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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Foxy Lady

May 12, 2014

I’ve written several posts describing my childhood passion for pets and how my mother’s philosophy was such that I was denied any animal too big to flush in the toilet when it inevitably died. But there was another family member whose lust for animals overshadowed mine. My cousin Eleanor was several years older than me and her parents denied her nothing. When we visited her house I half expected to see a giraffe peering over her backyard fence. Eleanor didn’t make friends easily and experienced educational problems at school. Today a child like Eleanor would be diagnosed as suffering from ADHS or mild forms of autism, but back then kids like her were dismissed as high strung or just difficult.

    

Eleanor was the daughter of my Uncle Manuel, who you might remember from my story Supertrout. Uncle Manuel was the family member with all the cool camping equipment so Dad always included him on our excursions to Portola State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Eleanor seldom accompanied us on our camping trips because she habitually woke in the middle of the night shrieking from night terrors. The last time she’d joined us a park ranger burst into our campsite to check out what sounded like someone being skinned alive. But one camping trip did include Eleanor and I’ll never forget it.

    

It happened in the middle of the night when we were all inside the tent and tucked into our sleeping bags. My uncle had a penchant for eating pork and beans out of the can, requiring us to sleep with an open tent flap to prevent asphyxiation. I heard rustling, and then a giggle. My older brother David told me to shut up.

     

“I’m not the one giggling,” I whispered. “I think it’s Eleanor.”

    

My brother sighed loudly. “I hope she doesn’t start screaming again. She can wake the dead.”

    

A moment later David was lightly snoring.

    

I was about to dose off when I heard Eleanor say, “Stephen, come check out what’s in my sleeping bag.”

    

My best friend Ricky Delgado had recently told me some strange and disturbing things that went on between men and women in the middle of the night. I had no interest whatsoever in checking out the interior of my cousin’s sleeping bag. “No thanks.”

    

“You won’t believe what I’ve got in here. I’m gonna keep it!”

    

Curiosity overrode my caution and I inched closer to her. The tent was too dark to see anything, until she shone a flashlight into her sleeping bag. My heart skipped a beat at what I saw. Cuddled up beside her for warmth, blinking in the light of the flashlight was a…fox.

    

“Where’d it come from?” I asked softly, not wanting to wake the others.

    

“We’re in the mountains. It’s wild and just wandered into our tent.”

    

“Aren’t you worried it might bite you?”

    

“Heck no; animals like me. I never get bit.”

    

It was true; she was much better with animals than people. She thought nothing of handling tarantulas and snakes, and my flushable pet rat adored her. I was infuriated the fox had chosen her sleeping bag instead of mine. I’d have forfeited my precious Yogi Bear bank to own a pet fox. I lay awake for hours thinking about that fox and how I might convince Eleanor to let me have it, ignoring the fact that my parents would never permit me to keep it. Eventually I fell asleep.

    

Sunlight was penetrating the towering redwoods and blue jays were squawking when someone woke us with cheery whistling. Once more I heard rustling, followed by Eleanor shouting loud enough to wake everyone, “Come back. Don’t go. Come back!”

    

She dashed out of the tent after the fox. I followed her.

    

The whistler was a park ranger. In his arms he held the fox.

    

“Is he yours?” Eleanor asked. Her tone said it all; pleeeeze say it isn’t.

    

The ranger smiled. “This is Sammy. When he was a kit his mother was killed by a cougar. One of the rangers discovered him mewling under a log and brought him back to the station. We all took turns raising him.” He scratched Sammy’s chin. It was disturbing how much the fox seemed to enjoy it. “Sammy lives here in the park, He’s sort of a mascot. He climbed out of a window at the station last night.”

    

The ranger set him down, said goodbye and walked off. Sammy trailed close behind him, leaving two broken hearts in his wake.  

 

      



Comments

34 Comments
Ahhhhhhh! What an adorable memory...
By: The Broad on May 12, 2014
Love it!
By: Cranky on May 12, 2014
just when I think you've told the last story that made me cry, you tell another. This is so sweet and so tender. I wanted cousin Eleanor's fox too.
By: Oma Linda on May 12, 2014
how very sweet. :)
By: TexWisGirl on May 12, 2014
As one who raised everything from bobcats to fawns to any other orphaned farm animal, I loved this story.
By: Shelly on May 12, 2014
Cute ... so what happened to Eleanor? Did she become a vet or a zookeeper, or go to work in the pet store?
By: Tom Sightings on May 12, 2014
Aww that was a cute story, I was amazed the fox was so tame, until you explained why. I did wonder what was in her sleeping bag too. :D
By: LL COOL JOE on May 12, 2014
awww this is a wonderful story- your cousin Eleanor sounds like a nice cousin to have! Cheers- have a great week!
By: Kathe W. on May 12, 2014
I wonder if the fox stayed tame or if he ever went wild?
By: PT Dilloway on May 12, 2014
What a wonderful childhood memory!
By: Arlynda Lea Beuterbaugh on May 12, 2014
Wow...that is really a great story!
By: Eva Gallant on May 12, 2014
That kit was blessed to be found and raised by friendly people, and that would be a special camping trip!
By: mimi on May 12, 2014
I was thinking tame fox right away as I once rescued one that has been bottle fed by humans. How cool she got to spend the night with such s beauty.They are my favorite animal. Great story.
By: Akansas Patti on May 12, 2014
Awww that's sweet. You're probably better off though you know, animals make such a mess. haha
By: Hey Monkey Butt on May 12, 2014
Love your trepidation at inspecting inside the sleeping bag - and the reasons for it :-)
By: Glen on May 12, 2014
Glad i read all the way because I was sure that you were making this up! That would be such a super cool experience! I love animals, messy things that they are.
By: Tabor on May 12, 2014
aaahhh, poor Eleanor and poor Stephen. what a lovely story. i'd love a pet fox
By: Fran on May 12, 2014
I thought maybe she'd gone out an caught it, with some crafty Dr. Doolittle powers.
By: Val on May 12, 2014
What a cute fox story, and no mention of any rabies shots afterwards! (I grew up being warned that foxes were dangerous - in Germany they are the main carriers of rabies).
By: Pixel Peeper on May 12, 2014
Oh no. Not for me. I'm very cautious with wild animals.
By: red on May 12, 2014
I'm sorry Eleanor lost her buddy. At least she had a night of good cuddles with a "safe" wild animal. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on May 12, 2014
A great and fascinating tale. Like other commenters, what happened to Eleanor?
By: John on May 13, 2014
Awesome story Stephen. One of your best. :)
By: Scott Park on May 13, 2014
Delightful story. I too have met people who were much more comfortable alongside animals than humans. At one point in the story I thought it might be a "coming of age" yarn, but the fox in her sleeping bag was much more original!
By: Bryan Jones on May 13, 2014
Aw sweet!
By: The Bug on May 13, 2014
Funny how animals instinctively know who will love and need them most. Foxes are a rare find. A client and I (who, like Eleanor, is better with animals than people) saw a fox (she identified it; I had no idea) run through a nearby park. That was the one and only time I've seen one. They're uniquely endearing. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on May 13, 2014
Thankfully, none of them made into my bedroll, but the snakes I have found sidling up next to where I slept were not charmed in the least after I woke up!
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on May 13, 2014
AWWWW what a cute story. Could of been scary had the fox not been so domesticated.
By: Cheryl P. on May 13, 2014
Truly a sweet memory. So glad Eleanor had a cousin like you and parents who didn't deny her what she loved. My mother also hated animals and we had few and all very small (and all very grudgingly allowed in the house ... in cages or tanks).
By: Mitchell is Moving on May 14, 2014
Good thing the fox found its way into her sleeping bag and not someone else. Otherwise the reaction to the unexpected visitor would have been... shall we say... wild! :D
By: Daniel LaFrance on May 14, 2014
What a charming story. I love the thought of a wild critter cuddling up for warmth in the night. Enchanting. What became of Eleanor? Did her natural connection with animals direct the course of her life?
By: Hilary on May 14, 2014
congrats on your POTW!
By: TexWisGirl on May 16, 2014
A wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. I loved the decision to swop your Yogi Bear bank for the fox if you could have done :)
By: Sharon Bradshaw on May 21, 2014
That is so sweet. Some children especially just have a way with animals, I love to watch it. I think we lose it as adults - replaced by fear and distrust mainly... :)
By: Jenny @ TheBrickCastle on May 21, 2014

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