The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  The room was finally completely silent. Jericho glanced at the candle and noticed it had burned out.

  In the darkness Madison’s strong bass voice broke the silence. “Sit down, please. We will now remind you of the vows you made. Remember, we demand your dedication, your obedience, and your very life, if necessary. Any problems with that? If so, this is your last chance to back out.”

  “Don’t be hatin’, man. We with you all the way. Bring it on!” Cleveland’s slurred voice answered. He was sitting on the floor, laughing to himself. Jericho tried to remember what was bothering him earlier, but his thoughts were fuzzy and warm, and right now Cleveland sounded like the wisest man in the world.

  Madison looked like he was holding back a laugh. “Remember that each pledge holds the responsibility for the other tonight.” Jericho looked at the pledges. He felt, for once, like he was part of the big picture. “In addition, you must agree to do anything you are asked to do,” Madison continued.

  “Anything!” Cleveland shouted drunkenly. He burped.

  “Anything!” the rest of the pledges cried out as well.

  “It’s all good.”

  “Let’s get it on!” They had all risen to their feet once more, and Jericho felt like their unsteady legs were his own, their gravelly voices belonged to him, and their thoughts and vows were part of his as well. He’d never felt such power.

  “Repeat after me,” Eddie demanded. “All of us or none of us!”

  “All of us or none of us! All of us or none of us!” Jericho and the other pledges yelled back. “Warriors rock! Warriors rule!” Jericho found himself accepting it, believing it, swallowing it whole.

  The room gradually settled into silence. “Follow us,” Madison commanded. The Warriors opened the door of the warehouse and headed into the darkness.

  FRIDAY, JANUARY 30—10 P.M.

  JERICHO COULDN’T IMAGINE ANYTHING ELSE they could do to them. The cold slapped his face and bare arms as they left the warehouse, but the night was icy clear. The fifteen pledges followed Mad Madison, Rick Sharp, Eddie Mahoney, and the other Warriors out the door, through the parking lot, and around to the back area where the Dumpster loomed darkly in the distance.

  “Give me five laps around the building,” Eddie demanded. The pledges shrugged and started to jog. Jericho was a little glad for the run because it seemed to clear the thickness in his head, but he still ran as if he were another person watching himself from a distance. A couple of the pledges vomited between laps. When they returned to the starting point, exhaling hot breaths while inhaling the cold night air, Jericho waited with the others for the next task.

  “We are almost finished,” Madison called to the anxious pledges. The wind had increased and was whipping them all.

  “The sooner you complete this last task, the sooner you can go to a place of warmth and celebration. Mr. Culligan is back at school, getting everything ready for our party, so let’s get this over with!” Madison shouted over the wind. “A warm shower and your black silk jackets await you!” That was enough to get them going.

  “March!” Eddie commanded. He and the other Warriors then led the pledges behind the Dumpster, down the broken and crumbling driveway, and into the yard of the deserted house in the back. From a distance the house looked shadowy and forlorn, but up close it was dilapidated and frightening. The wooden porch was almost rotted away, with huge gaping holes looming darkly between the boards that still remained. The windows had been boarded up, but time and weather had loosened many of the wooden coverings so that jagged glass protruded and gleamed in the light of the Warriors’ flashlights. The front door, hanging by just one hinge, stood ajar. To Jericho it looked like a scene from one of those horror movies where chain-saw killers lurk in the darkness. He almost wished he had another drink to get rid of his returning feelings of fear and misgiving.

  As if he read his mind, Eddie pulled another bottle of liquor from a bag and passed it around to the pledges. “Drink!” he told the pledges. “You will need this.”

  Jericho didn’t even think this time. He swallowed several huge gulps, grateful for the temporary warmth he felt. He searched for that feeling of kinship and peace he’d felt earlier, but it was gone.

  “You will enter the house together. Make your way to the second floor, enter the first room on your left, go to the window there, and wait for further instructions. Here is a flashlight.”

  The pledges walked slowly toward the crumbling porch. Jericho, who had been given the flashlight, placed one foot shakily on the first step. It held but groaned under his weight. The others followed quietly. Jericho reached the front door, cautiously grabbed the handle, and pushed. It took very little effort to open it fully.

  Jericho wasn’t sure how he ended up first in line, but here he was, so he pressed forward. He peered into the darkness of what had once been a living room. One whole side of the floor had caved in, but the side that led to the staircase seemed to be solid. Heart thudding, he carefully entered the room. The others followed.

  “Talk about your haunted houses!” Luis whispered.

  “If some freak with a mask or a butcher knife comes around the corner, I’m outta here!” Josh laughed quietly.

  “Dana, stay close to me,” Kofi called to her.

  “I’m right here. Eddie’s freaky enough to scare me—don’t need no real monsters,” she quipped.

  “Aw, you just want her to protect your tremblin’ butt!” Josh teased.

  “I bet there’re rats in here,” Cleveland whispered.

  “And spiders—look at all those webs.” Jericho pointed them out with a shudder.

  The room, heavy with dust and decay, was not as deserted as they thought. In one corner they saw a pile of newspapers that were stacked on what looked like a bed. The papers were partially covered with an old blanket, and dozens of beer bottles were strewn over the floor. The room smelled of old garbage and urine.

  “Looks like somebody else has found this place too.”

  “Probably some homeless people.”

  “I hope they’re not here hiding or something. I’ll freak,” Luis admitted.

  “Let’s get upstairs and get this over with,” Jericho suggested.

  The fifteen pledges slowly crept up the stairs. The railing had long since fallen down, so they had nothing to hold on to but fear and faith—and each other. At the top of the steps, Jericho breathed slowly and pointed the flashlight beam at the floor and ceiling of the upstairs hall. The hallways had once been decorated by a lovely carpet, but it was ripped, faded, and completely gone in some spots. Several closed doors loomed darkly down the hall, but Jericho concentrated on the first door on the left, where they had been told to go. He turned the knob, pushed open the door, and entered the small bedroom, the other pledges following closely. The door slammed behind them and they all jumped.

  The Warriors had obviously been there earlier. Candles had been lit. They flickered from the boxes and crates that had been stacked around the room. The room was well swept and free of cobwebs, Jericho noticed thankfully.

  Kofi asked, “So what do we do now?” He held Dana’s hand. Some of the pledges swayed a little from the alcohol. Several of them sat gratefully on the boxes, while others slumped to the floor. Jericho felt dizzy and thickheaded, and slightly nauseous. He was chilled, and the cold seemed to have seeped into his skin. He wanted to go home and sleep.

  “Is this the window they talked about?” Jericho asked as he walked over to the largest window in the room, the type that opened from the bottom. It reminded him of the windows at home, which on a summer night let in fresh air and thirsty mosquitoes.

  Just then the door to the small room swung open and Eddie Mahoney blew into the room like a storm, making the candles flicker and sputter. One candle went out completely.

  “Open the window!” he commanded.

  Jericho, who was still standing closest to it, lifted the bottom handles. The window rose easily. A cold gust of wind blew through the open
window.

  “All of us have been where you are tonight,” Eddie explained. “It is now time for the Leap of Faith.” Jericho thought back vaguely to something Mr. Redstone had mentioned, but he couldn’t remember what he had said. “This is how you test your courage,” Eddie continued. “It is time to leap into the brotherhood, leap into your future, leap into success. You will jump from this window a lowly piece of Pledge Slime, but you will arise, like a phoenix, as a respected and honored member of the Warriors of Distinction!”

  The pledges, eyes wide with fear, glanced at the gaping window. “Just jump?” Jericho asked, a look of disbelief on his face.

  “Beneath the window we have arranged a soft landing for you—old mattresses and pillows, lots of foam rubber, even a mat from the boys’ gym,” Eddie explained.

  “But I don’t see anything,” Jericho insisted. His voice sounded high and nervous, even to his own ears.

  “Of course you don’t. We’ve covered it all with mud. It will be soft, but not pleasant. You scared to get dirty?”

  “No, sir.” Jericho sullenly said nothing else, but he moved away from the window. He didn’t like heights, and he hated the feeling of losing control and falling. He was starting to feel dizzy and nauseous from the alcohol, but the thought of the ground jumping up to grab him was almost too much. He wasn’t sure if he could do this.

  “Who’s first to try the Leap of Faith?” Eddie asked. No one answered. Eddie pulled the gun from his jacket. “I asked,” he repeated ominously as he pointed the gun at each of them, “who will be first?”

  Ram jumped up. “I’ll go first, man. Put that thing away before you hurt somebody.”

  “Good man,” Eddie told him. “The rest of the Warriors await you at the bottom to help you. We do this every year—it’s a piece of cake.”

  Ram took a deep breath, tossed his legs over the ledge of the window, and disappeared. Jericho heard a soft thud, then a whoop of victory. “I’m in, dudes! It’s muddy, but it’s okay. Come on down!”

  Jericho realized he’d been holding his breath. He backed farther away from the window. Cleveland jumped next. “For the rats!” he yelled as he jumped. In a moment came a cheer from below.

  Luis volunteered next, but he was frightened, Jericho could tell. He made the sign of the cross several times, but just sat there, feet dangling over the edge while the wind buffeted him. Eddie pulled out the gun again. “Jump, coward!” he hissed. Luis jumped. Jericho and the others heard him scream as he fell.

  “You okay, Luis?” Eddie called out the window.

  “Yeah,” Luis answered, his voice shaking.

  “Congratulations, my brother,” Eddie yelled, “and to the rest of you down there as well!”

  Eddie pointed the gun then at Arnold, Rudy, and Deshawn. One by one they jumped silently into the darkness. So did several other pledges. But the thuds that signaled their victorious landing only made Jericho more afraid. All of the muddy, successful jumpers screamed encouragement to the remaining pledges above who hovered hesitantly near the window.

  Soon only Jericho, Josh, Kofi, and Dana remained. The cold, harsh wind continued to blow mercilessly into the room, making Jericho shiver even more. All the candles had been blown out.

  Eddie eased himself close to Dana in the darkened room. “If you don’t get away from me,” Jericho heard her say, “I swear I’ll stick that gun up your butt!”

  Eddie backed away, but snarled, “Jump!”

  “I’m not scared of you, Eddie,” Dana said clearly. “My daddy taught me to skydive when I was little. As a matter of fact, I was just as tall as you are now!” She laughed in his face and walked over to the window. She gave Kofi a hug, climbed onto the windowsill, pulled her long legs over the ledge, and breathed deeply for a few seconds. Then she just slid into the darkness.

  Kofi ran to the window to check on her. Jericho, though glad to see Kofi waving to her with a smile on his face, felt dizzy and lightheaded. The walls seems to be wobbling. He stumbled to the back of the room and vomited in a corner.

  “You not gonna punk out on us, are you, Jericho?” Eddie sneered. “Even Dana did the Leap of Faith, man.”

  Jericho didn’t answer, but wished the world had a door. He wanted out.

  “Don’t worry about it, Jericho. I gotta go next,” Kofi announced with certainty. “Dana needs me.”

  “I think it’s you who needs Dana,” Josh said with a small laugh. Kofi climbed onto the window and gazed at the darkness below. The shouts of the others could be heard from below, but he sat without moving.

  “You okay, man?” Jericho pulled himself together and walked over to him.

  Kofi didn’t reply. Eddie walked over to where Kofi sat in the window and spoke softly. “I knew you were soft when I first saw you. I knew you didn’t have the guts to be a Warrior! And you’re sure not man enough to handle a woman like Dana.”

  “Watch me!” Kofi told him fiercely. He turned slowly then, swung his legs back inside the room, and stood up straight and tall. He glared at Eddie, who looked uneasy. Without saying a word, Kofi quickly grabbed a very surprised Eddie Mahoney, picked him up, and tossed him unceremoniously out of the window.

  Josh and Jericho ran to the window and cheered as Eddie plopped in the muddy mess below. All of the pledges laughed hysterically. Even some of the Warriors joined in.

  Kofi, noticeably more relaxed, laughed as well. He climbed back onto the windowsill, sat on the ledge and dangled his feet, pushed off with his tennis shoes, and jumped. Jericho heard the familiar thud, then sounds of an argument as a furious-sounding Eddie confronted Kofi. The others sounded like they were trying to break it up.

  “It’s just you and me, Cuz,” Josh said to Jericho.

  “We better get down there,” Jericho said weakly. “Sounds like the brotherhood is fallin’ apart.”

  “I’ll go first,” Josh offered.

  Only Josh knows how scared I am, Jericho thought.

  “Naw, I can do this,” he told his cousin. His heart pounded. He climbed onto the windowsill and looked down. Everyone looked so small. The filthy, pink-shirted pledges huddled on one side of the mud pit, waving at him in encouragement. The pledge masters stood on the other side, some of them still passing around the bottle of whiskey. Eddie was being restrained by a couple of them. Jericho wondered why Kofi was sitting on the ground, near the pledges. Kofi was the only one not waving him on. The ground looked miles away and the successful pledges stood shivering and muddy below.

  “We’re freezin’ our butts off out here!” Cleveland called. “Come on down, man!”

  Jericho felt light-headed and weak. He closed his eyes and tried to bring pleasant, comforting thoughts to his mind—Arielle, his trumpet, jazz music. Eyes squeezed tightly, and with those thoughts surrounding him, he let himself fall.

  Faster than he ever imagined, the shock of the wet, thick mud jarred him. Jericho landed on his back, once again thankful for his fatty padding. He lay stunned on the ground for a moment. He was amazed he was still conscious and aware of everything. He did it! But that moment of exultation faded quickly as he realized he’d never been so cold and miserable in his life. His head throbbed and his back hurt. He opened his eyes, looked up at the dark sky, and took a deep breath. The landing was not as soft as they had predicted, but it was bearable. And it was over. Luis reached down, offered his arm, and helped Jericho to stand.

  Jericho looked around. Eddie, looking angrier than ever, was muddy and nursing a small cut on his head. Kofi sat on his knees in the mud near where Jericho landed, head down, a miserable-looking, muddy creature. His face looked blue and ashen, and his right arm, which he held with his left arm as if to support it, hung stiffly by his side. He shivered uncontrollably.

  “Are you okay, Kofi?” Jericho asked with concern.

  Kofi replied quietly, “I think I broke my arm.” He looked pale, as if he were about to faint. Madison sat in the mud with him, placing his own jacket around him.

  Dana sat quietly
next to Kofi. “He won’t let us help until we’ve all jumped,” she told Jericho. “Come on, Josh!”

  Jericho looked up at the window, which looked even higher from the ground, and waved encouragement to Josh.

  “Jump! Jump! Jump!” the Warriors shouted. Josh hesitated. Jericho knew he had to be a little scared—the last one up there, and all by himself. “Jump!” the Warriors shouted once more.

  “Here I come!” Josh shouted cheerfully. “It’s my turn to fly!” He waved to the group below, took a bow like he always did when he was showing off, then, instead of sitting in the window like the rest of them had done, he climbed up, stood on the windowsill, raised both his arms as if they were wings, and let himself go. And for a moment he really did look like a bird in flight.

  FRIDAY, JANUARY 30—11:30 P.M.

  THEN, SUDDENLY, JOSH TWISTED IN THE AIR. Jericho gasped in horror as Josh’s graceful dive became a frantic fall. Josh flailed his arms wildly. He seemed to be trying to regain control of his body, but the ground swallowed him before he had the chance.

  “Josh!” Jericho screamed desperately. He wanted to shout out a warning, scream to the sky to catch Josh, pray for time to stop forever, but the words wouldn’t come fast enough. Josh landed headfirst, beyond the assorted muddy mats, onto the dark, cold ground.

  It had all happened in seconds, but it seemed like hours. Jericho rushed to where Josh landed. The others followed. Jericho stared with incomprehension. Why wasn’t Josh moving?

  His cousin lay on the ground in the mud, his face to the sky. Trembling, Jericho thought it odd how Josh’s head rested unnaturally on his right shoulder. He couldn’t comprehend Josh’s face, which instead of his usual easy smile, was contorted into a terrible grimace—a mask of pain and surprise. Even though he was almost afraid to reach out, Jericho gently touched Josh’s right hand, which lay open as if he were reaching for something or someone. He couldn’t touch Josh’s left hand, for it was hidden beneath his body, his left arm twisted at a painfully awkward angle.

 
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