Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 10: Stairways and Sink Basins

June 22nd, 1906, at 8:45 a.m. — The Boardwalk Outside the Neptune Plunge
Mary came to a sudden halt as she reached the boardwalk on the beach side of the building. Expecting sand and fresh air, she was horrified to see that the fire still surrounded her. A firestorm had erupted on the boardwalk, consuming the Casino, the band pavilion, and the boardwalk itself. She pressed herself against the wooden exterior of the Plunge. The beach was on fire. Without any further hesitation, she ran for the relative freedom that was the east.

Neptune Casino late in the course of the fire, June 22nd, 1906.
The passage between the Plunge and the pumphouse was still free of debris when she reached the intersection. Sounds echoed from inside, audible through the thin walls. Crashes and beams were falling. Mary didn’t have much time. She began sprinting down the 100 foot walkway, hoping to reach the end before tragedy struck. But fate was catching up with her. A wrenching sound reverberated across the wooden planks, and the entire wall to her left began to lean dramatically toward her. Mary was still only halfway down the passage as the Plunge began to collapse around her, sending burning embers and shards of glass everywhere.

The walkway in front of her was evaporating into charred timber as an unexpected roof over the passage leaned heavily on the side of the pumphouse. Gigantic fragments of burning wood crumbled into the walkway. Mary found herself up against a wall again, and feeling around, she discovered a door’s handle to her right. She turned it, and it opened easily. Gambling on hope, she darted into the blackness, closing the lid of her coffin behind her.

– – – – –

James had just barely opened the door to the kitchen access stairs when he regretted the decision entirely. A burst of fire rocked out the door and into the arcade. James was only protected because the door swung toward him, though it smashed him against the wall all the same. Now, the door lay in a heap on the ground, as fire engulfed the small trinket shop located across from it. 

Cautiously, he glanced up the stairwell to confirm his suspicions. As he expected, the remains of the stairs were smoldering with large glowing holes pock-marking the entire length. It would be a suicide run to try and climb those. And then what, James thought to himself. Turning to the door beside the stairs, he tried the handle but it wouldn’t budge. The door let out into a small access corridor toward the pool, but it felt like there was wreckage on the other side, and the knob was quite warm. 

Reassessing his situation, James did a quick circle to determine where he should attempt next. He couldn’t even see the grand staircase anymore—most of the ceiling around that area had collapsed. Drops of liquid fire rained across the arcade and gaping holes were spreading from upstairs. It was a wonder that the entire building had not collapsed yet. Black smoke billowed out of every fissure and the temperature of the room was stifling, but James found new resolve and sought out a path.

Elizabeth Credwell outside the beach bandstand, c. 1905. *
With few other options available, James dashed toward the beach doors, hoping to find a way out of the building. But again he was blocked, this time by an inferno that had blazed up on the overly painted boardwalk. Large chunks of wood had collapsed in front of the doors, anyway, making progress difficult. To his right, he could see the beach bandstand burning like a torch in a soft breeze. It was beautiful in a way, but terrible to behold. James shook his head and ran behind the remains of grand staircase, looping back around toward Fred Swanton’s office, where his nightmare had begun.

The building shook violently and numerous pieces of ceiling caved in around the arcade, but nothing major fell and the building remained standing. James continued to assess his situation and saw the other dining room access stairwell. He was disappointed to find these stairs equally destroyed. The door was burning nearby the billiards room entrance, but the stairs were completely gone, settled in a heap at ground level and slowly burning through the wood foundations.

Another shutter shook the building and James could feel the floor shifting. The middle of the room, which had stood so long throughout this ordeal, buckled and the ceiling fell in. James frantically looked for another escape venue and his eyes settled on the relatively untouched men’s restroom. More cracking and James knew the ballroom ceiling was caving in on itself. He darted into the restroom.

Inside, the southern wall was burning with a pale orange glow but no worse. Outside, James could hear the crashes and crackling of the fire and ruin in the Casino. James settled himself under the sink furthest from the burning wall, and prepared for a long wait.

More sounds outside echoed into his small prison. The ceiling above began to creak ominously. Bits of golden paint from the gilded wallpaper sprinkled down on the floor beside him, twinkling with an eerie bronze sheen. Crown molded tin turned dark and drooped along the corners of the ceiling, dripping molten metal on the tile floor. The heat under the sink increased by the second until James was sweating all the alcohol he had consumed the previous night.

Unexpectedly, the sounds outside grew quiet—a last ray of sunshine before the storm. Then, the entire building shifted on its foundation, the primary support beams overwhelmed or consumed. As the far wall began its inevitable descent that would end in his death, James tried to ignore it. He thought about better times with his family. He remembered that he hadn’t written Maggie, his eldest daughter, lately, and he wondered how she was doing at her school in Vermont. He thought of his other children—Patty, Mary, and Jimmy—and how he would never see any of them grow up.

The wall continued its collapse in slow motion. Parts of the hardwood dance floor fell through the ceiling, sprinkling molten tin, shards of gold-flecked wood, and fragments of porcelain sink-ware across the floor. Pieces fell on James, too, crushing his arm, pinning him beneath the sink unable to move.

As the rubble of Neptune’s Casino crushed his motionless body to nothingness, James remembered that the fuse box for the Casino wasn’t outside; it was beside the main entrance next to Swanton’s office. This crushing realization explained what Swanton meant when he said he planned to remodel the Casino. Now, James only wished Swanton were around to discuss the details. Of course, Swanton already knew the details, and James was just a loose thread needing to be tied off.

This story is a work of fiction. All reference to historical incidences and individuals is purely for plot purposes and may not represent true events or real-life personalities and attitudes. This story is designed for an adult audience with moments of violence, terror, and the painful deaths of minors and adults throughout. Please direct all comments to the section below. Thank you and enjoy!

* Descriptions of photographs with "*" are fictional and do not actually depict their description. Actual historical photographs and illustrations do not have an asterisk.

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