Outlaw Online - Ted Dekker

Chapter One

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?