The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  Arielle was strangely silent on the other end of the line. ’I don’t think this is the right time for talk like that,” she said slowly.

  Jericho felt suddenly mortified. He wished he could suck the words back in. “I’m sorry. It’s just I, uh, I’m so filled up with all these heavy feelings and stuff, I guess I said too much.” He felt like kicking himself.

  “I know this is a hard time for you,” she replied. She paused for a moment, then said, “But I think maybe we better not see so much of each other. You need time to deal with the grief, and my friends need me now.” She offered no other explanation.

  What? Jericho couldn’t believe what he was hearing. She was dumping him? Now, when he needed her most? “I don’t understand, Arielle,” he said helplessly.

  “It was fun while it lasted, Jericho, but it’s gotten too crazy. I don’t think you should call me for a while, okay? I’m sure you understand.” She hung up the phone.

  Jericho sat there, stunned. He felt as if he were falling from that window once more, only this time, there was no ground below to catch him.

  THE FIRST WEEK OF FEBRUARY

  THE NEXT FEW DAYS SEEMED TO MOVE LIKE mud. Even Jericho’s arms and legs felt heavy and sluggish, unable to work properly. His thoughts, thick and confused, swirled around the void where Josh should be. He knew that Josh was gone forever, but the reality of it kept slipping through his fingers like wet sand. He couldn’t sleep. He ate very little.

  Nothing was as it should have been. Instead of the party on Saturday night to celebrate their membership in the Warriors of Distinction, a memorial service for Josh was held in the school auditorium. Instead of strutting proudly to school on Monday morning wearing their new Warrior jackets, Jericho and his friends sadly wore their best church clothes to attend Josh’s funeral. Classes had been cancelled for the day so that students could attend. And instead of being comforted by Arielle’s warmth and smiles, Jericho drifted through all of it alone.

  Jericho’s mother had flown in from Alaska to be with them for the day of the funeral. He buried himself in her arms. Her smile made him remember when he and Josh were little—picnics, dressing up for Halloween, swimming lessons, Little League baseball games, all with his mom and Aunt Marlene making sure they were safe and happy. Where was safe and happy now?

  The weather turned colder and a freezing rain turned to snow, which fell like a soft blanket over all the raw pain. But Jericho couldn’t stop the memories. He remembered building snowmen with Josh when they were seven, snowball fights when they were ten, sledding at French Park just last year. The city looked frosty and full of sparkles, but Jericho’s thoughts were dark and muddy.

  It was the little things that Jericho would remember about the day of Josh’s funeral. He couldn’t remember one word of what the minister had said, but he would never forget the tilt of the single yellow lily that had been sent by Mr. Boston, the cool metallic feeling of the handle of the casket as he helped as a pallbearer at the end of the ceremony, or the fluttering of the little purple flag that the funeral directors placed on his father’s car as they headed for the cemetery. He would never forget the mask of grief and disbelief that now seemed a permanent part of his uncle’s face, or the unending silent tears of his Aunt Marlene. And he’d never forget the expressions of surprise, fear, and humility on the faces of his friends, many of whom looked at death up close for the first time.

  November sat between Arielle and Dana, who each grasped one of her hands and held her when she was wracked with dry, heaving sobs. Her eyes were swollen and red. Jericho caught Arielle’s eye once, but she looked at him as if he were a stranger. Kofi was there, but Jericho wondered if he was really up to it—he looked awfully pale and weak as he stood next to the casket as a pallbearer, his arm in a sling. Eric Bell, who also had been asked to be a pallbearer, rolled with dignity as an honor guard behind the casket as it was carried out of the church.

  All of the Warriors of Distinction except for Eddie Mahoney attended the funeral, but they did not sit together as a group and they didn’t wear their jackets. Most of them looked scared, Jericho thought. No decision had been made yet as to what would happen to the club. None of them had been asked to be pallbearers.

  Jericho was surprised at the number of teachers who attended—Mr. Boston, Miss Hathaway, Mr. Zucker, Mr. Tambori, even Mr. Redstone was there. Mr. Culligan was noticeably absent. Many of them hugged Jericho after the service.

  When it was all over—the last of the flowers placed at the snowy gravesite, the last of the tears shed for the day—Jericho and his friends gathered at Josh’s house, the only place they knew to go. It was as if they needed to be close to his spirit.

  Marlene, shaken and weepy, welcomed the young people. Miscellaneous sofa cushions and chairs filled the living room, which was warm and cozy from the roaring fire in the fireplace.

  Dana brought November and Kofi. Luis, Rudy, Ram, and Cleveland from the pledge group arrived, but Rick and Madison were the only old Warriors who showed up. Even Eric Bell rolled into the room—Jericho had made sure that he’d been invited. Jericho came alone. Arielle, though she had been asked, chose not to come. Josh’s parents disappeared upstairs.

  “So what do we do now?” Jericho asked the subdued group of young people.

  “We cry some more,” November said sadly.

  “Then what?” Dana wondered.

  “We try to see who’s to blame,” sighed Kofi. His voice could be barely heard.

  “Mr. Culligan’s been arrested,” Jericho informed them. “My dad told me.”

  “I heard he got fired, too,” Rudy offered.

  “Yeah, but Mr. Culligan didn’t make Josh fall,” Madison reasoned.

  “No, you and the rest of the seniors get to take the blame for that! “ Cleveland declared fiercely.

  Madison hung his head. “I know. I’m not tryin’ to hide from responsibility. They may be pickin’ me up next.”

  Rick reported, “We’re all gonna be questioned in the next few days—pledge masters and pledges, too.” Jericho closed his eyes.

  “Is there still going to be a club?” Eric asked. “I heard they were going to shut it down.”

  “I guess that’s out of our hands—the school board meets with the police tomorrow,” Kofi told him.

  “Eddie got arrested too,” Rick announced.

  “Eddie’s got some serious issues,” Dana replied tersely.

  Madison sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

  “He’s been arrested for illegal possession of a firearm, threatening bodily harm, and a couple of other charges as well,” Rick told them.

  “Eddie is also going to be charged with several counts of assault,” Dana said quietly. “My parents have talked to the police about what he did to me.”

  “Good, ’cause I was gonna have to kick his butt,” Kofi said with more energy than he’d shown all day. “Good thing I only got one good arm!” He smiled slightly and held on to Dana with his good hand.

  “What was the deal with the gun?” November asked angrily.

  Rick lifted his head from his hands. His face looked ragged and worn. “We’d never included a gun in the pledge stuff before. Eddie found it and thought it would be a good addition,” he admitted. “It was just to scare you. There were never even any bullets.”

  “What an idiot!” Dana snapped.

  “What happened to it?” Ram asked.

  “My dad says the police have it,” Jericho told the group. “It’s evidence for a criminal investigation.”

  “Why’d you let Eddie get away with all that stuff?” Kofi asked angrily. “There’s something seriously wrong with that dude!”

  Rick and Madison had no reply.

  “Are you sorry you pledged, Jericho?” Eric asked quietly.

  “How was I supposed to know this would happen?” he answered sadly. “It seemed like such a good idea at the time.”

  Eric looked down at his wheelchair. “That’s the same thing I thought when I fell and bro
ke my back.”

  “What about you, Dana?” Madison asked. “Are you sorry you tried to pledge?”

  “I didn’t try to pledge, Madison. I did pledge. I succeeded in every single task, in spite of Eddie. I’m glad I proved I could do it.” Then she admitted, “But I’d erase it all if it would bring Josh back.”

  “How can he be dead?” Jericho whispered. The crackling of the fire in the fireplace was the only sound. “Who’s to blame?” he asked the silent room.

  “Josh’s death is nobody’s fault, really . . . ,” Rick started to say. But November interrupted him.

  “That’s a lie! It’s the Warriors fault!” she shouted angrily, standing up and rushing over to where Rick sat. Then she sat down again as the enormity of it all seemed to hit her once more. She mumbled through more tears, “Stupid club with their stupid rules and shirts and jackets and parties.” Rick had no answer.

  “They’ve been doing this for fifty years. It was supposed to be tough, but fun—just a buncha dudes foolin’ around and gettin’ to know each other,” Madison tried to explain.

  “Josh isn’t laughing,” Jericho replied quietly. The room was silent once again. The only sound that could be heard was November’s soft sobbing.

  “I could be dead too,” Kofi said quietly. “Maybe I should be. I feel so, you know, like guilty.” He hung his head.

  Jericho nodded his head in agreement. “I know what you’re talkin’ about. It’s like I feel like I shouldn’t be able to see the sky or hear a dog bark—you see what I’m sayin’? It’s not fair that I can do that and Josh can’t.” He was not afraid to weep in front of them.

  November took Jericho’s hand and gave it a squeeze of encouragement. ’I think Josh would have enjoyed sittin’ in on this little meeting,” she said in a small voice.

  “He would have made jokes about how puffy your eyes look, November,” Jericho told her. She sniffed and smiled in spite of herself.

  “And how Jericho looks like a lost teddy bear without him,” Eric said.

  Kofi added, “Josh would have been amazed at all the attention he’s getting.”

  “He woulda loved it—he sure liked attention.” Jericho finally smiled a little.

  “I wonder,” November mused, “what would he have to say about the Warriors of Distinction now?”

  Eric responded quietly. “He would have said that there’s nothing very distinguished about death.” The mood went somber once more.

  Into the silence that followed November whispered plaintively, “I miss Josh.”

  There was nothing else to say.

  “Are you coming to school tomorrow?” Kofi finally asked Jericho.

  Jericho sighed. “I guess. It will be hard, though.”

  “I’ll be there,” Dana said. Most of the others also agreed to show up.

  “Mr. Zucker said he would have a moment of silence in the morning so that everyone could remember Josh,” November said.

  “Is that all he gets? A moment?” Jericho asked outraged. “Seems like he oughta get a band concert or a choir of screamers—something more than silence!”

  Kofi said softly, “Maybe the silence is so everyone can think quietly—private thoughts, you know.”

  Jericho’s grief and anger seemed to be all mixed up inside him. “Silence is like, you know, nothing. Just air,” he said, shaking his head. “Nothing just isn’t enough. Josh deserves shout outs, not silence.”

  “Did Josh die for nothing?” November finally asked.

  “It had to mean something,” Cleveland whispered.

  “Then what was it?” November wanted to know.

  No one had an answer. The question hung in the air like smoke.

  Jericho took Zora out of the trumpet case then, and slowly began to play. The tones, sweet and mellow, floated above the young people in the room. He began with soft, clear notes, bright like jewels, followed by a series of trills that swelled with power. He played the loss of yesterday and tomorrow, of friendship and love. He remembered childhood laughter as he played, and teenage troubles as well. One series of notes, high and delicate, sang of a sweet moonlight kiss gone sour; another line of music rippled with regret over opportunities forever lost.

  And Jericho played fierce, sharp combinations he’d never even conceived of before, giving voice to his anger and frustration at death. Josh, his quick wit, and his swift, final leap into forever, exploded from Jericho’s trumpet in notes that erupted hot like painted steam. The tones from the trumpet replaced his tears and captured his grief. He then slowed down and played a sweet, gentle melody that made him remember Josh’s laughter and spirit. The music flowed quietly to just a whisper. It ended as Josh did, in silence.

 


 

  Sharon M. Draper, The Battle of Jericho

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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