The Haunting of Briar Manor (The Anomaly Hunters)

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Magic 8-Ball

The remaining hours of the day were quiet. Their ghost made no more attacks, and, as a result, Preston and Camellia were unable to get much further in their investigation. It was hard to really investigate, Camellia found, when there were so many people in the house, and she could never know for sure who to trust. But, still, she went to bed that night with a determination to figure something out the following day. If not to do her job, then to get out of there as soon as she could.

The next morning at breakfast, Hulin and Veronica offered to take their guests up to the billiards room for a little friendly competition. This time, Camellia accepted without hesitation; if the ghost were really determined to chase her and Preston away, this would give them a fine opening for another haunting.

Preston and Camellia followed the older siblings through the stairs. Camellia made note of the route in her phone note. The billiards room was slightly smaller than most of the other rooms, but still quite big. Two tables stood in the middle of it, and a tall cabinet was pushed to the back. Branching to the side was another small room with a couch and two chairs; a lounge.

Hulin opened the cabinet and asked what game they had interest in playing — air hockey, foosball, ping-pong, or pool. Preston and Hulin paired up to play foosball, and Camellia and Veronica decided on air hockey. Hulin pulled a foosball tabletop out of the cabinet and placed it on his table, and Veronica gathered the puck and strikers. She plugged the table in and switched on the air, and the two games commenced.

They played and talked for a couple hours, occasionally switching partners or games. Preston and Camellia regaled the siblings with stories of their missions as anomaly hunters. Hulin and Veronica told the hunters more about their family and background. It wasn’t necessarily helpful for their mission, but Camellia did admittedly have quite a bit of fun.

“They just . . . disappeared?” Veronica said after Camellia recounted a mission from last fall. “No trace whatsoever?”

“None,” Camellia said. “Honestly, I wish we knew how to find them. I feel kind of bad, those poor girls.”

“You know, I can’t help but wonder . . . ,” Preston began.

“Here we go.”

“What if they were ghosts?” he said. “Think about it — you thought you saw real people, but they could’ve been tricking you into thinking they were live humans. And then, because they were ghosts, they were able to just disappear out of nowhere without a trace.”

Camellia hummed. “I’m thinking about it. It sounds stupid.”

“I don’t know,” Hulin said. “I’ve seen enough movies to say that seems legit.”

Thank you, Hulin,” Preston said smugly. “You really would make an excellent anomaly hunter.”

Camellia scoffed. “Get over yourself. You can’t even decide what you want your ‘real ghosts’ to be. Are they or are they not invisible? Can they or can they not phase through walls?”

“Maybe they can choose to make themselves visible,” he said. “And they wouldn’t have needed to walk through walls to escape.”

She cocked her eye at him. “So, what — they just got up and somehow unlocked the door that’s locked from the outside? They left the entire building after hours without making the alarms go off?”

He shrugged. “It’s possible. Maybe we just don’t truly know what ghosts are capable of. But this mission could lead us to finding out. Man, how cool would that be! We could go down in history for that — Camellia Dempsey and Preston Jones, credited with the first discovery of a real, live ghost!”

She shook her head. “And you call me stubborn.”

“Is that not what you’re being right now?”

I’m being realistic, while you’re being a—”

Thud!

Camellia stopped. A black eight-ball had landed on the table where Camellia had just beaten Preston at ping-pong. The sound of it rolling slowly across the table was the only one in the room until Camellia spoke again. “Where did that come from?” she said.

Preston pointed toward the open cabinet. All he said was, “Uh.”

A green six-ball hovered in midair in front of the cabinet. Camellia blinked in disbelief. “Oh, my—”

She cut herself off with a gasp when the ball sailed through the air in Preston’s direction. He ducked just in time, letting it fly back and hit the wall behind him with a bang! Another ball floated into the air, and this one came for Camellia. She stepped out of the way and heard it whiz straight by her ear; her heart pounded. Before the ghost could grab another ball, Veronica lunged at the cabinet, resulting in the entire rack of balls being pulled off the shelf and rolling across the floor. Hulin and Veronica dropped to their knees to start collecting them.

The striped eleven-ball rolled over into the lounge room. Camellia noticed as it suddenly jerked in a different direction, as if somebody had kicked it. She stepped around the scattered balls as quickly as she could without tripping to get into the lounge, and she got there just in time to see a painting on the wall closing. That had to have been the billiards room’s entrance into the tunnel, she reasoned. She had no idea where the switch was to open it, but if she could get there quick enough, she knew she could get in through the one in the living room.

Apologizing hastily to Hulin and Veronica, Camellia pulled Preston out of the room with her and calculated the route to the living room as swiftly as she could manage from where she stood. On the way, she gave Preston a brief explanation as to where they were going. In the living room, she dashed behind the bar and flipped the switch, turned on her phone light, and entered the tunnel with Preston. She shined her flashlight up and down the tunnel, trying to catch a glimpse of movement or an open entrance among all the doors. Nothing.

She sighed heavily, still catching her breath from the running. “Another dead end.”

They returned to the living room. Camellia closed the entrance.

“I don’t know about you, but that looked pretty ghostly to me,” Preston said.

She shook her head, then paused. “What we need is to figure out where all the other switches are. Only being aware of the one isn’t enough.”

“Unless we happened to be here at the time of a haunt,” Preston said.

“Yeah, but what are the odds of that? It’s hard to tell when they’re going to happen. One of us would have to be in here at all times for that to be helpful.”

He shrugged. “We could make it work.”

She chewed on her lower lip in thought. “Maybe we could. Or maybe if we found the one in the guest room, that would be even better; it would be less conspicuous for us to be there constantly. You know — we may be able to plan this out. Have a game plan that will hopefully ensure we catch this ghost the next time it attacks.”

“Aw, yeah!” Preston rubbed his hands together. “What are you thinking?”

“How about . . . we find the switch in the guest room, and, say, you stay there while I go off doing something with Hulin or somebody — something that leaves a good opening for a haunt. When it happens, I’ll text you and get myself into the stair room. Then, you’ll go into the tunnel and watch for what door opens, and text that to me. I’ll wait outside the main door of that room for our ‘ghost’ to come out. If they’re still invisible, maybe I’ll carry some flour or something to reveal their presence. That’s assuming they’ll come out of the room, but they can’t stay there forever, right? So that all should work.”

Preston nodded, thinking about everything she said. “It should. Except — you’ll have to unblock my number.”

“Hm?” She laughed. “Oh, right, yeah.”

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