The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “So now you like him?” Jericho sneered. He knew he was twisting her words unfairly.

  “So what if I do like him? You don’t own me!”

  “I didn’t mean that. It’s just that I saw you with him and . . .” Jericho couldn’t finish. He wished he were in a hole at the bottom of the ocean. The whole situation was getting out of hand.

  “He’s smart, he’s good-looking, and he makes me laugh,” Arielle said as she angrily tossed her book bag onto her shoulder. “He’s my friend, and I do like him,” she added defiantly.

  “Maybe he’s the wrong kind of friend to have,” Jericho muttered. He was saying it all wrong, but he knew what he had seen in Eric’s eyes.

  “I can’t have friends?” she asked as she headed for the door.

  “Not friends that look at you like he did. You didn’t see how he was lookin’ at you, Arielle—like you were a piece of soft chocolate candy.”

  “So what if he did? You can’t tell me who to talk to or who to laugh with or who to like!” She stormed out of the front door and purposely went over to talk to Eric.

  Jericho couldn’t understand why he was so furious, but he knew he had to get out of there. He left by the back door and drove home alone.

  WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28—8 P.M.

  JERICHO ARRIVED AT THE WAREHOUSE A LITTLE before eight, still upset about his fight with Arielle. He had tried to call her, but she wouldn’t come to the phone. He knew he’d been wrong, and he wanted to apologize, but she wasn’t ready to talk. He sat in his car in the dark parking lot, taking deep breaths, trying to focus on whatever the Warriors had in store for him tonight.

  Josh and Kofi got dropped off by Josh’s dad, Dana arrived a few minutes later, and soon the other pledges arrived. Jericho got out of his car and joined them on the front steps. It had started to rain and the temperature had dropped close to freezing.

  The Warriors arrived at eight. “It’s cold out, so I think you need a good run tonight to warm up,” Eddie Mahoney said.

  Jericho groaned and glanced over at Kofi, who looked away.

  “Around the warehouse until I say stop,” Eddie said. “And get those jackets off! They’ll just slow you down.” Jericho looked at the other pledges, who reluctantly had begun to peel off their winter coats.

  “Are we runnin’ inside or outside, sir?” Cleveland asked.

  “Outside. Fresh air is good for you. And if you’re fast enough, you won’t get cold. Begin.”

  The fifteen pledges began a slow, miserable jog around the building. After five times around, Jericho’s chest ached from inhaling the cold air into his lungs. His nose was running, and even though he was sweating, the cold and rain penetrated his clothes and skin. Why was he doing this? he thought miserably. Kofi ran slowly, taking huge, gasping gulps of breath as Jericho passed him. “Don’t you dare,” he whispered to Jericho between gasps. Dana ran with Kofi, matching her stride with his.

  The front of the warehouse had a sidewalk, and a dimly lighted parking lot was located on one side. On the other side of the building was a narrow driveway that led to a house that had long been boarded up. Along the far side of that driveway a tall, concrete wall had been built to separate the warehouse property from the buildings next to it. It extended all the way back to the deserted house. But the ground in back of the warehouse was unpaved. It might once have been a yard, but it was now just a cold, muddy area filled with trash and rocks. It was not lighted, so Jericho and the others weren’t sure what they were running over as they made their laps around the building. In the very back of this yard was a huge Dumpster, which even in the cold air reeked of garbage and decay.

  Eddie and some of the pledge masters sat in Eddie’s car, watching the pledges run. Finally, after fifteen times around the building, Eddie got out and told them to stop. Jericho glanced over at Kofi, whose face, instead of his usual tan color, looked almost blue. He was heaving and leaned against Eddie’s car. Dana stood near Kofi and as far from Eddie as she could. Jericho had never felt so cold and so hot at the same time. He just wanted to take a steaming shower and go to bed. But Eddie wasn’t finished with them. Jericho noticed with irritation that the Warriors all had put on long, heavy rain jackets with hoods.

  “Okay, Pledge Slime. Now we search for treasure.” He and the other pledge masters, who carried flashlights, led them to the backyard.

  “Remember doing scavenger hunts when you were a kid?” Rick asked. “We have hidden several objects in this Dumpster that you must find. I know you’re cold and wet, so the sooner you find them the quicker you can go home.”

  “We should tell you,” Eddie added with a cruel smirk, “Madison’s dad works at the slaughterhouse downtown. He gave us a load of manure to add to the fun.”

  “What’s manure?” Cleveland whispered.

  Josh answered, “Cow dung. Doo-doo. Feces. Sh—”

  Cleveland groaned and interrupted, “I get it.”

  “What do we have to find?” asked Jericho. “Sir,” he threw in quickly.

  “Here’s the list,” Eddie replied. “One ripe unpeeled banana, one whole peeled grapefruit, one used baby diaper, one whole pizza—uncut but not in its box—a shoe, a large rock, a wig, and a gun.”

  A gun? A gun? Jericho looked in alarm at the others, who were clearly thinking the same thing. Yet not one of them spoke up.

  Eddie barked at them before they had a chance to think about it any longer. “Get in that Dumpster, all of you, and find that stuff!” He left one flashlight on the ground next to the stunned pledges, then he and the rest of the Warriors retreated and watched. The back of the warehouse was suddenly dark and ominous once more.

  This was not what Jericho had in mind when he dreamed about getting into the Warriors of Distinction. But he still didn’t say anything. No one else did, and he couldn’t let the others down.

  “What’s up with that—a gun!” Josh exclaimed.

  “Where’d they get a gun?” Luis asked.

  “And what they gonna do with it?” Cleveland mused.

  Kofi, whose breathing seemed to be back to normal, said quietly to Dana, “The rest of the stuff they make us do is what I’d expect—just stupid stuff—but I don’t like this gun business.”

  “I don’t either,” she said, “but all they asked us to do was to find it—they didn’t ask us to shoot anybody.”

  “Yet,” Rudy added ominously.

  They were divided as to what to do. Some wanted to get in the Dumpster right away. A few wanted to go home. Josh finally said, “I’m cold, I’m wet, and I’m tired. The motto is ’All of us or none of us.’ Let’s just do it and get it over with.”

  The Dumpster stood about eight feet high and ten feet wide. About two feet from the bottom was a door in the front with a large steel latch, large enough to accommodate huge garbage bags and boxes. It was certainly large enough for a person to climb through.

  Jericho opened the door. The stench greeted them made them jump back in disgust.

  “I’m not gettin’ in there!” Kofi exclaimed.

  Jericho held his nose and looked inside with the flashlight. “Looks pretty gross in here. This stuff is ripe! Hey, I see the shoe already!” He reached in and pulled out an old tennis shoe. It was covered in brown muck and smelled like manure. Jericho gagged a little and removed his head from the Dumpster to get some fresh air.

  “This is just gross, man!” Luis declared.

  “Let’s get this over with,” Dana urged them.

  “What about rats?” asked Cleveland. “I can’t deal with no rats, man.”

  Josh turned to the group of pledges. “This is a test. They want to know if we’re working together as a group. They want to see if we really believe in this ’All of us or none of us’ idea. So do we do it? It’s gotta be all of us. Raise your hand if you’re not going to get in the Dumpster.”

  Jericho really did not want to get in that Dumpster. He figured none of the rest of them did either. They looked at each other uncomfortably, but no
one raised a hand.

  “Okay, let’s do it,” Josh said decisively. He climbed in first, followed by Kofi and Dana. Jericho climbed in next, the others giving him a hand as he hoisted himself into the bin. His feet sunk several inches into the soft, smelly muck. Jericho helped the next few boys climb in, then others followed. Soon fourteen pledges stood huddled together—all of them in the Dumpster except for Cleveland Wilson.

  “I ain’t sharing no space with no rats,” he said defiantly.

  “There’s no rats, man,” a couple of the pledges said, trying to reassure him. “Just stink and garbage.”

  “Where there’s garbage, there’s rats. I hate rats.” Cleveland was immovable.

  “Hey, Cleveland,” Josh called from the back of the Dumpster. “All of us or none of us, man. Come on! We need you!”

  Cleveland hesitated. “If I feel something moving, I’m jettin’ outta here. Got that?” He climbed in slowly and stood very close to the door. “Now what?” he asked.

  Jericho was wondering the same thing. He was finding it hard to breathe in that stinking enclosure. He wasn’t sure what he was standing on, but it was soft and felt squishy under his shoes. “Oh gross! I found the peeled grapefruit! I hate to tell you what this feels like,” he called out to the others.

  “Toss it out there!” Luis said.

  “Here’s the banana!” Josh called out next. “Yuk!”

  Dana found the wet and dripping wig, Kofi announced he’d stumbled over the rock, and Luis exclaimed with disgust that he’d picked up the very dirty baby diaper. All of the objects they tossed out of the door of the Dumpster. Josh reached down and pulled up the pizza.

  “I don’t think I’ll ever eat pizza again,” he murmured.

  “Hey, the pledge masters are standing out there, watching and waiting! Let’s hurry up!” whispered Jericho.

  “Let ’em freeze,” Cleveland replied sullenly.

  “Rats don’t freeze,” Josh said, teasing him.

  “Aw, man, why’d you have to remind me. Let’s get this done and get out of here!”

  “We just have to find the gun,” Dana reminded them. “A gun is hard, and has a recognizable shape. The sooner we find it, the sooner we can get out.”

  “She’s right,” Josh agreed.

  It was difficult for them all to move around in the Dumpster, each of them trying desperately to feel for the hard, cold shape of a gun. The flashlight was very little help, its dim rays barely piercing the darkness. The smell of the sweat from their bodies, the load of manure, and the rotten garbage was almost unbearable. It was all Jericho could do not to explode out of there.

  “Will somebody tell me what digging in garbage for a gun in the middle of winter has to do with delivering toys to kids at Christmas?” a voice asked from the darkness.

  No one had an answer.

  As they rooted around for the gun in the stinking trash, Jericho thought about Mr. Boston and his warnings. Was this hazing? He wasn’t sure. Nobody was getting hurt, he reasoned. It’s just a harmless prank, right? But he wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

  Jericho moved so he could be closer to the door of the Dumpster, ready to be the first out once the gun was found, when his foot stumbled over something. He leaned down, reached under his left foot and his hand touched the icy barrel of a small handgun. It had been carefully wrapped in plastic.

  “I found it!” he shouted. “Let’s get out of here!”

  “I’m outta here!” shouted Cleveland, who was the first to climb out. Jericho was right behind him. When they all were out, they stretched and breathed deeply of the clean night air. Jericho tossed the gun to Eddie.

  “Why a gun?” Jericho asked coldly.

  “You don’t need to know that now,” Eddie replied.

  “Even you ought to know better than to play with guns. Sir,” he added. Eddie ignored him.

  “Good job, pledges,” Madison said quickly. “Don’t get too close, though!” He handed out wet paper towels to the pledges, but nothing could quite remove the smell on their hands and clothing. No one mentioned the gun.

  WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28—10 P.M.

  “WE HAVE ONE FINAL ACTIVITY FOR THIS evening,” Eddie announced. “Follow me.” Jericho wondered dimly if they would be allowed to get their jackets, but the thought disappeared as the pledge masters marched the fifteen pledges to the middle of the soggy yard. The ground was muddy and squished as they walked, and the frigid air whipped across their wet T-shirts. Sharp needles of rain stung them as they stood there silently waiting for instructions. A pledge master stood directly in front of each pledge.

  “Kneel!” Rick Sharp shouted to Jericho.

  Jericho wanted to disobey, but instead he knelt immediately. Cold mud soaked through his jeans in seconds.

  “Take off my boot, Pledge Slime!” the six-foot, broad-shouldered senior shouted to Jericho over the noise of the pouring rain. He glanced down at Jericho, who huddled at his feet.

  Jericho shivered as the rain came down harder and made him sink deeper into the mud of the desolate warehouse yard. His fingers were wet and stiff, but he reached for Sharp’s big, black army boot and slowly began to untie the laces.

  “Hurry up, Pledge Slime!” Sharp shouted. Jericho dejectedly struggled to untie the wet laces of the pledge master’s boot, his fingers aching. He wasn’t sure what to do when he finished. He had no idea how to get the boot off of Rick’s foot.

  He glanced over to see, if he could, the line of the other pledges, also kneeling in the mud at the feet of their pledge masters. But the rain and the darkness made it difficult to see very much. Jericho could barely even see Josh, who was closest to him in the line, but he could hear Mad Madison shouting at him in the darkness. Jericho couldn’t see Kofi or Dana at all.

  “All of us have been where you are tonight,” Sharp told Jericho. “A Warrior of Distinction is not afraid to lower himself for his brother. A Warrior of Distinction does not show fear. Are you afraid, Pledge Slime?”

  “No, sir,” Jericho replied. “I’m not afraid.”

  “Then get busy! The rest of your pledge class, slimy and disgusting as they are, seem to be doing fine. Do you want to let them down?”

  Jericho inhaled slowly. It was all of them or none of them. “Can you lift your foot, Master Senior Sharp, sir?” Jericho asked timidly. As he raised his face to look at Sharp, he gasped as the icy rain stung his eyes.

  “Did I give you permission to speak, Pledge Slime?” Sharp snarled. Jericho said nothing, but Rick lifted his right foot, using Jericho’s head to balance himself.

  Jericho pulled the boot off with difficulty. He was afraid that he would fall or would make Rick fall as he tugged at the boot. Either would have been disastrous, but he managed to get the boot off smoothly. The stench of Rick Sharp’s foot was enough to make Jericho choke.

  “Now take off the sock,” Rick barked.

  Jericho hesitated and hoped they would be able to go home soon. He slowly peeled off Rick’s sock. Rick’s foot reeked of sweat.

  “Place the sock on the ground, then set my foot down on it. Make sure not a speck of mud touches my foot,” he commanded.

  Jericho did as he was told and Rick Sharp removed his hand from Jericho’s head as he lowered his foot to the ground.

  Master Senior Sharp bent down and whispered into Jericho’s ear, “You havin’ fun yet?”

  Jericho didn’t dare tell the truth—that he had stopped having fun long ago.

  “You really want to be a Warrior of Distinction?” Rick asked.

  Jericho nodded. He thought of the prestige of having one of those black silk jackets, the admiring glances in the halls at school, but mostly he thought of Arielle. He tried not to think of the rain and the mud and the stink of Rick’s feet.

  “Are you willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction?” Rick demanded. “You have permission to answer.”

  “Yes, sir! Yes, Master Senior Sharp, sir! I am willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction, s
ir!” Jericho repeated the words that he and the other pledges had been chanting automatically since the whole process began. But he wasn’t sure if he meant them anymore.

  “Are you willing to do anything to help the others become Warriors of Distinction?” Rick demanded.

  “Anything, sir.” Jericho just wanted it to be over.

  “Then suck my big toe.”

  “Sir?” Jericho wasn’t sure if he had heard correctly.

  “If you want to be a Warrior of Distinction, you must suck my big toe. Now!”

  Jericho looked around desperately; he had no idea what the others were being forced to do. As he lowered his head close to the mud and closer to Rick Sharp’s foot, Jericho wondered miserably how he could have sunk so low.

  WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 28—10:15 P.M.

  STILL, JERICHO HESITATED. BUT IT WAS DARK, and no one could really see what he was doing, he reasoned. So he lowered his head, and felt his lips touch the top of Rick’s toe. He held his breath and moved his mind to another place—any place other than where he was-and then he took the whole toe into his mouth and sucked it.

  “Enough!” Rick shouted. “Stand up now.” Jericho stood stiffly. He was soaking wet, filthy dirty, cold, and angry. All he wanted to do was walk away from that yard. But what would everybody think of him if he quit?

  The rest of the pledges, none of whom would make eye contact with the other, waited silently in the rain while the Warriors put their shoes back on. Jericho shivered uncontrollably. He wasn’t sure if it was from the freezing rain, his humiliation, or his fearful anticipation of what was still to come.

  Eddie walked away from the group and over to his car. He carried one shoe in his hand and he walked with a noticeable limp.

  “What’s up with Eddie?” Jericho whispered to Dana, who was covered in mud.

  She replied with bitter satisfaction, “I bit his toe—crunched it like an almond! I bet he won’t be wearing shoes for a couple of days!”

 
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