Tonight, thanks to Truth & Daring by Tim & Kristin Divine, we had six intrepid twelve-year-olds in a club called the Pathfinders determined to save their clubhouse and find the creature lost in the forest: Alex the curious explorer, Martha the clumsy new kid, Zane the sneaky collector, Dirk the daredevil leader, Penny the mischievous Inventor, and Zo the daredevil explorer.
At first the group was primarily worried about the possibility of the old shed in the cul-de-sac where they meet being torn down and plan how to protect their clubhouse, or at least get an early warning if anyone comes to tear it down. Before they begin, however, they decide to investigate the gigantic red feather that Alex found in the woods earlier in the week. As they enter the woods, the see Principal Johnson trekking off on his own with a mass of mysterious equipment. Penny remembers that she had heard him talking about needing a Geiger counter for his next expedition. Before Alex finds another giant feather, Dirk hits Mr. Johnson with a mud ball and Zo decides to crack his windshield with a rock. Mr. Johnson catches them both, but the entire group manages to dash away, do Mr. Johnson goes to speak directly to the delinquents’ parents.
After debriefing back at the clubhouse and the sudden disintegration of the new red feather, Zane maps out a more thorough plan to find more feathers and track down the mysterious bird. Their search leads them inside a large storm culvert where they find massive scratch marks in the cement where something had been clawing at the ground, and instantly everyone is fearful that a werewolf may have attacked their elusive bird. Could Mr. Johnson be a werewolf? The tracks lead them to a fallen over tree whose leaves and branches create a cavernous enclosure. Zo & Zane crawl inside to discover an enormous birdlike creature standing at least 6 feet tall with red feathers and vicious claws. After the bird is unimpressed but undisturbed by their offering of Cool-Ranch Doritos, Dirk pokes it in the eye and scares it away. Is Mr. Johnson a were-bird?
They continue to search through the entire vacation week, but have found no more signs of it by the time school resumes. While taking a shortcut through the teacher’s parking lot, Martha spots more of the red feathers near Mr. Johnson’s car and rallies the gang, who slip out of history class and try to pick open the trunk of the car. When a newly installed alarm goes off, Penny is able to disable it before anyone shows up, but gets her arm caught under the dashboard. Dirk gives the trunk a wallop with his wrench and the trunk swings open. Inside, they find Mr. Johnson’s ID for a experimental facility up on Sugar Hill run by MEGA Corp, more feathers and some rope. After cutting Penny loose from the dashboard, they race up Sugar Hill and disguise themselves, two to a trench-coat, as Mr. Johnson and staff and walk right in! Once inside they dodge discovery and search until they find the bird wired up with electrodes in a holding cage. Alex frees the bird from the electric wires using his yo-yo, which gets tangled in the wires and left behind. They race out of the facility, helping the bird limp along between their arms, and careen down the hill on their bikes.
Back at the clubhouse, they wonder if it might be a phoenix and they have to restrain Dirk from testing to see if can emerge from the ashes. The group thinks the bird can help protect their clubhouse, so they vow to finally clean up enough that the bird can safely live inside it. They name the bird Georgette and the species the Free Bird, and mail a postcard off to a local TV station to announce their find.