Fiction: Pater Comes Home
By Maxim W. Furek
Pater Tremblay’s remains were clumped inside a reinforced cardboard box of thick corrugated packaging. What was left of him had been spooned inside a mylar plastic bag wrapped in symmetrical rows of duct tape. The package had been placed on the top of the fireplace mantle.
Pater’s sudden death hung over them like a rotted shroud. The accident was rarely addressed. It was “not to be spoken of,” as Isabel mandated. “It will not be discussed,” she instructed Lorenzo, her dutiful son.
Isabel refused to accept the truth. Her reality existed only in the distant past, of misty shadows and spidery memories. Isabel’s eyes rolled upwards, searching for something unknown. “Pater will be home soon. He is coming back to us,” she said. “Pater’s coming home.”
Pater Tremblay was close to retirement. For long years he worked as a chemist at a local manufacturing plant. As the family’s bread earner, his steady hand led them through each personal and public crisis, through times of struggle and persistent lean years. Despite their struggles, Pater always provided for his family. There was always food on their well-set table.
Pater’s life was one of accomplishment, except for Lorenzo, his sickly-looking son. He realized this thin, anorexic child was woefully incapable of stepping into his shoes.
Isabel was devoted to Pater because he provided for the family. She enjoyed wearing expensive clothes and eating good food. Their home was distinguished and stately. The grounds were spacious. A groundskeeper kept the lawns and gardens well-groomed and maintained. The Tremblay home was more prominent than many surrounding structures belonging to families Isabel had never met. She refused to speak with these poor and uneducated helots.
Before the birth of Lorenzo, their marriage had been one of passion, deep friendship, and the exchanging of secrets. Now, that intimacy dissolved like soapy water seeping down a drain. Each existed in separate spaces and different worlds. They had their own lives, apart from one another. Love and trust had fled in the dead of night. Their most intimate secrets, hidden behind lock and key, would never again be revealed.
Their only shared interest was caring for Lorenzo. But then, like the shrieking of a black crow, the bad news came. The manufacturing plant was closing. Pater was no longer employed, and once again, the fibrous tentacles of despair wrapped around the Tremblay family.
It was the worst of times. The family endured long days of fear and despondency before Pater discovered a light glowing in the darkness. Good fortune came in the form of a letter. His request for a job interview with the Orax Chemical Corporation had been granted. Isabel uttered a painful sigh. “No good can come of this,” Isabel said, her forehead furrowed in dread, her pupils tiny dots of fear. “Your pilgrimage will bring about an unfortunate fate. It will only end in grief. I ask you not to go.”
Pater looked the other way, refusing to hear her words.
Isabel wiped away the tears of a terrible premonition. “That company is the spawn of hell itself,” she said. “They make horrible substances that kill innocent people.”
Pater knew she was correct. It was common knowledge that Orax manufactured toxins like sulfuric acid and liquid hydrogen. Pater had, for years, read in his industry journals about Dresden County residents complaining about tainted water and pets that died from a mysterious illness.
But unknown to Pater was that lucrative military contracts incentivized Orax chemists to create deadly chemical weapons. The Orax Chemical Corporation was an evil entity thriving on death and monetary profit. They were the ugly snakehead of capitalism. It was only a matter of time before the karmic score settled in blood.
Dressed in a double-breasted suit and a charcoal gray tie, Pater boarded the Eastern Corridor Railroad bound for Cincinnati and The Orax Chemical Corporation. It was all too easy, as though the planets had aligned for this one moment. The Orax Chemical Corporation treated Pater like royalty, offering him a lucrative contract. Pater immediately signed the mimeographed papers. Filled with triumph, he excitedly phoned Isabel, telling her their family had been blessed.
Pater’s heart raced with anticipation. He e stepped into the opulence of the Eastern Corridor Railroad passenger car — paid for by the generosity of the Orex Chemical Corporation.
Pater was going home.
Pater loosened his tie and relaxed on the comfortable leather seat. He looked forward to reading the Eastern Corridor Magazine and to the dinner meal. The train rocked in a gentle seduction of vibration and speed. It made him want to sleep. Towns and landscapes rushed by. Some landscapes were pretty, while others were ugly trash-strewn concrete junkyards. Graffiti artwork dominated concrete shapes clustered in ruin. Litter was everywhere. Telephone poles appeared hypnotically. Pater calculated that the Eastern Corridor reached an average speed of forty-five miles per hour. His mind estimated that weather conditions, velocity, and volume influenced the train’s speed. Pater smiled. Isabel would be proud of him for working out that calculation in his brilliant, mathematical mind.
He had dozed off before the car suddenly lurched in a horrible vibration of screeching wheels and toppling madness. It smashed against his bones, quivering his soul. In a travelogue of photographs and postcards, his life flashed by. Of love and loss. Of charmed and cursed memories. Of life and death.
Pater saw his body mangled and bloodied as the train overturned, crushing him under tons of cold iron. His death came quickly but oddly in a slow-motion dance of seduction.
So, this is how death comes. On a train. Alone.
“No,” he screamed, words of anguished silence!
Stop those awful thoughts.
He was embarrassed for allowing childish, foolish notions into his head. He was safe. He was going home. Another cluster of hours of leafing through magazines and looking at urban deserts and desolate landscapes and he would be back with Isabel and Lorenzo.
Pater was going home.
He unloosened his tie, a Christmas gift from Lorenzo. Allowing himself to relax, he once again began to enjoy the rhythmic sway of the train and the steady vibrations of wheels griping iron tracks. The locomotive pulled a snake-like line of cars coupled with massive spring buffers and screw couplings. There were only two Eastern Corridor Coachline passenger cars. All the rest were liquid tank cars — fully loaded.
But then, at precisely 6:15 p.m., the train rounded a curve, steel wheels striking a broken piece of track. Losing traction, the two-hundred -ton locomotive collapsed sideways in a clumsy and awkward slow-motion movement, plummeting toward the frigid Ohio River. A series of explosions peppered the procession of boxcars. One by one, like paper matchboxes, the cars burst into flame. Massive fireballs shot high into the darkening sky. Everything inside the fireballs vaporized, including soil and water, shooting upwards into a mushroom cloud of toxic chemicals.
Before the first explosion, Pater felt a sudden jolt. Tiny Christmas-like lights flashed from the peripheral side of his left eye. His hands curled convulsively into lobster claws. Isabel’s face was the last thing he saw as he was incinerated by a white flash. The terrible fire seared the air and scorched the earth with a devastating heat. The derailed locomotives, tank cars, and passenger cars were transformed into a madman’s sculpture of burned, charred, and melted obscenity. Over one hundred cars were destroyed.
Black smoke mixed with toxic vapors as the chemical juggernaut grew into a Godzilla-like monster. Poisonous gasses swirled sensually in a macabre Paso Doble. The vaporized material cooled, dropping to earth in a fallout of deadly contamination. It was described as a “nuclear winter” by alien-looking HAZMAT experts and “a tragedy of historic proportions” by the salivating media.
Transportation safety officials determined that thirty of the 125 tank cars carried cryogenic liquid hydrogen. Each of the 34,000-gallon stainless-steel cars was forty feet in length. The vehicles were virtual weapons of mass destruction.
The Eastern Corridor Railroad held other secrets. Ten tank cars contained a substance codenamed “Blast-O-35,” classified as EXPERIMENTAL: TOP SECRET. “Blast-O-35” was a promising addition to the Pentagon’s war arsenal. The chemical armament was a volatile mixture of napalm, magnesium powder, and white phosphorus, using ignition rather than detonation to ignite an anti-personnel hellfire. The tankers, camouflaged inside corn syrup container cars, were being transported to a secret east coast underground nuclear bunker.
Night turned into day in Orax’s adaptation of Dante’s Inferno. The “Blast-O-35” explosions were strategically designed to direct their destructive force toward the center. The shock waves rippled from the epicenter, jackknifing in a psychotic chain reaction. The fireballs, like incoming rocket-propelled grenades and having a lifeforce of their own, zigged and zagged in a crazy pattern of unpredictable madness.
The slow-burning weapon was impossible to extinguish with traditional water or AFFF foam methods. The bizarre chemical structure of “Blast-O-35” contained a tight ring of thirty five molecules preventing water from extinguishing the flames. The Dresden County Fire Department was helpless.
The Grim Reaper had come to Dresden County in the guise of a secret military weapon. After monitoring air quality, HAZMAT officials warned that brief exposure to the amber-colored mushroom cloud would result in instant death. The Ohio State National Guard ordered residents near the disaster site to leave immediately.
Pater Tremblay’s hopelessly charred carcass, a mass of cooked and shredded flesh, was never correctly identified. Instead, scoops of pulverized fetid matter were placed inside a shoebox-sized cardboard box that railroad officials claimed was that of dear Pater.
There was always a setting at the dinner table for Pater. His omnipresent specter mingled with them ghostlike. He was nowhere and everywhere. “Son, I want you to set the table properly for Pater’s grand return.” Isabel fixed a stern look at Lorenzo. “Let’s use our best china and Pater’s favorite linen cloths.”
Isabel observed her son setting the table. Gold-colored chargers were centered under the dinner plates. “Water glass to the left of the coffee cups. Dessert spoons to the right of the knives,” Isabel instructed. Gold candlestick holders housed candles that had burned brightly in past celebrations of birthdays and holidays.
Lorenzo was in a trance, half listening to his mother’s shrilled voice. His life was a prison of routine, of monotonous boredom. It was an existence of taking countless pills and capsules, of swallowing drugs that killed off his human spirit. “Pater, our son is not well,” she confided. “We are no longer his parents. We are his caretakers. Still, I am thankful that the medicine quells his madness.” For years, Lorenzo’s violence had flared uncontrollably. He struck Pater only once. Pater vowed he would never do that again.
Pater and Isabel rarely discussed their son. They were embarrassed with their dull child, who was seldom seen outside their residence. Although he did not attend school, he learned the alphabet and could read and write. Lorenzo understood simple instructions and could make decisions about his clothing and hygiene. He was taught to stand tall and not stoop. He was instructed to pronounce his syllables distinctly.
Isabel approvingly looked over the opulent dining room display, gazing upon her son with a never-ending sadness. “And, of course, a crystal wine glass for Pater’s medication,” she added. Lorenzo lifted the goblet, twisting it to the light, ensuring there were no stains.
“Splendid, Lorenzo. Pater will be so proud of you,” she mouthed in an ongoing affirmation of repetitive lies. The doorbell rang, shattering the tomblike silence of the House of Tremblay. Isabel’s wide eyes looked up. She sucked in her breath. “The hour is here, my Son. Pater’s come home.”
Lorenzo stood transfixed. His long-sleeved shirt floating over bony arms as he mouthed the words “Pater’s come home.”
Meekly he smiled at his Mother. With proper posture he walked across the room. He opened the door. The delivery worker, replete in a brown uniform with a gold logo, stood at the doorway. He was holding a cardboard box.
“Package for the Tremblay Family.”
Maxim W. Furek’s eclectic background includes aspects of psychology, rock journalism, and the paranormal. He has a master’s degree in Communications from Bloomsburg University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Aquinas College. He has been featured on Exploring the Bizarre with the legendary Timothy Green Beckley and Paranormal 60 with Dave Shrader. He contributes to Fate Magazine, Normal Paranormal, and Paranormal Underground. His latest book is Coal Region Hoodoo: Paranormal Tales from Inside the Pit.