Escape to Ecclesia:

Escape to Ecclesia: "Flight for Freedom"

by Lisa Meredith Shah

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781452506456
Publisher: Balboa Press
Publication date: 08/10/2012
Pages: 380
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.78(d)

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ESCAPE TO Ecclesia

Molly Grace in "Flight for Freedom"
By LISA MEREDITH SHAH

Balboa Press

Copyright © 2012 Lisa Meredith Shah
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4525-0645-6


Chapter One

Hard Times

Molly Grace sat in the middle of her favourite part of the garden, tucked away beneath a canopy of fruit trees and vines her father had planted many years before. She wondered if he'd had a vision of how beautiful a world they would create as they grew.

Beneath the loosely woven rug upon which she sat was a thick bed of soft, leafy clover. Sunlight poked through the continually shifting spaces of swaying branches and leaves. Something about the song of the wind in the trees spoke to Molly deep inside. It was as if she heard secrets of another world but in a language that wasn't clear. With pencil and sketchbook in hand, whenever she felt something become clear enough she would record it. Sometimes, a sketch—or, rather, part of one. Sometimes a word or a phrase. But always bits and pieces. All parts of a much larger puzzle.

She lifted her face to the sun, as if for understanding, her dark features dappled by its light. Like her messages, parts lay in shadow. The slamming of the back porch door broke through her reverie, and the echoes of an irritated voice reached her ears.

"Molly! Where are you, girl?" Molly jumped to her feet. "Get up here. Now!" Her stepfather was so short-tempered.

Not wanting to give her hidden recluse away, Molly went out the opposite side of the green clump and ran back around to the porch side.

"I'm here, Stepfather." She stepped into the clearing, where he could see her. He eyed her suspiciously from beneath heavy brows.

"You dreamin' again, girl?" he accused. "I swear, it'll get you into more trouble than you already have! You should spend your thoughts on the here and now—your sick mother an' all."

Molly mounted the six porch steps to the timber veranda, trying to maintain a safe distance from the tall, bony figure. "Yes, Stepfath—" His cuff to the back of her head cut her response short, and she bit back a cry.

"Now, get in there and get the food!" Stepfather bawled. "And see to your mother's needs."

Molly stepped briskly onto the back landing. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust to the darkness of indoors, but she kept up her pace. She didn't want another whack. Thankful for the countless times she had walked through that room under the cover of darkness, she knew she could avoid walking into anything.

How could such a good and gentle woman like her mother, who had known such a wonderful husband, marry such an ill-tempered tyrant? Molly had often wondered. Perhaps her mother didn't believe that she, Molly, and her baby brother, Joseph, would have survived. She wished she could ask questions like that, but her mother was too sick to bother with her curious probing. Besides, she was certain Stepfather would clout her for it if he knew.

Nobody knew just what ailed her mother, but Molly was convinced it was a broken heart and a loss of the will to live.

Through French doors and into a once-cheery parlour, Molly entered to see her mother, Eilsa, reclining with a blanket beside the windows, overlooking the back garden. A book lay in her lap, and her head was propped up on pillows, tilted to one side as she dozed. She must have sensed Molly's entrance because she stirred at the noiseless steps.

"Is that you, baby girl?" ventured a weak voice.

"It's me, Mum," Molly affirmed. "What can I do for you?"

Eilsa gestured for Molly to come and sit at her feet, so she could talk to her without straining. A shadow crossed her countenance, casting a serious expression on her face. Molly could feel the icy fingers of worry gripping her heart.

"What is it?" she asked anxiously. Molly had known in her heart that her mother was awaiting, even beckoning, death but hadn't actually allowed herself to explore the thought, or beyond. Now, all manner of fiery darts bombarded her previous stillness.

"I want you to take your brother to your aunt Faye. He can stay with her for a while. He's too young for you to watch all the time." Aunt Faye lived only a few doors up along the same road. Cliff Street led straight down to the local wharf and fishing jetty, just off the inside point of Sydney Harbour's South Head. She had several children of her own, and whilst Molly's cousins were nice enough, she felt she and her brother should be together with her mother. This separation sounded a deep warning of some very undesired end inside Molly's soul.

Before she could protest, Eilsa's hand silenced her and she continued, "I'd send you too, but I can't be without you just yet." Forgetting her daughter for a second, she mused, a distant look coming over her face, "No, not yet. Just a little while longer." Coming back to the present, Eilsa patted baby girl's hand, saying, "Now, better get dinner, dear, before Stepfather comes looking for it. And straight after, you take Joey, okay?"

"All right, Mum," Molly answered dolefully. What else could she say? What else could she do? Molly's heart ached as she felt her world being torn apart around her. How many people would she grow to love, only to lose? Shaking herself and trying to find something to be glad about to lift the heaviness, she set herself to the task at hand. Dinner.

The evening went as planned, and after dinner was made and eaten and the dishes done, Molly took her younger brother to their aunt's place. When she returned, she found Stepfather snoring and snuffling on the sofa, so she headed once again out to her world among the wind and the trees. She slept, awakening in the deep, dark hours of midnight. She thought she'd heard a woman's voice call her name, and she could feel a presence but could see nothing. She crept back into the house, into her loft, and slept restlessly atop her covers until dawn, when she went downstairs to get the washing started and breakfast prepared for the even-grumpier morning version of Stepfather.

Her thoughts went to Joey. She hoped he had slept well. He was very excited about his "holiday" with Aunt Faye. It was the best way to handle him concerning the separation, and Molly stayed, reading to her five-year-old brother the stories she had written about a tropical island hideaway in her imagination, where she had her own house and they lived peacefully.

On her way to school that morning, Molly stopped in at her aunt's so that all the cousins could walk together. After seeing everyone else to their proper place, Molly detoured to the girls' toilet block, went around it, and jumped the fairly low fence into the reserve behind. This was a favourite place for the local children known to them as the Lawnie. There were huge Moreton Bay fig trees there, and she found a nook to settle into, where she could think some things through. She knew she'd be in hot water if she was found but, for some reason, it didn't seem wrong today. Something deeper led her.

Looking into the brown paper shopping bag that also held her lunch, Molly pulled out some stovepipe trousers and a blouse. Knowing she would need it again, Molly carefully folded and then rolled her uniform back into the bag. After checking that the way was clear, she headed out through the trees, a tiny figure dwarfed by the trunks of gentle giants.

With just a short walk Molly wound her way down onto the main road of the small fishing village of Doyle. Keeping to the shadows as best she could, the distinctly feminine silhouette skirted off into a laneway, where her favourite second-hand bookstore was nestled. The sign above this storefront was archaic and romantic. It looked much older than any other sign made in the early 1950s. Readers discovered why immediately: "Jebediah's Uncommon and Rare Books ... est. 1884."

What was uncommon was the fact that Jebediah still ran the place! Molly had no idea just how old this man could be—at least seventy if not older. He certainly looked ancient, but he never changed. Molly had known him from as far back as she could remember, and he remained exactly as he was. Most townsfolk just explained that he was "Jebediah Junior," but Molly believed she knew better.

Jebediah and his collection of books had captivated Molly since she was five and was learning to read—an entire decade. Her favourite corner was lined with his shelves of "originals." These were books that were handmade rather than published. Books, such as Leonardo da Vinci's sketching blocks and chronicled accounts of old, often obscure, kings and kingdoms. How Jebediah could have laid hands on such treasures she couldn't begin to know, but she loved believing in the mystery and magic of it all—even if she didn't have all the answers. She refused to believe he had fabricated it all. Yep, he definitely had rare books!

Beneath the sign, connected and dangling, was an old kerosene lantern that burned ceaselessly day and night. As Molly briskly skipped down the alleyway to the door, she felt excitement mount within at the prospect of this unexpected visit back in time. The bell atop the inside of the door jingled as she opened it and hurried in.

"Hello, Molly," came an aged voice from a darkened corner.

"Good morning, Mr. Jebediah," Molly answered, a little out of breath.

"Someone chasing the truant child?" Jebediah smirked knowingly. He always seemed to know a lot of Molly's untold secrets. Molly concluded that he had to be magically gifted somehow. She never realised how transparent she was to someone who was interested.

"Come on in, child. Let's sit in the café and I'll make you some hot chocolate. No charge!" he added hastily as he saw her begin to say she had no money.

Jebediah's store was split in two sections. Upon entry a person felt instantly projected back in time by hundreds of years: dimmed lighting, ten-foot shelving that huddled close around an inner reading circle, and other shelves against the outer walls towered overhead as high as the twelve-foot ceilings. Tapestry-like rugs, soft and velvety with colours yellowed from age, were underfoot. Electrically powered lanterns styled as "olde worlde" street lamps let off a diffused glow into the space, which was silent but for the turning of heavy old pages.

Once you found your book, you could sit in the circle on a heap of huge, silky cushions or go out into the adjoining section, where a row of booths lined the parallel walls, one under the window facing the street and the other against the back wall. Aside from the obvious bookworms and literature lovers, there were rarely any other guests. This was where you could get hot or cold drinks, from coffee to Coca-Cola. Although a fairly recent addition, this area retained a familiar comfortableness about it. It felt safe and peaceful, like one's own home ought to feel. The far end boasted a healthy fire, spilling a warmth and light into the room that beckoned would-be fictitious world travellers. It was a perfect reading and reflecting environment.

A few moments later, Molly sat opposite Jebediah in the nearest booth, with her hands cradling a steaming cup. The old man asked after her mother.

Molly's face clouded. "She's not well at all," she answered. "She had me take little Joey to stay with Aunt Faye yesterday. I really think she's planning on dying—" Molly's voice broke off and she held back the tears striving for expression. Only in speaking about it aloud to Jebediah did Molly realise just how heavy-hearted she'd become.

It was at that point Molly looked up and noticed they weren't alone. Over Jebediah's shoulder Molly could see a stranger seated in the booth at the far end with his back to them, facing the fire. Jebediah, noticing her changed expression, tried to regain her attention.

"And that stepfather of yours?" he asked suspiciously.

Molly didn't answer but stared at her cup, a tear doggedly dropping in spite of her restraint. The thought of her mother dead and Joey gone left her wondering what would become of her. She was sure Aunt Faye wouldn't take her because she was too old and burdensome. The reality of being left alone in a house with Stepfather left her speechless and sick in the stomach. It was too dreadful to conceive.

Jebediah, standing to return to his shelves of books, patted her hand just like her mother had done. "Don't worry, child," he said, pausing to look back over his shoulder at her. "You will know pain, but you will find peace." Something inside her mourned and rejoiced almost simultaneously at his words. She could tell he was right. Truth reverberated within her that way—but how much pain, and how long before the peace?

Jebediah stepped forward into the library section, and, as he did, Molly saw the stranger was now standing in front of the fire, packing his pipe with tobacco. He looked up and their eyes met for a split second. He quickly dropped his gaze again to watch the handiwork of his fingers. With his eyes safely averted, Molly had a moment to take note of his appearance.

He had the look of an old European private investigator—or, at least, how Molly thought one would look. Although not presently wearing them, he had a heavy tweed coat and cap. His suit was different from those normally seen around her village, more like something Molly had seen men wear in films. On the table in front of where he'd previously been seated lay a magazine. Even from where she was, Molly recognised the cover to be a National Geographic.

Lifting his gaze, he caught her eye and smiled so warmly she found herself returning one to him without a second thought. Much to her concern, he placed the pipe between his lips, picked up his belongings, and headed towards her. Taking the pipe with thumb and forefinger, he began to speak.

"May I join you for a moment, young miss?" He sounded like the perfect English gentleman. Glancing over her shoulder to affirm the presence of Jebediah, Molly nodded.

The man placed his articles of clothing on the bench seat across from Molly and sat down beside them. He opened the magazine out on the table, spinning it as he did, making it right way up for Molly. She looked down, and on the exposed page was an article about a supposed "Disappearing Island." Her eye traced a path to the bottom right-hand corner of the double-page spread to alight upon a photo of the man standing before her. The caption gave credit for the writing and photography of the article to a "Papa Cino."

"I am Papa Cino,a freelance photo journalist." Molly looked again at the image beneath her fingers. Something about it intrigued her. Her puzzled brow aroused his curiosity, and he ventured, "It means something to you ... this island?"

Perplexed, Molly answered slowly. "Yes ... well, no, but ... kind of ..."

"I know exactly what you mean!" he responded emphatically. "It was just that way with me as well! Like something from a dream. Been there, yet haven't."

Molly was engrossed in the article. A few minutes later, without looking up, Molly continued her questions. "What is this place? Where is it? Who owns it? How can I get there?" Just then the doorbell rang, and Molly jerked up to see that the man had left. She ran to the door and looked out into the laneway. Empty!

"You'd best get back before you're missed, Molly," Jebediah advised. Molly knew he was right. She bid him farewell and left with the rolled edition of National Geographic added to the contents of her brown paper bag.

After a quick change back into her uniform in the girls' toilets, Molly went on to class. She entered through the tall door to face the towering Miss Elderberry. Her skinny spinster teacher glared down at her over the top of her round spectacles.

"What is the meaning of this defiant lack of promptness, Miss Grace?" Miss Elderberry refused to concede that Molly was a real name and adamantly insisted on never using it. Mumbling apologies for her tardiness and adding that her mother needed her to do some tasks, Molly wove her way through the rows of students, desks, and bench seats to her small desk on the far side of the room. Sitting there alongside the line of tall glass windows, Molly pondered her morning.

The rest of the day passed normally, although Molly was very distracted by the morning's events. She kept hearing the words of the two peculiar men. Most people would say she was crazy to pay them any mind. Most people already questioned her dubious interest in mystical and spiritual things.

"Very suspicious!" they'd whisper.

None of them understood.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from ESCAPE TO Ecclesia by LISA MEREDITH SHAH Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Meredith Shah. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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