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. I thought to myself, who would have made something like this? Why would anyone ever wear it?
I’ll try to describe the ring a little better. It’s not like the face was etched in with too much detail. Imagine that at one point, the right starts to bulge, like the band is 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, maybe I’m seeing facial patterns that aren’t there, I don’t know.
And I don’t know why, but I rolled it around in my hand for half a minute or so and then slipped it into 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 had totally forgotten that I still had it. Yet there it was, right next to my pile of crumpled 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 that whatever is in that ring was with me that night. I couldn’t fall asleep 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, an unsettling feeling I hadn’t experienced 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. This didn’t make any sense, but I didn’t feel right that night, I had this lingering 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. Because yeah, the ring still looked pretty beat up, but the face appeared somewhat more defined. When I looked at it the day before, like I said, there was that part of me that doubted whether or not it was even a face. But not today. Now the eyes looked like there might have even been some pupils faintly scratched in the middle. And the lips, whereas the day before I could have sworn it was just that straight line, now there were definitely two.
I was exhausted, and I didn’t like the way I was getting myself all freaked 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 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. It was firmly locked in my head. 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 this 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 unnerving. 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 back was even worse. It was like, imagine that scene from those 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 dread, imagining yourself trapped in the middle, knowing what the inevitable outcome is going to be, and yet just stuck there with enough time to really force you to consider it, the almost unbearably slow movement of the walls, the infinite pressure of what it’s going to be like the moment both walls make contact and start pressing in on either side of your body.
I was actually kind of scared to go home. I couldn’t admit it before, but I guess I’d been pretty rattled 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 almost insane with fear, those feelings of terror would usually subside, at least a little bit, once I realized that nothing was happening. But this was the opposite. The front door shut behind me and my skin started tingling, like it was a piece of loose-leaf being slowly torn out of a spiral notebook.
I looked up toward the top of the staircase, almost positive that something twisted 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 an unbearable minute or two before finally 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 out of there, but it was like I was only partially in control of my body. Instead of opening up the window and hurling that ring as far as I could, I picked it up and ran my fingers along the engraved surface before bringing it close to my face. Had the face changed? If it did, it was almost imperceptibly different. But I could tell, it was different, it had to be. Was that a smile? Was it smirking at? 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, that thought is always with me, I’m screaming it in my head right now. I fantasize about walking far away from my house and dropping it into the sewer. I want to take it to the subway and just leave it on the seat next to me, let the train take it far away. And yet I can’t get myself to take the step of actually leaving the house with the ring in my hand. To say that my sleep has been horrible ever since would be an understatement. More than a few times I’ve woken up in the middle of the night after what could have only been five or ten minutes asleep, I’m standing up, right beside my dresser, running my fingers over the face. There’s this image in my head, I don’t know if I dreamt it, I don’t know where these scenes are coming from, but I’m wearing the ring, and the face has definitely changed. It’s smiling, but the eyes are squinting downward, the expression definitely evil.
All of the fear, the paranoia, it’s out of control now. I haven’t felt like myself in weeks. It’s like there’s I have a very real, tangible sense that there’s always something right behind me. When I close my eyes, I feel like it’s suddenly swooped around, lightning fast, just half an inch away from my face. I’ve tried to force sleep, I’ve taken pills, booze, you name it, but when I’m lying down, my body exhausted, my eyes cemented shut, my mind races, it picks up even, I’m clearly 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 still can’t throw it away. That ring, I still can’t bring it out of the house. I haven’t even left the house in days. My boss calls my cell phone and I can’t pick it up. I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. I won’t look at the ring anymore, it’s in my pocket right now, but I refuse to look. I don’t want to see some demon face, I feel like that would just push me over the edge. And yet, I don’t want to see that it’s nothing either. Which would be worse? What’s the end game here? How can this ever make any sense? Because I don’t see myself getting through, real or not, I just … I don’t know what else … I just don’t know anymore.