CHARLIE HAWK'S FAVORITE LINE FROM THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE was the one about "merciless Indian savages," and in that rebellious spirit he took "the Savage Creek" for his nickname as a member of Crockett High's 4x400 relay team. A full-blooded Creek Indian, he was as fast with his fists as he was with his feet. The Savage Creek was as tough a competitor as could be found in Crockett County, Alabama, but no one had a bigger smile, a more infectious laugh, or a more affectionate bear hug for a friend than Charlie Hawk.


Charlie's father, Lamar Hawk, instilled in his son a fierce pride of heritage as a descendant of the fearsome Red Stick band of warriors that fought against the white settlement of Creek territory in the early 1800s. Lamar was one of those weirdly talented shade tree mechanics who could fix any car; the only thing he couldn't fix was his own alcoholism. He couldn't keep a job. He occasionally landed in the drunk tank in the county jail. People talked. And Charlie hated it.


When he was a senior in high school, one of Charlie's track teammates committed murder. For strange, almost supernatural reasons, Charlie and his best friends were warped by the incident. He quit school. A year later, angry and disgusted, he dragged his father into the old stone church on the edge of Hell's Back Forty, now abandoned after the murders there, to dry out once and for all. But alcohol withdrawal can be deadly, and it was for Lamar. Before he died, and in the grip of the DTs, Lamar had a vision--of an apocalyptic reckoning that would cleanse Creek land of all invaders and return it to its rightful owners.


To Charlie, it became a prophecy. And an obsession. One morning four years later a little girl was kidnapped by a boogeyman with a sack.


That was the first sign.

AJ CROCKETT HAD TWO SEEMINGLY OPPOSING SKILLS: he was a fast runner and a crack shot. His explosive foot speed earned him the nickname "The Crockett Rocket," and a reputation as the fastest white boy Crockett County had ever seen. His starting leg on the 4x400 relay team helped make tiny, backwater Crockett High a contender for the state championship.


But his ability to engage such a "blast-off" level of energy in track wasn't nearly as impressive to his friends as his ability to achieve a level of calmness so pure that he seemed to turn to stone with a rifle or pistol in his hands. Nothing was safe when he turned his sights toward it: a rat scurrying through a woodpile, a cottonmouth swimming in swampwater, a rabbit zig-zagging through the briars, a deer loping across a distant hillside.


After high school he joined the Army and became a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. Three dozen confirmed kills. And then one day on patrol he made a mistake, and a bomb tore off both his legs and his balls, and left a sliver of a little girl's cranium lodged dangerously close to his spinal cord.


But he could never tell anyone why he made that mistake--he could not confess what he saw that made him lose his legendary discipline and expose himself to save a little girl when he should have stayed back. He just told his doctors and therapists that he saw the enemy. He didn't tell them it was an enemy from back home.


And so when he got back to Alabama, when he recovered from his wounds enough to walk again, he started the Crockett Militia. And he prepared for a final war in Hell's Back Forty.

HORACE KING WAS A SLAVE IN THE AMERICAN SOUTH FOR MOST OF HIS LIFE, but not in the cotton-picking mold. He was born in South Carolina in 1807 of mixed-race ancestry--European, African, Amerindian--and had a clever, inquisitive mind, such that his owner taught him to read and write and joined him in an apprenticeship to a bridge builder.


Horace pursued that occupation and became, while still a slave, a well-known and respected builder of bridges and other architectures in Georgia and Alabama. He was freed, enslaved again, then conscripted to work for the Confederacy during the Civil War, after which he continued in his profession as a businessman and served as a Republican in the Alabama legislature.


His would be large shoes to fill, as young Horace King of Crockett County would find out more than a century after his namesake's death. Young Horace was well on his way, though; the only student in Crockett County ever to achieve a perfect score on his SATs, he was on track to go to college and study engineering. He had both academic and athletic scholarships, running the anchor leg of the best 4x400 track team in Alabama.


But something happened. A dropped baton. A forbidden trip into Hell's Back Forty. A double murder. The slow shredding of a fine mind under the whip of schizophrenia. And a return to Crockett County and the swamps of Hell's Back Forty for a final reckoning.


Young Horace King's story will be told soon. His namesake's story can be found here.

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