The Heirloom

📅 Published on October 10, 2020

“The Heirloom”

Written by L. Hatfield
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 7.50/10. From 4 votes.
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Everyone that served in the sandbox has a story about the war following them home. Some it’s about the things they saw, some about the things that happened to them, or the people — the brothers and sisters they served with. Some, if they’re honest with themselves, know it’s the things they did.  For others, it’s all of these things, and for them, we say a prayer.

Harrison was my friend.  A real smartass. Worked hard, partied harder. If it was 2 am and I couldn’t sleep, I knew I could show up at his place with a six-pack or a bottle and he’d be awake. We’d shoot the shit, maybe play cards until the sun came up. He wasn’t a saint, by any stretch of the imagination, but he was all right. I know it sounds cliché but he came back changed.

No, that’s not exactly true.

The war rode him home. He never talked about the things he’d seen or done, but it was clear, he was haunted. He wasn’t as quick to laugh anymore, and when it was just the two of us, it felt like there was a third person present, one we never spoke of.  It was a living, breathing darkness that clung to his skin.

He’d never had any real family outside of the army. When he came back, all his worldly possessions fit into one suitcase and one rucksack.  He had enough money to rent a dingy apartment, which wasn’t any different from where he’d lived before.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  He’d called me up, invited me over for a drink or two. He said he was glad to be back in ‘real life’.  Like what he’d been doing for the past eight years wasn’t real.  Like it was some kind of dream he’d woken up from.  When we met up, it was clear, the dream had been a nightmare, the kind that shakes you to your bones and ruins your day.  The kind of dream you run from.

See, Harrison had served on a recon team.  The kind that left the safety of their base to hunt bad guys in the dark.  They’d suit up at dusk and head out into the bombed-out regions of the city. Silent and invisible, they moved like Death himself, through tenements where laundry still hung from lines between gutted buildings where people still tried to eke out a living in a war zone.  Dogs barking in the distance.  Kids with a ball so old it was black kicking up dust as they played.  Televisions blaring out game show music and the news in a language he didn’t understand.  All while they moved through the shadows, looking at the world through the eerie green glow of night vision.  Every step, every breath, every glance was sharp as the edge of a knife.  He told me it felt like being a ghost walking among ghosts.  I think a part of him missed it, but he never said that much out loud.

He talked about stalking his targets, following them through the warren of alleyways, until they were as isolated as they were likely to get. Away from their families.  Their wives and their kids.  His voice took on a kind of fervor when he spoke about it. He said he’d never felt more alive than when he was taking them down. Disappearing them from existence before heading back to base.

Sometimes, when people fled their homes, they left behind the things they didn’t need to survive.  Family heirlooms, he’d called them. Things of value left exposed to the elements like that might as well have been destroyed in the bombing. He was eager to show me one such prize.  He’d call me as soon as it arrived.

See, it’s frowned upon for soldiers to bring home war trophies, even though it seems like everyone’s great uncle has a Japanese officer’s sword or some kind of Nazi “memorabilia”.  So he’d had it shipped home, paid the grift to get it out of the country, no questions asked.  All his friends had done similar, and it was only an old book, so who would care anyway?

When I asked for more details, he told me I just had to see it to believe it.  Then he sat back in his chair, took a huge swig of whiskey straight from the bottle, and muttered something to himself.  His hand swatted at the air around his head like he was being buzzed by some kind of insect I couldn’t see.  His eyes looked like they’d sunk into his skull, and there was more bone than muscle in his face.  It seemed best not to ask any more questions.

He called me weeks later, asked me if I’d heard anything.  His voice had an edge to it, like he was upset I hadn’t called him.  From who, I wondered.  He couldn’t tell me, just that a Mister Hastur had called and told him that I was the one who’d know what to do with it.

“With what?” I asked.

“The book.”

“What book?”

The one he’d told me about.

The book he’d sent home.

The book he was looking at right now.

There was a strange urgency in his voice, one I struggle to describe to you.  Harrison was a rock as far as I knew.  He’d never had any issues with drugs or mental problems. He was bulletproof. If I hadn’t known better, it would have sounded like he was tweaking hard.

When I got to his place the next morning, Harrison didn’t answer the door.  I knew he was in there because his truck was still out front.  I thought I could hear his voice, but it sounded for all the world like he was praying.  I peered through the blinds and saw him. He was on the floor, face down.  Not prone, but on sitting his knees, his hands out in front of him, his forehead pressed to the carpet.  Beside him there was an open cardboard box.  In front of him, there was a square of inky blackness so wrong, I had to look away.  It was the book.  It sounds crazy, but I know what I saw. It wasn’t like a paperback or a textbook, no.  This fucker was the size of an Oxford unabridged dictionary.  It was big. And I swear, it was breathing.

Harrison was perfectly still, but I could hear him muttering. Sometimes it was quiet, sometimes his voice would rise to almost a shout before tapering off again.  I thought it might be some language he’d picked up over there, but for the life of me, it sounded to my ears like gibberish.  Sounded just as wrong as that book.  Hell, I banged on his door, but whatever kind of trance he was in, nothing I could do would break him out of it.  I felt like an idiot.  I mean, what do you do when your friend starts losing it? Call the landlord?  The cops?  It wasn’t like he was dead or anything. I sighed heavily.  How would I even explain what I’d seen to someone else?

I went back to my car, had a cigarette, and took a breath. Let’s think about this.  Maybe he’s having one of those episodes of PTSD.  Now didn’t seem to be the right time to broach the subject of therapy or medication even.  I couldn’t even think about what I’d seen.

So I waited, hoping he’d come out of it.  I must have fallen asleep because it was dark out when I finally woke up. I got out of the car and headed across the parking lot back to his apartment.  It didn’t strike me as odd that there were no other cars in the lot.  That there didn’t seem to be anyone else around at all, just me.  I thought my head must be stuffed up.  Even the sound around me seemed flat.

When I got to his door, it was standing wide open.  Fuck, I thought, he’s gone.  I couldn’t forget what happened, so I went in.  The only sound was the hum of the fridge and my heart beating like a jackrabbit.  I remember thinking he must have been burning incense, because the place smelled of this sickly floral scent, like roses that had been left in a vase for a few too many days in the heat.

Harrison was nowhere to be found.  Not in the bedroom, which had been emptied.  The mattress was stripped bare on the floor, the closet held none of his clothes.  Even the small dresser we’d found for him at the thrift store was gone.  Back in the kitchen, I opened the fridge to a revolting stench. It was full of rotting food.  It wasn’t like a few days gone, it was foul and growing things, like he’d been gone for weeks and the place had been left without power.  I knew in my gut, he was… gone.

In the living room, there was a weird reverse shadow on the carpet where he’d been kneeling.  Something told me I had to find the book, but I was too focused on the shape of him, where I’d seen him through the window before.  It looked clean and untouched, but all around the edges…  At first I thought it was soot.  It was blackened and dusty as my boot rubbed over it, kicking up a little plume of ash.  I watched as it reformed, twisted in the light from outside, and reached out with a motherfucking tentacle for my foot. I jerked back.

At that moment, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Without looking, I knew there was something else in the room with me.  Something heavy and dark.  Something hungry.

When I turned to stride towards the door, it was closed, the chain slid across, the bolt thrown.  I hadn’t done any of that, hadn’t heard anyone else do it either.  In front of the door was the cardboard box, all taped up like it was fresh from the post office.  Like it hadn’t ever been opened.  I may have had a few choice words for Harrison, but in hindsight, I was so scared, I wasn’t thinking straight.  All I knew was I had to get out of there.

My hands went to the door locks, and it took me years to fumble them open.  I was halfway down the walk towards my car when I realized, I was carrying the box.  It was heavier than it should be for its size, and I knew what was in it.  I wanted to go back and leave it there, but I couldn’t seem to make myself do that.

I threw it in the backseat of my car and tore out of there without looking back.  My mind was racing.  What the hell had happened to Harrison?  What the fuck was this book?  What the fuck? What the fuck?

I drove like a bat out of hell, not going anywhere but away.  I drove for a long time, trying to remember how to breathe, how to think.  A name came to mind.  ‘Hastur’, he’d said.  I pulled over as soon as I felt like I was in control again, and opened my phone.  The only thing that came up when I searched was ‘Hastur’s Rare Books’.  That made a strange kind of sense.   But why he thought I’d know what to do with the cursed thing, I have no idea.

I called the number and an old man answered.  He was not at all what I expected.  He sounded like everyone’s favorite grandpa, gently listening to me babble about the thing in my back seat, and he calmed me down again.  He gave me an address and told him to come right over.  He’d be more than happy to help figure out what happened to my friend and to take this contraband off my hands.  He sounded like he’d done this very thing, time and again.  It was just business as usual for him.

It was about ten o’clock in the evening when I pulled up in front of the little place.  It was right between my old laundromat and an old bar I’d spent way too many hours watching football in.  How I hadn’t ever seen it before, I had no clue, but it was here now, like I needed it to be.

I opened the door to his shop and a tiny bell rang out. I walked straight to the counter, past the tables stacked with old books, and plopped the box down there, like a courier delivering the head of a fallen hero.  The sound it made when it hit the wood rang in the small, dusty space.

* * * * * *

This story doesn’t have a nice, clean ending, my friends.  I’d like to tell you that the man in the rare book shop explained everything, that my friend had had an episode and we found him three days later in Bakersfield, not knowing what happened to him.  I’d like to tell you that, I would.  But I can’t.  I don’t remember the man in the shop.  I don’t remember how I got home.  And when I went back, the shop was empty and filled with dust, abandoned ages ago in a declining economy.

I never saw Harrison again.  I think about him some nights, drinking a six-pack on the back porch.  I wonder if I should have done more, but something tells me, there was nothing, absolutely nothing I could have done.  The more important thing is I never saw that book again.  Whatever happened in that apartment, truly, I want no part of it.

Rating: 7.50/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by L. Hatfield
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: L. Hatfield

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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