The Anglic Gene

An orphan girl unsure of who she is or why a man wants her dead carries a secret. She will experience humanity.

Are you ready?

Join Sophia in a heart thumping adventure across England set in the 1870’s, exploring faith, doubt, love and fear. A story, quoted by the editor as “really something special”, you’ll continue to contemplate long after the journey unfolds

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24. Birmingham

At Coughton Cross, Sophia watched Michael study the fresher of the two horse trails galloping off in a northerly direction. “Fresh enough to track,” he said.

“We should pursue Jack,” Sophia replied, a wave of anger tensioning her jaw.

“And if we catch him, Sophia, then what?”

Kill him was her first thought, but her conscience echoed, but what would that make me? A murderer? I would be no better than Jack. She recalled a conversation she had at nine years old with Sister Mary.

* * *

Sophia huddled with Anne in the adoption room at the orphanage, her right cheek continuing to swell and forcing her eye closed. She wept, droplets of trauma reflecting the man who hit her, the man who was going to adopt her. For the first time in her life, Sophia felt discarded, worthless, not wanted. She reconciled the strike as punishment for stomping on his foot. Maybe I deserved to be whacked, she thought. At the same time, anger and hate brewed within her a strong desire to rear back and sock the man right in the nose—retaliate.

Sister Mary crouched in front of her then and gently pulled Sophia’s hand away from the side of her face where it was hiding her bruise. “Well, that is going to be some shiner,” she said.

“I don’t want to go with him,” Sophia stuttered, between heaving sobs. “Please, Sister, don’t make me go.”

“You’re not going anywhere, child. Don’t you worry.”

“But the man, won’t he come back?”

“No.”

“I hate him.”

“Don’t be like that,” Sister Mary replied, blotting the tears from Sophia’s cheeks with a cotton handkerchief. “Hate will rot your tender, joyful heart and then you’ll be no better than he is. Let God deal with him.”

* * *

“Sophia,” Michael said, “are you with us?”

“Oh, yes, sorry, I drifted off into a memory,” she said. Even though she had healed from the event physically, there was still a scar on her heart. Her right eye had remained sealed shut for days due to the swelling. Funny she thought, I healed Anne’s broken leg four years later, but back then I couldn’t even heal my own bruised face. Not that I tried.

“Do you want to follow him?” Michael asked.

“No, let God deal with him,” she said.

Michael nodded. “We’ll head to Birmingham, St Philips Cathedral. It’s not far. We can rest there before the next leg of our journey.”

On their horses, cantering towards Birmingham, Sophia’s eyes cut to a series of passenger cars to her right. A black engine puffing steam far enough ahead in the distance to look like a toy train set headed towards London.

Shortly afterwards, the bell spire of St Philip’s Cathedral towering above the houses glistened in the rising sun. They slowed to a trot as they entered the streets. People, oblivious to anything but their individual tasks, went about their morning business. Some headed to work by foot, horse, or carriage. Others flipped the sign of their storefront from closed to open preparing for the day’s trade. Sophia noticed an occasional person glaring in their direction, in some cases even pointing towards them. She was not sure why, but figured it was perhaps because they did not look like the regular town folk. Two teenage girls on horses accompanied by a young White Monk with a dog. I would probably point, too, she thought.

A man in his mid-forties, slim, with short brown hair and dressed in a black shirt with a clerical collar and black trousers ran out to greet Michael as they approached Saint Philip’s Cathedral. “Brother Michael, come quick! Leave the horses. My men will take care of them.”

Michael dismounted. “Quickly, girls, do as Father Roman says.”

Father Roman led them through the cathedral’s main hall into a rear doorway that opened into a short hallway that ended at the entrance to a small library. He flung the door open and once they were in locked it behind them. “My men saw your arrival in Birmingham. No doubt others did as well,” Roman said as he tilted a book with the number seven on the spine in among a shelf of other identical books. He pulled on the bookshelf, and, like a door, it swung open. “Through here.”

After entering a confined dim lit passage lighted by a single oil lamp, Roman pulled the shelf closed behind them. At the other end of the corridor, he unlocked a sturdy wooden door with one of a dozen or so identical-looking steel keys dangling off an iron ring on his belt. Once inside the room, Sophia took a quick look around. Four beds, two on each side of the area facing inwards, with a timber oak-hinged box at the foot of each. On the wall above the head of each bed was a polished wooden crucifix.

Roman said, “Wanted posters of Sophia and Anne are pinned up in the post office, train station, pubs, and other places around town. WANTED FOR MURDER. The likeness of the artist’s rendering is quite remarkable.”

“Really?” Sophia said, somewhat curious as to what she might look like in a portrait.

“People will have recognized you,” Roman said.

“That would explain why some people were staring at us,” Sophia said.

“Is there a reward?” Anne asked.

“Yes, and a sizeable one at that,” Father Roman said. “Most likely by now someone has contacted the local Bobbies. Fear not: You’ll be safe in here. But, I must ask, why have you come here?”

“We are in need of rest and food, Brother Roman,” Michael said.

“I presumed as much. That we can certainly supply. You may remain here till morning. The Bobbies will be here soon. I best be available to greet them when they arrive.”

“Thank you, kindly,” Michael said, with a gentle bow of his head. “We will leave before sunrise.”

Father Roman left as each of them, including Dash, took a seat on a bed.

“Dash, on the floor,” Michael said. She whimpered before finding a place to curl on the ground.

“I’m beat,” Sophia said, lying back on her bed.

“Yes,” Michael agreed. “We can all do with some rest.”

Ten minutes later, a knock on the door roused Sophia from her slumber with a jerk. A young nun entered the room holding a plate of food: freshly baked bread, cheese, chicken, and various fruits. The nun placed the tray on the vacant bed. “I hope this food will be suitable,” she said.

“Absolutely,” Anne said, drawing in a deep breath. “The bread smells … amazing.”

“I’ll come back shortly with some refreshments.”

“Thank you,” Michael said, bowing his head toward the Sister.

They gathered around the bed. Michael said grace and immediately after the Amen they began attacking the food. Dash scooted between each of them, tempting them to give her food. None of them could resist Dash’s studied expression of pity—feed me, please, please, feed me, I am but a poor dog, who can’t do for herself. During the meal, the nun returned with three cups, a bowl, and two jugs, one of water and another of grape juice. She placed the bowl on the floor, and then filled it with water. Dash drank.

“I think my stomach is going to explode,” Anne said, returning to her bed, where she lay on her back, hand on her stomach. “I’ve eaten too much.”

“Me, too,” Sophia said. “But I think I’ll have one more chicken leg.”

The meal finished, they retired to their beds. Sophia wondered as she lay on her back staring at the plain white ceiling how Anne was handling the recent events. She wanted to ask her, but at the same time did not think dragging up memories of her ordeal with Jack would be wise. At the end of the day, she figured, Anne would talk to her about it freely when she was ready to do so. Her vision blurred as she let fatigue, once again, take her into sleep.

* * *

Sophia gazed out over the vast waters of a lake, reflecting an ominous sky bruised with dark clouds. Violent winds troubled the water’s surface, creating toppling white horses in the caps of waves among the many swells. The icy water lapped at her toes, causing them to curl.

“Troubled?” she heard a voice ask.

“You’re in my thoughts again, Diniel,” she replied, continuing to stare across the unsettled waters.

“Actually, I’m in your dream,” he said.

She turned to him. He tipped the brim of his white hat downwards in a courtly gesture of greeting. “Why are you here, Diniel?”

“I was about to ask you why you want me here?”

“Questions,” she said.

“Fire away, but be quick,” he said, glancing towards the sky. “I have a little time.”

“Why are you helping me?”

 “I have my reasons,” he replied, shuffling his feet.

“Anne is my sister, right?”

“Without a doubt.”

“Should I tell her?”

“That is for you to decide.”

A bolt of forked lightning fired from the sky and pierced the center of the lake. Sophia jerked, startled by the following crack that turned into a rolling rumble, trembling the stones under her feet.

“I don’t think that was part of my dream,” she said, turning her focus to the lake.

“My time is up, I’m afraid.”

She turned her attention back to Diniel, but he had vanished.

The water lapping on her toes warmed, and steam begin rising from the surface of the lake. She took two steps backwards as the water turned into a deep red, overcome by flaming molten lava. Intense heat forced her to retreat up the bank. In the middle of the lake of fire, a whirlpool with a dark center formed. Soon after, Mephis wearing his shrouded cloak masking his face rose from the swirling pool. He pointed towards her. A streak of red energy shot from the tip of his finger in her direction so fast that she hadn’t a chance to move. The ray struck her in the chest, wrapped around her, and shook her forwards and backwards while squeezing tightly, sucking away her breath. She struggled to breathe. All went dark to the words, “Wake up, Sophia, wake up.”

She awoke to see Michael, his hands on her shoulders, shaking her gently back and forth to bring her out of her sleep. “We have to go,” he said.

After grabbing her haversack, she followed Michael out of the only other door in the room. “Why are we going this way?” she asked as they proceeded down a narrow stone passage.

“The church is surrounded by Bobbies, so we will be taking the sewers.”

“That sounds unpleasant,” Sophia said, screwing up her nose.

“That is what I said,” Anne added.

They passed through several food pantry rooms before finishing in a dead end. The only exit was a trapdoor set in a wooden floorboard.

Michael lifted the trapdoor exposing a short rusty ladder. “You first, Sophia,” he said.

“Right,” Sophia replied. She climbed down a few rungs and jumped the rest of the way. “It’s dark down here.”

“We’ll use my staff for light,” Michael replied. “Your turn, Anne.”

After Anne descended, Michael passed Dash down the opening to Sophia below before climbing down. A couple of rungs down, he closed the trapdoor before sliding down the ladder. While holding his staff at arm’s length he said, “Fiat lux,” the familiar words he would say before his staff provided light. The top of his staff glowed a pure white, illuminating their environment.

“What language are those words in?” Sophia asked.

“Latin, in English it would be ‘let there be light.’”

“Is it some kind of spell?”

“No, not at all. The words are an instruction the staff understands. Instead of pressing a switch to turn on the staff’s light you say a voice command.”

“Voice command,” she mumbled, thinking: Next thing you know, the things will probably start talking back.

The sewer consisted of a corridor, not much taller than Michael, split down the middle by a dug out section, about four feet across, filled with water carrying the sewage from neighboring buildings. Pipes at regular intervals connected with the main channel by smaller trenches flowing in from the side walls. Drips, making a distinct plop sound as they landed in puddles, occasionally fell from the arched ceiling of moss-covered bricks.

“What are those squealing, scurrying noises?” Anne asked.

“Rats,” Sophia replied.

“Not giant ones, I hope,” Anne said as she shuddered.

Michael glanced at a piece of paper he held. “This way, I believe,” he said, pointing.

“How do you know?” Sophia asked.

“This map,” he said, showing the paper to Sophia. “Father Roman provided a quick sketch for our escape.”

“Neat,” she replied, studying the map. A single line mostly straight but for a few ninety-degree turns plotted a path between outer lines she presumed represented the sewer walls. The words Aston Hall, with a rough drawing of a horse, marked the end of the line. Crude but effective, she thought.

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