joannebest











candlereading
A noisy rumble of thunder rang throughout the tower followed by a show of lightening spectacular enough to rival the last Macy’s Forth of July fireworks display I’d seen, back before everything went to Hell.
I remember watching it from a friend’s penthouse terrace in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
Even though it was a bit of a distance from the barges on the Hudson we were high enough to not only see the fireworks exploding above us but we could also see them reflecting off the windows of the other tall buildings surrounding us.
Another loud crash of thunder made even me jump but poor Mal was terrified. He did his best imitation of a Halloween cat, his back arched, fur all at attention and hissed at the air above him.
The kid just ignored all of it, me, Mal, and the storm raging outside. He had his nose buried in a book, head down, shaggy hair in his face, index finger periodically pushing his broken glasses back in place.
There was a store in town that sold eyeglasses but I was no optometrist, unless they had the kid’s prescription in stock he’d have to make do with whatever we could scavenge.
Our last trip into town had been fruitful to say the least.
Our water supply was overflowing, we had a nice sized stock of canned goods but best of all, we had a mountainous stack of books we’d helped ourselves to last time we walked into town.
I also had a brand new stash of lace and silk pretties I’d lifted from the lingerie store. They were the one luxury I allowed myself these days. I’m all jeans and boots on the outside and not just for practical reasons. Casual was always my preference. Even before the world went away I was a jeans and boots girl but underneath my clothes I indulged myself with luscious lingerie.
So what if the apocalypse came and went and we still didn’t know why?
I was wearing lace now same reason I wore lace before, because I wanted to.
I don’t know why World War III happened on my watch and I don’t know why however many of us that it was that survived did survive that ugly pain-filled death that exterminated most of the human population. I was stubborn then and I’m stubborn now. But it wasn’t stubbornness that kept me from getting sick like the rest of the world. I’d always loved a good mystery, I loved to figure things out and figuring out why I was still alive was front and center in my mind every single day.
Another crash of thunder, this one loud enough to rattle the windowpanes, interrupted my musings over government conspiracies and the end of the world as I knew it.
The rainfall was torrential. Water poured down from the sky like somebody up there turned on a faucet full force.
It was actually kinda nice.
I always loved a good hard rain, especially when I was near the ocean. The sound of the rain mixed with the sound of the waves crashing violently against the shore was soothing to me.
Once when I was a kid my family was taking our usual yearly summer vacation, we always rented a shore house but this particular year we’d finally rented a place right on the beach. It was a big old Victorian-style house with plenty of balconied bedrooms and a huge wooden deck on the beach itself. That first day we unpacked, went out to dinner and played miniature golf.
We couldn’t wait to go to sleep so we could wake up early to watch the sunrise over the ocean. That very first night a nor’easter blew in and it rained the entire week. We didn’t see a speck of sunshine till we drove out of town.
Although my brothers had cabin fever by the second day, I spent a week curled up in a cozy window seat dividing my time between watching the beauty of the storm and reading the pile of books I’d brought with me.
This was the same kind of storm, and after our last bookstore run we had books piled all around us.
Kid had his nose buried so deep in whatever he was reading that it wasn’t until I tossed a book in his direction that he finally looked up.
“Geez! Whaddya want? I’m reading something!”
He was crankier than me these days.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” I ignored his brusque tone of voice, not everyone enjoyed cabin fever the way I did.
“Check it out, there’s some good stuff in that book-”
“Tom Brown’s Field Guide To City And Suburban Survival!” He was practically hyperventilating with excitement as he interrupted me. “I used to have this book! This is awesome!” He immediately began flipping through the pages. “You know I think there’s some stuff in here about making a heating system so it’s not so cold in here…” his voice trailed off and he looked down at the book in his hands before looking me straight in the eye.
“Umm, hey,” he mumbled so quietly I could barely hear him. “Thanks for, you know, just thanks.”
We didn’t usually say much to each other. I remembered what it was like to be a shy kid. I couldn’t imagine what he’d been through on his own and I was hoping that eventually he’d open up to me if I didn’t keep badgering him.
He was finally starting to warm up to me a little bit. I was determined to somehow make things as normal as possible in this non-normal world we found ourselves in and I didn’t want to jeopardize his tentative efforts to reach out to me.
“Yep, no problem Kid,” I held back a smile as he tried to hide his look of displeasure over my nickname. Maybe if I said it enough he’d tell me his actual name.
Another loud rumble of thunder shook the tower and I looked over at the kid, face buried in his book and wonder of wonders, Mal was curled up in his lap purring.
It’s a start, I thought as I pulled a blanket tighter around me and went back to rereading a shop-worn version of A Little Princess.
mal looking at rain
to be continued

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sunsetbeachh
Walking along the shoreline of Sunset Beach as the sun seemingly sinks into the ocean is a humbling experience.
It’s as if the entire sky is a canvas of shifting colors dripping down, down, and down, until there’s nothing left but a black background splattered with glittery specks of starlight.
Sunrises are just as magnificent.
It still amazes me that I have the privilege of being able to see both the rising and the setting of the sun from the same spot.
During the colder months of the year you’d expect the beach to be deserted like it is now, but it was kind of eerie this past summer without a soul around. Lonely too.
The beaches I was accustomed to in the before-times were always full of screaming kids firing stinging sand in your direction as they’d run toward the building waves only to turn tail and scamper away laughing when the curling foam crashed over their tiny toes.
The smell of salt water mixing with coconut scented sunblock filled the beach air while different radio stations fought loudly to be heard.
A hop skip and a jump away, you’d be on sensory overload between the fresh caramel popcorn and cotton candy smells blending with sausage sizzling away next to the best damn pizza in the world.
Your ears would nearly bleed from the amped up boardwalk sounds, the carousel calliope music of the merry go round a sharp contrast to old-school classic rock blaring from the direction of the roller coaster.
Underneath it all was the constant hum of families frantically squeezing every drop of fun they could out of their vacations and always, the sound of seagulls screeching.
2010-09-30 11.08.37 2010-09-30 11.13.20
The seagulls still screech, although there are a lot less around these days.
“Still plenty of fish in the sea though, right Mal?”
All those years of surf fishing as a child paid off. I tried to convince the Kid to come with me so I could teach him how to catch dinner but he stayed back at the tower with his nose in a book. I don’t know how he could see through that unruly mop on his head and I wish I’d stop thinking like some kind of parent, it was starting to freak me out.
Mal was stretched out on a large piece of driftwood staring down a seagull who’d landed on the other end.
He never bothered the gulls for some reason, I guess the feral cats down here got used to them quickly, maybe they had some kind of peace treaty going on. There was a lesson in there for the world governments only it was too late.
~
After hiding my fishing pole in the abandoned gift shop I scooped Mal up for the short walk back to the tower.
He knew he had a fish dinner coming up and he purred soft in my arms, the only sound other than the surf pounding the sand.
I never expected to miss noise.
Generally, I liked the quiet. I always had, and now it somehow made the end of the world as we knew it a bit easier to deal with, like I could pretend I was on my own private almost-island while the rest of the world went on around me, and it soothed me.
That soothing feeling usually lasted about five minutes.
I don’t regret leaving the citified part of my little state and making my way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The good old Fire Tower Museum was a perfect fortress.
The bed I’d put together at the very top of the tower wasn’t that bad either. I could literally see for miles when I was lying on that bed.
Although sometimes I had to fight with my spoiled cat-brat for the better view, Mal usually preferred to curl up by my feet.
On those extra chilly mornings, I’d awaken to find he’d crawled underneath the covers with me to steal my body heat but I didn’t mind, it was mutually beneficial.
Even with the addition of the Kid, temporary though it might be, the tower was big enough to give us our own space.
All in all, I couldn’t dream of a better place than the Victorian town of Cape May if I had to survive.
And oddly enough, I want to survive.
“Now if I could just convince you two cranky houseguests to get along,” I said to Mal as he stared at my mouth making words.
He let out a loud meow as he placed one paw, claws in, softly on my cheek.
“Sorry Mally, I mean our one cranky houseguest.”
He purred loud and long at that, satisfied with my answer as we walked up the ramp to the tower, dinner in hand.
capemaymoon
To Be Continued



fluffy bed
I’d kill for some clean sheets.
Fresh-out-of-the-dryer soft-cotton bed sheets made of the highest thread count possible.
And one of those foamy pillows that you sink into like those fluffy clouds in childhood pictures of Heaven.
“And also,” I said to Mal,”a pony.”
He just opened his mouth in a huge kitty-yawn then promptly fell back asleep.
Looking at the feral feline who’d adopted me a few months ago I thought of how much more useful a pony would’ve been rather than a cat and shook away the thought. The scrawny little fur ball had wandered into my tower and kept me sane after I took off on my own. I adored that purry furry pain in the ass.
He kept my feet warm at night plus he didn’t ask me a million questions like the kid.
I don’t know why I let the kid get to me.
He still wouldn’t talk about himself and flat out refused to tell me his name but I cut him some slack, it was obvious he’d been through something traumatizing and he couldn’t be more than 15 or so.
I made him a cozy corner to call his own on the level below me for now and told him I had to call him something so until he told me his name I was calling him Kid.
“With a capital K,” I said.
He just scowled in reply and went off to his borrowed personal space for some shut eye. He stopped at the steps and without turning around he mumbled, “Thanks”, then ran up the spiral staircase.
A strong gust of wind blew though the room interrupting my thoughts as the cold rain outside began to turn into sleet pinging off the windows I’d left half open.
The ocean sounds helped me fall asleep.
This was my first winter living in the tower. It was my first winter since the end of the world and I was beginning to question my choice of Home Sweet Home.
An abandoned Fire Tower is a great heat-beater come summertime but I hadn’t been warm since October.
The winds coming in off the Atlantic Ocean seemed never-ending and there weren’t enough blankets in Cape May to keep me warm.
Mal must have been dreaming he was eating because his little mouth was moving, making little smacking sounds as if he had a bowl of cream in front of him.
If only I could sleep like a cat instead of this nightly tossing and turning.
As tired as I was my brain wouldn’t stop.
First I tried counting sheep and when that didn’t work I started counting up all the things I’d wish for if I had a magic genie.
The only thing I was able to think of though was that feeling of warm soft cotton sliding against my skin and the weighty feeling of a thick down comforter.
~
2010-09-30 15.12.50IMG_20110519_135447
~
I dreamed I was sitting at the head of a mile-long table enjoying Afternoon Tea.
Three-tiered trays piled high with tiny little finger-sandwiches made of cucumber and minted cream cheese on homemade bread cut into triangles with the crusts cut off, delicate shrimp-salad sandwiches on miniature croissants rivaled platters of pastries and scones. Lemon squares dusted with the finest powdered sugar sat next to raspberry cheesecake bites and tiny half-dollar sized tarts filled with chocolate mousse. Petite petit-fours covered in pale pastel fondant were arranged around the edges of each tier.
A huge bowl of clotted-cream sat next to steaming pots of hot tea and a plate of assorted cakes topped with inch-thick chocolate frosting with my name etched on top were at my fingertips.
As I brought a bite-sized chocolate brownie slathered with peanut-butter icing to my mouth it turned to dust and slipped through my fingers into a dirty pile on the floor.
The mound of dust grew in size until it filled the room turning it into a large expanse of sand and I woke up to a sandstorm blowing in off the beach through the window I’d left open earlier in the hopes the storm would lull me to sleep.
A groan slipped out of my mouth startling Mal and he hissed his disapproval as I disturbed his cat-nap.
He promptly went back to sleep after a cat-stretch long enough to cross his eyes.
The moon was full tonight and according to a Farmer’s Almanac I found when I was rummaging through Swain’s Hardware Store it was called a Full Worm Moon, something to do with earthworms and robins.
I hadn’t seen many birds in the sky since the end of the world became a reality rather than a future-fear.
I went back to sleep hoping to dream of chocolate.
2010-09-30 12.11.04



2010-09-30 12.10.162010-09-30 12.22.15
Cape May NJ ~ A Sort Of Truce
When I realized my big bad intruder was nothing more than a scared lonely thirsty kid my girl-genes kicked into gear and I felt all protective-like. Even worse, I felt sorry for him. I hate that.
“So kid, where you from anyway?”
After I pried my cat off his face my conscience kicked in, next thing you know we’re leaning against a counter full of old WWII relaxation paraphernalia drinking some of my preciously low supply of Acme iced tea. I was starting to wonder if a Nestles bar held it’s flavor for more than half a century but it would be a desperate day before I smashed the glass to get at it. Fuck the apocalypse, I still had some manners.
Malcontent was suspiciously watching the kid from the spiral staircase winding up the center of the tower. He was waiting for any excuse to pounce on the poor kid again. I think he was just paranoid from chewing on too much catnip.
“Stop calling me that. And why are you being so nice to me? I just tried to rob you!”
He scratched the top of his head and pushed his broken glasses back up his nose sniffling.
His hair was a mess of dirty-blond-snarls. He reminded me of a golden-retriever and I squashed the urge to pat his head.
I wasn’t usually accused of being nice so I was wondering the same exact thing.
Why was I being so nice to the kid who followed me back from town?
After hiding out in the woods a few hours he’d tried to break in when I was sleeping in the Dayroom near the top of the tower. Well, not so much break in as stand outside pounding on the door shouting.
I don’t know why this place was left empty, it was the perfect place to hole-up during an apocalypse. A strong fortress and I could literally see for miles. The old display telescopes from World War II worked fine, if I was going to survive, what better place than a WWII Museum housed in an actual Fire Tower.
“Well for one thing, you refuse to tell me your name. I mean really kid, I get the whole stranger-danger thing but the times they are a’ changing and you’re way too young to even get that reference,” I sighed, ” besides, I was raised right, I’m always nice to losers.”
“Hey! I’m not a lose-”
I cut him off mid-word with a wave of my hand.
“Ok ok, calm down kid, I’m just busting your chops. Lighten the mood? You know, just, uh, kidding, so to speak.”
The poor thing was scared out of his mind and I couldn’t blame him. Things were pretty scary these days with more people dead than alive. Getting information was next to impossible and people, if you saw any, were either scared and suspicious or fucking assholes of the violent kind.
Malcontent poked his head out from between the steps of the spiral-staircase and meowed loudly.
The sun was beginning to peak over the ocean, if we weren’t going to sleep then Mal wanted to eat now.
“Get that thing away from me!!!”
The kid hunched over, covering his face.
When Mal had leaped onto him earlier after he entered my sanctuary, he’d left a few scratches and knocked the kid’s glasses off. They were already broken and the concrete floor didn’t help much.
Now I was starting to feel guilty, not a very useful emotion in an apocalypse but seeing this kid so shaken up and frightened half to death by a little ball of fur, well it didn’t take a genius to figure out this kid’s been through some serious shit, what with the end of the world and all. And I did, on the rare occasion, long for some conversation with someone who gave me a little more than a meow.
Though going by the kids track record so far Mal had him beat on the verbal portion of this little pop quiz life had sprung on us.
Watching this stranger who could have been my younger brother in another life I realized my mind had made itself up without including me in on the decision making process.
I grabbed my recently-adopted cat by the scruff of his neck and held him while he purred loudly. He knew I was going to feed him, he always read my mind. I was hungry myself and looked at the kid, thinking about my meager pantry.
My stomach rumbled loud and Mal shot out of my arms looking like a Halloween-cat.
The kid shrieked and I felt a reluctant-maternal-tug on my rusty-heart-strings.
I had a feeling I was gonna regret this.
“C’mon kid, there’s a McDonalds a few miles away, let’s go see if we can scrounge something to eat.”
“Don’t call me kid!”
“Oh joy,” I whispered to Mal as I leaned down and filled his bowl with cat crunchies, “this is going to be all kinds of fun.”
cape may sunrise



2010-09-30 11.14.572010-09-30 12.30.15
Cape May NJ~ The Beginning After The End
~
We huddled around the small fire trying to keep warm.
The power had gone out weeks ago.
There was nothing to do about it. Everything was at a standstill.
No power equalled no heat, no light, no anything really.
There was no way to contact anyone, no internet, no phones, land-line or cell.
No radio, no television, nothing.
No signal period.
No information, no explanations, no theories, nothing but speculation.
Even starting a car was hit-or-miss. Sometimes the battery would run and you could drive a few miles or so but the engine would sputter, the car would shudder and inevitably die.
And that’s assuming you were able to find a road that wasn’t cluttered with mostly dead cars.
Besides, it wasn’t like you could pull into a gas station and fill it up.
Most people had packed up and moved further inland but a group of us decided to stay closer to the coast, taking refuge in the abandoned bunker on Sunset Beach.
Hiding in plain sight and all that.
I had my eye on the old World War II Lookout Tower.
I’d been slipping out of the bunker alone when everyone else was sleeping.
I always got a touch of vertigo climbing the spiral stairway to the top but the view was worth it. I could see for miles from up there.
Not too long before the world fell apart they’d restored the old Fire Tower back to it’s original glory so there was all kinds of stuff to root through.
No food though.
Luckily for me, the group I’d latched onto leaned towards the safety-in-numbers theory.
I’m more of a loner myself so I knew this was gonna be my last night trading campfire stories with the small group of strangers I’d run into when I made my way down to the very tip of New Jersey.
Cape May was always considered a magical place. Ley-lines, ghosts, even the Jersey Devil was known to have made an appearance or two around these parts.
For whatever unknown reason, paranormal was becoming the norm these days.
Magic might be our only hope.
~
2010-09-30 12.24.55
Cape May NJ~ The Tower Secured
~
The only way out was down.
Problem was, I was scared of heights.
And it was a long way down.
Holing up in the old Fire Control Tower, set back a bit off the beach, seemed like a good idea at the time.
Too many people I didn’t know were living in the bunker on the beach itself.
Not that I knew too many people anymore, but still, I’d always been a loner before the end of the world and I wasn’t comfortable changing my loner-habits now.
There were too many changes already, I had to cling to something familiar even if that something familiar was nothing more than a personality-defect.
I’d just gotten back from a long walk into town where I scored some much-needed water.
It was like a ghost town and not just figuratively speaking; Cape May really was haunted.
I wasn’t worried about any ghosts though, it was the people left alive that scared me more than the people who were long-dead.
That is if you defined scared as pissed off and cranky.
But mostly I was just plain sick of running and so very very tired.
This was my tower and I intended to keep it that way.
Problem now was, somebody followed me back from town.
Whoever it was did a pretty good job of keeping themselves hidden, but I’d become more attuned to my surroundings. You never know, these days any little thing could quickly turn into a life or death situation.
The person who had followed me, and I was positive there was only one, probably wanted my water. Everything was in short supply but no way in hell would I give up my meager stash to some random asshole.
First I had to get outside so I could sneak up behind him. I’d gotten pretty good with the stealthy thing, he’d never hear me coming.
And since he’d managed to make it through the only door in the Tower, and I was up at the very top hiding those three lonely bottles of water I found, the only way out was down.
Shit.
I hate heights.
Damn vertigo.
Shit.
Guess it was time to find out if that escape-rope-thingy I made worked as good as it did when I first put it together.
My practice runs sucked but it was either climb down the rope or have a face to face confrontation with an unknown intruder.
I was grateful for the old gloves sitting in one of the display cases in one of the recreated World War II rooms. I discovered quite a little treasure of WWII artifacts in the abandoned Tower turned museum and the gloves would keep my hands blood-free. Hopefully.
The weight of the rope unrolled itself near enough to the ground to give it a go. I backed out the window and began to lower myself down.
I really hate heights.
~
2010-09-30 12.24.37

Cape May NJ ~ Meeting The Kid
~
“Hey! I know you’re in there!”
It was a male voice and by the sound of it he was still wrestling with the last remnants of puberty.
“Not anymore asshole.” I whispered to myself as I slid down my handy-dandy escape-rope.
I landed on my ass, biting my tongue to keep from hollering.
At least the sand softened my fall.
The kid was still hollering but it was getting hard to think of him as a threat when his voice kept squeaking.
Why did I have to deal with this shit now? I’d only been there a few days but it was mine and it was gonna stay that way.
This whole survival stuff was really getting on my nerves.
I didn’t want much. Hell, a cup of hot tea and I’m a happy little camper.
Instead of drinking tea I was sitting on my ass after rappelling down the backside of the old Fire Tower.
This is my home sweet home and it’s staying that way.
After slipping my leather gloves into the inside pocket of my jacket I took a quick glance up to remind myself how much I didn’t want to have to do this again.
I made a silent vow to re-enforce the warning traps I set around the perimeter of my little piece of safety if I planned on keeping it safe.I really didn’t have time for that now though, I had to take care of my unexpected company before he attracted more attention with his continued shouting.
“Hey!!! You up there! I know you have water, I saw you! Now gimme some!”
Yeah right, like I’m just going to hand over my water.
I slid against the natural curve of the Tower toward the front following his voice.
From the sound of it he was still downstairs. I had to make sure he didn’t try to go up the stairs or things could get sketchy.
I don’t mind fighting for what’s mine but the last place I wanted to fight is on a spiral staircase.
“Hey! I’m coming up!” He shouted up the stairs, his voice echoing through the tall circular tower.
I made it through the door soundlessly and saw he was on the first landing looking up into the darkness above.
“Hey! I know you’re up there! I’m comin-YOWWW!!!” His voice choose that moment to hit the highest note known to man as his shout turned into a screech.
Just out of my line of vision I heard a scuffle and my intruder tumbled down the stairs, landing in a heap at my feet.
Mal, a feral cat who followed me back from the beach one night and moved right in was now attached to the face of what looked to be a kid. He couldn’t be much more than 14 years old and he was howling louder than Mal.
“Help me! Get this thing off my face lady!”
I couldn’t help it, for the first time in recent memory, I started laughing.
2010-09-30 12.25.22
to be continued
AUTHORS NOTE: I flipped a coin and it came down on the side of Showoff, all that means is me telling you I took these photos in Cape may on a Mother/Daughter week, hence the me being a showoff because that damn phone takes some awesome photos! I’m a double showoff for bragging about my phone. Oh, and this is my end of the world story i’m working on, just sayin’…)



et cetera