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Authors: Ted Dekker

Tags: #Adventure, #Adult

Outlaw

BOOK: Outlaw
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My dearest son, whom I was allowed to birth for reasons far beyond my own understanding:

You must know the full truth of who you are and from where you came. I have carefully written down our story through many nights alone, lost to the world, to be read only by those who would seek the truth as I myself do.

I pray that in reading our account, you will finally understand. Listen with your heart and surely you will be among the rarest who live, as will be those who one day awaken from their stupor and follow in your footsteps.

I wait for you, my son. Find me, the one whose womb gave you breath and blood. Search me out so that we might summon all those who would hear the distant beat of our drum and see, with new eyes, the world as it really is beyond the law of flesh and bone.

Hear my voice calling to you through these pages now. Come to your mother. Let my words guide you home. Awaken, my son. Come out from among those bound by the law of this world and find new life.

I wait…

THE STORY of how I, Julian Carter, and my precious two-year-old son, Stephen, came to be on that white sailboat, tossed about like a cork on a raging dark sea off the northern tip of Queensland in 1963, is harrowing, but it pales in comparison to being abandoned in that tempest.

One moment we were in the hands of a capable captain; the next he was gone, swallowed by the storm, leaving us utterly alone and at the whim of nature’s crushing fury.

Before leaving Thursday Island, I’d been assured that the captain—a congenial and talkative man named Moses who’d agreed to take us out for a leisurely afternoon sail—was the best. I suppose he might have been, but not even the most experienced pilot can control the hand of fate. In this case that hand was nothing less than a fist, perhaps a large log or a whale, and it slammed into the hull, jerking me from my dead sleep below deck where I’d dozed off in gently rising and falling seas.

The boat lolled dangerously to my right, then pitched in the opposite direction. I cried out and clambered to the adjacent bench seat, thinking little Stephen had surely been thrown across the galley. To my relief I saw that he hadn’t been bothered at all. He slept peacefully, unaware of the waves crashing against the craft.

How long had we been sleeping? In my panic I left Stephen and scrambled up the narrow ladder to the main deck.

The sight that greeted me stopped me cold. Dark, ominous clouds pressed low like a cave of black boulders. We were in the maw of two towering waves with jagged, wind-whipped crests that looked like bared teeth. The serene seas that had beckoned us out for leisure had become a monster and we were in its jaws.

The captain twisted from the wheel, sun-leathered face now ashen and drawn. I saw the fear in his eyes, two open wells that sank into the abyss of uncertainty. I felt myself being swallowed by the darkness in his eyes, sucked deep into a place that could not be rightly navigated.

For the space of no more than a heartbeat, we shared a common, terrible knowing: we were in dreadful trouble.

Whether distracted by my sudden appearance or lost in his own fear, I don’t know, but he was oblivious to the sudden swing of the mainsail sweeping toward him. I thought to cry out, but before the words could form in my mouth, fate dealt its blow. I watched, speechless, as the boom struck the side of his head with bone-crushing force. He lurched to his left. A sudden wave heaved the boat, and he toppled over the side and into the boiling sea.

I stood frozen at the hatch, clinging to the ladder, unwilling to believe what my eyes had just shown me.

Thinking to rush to the rail and save the man, I released my grip, but my legs were not accustomed to walking a bucking deck and I grabbed the ladder again, sure that I would only be thrown over as well, leaving my helpless son alone.

I cried out and frantically searched the foaming water but there was no sign of the captain. The ocean had swallowed him whole and shoved the boat far from where he’d gone overboard.

I felt a moment of dread for the man and whatever family he’d left behind, but the thoughts were quickly crushed by the singular terror of my own abandonment.

The empty deck before me looked like a scene from a nightmare, disconnected from reality, a single cruel image meant only to horrify. I saw the full scope of our danger as the boat rose to the top of a colossal wave. We were alone in the throat of a yawning ocean, a mere speck in that towering sea so far from the distant American shores I’d left to answer God’s call in the wake of a sunken marriage.

Even during my tumultuous relationship with Neil, my family had always been a strong fortress of refuge. My whole life, mother and father and sisters and servants had always been at my beck and call. Even during the darkest nights, the land had always been solidly under my feet.

But in that sea north of Queensland I was free-falling into bottomless chaos and death. The God I had come to serve was nowhere to be seen.

The boat tipped dangerously onto its side and my mind snapped to the crash I’d heard. Something had broken.

The rudder? The keel. Or worse, the hull.

Salt water crashed over the railings as I spun toward the open hatch behind me, grabbing for purchase, sopping wet. The water spilled through the doorway.

I threw myself down the ladder, reached up and slammed the door shut, then jerked the lever down to lock the door tight, muting the sound of pounding waves.

Stephen slept in peace.

I began to shake.

For a long moment I allowed myself to imagine that it was all a mistake. I was still asleep beside my son aboard the Pan American flight high in the sky, angling toward Australia, enduring a nightmare from which I would soon awake. Safe.

But then the boat lurched wildly, hurling an empty stainless coffeepot from the shelf to the floor, and I knew it was no dream. Large raindrops began to pelt the windows.

Amazingly, Stephen breathed evenly in a peaceful sleep. It was the only blessing of that moment. My maternal instincts demanded that I protect my son at all costs. He would continue to sleep without a hint of discomfort or fear—this became my sole purpose in the galley of that boat.

Pushing away all thoughts of the pounding storm, I dropped to my knees and scrambled under the table. A single latch locked the tabletop to the stand. I clawed at the lever, popped it open, then jerked the top off the stand and stood it on end, bracing it against the cushions where Stephen slept so he couldn’t roll off. I’d seen a box of canned goods along the wall behind me, and I fought for balance as I hauled it into place to secure the tabletop.

In truth, nothing could possibly be secure in that storm.

I knew nothing about making a sailboat go or turn or stop, even in a glass sea. The boat’s mainsail was straining in the wind. Looking out the round porthole window, I could see that we were being flung over the waves, tipping first one way and then the other in a dramatic fashion. The power of the storm would surely capsize us unless I could find a way to lower the sail. From what I could see, there was no way to accomplish that task from inside the hull.

I had to go back up and face the storm.

My mother and father were eccentric but made of iron. Some of that mettle had found its way into my bones. Faced with what seemed like certain death, I was finally able to set my panic aside.

I can’t tell you that I had any idea what I was doing or that I had any real hope for accomplishing it, but I knew I had to do something.

I staggered back onto the main deck, the memory of Moses being hurled overboard large in my mind. Why he hadn’t lowered the sail was beyond me. Perhaps he had been desperate to get out of the storm using as much wind power as possible.

Seawater soaked my blouse and capris to the skin, but the rubber soles of my canvas shoes didn’t slip. I grabbed one of the ropes to steady myself and pulled myself to where the sail was tied into the mast. There was a metal crank there and I tugged at it, but the lever refused to budge. Spray slapped my face. I could hardly see, and if not for my firm grasp on the rope, the bucking deck might have thrown me from my feet.

I searched in vain for a locking mechanism. I couldn’t figure out how to release the crank. It came to me that I had to cut the rope.

Lightning ripped jagged lines in the sky. Thunder crashed over my head. Angry clouds unleashed torrents of stinging rain, forcing me to squint to protect my eyes. The sail was dragging us over the crests, threatening to capsize us at any moment. Maybe I could release the sail by cutting the line. There had been a red bucket and a filleting knife on deck earlier, but no more. Both were long lost to the sea.

I clawed my way back to the hatch, descended the ladder without falling, retrieved a knife from the galley, and returned to the deck. With each step I took, the waves seemed to rise higher, like rolling mountains on either side. I had to get the sail down!

But the moment I tried to saw into the rope, I realized that it wasn’t rope at all. It was a cable. Thick strands of steel wire.

I stood there, frozen by indecision. I didn’t know how far out to sea we were. I didn’t know the direction in which we were headed. I didn’t know where the sea ended and land began.

We were in the Coral Sea, I knew that much. The boat might have been blowing west into the Pacific, north toward New Guinea, south toward Australia, or east, back toward Thursday Island. I could only hope that it was the last. Thoughts of the open Pacific filled me with the certainty of death.

Screaming at the wind, I lunged for the sail and thrust the blade at the stretched canvas. Repeated jabs rewarded me with a small tear in the material before a large wall of water threw me to my knees. The knife flew free.

Grasping at any surface that gave me a hold, I managed to crawl back into the galley and close the hatch. Stephen still slept—how, I’ll never know.

Only then did I think to secure him to the cushion using the strap from a life jacket so that he wouldn’t be thrown off the seat if the ride grew worse.

After I did so, there was nothing else I could do but crouch over my boy and beg God to save us. We were ants on a piece of driftwood being pummeled by crashing waves. Each clap of thunder rattled the metal stove.

The wind ripped into us with a savagery that left the boat groaning and screeching. My only hope lay in the fact that we hadn’t already been torn apart or flipped under the waves. The crash that had first awakened me must have been the rudder rather than the keel.

The beating seemed endless. Minutes dragged into what must have been an hour and then what might have been several hours.

I can’t fully understand how the boat held together under those pounding walls of water. I only know that somehow we made it through the storm’s worst. The wind finally began to ease. The waves weren’t as high and the rain lightened.

After hours of terror, a calm began to settle over me. Real hope for our survival slowly edged back into my mind.

 

The moment the storm finally destroyed us came suddenly, with a deafening crack below us, much louder and more jarring than the one that had broken the rudder. At first I thought the hull itself had split in two.

But as soon as the boat began to tip, I knew that the keel had somehow snapped. The long underwater wedges that keep the wind from pushing a sailboat over are normally the sturdiest part of a boat, so I don’t know why the keel broke before the hull.

What I do know is that one moment the boat was upright, and the next it had been pushed all the way over on its side. The impact forced part of the mast through the window.

I find it nearly impossible to relate the full horror of our capsizing at sea. The floor jerking up to my left. That coffeepot smashing into the ceiling. The tabletop flipping away. Water gushing into the cabin.

I could see the cabin collapsing around me, but my mind was swallowed by what was about to happen to Stephen. I instinctively grabbed for him, releasing my hold on the table post. The instant my hand came free, I was thrown across the cabin.

I remember screaming, a pitiful cry as my body flew through the air. I remember thinking that all of this had happened because of a recurring dream that had drawn me halfway across the world. Then my head slammed into one of the low-hanging cabinets and the world vanished.

BOOK: Outlaw
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