I was walking to the bus a couple of weeks ago when I saw something metallic on the ground. I picked it up. It was a ring, a weird beat-up metal band with this featureless bald head sort of engraved on one side. It was just such a weird object. I thought to myself, who would have made something like this? Why would anyone ever wear it? What kind of a statement are you trying to make wearing this type of jewelry?
That doesn’t really make any sense. I’ll try to describe the ring a little better. It couldn’t have been more than a quarter inch thick, and it’s not like the face was drawn in with too much detail. Imagine that at one point, the right starts to bulge, like it’s a quarter inch all around, except for at one point it’s a little thicker. That’s the head. It’s a circle-shaped bulge. And in the middle of that circle you can see the eyes, but again, really simple eyes, just two small dots, a sort of indentation for the nose, and then a straight line for a mouth. Maybe it’s not even a face, I don’t know, but that’s what it looked like.
And I don’t know why, but I put it in my pocket, where it went unnoticed and un-thought about for the rest of the day. Until I pulled all of the stuff out of my pockets at the end of the day when I took off my pants to change into my pajamas, I totally forgot that I still had it. Yet there it was, right next to my pile of crumbled up bills, my keys, the little plastic sleeve that holds my credit card and driver’s license.
That night I went to sleep and I kept waking up. I’m only kind of putting this together with the benefit of hindsight, but knowing what I know now, I could definitely feel whatever is in that ring there with me that night. I couldn’t go to sleep right away, which isn’t totally out of the ordinary, but I kept waking up, looking at the clock and noticing every hour, almost like I wasn’t sure if I ever really fell all the way asleep in the first place. And it was more than just a restlessness. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but there was this vague sort of dread, a feeling I hadn’t had since I was a little kid, wrapped up inside of my blanket, unable to shake a scary story or a particularly creepy episode of The Twilight Zone. It didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t feel right that night, I had this weird sense like something was right outside the periphery of my vision.
I woke up in the morning, or, at some point I rolled over and it was light out. After I took a shower, I put on a pair of pants and went for the pile of stuff on my dresser, the same pile that moves from pants to pants. And there was that ring. Again, and probably for the last time now that I’m thinking about it, the ring had escaped my conscious thoughts. I held it in my hand and studied that face again. I thought that maybe I was experiencing something, like when you look at an object or a pattern for a long enough time, your eyes will start to see things that might not even be there, moving lines, weird patterns. But yeah, the ring still looked pretty beat up, but the face seemed more defined almost. Like when I looked at it the day before, there was a part of me that doubted whether or not was a face. But not today. The eyes looked like there could have even been some pupils faintly etched in the middle. And the lips, whereas the day before I could have sworn it was just a straight line, now there were definitely two.
I was exhausted, and I didn’t like the way I was starting to freak myself out, so I dropped the ring on my dresser, walked down the stairs and left for work. All day, and again, I guess at the time I just chalked it all up to lack of sleep, but all day I was on edge, tired but all revved up at the same time, like when you drink a bunch of coffee and then try to take a nap, that feeling. And now I couldn’t stop thinking about the ring. And I’ve always considered myself very mentally grounded, no really weird moods or episodes, I’m not the kind of guy to dwell on anything in particular for too long. So why couldn’t I shake that feeling? Why didn’t I just throw the ring out that morning? The idea that I’d have to go home and confront it again, it was starting to rattle me a little. Like I said, I’m not used to feeling this off-kilter, and so even though I tried to make it through the whole day, once I got back from lunch, the anxiety or whatever it was that was making my heart beat faster than it usually does, I gave in, I told the bosses I needed to go home.
The ride home was even worse. It was like, imagine that scene from old cheesy adventure movies, or even better, from the original Star Wars, where they’re all trapped in that garbage pit, and the walls slowly start closing in. You know what I’m getting at, right? Like, that feeling, imagining yourself trapped in the middle, knowing what the inevitable outcome is going to be, yet just stuck there with enough time to really force you to consider it, the almost unbearably slow movement of the walls, the infinite feeling of what it’s going to be like the moment both walls make contact with either side of your body.
I felt like I was actually kind of scared to go home. I didn’t want to admit it before, but I guess I’d been pretty freaked out the whole day. And now here I was, on my way back to my house, I mean, where else was I supposed to go? Getting off the bus, walking the two blocks back to my place, putting my key in the door, turning the doorknob. And then I was inside.
And I don’t know what it was like when you were a little kid and freaked out about something silly in your head, but whenever I was forced to confront a dark closet or the scary basement, once I actually found myself in a situation that drove me crazy with fear, those feelings of dread would always subside at least a little bit once I realized that nothing was happening. But this was the opposite. The front door closed behind me and my skin started tingling.
I looked up toward the top of the staircase, almost positive that something crazy or sinister or, I don’t even know what, I didn’t have any concrete images in my head, but I could feel that something was just around the corner. And I so I stood there for a second before kind of forcing myself to run up the stairs.
I turned into my bedroom and there it was, just where I’d left it, that ring. Every part of my brain was telling me to get away, but I just picked it up and ran my fingers along the engraved surface before bringing it close to my face. Had it changed? If it did, it was almost imperceptibly different. Like, was this a smile? Was it smirking? Or was the carving just off? Was the ring too worn for me to even make out an emotional state?
And why can’t I get rid of this thing? I know that I need to throw it away. I fantasize about walking far away from my house and dropping it into the sewer. Yet I can’t get myself to take the step of actually leaving the house with the ring in my hand. My sleep has been horrible ever since. More than a few times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night, standing up, right beside my dresser, running my fingers over the face. There’s this image in my head where I’m wearing the ring, and the ring has a really evil looking face on it, but I can’t tell if it’s something my imagination conjured up, or if it’s a bad dream I had.
This whole sense of fear and paranoia is out of control now. I don’t feel like myself anymore. It’s like there’s a tangible sense that there’s always something right behind me. When I close my eyes, I feel like it’s half an inch away from my face. I try to force myself to go to sleep at night, I’ve taken pills, you name it, and when I’m lying down, my mind races, I’m seeing figures lined up around my bed, just staring down at me, faces in the closet peeking out, dozens of hands covering the light switch so I’ll never be able to see. I can’t shake it. It’s only getting worse. And I can’t throw it away. I can’t even bring it out of the house. I don’t know what to do. I won’t look at it anymore, because I don’t want to see some demon face, and I don’t want to see that it’s nothing either. What’s the end game here? How does this ever make any sense? Because I can’t see myself getting through, real or not, I just … I don’t know anymore.