A Passivity to Burn: An Arson Story

Brian’s dad had some other, real, job; but mostly all he talked about was the work he did in his shop. 

The shop that we now had to burn to the ground.  

“Nobody can ever know what happened here, ” Brain said with almost eerie excitement. 

How could they. Fire consumes all. And since Brian’s dad obviously worked with exotic woods, antique furniture, oil stains and bottles that smelled like nail polish, the place wouldn’t last a minute.  

“It has to look like an accident. Dad figures out everything.”

“I don’t know, Brian--couldn’t we just admit we knocked over the grandfather clock…couldn’t we say we saw some cat chase a rat...”

“No, it’s always locked. This morning the padlock didn’t latch. He left in a hurry. No way an animal could get in here.  We have to make this look like his mistake.”

“Brian, I think you’re overreacting. I mean, what’s the worst he would do, it’s not like he’d spank you…you’re 14-years-old. I could work off some time; I liked wood-shop in 7th grade...it’s not the worst thing that…”

“Shut-up Elliot. You don’t know my dad. He…he loves this shop more than he loves me. More than my mom. I hate this shop. He collects old damaged furniture from his clients and then spends years rebuilding it all. He’s been working on that stupid medieval clock for three F***ing years! It’s his favorite project. It’s worth like 10,000 dollars! I HATE THAT CLOCK AND I HATE THIS SHOP!”—his voice was trembling.  “You can leave if you want--you’re only partially at fault--but I’m finishing this.”

It wasn’t guilt that made me finish the job with Brian, rather loyalty and pity. I owed it to Brian. We would be even, and then go our own ways. Loved or not, Brian was beyond me.   

We had grown apart for years. I had relied on Brian’s protective, instinctual anger. In fourth grade he punched Johnny Falwell in the ear when Johnny called me a “faggot.” As a “late bloomer” (as my parents called me), I needed Brian’s brawn to keep me safe in our redneck school. He played nice for adults, yet there was a darkness in Brian that scared me. 

The petty vandalism of the last few years should've warned me of today's felony. Had Brian not lived a two-minute bike ride away, our divorce would’ve happened sooner. 

But in all those years I was always curious about that shop building. So, of course, I followed Brian inside.  

I looked down at the nearly empty Jet canvas bag and the mess of sawdust. Sawdust that was also on me. Evidence. No matter what, I would have to shower and wash my clothes. I had agreed to stand behind the stuffed dust collecting bag and absorb the blows as Brian had pretended to be some MMA fighter. Stupid.

I should’ve said no.  But he was already in the middle of a roundhouse kick which dislodged the bag from its base and pushed me backwards, clutching onto the silly leaking bag as I crashed into the grandfather clock. It was not graceful.

The grandfather fell like an old man. It shattered into glass and springs and coils and splinters and debris. The case was mostly intact, but the innards burst out and scampered under table saws and other machinery. A slow rain of sawdust and horror settled over the room. 

Brian's criminal brain instantly kicked in. 

His father had left a router plugged into an extension cord on a workbench near the dust-collector. Brian grabbed a shop rag and some mineral oil and soaked it thoroughly. He then pulled the extension cord apart just a little and placed it over the rag.

Nothing happened. 

So Brian used a match. Instantly the rag was aflame. Soon the sawdust would catch, then the clock, then the room.

We quickly exited the building, closed the door, and snapped shut the lock -- just as we heard Brian’s dad pull up in his Jeep Wrangler. 

He had seen us exit the building, but Brian awkwardly asked, “I…I thought you worked today?”

“I did, but the cops just declared the case arson. Nothing for me to pursue. I’ll just fax the insurance company, and my investigation is done." 

An insurance adjuster? 

"What're you boys up to?" 

A devious flame flickered over the shop windows and answered for us.  

I turned, and passively watched my innocence burn away.  


This is my second entry to a group called YeahWrite.me, which gives prompts to writers/bloggers who then critique each other's stories. This fiction assignment was based off the line: "Nobody could ever know what happened here," which inspired me with its use of passive voice. I always wanted to write a story in passive voice to prove it can be an interesting medium (despite my teacher training against it); and wanted to use a passive character to facilitate the action.  I also had to incorporate an aspect of the song Counting Stars by OneRepublic.   Oh, and it had to be under 750 words (not my favorite aspect. I cut over 150 words from the original).  


  1. palmface

    I thought you were telling a real tale. Not yours...but one of someone you knew. Blah.

  2. I have some good fire stories. Some I won't repeat because I don't know the statue of limitations.

    But not quite arson. I'm more of a misdemeanor guy...

  3. I love this story! Very engaging and yes at first I thought but was hoping it wasn't you! =)

    1. Well, growing up, I did know a Brian down the road, and we got into a few "issues," but nothing this big, obviously.

  4. Yowza! Glad this was fiction! I've had a couple houses burn down so this was particularly intriguing, I have to say.

    1. A couple? What are the statistical odds of that? Does it affect your homeowners policy? That's crazy, I hope everything turned out okay. Send me a link if you blogged about it.

  5. Chris, excellent ending. I also loved "A slow rain of sawdust and horror settled over the room."

  6. Replies
    1. No, this is not my prison blog. Mostly normal ( although not what my kids would say).

  7. They are in some big-time trouble! Call it peer pressure or loyalty- either way, he's correct in the assessment that his innocence is gone.

    1. Do you think felony always equates loss of innocence? Yeah, probably.

  8. Great take on the prompts, Chris! Love this line: "A slow rain of sawdust and horror settled over the room" – so good. Nicely done!

  9. I love the fact that Dad was an insurance adjuster. Of all the jobs he could have had...so ironic. And yes, like several others, I wondered at first if this might be a true story, but soon figured it was not. I know you did some crazy things as a kid, but this was a bit too felonious. Good job.

    1. Thanks Julie, I'm glad you know me well enough to know that I'm not that impish. I'm glad you found the irony.

  10. Crazy young boys!I feel kinda sorry for the protagonist-sometimes we make such life changing decisions out of a misplaced sense of loyalty-he should have known better!I shudder to think of the consequence when Brian's Dad finds out.Loved the line ," Had Brian not lived a two-minute bike ride away, our divorce would’ve happened sooner." Interesting take on the prompt:-)

    1. Thanks. I was a boy once; a long time ago. I understand those odd loyalties, especially when the friends are idiots. Idiocy can have an attractive aspect (like the guys from Jackass), but eventually maturity happens (kind of).