The Ring of Tooting
An account of the paranormal
What is an unbeliever? If I told you a story of which you had no experience and you ridiculed me due to your inability to believe it, then you would be an unbeliever.
I'd only known Eileen for a few weeks when we experienced an encounter which I will never forget.
She was nineteen and I was twenty-one when we first met in south London. She was intuitive, witty and artistic and the second eldest of four sisters. She also had a keen sense of psychic awareness.
That startled me for some reason. I'd always tried to keep an open mind about such things and had in fact seen a few mysteries myself that I'd seldom confessed to anyone. It was a little pointless talking about the paranormal to a complete sceptic other than for the entertainment value. Yet Eileen spoke of her encounters with this other world in a plain, matter of fact way as if it was as simple as the bowl of corn flakes on the breakfast table.
We seemed to hit it off from the start. I'd registered my chances of being able to further our relationship as somewhere way down the treble zero minus scale. I had no job, though I was busy at a thousand endeavours. All that I owned could be packed into a small bag and was at that point almost unnoticeable in the equally small bedsit I had in Tooting's Pendle Road.
Eileen was an exceptionally pretty natural blonde with eyes of hazel allure, one of which had a lazy pupil that occasionally elongated into a small pear shape, giving her a fascinating appearance. She was dating some guy who had his own market retail business and owned an Alfa Romeo coupé. I felt I was lucky to get even the passing glance from her.
When I clawed up the courage to ask her for a date I was so ready for her refusal that when she accepted I took it almost for granted as a decline until I realised she'd said yes.
By the end of our first evening out together I felt we'd known each other for years and yet like I’d hardly ever get to know her at all. She came back to my room and stayed for a couple of hours before going on home. I walked her to her door where we said goodnight and I felt like a young teenage kid again, standing in her darkened Tooting Birchwood Road doorway kissing her goodnight.
Her father was a mountain of a man who worked at a coal merchant somewhere in London. He was a heavy drinker and often came home completely blotto but in his sober moments was sharp witted and humorous. He had a fondness for artistic endeavours and kept a piano in his house. He could play, but I seldom heard him.
In less than two weeks from our first date, Eileen had all but moved in with me and life took on previously undreamed of possibilities. I'd ascended to heaven, and felt in love to boot.
She'd brought her clothes and some bits and pieces and stayed longer with me than at her home, which was just a few streets away. I couldn't quite understand just what she saw in me. I had next to nothing, but she seemed quite happy and content around me. I wasn't even that good a good lover-I simply didn't know enough of the finesse then.
She had worked for a while as a counter assistant at a fish stall at the Balham street market and that's how I came to learn from her what was at first just an innocent story of a good deed and its thanks - and it's strange repercussions
One hot summer's afternoon she'd been working at the stall when she was approached by an elderly woman who spent some time fussing over the choice of fish for sale at the counter. Eventually she made up her mind and asked for a portion of fish, which Eileen prepared and wrapped.
When the fish was weighed and the woman told the price, she looked befuddled for a moment and started rooting in her purse for more money.
"I could tell she didn't have enough and when the boss wasn't looking told her to give me what she had and to take the fish," Eileen told me.
She said the old woman appeared moved by this and after tucking the wrapped fish into her shopping bag, pulled something from her purse.
"It was a ring," said Eileen and showed it to me. It was ornately carved and looked quite old, possibly Victorian. Two small diamonds sat either side of a larger, pale blue stone in the centre of a carved cluster mount.
"She was a lovely old woman and told me that she was from Dublin but had been living in London since the death of her daughter in Ireland. She told me the ring belonged to her daughter and that I was like her in kindness and she wanted me to keep the ring 'for being good to her'," Eileen said.
That was the start of something to which we never found an answer.
Eileen became bothered by the ring during the months after her encounter with the old lady. She was never properly able to identify exactly just what it was that bothered her about it but would mention her worries on many occasions, mostly when I was least expecting it.
Time passed and we moved from my small bedsit to a larger, more comfortable ground floor flat with the quaint address of Fox Hill, a few hundred yards from London's Crystal Palace. We had a garden, by now a car and there was a small tree lined field adjacent to our new home. I was working as a writer and had been commissioned by a Church of England-funded splinter group, which wished me to carry out an investigation into a riot at a top security prison in the north of England. I was also living life as a rebel. The car was stolen, but re-plated and re-sprayed.
I'd also become friends with some guys who lived across the street in Pendle Road and who were members of a band named Moon. They'd toured Algeria and had two albums on release but were taking a semester from their activities. Their drummer, Andy, formerly a drummer with a major rock band, had a serious heroin addiction which had decimated his career and he was on a massive dose of the heroin substitute methadone. He was married and lived in nearby Dulwich Village with his wife who was also an addict. They were a lovely and yet pitiful couple with hearts of solid gold and a young child who was happy as Punch.
One evening at or Fox Hill home Eileen and I had one of our infrequent arguments. It became ridiculously heated and to defuse the situation I went for a drive. It proved one of the craziest of many crazy drives of my life.
A few miles out into the country lanes beyond Bromley with the light rapidly failing I spotted two cars parked on the verge a few hundred yards ahead along a straight section of the road. I could make out some figures in the road and as I drew closer the figures began to wave to me to stop. I slowed, thinking they were in trouble but as I drew closer alarm bells began to sound in my head.
The men in the road were youngish and I'd spotted other figures in both parked cars and suddenly had that feeling that things were not right, that they were up to no good. Instead of stopping, I drove around the figures in the road and speeded up. Behind me the figures in the road were running to one of the cars and a moment later the car pulled out after me.
Next began a crazy chase through the country lanes. I am a good, fast driver and was sitting at the wheel of a Lotus Elan, capable of astonishing speed, but the following saloon car somehow managed to keep pace and remain in sight, though a little way off, for a good distance. I had no idea why they were chasing me but guessed they were after stopping me to rob me of anything I had, possibly the car. Such highway thuggery had been getting common in the regions surrounding London and I wasn't keen to become one of the statistics. I thought OK dudes, let's see how good y'are, and opened the fast car up to its paces.
Many risks and a sweaty brow later I felt I'd taken enough turns to be fairly certain I'd shaken then and slowed down to a safer speed. I kept a heavy metal bar beneath the driver's seat, a throw back to my earlier days of cab driving in London when I'd been spooked by a couple of robberies in which drivers were hurt by gangs of youths.
I didn't see the pursuing vehicle again and began taking roads that I knew would lead to a main route, then up Corkscrew Hill and so back home.
Two hours later and missing Eileen's company and wanting to get back on an even keel I arrived back home and parked the car. Inside I found Eileen sitting white faced in one of our armchairs. A sketch pad was open on the floor in front of her and coloured pencils and crayons were scattered around. I thought she was still mad at me but to my surprise she got quickly out of the chair and came across to hug me tightly.
"Thank God you're home," she said. She was trembling.
"What's wrong?" I asked, feeling the question somehow lame.
Her eyes flitted to the closed French windows at the front of the flat. The shades were still open, though it was long dark outside. She shuddered against me.
"What's wrong?" I repeated.
"Pull the curtains. Please pull the curtains," she said, looking at the window again with a strangely fearful and puzzled look.
I closed the drapes, puzzled myself by her behaviour, unlike anything I'd known before. When I moved to the kitchen to make some coffee she stuck close by as if not willing to move out of arms' reach and I began to realise that she had been seriously affected by something. I filled and switched on the electric kettle then took her to sit on the bed. The flat was open plan - the bedroom divided from the sitting room by a small step and batwing walls.
"What happened?" I asked.
"You won't believe me," she replied. Her eyes again flitted over to the front windows where I had drawn the drapes.
"Go on," I urged.
After a moment she shook her head and said: "It's crazy."
"Can't be as crazy as what happened to me," I said, then gave her a brief account of what had happened in the country lanes.
She was silent for a brief moment then leaned across and hugged me.
"What happened to you?" I said.
It took a moment for her to start. She said she'd been mad at me for storming out and had thought about going to see her family so I'd find an empty house when I returned, but she'd changed her mind.
"I soon got over being angry, it was a stupid row anyway," she saud. "I decided to do some painting and wait for you to come back. That's when I saw ... the ... the faces."
Her voice trailed into silence and she looked again at the window.
"Saw what?" It took her a moment to reply.
"Faces. Hundreds of faces. Dozens, anyway. At the window, there." She raised a hand to point to the window then let it fall back to her lap. "You'll think I'm mad," she said.
I could tell she believed she'd really seen something.
"Hey, c'mon, this is me like, you know? I'm gonna think you mad? I want to know what you saw."
"I'd been drawing for a little while then saw something move outside the window. I thought it was a bird and looked but didn't see anything," she began.
"A few minutes later I saw something again and when I looked I could see faces, like they were in a mist, swirling outside of the window. It looked like they were trying to get in and they had terrible expressions."
She shivered again and I squeezed her hand. "Go on," She was fidgeting with something on her finger and I noticed it was the old lady's ring.
"They were different races, black, Chinese, all different sorts and it looked like they were screaming, silent screams, swimming about in an out outside of the window, like they were looking in. They didn't seem to have any bodies, just faces. I don't know how long they were there before they went away. I was too scared to get out of the chair, even to close the curtains. Then you came home." She laughed, then started to cry.
I held her in my arms and let her cry for a time to get it out of her system. I had no explanation to offer.
A few weeks later, concerned by the incident and after speaking with a number of friends, I discovered that the field next to our flat had been a plague burial site from the days of the Black Death. I gathered no further information than that but what I did discover left me convinced that Eileen's psychic perception had enabled her to see something from beyond.
In our days at Pendle Road, she began speaking about the ring in a guarded, suspicious way.
"When I have it on I feel like something's trying to get at me. I can't describe it, but it makes me feel nervous and uneasy," she told me.
I wasn't able to really comprehend what she was saying or make much sense of it and had no useful suggestions to make, though I did suggest she threw the ring out.
"I can't," she said. "I feel it would be wrong to throw it away. It obviously meant a lot to the woman who gave it to me."
The weeks went by and nothing untoward took place. Her encounter with the images at the window began to fade, but she didn't forget it. Every now and then she got back to talking about the ring and her uneasiness but I had grown bored with being unable to offer any meaningful response and mostly changed the subject when she started talking about it.
One night after having been out visiting other friends, Eileen and I were getting ready for bed. She was half-undressed and lying on our bed. She'd stopped wearing the ring because of the strange feelings it gave her but now, lying on the bed she produced the ring from her purse and turned it over in her hands, looking at it.
"I wish I knew what it was about this thing," she'd said.
"You worrying about that again?" I asked.
"Yeah. It bothers me," she'd replied.
I thought about her reply for a moment then answered sincerely as I prepared for bed: "Well, whatever it is, there's two of us and only one of it."
What took place next was like a scene from a mad horror film and happened quickly and without warning. I still experience the odd chill shudders even today when recalling the strange events and that's the truth.
My bravehardy words to Eileen were barely free of my lips when I heard a noise I can only describe as sounding like a very loud, electric buzz. At the same time I was instantly enveloped by an icy cold feeling that literally turned my back and the back of my neck into an ocean of goose bumps.
In the same instant my conscious mind was suddenly pushed to a back seat-it was like I was peering helplessly down a long dark tunnel at what was taking place at the far end, watching something over which I seemed to have perfect awareness but of which I had no control.
I was aware of an intense feeling of something not right, I'd hesitate at calling it evil. but it seemed malevolent. My body seemed under the control of another, somehow alien entity. From way back in the tunnel I watched myself advance on Eileen, who was still on the bed, then I heard guttural, venomous abnormal growls that seemed to originate from somewhere deep within me, making their way up to my throat like a train rumbling up a railway track and then bursting free from my mouth like a warning from hell. It petrified me-God knows what Eileen thought.
She looked at me in odd perplexity and I could tell she thought I was fooling. She sensed something however and jumped quickly from the bed and moved away across the room. I continued to advance on her, still making the almost prehistoric and very frightening guttural sounds.
"Stop it! Stop it, you're frightening me!" she suddenly screamed and her panicked voice penetrated my awareness. I knew I had to stop whatever was happening because I sensed something meant her harm and I was damned sure it wasn't me. With what seemed supreme effort I concentrated on trying to stop my forward movement and regain control. I also began the mother of a mental battle against this unwelcome invader.
For what seemed an infinity but was probably no more than the briefest of seconds I tried with almost superhuman effort to battle the invader then suddenly it was like an elastic band snapped somewhere deep inside my swimming consciousness.
My inner self flashed back to the fore from where it had been temporarily thrust at the end of the tunnel of consciousness and I was back in control but still freezing cold and still encased in goose bumps. Eileen was cowering away from me in terror. I grabbed her by the arm and as I did I saw sheer, unbridled terror fill her eyes
"It's okay, it's okay, its okay, it's me," I said trying to comfort her then began pulling her towards the door regardless of how she felt. I was scared, and didn't want to risk another confrontation at that stage. I wasn't ready, didn't feel strong enough. "There's something in the room, we're getting out, come on. Quick!"
Not stopping to gather any clothes I pulled her out of the room and down the passage and out of the front door into the street. She was shaking with fear. It was about two o'clock in the morning and we were both standing there in our underwear, she in her knickers and bra and me in my shorts. It would have been highly erotic if not for what had taken place. I held her in my arms trying to comfort her and wondering just what the hell had happened. I felt stronger but still had the recollection of having dealt with something fearfully unnatural. Never in my life had I ever encountered such a seething feeling of bottled-up hostility and hatred.
Looking up and down the empty road I saw two of the band members from across the street were heading towards their house. As they neared and saw us they came over.
"Hey, what's up?" asked Phil, the guitarist. We obviously looked shaken and they were concerned. I tried to explain.
"Come on in and get some coffee." Gratefully we accepted.
Once in their house I felt better. They gave Eileen some blankets to wrap in and told her to get into the room's double bed. There were two single beds in the room as well.
I tried to explain what had happened but found it difficult to convey. Eileen said she didn't want to go back to the flat that night and they invited us to stay until morning, agreeing it unwise to return given the circumstances. They were also unhappy at the idea of going back with me when I suggested it.
"Stay here and take it easy for a while," said Phil.
Eileen and I spent the night in the double bed and she cuddled close to me, showing no sign of rejection. The next morning she asked me to collect her things.
"I don't want to go in there any more," she said. I didn't feel much like it either but collected her clothes. She went back home to her parents, leaving me feeling destitute.
That night, still feeling damned scared by what had happened, I decided to remain in the flat on my own and challenge anything that occurred. I knew that I had to exert my strength over whatever had taken place if I was to overcome it. I just felt it had to be done.
As the night set in I began feeling alone, vulnerable and scared. Keeping the light on I sat cross-legged on the bed and waited and watched. Nothing happened. Several hours later and still feeling uneasy but now just too tired, I crawled into bed for a fitful few hours of sleep.
I didn't see Eileen again for some time. Her brother Ronny told me she was well but was scared by what had happened. I tried to explain the whole episode to him and he listened carefully to what I said, not dismissing it. He knew me better.
A few days later I decided to go and see some old friends near Wigan and Eileen said she'd come with me. Les, a friend of Ronny, wanted to use the flat while I was away and I'd left him the key. When I returned with Eileen we were both in for another surprise.
Les was in Ronny's place. "I'm never staying in that room of yours again," he said and then told us the tale.
He'd wanted to use the flat to be alone with a girl he had designs on but she'd stood him up. He'd used the flat anyway and had been sitting alone listening to my record collection. The main lamp hung low from the ceiling on a long flex I'd rigged up and the lampshade had different coloured slits to allow the light through. I thought it attractive and aesthetic.
As Les listened to the music the lamp started gently swinging.
"I thought it was a breeze at first but then it started swinging wider and wider," Les told us. Then some crockery that he'd stacked on the draining board of the sink jumped into the air and broke on the floor and other things started to fall from their place. Les said he'd run out of the flat at that point.
"It felt like there was something in there," he said.
Eileen and I looked at each other. This was something weird and we all knew it.
"I'm getting out of there," I said.
"Yeah, I think you should," said Ronny.
Eileen and myself never went back. We found ourselves a new place to live on the edge of Tooting Bec Common.
One fine afternoon we set off and stopped at the small pond in the centre of the common and Eileen retrieved the old lady's ring from her purse. She'd kept it despite her misgivings, but still felt bothered by it. We'd agreed to dispose of it and that was the purpose of our visit that day to the common.
Some youngsters were playing around the banks and there was a dog in the pond, dipping its head below the surface to rid itself of fleas. Eileen passed the ring over to me.
We looked at it for a few moments then I drew my arm back and flung the ring into the centre of the pool. It vanished with a small splash and for a moment the dog looked at where it had landed and then at us, before starting to swim for the bank.
Anyone who knows about withcraft will know of the witches of Pendle in Lancashire. It was an odd coincidence that the street in which the event in this story started was called Pendle Road, in London.
The dog reached the bank and climbed out close by, splashing us several times as it shook the water from its coat until, apparently satisfied with its efforts, it wagged its tail and trotted off before stopping to vigorously shake itself one more time. We laughed in the afternoon sun and hand in hand walked away across the common.
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