A loud crack of thunder startled me from a sound sleep. I had been dozing in the back of the car, but I was now fully awake. Sheets of rain pelted the car and my father slowed to a crawl as the wipers struggled to keep up with the water streaming down the windshield.
"Wow, it’s really coming down,” I said.
“Well, at least we’re almost home,” my dad responded tersely. He concentrated on keeping the car centered in the road as he drove through the pouring rain.
I could barely make out the Welcome to Maynard sign as we crossed the town line. Lightning flashed, illuminating the hillside on the side of the two-lane highway. A winding road led up the hill, and as the rain let up a little, I could just make out the dark mansion perched at the peak. As I continued to stare at the house, I thought I saw a wavering light in the middle window on the top floor. Another flash of lightning blinded me. When the darkness returned, I squinted through the rain into the darkness, but the light was gone
Stephanie Lewis squinted at the tiny handwriting in the margin of the book. At first, it looked like someone had just doodled on the page. When she put her nose almost to the page, however, she could just make out the tiny writing.
The strange symbols didn’t mean anything to her, but she carefully copied them into her notebook anyway.
Stephanie had spent the afternoon at the library. She was working on a social studies project tracking the history of Maynard. Her family had moved into the area at the beginning of the school year, so the project served a double purpose. Besides working on her project, she was learning quite a bit about her new town. The paper only had to be three pages long, but Stephanie had already collected almost seven pages of notes. The latest book she was studying, A Short History of Maynard, was anything but short. It was almost 400 pages long. It was on page 213 that Stephanie found the cryptic note.
Maynard, like most small towns anywhere, didn’t really have enough history to fill 400 pages, but it still had enough stories to be interesting. It was founded in 1874 by Herbert Maynard. Herbert was the first mayor of the town, which in the beginning consisted primarily of other Maynards. The extended family had made its living mining the veins of rich black coal from the caves just north of the town. By the early 1900s, the town had grown to almost 1,000 people, and Herbert Maynard had grown very wealthy. He built a sprawling mansion on the tallest hill overlooking the town. It was less than a football field from the entrance to the caves that had given his family, and the town, its start. He only got to enjoy two short years in his new home as he and his wife Olivia were struck down with yellow fever in 1904 and died just days apart in their master bedroom. They were not to be the only ones to die in the mansion.
After Herbert’s death, his sons, Urban and Eustis Maynard, took over the mining operation, but it wasn’t long before disaster struck. A landslide in 1908 buried almost a dozen miners. The brothers were forced to seal off the cave system. With the closing of the coal mine, most of the men in town were suddenly unemployed. Urban and Eustis started Maynard Manufacturing and quickly put everyone back to work. The company prospered making canvas tents, farming tools, and buggy parts. The invention of the automobile forced them out of the buggy business, but by then World War I had kicked into full gear and the brothers made a small fortune selling helmets and ammunition to the army. When the war ended, Maynard Manufacturing employed almost half of the residents of the growing town. Urban remained single, but Eustis married, and he and his wife Martha had a son named Douglas in 1916. The four lived a luxurious life in the family mansion, their every need promptly tended to by a staff of cooks, butlers, and housemaids.
While the Depression of the 1930’s hit the country hard, Maynard Manufacturing kept their doors open and the town employed. It was said that the Maynard family lost a fortune in the stock market, but it didn’t seem to faze them. They continued to live the life of royalty.
While they remained wealthy, bad luck continued to follow them. Urban was electrocuted when he was trying to repair a faulty light switch in the basement of the mansion. Eustis died four years later when he tripped and fell down the main staircase. Douglas married and had a son Cletus in 1940, but his wife died during childbirth. In 1958, Douglas died on Christmas Eve when he fell off a ladder while placing the angel on top of the Christmas tree.
That left the eighteen-year-old Cletus as the last remaining member of the Maynard family. He went to college and earned a degree in history. He married his college sweetheart and returned to the mansion.
In 1965, Cletus’s wife Elenore had come down with a bad case of pneumonia. For days, Cletus had sat by her side as she grew steadily weaker. The only doctor in town had tried everything he knew to cure her, but she died early on a Saturday morning. Cletus made the long walk into town that afternoon. After planning for his wife’s funeral and burial, he had returned on the winding road to his house on the hill. He was never seen again.
More than 50 years later, the Maynard mansion still stood on top of the hill, but no one from the Maynard family lived there. The town now owned it and operated it as a museum. Busloads of kids still visited the Maynard House on field trips to learn about the town’s history. Since this was usually done in third grade and she hadn’t moved to town until fourth, Stephanie had never been there. She bet her friends Justin, Jordan, and Catherine had all been there, though. She would have to remember to ask them during the next meeting of The Math Kids.
The Math Kids began as a club to solve math problems. Stephanie and her friends were all in the highest math group in their class and loved to work on difficult problems. And they were pretty good at it, too! They had won the fourth-grade math competition at McNair Elementary last month and would compete against the other schools in town in the spring.
The Math Kids had used their math skills to solve some other tricky problems, too, including tracking down a kidnapper, figuring out a fifteen-year-old bank robbery, and even capturing some burglars trying to rob Stephanie’s house.
Stephanie squinted again at the tiny handwriting in the margin of the book. What did the strange symbols mean?
Could this be another case for The Math Kids?
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