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News & Features » July 2013 » “We Burned Down the City” by Jervey Tervalon

“We Burned Down the City” by Jervey Tervalon

Thursdaze (because the weekend won’t come fast enough) features original flash fiction modeled after our Drug Chronicles Series. Each story is an original one, and each encapsulates the author’s fictional experience with drugs. Our print series has anthologized authors writing about marijuana, cocaine, speed, and heroin, but contributors to the web series can focus on any drug, real or imagined, controlled or prescribed, illegal or soon-to-be legalized. Submissions to Thursdaze will be judged on an author’s ability to stylistically emulate his or her substance of choice. Submissions are also limited to 750 words, so try to focus. (They have a pill for that.)

This week, Jervey Tervalon, coeditor of The Cocaine Chronicles, tells a story of weed, beer, and the CHP. Jervey Tervalon

We Burned Down the City
by Jervey Tervalon

Gumbo and I tossed a Frisbee, waiting for our mamas to call us in for dinner, while Danny, another one of my brothers’ friends, screamed by from one end of the block to the other, passing within a few feet of us on his gigantic chopper.

I made a bad toss but even as fat as Gumbo was, once he got all that weight going, he never give up on a catch.

“Almost got your fat ass!” Danny yelled, as his chopper bars almost raked Gumbo’s belly.

“Shut up, you ugly, biscuit-eating fool,” Gumbo said, sure that Danny couldn’t hear over the engine’s roar.


Mark lowered himself onto the front seat of the Jag with a cooler filled with ice and beer; Ike and Jude climbed into the back; and Danny gunned his chopper, waiting in the street. My older brother, Winston, looked the Jag over once more, cleaned the windshields and put his hands on his hips, staring at as though there was something he missed.

The chopper pulled away, Danny’s Afro sticking out from under his long, tasseled beanie that snaked behind him in the wind. Winston burned rubber to show he could—but it was only a little rubber, and no squeal.

“Check them fools out, going all the way to San Francisco,” Gumbo said.

“Naw, they’re not going that far. They’re going to Ventura.”

“Where’s that?” Gumbo asked me.

I shrugged. “Far, but not that far.”


The Fellas lived differently from us knuckleheads who were too young to drive and too afraid of getting beat down to take a bus. Their lives weren’t constrained to a few square blocks (and then, after those, taking a chance on getting your ass kicked, or maybe getting killed). We didn’t want to be knuckleheads, ruled by Crips and Bloods, punked by any wannabe gangster with a gun. We wanted to live like them: kings of the neighborhood.


By the time they turned off at the Big Rock, they had smoked a half ounce of ses and drank two six packs, but no one was particularly high. Ike was quiet and distant, allowing Mark and Winston to argue endlessly about nothing, and Jude, he looked as glum as Ike, but he followed Winston and Mark’s conversation. Ike was the first out of the car, heading for the edge of the bluff. He turned, as if he forgot something, framed by the setting sun and ocean, and he called to them.

“Ahh! This is the life. A nigga can’t complain,” he said, joint hanging from his lips, dressed all in black, the wind whipping his black slacks around his ankles.

Mark threw a rock at him.

“Look at you,” Mark said, “Acting Clint Eastwood again, bogarting that joint.”

“Yeah, I am,” Ike said, smirking.

They were at the base of the Big Rock, where the highway used to run—a jagged piece of road, a hunk of concrete hanging in the sky. From there they could see the coast, crowded with Lego-shaped houses, stretching back to LA.

Danny coasted over, engine rumbling, tires kicking up gravel and dirt. He took a beer, swigged it, then spat and wiped grime from his face.

“Pigs got after me.”

“They on you,” Jude said, as two CHP cars turned in off of the highway.

Danny glanced over his shoulder, saw them heading his way, and lowered himself down to the broken and uneven bluffs. Open beers were tossed; joints were flicked into the wind. The CHP cars broke off, swinging wide, rolling slowly through the parking lot looking for a dark-skinned black man on a chopper. Instead, they saw two guys who looked more like white surfers. Even so, they still clicked on their search beams and gave each of them a look over. Winston and Ike ignored them, but it was such a studied unawareness that one cop popped his door, ready to ask for ID. The second CHP turned fiercely, throwing up all kind of dirt, and they both roared away.

Danny was in a pretty precarious position, close to a very sheer drop, but he had used shrubs to work himself over to the broken road in the sky. Winston stretched flat and leaned, hinge-like, over the edge and reached for Danny, though Danny was reluctant to take his hand and release the shrub he clung to. Then he slipped, clawing frantically at the hard dirt to reach Winston. Danny latched onto him, pulling himself up like a drowning man, yanking the much smaller Winston out farther until he was unbalanced. Snatching at his shirt, Danny pulled the already-threadbare thing over Winston’s head.

Then they both pitched over, rolling in space, bouncing on the hard, ragged slope to the ocean below.


JERVEY TERVALON was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles.  He received his MFA from UC Irvine and studied with Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark (later adapted into the award-winning Schindler’s List). Tervalon is the author of five books, including the bestselling Dead Above Ground as well as Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. He was the Remsen Bird Writer in Residence at Occidental College and a Disney Screen Writing Fellow.  He now teaches at the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara.  He is the director of the Literature for Life Project, a literary/salon magazine; and he’s also the Literary Director of LitFest Pasadena. He is the coeditor of The Cocaine Chronicles.


Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Thursdaze flash fiction series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines:

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your submission should never have been published elsewhere.
—Your story should feature a drug, any drug, and your character’s experience with it. We’ll consider everything from caffeine to opium, and look forward to stories ranging from casual use to addiction to recovery. Stylistically, we’ll respond most favorable to stories that capture the mood and rhythm of your drug of choice.
—Include your drug of choice next to your byline.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com, and include THURSDAZE in the subject line. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.


About the Drug Chronicles Series: Inspired by the ongoing international success of the city-based Akashic Noir Series, Akashic created the Drug Chronicles Series. The anthologies in the series feature original short stories from acclaimed authors, each of whom focuses on their fictional experience with the title drug. Current releases in the series include The Speed Chronicles (Sherman Alexie, William T. Vollmann, Megan Abbott, James Franco, Beth Lisick, Tao Lin, etc.), The Cocaine Chronicles (Lee Child, Laura Lippman, etc.), The Heroin Chronicles (Eric Bogosian, Jerry Stahl, Lydia Lunch, etc.), and The Marijuana Chronicles (Joyce Carol Oates, Lee Child, Linda Yablonsky, etc.).

For a limited time, you can order the complete set of books in the Drug Chronicles series for only $30. Please click here for more information.

Posted: Jul 25, 2013

Category: Original Fiction, Thursdaze | Tags: , , , ,