James and his cousin Ashley have an entire day at King’s Island, which ends with a ride on the roller coaster The Beast. He’s rode it multiple times before, but it’s her first time. He convinces her to ride it one last time and while in line, they meet two teenage boys. The boys tell them that the ride has a ghost that rides the coaster late at night. Neither one believe the story.
When the ride is over, James can’t find Ashley anywhere. He wanders around the park looking for her and when he finds her, it turns out that she was looking for him. A thick fog rolls across the park and by the time they get to the front, the park is empty and everyone is gone. James wants to call his mom and go home, but Ashley convinces him to stay and sneak around. She also bets him $10 that they’ll see the ghost of the roller coaster.
While walking back to The Beast, they walk right into a couple of security guards. At first the guards don’t see them because of the fog, but once they do, they chase them through the park. The kids make it to the roller coaster and see an old, white haired man working the controls and moving the coaster. When he sees them, he introduces himself as P.D. Walters and says he tests the ride.
P.D. also explains that he’s been coming to the park for over 60 years, every since the old Firelight Park stood on the site. The park got its name from the hundreds of old-fashioned torches arranged around the park. In 1931, a tornado came through unexpectedly, knocking over the torches, setting a fire and killing a lot of people. When he hears the guards coming, he tells the kids to jump on the ride and starts it running.
The kids go through the fog, but when they come back, no one’s around. The walk outside, get lost in the fog and come across and old-fashioned looking area, complete with people in old clothes and torches. Ashley realizes that they’ve gone back in time and are at the Firelight Park. James gets off on the cheap prices of food, especially ice cream cones for two cents each. They keep getting odd looks for the way they’re dressed and accidentally run into another boy.
His name is Paul and he takes them to get some clothes. He explains that the park does a lot for people in the area that lost their jobs because of the Great Depression. He also tells them that his own dad lost his job, his whole family shares a small apartment and he sneaks into the park, but doesn’t have money to do anything. James buys him some food, they take a few rides and get to know each other.
Ashley finds a copy of the newspaper and realizes that it’s the day of the tornado! They run up to the front office, hoping to make an announcement. Then they get a megaphone and try to help people, but no one wants to listen to them. Ashley mentions P.D. and how he’s the only one that can help them. Paul freaks out because he’s P.D.! Ashley realizes that they went back in time and of course P.D. would be a young man.
Two security guards start chasing them and he shows them a shortcut through the woods. They manage to stumble across The Beast and P.D. has them jump on, while he figures out how to work the controls. He gets the ride going, but then the guards grab him. The ride takes off and the two guards jump on board. When they come out the other side, the guards are nothing but skeletons. James explains that they went forward 60 years and the guards died of old age. WTF?
The present day guards grab the kids and lecture them on sneaking around late at night. They call James’s mom and has her come to get them. They get up to the front of the park and find a memorial to the old park and the people who lost their lives. There at the very bottom is P.D.’s name.
*Okay, so I live about 30 minutes from King’s Island and grew up living there, so I was kind of excited about this book. And then I read it. There is totally a ghost story surrounding The Beast, but it’s nothing like this story. It’s about glowing red eyes seen back in the woods around the ride. Why couldn’t Stine at least take the real story and use that for the book?
*The kids also come across a freak show in the past, with a bearded lady and two-headed boy, but of course all the freaks are just normal people with fake stuff added on.
*James keeps handing over money for stuff and no one looks twice at it. But, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have pre-1931 money stuck in his pocket. Seriously, wouldn’t the stores and shopkeeps notice that his money looks funny?
*Yeah, so James calls his mom and tells her they ran into a friend of his and that guy’s mom drove them back, so they’re staying the night. She just kind of believes it and leaves it at that. Um, yeah…