The Haunting of Briar Manor (The Anomaly Hunters)

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Alibis or Lies?

A light snow was falling outside in the garden where Preston and Camellia told Briar what had happened. He immediately set out to check it out for himself and put Jameson on the job of cleaning it up. In the meantime, Preston and Camellia decided to scout out every person in the house to ask of their whereabouts, starting with Hulin, who had been in the garden with his father.

Hulin told them that he and his father had been outside since lunch ended as he swayed slightly back and forth on his garden swing. A cover over the top of the swing kept him out of the snowfall. “We like to watch the snow from outside, when it’s not too cold.”

“So you can vouch for your father, and he can vouch for you?” Camellia asked.

“Absolutely.”

“Anybody else? Whose whereabouts you know of, that is.”

“Can’t say I know for sure,” Hulin said. “Everyone went into the foyer, except for Kelsey and Ting, who returned to the kitchen to clean up from lunch. Everyone else . . . I could only give a guess as to where they went, if not their bedrooms. Actually . . . I know for a fact Keung and Veronica left the house. Veronica volunteered to drive Keung to a sporting goods store to get some new cleats. Alison tagged along, I think.”

Preston raised an eyebrow. “How do we know they really left the house?”

Hulin shrugged and pulled out his phone. “Let’s see.” He called Veronica’s cell, and she answered the video call in a mere few seconds.

“ ’Sup, Hulin?” she said. Preston and Camellia could see on Hulin’s phone screen that she very well was in a store of some sort.

“Hey, Veronica,” Hulin said. “Keung and Alison there?”

“Yeah, Keung’s trying on some cleats.” She flipped the camera so they could see Keung, sitting on the floor to tie his laces. “Say hi, Keung.”

“Hey,” Keung said.

Veronica turned her camera back to her. “And Alison’s in the clothing aisle looking at leggings. Why?”

“We just needed to confirm your location,” Hulin said.

“That sounds ominous. Something happen?”

“Our ghost hit the guest room. It appears they really are not happy that Camellia and Preston are here.”

“Oh, shoot. They okay?”

“We’re fine,” Camellia said.

“That’s good,” Veronica said. “What did happen, though?”

Preston and Camellia relayed the state they had found the guest room in.

“Yikes,” Veronica said. “First the hot tub, and now this . . . You guys sure you want to stay here?”

“Camellia and Preston never shy away from danger!” said Preston with gusto. “We’ll catch your ghost, and we’ll . . . How do you get rid of a ghost? Maybe we need one of those vacuum things that the Ghostbusters have. Do we have any of those?”

“No, because, much like ghosts, those don’t exist,” Camellia said. “Anyway, we do have a job to do. I’m sure neither Mr. Briar nor our boss would be very happy if we left here without completing it. We just have to hope our culprit doesn’t try anything too harmful.”

“Don’t worry.” Hulin flexed his muscles under his jacket. “We’ve got people here who can protect you.”

Camellia raised her eyebrows. “And we can protect ourselves.” She patted the gun on her side.

Hulin chuckled tentatively. “Right, but if you do think this is being done by someone in the family, maybe refrain from using that.”

“Wait — you guys think somebody in our family is the ghost?” Keung had settled on a pair of shoes, and the camera bounced as he walked with Veronica to find Alison.

Camellia thinks it’s an actual person,” Preston corrected. “I’m still not convinced it isn’t a ghost.”

“I am so, so tired of you.” Camellia sighed. “To answer your question seriously, Keung, my best guess is that it is at least somebody who lives in or frequents this house, unless there’s a way for an outsider to somehow sneak in.”

“Unlikely,” Veronica said. “The house and the gates around it are very secure. Not to mention sneaking around is kind of difficult when nearly every room is accessible through only a single stairway.”

“So you guys don’t know of a secret passageway?” Upon receiving a warning glance from Camellia, Preston added, “Hypothetically speaking, that is.”

“Never found such a thing in my eighteen years here,” Hulin said. “Although, the house is an enigma; if we can have ceiling stairs, I don’t think a secret passageway is all too ridiculous an idea.”

“Well, unless we stumble upon one ⁠— and-or a secret way into the house ⁠— I think it’s safe to stick with the theory that our culprit is somebody who is here at least fairly often,” Camellia said. “Clearly, they had to have been here today.”

“I can’t imagine who it would be,” Veronica said with a frown. “Also — here’s Alison.” She flipped the camera to show her sister, who waved.

“You guys got any theories about who it might be?” Keung asked the hunters.

“Nothing definite,” said Camellia. She purposefully didn’t mention their previous deduction of it being one of the younger kids based on shoe size.

Preston spoke instead. “Hulin said most of the hauntings had been aimed at your dad, yeah? Maybe the ghost is mad at your dad or something.”

“That’s . . . a good point, actually,” Camellia regretted to admit. “Does anybody in the family or on staff have a particular grudge against your father?”

“I couldn’t imagine that,” Hulin said. “I mean, we all love Dad. And so do Jameson and Kelsey and Ting. As far as I know.”

“Maybe your dad isn’t what he seems . . . ,” said Preston ominously.

“Preston,” Camellia warned. She then addressed the Briars. “I’m sure that’s not the case.”

“Or,” Preston went on, “maybe it has nothing to do with your dad and the hauntings are distractions . . . so the ghost can steal stuff from your home! Since you’re rich and have a bunch of expensive stuff and all.”

Where are you getting these from?”

Scooby-Doo, obviously. Why? Think they’re possible?”

“You keep straying further from possible with every word you speak.”

“Darn.”

“Anyway,” said Camellia, “thank you all for the information. Any idea where we could find the others in your family?”

“Gushi’s probably in the library,” Keung said.

“True,” Hulin said. “Everyone else — my best guess would be their rooms. I can show you to them, if you’d like.”

“That would be nice, yes,” Camellia said, and Hulin said goodbye to his siblings and ended the call. He brought Preston and Camellia back inside the house and to the stair room, where he directed them through the maze of stairs and to a pair of ornate double-doors. As they went in, Camellia quickly pulled out her phone and made note of where the library was, just in case.

The library was massive and lined with more books than all the ones Camellia had seen in her lifetime put together. Down a long and winding stairwell was a comfortable-looking sitting area. Gushi was curled up on the couch, clutching a thick red book.

Once Gushi found a good place to stop in their book, they allowed Preston and Camellia to ask questions. Camellia asked where they had gone after lunch, and they answered that they went straight to the library and had been there since. Then, they said that Song, Oliver, Yusheng, Qiu, and Rosie were in the stair room at the time they entered the library. They also denied having any theories about who might hold a grudge against their father, prompted by a question from Preston, and noted that they knew of no secret entrances or passageways after Camellia asked.

Making a mental note of everything Gushi had said, Camellia thanked them for their answers, and she, Preston, and Hulin said goodbye to them before the trio left the library. Hulin helped the anomaly hunters track down his remaining siblings, and everybody but Deanna and Isabelle was accounted for. Song, Yusheng, and Oliver were each in their individual rooms, while Qiu and Rosie were both in Rosie’s room. Song refused to let them into her room, but the other four gave similar answers to Gushi ⁠— they had been in the one room since they left the dining room, and they had yet to stumble upon any secret entrances or passageways. Camellia forced Preston to withhold the question asking if there were anyone who had a particular dislike for Mr. Briar when it came to interrogating the younger kids.

Hulin said he had an idea where they could find Deanna and Isabelle, and so he started leading Preston and Camellia away from Song’s room.

“Pretty suspicious Song won’t talk to us, if you ask me,” Preston said, looking over his shoulder back at Song’s door.

Hulin scratched the back of his neck. “Don’t be too hard on her, all right? She’s not much of a people-person. Deals with anxiety and stuff. She was pretty young when Mom died, but they were still really close; it hit her hard.”

“We understand,” Camellia assured. She knew she could relate. “Gushi pretty much confirmed her location, anyway. They said she was in the stair room at the same time as they were, so it’s likely she went directly to her room after lunch.”

“That would make sense; Song spends all her time in her room,” Hulin said.

Their short journey ended when they walked through the dining room and entered into the kitchen. Kelsey Romano and Zhang Ting seemed to be just finishing putting away all the dishes from lunch. Deanna and Isabelle were helping. Preston and Camellia asked all four the same two questions. They all had been in the kitchen cleaning up since lunch got over, and still no knowledge of secret entrances or passageways. Kelsey Romano also told them that Jameson had been in the kitchen as well until he was called away by Mr. Briar.

After they said their thank-yous and goodbyes, Preston, Camellia, and Hulin left the kitchen and dining room, stopping in the foyer to talk.

“Well, that’s everybody,” Hulin said.

“Hulin and Mr. Briar in the gardens,” Camellia recounted, “Veronica, Keung, and Alison out shopping; Gushi in the library; Deanna and Isabelle in the kitchen with both cooks and Jameson; Song, Yusheng, and Oliver in their own bedrooms; and Qiu and Rosie both in Rosie’s room.”

“This is like some really advanced version of Clue,” Preston said. “It was Gushi in the library with a candlestick, but it was also Deanna, Isabelle, Kelsey, Ting, and Jameson in the kitchen with a pipe, but it was also⁠—”

“We get it,” Camellia cut him off.

Hulin shrugged. “I’ve got nothing. It all seems pretty solid to me, but clearly someone had to have done that to your room.”

“Well,” Camellia said, “either we’re missing something here, or one of those alibis isn’t quite right.”

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