Out to Play

by Karen Ekstrom

By Mary Claire Ekstrom

I swam deeper and deeper, dodging my brother’s flailing hands. Headed to safe water. The deep end.

He’d never catch me.

I bounced upward, kicking off the bottom of the pool. Broke the water’s surface and gulped air, grabbing the diving board. I curled my legs up, planted my feet against the pool wall, and prepared to push off, to escape, if necessary.

I surveyed the situation. Then grinned, for the family’s crystal blue battlefield was at war once more.

My 19-year-old brother, James, stood, a fish out of water, in a growing puddle by the shallow end.

Mia, the slyest of the family, waited in the water, below James. Her husband, Dan, stood beside her. At 6’7”, he was never a shark for long.

Pierce, the shark, stalked forward, toward the three of them. Arms winged out, with trails of water flurries following his fingertips.

Kathy sat with Barrett, age 3, on the sunbathing shelf, in 4-inches of water. He being a mere tadpole, and, therefore, safe at home base.

Other people play “Marco Polo”.

We play Sharks and Minnows.

There’s a difference.

Dad treaded water next to me, silent. I could see him pondering his plan of escape in his darting eyes.

We all had our different strategies. We all played to win.

We only shared one thing. A dangerous enemy. Pierce. The shark.

A massive threat, even with his eyes closed. Pierce never peeked or cheated, as he continued to glide toward the shallow end with his long arms searching, sending waves to the edges of the pool. At twenty-one, he radiated confidence.

Mia and Dan, now two feet away from him, slipped under the water and torpedoed themselves away.

“Shark.” Pierce called out.

“Minnow” James, Dad, and I replied in unison.

James’ voice was soft and cautious.

Pierce’s head snapped, zeroing in on James.

Everyone froze.

The shark smelled blood.

Pierce was known to switch speeds, and direction, in a split second. But before he did, he was quiet.

Mia and Dan’s heads surfaced, inhaled and positioned themselves next to Dad and me.

I groaned, wishing they hadn’t.

Now, with the exception of James, everyone treaded water in the deep end.  


“Minnow.” The five of us responded.

The four voices behind him caused him to jerk his head in our direction. “Oh I see… Mia and Dan went to join the…”

James tiptoed, fast, around the pool to join the rest of the minnows.


Pierce’s blind head darted after the pattering of feet, and cried, “FISH OUT OF-

There was a big splash.

Pierce took off, thrashing toward us.

Everybody split.

Dad and I sank to the bottom of the pool and stayed there.

I looked up in time to see Pierce dive.

Kicking. Arms whirling.

Water pushed at my face like a jet. My hair swirled. I couldn’t see.

I log-rolled, desperate to get away.

A body, silky and hairy, sprang up from under me. Dad.

Using him as a platform, I planted my feet on his back. Pushed off him.

Not that I could see where I was going through my wall of hair.

But this was war.

I took advantage of every opportunity given to me.

I swung my head, knocking my hair back.

I could finally see.

I was shooting up and to the right. Toward the tadpole.

And Pierce.


I scrambled backward, pedaling my arms and legs at maximum speed, pushing swirls of water in his direction.

I gasped quietly. Trying not to alert the shark.

His head pointed in my direction.

I submerged.

Pierce slapped his hand on the water’s surface, missing my head by a centimeter, shooting bubbles into my eyes.

He would stop at nothing to capture me. He reached toward the wall.

His arm blocked my entry to the shallow end. To safety.

Unless I ducked.

Everyone swam away, leaving me alone with the shark. I saw a hole. My escape. Between his arm and the wall of the pool.

I surfaced, sucked in a huge breath. Dropped below the water’s surface, pushed off the side of the pool, then slowed. Water swirled above my head. Like an eel, I spiraled forward, arms high, through that tiny hole. My feet paddled, light and tight, behind me.

I felt the water tug on my swim bottoms.

The long dead elastic was giving. My bathing suit was slipping.

Pierce moved.

I froze. Again. To prevent my wake from reaching him.

Air. I needed to breathe.

Pierce knew his prey was close.

My bottoms skidded down further.

I jammed one arm down, clamped onto my bottoms and jerked.

I swallowed. Running out of air.

Desperate, I grabbed at the pool floor. Pulled on the step.

Anything to maneuver me up and out of the hole quick.

All that was left was my feet.

My lungs screamed.

I reached up.

My hand latched onto the rocky siding.

I pulled hard.

He reached his arm down right behind my toenails. His head followed his hands under water.

I emerged, gasping.

Cheers erupted from the sidelines.

“You’ve got it Mary Claire!”

“Get her Pierce!”

I looked up at my family with furrowed brows. They all sat outside the pool, on dry land. Sipping on cokes. Since they too, knew I was The Prey, they so nicely moved out of Pierce and my’s way.

Pierce’s head surfaced. Just as he was opening his mouth to say “shark”, I sucked in, filling my lungs, then went back under.

My hands climbed along the siding, pulling my unmoving body away. Making as little waves as possible.

Pierce followed me.

My foot hung an inch away from his leg. If I moved my toe he would feel a current and know my position.

I surfaced. Gasped for air.

Pierce heard.

I kicked, sending a wave of water to his ankles.

He dove.

I scrambled, crunching my legs up, shoving water behind me with my arms.

His hand dug after me.

Like a flying fish, I shot out of the water, then bolted for the deep end.

He splashed after me.

I flung my limbs every which way.

Water was everywhere.

I propelled my body deep and turned to look at my predator, the only other person with me in the pool.

Everyone else had the smarts to get out of the pool, and out of our way.

Suddenly, Pierce stopped and stood in the center of the pool.

He took a step.

Acted all casual.  

I surfaced to investigate.

His eyes were open. He grinned.

Dad, Mia, Dan, and James all frowned.

“Wait. You didn’t touch me!” I panted in protest.

“I didn’t have to.” Pierce replied, smirking. “I just called ‘fish out of water.”



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