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


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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A Near Disaster in Chartres

July 5, 2017

Several followers recently asked if Mrs. Chatterbox and I ever felt in danger during any of our trips. The answer is “no” although there was a time when we almost died.


In 1999 Mrs. Chatterbox and I celebrated our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’d traveled to Paris to celebrate, but unfortunately everything was on strike: museums were closed, monuments shut down, cabs and garbage collectors had ceased being operational. Since the French government had a tight grip on the media, there wasn’t a word about this in the papers. Thousands of tourists were lined up in front of the shuttered Louvre and Musée d’ Orsay. Other than eating at overpriced cafes and bistros, there was little to do in Paris.


After a few days of walking around we decided to catch a train to Chartres to view the cathedral’s famous stained glass windows. Clouds gathered as we journeyed sixty miles southwest of Paris. The cathedral rose in the distance like a great ship sailing over fields of grain. As we entered the thirteenth century cathedral and made our way to the world-famous Rose Window the building went dark as clouds blotted out the sun.



Chartres Cathedral



I was totally frazzled; not only was everything in Paris closed, but now it was darker than an eclipse and impossible to see the spectacular windows. As we peered into the overhead darkness, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Lightning cracked. The Medieval windows were illuminated by a burst of intense light, followed by thunder. Frantic pigeons trapped inside the building were invisible phantoms flying about in terror. Lightning put on a pyrotechnic display for thirty minutes, providing us with the rare treat of seeing these magnificent windows illuminated by great bursts of radiance—an experience I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget what happened next.


When we’d had our fill of the cathedral we strolled a few blocks and crossed a small bridge spanning the modest Eure River to enter the tourist section of Chartres.  Eventually, we found a park and laid down on a grassy slope to watch the ever changing clouds racing overhead. When rain began falling we took shelter beneath a canopy conveniently left by a produce vendor—based on rotten fruit and vegetables scattered about.


I don’t recall ever seeing it rain that hard. We were trapped for twenty minutes before the cloudburst eased, at which point we made our way back towards the cathedral for one last look before returning to the train station for the ride back to Paris. That’s when we heard a low rumbling, a marrow-chilling growl. I spun around and saw that the canopy sheltering us had vanished. We approached the spot where we’d taken sanctuary. A massive sinkhole had opened where we’d stood a moment earlier.


Peering over the edge, I was unable to see the bottom beyond the darkness. The coin I dropped into the hole vanished without a sound. Five more minutes of standing on that spot and for us, the world would have been as dark as it was for Tony Soprano at the conclusion of that final episode, and I wouldn’t be celebrating my sixty-fifth birthday later this year.


Have you ever had a near-death experience?




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Wow! I've never known anyone who came that close to a sinkhole. What a blessing you moved when you did. I bet that was all the excitement you could handle for one day.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on July 5, 2017
You both were really lucky that day, like you said five more minutes and you simply would have vanished, I can't recall anything that close for me.
By: Jimmy on July 5, 2017
Holy smokes....close call indeed...wow. Glad you and Mrs C are still here!
By: Kathe W. on July 5, 2017
Wow!!! And, no.
By: Mitchell is Moving on July 5, 2017
You have an angel looking over both of you. That is very scary and one you will always remember. I've a terrifying experiences but won't discuss them. I love your perfect description seeing Chartres while riding the train. I loved this amazing cathedral and the town
By: Birgit on July 5, 2017
Not that close, but yes, I have had a few close calls. I think I have written about some of them.
By: Tabor on July 5, 2017
I choked on a piece of shrimp once but luckily someone gave me the Heimlich. Not nearly as interesting a story.
By: PT Dilloway on July 5, 2017
Holy Crap! I've had a near death, but nothing like that. I was on a motorcycle just after I got out of the army. I was heading to town on a narrow two-lane road when I came upon a slow-moving vehicle. I held my arm out the signal that I was passing and proceeded to pass when a log truck that was behind me and driving really fast decided to pass at the same moment. For a few seconds I was sandwiched two large vehicles going in the same direction. I almost had a hygiene issue. R
By: Rick Watson on July 5, 2017
nothing that close!
By: cranky on July 5, 2017
I was choking once when I was alone at home & gave myself the Heimlich against the sink but I was never in danger of vanishing!!
By: fishducky on July 5, 2017
That was compelling reading. I bet that you are still thinking about it after all these years. Greetings from London.
By: A Cuban In London on July 5, 2017
How frightening! There have been a couple of near misses in automobiles, but nothing this dramatic.
By: messymimi on July 5, 2017
That is some story. You saved the best until the last.
By: red Kline on July 5, 2017
Whoa! That's scary!! But I love the idea of lightening through stained glass windows.
By: The Bug on July 5, 2017
Wow, that was incredibly scary and lucky. You are living right Stephen. I was once hit by lightening (it struck the fence I was leaning over). The worst it did was charge my battery so that I was so hyper that I didn't sleep for two days and was really wired. I did post about it.
By: Arkansas Patti on July 5, 2017
I don't want to think about you and Mrs. C. vanishing in a sinkhole. About 35 years ago, when Favorite Young Man was Favorite Little Boy, I became horribly ill. I fainted at my doctor's office. He sent me to the hospital, where I waited, hunched in a wheelchair, to get a bed. When I was finally in the bed, I was in such terrible pain that it occurred to me that I was going to die. As soon as I had that thought, immediately I knew that God would not let me die because He wanted me to raise my son. I didn't hear the booming voice of God or feel angels around me. I simply knew that I would not die that day. I was in the hospital for ten days, while my parents took care of my son. I was so glad to go home. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on July 5, 2017
Your experience at the Cathedral is fascinating. Chartres plays a large role in my first novel. I wish I would have had the imagination or the benefit of hearing of your story, because the lightning sequence would have been a marvelous scene. As to near death experiences-a few-one that left me in a coma for a while. You and Mrs. C. were indeed fortunate.
By: Tom Cochrun on July 5, 2017
Very scary story. You had a lucky escape there!
By: Botanist on July 5, 2017
Life is all about the timing. Good thing you are a lover of beauty, and went back to see the cathedral! My closest call was probably a roll-over car accident, on a day I put on my seatbelt because a friend teaching driver's education that summer had advised me to.
By: Val on July 5, 2017
wow, no nothing like that.
By: Ellen Abbott on July 6, 2017
WOW. You wrote about this so descriptively, the hairs on my back were standing. Thank goodness you moved from that spot when you did. What a chilling story.
By: Robyn Engel on July 6, 2017
This sounds so scary. I'm glad you're okay. www.ficklemillennial.com
By: Gina on July 6, 2017
That would give a person pause for thought, wouldn't it? I'm glad you and Mrs C moved at the right time. BUT WHAT WERE YOU THINKING GETTING CLOSE ENOUGH TO DROP A COIN IN THE HOLE???!!
By: jenny_o on July 8, 2017
Yikes! You and Mrs. Chatterbox were really lucky. I've worked with geologists and engineers who investigate sinkholes here in Florida, and I know how dangerous they can be. A few towns over, a guy went to bed a few years ago, and then the entire bedroom disappeared into a sinkhole. They never found his body. Glad this didn't happen to you!
By: Pixel Peeper on July 9, 2017
I don't recall any 'near misses' for me. I suppose you have luck on your side or a guardian angel watching over you.
By: Daniel LaFrance on July 12, 2017

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