Thursday, July 31, 2014

Credwell Chronicles – Chapter 9: Fire and Water

June 22nd at 8:45 a.m. — Miller-Leibrandt's Neptune Plunge
For the past forty-five minutes, Mary had been gazing longingly at the older boy who served as attendant. No one else had yet come in, possibly because the fog remained heavily attached to the beach outside. Ben occasionally would smile toward the girl, but for the most part he sat at his station and read from the newspaper. Patty continued to swim and dive in the pool, ignoring the feigned romance of her sister and the boy.

From outside the Neptune Plunge, Mary could hear somebody shouting loudly. Ben looked up from his newspaper and gazed out the large double-doors of the Plunge. He turned toward Mary, then shrugged and resumed reading. Again a voice shouted outside. Ben looked back out, and then stood up from his stool to get a better view. He leaned out the door and then turned back to Mary again. “Miss, I will be back in just a moment. Mr. Swanton is calling for me. Can you watch the booth while I’m away?”

Tourists on the Electric Pier with the Miller-Leibrandt Neptune Plunge in the background, c. 1904.
Mary blushed brightly, then gracefully stood up on the diving board and sauntered over to the booth. Ben had already left by the time she reached it. More sounds could be heard outside. Mary went to glance out the window when, without warning, a large flaming beam collapsed from the west wall of the plunge, missing the pool and falling on the side. Mary looked up toward the ceiling and saw fire spreading quickly everywhere.

“Patty!” she shouted without hesitating further. Her sister had just dove back into the water near where the beam had fallen, and would probably remain submerged for another minute or so. The fire along the beams continued to spread.

Mary ran to the edge of the pool nearest to her and dunked her head under, shouting to her sister again. Still, Patty did not emerge from the deep end. Another large beam fell, this time directly into the center of the large heated salt-water pool. Patty burst out of the water almost instantly, looking around frantically to reassess her situation. More pieces of the ceiling began falling around her but she couldn’t see clearly.

Salt stung Patty’s eyes as she finally focused on Mary near the opposite side of the pool. “What’s happening?” Patty asked, looking very confused.

Her sister was jumping up and down but Patty couldn’t hear anything except a low drone. She realized that her ears were plugged. Shaking her head from side-to-side as she paddled in place in the water, she finally could her her sister shouting “The ceiling! It’s on fire! Get out, Patty! Get out now!”

Patty looked up, startled to find the ceiling high above her burning bright with flames. Medium-sized pieces of burning beams were raining around her, with ash and sparks adding to the mess. Another large beam fell about five feet away, and Patty began paddling for the nearest side of the pool.

The fire had spread to the main entrance of the Plunge, and large chunks of ceiling rained down, piling up and blocking the double-doors. Mary had been forced along the east wall toward the beach-side entrance. “Meet me on the beach!” Mary shouted as she darted for the exit, finding it still free from fire. She glanced back at her sister one last time as Patty was nearing the edge, then she fled outside.

– – – – –

With the entrance blocked, Patty had no choice but to swim for the south side of the pool. All other corners were falling apart as pieces of ceiling and even wall fell in. The east side was still mostly clear, but a large smoldering beam sat in the water, blocking her path. The amount of soot and debris in the pool was incomprehensible to her. The air was thick with smoke and it was becoming hard to breathe. Her lungs burned as she attempted to swim to the south side. Suddenly, another burning beam fell, blocking her escape.

Swimmers inside Neptune Plunge, c. 1906. *
The space around her was shrinking as the roof turned bright red. The water’s temperature had been steadily increasing as more burning wood fell in around her. The pool was normally kept at a comfortable 84˚ F, but now it was well over 100˚. She was going to be cooked alive if she didn’t get out.

Patty dove under the water to see if there were any openings, but red hot beams glowed around her, forcing small bubbles of steam to rise to the surface. She emerged from the water disheartened. Above, the ceiling cracked ominously. The shutter shook the entire building to its foundations, and then the structure shifted eastward, toward the still un-enflamed wall. The nearby wall began to lean directly into her, and massive beams rained down overhead. Windows shattered, and the water’s temperature rose to a boil.

Patty dove back into the depths of the plunge, seeking the bottom of the deepest end in the hope that somehow she would emerge again. She turned her head toward the surface to find a glowing orange abyss above her, forcing her downward still. The water’s temperature was now so hot that it was scalding her flesh, blinding her, and making her writhe beneath its agonizing embrace. Her skin fell off in layers, leaving only bone. Her lungs emptied themselves of their own accord, filling with water and ash and blood. Patricia Credwell sank into the depths, crushed by the weight of the entire plunge  building as it settled atop her—lost forever among the ruins.

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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