The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “Good night, Arielle.”

  Even though he was tired and still slightly nauseous, Jericho practiced his trumpet for a half hour after he hung up. He winced as he thought about the competition, however, and he put the trumpet away.

  TUESDAY, JANUARY 27—MORNING

  THE FIFTEEN PLEDGES, DRESSED IN THEIR flourescent pink T-shirts, waited quietly for instructions. No one mentioned how Dana had answered the challenge the night before, but Jericho was sure they were all thinking of it.

  Madison moved to the front of Mr. Culligan’s room. ’I have a question,” he began. “Are you willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction?” he demanded.

  “Yes, sir!” they all replied.

  “We will see,” Madison commented dryly. “Today we begin the school service assignments. We meet for the serious stuff again tonight. Eight o’clock. Don’t dare be late!”

  “Yes, sir!”

  “For your first assignment this morning,” Madison continued in his gravelly voice, “we ask that all of you stand in the main hall by the front door and greet each and every incoming student. You will say, ’Good morning. We are the undistinguished pledges who strive to be Warriors of Distinction. We hope you have a pleasant day.’ Understood?”

  “Understood, Master Senior Madison, sir!” the pledges said in unison.

  “When the bell rings for first-period class, you are to go to your classes as usual. For now, you are dismissed. Have a great day.”

  With that, he and the other Warriors of Distinction left the room. Jericho and the other pledges looked at each other excitedly.

  “So what do you think is gonna happen tonight?” asked Kofi.

  Jericho shrugged, “I don’t know, but I’m not worried.”

  “You ready for this, Dana?” Kofi asked her.

  “I’ll be fine,” she said with a smile, “as long as I can keep my clothes on!”

  “Well, we better get this over with,” Josh reminded them. “Let’s go meet and greet the world!”

  The first person all fifteen pink-shirted pledges met in the hall was November. Rick Sharp was standing nearby, watching them. The pledges looked at November and said in unison, “Good morning. We are the undistinguished pledges who strive to be Warriors of Distinction. We hope you have a pleasant day.” Jericho felt pretty stupid saying it, but he reminded himself that he was just one of the group, and his voice blended in with the others.

  November looked at the group, gasped, then sat down in the middle of the floor and howled with laughter. She laughed until tears were streaming down her face. She couldn’t stop laughing.

  “I don’t think it’s so funny,” Kofi said saltily. “Quit laughing, November!”

  “But you all look so funny!” she howled. “Dana, girl, you better watch out! These dudes look like they’re tryin’ to be fashion statements!”

  “The shirt is supposed to show who we are and that we’re proud to be pledges,” Jericho tried to explain.

  “A pledge is a promise, not a person,” November said to them. That kinda made sense, Jericho thought, but then November started laughing at them again. “Well, you sure can’t miss any of you coming down the hall! Where’s my shades?” She dug in her purse and pulled out a pair of sunglasses.

  Other students had started to arrive by then. They either joined November’s laughter or simply shook their heads in bemusement at pledges who greeted each and every one of them with, “Good morning. We are the undistinguished pledges who strive to be Warriors of Distinction. We hope you have a pleasant day.” Jericho had thought he would enjoy this, but even though he didn’t mind November laughing at them, because he knew where she was coming from, it made him uncomfortable to see kids he didn’t even know join her. A few kids had cameras in their book bags and they snapped pictures of the group that even Jericho had to admit looked pretty silly.

  Mr. Boston arrived as the pictures were being snapped, and Jericho thought about what he had told him about hazing. But this wasn’t hazing, was it? They weren’t naked. True, the pink shirts were a little over the top, but this was all in fun, right? Jericho wasn’t sure. The group recited loudly, “Good morning, Mr. Boston. We are the undistinguished pledges who strive to be Warriors of Distinction. We hope you have a pleasant day.” Mr. Boston said nothing, but made eye contact with Jericho, who looked away.

  The principal, Mr. Zucker, walked through the hall, carrying a clipboard and a cup of coffee. He was wearing a three-piece blue suit and a red tie. Jericho admired how well the man dressed. Mr. Zucker smiled and nodded at the pledges and continued on to his office.

  Soon the whole ordeal became monotonous and Jericho just wanted to go to class. When Arielle walked in the front door, she joined November, who had moved from the floor to a bench near the door. Arielle didn’t laugh, but she did take a picture.

  When Eric Bell arrived, struggling to push his way through the heavy front door, the group said the speech once more. “Good morning. We are the undistinguished pledges who strive to be Warriors of Distinction. We hope you have a pleasant day.” Jericho couldn’t bear to look at Eric. Eric wheeled his chair right through the middle of the group, purposely running over a few of the pledges’ toes, before he headed down the hall to his first class.

  By the time the bell rang, Jericho figured he and the other pledges had said the speech about two hundred times. His mouth was dry and he stopped to get a bottle of water from the machine in the side hall just before class. Eddie Mahoney appeared out of nowhere. “Thank you, Pledge Slime. I’m really thirsty. So nice of you to buy me this sweet cold bottle of water.” He held out his hand.

  “But I don’t have any more money, and I’m—”

  Eddie interrupted him and roared, “Are you questioning me, Pledge Slime?”

  “Uh, no, sir, Master Senior Mahoney, sir!” Jericho almost trembled at the rage in Eddie’s voice. “I bought this water for you, sir!”

  Eddie snatched the bottle of water and continued down the hall. Jericho went on to class, thirsty.

  Just after lunch, where he finally got enough to drink, Jericho saw Eric rolling toward him and he knew he couldn’t avoid him this time. “Hey, Eric,” he said slowly.

  “You look awful in pink,” Eric answered. His face showed both envy and derision.

  “Yeah, well, you know,” Jericho stammered.

  “What’s the secret pledge stuff like?”

  “No big deal. Lots of running and shouting and promising and stuff,” Jericho replied evasively. He looked around uncomfortably, searching for an excuse to get away.

  “You don’t have to feel bad about me, Jericho. I know I lost my chances in a club like that when I broke my back. I can still dream, though. Catch you later.” With that he directed his chair down the hall, the wheels whistling on the smooth, polished floor.

  TUESDAY, JANUARY 27—EVENING

  JERICHO AND THE PLEDGES WAITED QUIETLY in the chilly warehouse for the night’s events to begin. He worried a little about Dana, but she looked calm and unruffled. Eddie and the fourteen other Warriors walked into the warehouse at precisely eight P.M. Eddie seemed to be in charge again.

  “Good evening, Pledge Slime,” he greeted them.

  “Good evening, Master Senior Mahoney, sir!” the pledges repeated loudly. Their voices echoed and bounced off the bare walls.

  “First of all this evening, we want to make sure you understand your position as pledges. Gentlemen? The collars please.” Eddie motioned to Rick and Madison, who pulled from a brown paper bag fifteen dog collars with attached leashes.

  “You gotta be kiddin’ me,” Josh whispered to Jericho.

  “Line up and kneel!” Eddie commanded. The pledges knelt obediently on the dirty warehouse floor. The seniors then proceeded to attach the dog collars to their necks. Jericho felt the leather being pulled around his neck and latched snugly. He felt choked, as if he couldn’t breathe, even though the collar wasn’t really fastened that tightly.

  “Let’s pretend
we’re at one of those dog shows,” Eddie said. “Warriors, make sure your doggie knows how to run and sit up and do tricks. Let’s get started!”

  The Warriors gleefully began dragging the pledges across the filthy floor, making them bark or jump or roll over. They seemed to be having great fun. “I couldn’t wait until this year so I could do this to another group of pledges!” Madison boasted as he made Kofi crawl on his stomach.

  “Yeah, man,” agreed Deon, a six-foot senior. “They did it to us, and it sure feels good to do it to them now!” He yanked Josh by his neck and made him pretend to wag his tail.

  The Warriors hooted with laughter. Jericho felt like dirt. He looked up at Rick Sharp, who held his leash.

  “Next year you get to do it to another group. That’s the beauty of the system!” Rick explained. “Now bark!”

  Jericho barked.

  Rick led him all the way across the room with the leash; Jericho had to crawl quickly to avoid being choked. He glanced at Dana, who, to no one’s surprise, was being yanked around the room by Eddie. Jericho tried to keep an eye on Dana as he did his own set of stupid dog tricks for Rick.

  “Roll over!” Eddie yelled at her. She obeyed, but the look in her eyes was not of a loving puppy, but rather a caged beast.

  “Sit up!”

  She sat on her knees and glared at him.

  “Now down!” he commanded. “All the way to the ground—flat on your stomach.” Dana obeyed slowly. He yanked the collar around her neck. “Now back on your hands and knees. Let me see you wag your tail.”

  Dana shook her backside almost imperceptibly.

  “I said wag that tail!” Eddie ordered. “Let me see it shake!” Dana obeyed, but Jericho could see her eyes were squeezed shut. He then watched in disbelief as Eddie put his hand on her behind and patted it as if she were really a dog. “Good doggie,” he whispered to her. Dana, amazingly, said nothing.

  “Let’s race our dogs,” Eddie called suddenly to Rick. He pulled Dana by her neck, lined up with Rick, who led Jericho into place, and the four of them sped across the warehouse floor. Rick and Eddie shouted with glee as they dragged Jericho and Dana as fast as they could by their collars. Trying to run on his hands and knees was difficult, and Jericho feared he would stumble, get caught up in the leash, and choke to death. He sighed with relief when Rick and Eddie stopped.

  Eddie wasn’t finished with Dana, however. “Jump!” he commanded. “Let me see how high my doggie can jump. Jump, dog, jump!”

  Dana hesitated, then from her crouching position on the floor, jumped up as smoothly as a leopard attacking its prey, her arms outstretched toward Eddie. As she was landing, she reached out with her hand as though to catch her balance and managed to scratch Eddie’s face with her fingernails. But Jericho could tell it was no accident.

  Eddie jerked his hand to his cheek, his face contorted in surprise and rage, but he said nothing. Jericho caught Dana’s eye and smiled.

  Eddie walked back to the center of the room, holding his cheek, pulling Dana sharply by the collar on her neck. “Gentlemen,” he announced. “Bring your dogs to the center of the room and line them up in front of these chairs.” Jericho allowed himself to be pulled with the others back to the center. “Remove the collars,” he told the Warriors. Jericho rubbed his neck with relief as the collar fell from his neck. He wasn’t sure if he’d be glad to do this next year to a new pledge or not.

  “Next,” Eddie announced to the pledges, “we test your strength and endurance. We don’t want you if you’re not tough.”

  “Pledge masters, the chairs please.” The fifteen pledge captains each pulled an old brown folding chair from where they had been stacked against the wall, and lined them up in a row. Now what? Jericho wondered.

  “Now, Pledge Slime, face the chairs, and get ready for the blessing! We have done this every year for fifty years, and the blessings just get better!” His odd laughter echoed in the darkened warehouse. The pledges shuffled to the line of chairs hesitantly. Kofi stood to the left of Jericho, Dana stood to his right. “Bend over,” Eddie commanded, “and hold the seat of the chair firmly with both hands.”

  As the pledges obeyed, Jericho could see what was about to happen. Oh, no, he moaned silently.

  “If you move from the position, if you make a sound, you get blessed twice—maybe three or four times,” Eddie explained. “It’s up to you.”

  Madison and Rick appeared in front of them holding huge wooden paddles. The pledge captains then walked quietly behind the chairs to where the backsides of the pledges waited. The room was silent.

  Whack! Intense pain exploded on Jericho’s butt, spreading down his legs and up his spine. Involuntarily he stood up from the chair. He did not scream, however. For once he was glad of his extra padding of fat.

  “You like the blessing so much, I see you want it again,” Rick told him. “Bend over, Pledge Slime, and take it like a man!”

  Everything in Jericho’s being screamed inside him—not so much from pain, but from anger. How dare somebody hit him like that! He didn’t have to take this! But he clenched his teeth, grabbed the seat of the chair, and leaned over so that Rick Sharp could strike him again. Whack! This time Rick hit him even harder. Jericho seethed, but held on.

  Kofi was next. Jericho glanced over at him and tried to give him a smile of encouragement, but Kofi had his eyes squeezed shut. Thwack! Kofi let a small involuntary noise escape. Thunk! He was hit again.

  Ram, Cleveland, and Jack were heavyweights who took their swats with relative ease. Rudy and Arnold screamed, so they both got three fierce beatings with the paddle. Josh stood up twice, so he got hit three times as well. Luis escaped with only one swat. All of the pledges except for Dana had endured the beatings. She waited in silence, head down, arms taut as she held on to the chair.

  Eddie took the paddle from Rick and said quietly, “This one is mine.” Jericho bent forward so he could see Dana. She looked determined and tense. He wanted to say something to stop her from getting hit, but he couldn’t think what. He didn’t want to mess up her chances of getting in the club, or his own chances for that matter, but he knew somehow that Eddie was going to go way over the line. He was right.

  He heard Eddie take a deep breath, heard him say “Umph!” as he struck Dana with so much force that he knocked her forward into the chair. She collapsed into the chair which broke as she fell into it. Amazingly she did not scream.

  “Get her another chair,” Eddie said calmly. “She needs another blessing.”

  “That’s enough, man,” Rick said, grabbing Eddie’s arm.

  “Didn’t we agree we were gonna make her understand what she was getting into, to show her she has no place here?” Eddie hissed.

  “Yeah, man, but—”

  “I know what I’m doing! Get her another chair!” Rick said nothing more, but brought Eddie a chair.

  “Get up, Pledge Slime!” he commanded Dana.

  Kofi moved from his chair to help her. “Stay where you are!” Madison snarled.

  Jericho looked at Dana. She had a long scratch on one arm, and her nose was bleeding a little. Her face was a mask of anger and determination. She assumed the position once again. Thwack! Whack! Smack! Three times Eddie beat her with the paddle. Three times she held on to the chair and made no sound at all, not even a whimper.

  Jericho thought that if he hit her one more time, he was going to punch that punk in his face. He didn’t care if he didn’t get in. This was crazy! But just then Eddie stopped and tossed the paddle to the floor.

  “Stand up now,” Eddie told the pledges. He said nothing to Dana and refused to look at her. She stood with difficulty, but managed to smile at Jericho and Kofi.

  “You all right, Dana?” Kofi asked. Jericho couldn’t say anything; he was disgusted with himself for not having the courage to stop the whole thing.

  “I’m okay,” she said shakily. “Let’s just get this night over with. If you guys can do it, I can too.”

  “Now we tes
t your courage and obedience,” Eddie told the pledges. “Sit down in the chairs.” They all sat, some of them very carefully. Jericho could see that Dana winced in pain as she sat. But she said nothing.

  Eddie, Rick, and several of the other seniors walked toward the seated pledges. Rick carried two glass jars with lids, one in each hand. They looked like used mayonnaise jars, Jericho thought. He couldn’t see what was inside the jars, but it was reddish-orange in color.

  “Pledge masters, tie their hands, please,” Eddie continued. Jericho felt rough rope pull his wrists tightly as it was expertly tied to the back of the chair. He tried to pull it loose and found he could not. He felt trapped and nervous. Suppose there’s a fire! he thought irrationally. He looked at Dana, who had her eyes closed, and Kofi, who also looked scared. Josh, in the seat next to Kofi, tapped his feet nervously.

  “Now their feet,” Eddie commanded, “and place the blindfolds over their eyes.” Jericho felt even more confined as he felt his feet being lashed to the legs of the chair and the scarf being pulled around his eyes. He wanted to run kicking and screaming out of there, feel his arms moving freely as they beat several of the Warriors in their faces. But the point was to be tested for courage, wasn’t it? So he tried to take short easy breaths and stay calm for whatever was to come next.

  Madison’s voice broke the silence. “Are you willing to do anything to become a Warrior of Distinction?”

  “Yes, sir,” the pledges replied obediently. But their voices lacked the power they had carried earlier.

  “Good!” Madison’s voice replied. “Then you’ll enjoy the meal we’ve prepared for you!”

  “Do you like spaghetti?” Eddie asked sweetly.

  Jericho hadn’t been expecting that question. “Yes, sir,” he answered cautiously with the others.

  “You will have a choice in our next activity,” Eddie explained. “One jar holds soft candy gummy worms dipped in tomato sauce. The other jar holds real earthworms, also dipped in spaghetti sauce.” Jericho knew what was coming next. “You will say one word—’left’ or ’right.’ If you guess in which hand Master Senior Sharp holds the candy, you will have a mildly pleasant treat. If you choose the hand that holds the worms, that is your meal for the evening.”

 
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