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Short Fiction Contest: Contest Dilemma


For our 50th Anniversary Short Fiction Contest, we asked you to send a 700-word, or less, story in which Montana Public Radio is mentioned in some way. We'll be accepting entries until March 15, 2015. Winners will be announced in April. This story is by Frances Abbey.

“What is the worst that can happen?” she asked herself. “Humiliation? Dad’s disownment ?  Those are possibilities but not in the same category as being beaten, or thrown in jail.”

“What are you muttering about?” inquired Janet from across the dorm room. “You sound concerned.”

Nancy closed her laptop and stood up. “Nothing. Let’s go for a hike. It’s a shame to be indoors on a day like this.”

“What got you upset?” persisted Janet.  “Sounded serious. Did I hear the word contest?”

“Nothing important.” Nancy snatched her jacket off the back of the chair.  “Want to see if the Bitterroots are blooming on Baldy Mountain?

Nancy’s reticence to explain her muttering, no longer a concern, Janet reached for her hiking boots. “You bet!”

At the trailhead, the two young women shouldered their day packs with anticipation.  Nancy breathed in the crisp air and surveyed the sky; unlike her mind, not a cloud in sight.  Hiking in the mountains helped her resolve conflicts. The present conflict, whether to enter a writing contest or not, seemed minor. It wasn’t.

Nancy’s feet carried her up the trail. Her mind carried her back to her childhood.  An only child; her parents had doted on her... especially her father. She had been a “good girl”, never giving her parents cause for worry or consternation... except for one thing.  Her father wanted Nancy to follow in his footsteps as a medical research scientist. Before she was born he read to her from scientific publications. Throughout her childhood he used every opportunity to teach her logic and scientific reasoning. Fortunately he made the instruction fun. She loved spending time with her dad.

Her mother’s view of the world was metaphorical . She had exposed Nancy to many important philosophers starting with Mother Goose. Bedtime stories were a ritual and books at Christmas a tradition. The dedication to nurturing Nancy’s imagination and encouraging its expression had helped create this present conflict. Toddler Nancy’s scribbles were received with  sincere probes: “What is happening here?” or “Tell me about this picture.”  Responses were recorded below the “pictures.”  Every story was ceremoniously saved in a 3-ring binder.

“Mom didn’t overtly undermine Dad’s agenda to make me the youngest and brightest medical scientist,” Nancy reflected, stepping over a fallen log.”But she provided balance, broadened my experiences, and nurtured my other interests.”

This seeds of conflict sprouted in high school. The classes that spoke loudest to Nancy’s spirit were literature, drama, and creative writing. But whenever she shared her enthusiasm for those subjects with her father, he sternly told her to forget them and to focus on chemistry, physics and biology.

Nancy almost stumbled as she recalled her father’s face. “You are destined to be a famous scientist!” he’d state one decibel below shouting. “As soon as you have completed the four year basics at the U of M, I am sending you to Stanford. It’s medical research program is the best. You are on the fast track to a successful career. No more talk of literature and writing."

“Let’s stop here for a bit.” Nancy slumped down on a boulder in a patch of sunshine where the trail forked.

“The ‘fast track’? More like a slow trail to Auschwitz.” she wailed internally “My spirit will die if I choose the science route.  But if I choose a writing path, will it destroy dad?” Nancy sagged  forward, covering her face with her hands.

Concerned, Janet asked, “You’ve never needed to stop here. Are you okay?”

Nancy indicated the fork in the trail. “ I need to choose my life’s path”  Janet nodded. She had guessed that there was more to this hike for her roommate than finding blossoming Bitterroots. 

Always there are forks in the trails of mountains and life. Each fork holds potential opportunities, unique challenges and benefits. Nancy was at a critical crossroads.

Long contemplative minutes later, Nancy stood up. She would enter Montana Public Radio’s writing contest. Whatever the consequences, entering the contest would be a decisive step on the path of her choosing.

“I’m more than okay?” She declared.  “Let’s go up the mountain!”


Enter your story in the MTPR 50th Anniversary Short Fiction Contest.


Chérie Newman is an arts and humanities producer and on-air host for Montana Public Radio, and a freelance writer. Her weekly literary program, The Write Question, is broadcast on several public radio stations, and available online at PRX.org and MTPR.org.
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