Flash Fiction

Sarah Ann Winn.jpeg



Sarah Ann Winn

Winner of the September 2017 Prime Number Magazine Flash Fiction Contest

Judged by Kathleen McGookey, author of Stay

$251 prize

Followed by a Q&A

Boxwood Fox Hunt

First there were horses, then ghosts of horses.

Things were easy when they grazed in the field at the far edge of the property, near the road.

When we fenced the long field near the boxwood maze, the little blue flowers bloomed. Even when no crocuses appeared, these came onto the green like geese no dog could scatter, through the heat of summer and into the fall, insistent even under the snow. We’d see them in the clearings made by hungry deer, left uneaten.

My car battery died over and over. I’d disconnect the wires, and next time I’d connect everything back up, the battery would be dead. It got so the mechanics would snicker to each other and shoot their eyes sideways when I’d arrive for maintenance. I got a new car, which I couldn’t really afford. Same thing.

The boxwoods thrashed and moaned in all weather, without needing the slightest breeze.

One starry night, lightning struck the one-hundred-year oak and one entire side of it crashed to the ground, just missing the house. The other burnt all night long. Not a single cloud in the sky; still, the smell of disaster was everywhere for days.

Twice, someone smashed every window on the side of the house facing the maze, but nobody heard a thing, even in the bedrooms with broken glass. No earthquakes reported, and the dogs were silent all night. A fist-sized object had gone through each window, and apparently back out again, since nobody could find anything that would have made such a hole. We swept the floors and reported it as vandalism. Nobody wanted to sleep in the house after the second time.

Then there’s the flower garden. Soon as anything got to blooming perfectly, the next day, I’d go out, and every petal would be on the ground, already cut. It was the peonies I minded the most. They’re so big and bright. Some things just like the dark. The possibility of keeping anything from starting.

The locked garden gate always looked undisturbed. Even that morning. Everything was the same except for the trampled jacket. The feel of the heavy flowers, their half crushed heads underfoot. Their fragrant trail bled into the woods.

Sarah Ann Winn’s first full-length book, Alma Almanac, won the 2016 Barrow Street Book Prize, and was published this year by Barrow Street. She is the author of five chapbooks, most recently, Exhibition Catalog from the Grimm Forest Open Air Museum (Yellow Flag, forthcoming). Her writing has appeared in such journals as Codex, Five Points, Hayden’s Ferry Review,  Massachusetts Review, and Tupelo Quarterly. She currently serves as Reviews Editor for Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and is a poetry editor at Cider Press Review. She lives in Manassas, Virginia, with her husband, two lovely dogs, and one bad cat.


I wrote this piece after a residency at VCCA, where a real boxwood maze, and a stormy night full of ghost stories told by others made me wonder if I could write one, too. This is my first attempt at writing an actual ghost story (though I'd classify many of my poems as ghost story adjacent).


With what fictional character would you most love to spend the day?

Lady Sybil Vimes. Terry Pratchett’s loss left me longing for more stories with her as the central figure. She’s such a powerhouse of a character, although offstage for most of the books which really feature her husband. I’m not ready to accept that her "real" storyline was finished by marrying Sam Vimes. Aside from that, any day with her would include laughter, a good cup of tea, and the strong possibility of dragons.

What is your favorite day of the week?

Sunday. It’s the best of both worlds—the work week’s all exciting potential, and I’m well-rested enough to enjoy time with my family.

Which movie have you seen over and over again? What keeps you coming back?

Amelie. Everything that happens in that movie feels right, if not strictly realistic. From the bullying grocer who gets what’s coming to him, to the reclusive glass man’s demonstrations of friendship, to Amelie's quirky kindred spirit quest. Every detail is an interesting puzzle piece, and once it’s assembled, I am always as satisfied as I was the first time I saw the movie.