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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26. The Sewers

The underground tunnels all started to look alike to Sophia. Passages connecting on the left and right, cross-junctions and intersections formed a maze-like network. If not for the map Father Roman had given Michael to navigate, they would certainly be lost. A distant rumbling drew her attention. “What’s that noise, Michael?”

Michael gazed in the direction of the sound. A second later, his eyebrows arched under eyes wide open with urgency, he said, “We have to get out of here now. Quick, this way.” He led them down the main tunnel to the nearest available exit ladder. The rumbling sound increased with every passing second. Whatever the noise was, it was coming their way. Michael climbed the rungs, lifted the hatch above then dropped back down. “Up you go, Anne, quick now.” Anne wasted no time making her escape.

“Won’t we get caught up there, Michael?” Sophia asked.

“Better that than the alternative,” he replied. “Your turn.”

The deep rumbling sound was like nothing Sophia had ever heard before. The walls of the sewerage system began to shake. She could not see anything, but every fiber of her being told her to run and run fast. She stepped onto the rusty ladder, looked over her shoulder—still nothing. Skipping every second rung, she ascended. Up top, she reached back down into the sewer entrance, taking Dash from Michael’s arms and lifting her to safety. Michael gazed to the right. His face drained of all color leaving the flesh a ghostly white. He cut his eyes back to Sophia and winked … and in that blink of an eye, he was gone. Her heart racing, she stared at the torrent of water gushing through the tunnel below.

“What happened?” Anne asked.

“Michael, he’s… he’s…” She paused. Her heart stuttered with each word. “He’s gone.” Dazed, confused, she slumped down onto her bottom.

“Hey you, get away from there!” a male voice shouted.

The words reverberated around Sophia’s head but did not register. Her mind was a haze of survival thoughts for Michael. Could he survive that? Is he dead? Drowned? Seconds later, the middle-aged bearded man hovered over her. “It’s dangerous to play near the sewers, girl.”

She did not respond, lost in a fog of questions, retreating from reality.

“Hey, are you okay?” the man asked.

“Sophia,” Anne said, crouching beside her.

Michael. He can’t be gone, Sophia thought. The image of his single wink before he was violently swept away kept flashing in her mind—blinking on and off.

Anne shook Sophia by the shoulders. “Sophia!” she yelled.

“What’s wrong with her?” the man asked.

“Umm…” Anne gazed around twirling her hair between her fingers. “Her favorite doll fell down the sewer.”

“Oh, the man said. Well, from the sound of it, the sewers are being flooded, which means the doll is likely to be carried out to Edgbaston Reservoir. It used to be called Rotton Park Reservoir.”

“Really?” Anne replied, her eyes wide.

“Sophia, you hear that? Your Michael doll maybe washed out to the reservoir.”

Those words lifted the fog in her mind. A spark of warmth flamed up in her heart. The notion that Michael may be alive fuelled her with renewed hope. She shook her head, attempting to further clear her thoughts. Moments later, she turned to the man, “What direction is the reservoir, sir?”

The man pointed down the road. “Three blocks down this street, take a right, followed by a left at the first junction, and several blocks later you’ll come to the side of the reservoir. You can’t miss it.”

Sophia rose. “Thank you, sir.”

“Are you sure you’re okay, young lady?” the man asked. “You look awfully pale.”

“I’ll be fine,” Sophia replied, taking Anne’s hand. “Let’s go.”

Following the gentleman’s directions, they jogged through the streets until they came to the side of the vast reservoir. Sophia shielded her eyes from the afternoon sun as she peered across the water. Nothing. Her stomach felt heavier as each second past. She continued scanning for any sign of Michael. Over near a walled area of the reservoir, she spied a wooden rowboat with two Bobbies on board. What are they doing? One of the Bobbies reached over the side of the boat and appeared to be shuffling around in the water. She could not see what he was doing because the side of the boat blocked her view. The boat began to roll and the Bobby nearly lost his balance and ended up in the drink but for the fast actions of the second Bobby, who steadied the boat by outstretching his arms across the sides and used his body as a ballast to calm the rocking. Once recovered from his near fall, he dragged a body into the vessel. Michael? Her impression was confirmed when she saw his staff and haversack pulled into the boat. Is he alive?

“We need to get closer,” Sophia said, cutting her eyes across the sides of the reservoir. “Come, let’s go this way.” She followed the water’s edge, alternating her gaze between the rowboat and scouting a path across the bank. Soon she came to a canal blocking the way forward. The rowboat entered its own waterway on the opposite side of the reservoir and disappeared from view.

“Where are they taking him?” Anne asked.

Two possibilities came to her mind. A jail cell if he was alive, a morgue if he was dead. “I’m not sure, but we will find out,” she replied. What disturbed her most was how the Bobbies were on the scene so fast. It was as if they had been waiting for Michael to be flushed out of the sewers—or, more likely, waiting for her and Anne to be flushed out of it. In other words, they had intentionally flooded the sewers to flush them out. The idea brought a wave of nausea. An image of the drawing of the two of them, the likeness of which Father Roman said was “quite remarkable,” flashed in her mind with the words WANTED – DEAD OR ALIVE under them. Seemed the Bobbies, in actuality, did not care which way.

The chime of the bell tower of St Philip’s Cathedral sounded. Sophia counted them. Five in total. “We should go back to Father Roman,” she said.

“Good idea,” Anne agreed. “He will know what to do. But how do we find our way back there?”

Sophia pointed into the distance. “The bell tower, it’s a landmark that should be visible from nearly everywhere in Birmingham. We’ll stick to the back streets where possible to avoid the Bobbies.”

“Okay,” Anne replied.

The streets were teeming with people heading home from a day of work. Some trudged along as if they had been lugging around heavy weights. Others were more upbeat in their step, seemingly wanting to get home as fast as possible. Sophia avoided eye contact with people as much as possible, and the passer byers seemed content to ignore the girls. The occasional person smiled and waved, or merely nodded politely. Sophia returned their gesture of goodwill with a warm smile, but quickly turned away to reduce the chance of being recognized from the posters Father Roman told them were hung about the city.

A block from the cathedral she encountered two Bobbies. The first, mounted on a horse, appeared to be patrolling around the outskirts of the church. The second Bobby approached on foot from around the corner ahead of them. She grabbed Anne’s arm and moved swiftly into an alley, followed by Dash. “Quick, behind here,” Sophia said, pointing to a high stack of wooden crates. Together, they crouched down. The echo of the Bobbies boots on the stone pathway grew louder until coming to a stop an arm’s length away. Sophia, Anne, and Dash alike held their breath. After a couple of seconds, the footsteps restarted, fading with each stride. Sophia whispered, “That was close.”

“How are we going to get to the church with so many Bobbies around?” Anne asked.

“I’m not sure.” The idea of walking through the front door of St Philip’s seemed unlikely. Bobbies would surely be stationed there. She leant back against the wall of the alley and looked to the sky. An idea came to her. “We wait, till Mass. It is a big cathedral. There will be many people. We can split up and blend in with the crowd.”

“Good idea,” Anne said. “I think that might just work.”

“We’ll need to move around to the front,” Sophia said, rising from behind the crates.

“What about Dash?”

“Hmm,” Sophia said, looking at Dash. “Dash, go to Father Roman.” Dash tilted her head side to side as if trying to understand what Sophia was saying as she repeated the command: “Go to Father Roman.” She barked once and then turned and dashed off.

They took an alley away from the cathedral, cut through some back streets to appear opposite the entrance to the church behind the closest house. As expected, Bobbies patrolled around the entrance and circled the perimeter of the church grounds.

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