1994. That year everything crumbled. All of the good things in Eric's life shattered into a million pieces. Eric was left walking barefoot on the broken glass. Fourteen years later he still didn't know how his life got so out of control. He remembered the days before the collapse, and sometimes it helped him get through the day.
Before all of the bad things happened, there were a lot of good things. Eric and Becky traveled all over the country. They spent six months on the road. Eric remembered that when they decided to go back home, the mileage showed that they had driven 18,000 miles. The distance seemed shorter than that, and time passed by like a blast of arctic wind. They had criss-crossed their own path a dozen times, and they had seen most of the United States in the process.
In February of 1994 Eric and Becky took a short vacation to the Key West. They had been there a week during bad weather when they decided they anted to see the rest of the country. And they didn't just want to see it, they wanted to experience it. They had payed for two more nights at the bed and breakfast, but the weather was so dismal they blew it off. The couple packed their bags an hour after the decision was made and left the Florida Keys to take a close look at the rest of the country.
Anybody who has ever made the long drive from the Florida Keys to the Natchez Trace knows how torturous a car ride can be. That morning the couple didn't notice the monotonous scrub pine forests that lined the Interstate and made the drive seem longer. They were too excited by their decision to hit the road indefinitely. They brainstormed places they had always wanted to go, and came up with a basic itinerary.
Only a month earlier Eric and Becky had been working overtime to make ends meet. Then Eric's aunt, Beatrice, died and he inherited a small fortune. Beatrice was his mother's sister. She took care of him as a young child because his mother had not been able to. His father looked after him from the age of five until the age of 12. Eric's father was killed in a car crash 1983. After that Eric went back to living with Beatrice until he was sixteen. Losing Beatrice was a lot like losing his mother, because he had never known his mother when she was sane. Beatrice had always been there for him.
Nobody in Beatrice's family ever knew she was well off. She lived a simple, humble life. Her death caught Eric completely off guard, because he had seen her a few days before and she looked healthy and happy. He was very shaken and distraught when he got the news. Then he found out about a $100,000 inheritance. There's nothing like $100,000 to help one overcome shock and grief.
Eric's Aunt Beatrice had preserved her last wishes in an iron clad will, which stated that Eric was to have access to the money immediately when she died. Eric's mother, Shirley, was Beatrice's only living relative. Shirley had been institutionalized for years because of schizophrenia and multiple personalities. Nobody stood in the way of Eric getting the money right away, and so he did.
Becky learned about it from being in the room when Eric got the call from the hospital. After he broke down and became emotional she knew exactly what the phone call had been about. She grabbed her husband and held him close until he managed to cope with the knowledge. They sat like that for a long time. When he had his feelings under control Eric asked Becky if she'd like some coffee, and he put his grief aside.
Two and a half weeks later later Eric made up his mind to take them on the honeymoon they never had. He reserved a room at Caylie's Bed and Breakfast, which was only a couple of blocks from the Hemingway house. He figured Beatrice would have wanted him to enjoy his life, and he couldn't think of a better way to honor her memory than taking a vacation with Becky. The drove from Tuscaloosa to Key West two days later.
On the way out of Florida from Key West, on their spontaneous cross country road trip, Eric thought about his childhood. He wondered what it would have been like if Shirley hadn't gone insane. He wondered how he would have coped with Beatrice's death if his mother had taken care of him. It occurred to him that the news may not have upset him at all. He didn't like that idea because Beatrice had been so much a part of his life for as long as he could remember.
Becky interrupted his silent reverie by pointing out a sign for Fort Pickens. They left Interstate 10 just north of Pensacola. From there they traveled south on I110 and then Highway 98, until they reached the coast. Before the string of hurricanes in 2005 it was possible to drive all the way to Fort Pickens, and that's exactly what Eric and Becky did. Becky wanted to see the old fort because of the time Goyathlay, who was called Geronimo, spent there. Anything Becky wanted Eric to do he did, and that's what she wanted to do.
After they pulled into the shell parking lot, Eric paid the National Parks Service fee. The admission was only a few dollars. He and Becky toured the fort for a little while. Eric took a pictures with his Nikon 35mm. Then they went down to water of the Gulf. They could hear nothing but the sound of the waves and the seagulls, and occasionally the wind when it picked up. It was still too cold to play in the water, so they just sat and watched the waves crash.
On the way back to the car Becky said she wanted to go into the cell where Geronimo was held. She wanted Eric to take pictures of her looking out of the cell's window. While she went inside he got his camera ready. He only had to wait a minute or so before Becky's face appeared in the window. Eric took a couple of pictures, and then told her to strike a couple of poses. She managed to look quite lascivious, even through the bars and the size of the window made it difficult to see very much of her.
Eric urged Becky to come back out so they could get back on the highway. He had enough of the Gulf of Mexico to last him a few years. As Becky moved out of the window Eric saw something else in the place where she had been only a second earlier. It looked like a face. Eric did not believe in the supernatural. He was absolutely certain there was no such thing as ghosts. He trusted his own eyes, however, so he walked up to the window to peer in. He didn't see anything.
At that precise moment Becky came walking out of the stockade. This time Eric did not trust his own eyes. From where he was standing Becky was surrounded by a soft glow, a glow that seemed to emanate from her and nothing else. Eric felt all of the hairs on the back of his neck and on his arms stand on end. Suddenly the atmosphere felt charged with electricity.
Becky had a completely normal expression on her face, as if nothing at all was out of the ordinary. Eric, on the other hand, was freaking out. The electric sensation begin to impinge on other senses. He could hear the faintest echoes of electric molecular, bouncing back and forth and up and down between low tones, high tones and tones that existed in a place that could not be described. It sounded like nothing he had ever heard before, and yet it had a familiarity that Eric could not quite put his finger on.
Before Becky took another step toward him he could see something in the air around her coalesce. All of the sounds he could not pin down were moving in unison with the almost tangible glow around Becky. For a brief instant Eric thought he had figured out what he was seeing and hearing. He thought he could discern a shape and form that he could only associate with energy, but which acted as though it fell within the boundaries of a carbon based life form. The glimpse was gone so quickly Eric wrote it off as his eyes playing tricks with him because of the many long hours he had been driving.
Everything he had just witnessed disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Becky finally finished taking that step that would bring her one closer to being beside him. Time returned to normal. If not for Becky walking up to him he would never have known time had slowed down. Only because she provided a reference point had Eric determined that time had stopped behaving in the accustomed, familiar fashion.
Becky saw the look on his face as she closed the distance between them. She asked, "Are you okay, Eric? Is something bothering you?"
Eric answered, "I'm fine, honey. I've just been driving so long my brain is playing tricks on me." He wanted to believe that, but this time his logical explanation felt completely wrong. He suspected that if he denied the truth to himself there could be consequences in the future. A thought such as that did not fit well with his personality, but he knew it was his thought. He put his hands over his eyes and rubbed them for a moment.
"Would you like me to drive for a while?"
"Please do. I feel drained," he answered.
Thinking back on that moment from 14 years in the future Eric could not help but question his actions. He hadn't intended to betray Becky, he just didn't believe what he had seen. He reasoned that nobody would have believed him anyway, not even Becky, at least not at first. As the episodes happened more and more frequently he turned his back on the people he cared about. He didn't warn anybody, because he cared too much about what people thought of him. He didn't want to sound crazy. Ultimately that decision cost him dearly.