In the predawn hour, Lark and Little Scout cross the dark ridge known as Flat Mountain on their way to visit the den of Kayak. They hear the throbbing echo of the spinning bird as it circles round and round above the village across the ridge. Though they cannot see the infernal machine, they know it is unlikely that any of the valley’s residents will be asleep for very long.
The whole valley lay in darkness, enduring the cacophony of the whining machine’s spinning wings and growling engines, accompanied by the keening, shrill voice of the human’s speech trumpeting forth from it.
Kayak resides in a cave high on the other side of Flat Mountain, above Lost Pass. His hibernation season is coming to an end, though Lark and Little Scout both know his first few days awake will find him irritable and severely hungry.
And that’s if he's awake already. Woe to those whose task it is to roust the great bear from his slumber. Lark stands before Kayak’s den, hoping it hasn’t fallen to him.
“How long are we to wait?” asks Little Scout.
“As long as we must,” Lark answers. It has long been custom to summon any bear by patiently waiting near the entrance to his den, without malice or urgency. Finally, there's a shadow in the den entrance, as something shoulders its way forward. A large bear shuffles toward the opening and groggily looks at Lark and his son.
“I've been wondering when you would approach,” he finally says.
Lark and Little Scout bow their heads, showing deference to the Great Bear. “We humbly seek your counsel,” says Lark. “We have been monitoring the human activities in the valley, and we wonder if you know of these events.”
“You seek my counsel? Or my protection?” asks the bear. Kayak is the leader of a clan of bears that dominates the valley. He has held the position for as long as Lark or any other wolf alive can remember. The story of his name comes from his tendency during the trout run. Instead of standing atop the falls waiting for fish, like an honest bear should, he prefers to sit on his duff, appearing much like a human in one of their river boats.
None would relate this story in his presence, though throughout the valley it was agreed. In fact, Kayak now rises to sit on his rear haunches, towering above Lark and Little Scout. He regards them carefully. They are not enemies, though friendship is likewise not an accurate description of their relations.
“It is true we seek your help,” says Lark, “Whether your witness, your wisdom, or your might.”
“Then it is pleasant to greet you, Lark,” says Kayak. “And you, Scout. You’ve grown a great deal since the leaves fell, though I suppose that’s an obvious thing to say. Given the urgency of recent events in the valley, I propose we dispense with our polite pleasantries and get down to brass tacks.” He chuckled at his use of the human term, though he had little notion of its meaning.
“Have you known of the humans’ affairs,” asks Lark.
“I woke only yesterday,” Kayak replies. “But others in my clan have let me understand the goings-on below.”
“Do you know where they’ve hidden their machines?” Lark asks.
Kayak looks toward the sky as if studying the waning stars. “Come with me,” he says, lowering to his four legs and summoning the wolves with shake of his considerable neck. Lark and Little Scout follow the bear to a promontory on the high ridge, from where they can see the lights still flickering in the valley. The sunlight is just hitting the top of Tecumseh Mountain, and the spinning bird is a black shadow flying above the village, its voice blaring as its lights graze back and forth across the village.
“You see those structures there?” Kayak says as he eyes a group of buildings halfway down the slope. “That’s where they used to stage their disruption of the woods in times long past, and where they’ve hidden their intent this time. You would have been aware, had your pack not been off rehearsing its circus maneuvers. Some of my kind know from circuses the terrible limits these humans will go to. What they'll do to us, they'll do to each other doubly so, and from the words they spray forth from their spinning bird, it is clear they mean to do so.”
“You can identify their words?” Little Scout asks.
“Listen,” Kayak says. “You don’t need to understand their words to discern their meaning.”
Indeed, from here Lark can feel the nervous energy of the men below. He can smell the fear as people collect in front of their dwellings to hear the imperious words shouted at them from the fearsome creature hovering above. He sees the flicker of lights as some scramble into their rolling boxes and race for the road leading out.
At this, the sound of the humans’ flying contraption arises, and Lark can see it coming towards them as if summoned. Lark and Little Scout duck into a thicket of logs, while Kayak the bear steps forward, as if in defiance, daring the people on this flying machine to see him.
“Remain calm,” Kayak says. “We will protect you. Your needs will be regarded.” He turns to Lark and Little Scout. “It isn't exactly what they say, but it is the nature of it.”
“What are they defending the people from?” Little Scout wonders aloud.
“As with all humans, I suspect their words and their meanings are diverged,” Lark says.
“It is true,” answers Kayak. “They mean not to protect, but to control, and even now I can sense that not all are going to obey.”
The flying device moves toward them for another moment. The shadow of the mountain will keep them hidden, but Lark sees the sunlight expanding down the shoulder of the big mountain across the valley. A loud blast echoes from the depths of the valley to the west, and the giant metal bird suddenly veers off toward it.
“Then it is time for us to return. I thank you, Kayak,” he says. “If we act, will you lend assistance?”
Kayak regards him carefully. “You said you seek my counsel, Lark. Mine is to stay far from these men. It may in fact be time to migrate elsewhere. Wherever these people are known to clutch such power over their fellows, only death follows. We should not find ourselves in the path of this juggernaut.”
Lark nods and gestures to Little Scout to follow him off the ridge. Kayak lumbers into the brush without another look back.
On their way down the mountain, Little Scout asks his father, “What assistance did you ask Kayak for?”
“I have not yet determined a course of action,” Lark states. “But this new activity by the humans requires a response in kind.”
They return to the den to find that others in their pack have completed their missions, though Robert has not returned. Quick Scout reports that the party at Greeley Ponds did indeed have coffee, though it couldn’t possibly matter now. The campers themselves were gone, their tent torn through and their gear strewn about. Master Scout and Quick Scout had to range far out of their way to avoid humans setting a picket on the Livermore Road.
Marcella reports that the deer are scattering by separate ways outside the valley, and this surprises nobody.
There is a rustling in the brush near the den. All the wolves turn and bristle, baring their teeth, but after a moment they are cheered by the arrival of Shauna.
“I have news,” she says.