On a scorched Thursday afternoon, our special investigative unit directs Dr. Engelheim to a nearby luncheonette with the journalistic equivalent of a pistol in one’s pocket, which is the unsubtle threat of defamation (the Lux Gazette makes no apologies for its methods). At 65 and measurably shy of 5’3” (we do measure), the professor briefly struggles to seat himself at the bar, an arrangement our team insists upon in order to achieve necessary power dynamics. As a mild concession, we order for Dr. Engelheim his favorite food, a rump steak in mushroom sauce. When we scrutinize this potentially essential detail of his preferences, the professor explains simply that it reminds him of home, his native Brussels.
Even more than twenty years since his original departure, and despite his shoegazing, Dr. Engelheim is recognizable for his slightness and penitent posture. It is frequently remarked too how his eyes exhibit a kindliness and warmth, yet lurking there is a trace of madness which has nothing to do with their dichotomic heterochromia. His possessions are meager and always on his person: a battered briefcase affixed to the end of a pole, and another briefcase. He wears a khaki raincoat with voluminous pockets, and an argyle-patterned tie provides the feeblest semblance of professional belonging.
In describing his earliest memory, an infant Yohn sits on a countertop in an uncle’s farmhouse in the evening. Raindrops bead on the filmy window above the sink and glisten by the faint sunlight like gold stitches in the crepuscular sky. Wet creeps into the kitchen where the ceiling seems to sag, young Yohn thinks. He filters out the uncle’s inane colloquy with his mother in the den. He fixates on the slow vanishing act of the yard through the window and the immersion of a mountainous horizon into nebulous dark. Then something crashes down from the heavens out there, and there is a spot glowing in the yard. Yohn cries out to his mum. He yearns to run outside, but the kitchen floor is a steep drop. He screams until his uncle lets him down, then Yohn is dashing through rain and across wild grass. There isn’t a meteor in the yard or any pieces of a star, though, and there isn’t a crater like Yohn imagined there would be. But there is a trout, dead, a little broken, blindly looking. Yohn waits, strangely expectant that something better is coming down. The uncle’s caught up and exclaims at the fish. Upon closer inspection, there’s something in the trout’s mouth, sparkling. The uncle withdraws his hand and holds a chunk of gravel, flecked with gold and nuggets even.
As our team circles around the elephant in the room like the vultures they make no pretense of denying to be, they digress with a question of Dr. Engelheim’s contemporary activities. What is he doing on a Tuesday at 11am? The professor answers that ideally, he is lecturing to a class. He no longer conducts research since the “incident,” which is his signifier for the event that changed everything. Although he advertises himself as a traveling professor-for-hire, oft times Dr. Engelheim is unemployed, so on mornings of any weekday he reads ethnographies or scientific theses.
“I am usually not obliged to check out [of hotels] until noon,” he adds.
On a typical Friday night at midnight, he prefers to be in the company of his on-off partner and former colleague Dorotea Clemens, PhD, who has remained with the university. Their relationship was the town’s own sort of tabloid affair, since Dr. Clemens is nearly 7 ft. tall and, like Dr. Engelheim, she is a leading global theorist in the scientific realm of metaparallelity, which has been called “a contrivance of the most depraved and dreamlike amalgamation of scholarship and theater” in Reviews of Modern Physics, perhaps the most prestigious and authoritative journal in the international field of physics.
Dr. Engelheim’s infamy stems from just such a ‘transperpendicular’ experiment in 1996 that provided the field irrevocably with a sense of the macabre (our team listens to Dr. Engelheim’s jargon and tedious circumlocution about the theoretic bases of his experiment, but in the interest of brevity and taste we could not be bothered to reproduce it here). Whether the culprit was spacetime flux or unbound principles, the experimented resulted in two undergraduate students’ deaths: Davies Eckhardt and Marietta Blythe. Last Spring Dr. Clemens sparked mild controversy with her suggestion that Blythe’s ghost haunts the site of her fate at Homer Hall, and she has publicly but unsuccessfully petitioned the university’s President Mewlby for the building’s closure (the Lux Gazette published previously censored documents suggesting a connection between Mr. Mewlby’s obstinacy and Homer Hall’s being positioned above a subterranean, eerily geometric oil reserve). Dr. Clemens has repeatedly declined when reached by this paper for comment.
As for Dr. Engelheim, there were no charges immediately filed against him, since there was no witness capable of articulating the disaster. He guiltily absconded to a monastery in Sri Lanka, nevertheless. The Eightfold Path was beyond his capacity to forgive himself, however, and he returned to the States at Dr. Clemens’ beckoning in 2001. Anxious of a scandal, President Mewlby’s administration did not award Dr. Engelheim his teaching post again. The professor has been nomadic since.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article reported that this paper’s Editor-in-Chief Edholm Drack contemplated committing crime and manufacturing content disingenuously for our readers. This snide addition to the story arose out of internal labor disputes within the paper, and it was a terminable offense. Mr. Drack is an upstanding citizen with such immaculate scruples as to confound nihilists and detractors everywhere he goes.