Short Story #209: An Imperfect Conflagrationby Ambrose Bierce

Title: An Imperfect Conflagration

Author: Ambrose Bierce


Book cover: Complete Short Stories of Ambrose BierceThe narrator explains that murdering his father has left a lasting impression on him, even now, years later.  He didn't want to murder his father but he found he had no choice.  They were working together on a burglary opportunity and things were going well.  They managed to split everything down the middle without any problems until the narrator realized that his father had in fact tried to hit a precious music box from the mix of stolen items.  The father was quite fond of music and really wanted to keep this as opposed to split it.  When the narrator calls him out on this act, the father acquieces but finally challenges the son the cut in half such a precious item.  Instead, the narrator kills his father with an ax.  Just after this happens, his mother enters and he is forced to kill her as well.  He seeks help from local friends on what to do and the sheriff recommends that he puts them into a bookshelf and burns them.  He finds at home a new bookshelf and puts his parents into it and sets the house to fire (after getting insurance, of course).  However, after the fire is put out, the parents' bodies are safely ensconced in the bookshelf.  Years later, the narrator discovers a similar looking bookshelf it and it was a brand of fire-proof bookshelves.  


A darkly amusing and morbid story--part of the "tall tales" section of this collection.  I can see in stories like these that Bierce seems to blend the best of Poe and Twain to make for an egregiously lovely time.  

Short Story #209 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read: 7/29/2014
Source:  The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce, compiled by Ernest Jerome Hopkins.  Bison Books, 1984.  The full works of Ambrose Bierce, including this story can be found here on

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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