The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper

  “Why are you telling me this?” Jericho asked, amazed.

  “Because I’ve heard rumors about the pledge activities of the Warriors of Distinction, and I don’t want you to get hurt. I’m also a little worried about Dana.”

  “What kind of rumors? I haven’t heard anything like that,” Jericho replied, agitated.

  “As you know, they keep it pretty secretive. But bits and pieces of information escape.”

  “The Warriors of Distinction is the best club in the city!” Jericho said defensively. “Look at all the good stuff it does!”

  “I don’t deny that, Jericho. Just be careful, all right?”

  “Yeah, I’ll be careful. But if it was dangerous, my Uncle Brock, Josh’s father, wouldn’t let us pledge. He’s been through it and he said it was a piece of cake!”

  “Were those his exact words?” asked Mr. Boston.

  “Well, he said it would bean ’unforgettable experience.’”

  “That’s not exactly the same thing, is it?” Mr. Boston got up to leave. “You’re a good student, Jericho. I enjoy having you in class. I just wanted to share my concerns with you.”

  ’Thanks, Mr. Boston. I appreciate you worrying about me, but everything will be cool.”

  Mr. Boston opened the main door, letting the cold winter air into the front hall. Just then Arielle came around the corner.

  “Thanks for waiting for me,” she said. “That test was really hard. Were you bored while you waited?”

  “Surprisingly not. I’ll tell you about it in the car. Let’s get out of here!”


  THEY STOOD IN THE WAREHOUSE THAT HAD been used for the toy drive. Jericho was nervous but not frightened. He looked at the other members of his pledge class—Josh, Kofi, a big football player named Cleveland, the track star Luis he knew from math class, two basketball players named Rudy and Deshawn, a wrestler who was simply known as Ram, three honor society members named Arnold, Simon, and Jesse, a swimmer the kids called Fish, a boy named Kenyon who liked to write poetry, a drummer named Jack, and Dana, who stood a bit off by herself. There were fifteen pledges, all waiting to see what would happen. No one spoke. Jericho felt a tickle in his stomach when he thought about what the first night’s activities might be. He had thought about it all weekend, and he couldn’t imagine what they might ask him to do. The room, completely empty of boxes and toys now, echoed strangely in the darkness.

  The Warriors entered the room together. They all wore black Warrior T-shirts and stood in a line before the pledges. Eddie Mahoney seemed to be in charge tonight. He lifted weights every day after school, and his upper body was tight and hard with muscles. Jericho figured he forced himself to be tough to make up for his lack of height.

  Eddie spoke with authority. “We will ask very little of you during the school day. After all, academics are important. But we will ask you each day to complete a school service activity.”

  Rick spoke next. “You will address the seniors, who for the duration of this process are your pledge masters, by their proper title. For example, I will be known as ’Master Senior Sharp,’ and you must address me as ’sir.’ Mr. Madison here will be ’Master Senior Madison, sir.’ And we will call each of you by your proper title, which is ’Pledge Slime.’ Any requests we make of you at any time must be fulfilled—immediately. Understood, Pledge Slime?”

  “Understood, Master Senior Sharp, sir!” the pledges repeated.

  “When this is over, if you survive,” he paused and looked directly at Dana, “we will no longer be your masters, but your brothers, and we will welcome you into the Warriors of Distinction. But until then, you must undergo the Bonding of the Brotherhood. Understood?”

  “Understood!” the pledges repeated loudly. Their voices echoed strangely in the now empty warehouse. It sounded different from how it had in the daytime, Jericho thought, when sunlight streamed through the wire-covered windows. Tonight the warehouse was slightly darkened, full of shadows and echoes.

  “Tonight it begins,” Eddie said suddenly. “The sweetness is over. We did a good job with the toy drive. No one will bother us now while we get down to the business of making sure you are worthy of us.”

  A feeling of dread began to creep up Jericho’s spine.

  “Our first activity,” Eddie Mahoney continued, “is designed to test your loyalty and obedience. Sit on the floor in a circle, hands behind your back.” He held a medium-size plastic bowl in his hands. Rick held an identical bowl. In each bowl was a spoon. Jericho couldn’t see what was in either bowl. “Pledge masters, the blindfolds please.”

  Rick and Madison and the others swiftly tied black scarves around the heads of the pledges. Jericho could feel the scarf being wrapped around his head and it felt uncomfortably tight. He could see nothing. Then he felt his hands being tied behind his back. He suppressed a wild notion to pull off the blindfold and run out of there.

  “Warriors and Masters,” Eddie said. “It’s time to make our very own pledge slime. Let’s spit in the bowl for the Pledge Slime at our feet.” Jericho wasn’t sure he heard correctly, then he could distinctly hear the disgusting, wet sounds of deep gobs of mucus being spit, dropping thickly into the container.

  “Enough!” Eddie commanded. “Now, Pledge Slime, one spoonful of spit will prove your loyalty and obedience. Who will be first?”

  The room was silent.

  “We don’t have any potential Warriors here, men,” Eddie said. “We have a room full of wimps! Again I ask you—who will be the first to swallow a spoonful of spit?”

  Then Jericho heard Dana’s voice. “I’ll go first, sir.”

  “I gotta admit, the girl’s got guts,” Jericho heard Madison say. Jericho silently agreed.

  “Open your mouth,” Eddie said. “One large tablespoon of spit for the girl with the guts!”

  Jericho heard Dana gagging a little, but she must have swallowed it, because she said clearly, “That was delicious!”

  The pledge masters laughed at that, and Eddie said, “Who’s next?”

  Kofi, probably not wanting Dana to show him up too badly, volunteered next, then Luis, then Cleveland, who almost vomited. Josh volunteered then, and the rest of them. It took a very long time, but finally it was Jericho’s turn.

  “Jericho, you get what’s left in the bowl. Can you handle it?” Eddie asked him.

  “Yes, sir,” Jericho replied weakly. He heard the spoon scraping the bottom of the bowl, then felt the spoon at his lips. He felt sick to his stomach.

  “Swallow it, Pledge Slime!” Eddie said, a maniacal tone to his voice.

  Jericho took a deep breath, opened his mouth, and the contents of the spoon were poured into his mouth. It was warm and thick. He swallowed quickly before he could gag. He felt like he might faint.

  “Take off the blindfolds and hand restraints,” Eddie commanded. Jericho gazed at the pledges sitting on the floor. They all looked ill.

  Madison took over then. “You did well, Pledge Slime. You know, of course, that we wouldn’t really make you drink spit. Let us show you what you swallowed.” He removed a Styrofoam egg container from his book bag. “Rick, show them your bowl.”

  “Egg whites. Just egg whites—room temperature. Not exactly pleasant, but not dangerous, at least. That’s what you swallowed.” Rick smiled maliciously, but none of the pledges smiled back.

  Jericho sat on the floor, unable to move for a few minutes. He was trying to figure out how his mind had made it all seem real. “And this is just the first day,” he whispered to Josh, who was also unusually quiet.

  Before they had a chance to recover completely, Eddie stepped forward again. He handed each pledge a photograph of the black silk Warriors of Distinction jacket. “I want you to look at what you’re striving for. The jacket you see in the picture can be yours if this week is successful. But it is much more than a jacket—it is a representation of obedience and loyalty and dignity. It is symbolic of the pride we feel in knowing that we are Warri
ors of Distinction.” He spoke with fierce passion and frowned at Dana.

  “Now you run!” he barked. “I want you to hold this photograph in front of you as you run so you can see what you are striving for. Let it be your strength and your inspiration. Hold it high and run! Run until I tell you to stop. If you slow down, you get beat down.”

  Jericho held the picture of the jacket in front of him and joined the others as they thundered around the sides of the warehouse. He looked around and saw that all of the pledges were doing as they had been told—holding the picture high and looking at it as they ran. He wasn’t sure if they felt inspired by the picture or not. He just knew that he had to do as he was told in order to make it into the Warriors of Distinction. So he ran.

  Eddie was true to his word. When Cleveland stumbled over a shoelace, Eddie hit him on his back with what looked like the handle of a snow shovel. Cleveland looked at him angrily, but said nothing. He got up and continued to run. Luis got a cramp and sat down in pain. Eddie hit him with the shovel handle and told him to get up. Luis got up, but he walked instead of ran. Rudy ran smoothly, but he bumped Eddie on one of his rounds. Jericho thought it looked like he had done it on purpose.

  Two laps. Five laps. Ten. Jericho was breathing hard and hoping that Eddie would let them stop. Twelve laps. Fourteen. Sixteen. Dana ran smoothly, seemingly without much effort. She didn’t frown or slow her stride, even when some of the boys started to falter. Go, girl, go, Jericho thought. Then he glanced back at Kofi, who was running far behind the others. He let Kofi catch up and noticed his breathing was raspy and rapid.

  “You okay, Kofi?” Jericho asked as they ran together, much more slowly than the others.

  “Yeah. . . . Fine.” But his words seemed to be stretched wide.

  “You need to stop, man?” Jericho asked.

  “Don’t . . . sweat ... it. ... I . . . can . . . beat . . . you!” Kofi breathed as he managed to push past Jericho.

  They ran longer and harder than in any gym class or basketball practice that Jericho had ever been in. Fifteen minutes, twenty, twenty-five. None of the pledge masters seemed to notice that Kofi was having difficulty. Thirty minutes of nonstop running. “One more lap,” called Eddie. He had stopped using the stick.

  Jericho and Kofi finished the last lap together. Jericho was definitely winded. But Kofi took deep gulping breaths.

  “I’m going to go tell Mahoney to take it easy on you,” Jericho declared as they finished.

  “Don’t you dare say anything to anybody!” Kofi exclaimed. He grabbed Jericho’s arm and whispered, “This is the only thing I have ever done in my life that makes me feel proud. So just shut up!” Kofi stuffed the picture of the Warrior jacket into his pocket.

  Jericho looked at Kofi and said grudgingly, “Okay for now, but if it gets crazy, I’m not gonna shovel you off some floor. You got that?”

  “Thanks, man. I’ll be fine. I can’t let my girl Dana beat me, can I?”

  Dripping with sweat in spite of the chilliness of the room, Jericho glanced around at the group. The heavier boys like Ram and Cleveland heaved loudly and sweated profusely. Josh looked energized instead of being tired, Kofi looked almost ashen, and even Dana looked drained and exhausted. She wasn’t breathing nearly as hard as Kofi was, however.

  Madison passed out small bottles of water, and for a moment Jericho thought the worst was over. “I have a question,” Madison said to the group of pledges sitting on the floor. “Are you willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction?”

  “Yes, sir! Yes, Master Senior Madison, sir!” they all chanted. Jericho didn’t know whether he was excited or frightened.

  “Don’t ever forget that,” Madison commented dryly.

  “You’re hot and sweaty,” Eddie said then. “Take off your shirts.”

  Jericho started to obey immediately, but stopped when he remembered Dana. A bunch of dudes taking off their shirts was one thing, but a girl in the room made it different. The other pledges hesitated as well, looking at each other and not sure what to do.

  “I said take off your shirts—all of you!” Eddie yelled.

  Kofi removed his shirt first. His thin, wiry body was still heaving from the run. He was sweating heavily. Cleveland was next. He wore a heavy sweatshirt and removed it slowly. Rolls of fat hung over his waistline. Josh and Jericho removed their shirts at the same time. Josh was fit and slim; Jericho looked down at his large belly and wished he had eaten more carrot sticks. Luis had the best build of all the boys, with deeply rippled muscles. Jericho wondered how Luis managed to be blessed with such a physique. Rudy, the tallest of them, towered silently over the rest. Ram, thick and solid, flexed his biceps. Fourteen shirts lay next to fourteen boys. The room was silent. They waited for Dana.


  DANA LOOKED AROUND HER, SHRUGGED, and swiftly removed her T-shirt. She wore no bra. She looked straight ahead. Eddie grinned as he stared at her. At first, no one moved, then Kofi walked over to where she sat on the floor. He stood, arms folded across his chest, directly in front of her, facing forward, like a human shield. Jericho realized what he was doing and joined him, his back to Dana, his arms folded across his chest as well. Josh ran to join them, then the rest of the pledges did so as well. When they were finished, fourteen boys surrounded the half-naked girl on the floor, each facing outward.

  “Well done,” Madison said, nodding his head. He said nothing else to them.

  The pledge captains then handed out bright pink T-shirts to the pledges.

  “Toss one over your barrier to that pledge who wants to be just like a man,” Eddie sneered. Unlike Madison, he did not seem to be very pleased that they had shielded Dana. “You will wear this shirt every day at school to every class and every school function. You will wash and dry it every night and iron it every morning. Failure to wear this shirt will mean you have failed as a pledge, which means that the entire class of pledges will have failed. Why?”

  “All of us or none of us!” Jericho and the rest of the pledges said in unison.

  Rick spoke to them next. “You will be living two lives for the rest of this week. During the day you will participate in school-sanctioned pledge activities. At night you belong to the real world of the Warriors. You will say nothing about these two worlds. You will tell no one of our evening activities. Understood?”

  “Understood,” the pledges repeated obediently, but Jericho continued to feel uneasy about the “other world” Rick spoke of.

  “Go home. You are dismissed for tonight. Be in Mr. Culligan’s room tomorrow morning at seven thirty.” With that, he and the other members of the club left the room.

  Dana stood up then, wearing her pink shirt. “I want to thank you guys,” she said shakily. “Especially you, Kofi, for starting it. But I’m gonna do my best to hold my own. I would have sat right there in just my jeans—all night, if I had to—just to prove it.”

  “You would have?” Josh asked in amazement.

  “Yeah, but I’m glad I didn’t have to,” she admitted. “I promise never to let any of you down. I’m determined that I’m going to do whatever they make me do.”

  “We got your back, Dana,” Kofi said quietly. “I didn’t like what you did and how you did it to get in here, but you got guts, girl. I gotta give you your props for that.”

  For the first time all night, Dana smiled.

  “Hey, Dana,” Kofi asked her, “how did you know the spit was fake?”

  “I didn’t. I just figured they had to be faking us out somehow, and I had to prove myself. I don’t want them to have an excuse to kick me out of this group.”

  “Why do you want this so bad?” Josh asked.

  “I’ve never had a chance to make a real difference,” she said. “I talk big, but talk changes nothing. This is my chance to prove what I believe in.”

  “You’re doin’ great so far,” Cleveland added. “If it hadn’t been for you, I woulda just sat there and vomited my dinner all over their fanc
y shoes.”

  The fifteen pledges collapsed in laughter then. Jericho felt really close to them at that moment, and wondered if this was what was meant by bonding. “We’re bonded, right?” Jericho asked the group.

  “I guess so,” Kofi said.

  “All of us or none of us,” Luis reminded them.

  “Yeah, yeah. Enough of that. What’s up with the shirt?” Josh asked. “Pink? November is gonna trip when she sees this!”

  “They used the same ones last year,” Jericho reminded him.

  “Yeah, but not on me,” Josh complained.

  “Well, I’m gonna have to listen to Arielle all week about this slogan on the back,” Jericho said with a sigh. “I am not distinguished yet.’”

  “Yeah, that’s pretty cold,” Josh admitted. “But it’s only for a week. I figure I can put up with anything for five days.”

  “Even being called ’Pledge Slime’?” asked Rudy.

  “I guess. All this is worth it, right?” Jericho asked.

  “Yeah, you got that straight! I’d do anything to be a Warrior,” Cleveland said as he looked at the ugly pink shirt.

  “Anything?” Jericho asked.

  “Yeah, man, just about anything.”

  Jericho took Kofi and Josh home, then eased into his house quietly. Everyone had already gone to bed. He took a long, hot shower and called Arielle when he had slipped under the covers.

  “How was it?” she asked.

  “Pretty disgusting, but not bad. Nothing scary—yet.”

  “That’s all you can tell me?”

  “Aw, you know, the code of silence thing. It’s dumb, but I’m following their rules for now.”

  “How did Dana do?”

  Jericho thought back to the intensity of the evening. “Better than most of us, actually. She’s tough.”

  “That’s for sure. Well, I’m just glad you’re okay.”

  “Sleepy. Tired. And better now that I’ve talked to you.”

  “You always know what to say, Jericho,” she said softly. “Good night, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”

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