There lived an old retired major in the hills of central Europe. No one knew in which armies he had fought, or which battles that had disfigured his wrinkled face. Some took for granted that he had supported the Nazis during the war. They barely knew his name, and only referred to him with contempt as “the grumpy old major”. His home was a log cabin, overlooking a valley that was often covered in mist. And when the rains and the wind darkened the evenings, the light from his window was a solitary gleam – like the eye of the mountains themselves – peering down on the village below.
The major was thoroughly disliked because of his ferocious temper. He arrived in the afternoons, unshaven, stinking of sweat and alcohol, and then he would be very rude and cold – if he indeed he said something at all.
The only creature on this earth that seemed to be good enough for the old major was his dog. No one knew the age of the creature, or even of the of the major himself. The dog walked with a proud skip in its steps, and he showered it with luxury and food. In the evenings the major would silently ponder the landscape from his vantage point. What his thoughts were, not even the dog could tell.
There was never a visitor to the old cabin, but the major sometimes sobered up and cleared the path. He worked into the afternoons with a pick ax and shuffle. When he was done he would take a seat in a chair outside, and drink whiskey and smoke until he fell asleep where he sat. The evening chill would wake him and then he would withdraw to his bed. Sometimes when the major slept he would kick and scream, as he was struggling for his life. Then the dog would jump down from the bed, and lie down in a corner until he quieted down. When the major woke, he would be sweaty and confused, and then he would drink coffee, and then read a book til dawn penetrated the morning mist.
The landscape around the village was vast and wild, and the major would limp up and down those isolated paths followed by his mute companion. In winter, blizzards would descend upon his outpost with terrifying violence. A lighted fireplace and piles of wood kept him warm. He stored canned food of various kinds, beans, spam, fish, and he salted meats to comfort himself. When the water froze he opened the door and collected snow in a bucket which he melted by the fire for his coffee.
Sometimes, when he was in the mood, he dug deep into a wooden chest and found an old battery powered radio, and he would sit quietly, intensely concentrated, trying to move the antenna back and forth in order to make out those almost imperceptible voices that penetrated into his dominion from the world outside. But sometimes this proved impossible, and therefore he did not receive advance warning of the horrific storm of 1973.
On 21 of October that year the heavens gave birth to the worst winds and heaviest snow fall seen in those parts. The other villagers never talked to the old major because they did not like him, and by the time storm had arrived, and he entered their thoughts, it was too late. They thought that the cabin on the hill has stood there for hundreds of years. Like the major himself it seemed carved out of the hillside. If he just sat quiet where he was, no harm could befall him.
And they were right, and the old major knew it. He did what he normally did during winter storms, lighted his fire. The flames flickered, and when the shutters were secured, they filled the room with comfort, light and heat, while the Day of Judgment brewed outside.
The old major was used to this, it had been his life, in every sense. He got up a bottle of whiskey, and sipped from a glass. His dog, however, was utterly terrified. It crawled under the table, and whined. The old major tried to reassure the creature, calm it with offers of treats, but the howl of the winds, the creaking walls and what seemed like an inexplicable drone from the heavens above frightened it, and it would take no food.
The old major then got down on his knees under the table and sat next to the dog with his glass of whiskey. He looked at the dog, and for a while dog was calm. But then suddenly a tremendous gust blew the door open, filling the room with swirls of snow. The old major rushed to his feet, and struggled against the wind to shut it. When that was done, he noticed that the dog had fled into the night to seek refuge among the trees.
First, he was overwhelmed with grief when the room was quiet. He looked at the empty space where the dog used to lie. Then his eyes were suddenly filled with defiance, an old soldier was returning to battle. He put on his thickest coat, and hat and scarf, grabbed an oil lamp and unlocked the door.
So it was that the old major decided to take on the very spirits of the mountain to fight for his dog. He waded to his ankles in snow for a few hundred meters up the hill. He shouted, but his voice was inaudible. As he became removed from his cabin, he saw its light extinguish in the storm. And not soon after, the old major was overcome with fatigue and sat down under a tree. That is where the men from the village found his frozen body two days later.
They did not have much sympathy for him because he had always been mean and yelled at them. The dog, however, was found alive in the shed outside. Everyone thought that this was the most faithful creature on earth which stayed so loyal to such a terrible person. It was brought down from the mountain, and given to a breeder, who made sure that it produced many litters, whose offspring still run around on the meadows in those parts. They say old majors die, but their dogs live on forever.
by Michael Henrik Wynn