Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Major retrieved the chewed tennis ball Max had laid at his feet and loaded it back in the meter long, ice-cream scoop of a throwing arm he was using to launch it. Max bowed and jumped, eyeing the ball with keen interest as Major cocked the stick behind one shoulder, and stepping into the throw launched the ball a hundred meters or more down the field.

Max took off, tracking the ball as he raced, legs a blur of motion until he leapt, coordinating perfectly the point at which gravity brought the ball close enough to the earth for him to intercept it, landing gracefully and decelerating in an easy fluid motion. Giving the ball a few idle chews, he loped back to where Major waited.

“Good boy Max,” the dog having dropped the ball again at Major’s feet, he now sat dutifully while Major scratched behind his ears. His tongue lolled, he panted and watched for signals as to what to do next. All of this he’d been designed to do, the scratching didn’t give him actual feelings of joy or pleasure, but he’d been programmed with the appropriate feedback responses so that, if Major hadn’t been the one to build him, the man petting him wouldn’t have known any different.

“Good boy Max,” Major kneeled down and looked the faux Shepherd in the eyes, cradling the big dog’s head in his liver spotted hands as he scratched behind both ears. “Maggie would have loved you to bits. Such a pity she passed before you were ready.” Major stared past Max watching a plane paint fluffy white lines across the sky far off in the distance. “I wish she was still here Max, I miss her, you know?” He brought his attention back to the dog, still panting, still waiting.

Major smiled. Max would never leave him, he’d never run away, never grow old and die. He’d play ball, go for walks and lay at Major’s feet with him forever. He’d built him just so.

The wind began to pick up, and Major pulled his jacket collar up against the cold.

“Come on boy,” he patted his hip as he turned to walk back across the property to the house. If they hurried they could get back before the weather turned and the sun dipped below the horizon. Max dropped obediently in step beside Major, loping easily through the grass as they made their way back to the forest trail.

As they reached the edge of the woods, Major slowed, and Max waited patiently for him, walking ahead and then doubling back to the slower moving older man.

“Not feeling too well I’m afraid Max,” he slurred, his left foot dragging slightly in the dirt of the trail. He reached out for a tree to steady himself, missing by a wide margin and fell in a heap on the ground, a thick layer of pine needles cushioning his fall only slightly.

Max turned and padded back, then lay down to where he could make eye contact with his master.

“Max,” Major wheezed out the words, “Good boy Max. Don’t leave me…”

Max lay still, his tongue lolled, he panted and watched for signals as to what to do next.

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