“What is it this time? Oversleep? Stub a toe on one of your
Pulitzers?” Justin sat talking to himself in Harrison Hall 234, home base for
the Bumblebee Literary Magazine. It was a small classroom with no windows and
too many desks. Some students called it “the catacomb.” Justin had been one of
the Bumblebee’s co-presidents for three semesters, and even he still had
trouble tolerating the room’s oppressive closeness. Never a fan of confinement,
he often focused on the door—particularly its handle—as a coping mechanism.
Escape was right in front of him, available at any time.
Perhaps this suffocating work environment was why Nick, the
magazine’s other president, was usually late, just like he was tonight.
“Sure, maybe you’re just claustrophobic,” Justin said to
his hands, “so you hate this room just as much as I do.”
He dug at the side of his desk with his fingernails.
Tonight, he had purposely arrived later than usual, buying coffees on the way
to kill time, and it was as if Nick knew he could show up even later. “Or maybe
you’re just a pretentious douche bag with little regard for—”
“Are you talking to yourself, or what?” Nick strode quickly
through the doorway. How had he been so quiet in his approach?
“No. I …” Justin fought the urge to smile. He nodded
to the coffee tray on the table, resenting it. “I got us some coffee. I’d like
to get started.”
Nick cocked his head and swiped a cup from the tray. He was
a scarecrow-like figure with rolled shoulders and dusty blonde hair, the latter
of which leaked out from beneath a black fedora. “Alright, boss.”
He smiled deviously and took a seat. “I’ll be lead critic
again. You can read. They’re in the ‘Lit Submissions’ folder.”
“Isn’t it your turn to read?” Justin already knew the
answer to this question. He and Nick served as the last line of student
critique for Bumblebee submissions, which were initially selected by lesser
staff members. Each week, the two of them were to alternate the task of reading
these submissions out loud. Professor Heralds, the Bumblebee’s faculty advisor,
insisted that this approach “unlocked a piece’s deepest implications and its
most glaring grammatical flaws.”
Then, Justin and Nick were to hold a brief discussion on
interpretive differences and pass their notes on to Professor Heralds, who
would make the final decision on publication. There was no “lead critic” (a
role Nick had made up and assumed for the last five weeks).
Nick looked toward the wall, smirking. “Is it?”
“Yeah, it is. Just like it was last week. Have you given up
listening to Heralds, or what?”
“I listen to Heralds very closely.” Nick slouched in his
seat. “And what was it he said last month? ‘Boys, you’re doing a great job! I
like the way you analyze submissions. It’s ruthless. It’s real. It’s so—”
“It’s so, what, Nick? What?”
Nick pushed a laptop in his direction with his index
finger. “Well, that really doesn’t matter, does it? The point is, the ‘ruthless
and real’ critiques from last month were mostly mine. And you fought me on all
of them. And, as someone who has been published in the Bumblebee…more than once
in his college career, I think I have the lion’s share of interpretive
credibility. You’re great with organization, though. Don’t get me wrong.”
Justin opened the laptop slowly, restraining the urge to
tear off and throw its screen. “What’s the god damned folder called, Nick?”
“‘Lit Submissions,’ Justin, like I just said.”
Justin sipped his coffee, swallowing for as long as the
heat allowed. “Right, just like you said.” He took another sip, longer this
time. “So, why were you late tonight? I’m just curious.”
Nick rolled his eyes, then grinned enough to part his lips.
“There was a fight in the dining hall. Two swimmers got arrested. I stuck
around to watch them get handcuffed.”
“Yeah? That’s where you were?”
“Yeah. Hopefully they get kicked out.”
Justin squeezed at his knees beneath the desk. “Do you know
“Oh no,” Nick chuckled, “just, people in sports—why are
they here to begin with?”
Justin, a former track athlete, took another sip,
wishing he could bite the liquid and cut it in half with his teeth. The walls
felt closer tonight, and the door trick seemed less effective. He threw his
gaze at his laptop screen and squinted. “I can barely see this screen. I’m
turning the lights off.”
Nick suddenly sat up straight. “Don’t.”
He quickly relaxed his shoulders and smiled lightly. “I
mean…no. Don’t turn the…are you kidding? I don’t want to sit holed up in here
with no light like a vampire. There should be a brightness setting on the
laptop. Just use that.”
Justin sighed and drew swirl patterns on the trackpad until
he found the brightness bar. “Whatever. Here’s the first submission.”
They spent the next half hour going over entries for the
annual poetry edition. Justin read stanzas about cemeteries, pine trees, and
young relationships, most of which were met with a scowl and a chuckle from
“Okay, this one’s called Please Publish my Poem.”
Justin smiled. “That’s a bold title.”
He started to read. Please publish this poem. I won’t
take much of your time. I’ve entered again and again, and I think that I—
“No, we can’t accept that one either,” Nick said. “It’ll
set a precedent where you can just be sassy and sneak in without actually
He threw his cup at the trashcan. “So many of these entries
suck. Did anyone actually think to focus on a theme? A purpose?”
“I think his theme is that he really wants to get
published,” Justin said. “I actually think it’s kinda clever.”
Nick closed his eyes and massaged the tip of his nose.
“You’re too open-minded for your own good. Cleverness alone doesn’t make it
good literature. This is just a loophole in our guidelines. ‘Write something
less than 300 words’ and yada, yada, yada. We should just change it to: ‘write
something above eighth grade level.’”
He stood up from his chair and paced to the wall. “Good
writing is good writing. We are one of the most prestigious collegiate
publications in the country, and we need writing that’ll make readers feel
something. Look at me. I got published in Ploughshares because I made my readers
feel fear. I wrote relatable characters and challenged them in interesting
ways. That’s how you know it was good writing. If the writing is good, it’s
good. Or maybe you suck, and your readers are just idiots. But I’m not an
idiot, and all this poem does
is piss me off.”
“That’s a feeling, though,” Justin said, “right?”
“Excuse me, this isn’t a debate. This poem is just wasting
time we could spend reading something better. Write that down—those exact
“Right. Cool. Of course.” Justin took a deep breath and
scribbled Nick’s words—his exact words—into the submission notes. He wished
that, just once, he could make Nick feel like shit for his tastes and opinions.
He wanted to be the one who condescended, messed with Nick’s head, and forced
him to fight desperately out of a corner.
He turned back to his screen. Around him, the walls seemed
to close in quickly, and, when he blinked, they returned to their place and
started again. “This…this next poem is called…oh no!”
Nick’s head snapped in his direction. “What? What is it?”
“This was written by Eric
Nick let out a long sigh. “Damn it.” He took off his hat
and ran his hand through his hair. “I thought you said he wasn’t going to
submit stuff anymore.”
“I never said that! I just figured there was no way…”
Justin frowned and leaned closer to the screen.
Nick waved at him. “Um…hello! What? What’s wrong?”
“It’s just…” Justin smiled harder than he had in hours.
“I…I have no idea what this even is.”
Nick pressed his middle finger and thumb into his eyes.
“Well, go on then, aren’t you going to read it?”
Justin squinted at the writing in front of him. “Okay. The
poem is called—”
“I don’t give a shit what it’s called. Just read it
“Okay. Jesus. Uh, here we go: There once was a man. A
broken man. A man that no one understood.”
He paused. Nick folded his arms. “Is that it?”
“Not even close.”
Justin continued to read. And in this man’s darkest
hour, in his dire time of need, he found himself an answer. He found himself a
The remaining lines were stacked in a crude stanza:
Lirach Tasa Vefa Wehlic, Belial.
Tasa reme laris, Lucifer.
He stopped. “I don’t know if I’m pronouncing any of this
“Wow.” Nick clapped his hands together. “Please keep
reading. NOW I’m interested.”
Justin read on.
Ganic Tasa fubin, Flereous.
Jedan Tasa hoet naca, Leviathan.
Nick laughed. “Okay, stop. I get it.”
“Wait, it’s almost done.” Justin leaned closer to the
Tasa Alora foren Asag.
Tasa Alora foren Asag.
Tasa Alora foren Asag.
Nick clapped his hands together again. “Is that it?”
“Yeah.” Justin shook his head. The lights flickered. “Yeah,
“So, is this one worthy of the Roseman Hall of Shame, for
old time’s sake, or should we just delete it now and pretend we never saw it?”
“Wait, are you asking my opinion?”
“It’s a Roseman poem. Let’s enjoy this for a minute.
Because, this time, I’m sure Heralds will have a talk with him about future
submissions. Even you can agree with me there.”
Justin read back over the lines again, trying to extract
some theme or purpose, even if this made him feel awkward. Then
an idea entered his head, a wonderful, satisfying idea.
“Okay. Let’s publish it.”
Nick choked on his saliva. “W-what?”
Justin turned away and grinned. “I said: let’s publish it.
If it’s going to be his last entry, let’s do it.”
“O-oh, man.” Nick cleared his throat. “That’s actually a
really funny idea. Look at you!” He chuckled. “Let’s just delete it. I forgot
how late it was. What’s the next poem?”
Justin waited for a moment, stifling his amusement and
focusing his energy into a stone-faced demeanor. “Seriously, Nick, let’s
publish it. We’ll convince Heralds to do it.”
Nick’s smile started to droop. “It’s funny to imagine
Roseman the Retard in our table of contents, but enough of—”
“Hey, come on now. Don’t call him that.”
“Oh, please!” Nick forced a laugh. “You were
the one who gave him that nickname! Enough. I have places
Justin focused on his keyboard. The lights flickered. “I’m
not kidding. We can just put it on the last page. Don’t we owe him that?”
“Owe him what? Justin, it’s in, like, Klingon. We can’t put
it in, even as a joke. He’s too stupid to understand irony!”
“I said I’m not joking.” Justin bit the side of his tongue.
It was going exactly as he’d hoped. “Nick, after all that’s happened in
the last few months, I think we can throw the kid a bone.”
“This isn’t charity,” Nick said, his voice growing
“I’m not saying it is. It’s…decency.”
“Oh, get out of here! The kid’s some kind of retard, and
you’re the one who joked about him for weeks! You’re probably the reason they…”
“Hey, come on. Those guys chose to mess with him. I had
nothing to do with that. You were the
one who deleted stories off his laptop.”
“Oh, it was a favor!” Nick clenched his fists. “Do you know
how Heralds even heard about all that? Someone called campus police because
they found Roseman behind the admissions building, sobbing and pacing around
and muttering weird shit under his breath—in a negative degree wind chill! They
almost took him to the hospital!”
He made a spinning motion beside his head with his finger.
“He’s nutso. Clearly Heralds didn’t even believe him. Besides, you think that
wouldn’t be obvious? He suddenly gets published for the first time, right after
he gets bullied by our staff? The very next semester? Are you for real? I won’t
jeopardize the integrity of our publication to coddle some degenerate.”
Justin’s grin finally broke free. “This is bothering you,
“Is this bothering you, Mr. Ploughshares?”
Nick was quiet for a moment. “Fuck you, Justin. Just…read
the next poem. Do your job.”
Justin stood and walked to the door, finding it easier to
ignore the walls. “Actually, I think I’ll take a break. Get out of here
“Great. Keep us here ‘til midnight, asshole!” Nick started
to type Roseman’s work into his search bar. “And when you come back, I’ll show
you that this was plagiarized from a video game or somethi—”
Justin slammed the door and walked into the neighboring
classroom. He turned on the lights. They flickered. The clock read 8:30 P.M.;
on Fridays, that meant he and Nick were likely the last ones in the building.
There was usually a janitor who locked up, but Justin had not seen him in the
Next door, a series of bizarre results appeared on Nick’s
screen. One link caught his attention: Darkness Den: Asag. He clicked it and
was taken to a boldface paragraph: Welcome
to the Darkness Den, a comprehensive encyclopedia on alternative theology.
Nick paused, smiling a little. Before reading on, consider
the following disclaimer: the writings
included on this site can be incredibly …
He scrolled faster. “Edgy, Roseman, sooo edgy.”
Justin walked to the window, relishing the thought of
actually publishing Roseman’s work—Roseman the Retard. He snickered and
glanced through the glass. There were no other students outside. The weather
had been too cold; that was normal. What was not normal was the lack of light.
The parking lot posts, the building lobbies, the bulbs in the library steps—all
The library always
stays open until midnight, he thought. How
There was a sizzling sound. Someone had left a glass on a
desk, and its contents were bubbling. “Seltzer?” Justin thought, realizing he
was thirsty. He wrapped his fingers around the glass’s rim. “Maybe Sprite? Or
He recoiled and dropped the glass to the floor, where it
shattered into jagged, wet chunks. To his surprise, it had been incredibly hot.
“Shit! What the—”
His head snapped to the doorway. Something had moved.
Nick scrolled until he arrived at a new headline: Asag, Demon of the Mountaintop.
“Demon of the mountaintop!” he exclaimed with a chuckle. He
continued to read. According to
Sumerian mythology, the Asag is a hideous winged creature with claws like
swords. This monster leads an army of rock demon offspring who vivisect their victims.
The Asag’s mere presence is said to bend reality into a nightmarish image and
bring nearby waters to a boil.
Nick scrolled down further, trying to ignore the rising
shriek of the wind. Asag’s
Incantation. Begin by aligning
entities of the four primary elements: Belial (Earth), Leviathan (Water),
Flereous (Fire), and Lucifer (Air). Next, repeat the following phrase three
times to call the Asag: “Tasa Alora foren Asag.”
He tapped a pencil against his hand, flinching when the
ferrule impacted his knuckle. “It’s…it’s plagiarism. I knew it. He just copied
“Nick! Nick! Can you hear me, Nick?” Justin’s voice was
muffled, but audible through the wall.
“Nick! Please! Nick!”
Nick slammed his laptop. “What the hell are you doing over
“I—I—the door—the—I…I can’t get out of here!”
Nick scoffed. “Will you shut up?! Just get back over here
“The door is gone,
Nick!” Justin’s voice had grown hysterical. “The windows are gone! The room
is…the room is changing. The walls…I…I think something’s wrong with me! I—”
He gasped loudly and fell silent.
Nick pulled at his sleeves until they covered his hands.
“Will you…just get over here? I want to finish…”
He noticed something in his peripheral vision, something
that had been there the entire time: a blue pixilated square. It was Eric
Roseman’s submission file, still highlighted in the corner of Justin’s laptop
screen. Nick squinted and leaned closer, finally gaining a glimpse of the
file’s title: PUNISHMENT.
His arteries thrashed. “Justin, I think this poem is some
The lights flickered. Then they burst and left the room in total
darkness. Nick fell whimpering out of his chair, and, on the first floor, the
main entrance doors were ripped from their hinges.
Jacob Austin, email@example.com, who wrote BP #86’s “Eric Roseman’s Poem,” is an aspiring
fiction writer from Strasburg, Pennsylvania. A former journalist, he has been
writing for nearly a decade, inspired by the works of Stephen King, Franz
Kafka, Herman Melville, and Ray Bradbury. When he isn't writing, he is probably
running, yelling at the Philadelphia Eagles, or listening to Soundgarden at
well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while
pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by
mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of
spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com. He's done art for several magazines, newspapers,
websites, commercial and governmental clients, books, and
scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art
pro bono for several animal rescue groups.
He was awarded the 2004 James Award for his cover art for Champagne
Shivers. He recently illustrated the Cimarron Review,
Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander (
or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry
with your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.