Excerpt from CM Muller’s story ‘Vrangr,’ forthcoming in Shadows & Tall Trees.
He slept soundly that night, experiencing a dream wherein he glimpsed himself, or at least a past version of himself. While the countenance of this past-Speth was uncannily similar, his manner of dress bespoke a much earlier century. The man even sported infinity-shaped spectacles, on which the modern-day Speth also prided himself. This individual sat in a rocking chair on the porch of a lavish farmhouse; reposing at his side was a stately woman encumbered in a frilly white dress. She read from a palm-sized leather book as her pipe-smoking companion gazed in Speth’s direction. While the man indicated no sign of recognition, it was nevertheless an eerie feeling to be stared at like that. In the front yard, a passel of children chased one another across the huge expanse. Speth longed to inch closer, in the hope of touring the interior of the house (or chatting with its owners), but he was locked to this one distant perspective.
The following morning he awoke with an impulse to flee. It was quarter to noon (this surprised Speth, for normally he was an early riser), so he frantically collected a few items and stuffed them into a small duffle bag. He then phoned the library to inform the director that he had taken ill and would therefore not be able to make his one o’clock shift. His voice was groggy, which only helped matters, and he managed to conclude the call in just under twenty seconds.
While spontaneity had never been his strong suit, Speth embraced it now like a newfound book of wonders, and in less than half an hour he was driving by rote through the streets of the city. Once he reached the interstate, he continued on a westerly route until he passed the dividing-line into North Dakota, where the landscape gradually levelled off to a vast and nearly featureless expanse. Speth’s only companion, due to the unreliability of his radio antenna, was an ‘80s cassette tape, the only one in his collection which had not been mangled by the player. While he had high hopes of making the journey in a single day, he decided not to push his luck. His arrival would coincide with nightfall, and he had little interest in experiencing Vrangr (and his inheritance) in the dark. Therefore, with less than 200 miles remaining, Speth began searching for a motel. The one he eventually decided upon was cheap and rundown, but it afforded him the rest and relaxation he required, even if the mattress was uncomfortable and the exterior vending machine expelled one flat soda after another. None of these inconveniences mattered in light of what awaited him.
The remainder of his evening was spent watching an old film on the outdated television in his room, which presented the fictional world not in its intended black and white but a grainy viridescence that pained his eyes and spirit. He left the set on, for the sound worked splendidly, and merely shifted his focus to the papered wall above, attempting to visualize his inheritance and to resurrect the details of his dream.
He awoke to the disorientation invariably encountered while sleeping in new environs, but this time the sensation never fully cleared. Surveying the unknown room, he was struck by its meticulousness and antiquity. There were framed portraits of various individuals on the walls, and he examined each before venturing to the far window. From the opposite side looking in, he felt certain he resembled the images he had just glimpsed; however, none of the children running about on the yard below took notice. He turned from the window to again peruse the portraits, discovering to his delight that they had completely changed—each now featured Speth standing proudly before his inheritance.