The Haunting of Briar Manor (The Anomaly Hunters)

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Caught White-Handed

Camellia received the text from Preston a moment after reaching the bottom of the stair room: “livibg roo”.

She translated for herself and booked it for the living room, thankful its path wasn’t too crazy. The door opened just as she reached it, and though she didn’t see anybody there, she grinned. “Hey there, Casper.”

There was a pause, and Camellia noticed the foot-shaped depressions in the carpet walking quickly away from her — the same flat shapes she saw in the pool room and in the snow. She followed after them and watched as they disappeared onto the hardwood floor behind the bar. “Sorry, Jameson,” she muttered before she pulled the bag of flour out of her pocket and threw it into the air in front of her. Most of it settled on an invisible, human-shaped figure.

The TV entryway opened and Preston tumbled out of it. He saw the now half-visible figure beside Camellia, and his eyes widened. “Ghost! Real ghost!”

“No.” Camellia turned to their ghost. “Whoever you are, show yourself. There’s no escaping now.”

This didn’t stop them. They attempted to run straight by Camellia, but she grabbed their flour-covered arm. With a defeated sigh, the ghost pushed Camellia off of themselves and, a second later, made themselves visible.

In front of them now was Song Briar, flour covering her hair and the grey full bodysuit she had on. As if that wasn’t stylish enough, she had decided to complete the look with a nasty scowl in Camellia’s direction. “Stupid anomaly hunters,” she murmured angrily.

“Hold on — you’re actually the ghost?” Preston said. “Aren’t you, like, twelve?”

“And?” Song said, folding her arms. “What difference does it make? Not like I’m the ghost anymore, since you two ruined all the fun.”

“What you were doing was dangerous,” Camellia said. “It had to be stopped.”

“I never intended on hurting anybody!” Song said indignantly.

“You threw a pool ball at my head,” Preston pointed out.

“Irregardless of what intentions you had,” Camellia said, “that suit is clearly an anomaly of some sort, and anomalies are not toys to play around with. What is it, anyway?”

Song shrugged. “I dunno. I’ve just been calling it an invisibility suit.”

“How’d you get it?” Preston asked.

“It belonged to a friend of Dad’s. He dragged us along to this stupid dinner party a few months ago — which I didn’t want to go to, anyway — and I got really bored, so I wandered off. I found this room full of all sorts of gadgets, including this suit. When I found out what it could do, I took it. I thought it would be a perfect way to annoy Dad.”

“Why would you want to annoy your father?” Camellia asked.

Song scoffed. “Because he annoys me. Ever since Mom died, he’s paid so little attention to us. Always tells Jameson to do the things that he should be doing. And when he did offer any of us attention, it was always Hulin and Veronica or Qiu and Rosie. No in-between.”

Camellia glanced down at her feet. There was flour on the tips of her boots. “I can see how that would be frustrating.” She looked back up at Song. “But we still have to tell your dad what happened. And you have to give that suit back.”

Song pouted. “I know.”

Camellia nodded her head toward the door. “Why don’t you go get cleaned up and change out of that suit? Then, come find us back here and we’ll go talk to your Dad.”

Song started toward the still-open door of the living room.

“Oh, and, Song?”

She stopped but didn’t turn to face Camellia.

“Pro tip: talking is a much easier way to solve problems like that.”

Song hesitated and left the room without a reply. The room remained silent for another ten seconds.

Preston pointed at the floor behind the bar. “You made a mess.”

“You don’t say.” Camellia bent down to rub the flour off her shoes.

“You know,” Preston said, coming around to the other side of the bar, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen a color on you that wasn’t black.”

“Ha, ha. Get me a wet paper towel; I don’t want to make Jameson clean this up.”

Preston listened and pulled two sheets of paper towel off the roll, running them under the faucet. He handed them to Camellia and she got to work cleaning the floor. He then got a second towel for himself and helped her out.

Hulin entered the room. “Camellia? Oh, and Preston, hey. Uh, Camellia — I found what stopped our movie.” He held up a small black flashdrive.

She stood. “And we found who put it there.”

Hulin paused. “Wait — seriously? You guys found the ghost?”

While Preston finished cleaning up the floor, Camellia gave Hulin the full story of what he missed. Afterward, he stood there in utter astonishment. “Song was the ghost?” he said once he collected himself.

“I was pretty surprised too,” Preston said after he threw away the paper towels and joined the other two. “I couldn’t believe it wasn’t a real ghost.”

“After I told you continuously,” Camellia said.

“Huh.” Hulin rubbed the back of his neck. “Gosh, I had no idea she felt that way. She’s not, like, in serious trouble with the hunters or anything; is she?”

Camellia shook her head. “Since she’s underage and didn’t do anything actually harmful with the suit, the hunters won’t take any action against her. All you guys have to worry about is how your dad will feel about it.”

And so when Song returned to the living room, the two anomaly hunters and the two Briar kids tracked down Mr. Briar. Camellia let Song do the talking, but she filled in any empty spots left over.

When the story was fully told, Briar sighed. “I’m terribly sorry, Song. I realize I haven’t been the best father. I’ve never been great at balancing work and home life, but I think you’re right — I should prioritize the latter over the former. How’s this: I know you had fun when we went to the park yesterday, so what say we make that a weekly outing? You all can take turns choosing what we do.”

Song looked up at him timidly. “So you’re not mad? I’m not, like, grounded or anything?”

Briar put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder. “While I would have preferred you had come and talked to me earlier, I can’t deny that it was my own fault this happened. But, please, Song, next time you have a problem — whether it be with me or anything else — just talk to me. Promise me there will be no more grand revenge schemes.”

Song smiled sheepishly. “All right, Dad. I promise.”

“Now, don’t you have something to say to our guests?”

Song turned to the anomaly hunters, staring down at her feet. “I’m sorry, Camellia and Preston. I shouldn’t have taken this out on you.”

“All is forgiven,” Camellia said. She felt as though she could see a little bit of herself in Song. Certainly, she could understand the position the girl was in.

“Yeah, it’s no big,” Preston said. “Besides, it was fun, escaping danger from time to time.”

Briar tugged gently on Song’s ponytail. “How about you go grab that suit so I can return it to Mr. Arthur?”

Song nodded and left the dining room.

Briar addressed the hunters. “I cannot thank you both enough for what you’ve done, nor can I apologize enough for all the trouble that was caused. It’s hard to believe Song could have done all that.”

“And she would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for us meddling kids,” Camellia said.

Preston lit up. “Yeah! Mystery Inc. in real life!”

Camellia shook her head with a suppressed grin. “We thank you for being so hospitable to us during our stay. It was a pleasure being here.”

Briar waved a hand. “It was the least I could do. If you both want to go gather your things, I’ll go give Dave Arthur a call and update him on the job well done.” He left the dining room.

Hulin spoke up. “I suppose this is goodbye, then.”

Camellia turned to him. “Give me your phone.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Your contacts,” she said.

“Ah.” He opened the contacts on his phone and handed it to her.

She added a contact for herself, putting in her number. Then, she handed the phone back and, with her own, AirDropped him information about anomaly hunters registration. “Feel free to apply this fall.”

He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

Preston and Camellia went upstairs to the guest room, accompanied by Hulin, and packed up the small amount of belongings they had brought. The writing on the wall was half-scrubbed away; it would have to ultimately be painted over. Camellia and Hulin grabbed a duffel bag each and left Preston to lug down the suitcase. Briar had finished his phone call and met them in the foyer. He had spread the word about their departure, and all remaining eleven kids came down to say goodbye. Once every goodbye had been said, the bags were thrown into the trunk of Camellia’s car, and the hunters drove away from the manor.

“That was so much fun,” Preston said. “I feel like a real detective.”

Camellia clicked her tongue. “I suppose it was a mildly enjoyable experience.”

“Aha! I knew it! You can have fun!”

She rolled her eyes. After a brief pause, she said, “What matters is that I was right about it not being a real ghost.”

“Pfft. I’ll show you. We’ll find a real ghost someday.”

She grinned and reached out to the radio to turn up the volume, letting Brick and Mortar’s “Original Sin” fill the air as they started on their way back home.

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