"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" (sometimes called "An Incident at Owl Creek Bridge") is a short story by Ambrose Bierce. It was originally published in 1890, and first collected in Bierce's 1891 book, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. The story is famous for its irregular time sequence and twist ending.
Set during the American Civil War, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" is the story of Peyton Farquhar, a Confederate sympathizer condemned to death by hanging upon the Owl Creek Bridge of the title. The main character finds himself already bound at the bridge's edge at the beginning of the story. It is later revealed that a disguised Union scout enlisted him to attempt to demolish the bridge, and subsequently he was caught in the act.
A gentlemanly planter in his mid-30s is standing on a railroad bridge in Alabama. Six military men and a company of infantry men are present. The man is to be hanged. As he is waiting, he thinks of his wife and children. Then he is distracted by a tremendous noise. He can not identify this noise, other than that it sounds like the clanging of a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil. He can not tell if it was far away or near by. He finds himself apprehensively awaiting each strike, which seem to grow further and further apart. It is revealed that this noise is the ticking of his watch. Then, an escape plan flashes through his mind, "throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, take to the woods and get away home." His thoughts stray back to his wife and children. The soldiers drop him down.
Peyton Farquhar is a planter in his 30s. He lives in the South and is a major Confederate supporter. He goes out of his way to perform services to support and help the Confederate side. One day, a grey-clad soldier appears at his house and tells Farquhar that the Union soldiers repairing the railroads are at the nearby Owl Creek Bridge. Farquhar takes interest and asks if it is possible to sabotage the stockade the soldiers have set up, to which the soldier replies that he could burn it down. When the soldier leaves, it is revealed that he is a Union soldier who has tempted Farquhar into a trap.
When he is hanged, the rope breaks. Farquhar falls into the water. While underwater, he seems to take little interest in the fact that his hands, which now have a life of their own, are freeing themselves and untying the rope from around his neck. Once he finally reaches the surface, he realizes his senses are superhuman. He can see the individual blades of grass and the colors of bugs on the leaves of trees, despite the fact that he is whirling around in a river. Once he realizes that the men are shooting at him, he escapes and makes it to dry land. He travels through an uninhabited and seemingly-unending forest, attempting to reach his home 30 miles away. During his journey through the day and night, he is fatigued, footsore, and famished, urged on by the thought of his wife and children. He starts to experience strange physiological events, hears unusual noises from the wood, and believes he has fallen asleep while walking. He wakes up to see his perfectly preserved home, with his beautiful, youthful, immaculately preserved wife outside it. As he runs forward to reach her, he suddenly feels a searing pain in his neck, a white light flashes, and everything goes black.
It is revealed that Farquhar never escaped at all; he imagined the entire third part of the story during the time between falling through the bridge and the noose finally breaking his neck.
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