The Haunting of Briar Manor (The Anomaly Hunters)

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Searching Shoes and Staircases

When lunchtime came around, Camellia told everyone that she was tired and would be retreating to her room to rest. Instead, once she was sure everybody else was in the dining room, she snuck into the shoe closet and began her search.

It wasn’t a terribly large room, but it was full of long shelves stocked with a variety of footwear. Camellia didn’t have to count them to know there were far more pairs of shoes than there were occupants of the house. She never understood the point of having multiple pairs of shoes. She had her black moto boots; what more did she need?

Thankfully, it was clear Jameson did his job well and each kid’s shoes were grouped together. Since the shoes seemingly got smaller as the groups went on, Camellia felt it safe to assume they were in order of age. She decided she would start at the front of the top row and make her way down.

Hulin’s, Veronica’s, and Keung’s shoes were all obviously too big to have matched the footprints found in the pool room. All of Alison’s shoes, with the exception of one pair of flats, were sneakers with intricate sole patterns, ruling her out as a possibility. Gushi’s sneakers also had distinguishable patterns, and their penny loafers had a small heel in the back that would have appeared in any footprint made by them.

Deanna, Song, and Oliver all appeared to have had roughly the most accurate sizes, but none of their soles could have made the exact shape of the footprints. The remaining four kids all had too- small feet.

A separate shelf held shoes owned by the adults of the house, but all those were far too large and Camellia didn’t even waste her time examining them.

She stood, slightly defeated. None of the shoes in this closet could have made the prints Preston found. Unless the guilty pair was hiding elsewhere, she was at a bit of a loss.

The shoe search had only taken five minutes; lunch was still going on. That gave her plenty of time to search around the house without anybody else interfering.

Closing the closet door behind her quietly, Camellia set off for the staircase room. After she made note of which door led back to the foyer so she wouldn’t get lost, she started exploring with the staircases that led leftmost. As she walked, she opened a note on her phone and mapped the paths she took in case she had to return to any rooms. If anything, she felt this expedition would get her used to the gravitational shifts.

The first room Camellia stumbled into was a bedroom, and, judging by the bright pink atmosphere and piles of toys, belonged to one of the younger kids. Her best guess was that it was Rosie’s. She took a quick look around, but didn’t bother with any deep dissections; she doubted a seven-year-old would be behind the hauntings.

She made note of the room in her phone and carried on, starting back at her initial route. The next room was another bedroom, rather similar to Rosie’s but with blue walls instead of pink, and there were more toy cars and fewer dolls. Camellia used the same logic as she had for Rosie’s room. What could an eight-year-old have to hide?

The next room Camellia visited was a home cinema. She had never seen one of these in the flesh before; she always figured you had to be really rich to own one.

Although she wasn’t sure what exactly could be hiding in the cinema, she couldn’t help but do some exploring. It wasn’t as big as the theaters in public movie theaters, but it was big enough to hold the whole family and more. The seats were red velvet and more comfortable than any cinema she had visited before.

Behind the screen was a room stocked full of movies ⁠— classic and cult films; more Disney movies than Camellia had seen; full collections of Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings; Marvel and D.C. films alike. Camellia almost had the urge to ask Hulin if they could watch something just for the experience, but she was worried that would be too much of a distraction.

When she returned back into the house, she nearly ran into somebody. Her heart raced and she prepared a good excuse, but she sighed when she realized it was only Preston. “Was that entirely necessary?” she said irritatedly.

“Sorry,” he said. He was holding a plate of dumplings and caesar salad. “Mr. Briar told me to bring you up some food, and I saw you sneak into this room, so I followed you. This is rad; I wish we had something like this at HQ! I’m gonna propose that to Mr. Arthur.”

“Yeah, good luck with that,” Camellia said. “Is lunch over with?”

“No, but I finished early, so Briar sent me away. You’ve got a solid fifteen more minutes to snoop.”

Camellia started toward the projection booth. “I’m not snooping, I’m . . . exploring.” The booth was small, containing the projector, a cabinet, and a complicated switchboard. Camellia felt it best not to mess around with any of the buttons, but she did peer into the cabinet. It was full of machines and technology, but it was the kind you would use in a theater ⁠— not anything that could assist in the hauntings. The projector had a slot for a DVD and a USB port.

She jotted a quick note down in her phone then left the cinema. Preston followed behind her as she found her way to her next room. “So where have you ‘explored’ already?” he asked her.

“Rosie’s and Qiu’s rooms and then that theater,” she said.

“Find anything useful?”

“Not yet.” She pushed open the door of her next room. It was an elegant room, furnished with a long sofa and multiple armchairs that sat in front of a large flatscreen television. A living room.

“Whoa, now this place looks comfy!” Preston set the plate of food down on the coffee table and flopped onto the couch. “This is the comfiest couch I’ve ever been on!”

Camellia ignored him and walked by the seating area to the bar that was in back. She crouched behind the bar and scanned the shelves. Nothing but various bottles of alcohol — to be expected, she supposed. One of them did catch her eye, however. It was unlabeled and looked empty. She pulled it off the shelf, wondering if perhaps someone had just forgotten to dispose of it. When she moved it, it caught on something, and she heard a click and then some mechanical noise somewhere beside her. The bottom of the bottle was curved inward a great amount, and it had been obscuring a switch on the bar shelf.

“Uh, Camellia?” Preston said from the couch. Camellia stood up and joined him to see what he was looking at — where the TV had once been was now a large hole in the wall. “A secret passageway! I thought these were just in the movies!”

Camellia got a closer look at it. It was dark and she couldn’t see very far into it. “Now this could help with sneaking around. Whether it’s us or our ‘ghost’.”

“Can we go in? Please?” Preston pleaded.

Camellia pulled out her phone and turned on its flashlight. “Get your phone light out.” She stepped up onto the TV stand and into the hole, Preston following after her.

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