The Haunting of Briar Manor (The Anomaly Hunters)

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How Very

After lunch was over with, Mr. Briar approached Preston and Camellia to apologize for everything that had happened to them so far. Camellia courteously said it was nothing and that she was simply glad nobody had been seriously injured. She then suggested that perhaps a family outing was in order, something fun to do to take everyone’s minds off the hauntings. Mr. Briar told her that that was an excellent idea and began planning dinner and a night at the park that evening. He asked Preston and Camellia to tag along, but they declined.

“We’ve got work to do,” Preston stated.

They passed the time in the guest room where there was less chance of another haunt, and, when the evening came and the Briars left, they sprang into action and first things first began looking for the switch in the guest room. Camellia took one side of the room and Preston took the other, and they got to work.

“Where’s the one in the living room, exactly?” Preston asked Camellia as he searched the drawer of one of the nightstands.

“On the top shelf behind the bar,” she said, “underneath an empty, unlabeled bottle.” She ran her fingers along the window frame, wondering if the room was really right side-up or if the windows somehow adjusted the picture to look right.

Preston closed the drawer and rose up. “I wonder . . . If none of the kids know about the tunnel, then maybe all the switches are in places where they wouldn’t look. None of them are old enough to drink, so they would have no business behind the bar, and so none of them would ever find that switch. Y’know what I mean?”

Camellia drew her eyebrows together as she looked over at him. “Yes, weirdly enough. That actually makes sense.”

“Aha!” Preston exclaimed triumphantly. “Some things I say do make sense!”

“Some,” Camellia mumbled. “The question is: where would that spot be in this room?”

Preston looked around. “Maybe the closet? It’s just got, like, extra blankets and cleaning stuff, so I don’t know why anyone would have any business in there. Except for Jameson. Maybe the butler did do it. . . .”

“I’d be more willing to accept that Rosie did it.” Camellia joined Preston over by the closet, armed with her phone’s flashlight. Preston switched his on and searched the bottom of the closet, rooting through the spare blankets. Camellia peered over the top shelf, feeling around the pillows. She reached in the way back, and her fingertips brushed up against a bump in the smooth wood. Her fingers eagerly found it again and pushed, flipping the switch with a soft click. The TV in the wall opened to reveal the tunnel.

“Awesome!” Preston exclaimed. He held up his hand for a high-five, and she merely glanced at it, then flipped the switch back and closed the closet door.

“Now that that’s set,” she said, “we should make sure we know how to get to every room in the house.” She pulled up the note from her phone and read off of it. “So far I’ve seen Veronica’s, Rosie’s, Qiu’s, Yusheng’s, Oliver’s, and Song’s rooms, as well as the pool, cinema, living room, master bathroom, library, and billiards room.”

“What’s that leave?” Preston asked.

“Well, the remaining kids’ rooms, plus presumably a master bedroom and servant’s quarters, and then anything else this place happens to have.” She checked the time. “And we’ve got four hours. More than enough.”

Preston nodded. “Plenty of time for snooping.”

“Exploring.”

“ ‘Snooping’ seems more appropriate.”

Camellia rolled her eyes. “Fine. Snooping.”

They left the guest room and started at the entrance door. Camellia tracked their paths as they went and made note of every room they found. In each bedroom, they did a brief investigation to discern who it belonged to. Along with the bedrooms, they came across an attic, a gym, and a laundry room. Preston and Camellia decided they would carry out their plan the following day, and Camellia felt confident she would be able catch the culprit.

Briar had allowed Kelsey Romano and Zhang Ting the night off and told the hunters that anything in the kitchen was theirs to use for dinner. Camellia refused to allow Preston anywhere near the stove and agreed to make him a grilled cheese if he waited in the dining room. She poured herself a simple bowl of cereal and also helped herself to a small portion of flour, which she put into a ziplock bag and tucked into her pocket.

Camellia brought her cereal and Preston’s grilled cheese out to the dining room, and set them on the table. As she ate, she scrolled through Tumblr in silence and tried to ignore the TikToks Preston was watching at an unreasonable volume.

After dinner, Camellia washed the few dishes she had made, and Preston dried them so she could put them back where she found them. In the remaining time they had alone, they went over the plan a couple times and decided Preston would stay in the guest room under the pretense of a headache. Camellia decided she would ask Hulin to watch a movie in the cinema at breakfast and hope their ghost would hear her.

And so, when they woke up the following morning, Operation: Catch the Ghost was set in action. Once there was an opening in conversation at the breakfast table, Camellia asked Hulin if they could watch a movie, hoping she was loud enough for their ghost to hear. Hulin agreed, and, when they were on their way to the cinema, Preston excused himself and retreated to the guest room.

“So,” Hulin said inside the cinema, “if Preston’s out, it’s just you and me.”

“Congratulations, I’m proud of you for putting that together,” Camellia said sarcastically.

He grinned. “Come on; you can pick out the movie.” He led her back behind the screen and gestured to the wide selection of movies.

She scanned along the shelves and was happy to find them alphabetized. Her hand stopped halfway through the Hs. “Ever seen Heathers?”

“Actually, no,” Hulin said. “That’s one Veronica got.”

She pulled it off the shelf. “It’s a cult classic, you know.”

“I don’t doubt it. I’m down, if that’s what you want to watch.” He held out his hand to take the movie and started toward the projector room. He walked backward and faced Camellia. “You want any snacks?”

“I’m good.”

“All right, then. Go ahead and get comfortable; I’ll put this in.” He sped up his pace and disappeared into the projector room.

Camellia took one of the seats toward the back of the room where she could easily glance back at the door. In a short moment, the projector turned on and the title screen for the movie was displayed. From the booth, Hulin pressed play, then came out and joined Camellia, taking the seat beside her.

Camellia kept on her guard, but, by the time they reached the climax of the movie, nothing had happened. She was close to giving up hope when suddenly the screen went dark. “Here we go,” she said under her breath.

Hulin frowned. “Huh. That’s weird. I’ll go check the—”

“No, wait.” Camellia stopped him from getting up.

He glanced down at her hand on his. “Yes, ma’am.”

She scoffed and dropped his hand. She pulled out her phone and typed a quick text to Preston: “The ‘ghost’ is here. Get in the tunnel. Keep your light low.”

A second later, a screeching noise pierced their ears through the speakers. Words came up on the screen in glaring white: “LEAVE THE MANOR AND DON’T RETURN.”

Now can I check it out?” Hulin shouted over the noise.

Camellia didn’t answer. She got up and hurried out of the room.

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