The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “Oh, my God, Josh!” Jericho groaned from a place deep within. Suddenly from the darkness came a scream of terror and agony, and Jericho realized he was the one who was screaming. “Help!” he shouted. “Oh my God, somebody please! Help!” Terror and desperation distorted his voice. “Hurry!” he screamed again. “Call nine-one-one! Call the police! Call somebody!” Rick Sharp fumbled in his pocket for a cell phone and frantically punched the numbers.

  Jericho lowered his head so his mouth was close to Josh’s ear. He whispered desperately, “Stop playin’, man! Quit tryin’ to fake us out! Josh, please, talk to me!”

  Someone covered Josh with his jacket.

  “Oh, my God,” Jericho whispered. Then he roared, “We gotta do something to help him! Anybody know CPR?”

  “Yeah, man, I do,” Cleveland answered. “I used to be a lifeguard.”

  “I don’t know if it will help,” Jericho admitted, “but we can’t just sit here!”

  “I don’t think we ought to do chest compressions,” Cleveland said thoughtfully. “We don’t know if he’s . . . uh . . . bleeding. Let’s just try the breathing part.”

  Jericho knelt in the mud and prayed while Cleveland attempted the rhythmic breathing. But Josh did not move or respond.

  After an excruciating minute or so, Luis said quietly, “It’s not working, Jericho. But I hear the sirens. The paramedics will know what to do.” The group huddled together, trembling and hoping for a miracle. Josh still had not moved.

  Rick ran out to the street to direct the paramedics back to where Josh lay. They ran down with their equipment and told everyone to stand back as they rushed over to Josh and began to assess the situation.

  “We’ll take over now, son,” one of the paramedics said to Cleveland. Cleveland stood up, but Jericho wouldn’t move.

  He touched Josh again, whose arm felt surprisingly warm in spite of the icy air. Where are you, Josh? I’m scared, man. Jericho wept then, holding his cousin’s rigid hand in his own. Josh did not move. His eyes, open and unblinking, were turned toward the night sky.

  SATURDAY, JANUARY 31—12:00 A.M.

  THE INTENSITY OF THE VOICES OF THE emergency rescue team and the squawking of their receivers as they radioed in information pierced the night.

  “Bring some lights back here, Mac!”

  “Is he breathing, Bill?”

  “Call for police backup, Joe. What’s the kid’s name?”

  Dana had placed another jacket around the shivering Kofi. They sat on the ground not far from Josh. “His name is Josh,” she informed the paramedics. “Oh, please help him!”

  “Josh!” the paramedic shouted loudly. “Can you hear me, Josh?” Jericho thought that was stupid—it was obvious Josh could not hear him.

  “What happened?” another paramedic asked as he examined Josh.

  “He fell,” Madison answered meekly. “It was an accident.”

  “From where?” the paramedic asked sharply.

  “That window up there,” Madison replied, pointing to the dark hole above.

  “Did he fall or was he pushed?” another paramedic asked, as he tried to get a pulse.

  “He wasn’t pushed,” Madison answered quickly. “And he didn’t fall, not really. He was the last one to . . . uh . . . jump.”

  “What you kids doing out here in the middle of the night, jumpin’ out of windows? You all crazy?” The paramedic stared at the numerous muddy pink shirts. “What is this, some kind of stupid fraternity hazing?”

  Madison opened and closed his mouth several times, but nothing came out. Jericho had never seen him look so frightened.

  “All the pledges had jumped except Josh,” Rick began. “But. . . but... uh ... he lost his balance somehow, and he didn’t land like the others. . . .” His voice faded.

  “Why did the pledges have to jump out of the window?” the paramedic asked incredulously.

  “To . . . show ... uh ... to show that they were brave and loyal.” Even to Jericho it sounded juvenile.

  “Who was giving him CPR when we got here?” the paramedic asked. Cleveland raised his hand timidly. Jericho wasn’t even sure if he could speak. He felt as if he were about to throw up.

  “You did good,” the paramedic said. “At least you tried.”

  “Get out of the way, kid!” another paramedic shouted at Kofi, who was still kneeling close to Josh. “We need room here.”

  “I can’t,” Kofi responded weakly. “My right arm—I think it’s broke.”

  “Sorry, son,” the paramedic replied. “Let me take a look at that.” Kofi nodded. “Is anyone else hurt?” The boys all said no. Jericho looked around for Eddie, but it seemed that Eddie had quietly disappeared.

  Jericho’s attention went back and forth between Josh and Kofi. He watched in horrified fascination as the paramedic named Bill turned Kofi gently on his side and began to examine him. He and another emergency technician checked his pulse and breathing, wrapped his arm so it could not move, and covered him with a blanket, then elevated his legs with another blanket. Kofi, too weak to complain, lay limp as a rag doll as they worked on him. Dana hovered close to Kofi the whole time, a look of quiet horror on her face.

  Tears filled Kofi’s eyes. Finally he said, “Is my friend gonna be okay?”

  “They’re working on him right now. Don’t you worry. My name is Bill, and I’m gonna get you together, okay? Does your arm feel any better?”

  “A little.” Kofi was trying to get a glimpse of Josh, but too many people were in the way. “I have a heart murmur,” Jericho heard Kofi whisper to Bill.

  “That’s something we need to know, son. Thank you. Now we need to contact your parents.”

  “They’re not home,” Kofi said quietly.

  “Mac, bring the stretcher—this one is stable and ready to transport,” Bill said.

  “What about Josh?” Kofi asked tearfully as they carried him away. No one answered.

  “I’m going to follow Kofi’s ambulance to the hospital,” Dana whispered to Jericho, who barely acknowledged her. She hurried off into the darkness.

  The paramedics, talking on their transmitters to the hospital Jericho assumed, placed an IV in Josh’s arm. Another medic brought a board to strap him on. The two men who worked on Josh looked grim but determined in the greenish light that had been brought to help them see. Josh, still motionless except for the movements of the men who were trying to get him to breathe, looked so cold and helpless as he lay there in the mud. Jericho continued to sit by his cousin, numb, afraid to think beyond this moment. “Move out of the way now, son, so we can turn him over,” they told Jericho.

  “Here, let me help,” he offered, but the paramedics waved him off.

  Jericho had never been so afraid in his life. The mud under Josh made a soft sucking noise as they gently lifted the left side of Josh’s body. It was stained a deep, dark red. Jericho looked on in horror. Josh had not fallen on the soft mats, but had managed to hit his head on a large rock just outside the mattress pit. His shirt, no longer pink on the back, but a sickening dark brown, was cut from his body. It was then that Jericho saw the wound. At the back of Josh’s skull was a jagged tear, open and oozing bright blood.

  Jericho ran to the side of the yard and vomited.

  More sirens seared the night. A couple of fire trucks arrived, another ambulance, and several police cars. Jericho looked up and saw his father approaching, his face tenser than Jericho had ever seen. His relief was visible when he spotted Jericho, who ran over to him, hugged him tightly, and let the tears fall.

  “We got the call a few minutes ago. I was on the other side of town, but when I heard there was an incident at the warehouse, I knew you and Joshua were involved and I rushed over.” Jericho could not stop sobbing. “Jericho, what happened, son? Are you all right? You’re freezing!” He took off his jacket and gave it to Jericho, who put it on quickly. He had forgotten how cold he was.

  “Dad, it’s Josh. He’s hurt bad—real bad.” Jericho would not let him
self think anything worse.

  Jericho’s father sniffed the air. “You been drinking, son?

  “Yeah, Dad, a little,” Jericho admitted. A little didn’t begin to cover it, he thought.

  “Tell me what happened,” his father said quietly.

  Between gulps for breath Jericho told him about the night’s events. “Pledging was almost over. All of us had done the Leap of Faith except Josh.”

  “The Leap of Faith?” his father asked with confusion.

  “We had to jump out of that window,” Jericho confessed, pointing in that general direction. He couldn’t bring himself to look at it. “They called it the Leap of Faith, and it was pretty easy, I guess. Kofi got mad at Eddie and threw him out the window because he was messin’ with Dana, and he kept threatening us with that stupid gun, and . . .”

  “A gun? A gun?” His father looked incredulous as he angrily grabbed Jericho’s arm. “What gun?” he asked sharply.

  Jericho sighed. “Nobody got shot, Dad. It was part of the ceremony. It wasn’t loaded. It was just a trust thing, and Eddie’s kinda crazy anyway.”

  “Are you crazy?” his father shouted. “Where is this gun now?”

  “I guess Eddie still has it.” Jericho bowed his head. He couldn’t look his father in the eye.

  “So did Joshua get shot?” his father asked, his voice quaking with anger and fear.

  “No,” Jericho answered weakly. “Kofi jumped out of the window just before me, and I think he broke his arm. Then I jumped next, and even though I was scared, I did it.” He knew he was babbling. Again, guilt and fear began to envelop Jericho. “Everything happened so fast. I looked up, I saw Josh up there, lookin’ like he could fly, and then he fell. He landed on his head, Dad. He landed right on his head.” Jericho began to cry.

  His father pulled him close again, then told him, “I have to go check on Joshua. Are you going to be all right for now?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine.” He sniffed loudly. “Go help them make Josh be okay. Please, Dad. Please, make everything be all right. Do something” Jericho pleaded.

  “Officer Prescott, we need you down here, sir,” one of the paramedics called. His father gave Jericho another quick hug, then ran down to help.

  Jericho sat on the wet grass, clutching his father’s jacket to him, praying to the dark sky that everything would turn out all right, that when the sun rose in the morning, Josh would show up at his door, laughing and joking about his father or November or Mr. Boston. But Jericho was afraid that nothing would ever be the same again.

  SATURDAY, JANUARY 31—2 A.M.

  JOSH WAS TRANSPORTED TO THE HOSPITAL IN a blaze of sirens and speed. The rest of the Warriors of Distinction sat in the warehouse, in a daze. Most of the former pledges had removed their wet pink T-shirts and changed to the dry clothes they had brought in their gym bags. The pledge masters looked pale and shaken. Several of them were crying openly. On a table in the back of the room the fifteen unopened boxes of coveted black silk jackets sat untouched.

  “I don’t know what to do,” Luis whispered to Jericho. “I’m so scared.”

  “Me too, man. But he’ll be all right. He just has to be.” But Jericho didn’t believe his own words.

  “Did you see him?” Cleveland asked them both as they whispered together. “He didn’t look real, man. He looked ... he looked ...”

  “Don’t say it!” Jericho cut him off angrily. “Don’t you dare say it!”

  Police officers went from group to group, talking to them and asking them questions. Jericho thought about how stupid their descriptions of the pledge activities would sound.

  Mr. Zucker, the principal, rushed in. His hair was uncombed, and he had on his pajama top and a pair of blue jeans. Mr. Culligan arrived shortly after that, looking confused and guilty, Jericho thought. He and Mr. Zucker stood off to one side, having what looked to be an angry and animated conversation.

  Jericho was glad his father was there to handle all the details. Officer Prescott chased out a reporter who arrived a few minutes after everyone got back inside, and he organized the boys into groups so that their parents could be called. Jericho wondered grimly if his father had been the one to call Uncle Brock and Aunt Marlene to tell them about Josh. There was still no word on his condition.

  A police officer walked over to Dana, Luis, Cleveland, and Rudy. “May I ask you a few questions?” he said. Jericho sat listlessly in a chair close by. He didn’t want to talk to the police. He just wanted to hide in a hole somewhere and make all of this go away.

  Cleveland sighed. “I didn’t see nothin’,” he told the officer.

  The officer didn’t seem to care. “That’s fine,” he said. “We’re just trying to establish a chain of events here. May I have your names, please?”

  “Luis Morales.”

  “Cleveland Wilson.”

  “Dana Wolfe.”

  “Rudy Amadour.”

  “The four of you were pledges?” the officer asked.

  “Yeah,” Cleveland said, answering for them.

  “They’re letting girls in now?” the officer asked with surprise. “When I was in the Warriors ...” He stopped himself and continued his questions. “What were you doing just before the incident occurred?” the officer asked.

  “We were waiting for them to finish the last activity,” Luis explained.

  “Which was?” the officer queried.

  “The Leap of Faith.”

  The officer looked as if he was about to ask another question, but Dana told him, “Look, it was dark and cold, Josh jumped, and he hit his head when he fell. It was all just a terrible accident.”

  The officer scribbled notes in his book. “When we did the Leap of Faith,” he explained, “it was just jumping off a chair with a blindfold on. When did the Leap of Faith get to be a jump from a second-story window?”

  Jericho watched as Rudy shrugged. Then he said, “You’ll have to ask the seniors about that.”

  “What else did they make you do?” the officer asked.

  Rudy hesitated and looked at his friends. “Nothing bad—just silly stuff. It’s about faith and trust and belief in yourself.”

  “That’s all?” the policeman asked.

  “That’s all,” Rudy answered firmly.

  The policeman looked at them, but did not pursue the matter. Jericho didn’t think the cop believed much of what they were saying, and probably wanted to ask more, but he stopped then. ’Thank you,” he said. “I hope your friend pulls through. We’ll need to talk some more later—maybe tomorrow.”

  The policeman moved to another table to talk to another group of boys. Jericho wondered if the stories that each boy told would match the others. He doubted it.

  Parents started to arrive, and a few more reporters showed up. The same unanswered questions kept being repeated. A parent yelled out, “What’s going on here? What happened tonight? We want some answers!” Anger and agitation filled the room.

  Mr. Zucker and Mr. Culligan moved to the center of the room. Mr. Culligan, instead of looking smooth and in control as he usually did, looked distracted and frightened. Mr. Zucker spoke first. His face was rosy pink and puffy—it looked a little like the salmon that Geneva had fixed for dinner last week, Jericho thought.

  “These are the facts as we know them,” Mr. Zucker began. He adjusted the portable microphone that had been hastily set up. “At approximately eleven thirty P.M., after almost successfully completing pledge activities for the Warriors of Distinction service club, junior student Joshua Prescott fell from a second-story window of the abandoned house behind this warehouse. His fall, or jump—we’re not quite sure yet—was apparently the last task of pledge week activities. He has been transported to Mercy Hospital. His condition at this time is unknown.” He paused to wait for the onslaught of questions.

  “What kind of club forces a child to jump out of a window?” one father demanded angrily.

  “Why weren’t they supervised?” several other parents wanted to know.<
br />
  “I want to know why the pledges were outside in this cold, winter weather with just T-shirts on! What were they doing?” a mother asked vehemently.

  “I smell liquor on my boy’s breath!” a father shouted to the principal. “What’s up with that?”

  “Who runs this stupid thing anyway? He ought to be arrested for negligence!” another demanded.

  Mr. Culligan spoke quietly, his voice barely a croak. “My name is Richard Culligan and I am the sponsor of the Warriors of Distinction club. I’ve met most of you in person or through the letters we have sent as part of the pledging process. I assure you that what happened tonight was a terrible, tragic accident. We will be conducting a full investigation.” Jericho noticed that Mr. Culligan’s voice was quivering.

  “So did you see it happen?” another parent asked. “Why in heaven’s name didn’t you stop them? Why did you let them jump out of a second-story window?”

  Mr. Culligan hesitated. “I did not see the incident,” he replied quietly.

  “What do you mean, you ’did not see the incident’? Where were you?” the parent pressured him, his face almost purple with rage.

  Mr. Culligan cleared his throat. “I ... I wasn’t here. I was back at school, getting things ready for the party,” he admitted. He looked pale and drained, as if he had been sucked dry. His eyes darted everywhere except at the parents who were demanding answers.

  “You mean our children are outside in the freezing cold, risking their lives to be in this stupid club, and you weren’t even out there with them? This is an outrage!” the parent screamed.

  “The Warriors of Distinction have been an important part of this school and the city for over fifty years,” Mr. Culligan tried to explain. “The boys who run the pledge activities every night are responsible seniors who know exactly what to do.”

  “My name is Johnny Madison and my boy is a senior, and he didn’t know what to do!” shouted Mad Madison’s father. Madison sat next to his dad, looking more like a little boy than an intimidating pledge master. “I bet there’s nothing in your pledge book that says what to do when a kid falls two stories out of a building!” his father added angrily.

 
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