📅 Published on March 29, 2021


Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.60/10. From 5 votes.
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It started out as a perfectly normal camping trip. It was me, Rosie and Jonas, just like usual. The three of us have been friends since high school, and although there are often other people in our orbits, it’s always the three of us together at its core. The three musketeers, the three amigos, three against the world. We’ve seen each other at our best and at our worst. At this point, I don’t think there’s anything that could split us up. And yeah, things got a little bit more complicated when Rosie and Jonas started dating, but they made sure I never felt like a third wheel. For the most part, I don’t even worry about it. Everything feels just like it always did, even if the two of them do have their hands on each other more than they used to.

All that said, I figured they could probably use a little alone time while we were out in the woods. It was great that we were still doing things together, but I didn’t need to be in their space the entire weekend. Besides, I’d gotten a mushroom identification app that was supposed to help you find edible fungi in the woods, and I wanted a chance to try it out. The idea of being able to go out into nature and just find things to eat—you know, without poisoning myself in the process—really appealed to me.

So Saturday morning, I ditched my friends to let them hike to the falls while I headed into the forest to see if I could find wild mushrooms to cook with dinner. We didn’t make any real plans about when we’d be back or anything. We all had our phones and we’d been camping plenty of times before. It’s not like we were going to get lost, not with GPS pinpointing us to the nearest five feet.

I switched on the snail-trail functionality on the map to track my path, just in case I did somehow get turned around, then swapped over to the mushroom app and set about my fungal quest. It had just rained a couple of days before, so I had a pretty easy time of it. I’d brought a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with me to store the mushrooms I found, and in what seemed like no time I’d filled that up and was ready to head back with my bounty.

When I looked around, though, I couldn’t make out which way I’d come. I wasn’t too concerned at first. I’d been pretty focused on the bases of trees and the ground in front of me. It wasn’t all that surprising that I’d missed identifying landmarks located higher up.

I popped open the map tracker, expecting it to show me the path I’d taken. Something was wrong with it, though. It should have been showing me a single squiggly line through the woods, marking my steps. Instead, it had a diagram like a tree. There was one path at the beginning, but after a while it began to branch off into multiple directions. Those branches also split, and instead of a single terminal dot showing my location, there were ten or more blinking on the screen.

Zooming in and out didn’t help. Checking the settings didn’t do anything. I restarted the program, and then the whole phone, but to no avail. The map was adamant that my path had taken me to multiple endpoints, and I was currently in all of them.

Fine. That was a weird glitch, but not all that important. I pulled up the pin I’d dropped earlier with the campsite’s coordinates and told the app to navigate to it. It displayed “Calculating…” along with a spinning circle for a while before generating an error message: “No route found.”

I rolled my eyes. Obviously there was no route; I’d just been wandering through the woods. All I needed was a direction, not a road or a hiking trail. I pushed aside the directions, swiped over until I was looking at the campsite on the map, then zoomed out until I could see the tangle of trails representing my potential current locations. I figured that even if I picked the wrong one to start from, at least I’d be heading in the correct direction, and I could reorient myself as I got closer to the tents.

Unfortunately, the GPS wasn’t on board with this plan. As I walked forward, phone held out in front of me, the map spun and twirled as if I were making rapid turns. I was sure I was walking straight forward, though. I know they say that people in the woods end up going in circles without realizing it, but that’s over a large amount of distance. According to my phone, I was going in circles every couple of feet.

The snail-trails were getting even weirder. There were at least twice as many as there had been before, covering the map in strange constellations. Most of them were wandering around in tight little knots as I walked, mirroring the information the compass was giving me even though I could see it wasn’t true. A few of them were traveling in straight lines, but heading away from where we’d camped. And two of them were stock-still and refusing to move at all.

At this point, I was starting to get uncomfortable. I didn’t have a paper map or a physical compass with me. Who needs those when a phone can do it all better and more conveniently? I hadn’t brought any sort of backup plan in case my phone failed, though. It honestly hadn’t occurred to me that it might. This was starting to seem like a pretty large oversight.

Still, the phone hadn’t actually failed. It was only the map that was behaving badly. I sent a quick text to Jonas and Rosie to let them know something was up.

Bit lost at the moment
You two back at camp?

The reply came back quickly.

Still no
Probably a couple hours

No worries, I wrote back. At least they weren’t going to be concerned about me for a while yet. I had time to fix this.

I turned the phone off and tucked it away in my pocket. It was possible that I was going to need to use it as a flashlight later, and I didn’t want to kill the battery tracking nonsense paths. I started walking forward, keeping as straight a line as I could manage, heading back the way I thought I’d come. I figured I could check the map again in half an hour or so, see if it was giving better results or at least if I could figure out a way home based on my new location.

Just stay cool, I reminded myself. Keep calm and you’ll be out of here in no time.

It was good advice. It might even have worked if I’d been able to follow it. Something in the woods had me on edge, though. The trees seemed to be crowding in, the light fading faster than was normal. I kept having to untangle the straps of my day pack from intrusive branches that had somehow become snagged. Things rustled in the leaves above me, vanishing before I looked.

I became certain that something was following me, something just past the edge of my vision or hearing. If I turned my head fast enough, I could almost see it, a quick glimpse of something freezing in place behind a tree. I went back to look a couple of times, but there was never anything there—and when I turned forward again, the woods ahead no longer looked familiar.

The rustling grew more frequent. The feeling of being stalked intensified. I felt like whatever it was was gaining on me. I began to walk faster, but it kept pace. Fear began to set in, a bone-deep terror that spread outward until it filled my whole body. I went faster, breaking into a light jog, which rapidly became a full-out run.

The panic tightened its grip as I sprinted through the forest. Every branch whipping across my face felt like a thin hand reaching out to grab me. Every thorn scratching against my legs was a claw scrabbling for purchase. I could feel my pursuer’s hot breath on the back of my neck, feel the footsteps thudding against the ground. I knew that I was only seconds away from the ripping pain of teeth tearing through the muscles of my neck.

I was too terrified to slow down, but I chanced a quick look back over my shoulder. For an instant, I thought I saw something, but my eyes had time to register no more than a vague shape before I was falling, tumbling through the air. My head smacked against something solid and I passed out.

I came to a short while later. I didn’t know exactly how long I’d been out, but the sun was still shining brightly overhead. In fact, it seemed brighter than it had been before; the unnatural gloom that had been settling in over the forest had faded. The sense of panic had passed as well. Things felt normal again.

I took stock of my situation. I was in a shallow pit, the cavity left by the root ball of a fallen tree. My head was bleeding where I’d bashed it into the dirt wall and my neck and shoulder ached, but nothing seemed to be broken.

On my body, anyway. I took my phone out to check the time and found that it was smashed beyond repair. I’d landed on it with my full weight. The screen was a maze of cracks, and things rattled inside when I shook it. It wasn’t going to be of any more use today.

I brushed myself off and clambered out of the pit, trying to get my bearings. I still had no real idea where I was, but I knew that the camp was generally to the west and I could see which way the sun was trending. I took a few steps in that direction, then stopped.

Tracking’s not a skill I’ve ever learned, but it didn’t take a skilled outdoorsman to see that something big had shoved its way through the forest. Grasses were trampled, small branches broken, leaves torn off of trees and stamped underfoot. It looked like it had been going in the same direction that I had been. I could see similar signs of passage on the far side of the pit, where I’d been running before I fell in, but what had caused them over here?

The panic I’d felt, the certainty that something deadly was chasing me, brushed me again with a light, exploratory tendril. I shook it off, refusing to give in. But I took a different track through the forest.

The sun sank lower in the sky, both confirming that I was heading west and raising my level of anxiety about getting back before dark. I’d found nothing that looked familiar, no streams or paths that I’d seen that morning. I knew I’d be okay if I had to spend the night in the woods. I had a bottle of water in my pack, and the mushrooms I’d picked could be eaten raw. It wasn’t supposed to get cold enough at night to be an issue. But compared to sitting around the fire eating s’mores with friends, snacking on raw mushrooms alone in the dark seemed like a pretty distant second.

Dusk set in. I’d resigned myself to not getting back to camp that night, but I was now feeling guilty about Jonas and Rosie. I knew I was all right, but all they knew was that I’d said I was lost, and now I wasn’t answering my phone. They were probably out searching for me right now. I’d ruined their camping trip as well as mine, all because my phone had glitched and I’d had some weird panic attack in the forest.

And then, just as the last bit of light was fading and I was starting to look for somewhere to shelter for the night, I came across a hiking trail. I had no idea which one it was or where it went, but it was a clear sign of human civilization and it meant that I was no longer totally lost. I’m pretty sure I cheered aloud when I first saw it. There was practically a bounce in my step as I picked a direction and started walking. Wherever it took me, I was bound to run into people eventually. I was close to putting this whole misadventure behind me.

Hiking trail or not, walking through the woods after sunset isn’t easy. Even going slowly, I tripped and nearly fell a half-dozen times. Every time I caught myself it jolted my body, making my various cuts and bruises throb. I was footsore, hungry, tired and ready to give up when I came to the trailhead and a small roadside parking lot.

To my delight, I recognized the area. I was less than half a mile away from my campsite. I hurried along the road, spurred along by the smooth surface and the promise of nearly being back. Jonas and Rosie probably wouldn’t be at the campsite, since they’d probably be out looking for me, but maybe they’d left some sort of way to contact them. There had to be rangers or police involved in this, right? There had to be regular protocols for lost hikers.

As I approached our camp, I saw that there was a fire going. I could hear voices; they seemed amused and relaxed, not worried and concerned. I started to feel offended. Were Jonas and Rosie just chilling out by the fire? Had they not even wondered where I was? I could have been badly hurt. If I’d broken my leg falling into that hole, I could never have made it back. And they hadn’t even considered coming to look?

I drew closer. There were three people around the fire, not just two. I could see Jonas and Rosie’s faces, but the third person had their back to me. Were they just socializing with some new person instead of looking for me? What was this, some sort of friend exchange? Well, we lost one, but here’s a new one, so no problem!

I was about to call out to them when the stranger by the fire laughed, tilting his head back. My words died in my throat. It wasn’t a stranger at all. It was me.

I clutched a tree for support and protection, peering out from behind its trunk as my mind whirled. I stared at my duplicate. In profile, at least, he looked just like me. His hair was cut the same. He was even wearing the same shirt I had on.

He launched into some lengthy monologue. I couldn’t make out all of the words, but I could hear the tone and cadence well enough. His voice didn’t sound like mine, but it was familiar. After a second, it clicked. He sounded the way I did on videos. He sounded like me outside of my own head.

My thoughts flashed back to whatever had been chasing me in the woods, and the path that had led away from where I’d fallen. I’d started to go that way myself. It could have led straight here.

The idea was insane, but it fit what I was seeing. Something had stalked me in the forest. It had chased me, planning to kill me and take my place—but when I knocked myself out, it thought the job was done and just moved on in my guise.

It probably wasn’t alone. That was why it had come back to camp, why it was putting Rosie and Jonas at their ease. It was going to wait for them to go to sleep, then bring others in to replace them.

I had to warn my friends. I took a step away from the safety of my tree, then stopped. How could I convince them I was me? The thing that had taken my shape was doing an impression good enough to fool my two oldest friends for an entire evening. It knew how I moved, how I talked, everything. There was no guarantee that they’d know which one was me. I could probably get them to safety, but at the cost of being left behind. I’d already been pursued by this thing once today. I wasn’t interested in going through that again.

Before I could come up with a plan, the thing in my chair stood up. I shrank back behind the tree as its shadow seemed to reach for me, stretching out in the firelight. The creature turned away from the fire, saying something, and began to walk into the woods. For a moment I thought it had seen me, but it headed off in a different direction, giving no indication that it was aware of my presence.

I slipped off after it, doing my best to remain silent. It was probably going to fetch the others, to tell them to be ready. I had to act now, before it got reinforcements. If I could ambush it now, when it was alone, I’d have a much better chance of stopping it.

To my surprise, it stopped a few dozen feet into the woods. It seemed to be staring at a tree. I had no idea what it was doing, but its back was to me and it seemed preoccupied, so I seized my chance. I rushed forward, slamming my elbow into the back of its head and bouncing its face off of the tree in front of it. Before it had a chance to recover or cry out, I wrapped my other arm around its neck, kicked it in the back of the knees and leaned in, choking it.

The bark dug into my forearm as the creature flailed, trying to get free. Wild hands clawed over its shoulders, seeking purchase on my face, but I tucked my head against its back and tightened my grip.

“Who are you?” it choked out. Even in its distress, its voice was still a perfect mimicry of mine.

“I’m who you’re pretending to be,” I hissed in its ear. “You thought I was dead in the woods, huh? Thought you could kill me, then kill my friends?”

It scratched futilely at my arm. Its struggles were growing weaker.

“Why—” it gasped, but could not manage any more words. Its arms fell to its sides, and I felt it grow heavy in my arms as it slumped unconscious. I could still feel its pulse beating against my arm, though, so I bore down harder, refusing to relinquish my grip until its heart beat no more.

When I let go at last, it fell forward against the tree, bouncing off to land face-up on the ground. The face staring up at me in the moonlight still looked eerily like my own. I’d hoped it would change back after it was dead, show me what it really looked like, but no such luck.

“You good out there?” Jonas called from the fire, his tone light.

“Yeah,” I called back, staring at my own dead body. “All good here.”

I piled up some leaves, covering the body. It was a shoddy job of camouflage, but it might work for the night. I could come back out to take care of it later. For now, I had to get back before Jonas and Rosie came looking for me.

“Took you long enough,” Rosie teased as I stepped into the firelight. “We thought maybe you’d fallen in a hole after all.”

Seeing my confused expression, she continued. “The hole? The one you said you nearly fell in earlier, when you were running through the forest?”

“Ah, that hole.” I forced a laugh. “Yeah, no. No more holes for me today.”

“Why did you take your backpack with you to go take a leak?” Jonas asked.

Of course, the duplicate hadn’t had my backpack. I should have left it in the woods, gotten it later. I shrugged and tried to play it off. “Hey, you never know. What if I’d found some good mushrooms?”

They both laughed. I set my day pack down and tried to relax. I was safe now. I’d made it back. I’d saved my friends. Once they went to bed, I could figure out what to do with the body. They’d never have to know how close they came to being replaced.

When the fire burned low and Rosie and Jonas turned in, I went to my tent as well to pretend to sleep. Inside, I was surprised to find another copy of my day pack. I opened it up. The contents were identical to my own, even down to the individual mushrooms in the plastic bag. It shouldn’t have surprised me. After all, the duplicate had been wearing the same clothes as me, too. Yet somehow this seemed stranger.

I stayed awake listening to the sounds of the woods at night until I was sure Rosie and Jonas were asleep. I crept out of my tent and made my way back to the body in the woods. It was cold and stiff, but still stubbornly refusing to look like anything other than me. I took it by the ankles and dragged it away.

I found a small ravine not too far away, with soft muddy ground at the bottom and overhanging dirt shelves. I dumped the body over the side and kicked at the edge until chunks broke off. The resulting dirt slide covered the corpse well, and the branches and leaves I carried over completed the job. No one would find this unless they were specifically looking.

As I retraced my steps back to camp, I spotted something reflective lying on the ground. I picked it up to discover that it was a cell phone.

I took the smashed phone out of my pocket and studied the two side by side. Except for the damage mine had suffered in the fall, they were identical. Same model, same case, everything. I pressed the power button on the one I’d found, and a chill ran down my spine as it lit up to reveal my lock screen. Reluctantly, I pressed my finger up to the sensor. I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or unnerved when it unlocked.

I made my way back to the tent and slid inside, zipping the flap shut behind me. I undressed and crawled into my sleeping bag, but sleep had no interest in me. I lay awake, staring at the domed ceiling of the tent. My version of the cell phone was broken. It made sense. I’d fallen on it. It wasn’t worth a second thought. And yet—wasn’t that an awfully convenient accident to happen to the one thing that had to connect to an external network through a unique identifier, and couldn’t be easily replicated?

I would know if I weren’t me. I’m sure of it.

But I wonder if the copy at the bottom of the ravine thought the same thing.

Rating: 9.60/10. From 5 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Micah Edwards
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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