Welcome to the Chubby Chatterbox Newsletter, where I’ll be posting favorites from the Chubby Chatterbox archives. In addition, my complete thriller Return of the Mary Celeste will soon be serialized here for those who have asked for something beyond a regular post.

My novel is based on a true event, arguably the greatest maritime mystery of all time. In 1872 the crew and passengers of Boston brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned their seaworthy ship and its valuable cargo, vanishing in the middle of the Atlantic. Speculation over their fate has never abated. History records that after the Mary Celeste tragedy no one from that fateful voyage was ever seen again. History is about to be rewritten…

Return of the Mary Celeste

Prologue

Tragedy struck the brigantine Mary Celeste on the morning of November 25, 1872. The hourly log was later recovered from the deserted vessel; At 8 a.m. the last notation was made. By 9 a.m. no one remained aboard to chalk the next entry.

Something had terrified Captain Benjamin Briggs and his crew, prompting the seasoned skipper to make a decision certain to affect not only himself, his ship and crew, but his family as well—his wife and two year old daughter were aboard Mary Celeste. Much ink has been spilled in fanciful and scientific attempts to explain the calamity that engulfed this perfectly seaworthy ship, yet all that is known for certain is this: in a matter of minutes Captain Briggs became convinced that the only way to save their lives was by ordering everyone into a hastily launched lifeboat. By giving the order to abandon ship, he also launched the greatest of all maritime mysteries.

On December 5, 1872, a month after leaving New York Harbor, Mary Celeste was found drifting on a calm and empty sea. The ship was in fine condition, perfectly intact with valuable cargo safely stored in her hold, but the crew and passengers had vanished. None were ever seen again.

Until now….

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The Big "O"

March 23, 2015

 

I didn’t have many followers when I posted this early in 2012. You might have missed it.

 

*********************************

 

Our tour bus was cutting through the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, located on the edge of the Anatolian Plateau where people have been living since Paleolithic times. The mountains were modest compared to the Alps or Rockies, with expansive valleys meeting us at every curve. At one point our guide, Selchuk, ordered the driver of our bus to pull to the side of the road. He said to us, “Do you want to see something really interesting?”

 

Of course I did. That’s why I’d traveled halfway around the world, to see what I couldn’t see at home. I followed Selchuk across the highway to a field. Like many of the Turks I’d encountered, Selchuk had a thing for flowers and shouted out varieties of plants and blossoms during every step of our journey. Mrs. C. and I had journeyed far to experience different cultures and explore ancient cities; we weren’t much interested in flowers.

 

“Come,” Selchuk said to me when I hesitated to get off the bus. “You will find this interesting.”

 

He hadn’t led me astray yet, but Mrs. C. wasn’t budging for a field of flowers and stayed on the bus with most of our tour mates. A handful of us climbed down from the bus and walked over to the field of dazzlingly white blossoms.

 

Selchuk explained. “These flowers are short-lived and weren’t here two weeks ago. In three or four days the petals will drop, exposing a pod the size of a small hen’s egg with a diameter between 5 and 7.5 centimeters. You are looking at a field of opium poppies.”

 

He was right; this was interesting, not something I’d ever expected to see. My college

roommate had grown a few marijuana plants but I’d never seen anything like this before.

 

“Opium? The same flower that’s converted into heroin?” I asked.

 

Selchuk nodded. The sun was hot and he shaded himself with his trademark orange umbrella as he walked through the field. I followed him. Bees were everywhere, often five or six to a blossom. It had recently rained and the ground was damp, sticky like the plants. He pointed out some of the larger bulbs. “These are harvested the same way they were thousands of years ago. A slice is cut into the pod with a knife and the sap oozes out. It soon crusts over and a farmer comes by and scrapes it off. This sap is the most potent part of the plant.”

 

“Is it legal to grow opium poppies in Turkey?”

 

“No. This field is owned by the government, which uses the poppies for medicine.”

 

I recalled that opium was once a common ingredient in items such as soft drinks, baby food and cough syrup. And wasn’t Samuel Taylor Coleridge hopped up on the stuff when he penned his famous Kubla Khan? I ran through a list of famous opium users that included, Marcus Aurelius, Benjamin Franklin, Charles Dickens and Florence Nightingale. It wasn’t long before I was tempted to run blindly through these poppies like Dorothy and Company in the Wizard of OZ. Would I get sleepy and fall asleep until Glinda waved her magic wand to rouse me? Was it my imagination that I was beginning to feel warm and fuzzy inside? With great effort I turned my head back to the bus and saw Mrs. C. staring at me curiously through the window of our bus.

 

Soon it was time to depart. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few pictures. In spite of the heady effect of the flowers, or perhaps because of it, something special caught my eye. Thousands of poppies, all white—except for one. Swaying in the breeze and luring me deeper and deeper with lying promises, one scarlet blossom roused me like a trumpet announcing royalty. I was momentarily Odysseus, snared by the Queen of the lotus-eaters. She was beckoning me forward and begging me not to go….

 

 

 

 

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Comments

24 Comments
I think I was following in 2012, but anything over 2 years old is new to me anyway. I enjoyed this the second time around as much as I'm sure I must have enjoyed it the first time.
By: Cranky on March 23, 2015
Very interesting, as they say!
By: The Broad on March 23, 2015
I don't think I've ever seen a field of opium poppies either. Cool that you found the one of a different color.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on March 23, 2015
I enjoyed it back in 2012, and I enjoyed it again just now. You're a wonderful story teller. :)
By: Scott Park on March 23, 2015
"Poppies....poppies will make them sleep. Sleeeeeepppppp." And then it snowed. Yeah, I think we watched the same movie as kids.
By: Al Penwasser on March 23, 2015
So glad you got out of the bus. Also glad you didn't decide to create a bouquet to take home.
By: Mitchell is Moving on March 23, 2015
heady stuff! :)
By: TexWisGirl on March 23, 2015
Maybe a contact high? I remember this from the first time you posted....have a great week!
By: Kathe W. on March 23, 2015
Lured by one single flower... precious! ;-)
By: Daniel LaFrance on March 23, 2015
Good thing you snapped a photo or we never would have believed you actually saw that one scarlet blossom.
By: Tom Sightings on March 23, 2015
Was Toto there, too?
By: fishducky on March 23, 2015
Yes, i remember this post, and i like it the second time as much as the first. It makes sense that in order to have opiates for medicine, there has to be a controlled place where these are grown.
By: mimi on March 23, 2015
Was "she" an "Abyssinian maid and her Dulcimer she played?"
By: Tom Cochrun on March 23, 2015
It was government controlled yet tourists walk willy nilly in the field. Wonder if any locals made any midnight raids. Glad you got out of the bus.
By: Akansas Patti on March 23, 2015
I've always wanted to see the opium flower. What a strange plant, right? It produces three powerful drugs: opium, heroin, and morphine.
By: Michael Offutt on March 23, 2015
I vaguely remember this post from the first time around...but I couldn't remember at all the famous opium users you mentioned. Really surprising...
By: Pixel Peeper on March 23, 2015
The way your guide took you to the location and then told you made for a great surprise.
By: red on March 23, 2015
We used to grow poppies in our back yard in Phoenix. And, in answer to your question, "no."
By: Catalyst on March 23, 2015
Benjamin Franklin? Got high as a kite, huh? And Charles Dickens - now we know what he was doing the night before Christmas. Interesting, Stephen. I bet Mrs. C. wanted you to have brought her back some special flowers.
By: Robyn Engel on March 23, 2015
A great story.
By: John on March 24, 2015
Fascinating. Not something I've ever seen, but I would be very interested to experience that. And I was expecting an article about Roy Orbison. Of course!
By: Mike@A Bit About Britain on March 24, 2015
Well, I learned something. I thought opium poppies were red. Obviously they are white as well.
By: Ellen Abbott on March 24, 2015
OK. I'm going to admit something. I've mentioned I was a big pot head back in the day. I smoked hash, pot and opium. Opium was kick ass!! I can see why opium dens existed. Easy addiction for that one! Great story!
By: Bouncin Barb on March 24, 2015
A fine story, and very unique. I've never seen one.
By: Michael Manning on March 25, 2015

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