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The Reclamation Project

ENTRY #5
TITLE: Just a Masked Cowboy
AUTHOR: David R. Black
CHARACTER: Nighthawk

The late 1870's. Just outside the frontier town of Winslow in the territory of Arizona.
"There ya go ma'am." said the voice from under the wagon. "It's all fixed and ready to go."

"Thank you very much Mr…..?"

"Hannibal Hawkes, ma'am." said the man as he stood up from under the wagon. "Traveling fix-it and repair man."

"Well Mr. Hawkes, seems I was lucky to run into you." said the woman. "Who knows what might've happened if you hadn't …."

"HELP! HELP!"

Hawkes and the woman turned around and saw a young boy, about ten years old, running towards them. He was waving his arms frantically and was covered with dirt.

"What is it son?" asked Hawkes as the boy came closer.

The boy gasped and tried to catch his breath. "It's my friend Samuel. We were playin' in the old mine and…and it collapsed all of a sudden. I managed to get out, but Samuel's still trapped inside!"

"Take it easy son. Which way's the mine?" asked Hawkes.

The boy pointed southwards. "Just over that ridge."

"You go into town with this lady and find the sheriff." ordered Hawkes "I'll go see if I c'n find your friend."

The young boy hopped into the back of the wagon, and the woman gave the horses' reigns a snap to get them moving. As soon as the wagon was out of sight, Hawkes reached into the saddlebags on his horse and pulled out a neatly folded outfit from within a hidden compartment. He pulled the black shirt emblazoned with a white hawk over his head, tied the black mask around his face, fastened the gun belt holding two six shooters around his waist, and hopped onto his horse. With just a change of clothes, Hannibal Hawkes, traveling repair man, had become Nighthawk, frontier hero.

"C'mon Nightwind," Nighthawk said to his jet black stallion as he placed his black hat on his head, "Let's go save that young'un!"

The local saloon in Winslow
    The well dressed man with dark hair and black beard walked up to the bar and ordered a drink. The bearded man surveyed the saloon and saw the typical assortment of patrons. Gamblers, laborers, drunks, barmaids, and travelers. He could feel the presence of his eternal enemy, but could it be possible to have two incarnations of the Hawk in one era? The sensation the bearded man felt was slight, but after centuries of fighting and killing incarnations of the Hawk, he had developed a kind of sixth sense for recognizing them. He knew one was close by.

"Durn it Lash! I know yur cheatin' somehow! Just can't prove it!"

The gambler's loud outburst filled the saloon, and the bearded man watched the disgusted gambler storm out the door.

"Well now you went and did it!" said one of the men sitting at the table the gambler had just left. "How're we gonna finish this with only three people?"

The man to his left, wearing blue pants and a yellow vest covered with orange flower designs, shrugged his shoulders. "How 'bout him?" he asked as he pointed to the bearded man.

"Hey fella! You wanna try your luck?" asked the third gambler to the bearded man.

The bearded man sighed and walked over to their table. Card games! What an infantile past time. But perhaps he could bide his time here and wait for the Hawk to show his face. He sat down at the table.

"The game's seven card stud" said the one man who was wearing a copper badge that read 'Sheriff'. "Muh name's Jeff Graham, folks used to call me the Roving Ranger till I settled down here. The fella to your left is Diego Gonzalez, and the fella wearin' the yeller vest calls himself Bat Lash."

"Hey barkeep!" yelled Lash. "Another drink for our new buddy here. What's your name anyway?"

"Vandal Savage" replied the bearded man.

Somewhere south of town
    "Whoa!" said Nighthawk to his horse.

Nightwind slowed to a trot as the horse approached the entrance to the mine. Nighthawk dismounted and approached the mine. It was probably once a gold or copper mine, but now the mine's façade was partially covered with wooden boards. A large sign that read 'No Trespassing' hung from one of the boards.
"Don't know exactly what happened to the boy," said Nighthawk to himself as he hooked a lasso onto his gun belt, "but I reckon I should take some extra gear with me just in case."
Nighthawk entered the mine, pushing aside some of the aging boards. As he carefully made his way down the dimly lit mine shaft, Nighthawk could hear the support beams overhead creaking and shifting. It didn't take him long to realize that the mine was ready to collapse at any time. Nighthawk reached the sight of the earlier cave in that had trapped the boy, and he began to remove some of the debris. He soon made a gap large enough to squeeze his body through and hoped that the boy was safe on the other side.
"Samuel? Samuel?" called Nighthawk. "I'm a friend. I've come to get you out of here."
He heard a faint moan coming from a few yards away. It was totally dark in the mineshaft now, and Nighthawk crawled on his hands and knees toward the sound. Suddenly, he could not feel the ground in front of him anymore, and Nighthawk guessed that a small pit had formed due to the cave in.

"Samuel? Are ya down there?" yelled Nighthawk into the pit.

"Y-Yes" came the soft reply. "Please mister, get me out. My leg hurts."

"OK, just stay calm son," said Nighthawk as he removed the lasso from his gun belt. "I'm droppin' you a rope. You take it and put the lasso part of it underneath your armpits."

The boy did as told, and, his arm muscles straining, Nighthawk pulled him out of the pit. Minutes later the two were out of the dark mine and back into the bright Arizona sunshine.

"You all right there Samuel?" asked Nighthawk.

"I think I twisted my knee, mister." replied Samuel. "But hey! Why are you wearin' a mask? Who are you?"

"Th' name's Nighthawk." he answered as he quickly changed the subject. "Seems to me though, that a smart lookin' young boy such as yourself would have enough sense not to play in abandoned mines. But let's take you home. Where do yer folks live?"

"In Winslow," said Samuel, "My folks are Mr. and Mrs. Sanders."

Back in town
"Thanks for the game gentlemen!" laughed Vandal Savage as he stumbled out of the saloon with his pockets full of money. Seven card stud indeed! It was a childish game and extremely easy for someone of his superior intellect to master. Still holding a whiskey bottle in his left hand, Savage staggered down the street, and he could feel the Hawk's presence growing stronger. His enemy was here after all and was coming closer!
"You think he snookered us?" asked Sheriff Graham to Bat Lash as they watched Savage from within the saloon.
"He must've!" replied Bat Lash. "I think I'm pretty good, but nobody could play cards that perfectly. You'd have to practice at it for a thousand years to be that good!"

"Ya know, I am the sheriff," said Graham as he and Lash got up from the table and headed for the door, "and I'll be damned if I'm lettin' him get away with cheatin' us!"

As Nightwind entered the town carrying Nighthawk and Samuel Sanders, Vandal Savage felt the presence of the Hawk grow stronger and stronger. Savage looked at one of the riders on the jet black horse, and his face turned pale white, as if he had seen a ghost. Fifty yards from Savage, Nighthawk slowed the horse to a stop and helped Samuel down.

"There's my ma!" exclaimed the ten year old Samuel. "Thanks Mr. Nighthawk!"

Nighthawk nodded and watched the boy run into the welcoming arms of his worried mother. Mrs. Cheryl Sanders turned, and mouthed the words 'thank you very much' to Nighthawk. It was a touching scene until……

"NIGHTHAWK!" roared Vandal Savage. "What is this? Some kind of joke?"

"Huh? What're you talkin' about mister?" asked Nighthawk as he swiveled to face Savage.

"You're dead." said Savage accusingly. "I saw you die….I killed you in self defense when you tried to kill me! The spirits of all the Hawks that ever have been took over your body. They wanted you to kill me because I killed all of them!"

"Sorry mister. I don't even recognize you, and I don't know anything about any hawk spirits." countered Nighthawk. "Plus I'm rather alive, wouldn't you say?"

The small crowd that had gathered around to watch the unfolding scene laughed at Nighthawk's remark. Savage's face turned bright red.

"No. No." stammered a confused Savage. "I know I killed Nighthawk. I know I killed the hawk avatar of this era!"

"Maybe the man you say you killed was impersonatin' me," guessed Nighthawk, "but I'm definitely the real deal. What's an av-a-tar anyway?"

Bat Lash spoke up from within the crowd. "I think he said he's lookin' to kill the man who has his tar. Must be money to be made in ownin' tar pits!"

"No! Not 'have muh tar' you imbecile!" yelled Savage. "Avatar! Avatar!"

"Mister, you're makin' a scene…."

"I know you're a Hawk!" interrupted Savage. "I've killed many of them throughout time. Although it's only about one fourth as strong, I can feel the Hawk presence here in this town!"

"Just because I wear a hawk emblem on my shirt doesn't mean I'm this hawk avatar thing you're lookin' to kill." explained Nighthawk. "I'm just a regular masked cowboy."

"You have to be the one!" roared Savage. "Can't you hear the voices of all the past Hawks in your mind? They're urging you to kill me because I'm their eternal enemy. I know it!"

"Fella," said a thoroughly confused Nighthawk, "I think you've had one too many drinks!"

Savage was indeed intoxicated, and Sheriff Graham, still angry from losing his money to Savage, had enough of Savage's shenanigans. Graham made his way through the crowd and clamped a strong hand on Savage's shoulder.

"Mr. Savage, I'm gonna take you in for public drunkenness and disturbin' the peace." Graham stated. "Nighthawk's right, you are talkin' nonsense!"

Savage began to struggle, and several other men from the crowd helped Sheriff Graham restrain him.

"It'd be best to cooperate!" urged Graham. "I don't wanna take your drunken ramblings 'bout killin' a man too seriously, but if ya make things hard on me…"

Savage relaxed, and Sheriff Graham led him to the town jail to sober up. Savage couldn't figure out why he had felt the presence of the Hawk. If Nighthawk truly wasn't part of the hawk avatar, then what did he feel? Did liquor play tricks on his mind?

Nighthawk could only shake his head in disbelief at what had just happened. He mounted his horse, and prepared to leave.

"Mr. Nighthawk, wait!" said Samuel Sanders. "Are you really a hawk avatar like the man said?"

"No Samuel," laughed Nighthawk. "Hawk avatars? Who ever heard of such nonsense!"

Samuel Sanders nodded, and watched as his hero rode out of town. As he grew older and the decades passed, Samuel loved to tell the story of how a man named Nighthawk rescued him from a mine, but he forgot all about a drunken man's ramblings about hawk avatars. Samuel's granddaughter especially enjoyed to hear the tale, and little did a young Shiera Sanders know that one day she would don wings of ninth metal - and call herself Hawkgirl.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 1999 by David R. Black.

David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....

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