Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 11: Bolts and Boilers

June 22nd at 8:50 a.m. — The Neptune Plunge Pump House
Behind her, the Plunge collapsed, shaking the pump house violently as parts of the wall fell against the concrete side of the building. Mary breathed in heavily, nearly exhausted from smoke inhalation and sheer exertion. The boiler room that she ran into glowed ominously. Vents and grills revealed red hot embers simmering silently, heating heavy-duty boilers of water that stood twelve feet high above her. Thousands of gallons of water pumped through this building each day, heating the vast Plunge next door.

Mary groped along the wall, looking for a light switch, lamp, candle, anything better to illuminate her path. She found nothing. Dim incandescent lightbulbs hung overhead, but they did little to light her path. The smell of oil was strong in the air, probably used to augment the standard wood and charcoal that warmed the boilers. Swanton always did like to experiment with new technologies. Outside, she could still hear the continuous cracking of beams and rafters, steel stretching as it buckled superheated.

On the opposite side of the room, the thin outline of a door could just be made out. Two double rows of boilers flanked the path to the door. Behind her, more wood cracked and something thumped hard against the door she had just entered from. Fearing the worst, Mary cautiously began walking for the door across the room.

Neptune Plunge Pump House (left) and Harley Davidson's Skating Rink (right). Taken from the Electric Pier, c. 1907
The large boilers made a cacophony of noises as she passed by the first set. They seemed to be under increased pressure from blocked pipes in the Plunge. The boiler to her left creaked suspiciously, steaming water overflowing from the top and splattering Mary on her legs, burning through her tights. Without warning, a two-inch bolt shot out from the boiler. Superheated water spouting out from the hole and the the boiler suddenly sounded like a massive teapot ready to explode. The stream of water blocked her path, but with no other choice, Mary jumped over it anyway, scalding her right foot as she made the leap.

As soon as she landed, another bolt loosed from the boiler, striking her in her right leg. Mary stumbled to the ground in a heap. As she nursed her wound, the boilers around her began to chime louder. The two boilers ahead of her both made a loud cracking noise simultaneously and then went silent for a moment. The two boilers beside her continued to sing with their tea pot rhythm. Then, the silent boilers exploded in a flash of shrapnel and boiling water, sending two-inch bolts flying in all directions and knocking down large canisters of petroleum. Scalding hot water flooded the cement floor, mixing with the oil and burning charcoal.

A worker standing in a corner of the Neptune
Plunge pump house, c. 1905 *
Mary avoided the majority of the blast, though bits of metal grazed her across her body. But the flood tide of scalding water and oil were unavoidable. As the concoction hit her in a wave, Mary writhed on the ground, bodily control lost to the agony of her torment. Her right leg was utterly useless, bleeding from the gaping wound caused by the bolt. Any chance of saving the leg was hopeless with the water cauterizing it and oil infecting it. She screamed, but no one could hear her over the sound of escaping steam. The building smelled of sulfur and vented steam like a geyser. Inside, the air was thick with humid wet gases, the smell of acid water all around her.

Mary forced herself up, her skin burned to the bone in parts. She limped back toward the door through which she entered. Fumbling, she grasped for the small knob, yanking the door. It didn’t budge. In a panic, she frantically yanked harder, seeing the exit as her only means of escape. At last, the door opened with a blast of superheated air that took her breath away.

A fireball roared into the pump house, causing the remaining two boilers to erupt into balls of metal and steam. More scorching water rained down on Mary, who had by now collapsed into a ball just beside the unhinged door. She no longer noticed the pain, and the water did little to extinguish the fire that had caught hold of her flesh. The flames surrounded her, consumed her, even as it suffocated her. The air escaped the room from the pressure of the firestorm, leaving Mary unable to draw even a breath. She twitched for many long seconds before she went unconscious, her body a human candle burning her to nothingness.

– – – – –

Outside, billows of black smoke rose high into the air before raining across the city of Santa Cruz. The Plunge was no more, a basin of water without a ceiling, little more than a pile of rubble. The small pump house simmered, no longer burning, beside it, the bones of a twelve-year-old girl mixed with shards of cast iron and burning charcoal. On the other side, Neptune Casino blazed like the Lighthouse of Alexandria, a monument to Fred Swanton’s fame and glory.

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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