Arthur blew as hard as he could on the diamond ring. Bea pushed it with her hands. A little dust swirled up but the ring didn’t budge. Arthur stood back up and kicked it while Bea touched it with her fingertips and willed it forward. It eventually moved when they both hit it the right way, and then it rolled into a crack between the baseboard and the floor. They tried again, tucking the ring further into the crack where even a cockroach couldn’t find it. They looked at each other and smiled.
Meanwhile, Jake slept restlessly, haunted by two spirits he couldn’t see, two spirits intent on disturbing his plans for the next day.
Arthur and Bea had been scheming for months about how to get the ring away from Jake. They tried to make him sell the ring, but he wouldn’t. They tried to possess him, but he was resistant. They thought maybe he would marry and give it to a girl, but the eligible women Jake found were worse than he was. Bea cussed them all colorfully in French, while Arthur stood aside and watched her.
Arthur would have grabbed the ring if he could but it was always in a pocket or a pouch. Neither he nor Bea could move things when they wanted to. It was frustrating until they discovered that working together with close timing accomplished more than they could individually. Both focusing the same intention on the goal was more effective and intense focused emotion solidified something.
Finally, they got a chance when Jake left the ring on the table by the bed. First, they got the ring onto the floor. Frustration turned to hope. Then they kicked and shoved and persuaded it until the ring was hidden. Hope turned to jubilation.
Arthur and Bea dispised Jake for what he had done to get the ring. It had belonged to Bea’s aunt Louise until Louise was knocked down by shelling in the war in France. Jake was a soldier fighting through the combat zone. He was a good fighter but when he paused to steal the ring from the Louise’s finger as she lay on the ground — not dead, just unconscious and helpless — he was a thief.
Bea had been with Louise when the shells hit around them. The fighting had ruined Aunt Louise’s house, so they were hurrying to Bea’s apartment. Louise had the ring on her finger, with the diamond turned inward toward her palm. As Bea watched, Jake took the ring from Louise’s relaxed hand. Bea shouted at him, shocked, standing over her own very dead body. Her remains were only half visible in rubble and blood, crushed by falling masonry.
Bea stayed with her aunt until Louise revived and stumbled to safety. It didn’t take long for Bea to realize her new status as a spirit. There was no pain. Aunt Louise cried over Bea but to Bea, at that moment, losing the ring seemed more tragic than losing her own life.
Bea had no trouble finding Jake, so she followed him back to his camp. That evening, she spotted Arthur in a poker game with Jake and three others. She looked at Jake’s cards and then whispered to Arthur what was in Jake’s hand. Somehow, Arthur heard her. When Jake ran out of money, he bet the ring. Arthur won it.
Arthur was from a hardworking “salt of the earth” farm family in Alabama. His forehead and chin were slightly pronounced, with a flattened nose, giving him a pushed-in baby face. His hair was mousy brown with a light natural curl barely noticeable due to his short military haircut. His arms were well muscled. In his fighting uniform he looked powerful, yet kind.
Arthur had seen diamonds in shop windows but had never actually held one in his hand. He was enthralled by its beauty and fascinated by the way it sparkled in the light. He thought of his girl back home, sure that he would propose to her when the war was over and he was safely back.
But he didn’t make it back. He was killed the next week in a brutal battle, with Jake fighting there beside him in a muddy trench. One minute, Arthur was alive and the next minute, he was dead. When the battle was over, Jake coldly fished the ring out of Arthur’s shirt and unhooked it from the chain that held his dog-tags. Arthur watched him do it, stunned to realize his own death was in front of him and that Jake was so crude and callous to take advantage that way.
“I am disgusted by this man,” Bea said in broken English. Arthur jumped back, seeing her for the first time. They were two ghosts together.
“He took this ring from the finger of my aunt. I could not stop it.” Bea ignored Arthur’s surprise. “I made him lose the ring to you. Alas, I could not save you today. Now he still has the ring. He stinks highly, the bastard.”
The ring was a special heirloom of Bea’s grandmother that had been in the family for more than a thousand years. It was a gift from King Charlemagne to an ancestor. Arthur admired the ring, but he wasn’t devoted to it like Bea was. He was much more enchanted by her. Her straight hair was pulled back and tied. Shining eyes, straight nose. Her dress was simple and inconspicuous, drab camouflage in a war zone, avoiding attention. She still moved with animated grace, unconcerned now by her phantom appearance. As a ghost she couldn’t change her shoes, much less her dress. Arthur could still see her, though, and he thought she was gorgeous.
They remained together, both haunting Jake, following him and the ring across the ocean after the war was over. They dogged his tracks the whole way, trying to get the ring away from him. He stopped playing poker because his luck dried up. His obsession with the ring became a curse but he wouldn’t give it up again.
Arthur and Bea waited for a chance to hijack the precious object. They finally spotted an opportunity when Jake stopped in Asheville, North Carolina, at Flora Sorrell’s Boarding House on Biltmore Avenue. Jake was in bed, reading the local newspaper. The headline was about the recent peace treaty and the 19th amendment, passed in Congress the day before. Jake gave a tired sigh and laid the paper on the bedside table, then picked up the diamond ring to admire it once more. Sleepily, he put it down and left it uncovered on top of the newspaper, not realizing Arthur and Bea were there, waiting for just such a moment.
Afterward, when the ring was well hidden, Arthur jumped up and down with excitement, waving his arms, looking like white laundry flapping in the wind. “It worked, hot diggity dog,” Arthur said, exulting over their action. They were getting better at moving things; trial and error was their teacher. It’s not like there was a school for ghosts.
“Your hot dogs are awful,” Bea said.
Arthur smiled at her endearing French accent. He was teaching her all about America in his own deeply Southern accent. “You should’ve tried one when you were alive, really.”
“I have seen in your country how they are made. I would not like to see it again.” She blew on her hands and clapped them soundlessly. The moon shone a woeful midnight light through the open window. The curtain quivered a little.
Bea expressed her joy in her own way. “We have done it now; we have taken this ring from him. We must now find a person worthy of it, and then we’ll have a completion for our revenge.” She smoothed her one ghostly dress for the thousandth time as she stood. Ghost clothing fades but it never wrinkles. She ran her hand over her hair, calming her excitement.
“Boy, that was hard.” Arthur checked the hiding place again. Jake turned over and groaned in his sleep. “You know he will search high and low to find it. He is crazy about that ring and he is a determined man.”
“He is a scoundrel. He is made up of the same things as your hot dog. We will scare him, yes? I will enter his dream and tell him he is made up of pig pieces and dirt.”
“You’ve been doing that for eight months. He likes pig pieces and dirt. Let’s try something else.”
“I could do it for eight years. What is this to a ghost, eh? I will make trouble for him until he is hotdog dirt himself. We’ll have fun with him now, yes? Are we evil like him for this?”
“Oh, silly, you are love and compassion. I would kiss you if you weren’t a ghost.”
“And I will haunt you if you do not. My imagining of this is not enough.”
Arthur put his hand out to touch her nose tenderly, affectionately, just as she stepped forward with lips pursed. His hand went through her face.
Bea stepped back again. “Come, we will find some hosts for our kissings.”
This is a work of fiction.
The newspaper Jake was reading in bed: The Asheville Citizen for June 5, 1919