The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “We will begin with Josh!” Madison announced.

  “Hey, pick somebody else,” Josh said. “I admit I’m not brave—I’m scared of puppy dogs!” Jericho smiled at Josh’s never-ending good humor. He was sitting there terrified, and Josh was making jokes about it. It helped Jericho relax a little.

  “Silence!” Madison roared. Josh said nothing else. “Now choose!” Madison commanded.

  “Right,” Josh announced clearly. Jericho heard the sound of the jar being opened. He could smell the rich, deep aroma of spaghetti sauce.

  “Chew!” Eddie’s voice demanded.

  “Delicious!” Josh’s voice yelled victoriously. “I don’t often dip my candy in my spaghetti sauce, man, but I like your recipe!”

  The pledges giggled, and some of Jericho’s tension eased.

  Jericho was chosen to go next, and with great relief, he, too, chose the candy. So did Luis and Ram and Rudy. Every single pledge, whether he said “right” or “left,” ended up with the candy. Only two pledges remained. Jericho was beginning to think maybe there were no real worms when they called Dana’s name.

  “Do you like worms, little girl?” he heard Eddie whisper in her ear.

  “You are a worm!” Dana replied fiercely. Jericho knew that if her feet were free, she would have kicked him.

  “I am your master, whether you like it or not, sister,” Eddie continued to whisper. “If you’re gonna be in this group, we’d better learn to get along with each other.”

  “Bite me!” she retorted.

  “Not tonight,” Eddie replied deliberately and quietly. “I think I’ll take a wet, sloppy kiss from you instead.”

  “Leave me alone! Don’t you touch me!” Jericho could hear Dana’s chair scrape along the wooden floor as she wiggled, trying to get away from Eddie. “Don’t you da—” Her voice was muffled then as Eddie carried out his threat. Jericho could hear Dana struggle. The other pledge masters laughed uproariously.

  “Quit, man!” Kofi shouted from his chair. “Leave her alone!”

  “Are you speaking to me, Pledge Slime?” Eddie asked harshly. “How dare you raise your voice to a pledge master!”

  Kofi didn’t respond, but Jericho could hear his breathing, heavy with frustration. Eddie’s footsteps moved to where Kofi was sitting. “Choose!” he commanded.

  “Left,” Kofi replied immediately. Jericho heard the jar being opened, smelled the sharp tomato odor.

  “Open your mouth!” Eddie’s voice commanded.

  “Arrgh! Real worms! You did that on purpose!” Kofi screamed angrily.

  “Eat!” Madison’s voice commanded. “Suck it, chew it, enjoy it! And to the rest of you, we will tolerate no insubordination!”

  Kofi said nothing else, though he gagged a little. Then he said in a whisper, “Spaghetti, spaghetti, spaghetti!”

  “I have not forgotten you, Miss Dana,” Eddie said next. “Choose!”

  “Right,” Dana replied. Jericho knew that Eddie would make sure she got the worms. He figured Dana knew that as well. He heard her gag, chew slowly, then swallow with a loud gulp.

  “You could have had the candy,” Eddie told her quietly.

  “The worms were delicious, thank you,” she replied.

  “All of you could have had the candy,” Eddie told them. “We knew the swats were pretty hard to take, so we decided to lighten things up a bit by letting you think you were getting worms, but making sure all of you got the candy. But your slimy brother Kofi screwed things up!”

  Madison continued, “We know the pledge process is intense, but you must trust that we have your best interests at heart. These pledging activities are designed to aid with your bonding to us and us to you. We chose you because we want you to become part of our group. We have never seriously harmed a pledge in fifty years. But we will not tolerate any talking back to the pledge masters. Ever! Obedience is essential! Is that understood?”

  “Yes, sir,” the pledges replied meekly.

  “May I have permission to speak, sir?” Jericho heard Kofi ask.

  “You may not!” Eddie answered harshly. “The female pledge in the group is bound by the vow of obedience as well. She asked for everything she has received. She must undergo the Bonding of the Brotherhood as we see fit. There will be no more discussion!”

  “That’s enough for tonight,” Rick Sharp announced then. “Untie them. Pledges, you are dismissed until seven tomorrow morning—room one-oh-four. Good night, Pledge Slime.”

  “Good night, Master Senior Sharp, sir!” the pledges replied quietly as their hands and feet were released. Jericho breathed deeply as the blindfold was removed as well. He glanced over at Dana, who sat trembling in her chair.

  “You okay, Dana?” he whispered.

  “He’s gonna pay,” she vowed between clenched teeth. She walked over to Kofi then and buried herself in his arms. Jericho watched quietly, impressed that through the entire evening, she had not cried.

  WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28—IN SCHOOL

  WITH A LITTLE LESS ENTHUSIASM THAN THE DAY before, the pledges trooped into Mr. Culligan’s room to await the day’s instructions. A few of them walked uncomfortably, the bruises from the previous night’s beating painfully evident. Their pink T-shirts, some of them still damp, were clean and fresh.

  “What’d you do to your shirt?” Jericho asked with a laugh as Josh took off his winter jacket. “It looks like it’s got chicken pox!”

  “I used my mom’s soap powder. Box said it had ’bleach crystals’ in it. How was I supposed to know what that was?”

  “Are you trying to make a fashion statement, Pledge Slime?” Madison asked as the Warriors entered the room. “Or are you incapable of washing your own clothes?”

  “I’m sorry, Master Senior Madison, sir. The detergent sorta had a mind of its own last night. . . sir,” Josh added.

  “Well, at least it’s clean, and it certainly makes it very clear that you are ’not yet distinguished’,” Madison replied with a cold smile.

  “Yes, sir,” Josh answered.

  Rick moved to the front of the room and cleared his throat. The pledges looked to him immediately. “This morning’s activities,” he began, “will focus on the teachers. Each of you will go to the main office and as the teachers come in, you will greet them, walk them to their classes, carry their books, get them a cup of coffee—anything they need to begin their day.”

  “Do we get to pick which teacher, sir?” asked Kofi.

  “No, each of you has been assigned to two teachers—that will include about a third of the teachers on the staff. Here is the list. As you know, many teachers arrive early and are already in the building. Get busy, because you must complete this task before the bell rings for first period.”

  “Suppose they don’t want any help, sir?” Jericho asked.

  “They must sign your sheet to indicate that at least you offered your help,” Rick replied.

  Eddie Mahoney spoke next. “Tonight we meet once again at eight P.M. sharp at the warehouse.” He said nothing else. Jericho looked at Kofi and Josh. They looked a little worried. Dana, the only one of them who looked good in the pink T-shirt, stared at Eddie, her chin held high. She did not seem to be overly concerned.

  Rick gave them their assignments and sent them off to find their teachers. Jericho looked at his sheet and groaned. He had been given Miss Hathaway, the English teacher, and Mr. Boston, his math teacher.

  Jericho hurried to Miss Hathaway’s room. She was tall and skinny and talked in a loud, squeaky voice. She asked Jericho to run up to the library and find a book for her. He did so gladly so he wouldn’t have to listen to her squeaky conversation about her new car. He found the book, rushed back downstairs to give it to her, got his sheet signed, then headed slowly to Mr. Boston’s room and knocked on the door.

  “Come in,” Mr. Boston answered.

  “Hey, Mr. Boston. I, uh, want to know if there’s anything you want me to do this morning to help you.”

  “Would you be
offering this help if you were not pledging the Warriors of Distinction?” Mr. Boston asked. Jericho hated when teachers answered a question with another question. Why couldn’t he just say yes or no?

  “I’d help you anytime you needed it, Mr. Boston,” Jericho replied honestly, “but yes, today it’s because of a pledge activity.” He hoped Mr. Boston would just sign the form so he could get out of there and be done with it. “Can I go get you a cup of coffee or something?”

  “Did you know hazing is illegal in forty-one states?” Mr. Boston asked.

  There he went again—answering a question with another question! “Uh, no, I didn’t know that,” Jericho answered. “But the Warriors have been pledging kids from this school for years. If it was illegal, it wouldn’t be allowed, would it?”

  “Is everything going all right, Jericho? Is Dana okay?” Mr. Boston asked.

  He’d done it again! “I promise, there’s no problem at all. Actually, it’s fun!” Jericho said with what he hoped sounded like conviction. “And Dana is probably tougher than I am!” he added honestly.

  “You asked if there was a task you could complete for me. Yes, there is. If anything happens this week that makes you uncomfortable or you feel is not quite right, I want you to come to me.”

  “Oh, I couldn’t do that, Mr. Boston!” Jericho said in alarm. “They’ve got really strict rules about secrecy and silence and stuff. I’d get in really big trouble if I told anybody anything.”

  “I’m not asking you to break any confidences. All I’m asking is that you come to me if you need help. Do you understand?”

  Jericho nodded, but Mr. Boston just didn’t understand. There was no way he’d ever breathe a word to him. The rest of the pledges would suffer if he broke the rules and there was no way he was going to rat on anybody.

  Mr. Boston signed the teacher participation sheet. “I’ll see you in class, Jericho.” He returned to grading math papers. Jericho dashed off to his first-period class.

  The rest of the day went by quickly. When Jericho got to math class, Mr. Boston, even though he had three pink-shirted students in the class, conducted it as usual—strict discipline and no nonsense. He made no comments or references to Jericho about their earlier conversations.

  At lunch Jericho sat with Kofi, Dana, and Josh. “What you gonna do about Eddie?” Josh asked Dana.

  “Nothing yet. Try to stay out of his way as much as possible.”

  “That’s hard to do,” Jericho commented. “He makes sure he’s assigned to you every night.”

  She nodded slowly. “I did ask for this, you know. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I knew they’d make it really hard for me. As long as I know I’ve got you guys behind me, I’ll be fine.” She nibbled on a carrot from her salad.

  “Uh, how’s your . . . uh, the place where he beat you with that paddle?” Jericho asked her delicately.

  “Bruised,” she replied. “Extremely bruised.”

  “When this is over, Eddie is due for some one-on-one rehabilitation!” Kofi declared, slamming his fist on the table. “Nothing would give me more pleasure than bringin’ him down!”

  “Let’s change the subject,” Dana said suddenly. “What’s that you’re eating, my pink-shirted brother?” she asked Jericho.

  “Salad,” he answered. “I don’t know how you do it. May as well be eatin’ air!” Jericho was glad they were now talking about something easy like food. Thoughts about the Warriors were making him feel confused and angry. He got up then, went to the quick lunch line, and bought two hamburgers and an ice cream sandwich. “Now that’s more like it!” he said cheerfully as he gobbled the first burger.

  “I hear ya, man! Bein’ a vegetarian is for the birds!” laughed Josh, who was eating spaghetti and meatballs.

  “Don’t get me started on you, Mr. Polka Dot Man,” Dana said to Josh. “Looks like a bird found your shirt and pooped all over it!”

  Jericho and Kofi choked with laughter. It felt good to laugh and act silly once again. “She blasted you, man!” Kofi gasped.

  “Do you guys have any idea what’s in the meat they serve here in the cafeteria, or what animal it came from?” Dana asked with mild disgust.

  “I don’t really care. It died well, and I appreciate the sacrifice!” Jericho grinned as he finished off his second hamburger. He burped loudly.

  Dana grabbed her book bag and got up, a look of disgust on her face, but she was laughing as well. “I’ve got a test to study for. I’ll see you guys tonight.”

  Kofi laughed. “Why you chase away my girl, man?”

  “Your girl got too many opinions!” Jericho replied. “You want half this ice-cream sandwich, Josh?” Josh started to say yes when Jericho stuffed the whole thing in his mouth. “Too late!”

  “So what do you think of the Warrior stuff so far?” Josh asked them.

  Jericho swallowed the last of his ice-cream sandwich and said, “I’m not sure. It’s not so bad, I guess.” He wanted to tell them he was having serious doubts about the Warriors and the pledging and how the whole process made him feel. But he simply said, “It’s got to be worth it, man. The Warriors are so tight!”

  “That’s true,” Kofi began, “and runnin’ never killed anybody.” Jericho looked at him sharply, but said nothing. “The swats were rough, but I hear they do that in all clubs. But I don’t like how they’re treatin’ Dana—especially Eddie. I was ready to choke him when he kissed her!” He brought his fist down on the table with such force that it shook.

  Josh nodded. “You knew that was gonna happen, man. She set herself up for it, but why do you think she’s puttin’ herself through all this?”

  “She told me once that her father, the big time military man, wanted a son and was really disappointed when Dana was born that she was a girl. So he decided to teach her everything he would have taught his son. She played baseball and basketball as a kid, took flying lessons, and boxing, too.”

  “She’s not the only girl to do that stuff,” Jericho reasoned.

  “Yeah, but she’s the only kid her daddy had, and I think Dana always felt like she was never quite good enough for him. So she keeps pushin’ the limits.”

  “I think she’ll do fine,” Jericho said with a confidence he didn’t feel, even about himself. “We just gotta make sure we look out for her.”

  “I’ve seen Dana in action!” Josh laughed. “Maybe we ought to get her to look out for us!”

  “What do you think they’re up to tonight?” Kofi whispered.

  “I don’t know.” Jericho licked his fingers and the wrapper of the ice-cream sandwich. “Hey, Josh, has Uncle Brock said anything to give us a hint about what’s coming up?”

  “No, he just keeps smilin’ and struttin’ around like some kind of rooster. He’s so proud he’s about to explode.”

  “Too bad. It would help to know,” Kofi said with a sigh.

  “I kinda like the idea of surprise. Every night is a new adventure,” Josh said as he cleared his tray.

  “Do you think they do the same pledge activities now that they did when he pledged?” Jericho wondered.

  “Probably not. I bet ours are a lot more intense,” Kofi said thoughtfully.

  “Yeah, I guess, but I don’t know how I’m gonna make the rest of this week. I am so tired!” Jericho said as he walked out of the lunchroom with them.

  By the end of the school day, Jericho felt like he was dragging. He was anxious to get home and get a quick nap before the night’s activities. But then he noticed Arielle coming down the hall, talking to Eric Bell. She was smiling at Eric and laughing, touching his hand lightly as she talked, and looking at him with the same sparkling eyes that Jericho loved to look at. Eric looked deliriously happy as he rolled along beside her.

  Arielle didn’t notice Jericho at first. He watched her as she sat with Eric in the main hall near the door. She was looking directly in Eric’s face, her face very close to his. They seemed to be whispering and giggling. Jericho felt ill.

  Arielle
finally saw Jericho and waved. “Hi, Jericho. I was just telling Eric about my silly little sister. He has a sister about Kiki’s age.” Jericho didn’t even know that Eric had a sister. He’d never bothered to ask. He said nothing for a moment.

  “What’s wrong, Jericho?” Eric asked. “You look tired.”

  “I guess I am,” he said deliberately. “And this is just day three of the Warrior pledge week.” Where does he get off talkin’ to my girl with his crippled self? Jericho frowned. I hope he gets his feelings hurt!

  Eric looked at Jericho with a pained expression. “My bus is coming early today,” he said. “I think I’ll wait for it outside.” He moved to the front door. Before he left he turned his chair back to face Jericho and Arielle. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Arielle,” he said pointedly before going out the door to wait for his bus.

  “What was that all about?” Jericho asked Arielle.

  “All what?” she asked. “What’s wrong with you?”

  “What’s up with you and Eric? I see you walking down the hall with him, and sitting here where anybody can see you, laughing and giggling like he’s some kind of movie star.” Jericho could not explain why he felt so angry.

  “What do you mean ’where anybody can see me’—like I’m supposed to hide when I talk to him?” Arielle replied, her dark eyes flashing.

  “That’s not what I meant,” Jericho said, feeling even more confused and upset. “It just doesn’t seem right.”

  “So what are you tryin’ to say?” she asked. She was really getting angry.

  “I’m sayin’ that it’s not fair to give him hope or make him think about something that’s not possible.” The words weren’t coming out right, but Jericho was unable to express himself clearly.

  “Give him hope about what? You think he hasn’t got a chance with me just because he’s in a wheelchair? If you think that, you’re a narrow-minded punk! I like Eric because of who he is, not for how he gets around.”

 
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