Once Upon a Crime: “All Too Well”

We teamed up with six mystery writers to create a short story in real-time. The end result was “All Too Well” which you can read in full below! A special thank you goes out to the participating authors (in order of appearance): Gigi Pandian, Samantha Jayne Allen, Anna Downes, Camilla Sten, Alex Finlay, and Stacy Willingham.

The full replay of the event is available below.

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“All Too Well”

I woke up with my head throbbing and my hand clutching a knife.

A knife?

A bloody knife.

This couldn’t be good.

I swallowed a wave of nausea and sat up to get a better look at my surroundings. Where was this? Racks of clothing surrounded me. Many of them toppled over.

Oh no…

Matilda’s body was sprawled in front of one of the toppled racks of cheap clothes. 

The air smelled musty. 

Matilda’s previously pristine white shirt was covered in blood. 

It appeared this is what this knife had been used for.

Banging sounded from glass doors in front of me. I stumbled toward the door. It was bolted from the inside. 

And I was locked inside this old abandoned clothing store in an empty mall. Alone. With a dead body beside me. 

When Matilda had suggested we sneak into the Piney Woods Mall, for old time’s sake, I don’t think she’d anticipated dying in a Mervyn’s. We’d worked together at Orange Julius—that’s how we’d met, and now, this? Worse, had I stabbed her? I had no memory of it, but who else?

The banging on the door brought me back. I needed to get out of here. “Help!” 

I heard the buzz and blip of a radio. “Hold on!” a man’s voice yelled back. After what sounded like throwing his body weight against the door, it opened. 

It was the security guard. Had he been here the entire time? “Call 911” I said.

He looked at her lifeless body and shook his head sadly.

Then a slow smile spread across his face.

My relief at seeing someone who might be able to help faded away. The mall had been closed for months. There was no one around. I looked at the glass windows above my head. The sky was black. It was the middle of the night. Why would there be a security guard here? 

As I stared at the guard’s face, panic rose in my throat.

And then I heard a noise… a strange, faint whirring sound somewhere above me. I looked up again and noticed a camera in one corner. It swiveled on its mount. Its lens was pointed right at me. I took a step backward, away from the guard. Another noise… looking around me I saw several more cameras, all pointed my way.


A loud sound to my left made me jump. I turned away from the guard to look back at where Matilda lay… but she was no longer there. Her lifeless body had gone.

“You know”, the guard said, and I turned again to face him. My heart felt like it was beating a million times a minute. 

“I was rooting for you”, he said. 

I realised he looked vaguely familiar. The sound of his voice made something stir, an old, half-forgotten memory.

“You’re small, but I thought you looked scrappy”, he continued. “I bet on you. It was double the money. I figured I’d take a risk.” He cocked his head to the side.

“So make sure to put up a fight, okay?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I said, my voice high and strangled.

“I’d make sure to pick up that knife, if I were you”, the guard said. “I don’t know if she’s found the hammer yet.”

He smiled. It was small, close-lipped, and would have been sympathetic if it hadn’t been for his eyes. 

“Good luck”, he said. “You’ve still got half an hour.”

“Please”, I said, but he was already halfway out the door. 

“PLEASE!” I yelled, throwing my body forward, but he was faster than I was. I was tired, confused, my body heavy and unwieldy, and as I slammed into the closed-door I hit my chin and tasted blood.

The store was quiet.

I slowly turned around. 

Racks of outdated clothes. Blood on the floor. I remained still for a moment, and then I slowly bent to pick up the bloody knife.

“Matilda?” I said quietly. 

I ran to the back of the store.  Dismembered mannequins littered the floor. On the back wall, spray-painted in blood-red were familiar words, though I’m not sure where I’d heard them:  “The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

I turn and the guard is there. He gives me a strange look. Then he collapses on me, falling to the floor. A knife sticking out from his back. 

I scream, my legs jackrabbit out of the store. I bolt out of the clothing store and to the dilapidated mall strewn with trash. I push past a shuttered Radio Shack, which probably went out of business before the factory closed and the town hit a hard time and the mall closed.  Before my time in the hospital. 

I stopped to catch my breath. No one had followed. The mall was dark, empty. Where had I heard those words spray-painted on the wall?  

Then I remembered. It was Matilda’s favorite poem. Someone had read it at her funeral.

Her funeral? But she was just with me. Or was she? Her body’s gone.  

My mind’s playing tricks on me again. The cameras are always watching. 

The cameras. Suddenly, I remember the cameras. There were cameras at the hospital, too. The hospital where I was sent after Matilda’s death—the death that I caused.

“Oh my God,” I whisper, looking down at my hands. They’re shaking, a subtle twitch of my fingers, and I remember it all. I remember that white padded room and the doctors who came and asked me questions. I refused to believe she was dead. I refused to believe that I had killed my best friend. I always wanted to come back to this mall and see her: and that’s what I had done. 

I turn around, my mind on the bloodied guard on the ground. He came from the hospital, too, after I broke out. They must have known that I would come here after years of asking to see Matilda.

I keep walking through the mall slowly, my eyes on the shattered glass of the escalators, the dead plants reaching out to scratch me with their bare limbs. I pass a T-Mobile and a food court and a Party City—and suddenly, I know my way out.

I run into the store and peruse the scraps of clothes littered across the floor. The mannequins are missing limbs, some of them with costumes still hanging limp on their plastic frames, and find what I’m looking for.

A security guard costume.

I quickly strip off my blood-soaked clothes and pull on the guard costume, running back to the Mervyn’s and finding the guard’s body on the floor. Then I grab his radio, the one I heard scratching when I first woke up.

I clear my throat, make my voice go low.

“She’s not here,” I say. “We’ll have to check somewhere else.”

* * * 

For more information on each of the participating authors’ upcoming books, click here. Thank you again to the authors who joined us, and stay tuned for another Once Upon a Crime in the future. Until then, keep reading!


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