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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6. Burned

The direction they ran was inconsequential to Sophia. Her only objective was to put as much distance between Mephis and them as possible and fast. All her questions—Who is Mephis? Who is Diniel?—could wait.

“Why - are - we - running?” Anne said, between gasps for air.

Sophia planted her feet and slid to a stop on the loose undergrowth of the forest. The air was filled with a medley of rustling wind, chirping birds, and buzzing cicadas. She faced Anne. “We should be far enough away now.” Dash sat next to Sophia with her tongue dangling from her mouth, panting heavily.

Anne stood with hands on hips drawing in deep breaths. “Away from what?”

“It doesn’t matter. But we must keep moving.” Sophia wondered: Where can we go? A smell wafted past her nose, a scent of burning wood and … something else. Something foul, an odor she had never experienced before. “Can you smell that, Anne?”

“Yes, faintly.” Anne drew in a deeper breath. She screwed her nose, pinched it, and exhaled through her mouth, as if to reverse the breath she drew. “It smells terrible!”

Trying to find the source, Sophia gazed skyward. The stand of tall sturdy trees blocked her view. “Wait here.” She strode to the base of a silver birch tree. “I’ll have to climb.” Reaching up, she grabbed the lowest branch and heaved herself up. From there she mounted the next higher branch, then the next, staying close to the trunk, as she navigated the ascent. Far below, Anne, the size of a toy doll, chewed on the ends of her fingernails while staring up at her. As she broke through the tree’s canopy, the source of the odor became visible. A gloomy cloud of black and grey smoke bellowed aimlessly upwards in the light breeze from the direction of the orphanage.

An empty feeling gnawed the pit of Sophia’s stomach. Dreadful thoughts consumed her. Is the orphanage burning? Did Mephis do to the Sisters what he had done to Mr. Brumby? She lost her footing on the slick branch and began falling. Below, the cry of her name erupted from Anne. Falling ever faster, Sophia’s world went black as her fear engulfed her senses, yet she refused to succumb to it and, by reflex, reached out and caught hold of a wooden limb. Hanging by her hands, fingernails tearing into the bark of the branch, she strained and pulled herself up and sat in the crotch of the limb. She paused a moment to allow her shaking hands to settle and catch her breath. Then crossed herself as she would when entering church and whispered, “Thank you.” Carefully, she descended the silver birch.

As Sophia made the final small leap to the ground, Anne raced to her, arms wide. Sophia opened her arms and let Anne wrap her arms around her. She then closed her arms around Anne tightly and squeezed hard. Anne said, “Thank God you didn’t fall.”

“Oh, that was nothing,” Sophia replied. But it was something. She closed her eyes and with her inner voice said Thank you a second time. “Did I scare you?”

Anne squeezed her tightly. “Maybe just a little.”

“We have to keep moving,” Sophia said. “The smoke appears to be coming from the orphanage.”

Anne pouted as her eyebrows drooped. “The orphanage?”

Sophia unclasped Anne’s arms from around her waist and pushed her away gently while keeping hold of one hand. Together, they trekked through the forest towards the orphanage.

The rank odor thickened until it became so vile that Anne pinched the end of her nose shut and breathed only through her mouth as they proceeded to the edge of the forest that surrounded the rear of the orphanage. Through the gaps in the trees, Sophia witnessed what she feared most. Smoke, black as a witch’s cauldron, danced up from the burned remains of the orphanage. A single wall, charred black, remained standing at the far right. Inside the smoldering remains, only the staircase had survived the gluttonous flames, though a few steps were missing and the railings were burnt away.

Police patrolled the skirts of the orphanage and kept onlookers behind an imaginary line. Firemen armed with axes scoured the burnt remains. Sophia’s gaze was drawn to something to her left, something dreadful that made her stomach ache and burn as it were a sponge having been violently wrung out. The scene so devastated her that her strength vanished and her legs buckled under her weight and she fell to her weary knees, heaving. Green bile rioted from her stomach, shot out of her mouth, and puddled on the burnt ground. Another lurch. Tears wet her cheeks as she struggled to collect herself. Anne stood silent, fixated on the scene. Two large black bags lay on the sidewalk and from the outline of the contents she knew what, who, they contained.

Dash came alongside Sophia, sat beside her and began licking the tears from her cheek. Sister Mary and Sister Catherine were her parents, mothers and father, whom she loved. Sophia stroked Dash lightly across the side of her head. Sophia felt responsible for the devastation all around her. She blamed herself for the death of her family and of Mr. Brumby. They were dead because Mephis wanted her. If it weren’t for her, they would still be alive … all of them: the Sisters, and Mr. Brumby.

Fog started to infiltrate her thoughts. Her vision blurred. Her mind spun, as if she twirled madly on the spot fifty times and suddenly stopped. Her eyes stared vacantly at the sky. The image of black smoke masking the sun blurred and then faded into a scene of murky blackness. She passed out.

* * *

Voices, familiar tones, woke Sophia from her slumber. Lying on her back, her eyes opened on a clear blue sky framed by a canopy of gently swaying trees. She rolled her head in the direction of the voices. Up in her treehouse she saw Sister Mary and Sister Catherine sitting with their legs dangling over the side of the floor board. “Up here!” Sister Mary shouted.

Sophia closed her eyes, thinking: This can’t be real. After a few seconds, she opened her eyes and took a second glance. Towering above her with his hand outstretched, Diniel blocked her view. “Come: Get up,” he said.

She reached out, grabbed his hand, and allowed him to pull her up. “Where am I?”

“A place created from your memories,” Diniel replied.

“Oh…” Sophia gazed around. “This looks just like Anne’s and my hideaway in the forest. Our treehouse.”

“It is. It is a place where you feel safe.”

“Oh,” Sophia repeated. She directed her sight towards the Sisters. “And they are here, too?”

“Yes. They are with me for now.”

“Oh.” Sophia’s eyebrows lifted, her lips pursed. She was at a loss for words. The sky grew dark as rain clouds formed amongst the roll of distant rumblings.

“Don’t be upset, Sophia. You bear no responsibility for what happened. Sister Mary and Sister Catherine are fine. Trust me, they are.” 

Raindrops began to fall. Sister Mary whipped out an umbrella seemingly from thin air. “You are such a show off, Mary,” Sister Catherine muttered as Sister Mary sprang the latch on the parasol causing its pure-white tarpaulin to spring to life.

“That’s nothing,” she said. “Watch this.” Sister Mary then floated off the side of the treehouse. “I’m flying.” Sophia’s jaw dropped as Sister Mary glided through the air.

“Stop messing around this instant, Sister Mary,” Sister Catherine said, slapping her hands down on the wooden floor by her sides. “Nuns are not meant to fly.”

Sister Mary, twirling her umbrella, floated across the sky. “I think children would find a magical flying nun fascinating.”

“I rather think not,” Sister Catherine huffed.

Sophia shook her head. This was not the first time she had seen Sister Mary and Sister Catherine debating. In many ways, watching the two argue with such mock sternness amused her. On this occasion, although she was mesmerized at the sight of Sister Mary sailing through the sky suspended from the stem of an umbrella, Sophia sided with Sister Catherine, who made a valid point. Nuns are not meant to fly. But … on the other hand, she did think a flying nun was rather neat. So Sister Mary might be onto something with the “flying nun” business. Sophia’s cheek muscles tightened pulling her somber lips into a tiny smile. The dark clouds began clearing, and the rain ceased. She looked to the sky. “Did … the weather just respond to my mood?”

“Yes,” Diniel replied. “In this creation.”

“Will you always protect me against Mephis?”

Diniel gazed towards the heavens. “I’m afraid, dear, that I’ve already done too much.”

“So where do I go, Diniel? What do I do now?”

As Diniel began to speak everything grew dimmer until it faded into a blackness. The weird spinning sensation returned, overcoming her as she heard the words echo around her thoughts. “Seek out Jeremial of the Order of Esdras.”

* * *

Sophia opened her eyes. Anne, with weeping eyes, stood over her. A tear momentarily bulged in the corner of Anne’s eye before falling onto Sophia’s lips and slipping to the tip of her tongue. The salty sensation stimulated her taste buds. “It’s okay, Anne. I’m here.” She rose, then reached out and pulled Anne towards her. “We’ll be okay,” she said, rubbing Anne’s back.

“What are we going to do now?” Anne asked, dropping syllables from the words in her snivels.

“Find Jeremial of the Order of Esdras.”

“Who’s he?”

Sophia retreated out of her embrace with Anne, shaking her head. “I have no idea.”

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