Rest Stop Stories Episode 6: Vanished Joyland
It was nearly silent in the torn-up parking lot, the only sounds the light rush of the wind and their soft footsteps.
“Alright, here we-” Damon began.
Keri shushed him and he froze, footsteps suddenly silent.
“What the fuck?” Damon snapped.
Keri held up her recorder. “I’m getting room tone.”
“Room tone?” Damon repeated. “You’re getting room tone in a goddamn overgrown parking lot?”
You want to be a professional, right?” Keri snapped. “You want Amusement Park Horrors to be taken seriously?”
Damon sighed, a long suffering sigh. “Yeah, Keri. I do.”
“Me too. So let me get some room tone.”
Damon shut up as instructed, though his disdain was palpable as Keri recorded a few seconds of the parking lot’s ambient noise. Finally she pointed at him, barely visible in the beam of his flashlight.
Damon turned on his podcast-host voice, the one he’d been practicing all week. “Hi I’m Damon.”
“And I’m Keri.”
“And welcome to Amusement Park Horrors, the podcast that brings you into the belly of some of the world’s most frightening abandoned amusement parks.”
“For episode one, we’re keeping it close to home.” Keri continued. “We’re in northern Massachusetts at the old Steel Park amusement park, located along Steel Lake. Now, this park closed down in 2000 after over a hundred years as an entertainment destination. Did you ever come here as a kid, Damon?”
Damon shook his head. “No, I was too young, but I remember hearing stories about it.”
“Same here. And more than just stories about ripoffs on the fairway and overpriced fried food. This park, among the screams of laughter, was also home to tragedy. In 1987, a woman was killed when she fell from the highest point of the Rocket, the park’s flagship roller coaster. However, nobody can really say for sure what happened to her. The coaster was working perfectly that day.”
Keri took a small sip of water from her water bottle and looked at Damon.
And there’s one other detail that makes this case even stranger,” Damon said, taking the cue. “There was only one other person on the coaster for that ride. As the ride operator told the police that day, a young man had also gotten on the roller coaster and was seated several cars away from the victim. However – and this may be the strangest part of the whole thing – when the ride was stopped, the young man was gone.”
“As though he’d vanished while the ride was in motion,” Keri added.
They were silent for a moment. For too long? Not long enough? Oh well, they could fix it during editing.
“And he was never found.”
Yeah, he’d waited too long.
Keri didn’t say anything, just moved on ahead. “Steel Park kept operating for another fifteen years, but it was never the same after that. Locals say that there was always a tinge of darkness to the air around the park. So it wasn’t surprising when they finally closed their gates in 2000.”
“And the park has laid vacant since then,” Damon said. “There have been rumors over the years of buyers coming in, whether to revitalize the property or knock down the remaining structures and put up something else. But as for now, it sits.”
“Most of the park structures are still there. After nearly twenty years, there’s been major damage. Whether it’s natural or vandalism. Even though the park is off-limits, that doesn’t stop people from trying to get inside.”
Keri opened her mouth to reply, then paused. “I mean…yeah.”
They stood for a moment, the early autumn air cool around them.
“So anyway, that’s what we’re here to explore tonight for our first episode,” Keri said. “Then, using this as proof of concept, we’ll be planning out the rest of our adventures to the world’s abandoned amusement parks. So if you want to help us get there, donate to our Patreon. Or if you’re a major mattress company or something, get in touch.”
She turned to Damon, most of her face hidden in shadow. “Are you ready to head in, Damon?”
Damon nodded, trying to look casual. “Let’s do this.”
Even with their flashlights, it was impossible to really comprehend the reality of where they were. Rusted out rides still loomed over them, blotting out the weak light from the moon above the trees. Damon could see mossy bolts jutting out of dented metal, the overall shapes of which dissolved into the darkness.
“We’re inside now,” Damon whispered into the recorder. “And guys, it’s…I don’t even know how to describe it.”
He started down the path and Keri followed, still talking into the recorder.
“We’re walking along one of the main paths of Steel Park. It’s pavement, but much like the parking lot, it’s all broken up and mangled.”
As if on cue, her foot caught in a broken piece of concrete and she stumbled, nearly dropping the recorder.
“See what I mean?” she said as she caught her balance.
“Look at the rides,” Damon said as she caught up with him. “They just loom in the shadows like hulking…I’m not even sure the word. But you can see a merry go round right here in the kiddie park. The horses…the paint is scratched but the eyes still look perfect.”
“Want to take a ride?” Keri said, the smirk audible in her voice.
Damon gave an exaggerated shudder. “Absolutely not.”
“So the big draw of this place is obviously the Rocket. The wooden roller coaster built in 1950 and still standing today, casting its shadow over this town. Both literally and figuratively. We probably only have a few more minutes before we start drawing attention of any kind, so we’re going to head straight over to it. Ready, Damon?”
The Rocket looked like it was more shadow than substance as they approached, its rotten planks creating a weak honeycomb shadow in the moonlight.
“We’re looking at the Rocket, which is still standing today,” Damon reported. “Though even in the glow of our flashlights we can see how derelict it is. This is the scene of the tragedy, isn’t it?”
“It is. The cart was at the top of that slope up there, two hundred and thirty-seven feet in the air. Not massive by today’s roller coaster standards. But can you imagine that? Falling two hundred and thirty-seven feet.”
They were silent for a moment, contemplating. Damon was just about certain they’d nailed correct length of silence when he heard the distinct sound of movement down the path.
“What was that?” Damon snapped, whirling around. “Is someone here?”
He reached out for Keri as their flashlights both fell to the ground, cracking on the cement and plunging them into darkness. But that darkness was short-lived as The Rocket lit up, calliope music suddenly screeching into their ears, the neon lights impossibly bright.
The slamming of cold metal and Damon realized with a thrill of horror that they were seated in a roller coaster car. In the dazzling neon lights, he could see where the coaster had rotted through, just feet away from where they now inexplicably sat.
“How did we get here?” he asked, the words leaving his mouth far too slowly.
“I-I don’t know.” Keri said from right beside him. “But I think- I think we’re going for a ride.”
The creaking of wheels and they were off.
“So that was taken from Keri’s google drive, where the recorder was automatically uploading to. It was found a couple weeks after they disappeared and of course, the police scoured Steel Park looking for any signs of the two. But they didn’t find any evidence they’d been at the park outside of the broken fencing. At first, police thought that maybe the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax, a way to cash in on the popularity of found footage horror and get that studio deal they were hoping for.”
Astrid paused, letting the words sit for a moment, as though this was possibly an explanation for the footage she had just shared.
“But then, in the fall of 2017, two years after Damon and Keri’s disappearance, the park was finally sold to a developer. And during the inspection of the property, a digital recorder was found, wedged under the remains of the old roller coaster.”
“It’s been five years now. Steel Park is now the Steel Lake Condominiums, the owners of which have refused to speak to me about the history of their property. Will we ever get any answers about what happened to Damon Lucas and Keri Miller? Or, going back a generation, the anonymous woman who fell to her death from the roller coaster and the young man who witnessed it all? We may not. We might not ever know. For now, all we can do is watch and wait.”
Again, she paused, almost hearing the exit music she’d be adding later.
“Thanks so much for listening to this week’s episode of Vanished Joyland podcast. I’m Astrid Davies. As always, got any leads? Please get in touch. And in the meantime, take care.”
For real this time, thanks for listening. I’ll be back next month with more Rest Stop Stories.