CastleCorp and the famous Castleton brothers are unveiling the World’s Greatest Adventure Machine! The roller coaster is an experience like no other, and four lucky kids have won the chance to be the first to ride it.
There’s Trevor, whose latest stunt got him in trouble at school again. There’s Devin, whose father is pushing him to be the next Internet sensation. Nika’s wealthy grandfather isn’t too pleased about her participation. And Cameron, he’ll be the first to tell you, is a certified genius.
The whole world is watching. But as the kids set off on their journey, they begin to realize that there is perhaps more to their fellow contest winners than meets the eye. And the Adventure Machine? It might just have a mind of its own.
Join the contestants on their wild ride if you dare. Your adventure starts now!
"[The World's Greatest Adventure Machine] made me laugh out loud as I was pulled through the twists and turns until my stomach dropped in suspense or I waved my hands in the air, cheering at the adventure. It will take you on a ride that you won’t soon forget!"-Peggy Eddleman, author of Sky Jumpers
"A deftly written action/adventure novel...[that] will prove to be an enduringly popular addition to both elementary school and community library collections."-Midwest Book Review
Praise for Frank Cole’s The Afterlife Academy:
A Whitney Award Nominee
“An appealing ghost story without being creepy, this title would be a great read for any reader looking for a mix of adventure and humor.” —School Library Journal
“A fun, suspenseful read. . . . Cole’s fast-paced fantasy can be enjoyed by the entire family.” —Deseret News
“The adventure of a lifetime—or after-lifetime.” —OBERT SKYE, author of the Leven Thumps series
“A fast-paced and fun adventure that puts a new twist on the afterlife!” —PLATTE F. CLARK, author of Bad Unicorn
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Trevor Isaacs sat in the passenger seat of the faded red Buick, his face pressed against the window. Out on the front lawn of the middle school, Principal Sullinger was bringing Trevor’s mom up to speed on Trevor’s latest stunt. Ms. Sullinger’s expression was grim, and her hands were gesturing wildly.
Trevor’s mom alternated between nodding and smiling at Ms. Sullinger, and shooting laser-like glares at Trevor. She was going to kill him. And bury him in the backyard next to Kittles the guinea pig.
After ten grueling minutes, the conversation finally ended, and Trevor’s mom walked briskly toward the parking lot. She slid into her seat, slammed the car door shut, and gripped the steering wheel with both hands.
“Why, Trevor, why?” she asked, keeping her voice under control. “I had to leave work again. I can’t keep doing that.” Trevor’s mom was still wearing her scrubs and her name badge. Her hair looked like it had fought valiantly against an electric eggbeater and lost. “We’re barely making it as it is. If I lose my job, we’ll lose the house.”
Trevor stared at the floor of the car and kicked the backpack resting at his feet. “I’m sorry, Mom. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You’ve managed to ruin yet another field trip. And now you’re banned from the East Chester Museum! Who gets banned from a museum?” She yanked the car into reverse and backed out of the parking lot. “We’re just lucky your principal didn’t make me pay for the emergency bus transportation. I had to practically beg her for mercy. And I can’t believe you’ve been suspended.”
“It’s not like they’ll hold me back or anything,” Trevor said, digging at the dirt under his thumbnail. “It’s the last week of school, and I’m done with all my testing.”
“It’s still a suspension.” She squeezed the steering wheel, and Trevor could hear the vinyl cover squeaking in protest. “You’ve gotten into trouble before, but never like this. Your teachers have always understood and have graciously overlooked our situation, but that’s not going to happen anymore.”
As they approached a stoplight just outside the school grounds, Trevor noticed a couple of his classmates walking along the sidewalk, lugging their backpacks. They turned to see what car was approaching, and a big smile stretched across Hoyt Franklin’s face.
“You’re crazy!” Hoyt shouted, cupping his hands around his mouth. “Is your mom taking you to jail?”
“Who are those boys?” Trevor’s mom asked. “Friends of yours?”
“That’s Hoyt Franklin and Eric Palmer.” The two boys had stopped walking and now stood on the curb pointing at Trevor and laughing. “They’re not really my friends.”
“You could’ve been seriously injured, or worse. And you put your whole school through that,” she said. “Did you know Ms. Dobson fainted? Don’t you roll your eyes at me!”
“Mom, she always faints. A few weeks ago, a kid got a deep paper cut and Ms. Dobson passed out in her chair. They had to use some awful-smelling powder to wake her up. Besides, no one was even on the lower level where it happened, and it was just a model.” He rolled down his window. It was almost summer, and the car’s air conditioner had never properly functioned.
Trevor’s mom glanced sideways at him. “You’re missing the point. Real airplane or not, you crashed it! You almost destroyed an entire World War II display.”
“I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Oh, so you’re saying you accidentally climbed down from the balcony onto the plane?”
“I dropped my phone,” Trevor said. “Someone bumped my arm when we were heading to the next exhibit. What was I supposed to do? Just leave it?”
“You don’t think about consequences. I’ll be getting a bill for this for sure, and it won’t be cheap.” She took a deep breath, held it, and then forced the air out through her nostrils. “What’s going to happen now? Hmm? What do you think, Trevor?”
He raised his eyebrows and sighed. “I’m going to be grounded.”
“You betcha,” she said.
“No electronics, no movies, no outside, no nothing.” He counted off the list of punishments on his fingers.
Her eyes softened a bit. “You can still play with your friends.”
“What friends?” Trevor asked. “I don’t have any friends.”
“Don’t give me that. What about that Jordan Stinks boy? He seems fun.”
“It’s Stiggs, Mom. Jordan Stiggs,” Trevor said. “And his parents grounded him from me for the summer.” If Stiggs’s parents didn’t want him near Jordan, no parent would let their kids hang out with him, especially once word got out about the incident at the museum, and word traveled fast in Decatur, Illinois.
“Maybe that’s because you keep putting yourself in extreme danger. And I know you can’t help it sometimes”
“I can help it,” Trevor interrupted her. “I’m not stupid.”
“I’ve never said you were stupid. No one thinks that. It’s just your condition. It’s not your fault you have a misfiring amygdala. But it is your responsibility to think things through. Just because you can’t feel fear doesn’t mean you can’t think about consequences.”
“Mom, I know. But I wasn’t going to get hurt. I landed that plane just fine.” No one ever understood. Maybe Trevor saw things differently from other kids, but he hated it whenever his mom talked about his condition.
“Great. Now who’s that?”
Trevor looked up to see a sleek black car with tinted windows parked in front of their house. A man with wavy blond hair and dark sunglasses stood at the front door. He was casually dressed, in blue jeans and a bright yellow T-shirt. As the Isaacses pulled into the driveway, the man waved, but Trevor’s mom did not return the gesture. She parked, checked her makeup in the rearview mirror, and climbed out of the car.
“Hello there. Are you Ms. Isaacs?” The man stepped down from the porch, holding a black briefcase in one hand.
“You must be from the museum? Please, call me Patricia.”
“The museum?” The man crinkled his forehead. “No, most definitely not.”
“Then where are you from? The school? Is this about Trevor?” She clenched her jaw, awaiting the verdict on Trevor.
The man smiled. “I had one heck of a time trying to find this place. Took the wrong exit. Couldn’t seem to reach you on the phone either. I like to call first.” He had a sort of laid-back voice that reminded Trevor of a surfer’s, only not as thick. Maybe a retired surfer. There was something familiar about it as well, although Trevor couldn’t quite put his finger on it. “To answer your question, I’m not from any school, but this does concern your son.”
Trevor narrowed his eyes as he noticed the emblem on the man’s shirtsleeve. An emblem that looked oddly like a small red castle flanked by two capital letter Cs. “Oh, no way!” He leapt onto the hood of his mom’s car and rolled to the other side, plopping down onto the driveway with a muffled thump.
His mom gasped. “What on earth”
“I’m fine.” Trevor shrugged and brushed the gravel from his elbows before racing up to the porch for a closer look.
The man chuckled. “Well, that was entertaining. You took a bit of spill there, didn’t you?”
“It doesn’t even hurt,” Trevor said. “I know exactly who you are. You’re Doug Castleton.”
The man nodded. “That’s right.”
Trevor clamped his hands to the sides of his head. “Mom”he waved her over“it’s Doug Castleton!”
His mom remained rooted next to her car. “And who exactly is that?”
Trevor’s mouth fell open. How could she not know? “Doug Castleton’s the owner of CastleCorp. I’ve watched all their videos. That stratosphere skydive was awesome! What are you doing at my house?” He jabbed the CastleCorp emblem on Doug’s arm with his finger.
“Trevor! What has gotten into you?” his mom demanded.
“It’s okay, Patricia. The boy is excited, and rightfully so. It’s not every day you win a worldwide contest.”
Trevor’s mom climbed the porch and looked at Trevor suspiciously. “You entered a contest? When?”
“Months ago,” Trevor said, rubbing his hands together. “But I didn’t think I’d actually win.”
“Where are you from, Mr. Castleton?” she asked.
“He comes from Beyond,” Trevor answered.
“Oh, good grief. Would you just let the man talk?”
Doug smiled and nodded. “Actually, Trevor’s right. I come from Beyond. Beyond, California, that is. Right on the edge of the West Coast, not quite to Oregon, but close enough to the ocean that you can smell the surf.” He took a deep, blissful breath. “The most righteous smell of all.”
Trevor’s mom looked apprehensive, but then the hint of a smile began to form on her lips as she glanced at Doug. “Well, what is it, then?” she asked. “What did he win?”
Doug placed a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “A ride. The ride of a lifetime. One that will revolutionize the way we seek thrills on this planet. We’re talking the highest drops, the fastest spins and loops, the most breathtaking landscapes.” He paused, caught up in his own vision. “Trevor is one of four lucky contestants to win a spot on the maiden voyage of the Adventure Machine.” Doug motioned to the Isaacses’ front door. “Should we step inside and discuss the details?”
Trevor shook his head in disbelief. It had to be a joke. He never won anything. Not even free fries from Chauncey Burger’s Annual Scratch-Off Game. “I won!” he shouted in disbelief, shaking both fists above his head in jubilation. In a matter of minutes, Trevor’s day had transformed from a disaster to the best ever.
Wisps of smoke swirled toward the ceiling as the smell of burning pumpernickel bread wafted out of Beatrice Kiffing’s oven. Ms. Kiffing was reclining on one of the dining room chairs, sipping an icy beverage.
The smoke detector gave two warning chirps as it inhaled the plumes, and then exploded with a raucous clatter. Ms. Kiffing winced and set her drink down quickly. Just as she jumped out of her chair, the telephone in the kitchen started ringing. She hurried toward the oven, fanning her hand above her head at the smoke detector. Beatrice turned to the phone and was about to answer, when the sound of several screaming teenagers erupted from the hallway.
“Oh, for crying out loud!” Beatrice barked.
Two young girls and a boy appeared in the doorway, coughing from the smoke as Beatrice, now wearing lobster-shaped oven mitts, removed the black loaf of charred bread from the stove.
“It’s just a little crispy!” she shouted above the sound of the alarm and the relentlessly ringing telephone. “No need to be so upset. I can scrape most of this off.”
One of the girls shook her head. “We’re not upset about that, Ms. Kiffing. It’s your son.”
Beatrice dropped the bread onto the kitchen counter with a thud and then once more went to work, vigorously fanning the smoke detector. “Is Cameron being too hard on you? He can be quite difficult when it comes to tutoring. Just tell him I said to lighten up.”
“I’m not going back in there,” the boy said. “Not until he puts his clothes back on.”
The trilling alarm finally ceased overhead, and the phone gave one final ring before falling silent. In the sudden quiet, Beatrice stared at the three disturbed teens, puffed out her cheeks, and rolled her eyes.
Down the hallway and through the third door on the left, eleven-year-old Cameron Kiffing stood on his bed, rapidly scribbling equations across his window with a dry-erase marker. The small boy mumbled to himself, steadying his glasses on the bridge of his nose, his once-neatly-parted blond hair having morphed into a wild cocoon of dandelion fluff.
“Cameron, honey, you’ve caused a bit of a fuss with your friends,” Ms. Kiffing announced from the entrance of his room. She held the cordless phone at her side, her other hand still swallowed up in the mouth of one of her lobster oven mitts.
“They’re my students,” Cameron said breathlessly. “And they were the ones who caused the fuss. I merely needed to answer their preposterous question in the simplest way. There!” He spun around, gesturing at a single digit near the bottom of his window. “I told you. Didn’t I say” Cameron blinked, scrunching his nose. “Where did they go?”
“Home. What have I told you about taking your clothes off when we have company over?”
Cameron glanced down at his pinkish, freckled skin, completely naked with the exception of a pair of Star Wars boxers. He scratched an ear and scanned the room, locating his khaki pants, socks, and turtleneck wadded up in a pile by his dresser. “That can’t be helped,” he said with a shrug. “You know how it is, mother. A brilliant mind shouldn’t be constricted.”
“But they’re loose-fitting. Even the tag says so.” His mom fished the pair of pants from the crumpled pile and tossed them to Cameron. Then she jumped as the phone in her hand started to ring again.
“Must be a telemarketer,” she said, squinting at the caller ID. “Don’t know why anyone from California would be calling me.”
“Did you say California?” Cameron zipped up his pants, his head popping out of his turtleneck like a glob of toothpaste from the tube. “What part? Answer it quickly before they hang up!”
“You just worry about your socks, dear. Hello?” Ms. Kiffing asked into the receiver. “Yes, this is his mother.”
Cameron silently watched her from his perch atop his mattress, listening intently. Viewed through his thick-lensed glasses, his eyes looked as if they had grown to the size of plums.
“Uh-huh,” she said. “He has, has he?” Ms. Kiffing’s brow furrowed and she glanced at Cameron suspiciously. “And what exactly has he won?”
Cameron crowed like a rooster and leapt from his bed. Had he been even three or four inches taller, he might have crashed into the ceiling fan.
At least a hundred spectators were wedged shoulder to shoulder in the tight aisles of the Giggling Gargoyle Arcade, blocking the token machines and the rows of abandoned Skee-Ball lanes. They stood pointing their cell phone cameras toward the Gargoyle’s newest arrival, a brightly lit machine called Wander.
A dark-skinned boy wearing a T-shirt and shorts stood in front of the console, mashing buttons and splitting his time between playing and repeatedly checking his phone. Wander required the boy to weave his character through a three-dimensional haunted house, solving puzzles, while pressing a button that would zap an encroaching ghost. Each time a ghost appeared, the boy instinctively slammed his hand down on the button, sometimes without glancing up from his phone screen.
Two kids stood behind him. One of them, a stocky boy, about fourteen years old, shot the scene with an expensive piece of film equipment, while the other, a taller girl wearing bright orange lip gloss, beamed at the camera and spoke into a microphone.