First place

Illustration By GB Tran


Knowing that it was coming, Carl had prepared. They asked him to remove his sunglasses and sit down. Then they fired him. They seemed nervous.

Did they think he would fly into a rage and attack? He did despise them, but he was a calm man.

He put his things into a box and took his bag lunch from his bottom drawer. In the parking lot, hundreds of cars glared at the noonday sun. He had left the sunglasses in Boyton’s office. He turned and squinted at the corner windows on the top floor.

They wouldn’t notice those cheap sunglasses next to the expensive leather chair. They were all at the window. Watching him.

Did they think he would come back and gun them down? He never owned a gun.

At space 238, Carl unlocked the old Honda, put the box in and took out his lunch. Sitting behind the wheel, he worked his sandwich out of the zip-lock bag.

Sweat collected in his armpits, down his back and over his scalp as he ate in the hot car. He knew more of them had gathered at Boyton’s window now. Watching him. He hoped that haughty secretary had joined them.

Paula Zaby, who won first prize for “Fired,” was born and raised in Los Angeles and is a self-employed training consultant in the Sacramento area. She recently completed a “new noir” manuscript, The Big Switchback, and presently is working on a collection of short stories. Zaby has been writing fiction since she was 8 years old, and she’s been working at it more seriously in the last year. “The Flash Fiction Contest interested me because I like the challenge of the very short format,” she said, “lifting weight off my story until its heart started beating—five pages to three, six paragraphs to two, 20 words to the essential one.”

Photo By Larry Dalton

Finished eating, Carl put his seat back and closed his eyes to wait. It was a shame nothing would be left to show the good job he had done with those glasses.

Fine wires. Tiny timer. Plastic explosive molded inside.

In another moment, it would all be gone.

—Paula Zaby, Sacramento

This taut little gem has everything. From the opening sentence, it commands your attention and never strays from its course as it pushes seamlessly ahead to its nicely foreshadowed conclusion. It’s written with laudable economy and clarity, with not an extraneous word. There’s no attempt to impress with flashy writing or strained imagery. Carl, the protagonist, is a clearly defined character; the reader easily fills in the back story; and the tension is palpable, as we can’t wait to find out where the tale is headed.