It would be difficult to secure funding for a literary journal in a standard university - at Elsewhere, most professors wouldn’t dare. Going to the Dean to beg for money, it would be too much like a deal, a favor owed - even if the Dean wasn’t one of them, you didn’t make tenure at EU by taking unnecessary risks.
So it’s difficult, but not impossible - which is why everyone is slightly in awe of Professor Howell, when the petite, soft-spoken poetry professor announces to her classes that she’s looking for volunteer readers and editors.
They call the journal Ferus Ferrum, and their submissions come from across the country. The staff are all English or Creative Writing majors - they know the Rules, and Professor Howell trains them well. The editors learn how to create an email database, how to solicit submissions without “please” or “thank you”; they choose pen names and debate different weights of paper and call the printers to ask if their toner contains iron oxide.
When the first issue is printed they have a release party, with pizza and cake and a tray of vanilla pudding from the dining hall tucked into the corner. There is a palpable but unspoken amazement in the air that they made it, that the journal is sitting in front of them finished, and no one was mysteriously disappeared or even “borrowed,”, and everyone is filled with awe and pride and a fierce kind of victory over the particular entropy of Elsewhere.
So of course, at the end of the party Professor Howell makes an announcement to her staff: she’s leaving.
Not for good. They’ve never known a professor to leave EU, although they don’t think about it particularly hard. She’s pregnant, she tells them, and she’s going to take the next year off for maternity leave. She’s convinced a colleague to take over advising Ferus Ferrum, Professor Chapel, and he’s new.
As they walk back to dorms and parking lots, Howell takes her editors aside. He’s new, she tells them, and they nod, but they don’t understand. They’re writers and they learned the Rules quick, and they all secretly believe that the people who don’t realize the strangeness of Elsewhere are hiding something.
Professor Chapel walks into the first editorial meeting of the next year and the poetry editor looks to the nonfiction reader on her right and they both think, “Ah, he’s new.” Chapel grins freely and stammers and bleeds apologies. He has a tattoo that is a reference four-places removed from a Dickinson poem, and he gushes at length about an obscure short story he read in his first year of grad school. He’s a wonderful professor, and an excellent advisor, and he hasn’t the faintest clue about the Rules. The Ferus Ferrum staff, new and old, take one look at him and realize he’s a sitting duck.
With the steel resolve of their first issue backing them, the head copy editor immediately begins organizing the troops. Two fictions readers who work together at a cafe smuggle out salted bagels and a photo editor delivers them to Professor Chapel’s office every morning. Someone produces a fountain pen with a ring of iron below the grip and hands it over as a welcome present. In meetings they make sure to rib him when he missteps around the “school traditions,” and make an inside joke of talking to the crows. He is constantly puzzled by the salt packets that make their way into his bag, his coat pockets, the corners of his office.
It’s a massive undertaking, and requires almost as much coordination as putting the journal itself together. Which is why it’s so disappointing when “Professor Chapel” walks into a meeting late with sharp teeth and golden eyes.
(They give him back a couple days later, thankfully. At least he doesn’t complain about the salt packets anymore.)