From «Our collection of the best short stories»
The story «An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge» was written by the American short story writer Ambrose Bierce. His style was noted for dark imagination, unbelievable events and the theme of war. In 1913 Bierce traveled to Mexico to get experience of the revolution and disappeared there. His body was never found. What happened to him is still unknown.
The story «An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge» is the best short story by Ambrose Bierce. You can read it online in English or in Russian — Амброз Бирс. Случай на мосту через Совиный ручей (на русском языке читать онлайн).
Ambrose Bierce. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
(the best short story by Ambrose Bierce in English adapted for upper-intermediate)
Words for the story that might be not easy to understand:
- timber — wooden beam or board
- executioner — an official who carries out a sentence of death on a condemned person
- sentinel — a soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch
- sluggish — very slow
A man stood on 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 were tied with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a timber above his head.
His executioners were two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a captain in the black uniform. A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood holding his rifle ready.They blockaded the two ends of the bridge. Behind each of them the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards and then was lost to view. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, watching two soldier making the last preparations. In the code of military etiquette silence means respect. The captain respected Death.
The man who was going to be hanged was about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian. His features were good -a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed back, falling to the collar of his well-fitting coat. He wore a mustache and beard; his eyes were large and dark grey. He had a kind expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the noose.
The preparations were completed and the two private soldiers stepped aside and waited for the sign. The face of the man had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked at the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move. What a sluggish stream! (Copyright © EnglishStory.ru)
Words for the story:
- to caught attention — to pay attention
- distract — prevent from concentrating
- death knell — the tolling of a bell to mark someone’s death
- thrust — a stab of a knife that can wound you
- little ones — little children
- doomed — it means that unpleasant will happen, and you can do nothing to prevent it
The captain saluted. The man closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. But he couldn’t. The water, the mist over the river, the soldiers — all had distracted him. And then his attention was caught by some sound. It was a sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil. He wondered what it was. It sounded regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each stroke with impatience and the intervals of silence grew longer, the delays became maddening. The sounds increased in strength and sharpness and hurt his ear like the thrust of a knife. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
He opened his eyes and saw again the water below him. «If I could free my hands,» he thought, «I might throw off the noose and jump into the stream. By diving I could escape the bullets and, swimming quickly, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond their reach.»
These thoughts were flashed into the doomed man’s brain. Meanwhile the captain nodded to the soldier. The soldier stepped aside.