Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 7: Lacquered Floors and Onion Domes

June 22nd at 8:30 a.m. — Fred W. Swanton's Office in Neptune Casino
Beth was still sitting in Fred Swanton’s dark office when she heard the scream. Her head continued to pound from the night before and the sudden burst of noise echoing down the corridors did not help the matter. It was relentless.

“What is that noise?” she asked James. “It sounds like a dying cat!”

“I don’t quite...” James began to reply, but then looked around like he had suddenly woken up from a bad dream. “Do you smell smoke?”

“I had begun to smell something strange in the air when Fred left for the fusebox,” Beth replied, wracking her mind for something that did not appear to be there. That noiseshe thought. It sounds so familiar.

The small office remained dark, but the smell of smoke now undeniably filtered in. James got up and began groping for a wall to help guide him back to the door. Their eyes had adjusted fairly well to the darkness and James could see the faint outline of the office entrance, silhouetted against the shadows. Beth remained in her seat behind him, looking in his direction. The screaming resumed with renewed desperation.

James cracked open the door and gazed out into the sprawling empty penny arcade. He could see most of the arcade from Swanton’s door. The nearest entrance was to his right, but the main doors were half-way down the arcade on the left, across from the grand staircase. The noise seemed to be coming from upstairs.

Santa Cruz firefighters posing for a photograph, c. 1895.
At the far side of the room, James distinctly saw something flicker with an eerie orange glow. It was on the ceiling, almost on the opposite wall, but it shown like a bright lantern against the otherwise dark roof. With the power off, none of the lamps produced their usual radiance and the entire building reminded him of an Egyptian tomb he had visited while in Egypt many years earlier. The smell of smoke was thick in the air and James could distinctly see some floating beneath the tin ceiling tiles.

“What do you see?” Beth inquired from behind her husband.

“I’m not sure. I think something is burning upstairs. There is a strange...” but before James could finish his thought, a large piece of the roof collapsed on the far side of the arcade, flattening a table for two. Sparks flew in all directions and oily flames dripped from the expanding hole. The fire began to spread across the overly-lacquered floor of the penny arcade, reaching tentacles in all directions. No fire suppression system kicked in, and as James looked up, he realized that there were no sprinklers to stop the expanding flames.

The primal screaming was still echoing down the staircase. With a sudden horror, Beth bolted to the doorway looking directly toward the source of the scream. She looked upon James with eyes alight with fear and anguish: “Jimmy! He didn’t come home last night!” Without another word, she dashed toward the grand staircase, leaving James to ponder his wife’s last words to him.

Upstairs, in the kitchen, the walls were closing in upon him. Literally. They were falling in large chunks, taking bits of the roof with it. Jimmy had finally stopped screaming, the smoke in the air burning his lungs with every breath he took.

Straight ahead, through a thin band of flame, Jimmy saw an opening to the ballroom beyond. He ran for it, using the last of his energy to leap through the fire into the clearing on the other side.

His clothes were enflamed as he hit the ground rolling. His clothes extinguished themselves with the roll, but as Jimmy attempted to right himself, he realized a new problem. As he lay there, he felt his left arm to find it bleeding heavily with his bone nearly breaking through his skin. Under him was a table, still dirty from the night before. Broken glass was all around him.

Colorized photograph of Neptune Casino showcasing
its many onion domes, June 1905.
Nearby, the wall dividing the kitchen from the dining area crumbled, showering the lacquered floor with sparks and burning cinders. It began to burn with a soft intensity, conquering the floor in shoots and reaches. The curtains along the balcony burst into flames as a leg of the assault flanked them.

Jimmy watched in horror as his beloved Casino burned all around him. A pain jolted the boy out of his terror, forcing his attention to shift to his leg. His pants were on fire. Rolling back and forth to put it out, Jimmy forgot about the glass that pocked the floor like land mines. Shards impaled him across his body, forcing a second, more primal scream from his lungs. The scream seemed to last indefinitely.

At last out of breath, Jimmy dropped his head back onto the ground, cracking an empty champagne glass as he did so. His eyes widened then went hollow, staring into the abyss. A dark stream of blood pooled around his head, making a path toward the nearby grand staircase.

Overhead, a loud shutter shook the entire building. Fire racing along the ceiling scattered like angels departing for the heavens, leaving room for the giant copper central onion dome of Neptune Casino to collapse into the grand ballroom, entombing Jimmy’s body within it.

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!

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