Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 8: Resolution and Sacrifice

June 22nd at 8:30 a.m. — Neptune Casino Grand Staircase
Beth was halfway up the grand staircase when Jimmy’s scream was suddenly cut off. She stopped and cried back to him but no answer returned except the sound of cracking timbers.

With renewed panic, she continued her ascent up the stairs when a loud boom shook the building and caused her to slip down three steps onto her rear. Harsh ripping noises echoed above the rising cacophony of sounds caused by the fire. Ahead up the stairs, she witnessed a massive copper object plunge downward, completely blocking her passage. It was severely tarnished and bright green in spots, though parts glowed with an eerie orange luminescence. 

She ran up to it to realize it was one of the large domes of the Casino, probably the largest center one fallen through burned-through ceiling beams. The metal was quite cold and covered with dew from the fog outside. Exasperated, she lightly knocked her head on the copper door jam, trying to think of some other way to get to her son. She quickly assessed her surroundings. The top of the balcony was just out of reach. The room above was burning quickly and black smoke was almost to her level.

Turning, she headed back down the stairs to search for her husband whom she had abandoned in Swanton’s office only minutes before.

– – – – 

My wife left me, James thought to himself as he stood in the smokey doorway of Swanton’s office. He had seen his wife run up the grand staircase, and heard the last muffled cries of his son. That was quickly followed by a loud crash that had shaken the entire building and collapsed burning timbers all over the Casino’s floor.

I will not let this tragedy destroy my family! James resolved. His girls were swimming in the pool next door. He would get them out of there before it was too late.

An access door on the opposite site of the Casino let out into a narrow corridor which, in turn, led to a little-used entrance to the pool. He could see the door across the room. Committed, he began to run across the littered arcade, dodging raining fountains of burning lacquer and piles of enflamed ceiling. He reached the opposite door just as his wife began shouting for him.

James turned back toward the grand staircase. Fire rained down across the Casino like confetti on the Fourth of July. Returning to his wife was no longer an option to him. Jimmy was probably already gone and his wife would have to fend for herself. The survival of his family was more important. With great reluctance but a firm resolve, James returned his attention to the doorway and walked through it, never to see his wife again.

Neptune Casino on fire on the morning of June 22nd, 1906
When Beth reached the bottom of the grand staircase, a very different site welcomed her than when she had first passed up those steps. The arcade was alight with firefalls dripping glowing lacquer and oil through gaps in the ceiling. Everything was burning. A cascade of smoke followed the roof and escaped to the second floor above her. She shouted again for her husband, but he did not respond. She could see Swanton’s office through the dense black smoke, but he was no longer there.

Running back up the staircase, Beth encountered the copper onion dome again. This time, she tried to push it, hoping that its hollow interior would produce a result. But it didn’t. The dome didn’t budge an inch and, in the intervening time, had become quite hot.

Little drops of red hot lacquer slipped under the dome and onto the stairs. A slow waterfall was building, and Beth pushed herself against the wall to avoid the droplets of fire. 

Running back to the foot of the stairwell, the air became unbreathable. Bits of fiery lacquer bit at her toes, causing her to shout out in agony. The stream of burning lacquer had become a constant cascade down the steps, pouring over the sides as the flow reached the railing. The stairs themselves began to evaporate under the heat and moisture. Charcoal boards cracked and splintered then enflamed. Beth became frantic, running up and down the flight of stairs in a deadly game of cat and mouse. The fire licked at her toes, took bites out of her flesh. Her floral dress was on fire and large pieces of cloth were falling off, but the clothes kept burning.

She pressed herself against the railing, unable to escape the fire surrounding her, raining down upon her and flowing under her. Gasps of pain became cries for help which deteriorated into gulps for air as the black tar air suffocated her. At last, she collapsed creating her own funerary pyre. Her body twitched as her lungs succumbed to asphyxiation. The fire continued to rain down, burning her clothes to ash, turning her skin to wax, and charring her bones to dust.

When the fire finally consumed the grand staircase, her remains fell into a superheated furnace of a closet beneath—lifeless, hopeless, dead to the world. The building was collapsing around her, but that was no longer Elizabeth Credwell’s problem.

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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