Sunrise is a slow process in the mountains. First, the sky begins to lighten in the east, and stars begin to disappear to the naked eye. On a clear blue day like the one about to begin, the color is uniform across the jagged horizon. The mountains themselves stay black, and under the thick spruce and fir canopy above two thousand feet, one can barely tell the morning is coming.
A little while later, the colors begin to lighten from dark grey to purple, and finally dark green. The sky is light enough to rouse anyone sleeping under a thin nylon tent, but not to penetrate the darkened shades of a resort hotel room. Mirror-calm ponds begin to reflect the whitening sky against the black bands of trees.
The sounds of early morning fill the village, restaurant doors opening, propane heaters and stoves firing up, trash collection trucks backing to pick up dumpsters of collected refuse. Different sounds fill the void in the forested ravines, wind and rustling branches, rushing streams, breakfast fires crackling at campsites, the light splashing of moose shuffling in the bog shallows.
As the first rays of sun hit the trees at the tops of the tallest mountains, another noise joins the symphony. This one stops the heart of anyone hearing it. The shuddering throp and keening whine of a machine with spiraling wings, carrying men into the sky. Its thunder echoes against the cliffs and ridge tops, shaking the air and penetrating bones.
Shauna stops on a ledge high above the Mad River. She is on her way across the mountain ridge west of the valley. She catches sight of the spinning bird circling above the dark, sharp hulk of Noon Peak, and then back toward the village. She hears another sound blasting from it – a voice. Human-speak, unintelligible, piercing, weak in quality but grating in pitch. She’s never heard it used this way from one of their flying monstrosities.
More commonly these devices spray out death. Mainly for her pack.
Her trip across the gap was fruitful. It is clear the winter is ending, and its recess is even further along down there in the big valley. Her pack lives in a much smaller trough of land between mountains, drained by a smaller, if lively river, and encircled almost completely by mountains and notches impassable to most human conveyances.
It wasn’t always this way. Generations past told of a system of smoke-belching chains of rolling steel boxes on tracks that led deep into the ravines and across the gaps to the east. The humans used it to kill half the forest and drag the trees away to build more of their shelters elsewhere. Shauna has been outside the valley, and knows that there are such shelters in even greater size and numbers. They aren’t taking trees from her home range anymore, but somewhere, other packs’ forests are still being plundered.
The humans’ rolling boxes can’t get out of the valley by any other way than route forty-nine, far below the ledge where Shauna stands now. It will be this way until they open the gravelly road on the other side of the mountain they cleared for their snow-sliding. It is still deep with crusted and gritted snow. Too deep for the human contraptions.
The humans have named many of the peaks for other people who came before. Some of the people who bore these names were known to the wolves of their time. Some weren’t. The only names that made sense in a wolf’s estimation were Noon Peak, directly south of the human settlement, and the pyramid mountains on the other end.
The spinning bird makes its way out of view behind the mountain, but not out of earshot. Its blaring vocal cacophony still carries across the valley, and now Shauna notices another activity. Below, the lights of human vehicles are streaming along the roads in close formation. There’s a frantic energy as many of them escape their paved clearings and line up to head for the one road out of the valley.
Shauna realizes the road crossings won’t be easy if too many of these rolling boxes come along. Daylight is nearly upon her now, and she needs to be in the valley of Drake’s Brook. She jumps down from her ledge and follows the nearest path down.
Shortly before the river crossing, she comes to a meadow cleared by the humans. Overhead pass thin black lines, like ropes drawn between the tall branchless trees the people have buried into the ground long ago. Shauna notices that several of them hang limply against the towers, their bare ends lying inert on the ground. The wolves learned long ago to stay clear of these broken ropes, as certain to stop breath as the metal rain they use in the hunt.
She crosses the river underneath one of the human bridges. By the next full moon, this river will be deep and fast with brown floodwaters, but the full thaw has not yet arrived. Shauna reaches the bank and ducks behind the brush near the road. The lights of one of the rolling metal boxes begin to flash around the uphill bend. She races across and lurches into the trees on the other side.
Something to the right catches her eye. Two dark human conveyances sit in the middle of the highway, their lights black, and four humans stand in front of them with firesticks, their hunters’ tools. Shauna feels shame at her failure to notice this before she crossed, but it is clear they didn’t notice her. Or at least they didn’t react. She can feel by their energy that there’s a tension, and it is directed beyond her, at the approaching lights.
As the vehicle rounds the turn into view, the two trucks in the middle of the road click on, flooding the area with light. It’s as bright as the sun itself, directed at the vehicle. A second rolling box appears behind it. The first reaches the men standing in the road and stops. Its progress is blocked by the two larger machines, and the men with their metal firesticks surround it.
Shauna sees a human step out of the vehicle. Another is pushed into the box by someone on the other side. There’s a clamor of human barking and baying and finally, a blast. She looks around the bushes near the road to see one of the people laying in the road. Even at this distance she can tell that life has left it.
She sees other rolling boxes approaching, slowing as they near. Suddenly, the second machine reverses course and turns toward her. Its lights blaze across the brush and trees as it reverses once more, falling across Shauna’s muzzle for an instant, and with a screech of its wheels, races back toward the village. The next vehicle does the same.
Shauna watches as several more of these rolling machines turn and flee as the four men begin walking up the highway, bellowing their strident voices and blasting their dark black fire sticks into the air. One of them sends several blasts into the sky each second. She can sense the rising fear, and almost hear the eruption of human hearts beating themselves out of their chests.
Shauna’s job is to range far, meeting other packs and clans, gathering and delivering news. The sharing of information is important to all who reside in the valley. She turns and heads up the ravine of Drake’s Brook by the quickest possible route. She has news.