A jogger is out on a run, paranoid someone is following, only to discover her stalker is herself.

A jog in a forest was what the doctor would’ve ordered. Gia needed this escape after the audience from her last production tried to kill her for ridiculing their corrupt ruler. She paused for a moment to soak in the partly cloudy skies, a comforting summer breeze, and the fact that there was no around for miles. The latter was vital because her black leggings and sports bar were not appropriate for the 514 C.E. time.

Not far, there was a loud crack of a broken branch. Gia studied a large, fallen redwood tree for any possible dangerous animals. She thought she heard a voice too, but when nothing emerged, she shrugged it off and continued her jog.

“I’m getting paranoid,” Gia said to reassure herself.

Humans weren’t supposed to discover this portion of land for at least a few hundred years. No one could be there. It was only her. Still, she couldn’t shake off the feeling someone was following her. The trail was thick with twists and turns, adding to her paranoia.

Gia made a sharp turn off the trail and doubled back, keeping an eye on the route she had taken in case someone was following her. The seconds in the four minutes of intense investigation felt like pine needles always poking her. In her journey back, she came across the fallen tree, where she first thought someone was watching her.

As she positioned herself behind the tree, she lost her footing and broke a thick branch in half. She cursed under her breath, but caught herself and shifted her persona to a spy character hiding from enemy forces. 

A moment later, she heard a voice, “I’m getting paranoid.”

Gia crept her head over the redwood.

Jogging along the trail was herself from five minutes ago.

Gia stood up. “This isn’t good. I must be caught in a localized loop, but what’s causing the contamination? It has to be close.”

Gia leaped over the tree and followed her past self down the trail. When she came to the spot where she made the detour to go back, she discovered a set of paw prints. She kneed down to study them.

“These look like lion prints, but they’re not native to these parts.”

As Gia reached for her back pocket, a sneaker hit her on the head. With one hand, she rubbed her head and inspected the show with the other. When she recognized it, she looked up in the sky to herself held by sphinx flying below the treetops. 

“I guess I found the contamination,” the Gia on the ground said.

“You found it?” the Gia in the sky snapped. “I found it first.”

“What is going on here?” the sphinx demanded.

The version of Gia in its grasp answered, “We’re trapped in a micro temporal loop because you don’t belong here.”

“I’ve been here for years!”

“Have you noticed the changing of the seasons?”

The sphinx landed on the ground and released its Gia. The two Gia’s hugged, causing a radiant yellow light that caused the sphinx to cover her eyes with her paw temporarily. When the light subdued, only one Gia stood.

“I hate the headache that brings,” Gia mumbled to herself.

“What just happened?” the sphinx asked.

“My people can merge themselves whenever there’s been a loop,” Gia explained. “It causes an annoying headache as the duplicate memories sort themselves out. But enough about me. Let’s get you home, friend.”

Five Minutes Ago - art by Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle

This short story was inspired by the following writing prompt: “You’re out for a jog and you can’t shake the feeling that someone is following you. It started off as an inkling, but now the idea has consumed your thoughts. As you reach the crosswalk, you wheel around and confront your stalker. It’s you, from five minutes ago.”

Thank you to Janine De Guzman at Design Pickle for bringing this scene to life!