“An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

Illustrated by François Vigneault

It has been 122 years since Ambrose Bierce wrote “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” The modern reader might find little to engage with as the story begins, detailing the preparations of faceless Union soldiers to hang a Confederate criminal. We don’t know his crime or his name. He does not struggle. No one speaks. It all seems very far away. But upon turning the page of the first installment of Scout Books’ War Stories series, we find an illustration that cannily reduces the distance between us and the condemned man peering off the page at the river awaiting his corpse. He is a farmer, Bierce says, dressed in a “well-fitting frock coat,” but the wrinkled coat depicted here echoes the heavy bags under the eyes of the Union soldiers, who are faceless no more. The man’s rib cage presses against his tight vest: he is hopelessly trapped. What is going through his mind only Bierce can reveal, but the condemned man is alive, if only for a moment longer, before our eyes. His final seconds will stretch on across pages as we discover what desperate things we will do for our freedom, whether in the nineteenth century or in the twenty-first.

—Kristopher Jansma

Kristopher Jansma is a writer and teacher living in New York City. His debut novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, will be published by Viking Press in March.

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