“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck.”
Thus begins Ambrose Bierce’s short story about a Southern civilian about to be hung by two soldiers of the Federal army. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge first appeared in Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).
“He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children.”
“…now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality. He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by–it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer, the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.”
The man stares at the water and considers that if he were able to free his hands he might be able to jump into the creek and swim to shore.
What follows can be read in full here: http://fiction.eserver.org/short/occurrence_at_owl_creek.html
Ambrose Bierce, himself, served in the Civil War, enlisting in the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment. His experience during the Battle of Shiloh would haunt him for the rest of his life, and inspire several of his stories.
Noted for his economy of style, dark imagery, and fabulism, he despised the Realistic School. Upon the publication of Stephen Crane’s, Red Badge of Courage, he stated, “”I had thought there could be only two worse writers than Stephen Crane, namely, two Stephen Cranes.”
In 1913, the sardonic, disillusioned idealist took off for Mexico. On September 10th, he penned a letter to Samuel Loveman. This letter, posted from Chihuahua was the last time anyone saw or heard from Ambrose Bierce ever again.
In 1963, the French short film version of Owl Creek won the oscar. One year later it aired as an episode of The Twilight Zone.
quotes by Bierce:
“A person who doubts himself is like a man who would enlist in the ranks of his enemies and bear arms agains himself. He makes his failure certain by himself being the first person to be convinced of it.”
“Abstainer: a weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure.”
“Doubt, indulged and cherished, is in danger of becoming hdenial; but if honest, and bent on thorough investigation, it may soon lead to full establishment of the truth.”
“Dog – a kind of additional or subsidiary Deity designed to catch the overflow and surplus of the world’s worship.”
“Telephone, n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.”