Friday, October 30, 2020


Note: The following was written as part of ISLF friend Eric Douglas’ Halloween-themed story challenge. Please visit Books By Eric for more tales.

The sky above the pool was the color of weathered coral. A gust of wind raised gooseflesh along Samantha's shoulders. She wrapped her arms around her swimsuited middle, shivering in Wonder Woman red and blue, the flesh dimpling about her elbows as she clutched herself against the chill.

"Go on," Daddy said, not lifting his eyes from his phone. "Get in."

Mottled Diamond Brite sloped from a safe depth of three feet to a precipitous ten. In the midday gloom, the pool's nadir looked almost purple.

"What are you waiting for?" Daddy said. It wasn't a question.

Chlorine stench stung Samantha's nose and a shudder slithered up her spine as she lowered herself in inch by inch. "It's cold."

Irritation eeled over Daddy's face as he glanced up. He bent, dipped his hand in, gave a grunt of disgust. He splashed a wave at her face and rose, muttering, "No, it's not. Get going. One lap for every year. Damn Dolphins." His gaze was back on the screen.

Samantha kicked off from the wall, ducking her head in the tepid water—and immediately thrusting it back up. Last Halloween, Peter had been able to pick the family movie. In it, there were people running and screaming on a beach, a man with bushy sideburns and a beard, and a shark big as a boat. Momma had made her leave near the end, but not before Stephanie had seen a man slipping down the splintered deck of a vessel the shark had crunched into, screaming as he slid into the giant fish's toothed maw.

The color of the water that the shark had hove itself out of was the same shade of indigo as the depths of pool's deep end. It was the perfect place for a shark to hide. It was where Stephanie would've hidden were she a shark.

Daddy didn't notice, didn't say anything until Stephanie was halfway through her second lap. "Head down, Chubs. You can't swim freestyle with your head above water."

Keeping her head in wasn't so bad when she faced toward the shallow end. But as she began her third lap, she thought she saw a gray flash in the murk, the outline of a fin against the pool's indigo bottom. She lifted her head straight up, inadvertently shifting into a doggy paddle. As she gripped the pool's lip and drew her knees up to her chin, she heard Daddy's snarl.

"Did you hear what I said?! Head down."

An easy thing, keeping her face down when she didn't have to look at that aquatic murk, wondering what alien thing might rise out of it, vicious and ravening. When Samantha touched the wall for the fourth time, she noticed the lowering sky, the cloudbank dark as a water-logged grotto. But it was her last lap, and she planted with both feet, kicking off with all of her nascent might.

She almost made it through the entirety of that fifth lap—almost. An arm's length from edge, she sucked in a breath, felt the kiss of water against her brow, nose, and chin, and opened her eyes to see pearlescent rows of receding razor teeth rising toward her. Stephanie faltered, flailed, started to shriek and gagged on an inadvertent gulp of water.

A hand encircled Stephanie's arm, a hard hauling dragging her to the pool's concrete lip and lifting until her shoulders, even her navel were above the water. Daddy's face was a cartilaginous gray against the slate sky, the enameled white of his grimace glimmering in the growing semidarkness.

"Again," he said, enunciating every syllable. "You. Will. Do. It. Right."

And Stephanie went again. She flailed at the yielding water with her limbs. She let her lungs begin to burn, to ache. She willed the wall to draw closer, but she didn't dare sneak a breath, unsure of what her eyes would see, wouldn't see—unsure of where the shark now was.


Patrick N. said...

Wow, dad needs to be fed to "Bruce." What a jerk! And what a chilling story.

Loren Eaton said...

Thanks, Patrick. I think every parent wonders whether or not he's doing a good job. I know I fall short far more often than I care to admit.