The story starts with an elderly gentleman named Eddie who works as the head of maintenance at an amusement park called Ruby Pier. Eddie is a face known to regulars at the pier and is sometimes jokingly referred to as "Eddie Maintenance" due to the positioning of the patches on his work uniform. Eddie is able to perform his job (a job he inherited from his dad despite discontentment with life at the pier) despite a crippling leg injury he received as a soldier during World War 2. Supposedly, rumors had been spread that Eddie had gotten into an altercation with a man in his platoon during the war - and "nobody knew what happened to the other guy. Nobody asked." This turns out to be foreshadowing to the time and place of the Captain's death, and foreshadowing to his Captain being the cause of his leg injury during the war in the Philippines.
On Eddie's birthday, one of the amusement park rides malfunctions because of a damaged cable and stops halfway through the ride. Two of the staff at Ruby Pier are able to rescue the passengers on the ride and then release the ride's cart for inspection- completely oblivious to Eddie's screams as he realized the cart will detach if it is dropped. As he realizes this, he notices a girl he'd seen before at the park (Amy/Annie) standing helplessly in the exact spot the cart was set to impact. Eddie throws himself with all his might towards the girl, intending to pull her to safety. Eddie feels an exploding impact, sees a blinding flash, feels a little girl's hands in his own, and then nothingness.
Eddie then finds himself awake and uninjured and realizes that he feels young and much more energetic. He meets a man known simply as "the Blue Man" who suffered from argyria caused by silver nitrate poisoning and worked at Ruby Pier's sideshow (while it was still open, during the days of Eddie's childhood) and whose real name is Joseph Corvelzchik. Through their conversation, Eddie finds out that he is dead, has gone to Heaven and has embarked on a journey through five levels of Heaven, at each step meeting another person who has significantly impacted his life, or he had done so to theirs. He also finds the reason for his sudden energy, youth, and stamina - in the five stages of Heaven, you will feel exactly the same way you did (young, old, healthy, sick, strong, weak) as you did when you knew the person you are meeting. Eddie asks why Joseph, whom he does not know, is his first person, and Joseph informs Eddie that he died when Eddie and his brother threw a baseball which hit another driver and caused a car accident. From this, Eddie learns his first lesson which is that there are no random events in life and all individuals and experiences are connected in some way.
The second person that Eddie meets is his former captain from the army, whom Eddie finds sitting in a tree in a Philippine rainforest. The Captain reminds Eddie of their time together as prisoners of war in a forced labor camp. Their group escaped after a lengthy period of time and burned the camp during their escape as an act of relieving some of the stress placed upon them during their long stretch in captivity. Eddie remembers that he had seen a shadow running from one of the huts that he set aflame, although he never identified the figure. The Captain confesses that he was the one who shot Eddie in the leg to prevent Eddie from chasing the shadow into the fire, which would have certainly caused Eddie's death. This saved Eddie's life while leaving him with the lifelong injury and severe limp that Eddie repeatedly blames as the main reasons for his never achieving a life outside of Ruby Pier, which he had grown to loathe in his old age due to his mother's failing faculties making his father's taken-over job and a life at the pier impossible to escape.
Eddie then learns how the Captain died - something he had never put much consideration into before, as all the men in the platoon had lost touch with each other after the war, and he was in no condition at the time to fully realize what had happened. As the Captain and his men were making their escape from the prison camp, the men were tending to Eddie's leg wound in the back of the truck as the Captain cleared the path ahead. As he scouted ahead, he stepped on a land mine that would have destroyed the truck and killed all the Captain's men had the Captain not set it off, instead making the battlefield the Captain's final resting place. Eddie learns his second lesson about the importance of people's willingness to make sacrifices for others, big and small.
After this revelation, the Captain shows Eddie the true nature of his Heaven, which is not in fact the battlefield that Eddie remembers. The war-torn environment around them makes way to the most serene, beautiful nature landscape that Eddie has ever seen. Eddie looks at the Captain to see a man he hardly recognized without the layer of ash and dirt on his face - a young man in a pristine, clean army uniform who explains that for his Heaven he wished to see what the world was like before war, fighting, conflicts, and cruelty. Eddie watches the Captain walk away after he tosses Eddie his old combat helmet. Inside the helmet, Eddie finds a foreshadowing of things to come: a single picture of his late wife Marguerite, the same one he carried with him during war times.
The scene changes, and Eddie finds himself outside in a snowdrift, but he notices that the snow is neither cold nor wet. He notices a diner where he sees his father through a window and begins yelling and pleading for his attention. When his father appears to not be able to see or hear him, a well-dressed woman named Ruby appears and introduces herself to him. He assumes she must have been rich based on the manner of her clothing. She tells him that she has not always been this way and proceeds to explain to Eddie her story. Ruby tells Eddie that she had once worked as a waitress at the diner and explains that Ruby Pier was named after her by her husband Emile, who built it in tribute to her. Emile was wounded while fighting a fire that burned much of Ruby Pier and later died from pneumonia.
Ruby confesses that she picked the diner because that was where she had met Emile and wanted the diner to be a refuge for anyone who had ever been hurt in any way by Ruby Pier, which she grew to despise as it took so much away from them. This is the reason that Eddie's father, a harsh and abusive man, became a part of Ruby's Heaven. Ruby teaches Eddie to release his anger and forgive his father for all the trouble and hurt he had caused, only after she showed him the true cause of his father's death (different from what he had always believed had happened). Mickey Shea, a man who worked on rides at Ruby Pier with Eddie's father, was at Eddie's house drunk and in a terrible emotional state. He pulls out a flask, downs it, and then proceeds to try and force himself onto Eddie's mother. Eddie's father walks in at this point and manages to stop the drink fueled rape, then chases Mickey all the way to the pier, where Mickey jumps into the freezing water as an attempt to evade him, even though unable to swim. Eddie's father jumps in after Mickey and saves him instead as they had long been friends and he felt he owed him despite his recent drunken behavior towards his wife. Eddie's father later dies after falling ill due to being in the freezing water when he rescued Mickey.
Eddie now awakens in a room with several doors. Behind each of the doors there is a wedding from a different culture and Eddie meets his late wife, Marguerite, in one of the weddings. They spend an extended period together, moving from one wedding to the next and catching up on all the things they had not been able to share since Marguerite's death. They remember their own wedding, and in the end, Marguerite teaches Eddie that love is never lost in death, it just moves on and takes a different form. He begs her forgiveness for never making more of his life, never leaving his job at the pier, and for not giving her a better life she so richly deserved. However she answers that she loved the fairground and their life on the pier, and the only thing she regretted was them not being able to have any children. He replies that all he would've changed is to have had even more time together with her, for it not to have been cut short like it was by her early death.
Marguerite's love for weddings comes from the look in all the brides and grooms' eyes right before the ceremony; the shared feeling that their love will without a doubt break all the records. Marguerite asks Eddie at one point if he believed they had that; he simply replied, "We had an accordion player", to which they both laugh. (Eddie and Marguerite's wedding was on the rented top floor of a Chinese restaurant and was very low-budget, but the couple hold nothing but fond memories of the occasion - in Eddie's house, Dominguez finds a case of sentimental objects, including a restaurant menu from their wedding night.)
When Eddie awakens to a new scene, his fifth and last, he sees children playing along a riverbed and a young Filipina girl named Tala waves and comes up to him. They attempt to understand each other, but finally Tala manages to communicate and reveal that she was the little girl from the hut that Eddie set on fire. And Eddie finally realizes that that shadow he had seen all those years ago in the burning hut, and in his nightmares for most of his life afterwards, was indeed not imagined - the little girl had been that shadow attempting to flee the flames. The girl shows Eddie the burns that she suffered when dying from the fire, as her previously clear skin turns to burnt flesh and scars. Eddie is absolutely distraught and breaks down, both cursing and asking God "why?", then further on begging for God's forgiveness. The little girl walks into the river and hands him a stone and asks him to "wash" her like the other children in the river are doing to one another. Eddie is puzzled, tells her he doesn't know how, but then slowly attempts to do as she asks. He dips the stone in the water and starts to scrape off the injuries he had inflicted on her; and soon to his surprise Tala's wounds begin to clear until she is freed of all the scars.
Eddie then asks Tala if she knows if he was able to save the little girl he attempted to save before his death. He tells her he fears that he failed to save her and he remembers feeling the little girl's hands in his just before his death. But Tala tells him he did indeed manage to save her, he had actually pushed her out of the way, and then reveals that it was her (Tala's) hands that Eddie had felt instead as she pulled him safely up to Heaven. So in reality, Eddie did manage to save the girl at Ruby Pier. Tala teaches Eddie that his life was not for nothing and that its purpose was to protect all the many children at Ruby Pier through his care for the safety of the rides. In this way, Tala explains, he also managed to atone every day for her unnecessary death.
In the end, it shows that Eddie's Heaven was the Stardust Band Shell, where he met Marguerite. And is shown a vision of all the many people he saved along the years by his maintenance work, and consequently all their children's children down the generations. He is once again told that every life touches another and that everything is connected, it is all one big life.
He is also one of the five people to be met by the girl whose life he saved when she dies...