Stranger than Fiction by John Macklin

The cardboard box was decorated with felt and tiny beads. Inside, among a mass of old buttons and cheap broken jewellery, was the cameo ring.

John Parsons lifted out the ring and found he was strangely fascinated. It appeared to be heavy gold with a finely-wrought filigree mount into which was sunk a delicate cameo of a woman’s face.

Slipping the ring into his pocket, John Parsons left the junk-filled attic of the Victorian house in an elegant crescent off the seafront of the English south coast resort of Weymouth and returned to the living room where his grandmother was dozing after lunch.

“I thought she would be interested in the ring,” John Parsons would remember years later.“ But I was utterly unprepared for the reaction the discovery would have.”

It was the winter of 1959 and Parsons, a law student articled to a barrister in London’s Inner Temple, was spending part of his annual holiday clearing out decades of clutter from his grandmother’s seaside house.

Emily Burdette was still surprisingly active for someone in her mid-eighties but had finally agreed that the rambling three-storey Weymouth house was too big and inconvenient and it was time to think about downsizing into a smaller and convenient flat.

Hence John Parsons had been volunteered by the family to give his grandmother a hand in sorting out her possessions and getting rid of stuff she no longer wanted.

He started in the attic, a dump for bric-a-brac of generations and John soon found himself fascinated by then relics he uncovered and it was among a pile of long forgotten artifacts and faded photographs and newspapers that he discovered the gold ring.

“But when I took it down to my grandmother expecting her to be pleased that that I had discovered it, just the opposite happened. She was disturbed and even frightened, and refused to touch the ring.

“She said it was an evil thing and it would be best if I destroyed it. When she said there was a curse on it, I just laughed and said I didn’t believe in stuff like that. And if she didn’t want it I would keep it. I put it on my finger and thought it was rather elegant. I could see my grandmother was upset, but I was young and pretty insensitive I suppose.”

He soon began to see what his grandmother meant. A week later, while skating on a local pond John Parsons was carried home with a broken ankle.

Soon afterwards he showed the ring to his current girlfriend who asked if she could borrow it.

“Stupidly I said she could. She was a fit healthy girl but shortly afterwards she suffered a serious illness which was eventually to prove fatal. “I was utterly appalled and shattered and when my grandmother blamed the cameo ring it didn’t make things any better. “Nor was that the end of it. A friend engaged to be married asked to look at the ring and soon afterwards was jilted by her fiance.

Another friend who handled it lost his job and another had a serious car accident. “Could all this really be coincidence? Determined to find out more, I asked my grandmother if she could tell me about then ring and she said it had been in the family for generations and had always brought bad luck. The catalogue of disaster included several deaths, a suicide and a financial catastrophe from which the family took ten years to recover.”

Finally, John Parsons decided on a course of action which resulted in his leaving his chambers one spring morning in 1960 and walking to the nearby Thames Embankment. A string of barges slid by on the grey water.

To his left workmen were excavating a deep trench for a new water-main. John Parsons walked up to the embankment wall, took an envelope from his pocket and with an abrupt movement tossed it into the dark water of the ebbing tide.

Then without a backward glance he walked away and returned to his Inner Temple office.

“It felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me, he said later in a report for the British Society form Psychical Research. “I know it was a somewhat theatrical gesture but it seemed appropriate at the time. The ring had done so much evil that I wanted to make sure it was out of everyone’s lives for good.” But was it?

Whether the envelope sank instantly to the bottom of the Thames or floated away on the tide to blight the life of someone who may have picked it up out of the water on some distant shore is something John Parsons could never know, and had no wish to think about.

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