Winners of the 2022 Montana Memory Project Short Story Contest!

First Place, Grades 3 - 6

Image courtesy of Montana Memory Project

A Flathead Fisherman

By: Juliet Bell

I was aiming my bow into the water. My eyes were fixed on the fish. I took a deep breath. Then I shot. Whap! The arrow hit the water. I leaned over to see if I had caught the fish. It was a Rainbow Trout, lying belly up in the water with an arrow in its chest. “Yes!” I said out loud. Rainbow Trout was my favorite, and it would make a good meal. 

I hoped to catch more, but it was winter. The ice had just thawed, so the fish were still coming back. Flathead Lake was the best place to fish. The Salish (pronounced SEH-lish) Tribe was happy to be here. 

I threw the fish into my basket and grabbed another arrow. I nocked it in the bow and drew the string back. I raised my bow and looked into the water. I stayed completely still. I looked for movement in the darker spots in the lake. I saw a flicker of action in a small underwater cave under a tree, only big enough for a few fish. I waited for something to come out. A small splash came a few minutes later. I searched the murky water for a fish.  

I saw a fin pop out of the water. It looked like the fish was coming out of the cave. I waited for it to be in range. The fish slowly swam out. It was cloudy, so the fish did not see my shadow. The fish slowly inched towards the rock that I was standing on. I slowly positioned my bow to point at the fish’s heart. The fish was slowing down. It stopped. Then I shot.                         

Thwap! The arrow hit the water. I saw a shape swim away. I must have misjudged the distance between me and the fish. 

It was getting dark, so I decided to go home. I started to hike back to the place that my tribe was staying. 

I gathered up my fish into the basket. I climbed down from the rock that I was standing on. I started to walk down the path that I had made when I had traveled here in the morning. 

I swung my basket onto my shoulder and started walking. I walked for a while and then stopped to rest. I sat down on an old tree stump. I looked into my basket and counted my fish. There were only five, but they were very big. They would feed many families. 

I rested for a few minutes and then got up and started moving again. When I reached my tribe, I delivered my fish to the leader. She told me that these fish were the only ones that had been caught today! Since I had killed so many fish, we had a celebration. I got a new name that day. It was “Hunter of the Fish,” and I had clearly earned it.

Five Years Later, In Summer

 I was bowfishing again. This time, the fish were plentiful. I quickly spotted a fish. I raised my bow and loaded it. I pulled the string back. I could feel the tension shaking my arm. I aimed, and loosened my hold on the string. The string vibrated, and my arrow flew out. It hit its mark perfectly. I bent down to grab the fish. I pulled it out of the water and tugged the arrow away. I dropped the fish in my basket. I decided to head back home. I had filled my entire basket with fish, so I had killed enough. These would probably feed the whole tribe! I climbed down from the rock and started walking home.

Second Place, Grades 3 - 6

Image from MMP archives.
Image courtesy: Montana Memory Project

Troubled Waters

By Zayden Vancleef

I'm lost. I'm alone in the woods beside a huge fast rushing river, and above me is a huge rocky cliff. 

Robs gone. Rob had the food. How am I gonna eat? All I hear is the river rushing aside me and the bushes swaying through the warm humid air. 

Two days before…

“Rob! Are you coming! I want to get going before sunrise!” I said.

“Just give me a minute.” Rob said back.

I was so excited to go on a backpacking trip with my best friend! Rob finally finished and we got in the car. We made sure to check our food supply, and water filters before leaving. We decided to put the food in one backpack and take turns carrying it throughout the trip. We each had a life straw filter around our necks though. After a few hours we arrived at the trailhead. We decided I would carry the backpack full of food first. After walking for what felt like an eternity Rob insisted he take the backpack and give me a break. I was very happy. 

Only a half hour later we ran into a bit of a problem…the river. We needed to continue but the only way was to cross a log bridge covered in moss and splashes of water from the roaring current.

“Jack, the log doesn't look very steady, what if we fall in?” Rob said.  

This is the only way to continue, I thought.

How about I go first and you follow? I said back. 

“Okay, I guess.” Rob said in a worried voice.

I started to walk, I could feel the water flowing beneath me. 

“Jack I don't feel safe and this backpack is not helping.”

Just keep going, it will be ok. I said in a confident voice.      

“JACKKKK!!” Rob screamed.

He slipped and the river took him with no hesitancy. I ran down the riverbank trying to catch Rob. But I couldn't. Rob was gone, and so was all the food. Everything was swept away in an instant. I started panicking, all I could think about was Rob and getting help for him. I had no food, my best friend was gone, was he even alive? I should have listened to his fear of crossing. I never doubted myself as much as I did at this moment.  

I started to walk upstream a little more to see if anyone was near. There was no sign of anyone, anywhere near. Panic rumbled through me once again. Shock even. What if I die out here by myself? What if nobody finds me out here? Vomit erupted out of my mouth. After I cleaned up I decided to follow the trail back, in hopes someone would be near. I stood at the log knowing I had to cross that log to follow the trail back. All of a sudden I heard muffled chatter coming from the bushes along the river bank. Two young men packing up their fishing gear. PEOPLE!  I was overjoyed! I was going to get off this mountain!! When I was able to see them up ahead I yelled as loud as I could. I sprinted towards them and I told them the whole story. They offered me a snack. I politely declined because all I wanted to do was call search and rescue and pray Rob was lying on the river bank downstream waiting to be saved. As lucky as I was to have found these fishermen, I couldn't stop thinking about my best friend and how his voice sounded screaming my name.

Three weeks later       

The search team took a week to find Rob. My life will never be the same without my best friend. A year later I did the same trip alone, even crossed that same log. When I made it to the backpacking site I knew he was there in spirit with me. 

First Place, Grades 7 - 12

Image courtesy of Montana Memory Project

How a Horse Says Sorry

By Kinley Bray

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the national finals rodeo!" Please welcome our first contestant Fallen Taylor riding BabbyFlo, an American quarter horse. BabyFlo is surely beautiful and swift. Amazing run for Fallen at 16.52 seconds. "Kinley?" said Ms. Taylor, "how do you think that run was"? "Kinley… Kinley…Breakfast is ready!" I was having the best dream about Fallen Taylor, but I got abruptly woken up by the sound of my mother yelling at me and the smell of lemon pancakes with raspberry syrup. I'm not complaining. There are worse ways to wake up. I guess I was just trying to get a little more sleep. I tossed and turned all night. I was so upset I was missing the rodeo I had been practicing for for months. Not to mention, my friend Kate and I were supposed to compete together. My mom came to me last night, and told me she had a bad feeling about me going and wanted me to sit this one out. I was furious! She's had these feelings before though, and she's almost always right. I understand, but I'm still not happy about it.

As I sat at the table finishing my delicious pancakes having a pity party about missing the rodeo, I heard my mom on the phone. It sounded like she had just got some bad news. She came into the dining room with a very worried look on her face and handed me the phone. I said hello. All I could hear on the other end was crying. Until finally, I heard Kate. She explained that she had fallen from the hayloft last night while they were loading the trailer to leave. She broke her right leg in two places and had a concussion. My heart broke for her. 

I forgot all about pouting, hurried my chores along, and raced to the hospital. 

It was hard to see her laid up in that hospital bed. I tried to talk about anything other than horses and rodeos. But that is all Kate seemed to be thinking about. Kate asked me if I could take Lux, her horse, for a little while. She said he wouldn't understand why she wasn't around. He needed someone to take care of him while she couldn't. I offered to visit him weekly. Kate didn't think that would be enough. How could I tell her no. So, after talking to our parents, it seemed Lux was coming to stay with us while Kate recouped. 

We picked up Lux the next morning. I hadn't even considered how my horse Miracle would react. It wasn't good. They did not seem to be liking each other at all. What we first thought was just some good old fashion horse play started to get out of hand. My dad said we better just separate them. Before we could, Lux ended up nipping Miracle pretty good. So much so that my dad thought we should have it looked at. 

As the vet examined her, I noticed Lux watching from a distance in the corral. I know he is a horse, but it seemed as if he was worried and remorseful. Like he knew what he did and he was sorry. Later that night, I went out to see Lux. I told him I was sad and mad about Kate just like him. After our talk, I walked Miracle up to where Lux was. They greeted each other with a nuzzle. Like they were saying sorry and comforting one another. They reminded me that hard times can bring friends together. Even more so, those hard times are when friends need grace and forgiveness the most. 

Kate recovered over the next few months, and she and Lux both got to return home. I have no doubt that the four of us will be riding and competing together again soon!

Second Place, Grades 7 - 12


gazing ball
Image courtesy of Montana Memory Project

The Owls and the Gazing Ball

By Maren McCann Rice

It was a summer day just like all the rest. She was wearing her yellow sundress and running through the garden as she’s done every day. Her curly brown hair was flying in the wind and almost glowing in the sunlight. It truly was a perfect day for this little girl. She saw an owl fly over her head. How she loved owls! She chased the beautiful owl far across the garden. There was an old greenhouse there she didn’t recognize. 

“But this is my garden, I’ve been to every corner before.” The girl thought to herself. 

Fighting her urge to run, the girl slowly crept into the greenhouse. There were owls ahead. She was happy, for owls were her favorite animal! It was so cold! The girl took a breath and it went out in white wisps over her head. She took a deep breath and watched it swirl around in the air. The girl looked around… 

“RASPBERRIES!” She ran over there and started shoving them into her mouth. The girl laughed in glee as the juice ran down her chin and onto her yellow dress. She ran around the greenhouse trying different blueberries, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, blackberries, apples, and cranberries. She then ate a berry that she didn’t recognize but it was sweet on her tongue. 

The girl suddenly felt very tired. She found an old garden tarp and laid on top of it. Before she knew it she was asleep. 

Hours-or maybe even days had passed when the girl finally woke up. She was aroused by a barn owl that landed in her hair. Its long claws knotted in the girl’s beautiful, brown, curly hair. She screamed as loud and as long as she possibly could. Someone’s footsteps echoed through the greenhouse. The girl closed her mouth and was as quiet as a young girl could be with an owl knotted in her hair. 

An old man with a beard as white as Christmas milk sauntered in. He seemed to have a pack of squirrels following him. He saw the owl first, then the girl. He grabbed an old shovel and ran towards the girl. Once again; she screamed. She worried that the old man planned to hurt her! But he started swatting at the owl and saving her hair. 

“Thank you, sir. If you could pardon me asking, what is your favorite animal?” She said in a hurried manner as she stood. 

“Squirrels.” That must be why a pack of squirrels seemed to follow him. “How did you get here?” The man responded in a raspy voice. 

“I followed the owls.” She responded. 

“Well run far away from here and whatever you do, don’t look at the Gazing Ball.” 

She walked back puzzling at what the man said. It was getting warmer the farther she walked. It was too safe for her. She needed adventure! With a pivot, the girl turned and ran back to the greenhouse… 

She ran inside avoiding the owls. The girls saw a gazing ball in the middle of the greenhouse. How did she miss it before? She looked into it and saw the reflection of an owl. She looked farther in and there were many, many owls in the gazing ball. She felt the urge to touch their soft feathers. So she did, and she did feel their feathers. 
“But how? It’s just a reflection; isn’t it?” 

All of a sudden the owl bit her hand. 


The girl, who was no longer just a little girl, heard screaming. She ran into the greenhouse she knew so well with a pack of owls following her and saw a little boy with a fox wrapped up in his hair. She saved the boy with a shovel and he asked what her favorite animal was. She responded with… 

“Owls. Whatever you do, don’t look into the gazing ball.”

First Place, Adult Category

MMP picture
Image Courtesy of the Montana Memory Project

Death Does Funny Things To Us

By Brittney Uecker

Martha stood on her porch and flexed her toes. It was early morning, the porch slick with frost. The bathrobe wrapped over her shoulders still smelled like Theda, like dirt and sweat and cigarettes. Theda would wear the robe while she gardened, chain-smoking and turning over soil in her delicate hands. Martha let the scent envelope her and ached with the sweet pain of memory. After long days of gardening, when crickets sang them love songs from beyond the light, Martha would knead Theda’s hands in her own, work the knots from her palms, run her fingernails up the delicate skin of her wrists. Martha adored it.
But now the trees were bare. The grass dead, the flowers dead, Theda’s precious garden dead. The stream running behind the property, cutting it off from the neighbors’ behind it, gurgled with life, the only sound filling the morning.

           It was the fifth day. Five days since Theda was carried away in a crisp, black bag, like luggage, like groceries. Five days since Martha fell asleep to the sound of Theda’s rattling cough and woke up next to her cold body. Martha couldn’t believe the cruelty of death’s swiftness, how quickly Theda buckled under illness. The sheets were still speckled with her coughed-up blood. Martha was afraid to wash them, afraid to lose whatever she had left.

           She was startled by a sound from across the stream, the neighbors’ door creaking open and the small, quick steps of a child plodding across the porch. She squinted to see him. It was Gilbert, the son, a boy of around eight. She watched him leap from the porch and run through the dead grass to the edge of the stream. He gathered his concentration, and navigated across a careful path of stones reaching out of the water. In his hand, a bouquet of flowers rained petals that disappeared downstream.

           “Hello, Ms. Milford.”

           “Hello, Gilbert.”

           He extended his tiny arm towards her, presenting the bouquet of scraggly wildflowers. The red flecks of Scarlet Paintbrush reminded Martha of the bloody sheets moldering on her bed.

           “For you, Ms. Milford. We’re so sorry for your loss.”

           Martha swallowed the bolus of sorrow in her throat and reached out to take the flowers from the boy. “Thank you, son. Give your family my regards.”

           Having completed his task, the boy turned and shot back across the yard, over the stream, and into the house, the door slamming behind him. 

           On the table inside the house, Theda’s flowers, the last batch she picked before the frost, the last she would ever pick, hung limply over the lip of a milk jar. The rich blue of Larkspur and the lively pink Bitterroot had long since dried into petals as gray and papery as ash. A layer of mold grew over what was left of the water and stunk like rot. If Theda were here, she would have thrown them out at the first sign of wilt, replaced them with a rainbow of flowers she had ushered into this world with her own careful hand. She would want Martha to take Gilbert’s gift, put them in a jar of fresh water and set it in the place of her dead flowers. She would want Martha to replace death with love, darkness with light, rot with life. 

           A moment later, framed in the neighbors’ window across the stream, the mother held her son as they watched Martha howl like an animal, red-faced with anguish, and beat the bouquet of flowers against the porch railing. Petals flew through the air like confetti, celebrating the unleashing of her grief. She tore at the bouquet until she was left holding only stems.

           “Why, mother?” he asked. “Why did she do that to our gift?”

           The mother squeezed him tight and breathed into his hair.

           “Death does funny things to us, sweetheart. Death does funny things.”

Second Place, Adult Category


Image Source: Montana Memory Project

Real Women Hunt Moose

by Richard E. McCallum

Climbing the tree and crawling out on a low entanglement of branches offers support for all my hunting gear. The river runs deep under me. Buzzsaw. Buzzsaw. Who makes the sound? I fill the bucket and mix in the Bull Moose attractant lure. 

I pour a steady stream into the current, at the rate I estimate a female moose might relieve herself, and the bucket nears empty. My observation focuses on the drifting branches rising and sinking in the current. A swarm of horseflies hovers above, do they generate the buzzing sound? The water swells and deflates as if a large object displaces its volume. I lay down on the tree limb, with my face just feet off the river level, and watch the effect of this object passing. A monster movie comes to mind. 

Jaws, the shark, attacks. 

Or so it appears. A huge Bull moose with trophy antlers breaches up out of the deep. The Bull’s spines jam the entanglement of branches supporting my lair. The beast curls his lips and bellows in ecstasy. 

The attractant worked. 

Only problem? 

No female moose. The moose’s pikes entwine my clothes, and my body snares on top of the Bull’s head. 


By now, the Bull knows he did not capture the object of his desire. He cannot fling off my body, while floundering in the deep water, and struggling to keep his nose and mouth above river. 

A Scream. 

A Prayer. 

Finally, the Bull smashes into a logjam, which shifts with the impact and traps him: the moose panics and tosses his head from side to side. Thrown onto a log, one of my feet gets caught under his antlers. Fatigued, the moose can’t hold his nose and mouth above the river and drowns. His upper head, with his eyes just above the waterline, stay afloat supported by the log ensnared antlers. He stares at me. 

My warm camo-outfit and waders keep me waterproof from head to toe, and gratefully, my stocking cap didn’t abandon me during the wild ride. 

The day passes with me squirming, wiggling, and suffering panic attacks until drained. Famished; could I eat the moose? Incredibly thirsty, but I dare not drink the river water. I cry, again, how many times? 

Night falls. Chilled, I feel the spirit of the moose. 

Haunted. The moose’s eyes stare at me. I reflect on my role in the death. This great spirit of the deep forest, vibrant, full of life energy, who only sought to procreate; now, will reign no more. My primal human need to survive on my own fueled his demise. My life goals lost, another victim of the plague. 

Sleepless. Thoughts of other people trapped in life-or-death situations come to mind. One man cut off his hand to free himself. I search through my pockets for anything I can use to slice off my foot. I pat the pockets of my jacket and discover the one thing not paid for: the Swiss army knife. 

“ ‘Needful thing.' ” I quote the wise man who gave me this gift. 

As the sun warms, I doze on and off, but awake as the mosquitoes and flies target my exposed parts, like a tortured soul left for their demonic pleasure. Late morning, I push as hard as possible to move the logs and gain access to my foot. Instead, to my amazement, at that moment, the timbers spin apart, and the whole entanglement comes undone. 

Flung free of the moose and catapulted onto one of the logs, my glance back reveals the moose’s head, his glazed motionless eyes beholding me, sinking under the bubbling foam. A spiritual connection forged; I know this grandiose creation of God forgives me and will protect me.

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Karen I Ford (not verified) , Thu, 05/05/2022 - 21:52
What lovely short stories are presented. Excellent job to all the writers
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