The Boarding House

Several months later, on another planet Earth, a man in his forties did something he hadn't done in a long time: He went home.

By "home," though, he didn't mean his actual home -- his current home. He meant a place that, for a long time, felt like home.

This man, whose birth name was Max but whose nickname was "W.A." (for reasons that are far too long to explain at the moment), went to a certain address in San Francisco. The weeds were all overgrown, but the key to the door still worked.

He looked at the plaque in front of the door, which was covered with dirt but was still barely readable:

"NEKKA'S HOME FOR WAYWARD TRAVELERS
Those who journey far from home can find their refuge here."

It had been ages since he had seen his friend Nekka. It had been a long time since they, and other friends, went on an extraordinary series of adventures. They had discovered the ability to travel to different worlds--parallel Earths that existed alongside their own. They moved, or "slid," from one interdimensional rift to another trough the use of small handheld devices called "timers." This group called themselves the "Rifters."

Along with someone who only ever went by the name "spindoctor" (W.A. never found out why he wouldn't capitalize his name), and other friends such as Lexie, Ransom, Mina, Justin and Lisa, they defeated a deadly race of creatures known as the Kromaggs.

Eventually, they established a home base, a boarding house on this world. While they weren't specific in the purpose of this location, and they welcomed any weary travelers, their main goal was to provide a place for friendly interdimensional travelers to stay. They had received kindness from more than one person on their adventures, and they wanted to pay it forward.

Also, they found that many of these alternate Earths had alternate versions of themselves--people that they called "doubles"--individuals genetically identical to them, living out their lives on these Earths. And these people sometimes got involved with saving the multiverse as well.

So sometimes, the very people that they provided shelter to were doubles of themselves. And sometimes their doubles provided shelter to them.

But it had been nearly a decade since any of that happened. Eventually, people stopped sliding in from other dimensions. There was no one to help anymore. Apparently, the multiverse entered an era of peace.

The boarding house got paid off. The other Rifters, including W.A., eventually moved on with their lives. And so this place sat abandoned.

But something made W.A. come back tonight. He wasn't even quite sure what it was himself.

His phone buzzed. It was Sarah. He answered it. "Hey, sweetie! What's up?"

"Hey, you!" Sarah said cheerfully, with only a hint of worry in her voice. "Just checking in. You're usually home by now."

W.A. smirked to himself. Sarah wasn't one to nag, but she knew how predictable W.A. was in his routine. Plus, they lived in a relatively less expensive suburb fairly far away from San Francisco. It took a while to reach the boarding house, so it wasn't unreasonable for her to wonder about the time.

"Yeah. I decided to stop by the boarding house."

"Really? How come?"

"I don't know," W.A. said, and as he stood there in the dark, he genuinely meant that. (Of course the electric bill hadn't been paid in years.) He was wondering if his hunch was just overblown nostalgia or a case of the heebie-jeebies.

"Well, I've got the fixings for burritos. So whenever you decide to head home..."

"Ooh. You had me at 'burritos.'"

Sarah chuckled. "Just let me know when you're about 20 minutes from home, and I'll heat up the meat. Okay?"

Before W.A. could respond, the previously cold and dark house suddenly became brightly lit, and a loud WHOOSHING noise was heard.

W.A. dropped his phone in astonishment, making him unable to hear his wife worriedly saying, "W.A.? What's going on?"

What was going on was that a vortex had opened up in the room where W.A. was standing. For some reason, instead of being straight ahead as usual, it was angled at a downward slope, as though it were coming out of the ceiling.

W.A. held onto a railing to the upstairs, as dust blew around everywhere. A few seconds later, a figure covered in a cloak fell out of the vortex and hit the ground hard. A few seconds after that, the vortex closed, and again the only light was the light from the doorway to the outside.

The figure moaned. W.A. gently moved closer to the figure and tried to gently touch him or her on the shoulder. That didn't stop the person from jumping.

"It's okay! It's okay," W.A. said. "I don't know where you came from, but you're safe here. My name is W.A. What's yours?"

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