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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Show and Tell

Santa left a shiny green dump truck for me under our Christmas tree in 1957 when I was in kindergarten. The bed of the truck moved up and down and the turning wheels revved like Dad’s electric shaver. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen and I couldn’t wait to bring it to school for Show and Tell.


To keep my emerald beauty perfect for its unveiling, I kept it as far from dirt as possible, seldom taking it outside. When school convened after the Christmas break, many of my fellow classmates were eager to show off their new loot. Miss Malone, our teacher, added our names to a sign-up sheet. My name was near the bottom.

 

Show and Tell was a once-a-day event. I waited my turn as Bruce Kelly waved around his Davy Crockett coonskin cap. Several girls cried when Bruce claimed the cap was made from a real raccoon, which Miss Malone said she seriously doubted. Danny Holloway showed off his Mr. Potato Head, to little enthusiasm since he forgot to bring a potato. Jack Cardenas brought in his new ant farm even though most of the ants were already dead, and Ruthie White showed girls the proper way to sip tea with her plastic tea set—boys weren’t allowed near it since we crawled with cooties.


When my turn came I carried my dump truck to school in a grocery bag. I placed it under my desk until the appointed time, which came right after lunch when we woke from our naps. At noon I unrolled my nap rug and laid down, sleep being the farthest thing from my mind. I kept imagining the expressions on my classmates’ faces when they caught their first glimpse of my dump truck.


To my horror, a surprise fire drill sounded right after lunch, leaving no time for Show and Tell. When we returned to our desks Miss Malone ruffled my hair and told me she’d place my name back on the list. Several weeks later I was again bumped; that day my class received polio vaccinations. The vaccination came as an injection. Our reward for not crying was a three-by-three inch card with a happy clown pinned to our shirts. The nurse gave me a happy clown even though I was crying, but not from the shot.


The last day of school was rapidly approaching and time was dwindling for me to show off my dump truck before we adjourned for the summer. Wrapped in its grocery bag, I set the truck under my desk every day hoping an opportunity would arise when I’d get to proudly show it off.


That opportunity came on the final day of school when Miss Malone said, “Class, listen up; one of you has patiently waited a long time for this moment—our last Show and Tell of the year.” Her eyes locked onto mine and I knew my time had come.
I reached under my desk and my fingers tightened on the paper bag. With precious cargo in hand, I made my way to the front of the class. A sea of shiny faces watched expectantly as I opened the bag and reached inside. I was so consumed by the moment that I wasn’t paying attention to Miss Malone, her smile melting into a frown as she leaned against the front of her desk. Before I could reveal my beautiful green dump truck her voice rang out, “Stephen, come here right this minute.”
Clutching the bagged truck under my arm, I went to stand before her. She bent down, lifted the front of my shirt and took a quick look at my stomach.


“Gather up all of your things and head to the nurse’s office right now!”


“B…but…”


Her finger pointed toward the door.


I never got the chance to participate in Show and Tell that year, but I did manage to share something with my class…chickenpox.