With apologies to Ambrose Bierce who, fortunately, is dead and can't complain.
A man stood on a railroad bridge in southern Alabama. The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists tied with a cord. His knees were wrapped with a stout chain. A rope closely encircled his neck, the other end tied to a stout sergeant who had his arms and legs wrapped around a crosstimber. Two companies of blue uniformed infantry lined the banks with rifles loaded and aimed, a brass cannon was pointed at his chest, a plastic bag had been pulled over his head, a sword hung above him from a thread, lit sticks of dynamite were between his toes, and a live grenade was stuffed down his trousers.
This was all rather acadamic as a loaded coal train was bearing down on him from the south.
The men with him were his executioners. They didn't like him very much.
His name was Peyton Farquhar. His parents hadn't liked him very much either.
He was a civilian, if one could judge form his coal blackened clothes, worn trouser knees and the lamp strapped to his head. He had a hooked nose that nearly touched his pointed chin, a slack mouth that drooled slightly and a low forehead from which his long dark hair was combed straight back. His short light hair was combed from right to left. The two hairs made an "X" on his scalp. A bombardier in a B-29 had his bombsight trained on this, just in case. His face was clean-shaven except for the full beard, moustache and sideburns. He was married and had twenty-three children. He was thirty and looked ninety-two. His head swiveled slowly from side to side as tiny grey eyes peered out from beneath eyebrows like wooly caterpillers. The kangaroo court martial had taken away his thick eyeglasses. They looked pretty silly on the kangaroo who guarded the north end of the bridge with a machine gun in her paws and several bandoliers stuffed in her pouch.
He stared between his feet at the dark, crocodile and owl infested waters of Owl Creek below...and considered suicide.
Then the knotted string broke and his trousers fell 'round his ankles. The grenade bounced between two ties and hit the water with a thunderous explosion. At least his wife would be pleased. He would have found that thought more comforting if the dear lady had not been running down the track toward him with with her arms outstretched and a sword in each hand.
The blast splintered one of the piers of the bridge and the entire structure began a slow but clumsy collapse. His running wife stumbled, accidently plunging the swords into the kangaroo who let off a dying blast of machine gun fire which hit the wing tanks of the B-29. The burning plane fell on the north bank, square on top of one company of infantry. The hurtling locomotive plowed into the wreckage of the bridge, derailing hopper cars and burying the other infantry beneath uncounted tons of bituminous.
As the bridge continued to disintegrate the cannon went off and separated the sergeant from the beam, loosing the rope from his waist.
Peyton Farquhar fell toward the water. Maybe he would wind up being executed by suicide after all.
But as he hit the water the chains fell from his knees, the cord slipped from his emaciated wrists, the fuses on the dynamite were extinguished and the trapped carbon dioxide floated the plastic bag from off his head.
"Thank God," he said. "that the author is getting away with this tripe. I better get out of here before the reader throws the book down in disgust."
He pulled up his trousers and kicked powerfully with his short bowlegs, the dynamite between his toes acting like flippers, totally unnecassary considering the breadth of his feet. He shot downstream as the remains of the bridge, locomotive and kangaroo crashed into the water mere inches behind him.
A week before, Peyton Farquhar had been happily digging a well beside his sharecropper's shack. He already had eleven other wells. Mining was his hobby as well as his profession. It was what little he could do for the war effort since he had entered an exempted line of work just as hostilities broke out with the North. Being an ardent seccessionist, he was prepared to do anything in his power to help the Confederate army...short of actually getting involved. He had just finished reading the mail - a letter requesting him to dig up Ambrose Bierce, who had turned over in his grave at this story, and place him on his back again; when a gray-clad soldier had ridden up and stopped abruptly...when his horse fell into a well.
Helping him out, Farquhar had inquired eagerly about news from the front, also about news from the back and the sides.
"The Yanks are repairing the railroads," said the man, "and are getting ready to resume Amtrak service between Atlanta and Philadelphia. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge and are putting it in order while the locomotive idles on the northern bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, that any 'bo caught riding the trains will be summarily defenestrated."
Farquhar crossed his legs. "How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?" he asked.
"About a hundred yards," said the soldier pointing, "Right over there."
"Is there a force on this side of the creek?" asked Farquhar looking scared.
"No," said the soldier, "They have all fallen into wells, except for a picket on this end of the bridge." He pointed at a lone soldier sprawled under a honeysuckle bush, smoking a rolled up corn husk and hacking his lungs out.
"Suppose a man - a civilian and coward - should kick the crap out of the sentinal," said Farquhar grinning evily, "what could he accomplish?"
"I observed that the flood of last winter has lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is dry and would burn like a great quantity of dry driftwood."
Farquhar had been thinking more along the lines of leaving the environs of the fighting as judiciously as possible.
Using a block and tackle, they hoisted the soldier's horse out of the well and he rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, giving the wells a wide berth, he rode northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
As Peyton Farquahar's head broke water he realized that by some miracle, not to mention the incredible hogwash invented by the author, he had been saved from almost certain death. As his brain cleared he thought, "I am alive! My name is Peyton Roquefort Farquhar!" It was only with considerable restraint that he refrained from drowing himself then and there.
His chest burned and his head pounded. Drat the honeysuckle chile and eight mint juleps he had had for lunch.
He dove again, kicking with his splayed feet, and swam into an underwater cave. After bouncing off the cave walls a few times he switched on his carbide miner's lamp. Sightless fish fled in terror. An octopus attacked from its hiding place among the rocks. Farquhar tied its arms into four granny knots. This infuriated the octopus who was a male and would never in his life be a granny, but there was little he could do about it with his arms tied.
Farquhar's lungs were bursting, so was his gut from the chile. He broke wind with a rumble that shook loose several stalactites and formed a bubble the size of his old Pontiac. He stuck his head into the bubble and took a deep breath. He would have died then and there if he hadn't been inured to the smell from his wife's ladylike blasts that billowed out the bedcovers.
He forced himself to think about his twenty-three children and his darling wife and her twelve. He remembered bouncing little Elmo on his knee with a mint julep in his hand. Farquhar had had several mint juleps as well. In this state he would frequently miss and Elmo would land on the concrete, saving himself from injury only by the expedient of coming down headfirst.
He thought about his eldest, Patsy, and her boobs. His hands itched and he swam harder.
He swam for what seemed like hours, the events of his past life playing endlessly through his mind. Most of the events had taken place in bedrooms or the back seat of his Pontiac.
Finally he broke the surface in one of his wells and his eyes took in the sight of his hovel, his children and his smiling wife. As he climbed out of the well he felt a sudden excruciating pain and a blinding white light blinded him. His wife had hit him in the crotch with his miner's shovel, then brought it smartly down sideways on his skull, splitting his head open and letting in the sun.
Peyton Farquhar was dead. His lifeless body sank through the dark water into the waiting arms of the octopus.