by Kurt Steinmiller

In the dark of my room, moonlight shimmers silver on the slow river, rolling by, two hundred feet beneath me. I cinch my sleeping bag tight around my face, and it begins to rain, also silver. Shards of silver, fractured and falling from the clouds. I press myself beneath a canopying rock, listen to the patter, try to fall asleep.

My grandfather was in the army. He told me that they told him that when you can’t sleep, you should raise one arm straight up into the air, that you’ll get tired eventually. I try it, but it doesn’t work. I wonder sometimes how much they tell you in the army is just to make a fool of you. I wonder the same thing about school.

I set a trap for Santa, but then got scared and took it down. It was just a camera that I pointed at the tree and rigged with a timer to take a picture every five minutes. But Santa doesn’t come if you pay attention, and I thought that might include hidden cameras. I taped my walkie-talkie button open, and tried to accidentally leave it behind, but I didn’t know how to do that without it being on purpose. I didn’t want to risk it.

I reach into the secret cubby built into my bed, and I touch the present there that I made for my mom. It’s only me and her, I don’t have a dad. Neither does my friend Mark. Or Steve or Jason or Frank or the other Mark. But it’s okay, just being me and my mom. She calls me her Little Man, and says that she doesn’t have room in her life for any other men. I don’t know what that means exactly, but I think it has something to do with the way I accidentally pee on the toilet seat and forget to wipe it up and leave it there to dry, if I understand sitcoms correctly.

I hear a noise, a slow footstep, and I hold my breath so I can listen. I wonder if this is cheating, so I try to stop listening, to fall asleep. I close my eyes and stick my arm up in the air and try to fall asleep, but I also try to listen to what’s going on outside, but to do so by accident.

I cinch my sleeping bag around my face again, and I press myself tight against the rock. A wind blows and the rain turns cold. In between the raindrops is a stray snowflake, here and there. The rock is cool where I lean against it, comforting. I don’t dare look, but I listen to the silver river rolling two hundred feet beneath me. It’s cold, but the river is ancient and deep and never freezes. In my mind, I see it. It comes from darkness in one direction and flows to darkness in the other. But below me, beside me, it is sacred and silver, forever.

Kurt Steinmiller resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is currently a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, and is perpetually at work on his first novel.