There used to be two Mizpah Hotel entities in the state of Nevada, one in Reno, the other in Tonopah. The one in Reno was burned to the ground in 2006, leaving twelve dead and ending in the conviction of the arsonist. The one in Tonopah lived on, even surviving a Twiggie bomb blast that tore holes in its roof. In the Tonopah case, the ghost reputed to live on the Mizpah Hotel’s top floor apprently didn’t mind suddenly being able to see the sky. At any rate, the haunting stories continue to this day.____War Survivor Stories, Vol. 23, Ed. 127.
Spring had come early to the high desert country. Sven stretched carefully, meandering slowly on his daily circuit around the mobile home prior to his routine two mile morning walk. The Mizpah Hotel had been much on his mind lately, and he looked in its direction every few seconds even though the lay of the land hid the ancient landmark from his view.
There was no real reason to circle the home daily, but it had become a habit ever since a raging March blizzard had ripped two sections of skirting loose and come uncomfortably close to bursting their home’s water main with atypical subzero temperatures.
Of course, there wasn’t really such a thing as a “typical” temperature these days. Not since the War.
It had been a close thing between life and death, but he’d made it. Now, his most difficult remaining adjustment seemed to be remembering to think of himself as Sven, not Garrett Di Marco. Di Marco was a ghost, a phantom, a mystery for all time.
The name switch shouldn’t have been this hard. He’d done community theater back in South Dakota. With his onstage background plus all those years of dealing with the public as a Seeder, one would think assuming a role–even a lifetime role–would have been a simple thing. On the other hand, he’d been Garrett Di Marco for thirty-seven years. Calf paths of the mind run deep.
He’d heard that said, and he’d proved the rule, not the exception.
At first, though, there’d been much more to worry about than the possibility of a verbal slip. There had been pain. Not the knife branding so much. Sven could focus when he chose, the kind of laser concentration that allowed him to participate in firewalks, for instance. Not that the commercial branding parlors on the list had proved to be any help. Those folks were all used to decorative flash branding. The notion of cutting across a man’s shoulder with a red hot kitchen knife, risking infection, risking damage to muscle and nerve, appalled them.
After a while, it had become too risky, going to one after another and getting the same negative answer.
Fortunately, Nina (formerly Teal) knew a tattoo artist she could do in exchange for a bit of work. The burly Hell’s Angel hadn’t minded hot-slicing a guy one bit, expecially a clean cut rich straight dude like Sven had seemed to be. Fortunately, the man’s attitude had improved the instant the branding was actually done.
“He didn’t even flinch!” The Angel had commented in mild surprise after burning the three bars across Sven’s shoulder. It was high praise; Sven had suddenly become a man in the biker’s eyes.
Actually, the former Seeder knew, he had flinched, but only a little, and only at the first strike. Standing in the big man’s kitchen, he’d shucked his shirt, tucked his thumbs behind his belt, and stared straight ahead.
Enduring the branding hadn’t really been that bad.
Since they’d bonded with the aid of Sven’s demonstration of macho plus some mighty fine slave girl work in the sack with Big Billy, it seemed Billy just had to schmooze a little. Showed off his favorite tattoo, a well done Liberty Bell with New Hampshire’s state motto arching over the bell: Live Free Or Die. For a time after that, the newly named Sven thought he might live free and die. Two days after the branding, he’d had every tooth in his head pulled according to instruction. One lower fang did not go easily, leaving behind a dry socket that took eight days to seal over.
Those eight days taught him that whatever he’d thought he’d known about pain had been a kindergarten student thinking he understood a college graduate. Sven, Schmen; his name could have been Mizpah Hotel during that stretch and he’d never have known the difference. All he did know was…pain. With no doctor in pocket there was no way to get any prescription stuff. Oh, painkillers could be had on the street for a price, but every other “drug dealer” was actually an undercover cop. You had to know who was safe and who was the enemy…and he knew nothing. Nor was he going back to the dentist who’d done the extractions, and he certainly wasn’t about to try going to anyone else with the request, so there it was. It had to be assumed the Guild had already assigned a team to take him out; one slip was all it would take.
He shook his head at the memory. He’d taken one hundred and thirty-five OTC Gesic Fives during that period. Overdose reaction, thank the Zarellan, had been limited to one amazing rash on his chest. Once the mirror showed him that new tissue had finally regrown over the exposed bone, the pain had dropped like a stone fllipped over the edge of the Grand Canyon, but getting to that point had been no picnic.
By then they were in Tonopah, Nevada, the anus of Creation, where the Mizpah Hotel seduced his thinking overnight. One of the first things they’d seen upon arrival had been a poem on a poster tacked to a convenience store bulletin board. Naturally, he stole it so he could memorize the verse.
Out in Tonopah in the Mizpah Hotel
The rats and mice are living and living right well
Since the Jupies bombed the town all the way back to Hell
And the humans closed the building called the Mizpah Hotel
A few mornings later, after having memorized the bit of doggerel, he awoke from a dream about the Mizpah, a crowd of people pounding on the boards covering the windows, chanting fiercely,
“Mizpah Hotel! Open Sesame! Mizpah Hotel! (Unintelligible!) Mizpah Hotel!”
Actually, the town itself wasn’t all that bad. The little community was situated sort of midway between Reno and Las Vegas, although on a side road rather than the main highway. Once you got used to driving nothing but cheap, tinny ground cars and quit mumbling about a hundred or so other minor inconveniences, it was a fine place to live.
Especially if you were a fugitive.
True, the only hotel in the place had been shut down for years, but hotel or no hotel, rents were cheap and people tended to mind their own business. It was not a place where questions were asked; it was assumed you were hiding from something or you wouldn’t even stop there. Sven and the girls all appreciated that about the area.
There were maybe five or six flycars in all of Nye County, and Sven’s cash and carry 2140 Model Ten Traveler was a far cry from qualifying. Still, despite the vast difference between his former EC estate and this almost-ghost-town full of sand and dust devils, they were comfortable. Kate, formerly Fawn/Cammie, had an even harder time than Sven when it came to remembering their new names, but she loved gambling at the Station House.
Locals said the Mizpah Hotel had once run a close second when it came to slot machines and video poker, but that building had been out of action since the War.
Tonopah and the neighboring hamlet of Goldfield, some twenty miles distant, had achieved notoriety in the really, really old days as mining boom towns. Like all such, Nye County declined when the booms went bust and had long been little more than a haven for two specific types of characters: County Commissioners with the balls to tell the Feds to go to Hell and loser alcoholics who could afford the low rents in its chronically depressed economy.
It was not the sort of place a devoted yenta would take her daughter to find a good Jewish boy destined to become a doctor or lawyer; let’s put it that way.
In Nye County, innocent people were routinely set up and railroaded into life prison sentences at the courthouse in Tonopah. Local cops used their Department’s War Surplus bonus to buy new S.W.A.T. gear they didn’t need, then made arrests in full riot gear just for the fun of it. Back in the 20th century, local history declared, the county had once been home to a state of the art airplane known as the Stealth Bomber. Specifically, the Feds had started to build the Stealth near Tonopah, later moved it, and the residents were still ticked off about it more than 150 years after the fact.
Get a life.
The Jovian war changed some but not all of that. The Jupies only attacked Tonopah once, bombing the place in the middle of the night, apparently as part of a strategy to rip up highways and railroads across North America’s midsection. In Nevada, that was a useless gesture from the git-go. America’s military vehicles scooted across open desert like speedboats scoot across an inland lake; blowing up a few chunks of asphalt meant nothing.
When it came to the town itself, however, damage was extensive. By some quirk of fate, the old Station House escaped unscathed while the equally venerable Mizpah Hotel took a direct hit but refused to fall. Most frame houses and newer business buildings were flat out flattened, good for little but kindling. Human casualties went uncounted but were estimated at somewhere between 150 and 200 dead with upward of five hundred injured seriously enough to require hospitalization
Today the local history was much on Sven’s mind as he headed up the dry wash. One mile up, one mile back, and he’d have his cardiovascular exercise for the day. On this beautiful, warm morning, everything seemed right with the world. Illusion, of course; the enemy, the Guild, was still very much out there. No worries, though, his mouth tissues fully healed, only Three Bars–as he called the set of burn scars running across his right shoulder–itching and burning only a little. Still healing, still ugly after infection had tried to set in. Thank the Zarellan for black market antibiotics…those they had risked, but the seller had thankfully been legit. No harm, no foul.
Yes, the morning was balmy, but still, things must change soon. If his plan for the old, boarded up Mizpah Hotel building didn’t work, they were eventually going to run out of money. By the time he reached his turnaround point, he was muttering, “Mizpah, Mizpah, Mizpah….” with each stride.
Talking to himself, and he didn’t even notice.