Drabble Lab Round 1: Beginnings

Maybe you’ve been watching the photo lab with a certain amount of envy, because your camera is covered with a thick layer of dust that inspires nothing short of shame and dread when you think about picking it up. Maybe you’re like me, and write with a certain compulsiveness that is just short of unhealthy. Maybe you want another opportunity to participate, or want to give writing a try. Maybe you want the opportunity to see how we would illustrate a story that you’ve written. Whatever the reason, we’re starting a weekly drabble feature, and you should participate! Read on for details.

So, what’s a drabble?

A drabble is 100 words of prose. Usually fiction. No more, no less. Drabbles are fun because they’re quick to write (only 100 words!), and because they challenge you to be concise, and to clearly demonstrate one idea. In some cases, they force you to be a little bit flexible about the wording in order to get the word count exactly right. Here’s one I wrote, a couple years ago:

There’s something that legitimizes dying wishes; your own rosy-tinted memory makes you comply, even if the request is absurd. I think my grandfather knew that, and that’s why he whispered, on his death bed, “Avenge me.”

It calls up all sorts of fairy tales, doesn’t it? Kill the evil baron who poisoned my grandfather’s wine, right countless yet-unknown wrongs, back in time for supper.

But things are never that simple. My grandfather died of a stroke. High cholesterol and higher blood pressure did him in: genetics and a lifetime of smoking, drinking, and eating red meat. Whose fault is that?

And here’s a few from Charles:

The daughter sat near enough to the fire to keep the chill from her bones, playing with a doll made of scraps of cloth and grain husks. The mother sat nearer, stirring a pot of something comprised of the last scraps of food that was nearly a stew. The food would simmer through the night. In the morning they would pour it into skeins and and start the long walk west. All the food stores, and the neighbors, and civilization for that matter, had moved on without them. For mother and daughter the last night, and the journey, must begin.

The stiffness in his bones seemed to radiate from his spine. Nothing moved easily out of bed in the morning, and the stiffness never helped. The worst part wasn’t the stiffness though, that worked its way out before long. It was the pain in his heels. His feet would move just fine, but each step in the early morning sent signals of sharp pain to his brain. Time was catching up with him, though he wasn’t so old he thought it was about to catch him. Shuffling to the coffee pot he cursed poor circulation and sedentary living once again.

Jason took the high-road, when given half the chance. He was never sure if It was out of a sense of propriety, cowardice, or ego though. In this case though, the high-road meant he was going to lose something important to him. He wasn’t sure if Rosie was the love of his life, but she was certainly the love of right now, which counted for something. This morning though, he had decided that it was time to make the tough choice and put her old man, the president, out of his misery, for the good of the country.

What’s the feature?

Every week we’ll post a theme. You have until Friday to write a drabble, and post it in the comments. We’ll pick out winners, Jill or Brian or one of our other fabulously talented folks will illustrate them, and the winners and illustrations will be posted the next week, with a new theme. Lather, rinse, and repeat!

What’s the theme?

For this week, since this is our inaugural round, the theme will be “Beginnings”.

Good luck!

Elizabeth Finn

Elizabeth is a geneticist working for a shady government agency and therefore obliged to inform you that all of the views presented in her posts are her own, and not official statements in any capacity. In her free time, she is an aerialist, a dancer, a clothing designer, and an author. You can find her on tumblr at, on twitter at @lysine_rich, and also on facebook or google+.

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  1. Drabble: Beginnings
    Blank pages always made her anxious. Some days she would scribble a line of nonsense above the whiteness, simply to feel she wasn’t staring into the void. Too much white gave her headaches. Today she opened her journal, holding her fountain pen between her teeth, and looked intently at the page. White. Black lines traversing. Instead of putting pen to paper, she gently reached her hand out and touched the page, a single finger following the straight lines across it. With a sigh, she laid her pen down and placed her palm against the page, breathing deeply as she disappeared.

  2. Exactly 100, huh? I’m inferring from the examples that hyphenated terms (like “rosy-tinted”) actually could as one word?

  3. In the beginning, there was nothing.

    This is the story of religion.

    But really there was something. Everything, actually. All in one spot. A mass of energy and matter. Conditions inconceivable to the human mind.

    “Nothing” is easier to explain. An omnipotent mind to understand everything, where we understand nothing. To create everything we can’t imagine creating.

    Because we understand nothing.

    Or maybe we understand everything.

    Not like an encyclopedia, but like a set of rules. A framework. Gravity. Evolution. Thermodynamics.

    In the beginning there was everything. We don’t understand now. But we will.

    This is the story of science.

  4. Sure I remember how horrible it was in the beginning. It was stifling. So hot and so crowded that we pushed and jostled and fought with each other.

    As we got a bit more space, though, it was just nice and warm; we all had room but we were still connected, part of each other. Not good enough for us though, no. We needed to be special, independent, individual. So we each other pushed away.

    Now I’m cold and alone.

    I can still feel them, my brothers and sisters, a fading tug across deep space, tendrils of memory spanning eternity.

    – The big bang

  5. The reason I asked is that one of the examples above has 100 words if you count hyphenated pairs as one word, while another has 100 words only if you count hyphenated pairs as two words.

    I’ve seen one event like this had the rule that hyphenated words could count either way, as long as there was one way that they added up to the right total. Given that we don’t all use the same word processor, maybe that would be the best rule to adopt?

    (By the way, this post has exactly 100 words. Very weak on story, though.)

  6. @breadbox – I agree that the rule you suggested (hyphenated words count as 1 or 2 as long as the story adds up to 100) makes the most sense. But does that mean that if I use two hyphenated words in one story, I can count them as two, three, or four words? That would be strange. Even so, there’s no sense in being overly strict when we want to make a fun event and welcome participation.

    Also, that was very clever, making your comment exactly 100 words. I can’t wait to see what you do with a real story!

  7. Re: the hyphenated word thing, I’ve always just gone with word processor count. Don’t go hyphenating words just to be able to fit more in, but no one’s going to be really strict about it.

    I had a drabble published in a webzine once, and they actually counted the title as part of the 100 words. And this particular story had a very long title, but it was part of it, so I had to cut a bunch of words out of the story itself. It still worked, but it was a big challenge!

  8. My contribution!


    First, pick the perfect one. Slice off the pointier end, but leave the root intact. Next, cut it in half and peel away the papery outer skin. Set one half on its cut side and make parallel cuts along its length almost all the way to the root, but not quite. Then make cuts perpendicular to the first, starting at the cut end and moving down to the root. It will fall to pieces beneath your blade. Repeat with the other half. The oil should be sizzling now—go ahead, add the onion to the pan. Now for the garlic:

  9. She’s handsome and erudite and I am intimidated. We make small talk with large implications. I feel wound, taut, warm bellied, and I can’t sit still, now sprawling, now tucking limbs under me. She rolls up crisp sleeves to reveal blue ink, to calm clenching hands. When she sips her scotch and smiles, my breath catches. I can’t stop staring at her mouth, that mouth, a flower bud, pink petaled and perfect; a promise. Our future is laid bare and bright as pale skin in moonlight, but I don’t recognize it yet. She leans in, the whole universe is new.

  10. It was funny how much beginnings looked like endings sometimes. It could be easy to get the two confused if you weren’t paying attention. At the end of the fairytale? It’s not like everything stopped. Life went on, an endless series of sunrises and sunsets framing other days.
    Every ending was just another beginning.
    He had to keep that in mind. If not he might be pulled under by what might turn into regret. There could be none of those.
    So, that was the end. Or, perhaps the beginning. His lover, the tyrant, deserved to die for what he’d done.

  11. When I came back to my parents’ house it seemed smaller. I had been gone longer than I had lived here. The slat in the porch lattice I had broken by climbing it was still broken. I couldn’t even fit my foot in the lattice now. The tree in the backyard had been cut down. Even the stump was gone, ground into sawdust and buried. I wanted to ask if the fairy treasure I had been sure was inside had come tumbling out and enriched the arborists, just for one day. But who to ask? No one lives here now.

  12. Spring mix and rocket, candied heirloom pecans, avocado and Satsuma orange segments drizzled with sesame-cilantro vinaigrette. Oven-roasted russet potatoes with meadow butter and organic dill. Pan-seared 8 oz. fillet mignon, medium-rare, rested on a pouf of whipped potatoes (don’t eat them, you already had the others) and alongside 6 perfectly even grilled asparagus spears. A selection of four local artisan cheeses served along with fresh-baked date bread, fig preserves and clover-lavender honey from well-behaved bees. A white porcelain espresso cup edged in gold, holding 2 ounces of the richest, brightest espresso known to man, the crema airy and thick. You.

  13. @Janelle, it is lunchtime here, and your second post has me salivating. I might need to “illustrate” that story by cooking dinner!

  14. Penicillium digitatum

    The clementine wasn’t growing moldy; it was cultivating mold. The fridge was a nurturing environment, but also stifling. The clementine knew if the light went off when the door was shut, but kept it secret. Later, it would know what happened in the office when night fell. It would enjoy being dumped from bin to bin to landfill. It would feel pressure, its sides splitting like bloated roadkill. It would know how that last gasp of air tasted as its juices dried up. It would observe landfill anatomy. Cultivate mold; that was step one in its five-year plan.

  15. “There.” She straightened up, stepped back, and smiled at me. “Take a look.” Nearly two hours ago she had urged me out here, to the neighborhood park, as the sun, long below the horizon even then, let escape a handful of photons that flew straight through space, only to be turned back 52 minutes later, reflected by immense clouds, and return nearly the same way they arrived, but then punch through a wispier gathering of gases and thread a precisely angled path through mirrors and lenses, and assemble the image of Saturn on my retina, and burn it into my memory.

  16. @scurvygirl, for what it’s worth a drabble should be exactly 100 words. I don’t know how much of a stickler Elizabeth is going to be, though. 😉

  17. Thanks, Anne. I am used to a “don’t go over this word count” guideline rather than it needing to be exactly that amount of words. This is my first attempt at a drabble. I would probably just slap a title on it if that counts. So in that case, I hereby dub this drabble “Penicillium digitatum”.

  18. Life had been stacked with disappointments, unlikely to change. His hair had grayed, arthritis settled in, and wrinkles touched his face sooner than he would have thought, had he paid them much attention. Everything but the arthritis he could ignore. Old dreams, inflected and concealed like cards long held close, were more frequently riffled through than gray hair or wrinkles.

    It was time then, not too late. The card he wanted most came forward, and he took in supplies, ready for brush to caress canvas. Color and form emerged, late, but still fresh, informed, definite.

    _Triceratops_ always was his favorite.

    — @coherent_light

  19. Beginning to End

    It wasn’t as if William didn’t like being alone. He did. But alone in a world full of people, not in the literal sense. Yet it seemed to him that — and everyone else thought he was bonkers, mind you — people around him were beginning to simply disappear. Wallace was fast approaching a world which would, based on his napkin math, soon be devoid of humans. How could this possibly escape the notice of the entire planet? Of all the people in the world, Arthur was the only one who noticed the terrifying plucking of Earth’s people from existence.

  20. And let me just say, these are all WONDERFUL!

    I just hope the little oddity in mine makes sense to someone. 😉

  21. Slowly sensation returns. How terrifying it would be if we remembered how our brain paralyses us before drifting off to sleep every night? Would we still do it she wondered. It’s dark still, there’s a warm weight of blankets and strewn clothing keeping her warm. The alarm bursts into life. The news at the top of the hour begins with a steady back beat of rain hitting the window. Slowly she remembers what happened last night, and with who. Which means today is Saturday. She flicks the alarm off haphazardly, rolls over and laments the empty space to her left.

  22. The roar of the thrusters halted abruptly, and suddenly there was only the steady tick of cooling metal. With conscious effort he relaxed his clenched fingers, watching mutely as Anna flicked switches and checked gauges. As if she did this every day. She did do this every day.

    Behind her was a soft arc of blue through the port side window, thin and frail and now beyond his reach.

    “Don’t think of it as an end,” Anna murmured. “Think of it as a beginning.”

    He turned and gazed out toward their destination, but all he could see was endless black.

  23. They blamed me for it but it wasn’t my fault. I showed him the door, yes, but he was my friend, and I wanted him to see it. Wanted him to see the massive stone door, in the silent woods behind the graveyard, dark branches over mouldy trunks. I tried to open it, but it wouldn’t open – not for me. He went back that night. I know he did. He started it, stirred something dark and ancient. The nightmares that he unchained – terrible shadows with teeth and whispers I can almost understand. The madness they bring. Forgive me!

  24. I love these stories! And the whole idea of a drabble – limiting yourself you 100 words… it was freeing!

  25. Dear everyone, WOW. You really delivered. Can’t wait to draw for the winner.
    (You guys, how the hell are we gonna pick a winner?)

  26. He gave his permission. The nurses began removing the tubes from his mother. Her eyes were open but impassive. They reminded him of the way she looked at his father’s funeral. If only she would cry or shout. Make some acknowledgement of this moment. But her face remained motionless, as it had one day decades ago when she had stared at a particular man across a crowded room, expressionless but meeting his gaze steadily, until finally he began walking towards her, and she watched him walking towards her, until he stood before her, at the spot where it all began.

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