Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 6: Boiling Tea and Cooking Oil

June 22nd at 8:15 a.m. — Fred W. Swanton's Office in Neptune Casino
“Welcome to my humble office, Elizabeth, James,” Swanton said and smiled jovially as he stood up to attend to the couple as they entered the small room. A large mahogany desk sat in the center with stacks of papers piled around a writing surface. A lamp with a green glass shade sat in the left corner. Behind the desk, a large leather chair was pushed back behind the grey-suited Swanton. “I know it is early but I like to get things started first thing each morning. Regarding my plans for the Santa Cruz Beach Company, I think you will be happily surprised with the direction I’d like to take this company. Would either of you like tea? I always drink a cup every morning.”

W.H. Weeks in Fred Swanton's Office, May 1906 *
“That would be most kind,” Beth replied, seating herself on a simpler wood and leather seat beside her husband. Swanton smiled and walked over to a desk where an ornate water-warming device was quietly steaming. He poured two glasses of boiling hot water and dropped tea bags in teach, handing them to his guests as he took his seat.

“Now James, last night I was rather hard on you and I want you to know I harbor no ill-feelings,” Swanton began. “We were a bit drunk and...well, one thing leads to another. I apologize.”

“Fred,” James began to reply. “I have known you for many years...”

“Yes, yes. Let’s end with these formalities and get on to business,” Swanton interrupted. James fell back into his chair, a bit disturbed at how eagerly Swanton wished to discuss this new proposal. “Yesterday, I began the complete rewiring of the Casino.”

James began to stand up again, his eyes going wide. “You did this without...”

“Without the board’s approval? Yes,” Swanton answered frankly. “It is a necessary change if my company is going to power this building. Edison was a fool for promoting direct current and I want this entire facility converted to alternating current as soon as possible. I already have funds to build a new power plant on the west side of town.”

James looked at Beth and received a quick nod of approval from her. “Well, despite my reservations, Fred, this idea seems good. I will support it so long as you do not return to your proposal of last night.”

Checking his watch, Swanton smiled to himself briefly, as if remembering a past joke. “Well, I will not return to that idea at this time, but I do wish our company had a hotel to rival the Sea Beach. It makes a fortune off of our hard work every summer, and we have nothing to compete with it except tents and cottages. A rather poor trade-off, if I do say so myself.” Suddenly, all the lights in the building went off and the office was plunged into darkness.

“And that,” Fred added, “is why we need to upgrade our electrics! Now excuse me for a moment as I go and find a fuse box.” Swanton pushed the chair back and exited his small office, heading toward the outside doors and leaving the Credwells in the dark.

Dizzy but conscious, Jimmy pushed himself up to his knees. His entire face was covered with a dark, pasty grime that could only be solidified lard. Attempting to stand again, he grabbed the nearby counter and lifted himself by the knees very slowly until he was all the way up. Shadows crawled across the floor from shifting fog banks. The room was dark, with only a little light coming from outside. Dim ceiling lights flickered.

James Credwell, Jr., Aged 12, 1905 *
The boy went to the sink to wash his face, sniffing the air as he did so. He realized that the entire room reeked of fumes—cooking oil, lard, kerosene. He tossed a handful of water into his face and his eyes burned with the sudden rush of oil and water. He continued rinsing until he could see clearly again. Grabbing a nearby bar towel, Jimmy  wiped his face off, smearing a new layer of oil on it that was caked onto the towel. He decided to ignore the sensation and threw the towel on the ground into a pile of dark liquid.

Searching around for a light switch to brighten the place up, Jimmy found one near the door from the kitchen annex. He flicked it with his finger and a loud bang popped behind him. All the lights went out.

“What on earth...” Jimmy said to himself, looking into the darkness for the source of the noise. On the ground near the sink, he found his kitchen towel burning softly beside a cut electrical wire sitting in a pile of cooking oil. Jimmy sighed and found a bucket nearby. He filled the bucket with water from the sink and tossed it at the burning rag, splashing oil and lard in all directions. The faint flame of the rag ignited with the now-airborne oils, spreading fire across the kitchen.

Jimmy frantically circled. The cooking oil! It's everywhere. The bucket last night! The thirteen-year-old boy’s mind couldn’t keep up with his sudden sense of dread. Flames were rising up everywhere, grabbing on to anything flammable in sight. Panicking, Jimmy ran to the nearest door, but the fire was already there. Searching for another exit, Jimmy realized that all the doors had been blocked too. Most were closed and those that were open were inflamed. Smoke was rising up to the ceiling and the floor near the oil was now burning. Parts of the floor were already starting to turn to charcoal, burning rags, wood, finish, and timber like paper. He was trapped.

Surrounded by a wall of flame, Jimmy did the only thing he hadn’t yet tried. He screamed...

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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