Only Arson


It’s only arson. Arson ain’t that bad of a charge. I mean, sure, it’s a felony and all, but the sentence could be a lot worse. Here in sunny old California, I’ll do a year and a half to three years, not even max sec. In and out again before the kid gets old enough to start school, easy-peasy.

They look at you a little funny when they know you burned down a house, though. Everybody’s worrying all the time that I’m off my rocker, that I’m gonna light my bed on fire and rub one out while it burns, but ain’t like that. If they saw how smart I’d been about it, they wouldn’t ever think that again.

See, the trick is to make it look either like an accident, or like you acted on impulse. Not that it matters which is which in my case. Sure, I tipped a lit barbeque over in the tall grass against the siding, but nothing requires me to say why I was trying to cook steaks behind a condemned house, no matter how many of these assholes tell me it would “help my case.” Me and my lawyer, we know there ain’t no excuse in the world that’ll hold water better than my silence.

That’s an important part, though. If you use any fuel to make the fire, any accelerants, or they can prove you planned it, it’s gonna look much worse, and so’s the sentence.

Showing proper remorse is also really important. You gotta look like you made one bad mistake and you really regret it. You gotta play the ‘I just got my life together and I’m sad I messed it all up again’ card, a real tug at the old heart strings. That’ll help keep your sentence short because after all, you’ve been keeping your nose clean since the last charges. Everybody loves the redemption story, the classic of an ex-con finding fatherhood and it settling him out of the life.

If you’re going to try it, though, maybe have a better record than mine. That’s the only hold up. They don’t like those possession charges and that bullshit I got into with my crazy ex, but I never got no felonies and the lawyer says that’s good. And I never started anything on fire before, least not anything they know about.

But that’s all the easy stuff. The real trick is making sure they never know you’ve been in the house. Nobody can see you coming or going. Anybody knows you were in there before, can tell the pigs they saw it, you’re pretty fucked, brother, and you better start praying if that’s your bag. But if you’re careful enough, if you’re smart enough, you can get in and out all you need before you burn it up.

And what’s the old joke about buying a house? Location, location, location? It’s true here, too. You gotta make sure enough of the house can burn down before the fire crew shows up. When you’re looking, check out old houses near empty warehouses or abandoned industrial areas. There ain’t nobody in those parts of town to call it in too soon, and it takes the fire department a long time to answer out there anyway.

My house? It was perfect. Damn thing burnt to the foundation. The only problem was I stuck around to watch.

Also, don’t do that. Don’t stay to watch, or you’ll end up like my ass, busted and waving at your little boy as best you can around the handcuffs while they walk you through the courtroom.

All in all, it’s not hard. Make it look like an accident. No accelerants. Look like you regret it. Have a clean record, and don’t get caught going in the house. Pick a good fucking house, and get the fuck out of there once you start it burning.

Because unless they can prove you knew that dead body was in the attic before you lit the fire, it’s only arson.

~ fin ~


R.D. Sullivan is a writer of fiction, comedy and letters to the editor. She lives in Northern California with her family and two solidly mediocre dogs, where she runs a subcontracting business. Her work has been featured at Fireside Fiction Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and in the Killing Malmon anthology. She is also proud and ashamed of her most recent novella, Hotties and Bazingas and the Murder Cult Murders, available now. You can track her down on twitter @RDSullyWrites or over at