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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8. What Now?

Followed closely by Anne and Dash, Sophia trekked through the trees towards their secret treehouse hidden in the depths of the forest. How do we find Jeremial? she contemplated. Focusing all her mental energy on trying to find a solution to that problem drowned darker thoughts about Mephis and about Mr. Brumby and the Sisters’ demise. For that, she was thankful. The single-minded pondering gave her stomach respite from constant churning.

Suddenly, Anne sprang in front of her, blocking her way forward. “Books! We might be able to find out about Jeremial through books!”

Sophia’s eyebrows fidgeted as if they were tussling between good idea, bad idea. “But where are we going to find books that contain information on Jeremial?” She paused, pulled at the lobe of her ear trying to jog her memory. “What was it again … the Order of Esdras?”

“Last year Sister Mary took me to the Order of Cistercians, a monastery in London,” Anne said, bouncing on the tips of her toes, seemingly overjoyed with her recollection. “She called them the ‘White Monks.’ They had a whopping library, full of all sorts of books.”

Sophia edged closer to Anne. “Do you remember where it is?”

“Hmm, sort of, let me think.” She rubbed her chin before continuing in a more buoyant tone. “It was near a big park, um, Hyde Park. Sister Mary took me there to see the gardens after we left the monastery because I was well-behaved while waiting for her to finish her tasks.”

In the back of her mind, Sophia wondered how Sister Mary had managed to keep Anne’s intrinsic curiosity at bay, in a library of all places, without her getting into some sort of trouble. It wasn’t that Anne was disobedient just curious and a little mischievous in her curiosity. Knowing Anne well, Sophia pictured her wanting the book on the top shelf of a two-story bookstand and climbing up the shelves without a ladder to reach it. Book in hand, she would look down, realize her height, and freeze. At that point, she would cry for help. It was just such exploits that had led Sophia to give her friend the pet name CTL, short for Charge in Think Later. Bringing her thoughts back to the present, Sophia asked, “What did Sister Mary do there?”

“I’m not sure,” Anne said, shaking her head slowly left and right, pursing her lips. “She just said she had business to attend to.”

They resumed walking. “I don’t know, Anne. It’s a long way into the heart of London on foot, a good day’s walk at least.”

Sophia contemplated Anne’s idea as they progressed deeper into the forest. The more she did, the more the concept seemed to be their best option.

With a jubilant leap, Anne said, in a higher pitch than normal, “I know! We could take the Shillibeer from town.”

“The Omnibus?” Sophia’s head jutted back. “We can’t afford a ticket.”

“It’s large. We might be able to sneak on.”

Sophia glanced towards the early morning sun hiding behind a thin sheet of whitewashed cloud. “It’ll be worth a try.” She stopped, changed her course towards town, and resumed striding through the forest, quicker now, with a purpose and direction. Before long, though, the undergrowth thick with many species of fern grew denser and inconsiderate of their trespassing. They trudged through the shrubs, pushing leaves aside, stomping lower vegetation to the ground. Dash appeared to have an easier time, maneuvering amongst the underbrush, vanishing at times, below the leaves of the various plants. After an hour of driving through the dense foliage, they came to the small creek, which Sophia recognized as the waterway that led to the shack near the lumber mill. The foliage-free banks of the creek provided a welcome reprieve and easier path to follow. Half an hour later, on approaching the shack, they heard muffled voices from some way off. Sophia squinted into the distance to locate the sound. “There’s police across the field near the lumber mill. They’ll be checking on what happened to Mr. Brumby.”

“But … why?” Anne said, allowing the word to drag longer than it should. “Is Mr. Brumby okay?”

Sophia looked at the girl, thinking: Does Anne need to know Mr. Brumby is dead? A dilemma. The ordeals over the last twenty-four hours created enough emotional weight to topple a resilient mind, never mind Anne’s fragile, loving conscience. Sophia had little doubt that the turmoil bothered Anne more than she was letting on. But she did have the right to know, for Mr. Brumby was as much Anne’s friend as he was her own. She decided at the moment to change the subject. “We’ll sneak around the back of the lumber mill, through the wood yard. We’ll climb over the fence and come out at the side of the dirt road leading into town.” 

“But what about Mr. Brumby?”

“Come on now, we’ve got to get to London. We can talk about him later.”

The color drained from Anne’s face, leaving it whiter than normal, and Sophia knew that Anne had come to her own conclusion as to the welfare of Mr. Brumby. “I’m sorry, Anne,” Sophia said.

They walked a short while in silence until they came to the wood yard. “This is creepy,” Anne said, gazing up at the intimidating stacks of logs. The stacks were set close to each and formed log walls several times taller than the girls.

“Yeah, it kind of feels like we are mice in a maze,” Sophia replied, skipping over a muddy puddle. Stiff gusts created disturbing screeching noises as the wind passed through the lumber piles. Sophia added, “Glad the sun is up.”

Dash barked aggressively as if to sound a warning. Both Anne and Sophia turned their attention to where she barked. Sophia retreated as a long brown snake three times longer than she was tall and wider than her forearm slithered from the darkness between the wood lots. The treacherous snake hissed, its antagonistic pink forked tongue darting in and out, as it slivered towards them.

Anne, motionless, whispered, “What kind of snake is that?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one this big before,” Sophia said, shifting only her eyes for something she could use as a weapon against the beast. “It’s not from around here.”

Teeth bared and growling, Dash charged. In defense, the snake, mouth open, fangs dripping with death, lunged. Dash leapt backwards, avoiding the strike. Sophia darted over to the right-hand side of the snake, dived into a forward roll while grabbing an arms-length branch. Without warning, the snake struck as she proceeded to rise from the roll. With her newly acquired stick, she deflected the attack of the serpent’s head of to her left. Venomous spittle splashed across her arm. Sophia climbed up the stacked logs of the woodpile as if it were a ladder. The snake wasted no time in pursuing her; it rose up using its body to extend itself.

On reaching the top log, Sophia turned and poised on the edge. Trying to halt the snake’s ascent, she struck out and swung the stick like a hammer towards the snake’s head. She missed and lost her balance and tipped forward. With both arms spiraling in reverse circles, terrified, she attempted to regain her composure, but failed. Unable to stop the forward momentum, she toppled towards the snake. As she fell, she reached out and grabbed the snake’s body, a foot below the head, and squeezed as tightly as she could, as if grabbing a fireman’s pole. Under Sophia’s weight the snake fell to the ground hissing and spitting as it struggled to free itself. Unable to find release from Sophia’s grasp the snake wound its long body around her torso. After a few loops, the snake tightened its grip on Sophia.

As the tension of the serpent’s coil began to squeeze her chest, Sophia’s breathing became difficult. She tossed around her options. If I let go the snake will surely bite, but if I keep holding on the snake will crush my ribs. Dash joined the fight and wrapped her teeth around the snake’s tail. She dug her front paws into the ground, reared backwards, and pulled on the extent of the snake attempting to draw the spineless creature off Sophia. Her efforts were in vain. Dash’s strength was no match for the snake’s great power. Sophia stabbed at the snake with the stick she wielded, but its thick-scaled skin defended against her thrusts. Her breathing started to labor. Her strength began to wane. The snake increased the contraction as if sensing approaching victory.

Armed with a sharp-pointed stick of her own, Anne moved herself in front of the snake. Her arm shaking, too scared to watch, she covered her eyes and jabbed the stick towards the serpent. The snake hissed, jaw fully extended, its exposed poisonous fangs dripping, and lunged towards her. Blinded by her own hand, Anne gallantly thrust the wobbly stick forward directly into the snake’s approaching mouth. By fluke of the random movement, the stick penetrated the unprotected skin of the creature’s upper jaw and passed into the brain. Uncontrolled and powerless, the snake wriggled and released its grip and Sophia wormed herself free.

After rising to her feet, Sophia ran to Anne and hugged her tightly. “Thank you.” Dash watched Sophia and Anne embrace, tilted her head to the side, and made a slight contented murmuring sound.

“Is it dead?” Anne asked, her body trembling.

“I think so,” Sophia responded, glancing back at the snake as it wriggled aimlessly, weakly. Her eyebrows raised in disbelief. She moved to one side of Anne and faced the snake. With her arm outstretched, she pushed Anne backwards as if to shield her, while retreating from the snake. Black smoke, thickening, began rising from the creature’s skin while at the same time appearing to melt into the ground, until the venomous reptile vanished completely.

“How did it disappear?” Anne asked.

“I’m not sure.” Sophia knelt down and ran her hand across the dirt where the snake had seemingly melted, shaking her head. “We have to keep moving. There are forces around that do not want us to find Jeremial.”

“You’ll get no argument from me.”

They resumed navigating between the woodpiles heading towards the fence around the lumberyard.

On arriving at the base of the six-foot timber fence, Sophia moved into position to climb over. The cross beams at the two-foot and four-foot marks made an easy ladder to clamber up the side. A bark from Dash made her pause, however. “Hmm. How are we going to get Dash over the fence?” She checked the fence. The well-weathered palings were grey in color and some quite contorted. She pushed a paling where the base appeared to come away from the lower crossbeam. The paling moved outwards. After a few more shoves, the top nails gave way and the slather of wood fell to the ground on the other side. She tried the same strategy on the paling next to it, but that one was tough and wouldn’t budge. She tried the one on the opposite side. It gave a little. Anne joined Sophia in thumping the bottom of the paling with their palms. Each time the paling moved slightly further away from the lower beam until at last it popped free. They did the same at the top, and the paling gave way. Dash, Anne, and Sophia squeezed through the gap created by the fallen palings and followed the dirt road leading from the lumber mill into town.

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