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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3. Miracles

1875 - Thirteen years later

The mid-afternoon sun vanished behind dark clouds, growing in height and width, like grungy soapsuds expanding in sloshy water. These suds, though, were black and menacing. A flash of light erupted, followed by a jagged streak of bright light darting to the ground several miles away. Shortly afterwards, the earth rumbled. “We need to get back to the orphanage,” Sophia said. She was sitting next to Anne on the wooden platform of the treehouse with her legs dangling over the side.

Anne gazed towards the heavens. Her eyes widened in alarm. “Ooh, those clouds do look awful. Perhaps we should stay here.”

For nearly a month, Sophia and Anne had been busy building their home away from home, a comfortable treehouse nestled in amongst the large branches of an ancient sprawling maple. Several planks of rough wood secured by a tattered rope and set between two large branches formed the floor. The source of their building materials was an old lumber mill on the eastern side of the forest, which, according to legend, was haunted by ghosts at night. Sophia had used her graceful well-mannered speech and sweet innocent smile on the owner, a Mr. Brumby, who rarely refused her requests to take off-cuts and other scraps. For the roof, they had gathered hornbeam branches, which they weaved together and secured to higher branches to create a small dome over the wooden floor. There were no walls other than the surrounding leaves and branches of the maple tree. To climb into the treehouse involved mounting a waist-high branch, pulling up to a higher branch, and then jumping across to the wooden floor, which was about four feet off the ground. Their next planned task was to build a ladder to make entering and exiting easier.

“I don’t think our hideout will offer us much protection from the storm,” Sophia said, looking at the porous ceiling of Hornbeam branches that formed the roof of the treehouse. She imagined the ceiling being peeled off by gusts of wind tearing through the trees.

Anne’s voiced quivered. “But what if we get struck by lightning?”

Sophia recalled an adoption day at the orphanage four years earlier, when both girls were nine. Anne, who was two weeks younger than Sophia and had come to the orphanage at the age of four, had looked into Sophia’s eyes with a look of fear and sadness and said, “But what if we get separated?” Over the years, their friendship had developed into a tight sisterhood. Some people actually mistook them for sisters since they were of similar height and build and both had striking green eyes and black hair. On every adoption day Anne and Sophia huddled towards the back on the room away from the other children so as not to be seen by parents looking for a child to adopt. Most children wanted to be adopted, but not Sophia and Anne, who feared being separated.

Only rarely did a couple want to adopt more than one child, and then it was only two children under four. Whenever a prospective parent expressed interest in one of the girls, they would pretend to fight and act like uncontrollable children. That day four years earlier, however, their stunt had not worked: Sophia was chosen. Tears cascaded down Anne’s face as the adoptive male parent dragged Sophia by her arm out of the orphanage.

Sophia had other ideas. Before boarding the waiting carriage, she stomped on the man’s foot. He turned, yelled an obscenity, and slapped the child across the face with such force it sent her tumbling across the paved street. Sister Mary came charging out of the orphanage at once with a closed umbrella in hand. She approached the man and wacked him first on the left shoulder, then on the right, and proceeded to poke him in the gut, while yelling, “You get out of here and don’t come back. You should never treat a child like that, no matter what she has done!” Sophia had run back inside the orphanage and cuddled Anne in the corner of the adoption room, where she whispered, “We’ll be fine. Nothing will separate us.”

“We’ll be fine,” Sophia said, as another lightning bolt split the bruised sky. She lowered herself over the side of the treehouse and dropped to the ground. “Come on.”

“Okay,” Anne said. She followed Sophia down from the treehouse.

While waiting for Anne, Sophia tied the laces on her new off-white saddle shoes, which hurt her feet. After wearing them for a day blisters would form on the back of her heels. She never complained because it was so rare to receive anything new at the orphanage. The only distinction between the left and right shoe was where her big toe had started to stretch the leather. Anne had the same shoes, except hers were beige.

“I’m ready,” Anne said.

Her shoelace tied, Sophia dashed through the forest, swerving left and right to avoid the trunks of various kinds of trees, ducking under branches, hurdling small logs, evading loose rocks, and leaping minor crevices just waiting to trip her up. Anne, breathing heavily and falling further behind, yelled, “Sophia, wait! Slow down. I can’t keep up.”

Hearing Anne’s plea, Sophia paused, scanned the hostile sky, and said, “We need to keep going. The storm will be here soon.”

“But I can’t,” Anne said, bending over, clutching her knees, and drawing in a deep breath, “run as fast as you.”

Sophia knew that she was much faster than Anne, even when she was only moving a third of her maximum potential, as she was then. Her speed and dexterity often annoyed others, so she had learnt to forcefully tone down her agility. Sister Mary and Sister Catherine often called her “Speedy.”

After Anne caught her breath, they ran through the forest together at a pace comfortable for Anne, until stopping abruptly at the edge of a deep ravine nicknamed dead man’s gorge. “We need to cross quickly,” Sophia said, retreating a step from the edge and thankful she had been running at Anne’s pace or she might have toppled over. “Once the rain starts this creek will quickly turn into a raging river.”

Anne bobbed her head as if stuck between yes and no.

Sophia put her hand on Anne’s shoulders and looked her in the eyes. “You can do this.” This was not the first time she had crossed the ravine and Sophia wondered what troubled her. They typically crossed at a much shallower point to avoid the treacherous steep sides.

“Okay, but don’t rush me,” Anne replied. She began to side-step down the rocky steep wall of the ravine, leaning steeply to one side to counteract the slope. Within a few feet of the top, Anne’s leading foot landed on a loose rock and she began to slide, picking up speed. She tried leaning inwards to slow her momentum but overdid it and tumbled forward as her feet regained traction. She landed with a cruel thud on her left shoulder. From there she rolled, bounced, tossing and turning alternatively off her elbows and knees, picking up new bruises and cuts on each uncontrolled rotation.

Sophia chased after her, trying to think of a way to slow Anne’s fall and coming up empty. Then she heard a loud snapping sound, like a branch being broken, mixed with Anne’s pained cries. She watched as Anne came to an abrupt halt at the bottom of the ravine and lay in the cold shallow waters of the creek. Anne’s cry rang out over the sounds of the distant thunder as the creek water around her turned red. At the midpoint of her lower leg between here the knee and foot, a jagged bone protruded from the broken skin.

Sophia rushed down, heart racing, limbs trembling, and knelt beside Anne, wondering what to do. The storm was fast approaching, the intervals between the loud claps of fierce thunder shortened and bright flashes of lightning lit the dark sky. Sophia realized the flooding rain was mere moments away. She thanked God in her thoughts they were upstream of the storm. “Apart from your leg,” Sophia asked, “do you have any other pain?”

Between gulps of uncontrolled sobbing Anne replied, “I hurt all over, but mainly my leg.”

Sophia gently rolled Anne onto her back to enable a better view of her leg. The broken shinbone protruded about an inch from the surface of the breached skin. From the reddish color of the surrounding water, Sophia could tell Anne had lost quite a bit of blood. Feeling a strange draw, Sophia placed her right hand just below the protruding bone and her left hand on Anne’s thigh. A white glow started to form around Sophia’s hands. At first startled, Sophia pulled her hands away, until, sensing the mysterious draw for a second time, she placed them back on Anne’s leg. Slivers of white light streamed from her hands into the open wound. Anne began to shake, as if she was having a seizure, as the obtruding bone slowly retracted through the open wound and disappeared into Anne’s flesh. The skin above formed over the gash and in a matter of seconds all signs of a wound vanished.

Anne stopped shaking. She glanced down at her leg. She dug her feet into the creek bed, pushing herself away from Sophia. “Are you a witch?” she said, her voice shrill and eyes wide.

“No, at least I don’t think I am,” Sophia replied, rotating her hands in front of her own gaze wondering how she had just done what she did.

Anne rose to her feet. “I feel great.” She patted herself down seemingly searching for injuries. “But how—” She shot Sophia a look and shrugged. “How did you do that?”

Raindrops began to fall, lightly at first and then without warning in great sheets. “I don’t know,” Sophia responded. “We should keep this a secret.” The water in the creek bed began to rise. “Quickly, we must get out of this ravine, Anne.” Sophia reached out and offered her hand to Anne. After a moment of hesitation, Anne took Sophia’s hand. With Sophia taking the lead, hand in hand they clambered up the opposite side of the ravine.

The intense cleansing rain washed the blood from Anne’s clothing and body. No sign of injury remained; it was as if her fall had never happened. Side by side they ran, holding hands, back towards the safety of the orphanage. Lighting struck regularly around them followed by the deafening boom of rumbling thunder. Neither the flashes nor sound bothered either of them. Sophia’s mind was still lost in reconciling the healing event. As they approached the orphanage, Sophia spotted Sister Mary calling out and running towards them, holding a sheet of fabric above her head as if to keep herself dry from the hammering rain. The three of them huddled together under the makeshift umbrella as they moved swiftly to the warm dry comforts of the orphanage.

Anne and Sophia appeared as two drowned rats. Their long black soaked hair dangled over their shoulders and down their backs. The waterlogged clothes they wore stuck like glue to their shivering cold bodies. Water dripped leaving large puddles on the floor.

Sister Catherine approached with a towel. “What on earth have you two been up to?” She shook her head as she patted them down with the towel. “You’re lucky God and his angels watch out for you. You could have been killed in that storm.”

Teeth chattering, in unison they replied, “We’re sorry, Sister.”

“I’ll go prepare a warm bath for you,” Sister Mary said with a little smile as she turned to make her way to the upstairs bathroom. Sophia heard Sister Mary mumble as she shook her head, “Those two, always up to something, will be the death of me.”

 

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