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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5. Mr. Brumby

The afternoon sun blended into the distant horizon and darkness overtook the tall trees of the forest. A swirling wind rustled the branches in high-pitched whispers and shadows seemingly stalked the girls. “You’re doing great, Anne,” Sophia said. “Only a little further now.”

“Where are we going?” Anne’s strides were labored, as if each of her feet were laden with a twenty-pound weight.

“To the shack near Mr. Brumby’s Lumber Mill,” Sophia said, as she snapped some branches blocking her chosen path. “We can hold up there for a day.” A little deeper into a denser part of the forest, past several stalwart trees, they came to a shallow creek with water steadily flowing under thin sheets of forming ice. “Not far now. This creek leads directly to the shack.”

In the fading light, Sophia stayed close to Anne as they navigated their way along the creek’s edge, taking care not to step into the icy water. In the distance, the graying timber shack that straddled the creek like a bridge with only one entrance came into view. After crossing a few rickety wooden steps that wobbled under their weight, Sophia pushed the rusted door handle. The old hinges groaned, as if straining to support the heavy door. Their entry sent several grey mice scurrying through the gaps in the timber that lined the base of the walls. Not much inside—just six hay bales, a pitchfork, a gritty old glass windowpane overlooking the timber mill, and dusty cobwebs strung in the darker corners of the ceiling.

Sophia went straight to work. She pulled hay from the bales and used the soft strands to make two thick mattresses. “There we are. It’s not the best bed you have had, but it’s not bad.”

Anne dropped onto the makeshift bed and tried to bounce. “It’ll do nicely.”

Sophia stuffed some strands of hay into the cracks of the walls to keep out the mice and other creatures—rodents, snakes, and insects. She shoved the two leftover hay bales behind the door to prevent anyone attempting to enter.

“How long will we stay here, Sophia?”

Sophia heard a quaver in Anne’s voice and sensed her fear. Sophia knew that, ever since the day she healed Anne’s leg, she had become the girl’s rock, not merely a friend but someone she trusted and in whom she found comfort and protection. “Until the morning.” Sophia gazed out the frosty window at the rising quarter moon peeking over the roof of the lumber mill. Her warm breath created patches of moisture on the glass that made it seem as though the surface of the moon was melting. “What are you feeling, Mr. Moon, happy or sad?” she mumbled, tilting her head from side to side.

Just then the handle on the door of the shack turned, the knob whining with a squeal of neglect. Encumbered by the hay bales, the door stubbornly resisted opening. Whoever was at the door pushed harder. Sophia’s eyes widened and her heart thumped like a charging elephant. She grabbed the pitchfork and rose prepared to fight off the unwanted intruder. Anne huddled in the corner.

“Sophia, Anne? Are you in there?”

It was a man’s voice, deep and bellowing, and Sophia recognized it after an instant as the voice of Mr. Brumby. “Yes, Mr. Brumby,” she said, as yellowish light fluttered in through the partially open door. She exhaled a sigh of relief as her thumping chest resumed its gentle padding. She silently thanked God, rested the pitchfork against the wall, and then shoved the hay bales blocking the entrance into the corner.

Many times in the past, Mr. Brumby had left treats for them in the shack knowing that once or twice a month the girls came to the shack to play. Even though the Sisters had warned them against ever taking food from strangers, Sophia trusted Mr. Brumby. In fact, he was one of the few men she did trust after being struck by the man who had tried to adopt her. She had first ran into Mr. Brumby one day as he stood behind the local church house with welling sorrow in his eyes. He was standing before two gravestones, one etched Jill Brumby 1838-1869, the other Jane Brumby 1863-1869. Speech had eluded him that day. Sophia had wanted to ask who Jill and Jane were, but sensing his pain she had waited and asked Sister Mary that evening. Jill was Mr. Brumby’s wife and Jane, his only daughter. The two had both passed away within weeks of one another after contracting tuberculosis. Sister Mary had told her that Mr. Brumby carried sadness on his shoulders ever since. All he had left in the world was his black border collie Dash, a shorthaired creature of joy who had a white patch over her right eye and would follow the man everywhere he went. Over the years, Sophia discovered that Mr. Brumby’s lonely dismayed eyes illuminated with a little glint of joy whenever she and Anne came around.

Mr. Brumby stepped inside carrying an old metal lantern by an iron-ringed handle, rocking back and forth in his right hand. In his left was a brown paper bag. The flickering flames cast a buttery tint over Mr. Brumby’s face that extenuated his depressed brown eyes. “What on earth are you two doing here at this time of the night?”

Anne sat upright on her bed content to watch as Sophia did the talking. In one rapid breath, Sophia said, “There was trouble at the orphanage. Sister Mary told us to hide out in the forest for a day. I thought this would be the best place to stay for the night. We can go if it’s not ok—”

“No. It’s okay.” Mr. Brumby gazed at Anne and then turned his attention back to Sophia. “You can stay, of course. I only noticed you were here because Dash seemed to sense something in this direction.”

“Sorry, Mr. Brumby,” Sophia said, looking down at the floor. “We really should have asked, but night was falling and—”

He waved away her explanation with a little flutter of the bag in his hand. “You needn’t stay out here. It’ll be freezing tonight. You can come stay in my house, in the spare room.”

“Could we?” Anne leapt to her feet, clapping her palms together.

Sophia bit her lip. “I’m not sure, Mr. Brumby,” she said, her voice low. She scratched the side of her neck. “We might be putting you in danger.”

“Nonsense, Sophia,” he said, shaking his head. “Does anybody know you are here?”

“No, but Sister Mary knows we went into the forest.”

“Come on,” he said, gesturing towards the door. “All will be fine.”

Anne took a step toward Mr. Brumby, but Sophia paused, let her eyes move from Anne to the walls of the shack and then finally back to Mr. Brumby. “If it’s okay with you, Mr. Brumby,” she replied, biting the tip of her fingernail, “I would prefer to stay here. I do appreciate your kindness.”

Mr. Brumby appeared conflicted, as if he was torn between wanting to help directly by providing proper shelter and yielding to her heartfelt request. He paused for a moment before saying with a slight frown, “Okay, Sophia.”

“Thank you, Mr. Brumby.” Sophia stepped up to him and circled him with her arms and gave him a warm hug.

“Well, at least take these,” he said. He set the lantern on the floor and reached inside the paper bag and retrieved two chicken-and-cheese sandwiches. “Fresh from the local town store,” he said, his eyes sparkling with a hint of joy, as if taking a reprieve from their usual muted grief. “I’ll cook myself up something different. Not much of an appetite for chicken and cheese tonight.”

Anne snatched one of the sandwiches, said, “Thank you.” She took a bite and while chewing a mouthful of sandwich said, “Thank you, Mr. Brumby.” He struggled not to let his lips upturn. Sophia accepted the second sandwich with a gracious thank you.

“If you girls need anything, I’ll be in my house behind the timber mill.” He picked up his lantern, stepped outside and pulled the door closed.

As her eyes readjusted to the dark interior of the shack illuminated only by the pale moonlight through the frosty window, Sophia wondered if Mr. Brumby would go check on the orphanage to find out what was happening. She hoped that, if he did, he would wait until the morning. After returning the hay bales behind the door to prevent unwanted guests, Sophia and Anne sat down on their hay mattresses and finished eating their sandwiches.

Before long, they both lay back and stared at the ceiling of the dusty shack, watching the spiders move about their cobwebs. The arachnids were busy wrapping the insects that Mr. Brumby’s gas lantern had lured into the shack. The captives shook frantically in the webs, fighting for their life, trying to escape. After Anne fell asleep, Sophia lay with her eyes closed but still awake, resting but staying alert.

For Sophia, the discomforting night was long. Every unexpected noise roused her attention. Every ominous shadow drew her watchful eyes. When the consoling sun began to rise, casting vibrant light through the shack's window, Sophia experienced a sense of relief. She continued to rest, allowing Anne to sleep until she heard the distressed wail of a dog barking in the direction of the lumber mill. One impatient bark after another punctuated piercing howls. Sophia peered through the fogged window trying to locate the source. No luck, for the pleas for attention seemed to be coming from the other side of the lumber mill. Most likely, from Mr. Brumby’s house.

Anne rolled onto her side and then hastily flipped to the other, covering her ear with her shoulder. A moment later she turned onto her back. “Is that a dog?” she said, rubbing her eyes before rising to a sitting position.

“I think so,” Sophia replied.

“Should we go see what it’s all about?” Anne said, stretching her arms.

“Okay, but we need to be very careful.”

Very carefully, they slipped out of the shack and, using the barking as a beacon for direction, headed towards the lumber mill. As they came around the side of the lumber mill, Mr. Brumby’s house came into view. The front door of the two-story timber house, ripped from its hinges, lay out on the front lawn. “Stay here, Anne. I’ll go have a look.”

“But, I—”

“No buts,” Sophia interrupted, pointing to the ground. “Stay here.” Anne leant against the side of the mill with her arms folded across her chest. Her downturned smile told Sophia she was unimpressed with the order.

Sophia darted over to the sidewall of the house and then, crouching under the windows, sneaked slowly around to the front and onto the front porch. She peeked around the corner of the door and saw Mr. Brumby lying motionless on the floor. Next to him, snuggled into his side, was Dash who let out the occasional howl. Without waiting, Sophia rushed inside to attend to Mr. Brumby. Dash quieted her barking to a soft moan. Sophia placed her ear near Mr. Brumby’s mouth, checking for the sound of breath. None. She shook her head gravely, wondering what to do next. Dash, her eyes reflecting Sophia’s own grief, placed her head on Mr. Brumby’s stomach.

Sophia’s head jerked in the direction of a deep, corrupt voice. A man with a face dark as night hidden in the shadows of his red gold-trimmed cloak advanced down the stairs. “You are a hard girl to track down, Sophia.” He raised his right hand. A red sphere rotating with charged energy formed on his palm. Dash charged at him, growling, as he continued down the stairs. Sophia rose to her feet, but before she could retreat, a red energy beam projecting from the sphere struck her violently in the chest. The beam lifted her as if she was weightless to within a hair’s breadth of the ceiling. Dash leapt at the man, jaw open ready to bite. He extended his left arm and thumped the poor dog, the strike sending her tumbling backwards across the floor until she came to a painful halt near the entrance. She lay there unmoving, whining in pain.

 “Sophia, Sophia, Sophia,” the hooded man said. “You are one of the last. I have been hunting your kind down for some time. One by one, I have eliminated you.”

“Who are you?” Sophia said, struggling to move against the force of the red energy holding her high up in the air.

“His name is Mephistophelian, but he is known as Mephis,” a stranger wearing a white suit and a broad-rimmed hat said as he entered through the front door and stepped over Dash. The stranger knelt and placed his steady hands on Dash. Seconds later, Dash leapt to her feet, tail wagging, and sat attentively next to the doorway.

“You cannot interfere here, Diniel,” Mephis said, turning his focus to Diniel while holding Sophia restrained near the ceiling with his beam. “Your God doesn’t allow you to interfere in human affairs.”

Diniel raised his hand. “It seems you forgot to the read the fine print.” White bolts of energy shot out from his fingertips like lightning bolts and struck Mephis in the shoulders, propelling him backwards into the railings of the stairwell. The red beam holding Sophia disintegrated into tiny particles that dispersed. She fell to the floor. “Firstly, Sophia is a minor.” Diniel raised his other hand. A single ball of white energy discharged from his palm. “Second, things are changing.” The sphere collided into Mephis’ chest, the force compelling him to one knee.

From his half-standing position, Mephis raised his left hand and jetted a red beam of tunneling energy towards Diniel. Diniel responded with a white energy beam—the two continuous beams collided and exploded into a fiery pink ball. The center point of the collision moved back and forth as if in a fierce tug-of-war match.

Arm shaking, Mephis seemed to exert more energy causing the explosive point to move closer to Diniel. In reply, Diniel, gritting his teeth, used his other arm to buttress his elbow, stabilizing his arm shooting the white energy. The conflict point inched towards Mephis. Diniel yelled, “Get out of here, Sophia! Go now, run!”

In a state of confusion mixed with fear, and with a hundred questions rumbling in her mind, Sophia did not question the order. She rose to her feet and on shaking legs scrambled out of the house. Dash followed as she returned to Anne. “We have to go,” she said, grabbing Anne’s arm, virtually dragging her from the wall. The three of them, Dash, Anne, and Sophia fled into the forest.

* * *

“You can’t win, Diniel. You know that,” Mephis bellowed as the red beam began to engulf the white. Diniel stumbled backward, the force seemingly overpowering him. Mephis rose to his feet, raising his other hand. A second beam of red energy extended, this one connecting with Diniel. The white beam faded as Diniel propelled backwards through the doorway. He lost his hat as he landed on the damp grass outside. He squirmed, trying to regain his strength, as Mephis approached.

“Have you any last words, Diniel?”

“There is one thing you’ll never understand about some humans, Mephis—something that separates them from evil like you.”

“And what is that, Diniel?”

“They are prepared to die,” he replied as he wriggled backward along the ground, “out of love, to protect each other.”

“Yes, that can be quite intolerable, as I have found with the Brumby fellow and others,” Mephis said. He pulled a jagged-blade assassin’s dagger from under his coat. “What about you, Diniel,” he said, admiring his red glowing dagger, “are you prepared to die for them?”

“If it came to that, I would.” Diniel concentrated hard on the front door of the house lying on the ground while continuing to draw Mephis’ focus. The large piece of wood began to flutter, and then careered through the air and into the back of Mephis’ head, knocking him forward to the ground. Diniel rose as he gestured a symmetrical figure eight symbol with his hands. A white glowing portal, shimmering and oval shaped, opened before him. He picked up his fallen hat and put it on, glanced back at Mephis, and then stepped through the gateway. The portal condensed to a single bright white dot and then vanished.

Mephis rubbed the back of his head as he gathered himself to his feet. He peered into the forest, tracing the outline of his dagger’s blade with his fingers, mumbling, “Well, well, Sophia, looks like you have a friend.”

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