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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35. On Foot

The sun crested the eastern hills of the Forest of Bowland and cast a warm golden glow over the landscape. A gentle but chilly wind from the north rattled the trees ever so often. Michael glanced at the clear blue sky thinking the weather could not have been more ideal for the next leg of their journey. “It’s a beautiful day,” he said, striding across Dunsop Bridge, which they had crossed the day before on horseback, with Anne, Sophia, and Dash alongside him.

“Sure is,” Anne replied.

“How far are we going?” Sophia asked.

“Should take us about three, maybe four hours.”

“Now I know why you carry that staff,” Anne said. “It doubles as a walking stick on long trips.”

Michael laughed. “It does serve many purposes.” His efforts at holding back his affection for the girls weakened every minute. In some ways that scared him, for he knew too well the agony involved in losing someone you love. The girls had a way of reaching into his heart, deep into his heart, and stirring the tiniest of emotions—from wanting to protect them, to laughing at their wit, to the simple experience of contentment in their company.

Three hours later, after trekking over the rolling grassy hills, they came to the River Ribble. Michael scanned the fast-flowing water, up the waterway and then down. He focused on a shallower area, pointed. “We cross down there.”

“Why not cross at the bridge up there?” Sophia said, nodding upstream toward the bridge.

“We don’t want to risk meeting any more bandits,” Michael replied.

Sophia nodded. “Good point.”

At the shallower part of the river, large wet flat stones a broad step apart peeked over the water’s surface. “Be careful crossing,” Michael cautioned. “The stones will likely be slippery.”

“I’ll go first,” Sophia said. She stepped from the bank onto the closest stone. With a small leap, she crossed to the next. Her foot slipped on making contact with the stone’s surface. She tilted back and forth, side to side, struggling to find balance. Her second foot joined her first and found traction giving her a stable foundation. She repositioned the unsteady foot and this time it gripped. “They are slippery,” she shouted, over the sound of the rushing rapids.

Michael watched with fingers crossed behind his back as Sophia made the next leap. He did not want to be fishing either girl out of the river downstream. Before long, Sophia was waiting on the other side for Anne to cross. Like a seasoned champion, Anne crossed the stepping stones without a single slip. Michael presumed Sophia probably had broken up the mossy glaze on the rocks. Dash went next, scooting from one stone to the next as if running down a street. Four legs, Michael thought, make things easier. Michael then crossed without experiencing any trouble.

A short trail led them to a site of ruins. “What is this place?” Sophia asked.

“Sawley Abbey,” Michael replied, with a hint of sadness in his voice, “once a home to the Cistercians monks until the sixteenth century.”

Only broken, crumbling walls remained forming the outline of once grand structures. Nearby villagers had pillaged the grounds and hauled off stone tiles and other materials for their own homes. Thick green grass now grew in their place. Several archways between walls and a stairwell to a corner area of the upper floor of the abbey remained intact. Michael paced around a few of the walls until one caught his interest. Scanning the wall, he located a larger stone, rectangular, adorned with a pattern of two overlapping circles. He turned about with his back to the engraved brick and paced out ten steps. “Should be right here,” he said.

“What?” Sophia replied.

“The way down.”

Michael tapped the grassy area with the tip of his staff in various spots. A typical solid-ground thud sounded on the first several strikes, but then a distinctly different sound echoed as if his staff had hit something hard, but hollow. He dragged the end of his staff outwards from the strike until locating a softer patch of grass-covered soil. From there, he ran the end of his staff in a rectangle, tracing the outline of a regular doorframe in the grass.

“How do we open it?” Sophia asked.

A wolf howled. Michael spun around in the direction of the cry. “That’s not far away,” he said. Another wolf wailed, and then another. All in different directions, seemingly surrounding them.

Anne positioned herself close to Sophia. “I don’t like the sound of this,” she said.

“Me, either,” Sophia replied, squinting into the distant landscape.

This isn’t good, Michael thought. It would take at least several minutes to open the hidden entrance. From the sound of their carrying on, the wolves were minutes away. Best prepare. “Quick girls, up the stairs of the old abbey.”

Without hesitation, Sophia, Anne, and Dash sprinted up the crumbling stairs. Moments later, Michael joined them at the top of the stairs. They stood in the corner of what was left of the old upper floor of the abbey, an area not larger than two king-size beds. The stairwell provided the only means of access.

“We are trapped up here,” Sophia said.

“We are,” Michael replied, staff at the ready between both hands. “But that also means the wolves only have one path of approach.”

The howls grew louder, closer, echoing throughout the ruined walls of the abbey. Even from his vantage point perched atop a wall, Michael could not located the beasts. They were approaching, however, for the predators howled, out of sight, and circled about stalking their prey. Then, of a sudden, the first grayish wolf appeared from around the corner and stopped at the base of the steps. Anne and Sophia backed as far as they could go without falling off the suspended platform. Dash and Michael moved to the head of the stairs. “Dash, leave this fight to me,” Michael said. She growled, baring her teeth while standing by Michael’s side.

A second wolf appeared, followed shortly by five more. As a pack, they roamed around the bottom of the stairs, their collective gaze fixed on Michael. Occasionally baring teeth, snarling.

“What are they doing?” Sophia asked.

“Waiting us out,” Michael replied.

“How long will they stay?”

“Indefinitely. When we tire, they will attack.”

“What are we going to do?” Anne asked, voice quavering.

“I’m thinking,” Michael replied. And he was, yet he struggled to come up with a viable plan. If he ran, half the pack would chase him, the other half would attack the girls. Assaulting them is a possibility, but their numbers, he realized, would overwhelm him. He kept playing out the options, trying to formulate a workable strategy.

Anne dropped to her knees and put her palms together. “What are you doing?” Sophia asked.

“Praying for a miracle,” she replied. “Sister Mary told me, when all else fails pray for a miracle.”

Sophia knelt and joined Anne in prayer. Anne continued, “Dear Heavenly Father, we are in a bit of a bind and would appreciate any help you can afford us. Amen.” They both rose and resumed their huddled position. Michael thought: Short prayer, to the point, and hopefully effective.

The wolves pranced around the base of the stairs. A little more eager, the leader of the pack occasionally ventured up a few steps followed by two others, and then retreated. Each time the grayish wolf with its head held high and teeth bared inched a little closer, as if to test Michael’s resolve, tempting him to meet them half way.

Michael held his stance at the top of the stairs. This was a battle of wills as much as a clash of strength and numbers. Several minutes later, a deep rumbling sounded in the distance. He quickly glanced at the direction of the sound. The sky, clear only moments before, roiled with black cumulus storm clouds and the occasional lightning bolt knifing to earth. “A storm is approaching,” he said, turning his attention back at the wolves.

“This is getting worse,” Anne said. “So much for our praying.”

A flash filled Michael’s vision, causing him to blink. He jolted at a deafening crack followed by an explosive boom. “No, this can be a good thing,” Michael said, gazing at the wolves.

Some of the wolves began to crouch low, tails between their legs. The rest of the pack took a more neutral stance, easing their aggressive behavior.

Rain began to fall, the drops large and heavy. The girls clustered close to Michael in their huddle as the thunderous storm approached at a rapid pace.

At the bottom of the stairs, the leader of the wolfpack glanced towards the heavens, gazing at the darkening sky. Then he let out a howl and left, followed hastily by the rest of the pack.

“They are going,” Anne said, raindrops rolling down her forehead.

“Yes, they do not like storms,” Michael said. He put one arm around Sophia and the other around Anne as the storm thundered closer. “Let’s give them a few minutes to retreat.”

The rain pelted them, drenching their clothes. Wind squalls grew fiercer causing them to huddle tightly as a group. Dash attempted to shelter amidst their legs. Bolts of lightning struck around their position, some only a field away. Storm or not, he had to act. He led them down the stairs and returned to the trapdoor.

Michael continued edging a deeper groove around the rectangular area he had outlined earlier. Once the trench was well defined, he returned to the decorated stone bricks. He focused his attention to the left, and under the stone with the circled patterns, on a brick with a weathered engraving: seven pendant-shaped indents, each growing smaller as they curved around the top half of an indented rectangle standing on its end. Three horizontal raised lines ran down the middle of the rectangle. Michael recalled the fifteen-digit sequence written in Mendel’s notes. Each number represented which line to touch. To remember the code, Michael broke it down into three sections of five.

13211 32213 23121

Michael pressed each raised line in sequence. After touching the last line to complete entry of the code, he pushed on the stone. With a clunk, it recessed slightly then jerked back out.

He returned to the grass-covered trapdoor and wedged the end of the staff into the groove closest to the wall. The narrow trench had filled with water, like little moats, as the rain continued falling. Violent wind squalls torqued through the ruins, strong enough so that the girls had to brace themselves and flex their knees to keep from being blown over.

“What now?” Sophia shouted over the sound of the hammering rain and gusting wind.

“We wait,” he shouted, brushing strands of wet hair from his forehead.

“I hope not for long,” Anne yelled, leaning into a fresh wind squall.

Just then Michael felt the ground vibrating under his feet. “Here we go,” he shouted. The rectangular section he had grooved out began to rise as if something was raising it from underneath. A few moments later, the rectangular slab about as thick as a man’s forearm broke free from the surrounding grass cover. The groove Michael had cut cleanly prevented the grass around from tearing as the platform lifted. Under the slab, a marble column that extended from the center of a stone stairwell leading down pushed the stone trapdoor upwards. Once it had risen high enough to allow entry, Michael yelled, “Quick, let’s go!”

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