All Stories, Horror

Miss by Keith LaFountaine

And so she stands under the lamp post with her camera strapped around her neck and a candy cigarette tucked between her lips. That’s just for kids, isn’t it? But this woman certainly isn’t a kid. She has the look of a doting aunt. It’s in the eyes: the eerie combination of leering adoration and simmering jealousy.

You just wanted a snack down at the corner gas station. Merle works there, and sometimes he lets you sneak a pack of Camel Blues – assuming the security cameras are shot. But they usually are, and the owner hasn’t been down to fix the place up since, oh, 1996 or something like that.

You’re walking down Pine Street, and you see her in the distance. That camera draws your eye first, with its bulbous lens and the way the mirrored glass reflects the streetlight just so. But she isn’t scary to you. No, she has that aunt feeling. The one you feel comfortable around, not the one that you are scared to be near after a few glasses of merlot. And so, you keep walking, with a paper bag tucked against your chest, both hands looped under its bottom. Mom always told you that paper bags were prone to rip, and while it’s not raining outside, there’s a fine mist in the air.

You glance at the sky. It’s such a beautiful night. The kind that you see captured in glossy textbook pages, or on Paige Owens’ Instagram. She’s something of a photographer, she says, and even though she only uses the automatic settings on her camera, there’s no denying the quality of the photos she uploads.

You’re about a hundred feet from her when she takes that candy cigarette out of her mouth.

“Nice night,” she offers.

Her voice is like something out of a storybook – just gravelly enough to be dangerous; just velvety enough to be seductive. And her bones are sharp, protruding from her pale cheeks like knuckles, and that image solidifies when she smiles. It’s a too-wide smile, but she makes it work somehow.

“Nice night,” you agree.

She places that candy cigarette back in her mouth, and she adjusts her posture. She’s wearing a thin coat, a leather coat, and it glistens like water under the light, white rippling across black.

You keep walking because what else is there to do? And you can feel her watching you go, can feel those shining eyes on your back. Some men like to watch you as you walk, and those are the men you rush away from. The men in trucks, with hats that droop over their foreheads, with eyes that blaze like fire, and tongues that dart this way and that. But she’s not like those men. There’s something odd about her that you can’t quite place your finger on.

You know she won’t follow you, even though she seems like she might. You know you’re safe, even though she’s a strange woman with a camera, standing under a lamp post in the dead of night.


And so two months pass, and you invite Conner over. You’ve never liked his name, or his mother. But those are different conversations, neither of which Conner is suited to navigate. He leans against your sink, and he holds a bowl of goulash you’ve made. Not the American shit, with ground beef, but real goulash. Hot and simmering and wonderful. A definition of the universe. He holds the spoon in front of his lips, and every so often he sucks the food down, but not before peering over his bowl at you expectantly.

You are sitting on the couch in the living room, and while you peer at him in the kitchen you wonder if you should break the news to him – that you’ve fallen for a girl at Uncommon Grounds. It didn’t start as infatuation, and for a while that’s all she was – a girl at Uncommon Grounds. But then she started serving up sides of small talk and winks and subtle lip bites alongside your medium mocha, and you fell head over heels in love. Now, you want nothing more than to walk up to her, to tell her how you feel, but Conner is standing in your kitchen and hell, you invited him in the first place.

Conner has always given you a certain feeling – the kind of feeling every girl you know has gotten before they meet a boy on Tinder. The ick feeling. The feeling that something horrible could happen if you deny him.

“Maybe you should go home,” you say, trying to be polite. “I’m feeling a little under the weather.”

His eyes narrow, and the spoon hovers in the air like a stalled spaceship. He chews on the inside of his cheek, and his lips do an odd dance, swaying this way and that. He stares down into the bowl, and when he looks back up again, he takes an exaggerated bite of the food you made him.

“Are you sure you don’t feel well?” he asks.

The question is about as loaded as an illegal baseball bat, and you wonder if there’s a more political way to navigate this issue. You purse your lips and cross your arms, and you cough a few times for his sake. It’s a dry cough, and that’s supposed to be the worst kind, especially this time of year.

His eyes narrow more. They’re slits now, and they carry a reticence that seems natural to twentysomething men who feel they are owed the world. He takes one last bite of the food and dumps it in the sink, and you leap up because mom used to get on your case when you did that. We don’t have a garbage disposal; stop acting like we do, she’d yell. And while you pay $1,300 a month for your small one bedroom, you certainly didn’t get a garbage disposal. Hell, your landlord won’t even pay for the heat.

“Jesus, Conner,” you mutter, ripping off a sleeve of paper towel. As you’re scooping up the food in the sink, which has naturally clogged in the drain, he stands over you, his shadow spilling across the counter like a skunked beer.

“What?” he snaps. “I thought we’d have a good time. But you’re sick, as always.”

“Not as always,” you counter, and you give him a few more coughs. In that moment, you wish you’d never looked at his dating profile. Wish you’d never accepted his dinner date. And just as the air starts to taste stale, just as the world seems to crumble around you and you wonder if that horrible thing, that dreaded specter that haunts your gender so insidiously, is going to rear its ugly head, there is a knock at the door.

It pulls Conner’s attention away, giving you the opportunity to pull up the rest of the noodles and vegetables in the wet paper towel.

“Can you get that?” you ask him, partially as a favor, partially to get him away from you.

He grumbles something that sounds like an assent, and then he stalks off. When he opens the door, there is jarring, utter silence.

Only, not silence exactly. Because you can feel something there. And then, as you turn toward the doorway, a camera snaps, and a flash of white light bathes the apartment’s entrance. And you round the corner to see what the fuss is, to see who’s taking pictures, even though you know, and you see her standing there, candy cigarette, camera pointed, smile widening, cheekbones pushing.

“Nice night,” she offers.

Conner is gone. But, given the way the woman holds the camera, you know he’s no longer anywhere. That he never was. He has ceased to be. And it’s kinder that way.

“Nice night,” you agree.

She turns to leave, and you close the door as if nothing happened.


And so you are in the grocery store, and you have a hand on cookies and a hand on crackers. You shouldn’t eat the cookies. They’re not good for you, and you’re trying to watch your weight. Not that it’s important; Jane, formerly the woman at Uncommon Grounds, expresses how much she loves your body every moment she gets. She kisses those rounded corners, and she tugs on the bony parts with protruded teeth.

Jane is further off in the distance, checking the hamburger, considering the coupons she’s printed off. There’s one that gives you half-off 90% lean beef, and one that gives you three dollars of the primo stuff. But you’re only cooking Hamburger Helper, so what’s the point in getting the primo stuff? Of course, Jane argues that the primo stuff is always worth it, even if you’re just throwing it out in the rain for a wild dog to get it.

The primo stuff is always worth it.

It’s while you’re struggling with the existential decision of savory or sweet that you feel her presence rocket up beside you. You don’t turn because that would be rude. She seems to be working, whatever job it is that she works, and so you continue to inspect sugars and carbs and saturated fats.

The presence becomes immutable though, and so you have to turn toward her, if only so you can thank her for that night. But as you stare, you notice that she has lifted the camera to her eyes, is pointing it directly at a box of SaverTaste Wheat Crisps, a product you’ve never bought, a product you will never buy. She fiddles with the lens, twists the focus ring, adjusts her distance, fiddles with her aperture and her ISO. And finally, when the picture is perfectly composed, she clicks the button. The flash is blinding, and you turn away, lifting the box of cookies in front of your eyes.

You expect her to be gone when you get the courage to open your eyes again, but she’s still standing there. She lowers the camera, and with it hanging from the strap on her neck, she releases the black base and plucks the candy cigarette from her lips.

“Nice night,” she offers.

You stare at her for a few moments longer, inspecting her camera, then looking her in the eye again. She smiles a toothy smile, and she sucks on the candy.

“Recall?” you ask.

“Plague,” she responds.

You digest the words. “Nice night,” you agree.

“Lacey!” Jane calls.

You turn at the sound of your name, and Jane comes sauntering up to you. She’s holding the primo meat in her hand, the stuff that costs an exorbitant amount, even after you’ve printed off a three-dollar coupon.

“You got the good stuff,” you say.

Jane nods. “Always.”

You’re hesitant to accept the meat, to check out with it. But then, you consider the fact that it’s still on the shelf. So, it must be good. As long as it’s not expired.


And so you are old and frail. The veins in your hands are vines, and they bloom blue under the pale flesh. The wrinkles in your chin hang low, and your eyes have bags that are akin to the Bag of Bags you had under that old apartment sink so long ago.

Time has warped the world, but in many ways it has stayed the same. Sure, the sky has caught fire a few hundred times, and sure, there aren’t any pennies anymore. But you’re on your deathbed, and you know it, so these things are trite.

Jane sits beside you in an urn. You had her cremated because she asked to be burned rather than buried. Ten years prior, you were aghast at such a request. Now, you understand it. Now, you hope you aren’t pushed into the loamy soil, to be feasted on by maggots and acid.

The door opens, and you think it’s your daughter at first. But you recognize the presence. She hasn’t aged a day. Her pale skin is pulled taut over the bone, and those cheekbones continue to knuckle at the flesh like an exuberant toddler. She smiles wide at you, and she plucks the candy cigarette from her mouth.

“Nice night,” she offers.

You open your mouth to speak, but your tongue bobs around like a dying fish, and your throat fails you, as it so often does these days. The woman doesn’t seem concerned, though. She stands beside her bed, her camera bobbing, and she stares at you for a few moments, her eyes glittering like flaming sapphires. Then, she turns the end of the candy cigarette and pushes it between your lips.

The taste of it is odd: sugary cereal combined with ash combined with sunlight. You suck on it, partly because the taste is intoxicating and partly because you don’t know what else to do. After a few minutes, the woman takes the candy cigarette back, and she deposits it between her lips.

You open your mouth, and you croak out, “Are you Death?”
The woman smiles. And then she lifts the camera. “No, love. I’m Miss.”

As she fiddles with the focus ring, as she composes her shot, as she considers the lighting, you spread your cracked, dry lips and let out a wheezing laugh.

“Nice night,” you agree.

The woman peeks out from behind her camera, and you see amusement dancing in her eyes. For some reason, you sense this is the first time she’s felt that emotion. If, that is, she feels emotion at all.

And then she focuses again, and a white light wraps around you so suddenly and so fully that you wonder if you’ve fallen into a ginormous cue ball.


And so you are collected.

Keith LaFountaine

Image: – a hand holding a camera with the lens facing the page and coloured blue

5 thoughts on “Miss by Keith LaFountaine”

  1. A very bold use of 2nd person narrative, but you’ve pulled it off. The sinister woman with the camera and candy cigarette is described so well as you introduce her. Equally, love the description of the ghoulash – made me very hungry! The magic realism of Conner vanishing after the camera flash is handled really well also – it’s the prosaic surroundings, so richly described here – that give this scene the impact. The ending, with the apparent sudden aging, or leap forward in time, caught me off guard – in a good way. The short conversation asking her if she is ‘death’ and the, to be honest, quite creepy, ‘No, love, I’m miss’ is superb.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Keith
    This one gets me thinking of stuff; I again wonder “which is my deathday?” Everyone over a year old has lived through whichever day he/she expires. And maybe it is that face you only remember upon seeing that arrives on that date as a sort of tease until the right year comes by….Yep, gets me thinking as a story should. Fine work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Keith,
    It’s great to see this on the site today.
    This is a thought provoking, deep and expressive piece of story telling.
    And as already said, good on for you handling the POV. Not many stories get through using this.


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