EXT. RAILROAD BRIDGE (CIVIL WAR ERA) - DAY
Dark water surges under the bridge and swirls around the
supports. From the top of the bridge the sound of rushing
water is muted but ever present.
A middle-aged man, PEYTON FARQUHAR, stares down at the
water. He wears plain, good quality clothing and a noose
around his neck. The rope is tied to a cross-beam above him
and it hangs with enough slack to loop behind his knees.
TWO PRIVATES move into frame while a SERGEANT gives hushed
orders. All wear Federal uniforms.
They move deliberately, careful of their footing on a
platform made of loose planks laid on the railroad
cross-ties. They check that Farquhar's wrists are secured
behind him and that the knot of the noose is positioned
properly. He stands motionless the whole time, staring past
Slightly removed, on the same platform of planks, is a
CAPTAIN who watches expressionlessly. At each end of the
bridge a SENTINEL guards against interruption.
One side of the river is dominated by a rough stockade that
has been built on top of a grassy slope. All the firing
platforms are empty save for a single brass CANNON. Arrayed
in front of the stockade an INFANTRY COMPANY at parade
rest. It is commanded by a LIEUTENANT.
Nobody moves or makes any sound. A show of respect for what
is about to happen.
Farquhar shifts his attention towards the heavy forest on
the other bank. His gaze, heightened by adrenalin, picks
out forest life. A spider in its shimmering web, a bird
flitting from branch to branch. Then, unexpectedly, he
meets the gaze of a deer as it looks right at him. For a
moment, it stands frozen before it turns and disappears into
the safety of the wood.
The privates finish their task and pick up most of the
planks they were standing on, leaving only one. Farquhar
and the captain stand on the remaining plank, the condemned
man suspended between cross-ties. The sergeant steps to the
captain, salutes, and moves onto the plank behind him. Then
the captain steps aside so that the sergeant's weight is the
only thing anchoring Farquhar's life.
Farquhar, looking down, watches a single piece of driftwood
butt up against one of the bridge's supports and get carried
on downstream where a set of rapids wait to swallow it.
He closes his eyes and tries to hum to himself but the tune
come out disjointed and cracking from his dry throat. His
bound hands twitch as he strokes his wedding ring and the
humming starts to get stronger... but then a discordant
sound of metal striking metal interrupts him. He tries to
recover, but again the sound disrupts his concentration.
His hands rubbing of the ring becomes more anxious and next
time the metallic sound strikes and we see that it's the
ticking of his watch. It ticks again, and again. Each
time, the sound is a little longer in coming and a little
Then, before it can come again, the captain nods to the
CUT TO BLACK
A woman is humming a song. The tune is recognizable now,
strong and melodious.
Farquhar opens his eyes.
EXT. PLANTATION HOUSE - DAY
Farquhar wakes up on a bench in the covered porch of his
house. His wife sits beside him, sheltered from the heat of
the late afternoon sun. She looks at him fondly. He smiles
at her, a touch sheepishly, and straightens his posture.
In the far distance an explosion of cannon fire is heard and
his wife's humming falters to a stop. Farquhar looks to the
(touching him lightly)
They won't come this way.
He returns her touch, laying his hand over hers, but
suddenly he breaks contact and stands up, stepping forward.
Riding up the road is a dusty Confederate SCOUT. He draws
beside the porch to addresses them formally.
Pardon me, but could I trouble you
for some water?
Of course, it's the least we can
do. I'll draw it myself.
She goes into the house, brushing past a black slave just
inside the doorway.
Once she's gone Farquhar comes down the porch steps to talk
to the scout.
Tell me, what is the news from the
The Yanks are repairing the
railroads and are getting ready for
another advance. They have reached
the Owl Creek bridge, put it in
order and built a stockade on the
north bank. The commandant has
issued an order, which is posted
everywhere, declaring that any
civilian caught interfering with
the railroad, its bridges, tunnels,
or trains will be summarily hanged.
I saw the order.
How far is it to the Owl Creek
About thirty miles.
Is there no force on this side of
Only a picket post half a mile out,
on the railroad, and a single
sentinel at this end of the bridge.
Suppose a man —a civilian and
student of hanging— should elude
the picket post and perhaps get the
better of the sentinel. What could
I was there a month ago. I
observed that the flood of last
winter had lodged a great quantity
of driftwood against the wooden
pier at this end of the bridge. It
is now dry and would burn like
Farquhar's wife returns with the water. The scout takes it,
bowing from horseback. He drains it in two large swallows
and returns the glass.
I'm in your debt, Ma'am.
He turns and rides away, scene ends with a closeup of the
EXT. RAILROAD BRIDGE - DAY
Scene opens with a closeup of the scout's face. He now
wears a Federal uniform and stands with the infantry company
in front of the stockade.
The sound of rushing water in the background, we again see
the captain nod and then the sergeant steps aside.
CUT TO LOW ANGLE SHOT
Farquhar hits the water with a shocking slap, a broken rope
cinched tightly around his neck.
The splash is thrown over the camera and we sink into the
water with him. A dense, echoing aquatic sound replaces
Farquhar is limp as he sinks ever deeper into the river, the
light begins to dim as he falls away from the surface. The
rope at his throat moves like a serpent in the current.
Behind him his bound hands are totally motionless. The
watch is still and silent as well.
His eyes are partially open, watching disinterestedly as the
last of the light begins to fade. Placidly, he drifts down
into an enveloping gloom.
He lies motionless in the dark.
But his hands were working behind him. Even as his body
accepted his fate, they fought against the binding cords.
Already looser than they were before, they twist back and
forth with surprising strength. There is more and more
movement with each twist. The watch remains dead.
Unexpectedly, his hands are free. One moment they were
bound behind him and the next his arms are by his side.
Immediately he claws at the rope around his neck tears it
His whole body comes alive with pain. Writhing and
thrashing in the water he fights against the darkness and
struggles into the light.
CUT TO HIGH ANGLE SHOT
Farquhar bursts through the surface of the water, breathing
in raggedly with a shriek!
He becomes enraptured by the sun. All is silent except for
his greedy breathing.
When a splash of water catches the light and creates a
rainbow he is delighted. A second splash catches his
attention, a sound of something slapping the water dimly
Then the buzzing of a passing shot overwhelms the sound of
his breathing and a third splash erupts with a smack. He
twists in the water, turning toward the bridge and the sound
of rushing water.
He sees the captain standing on the bridge, a pistol held
loosely beside him. His executioners, sergeant and privates
both, look on impotently.
A hint of movement makes Farquhar look at the end of the
bridge where a cloud of smoke is still rising above one of
the sentinels. Their eyes meet for a moment, the sentinel's
gray eyes are impassive.
The lieutenant's shout is calm and measured. Alarmed,
Farquhar turns his attention to the infantry company.
Farquhar panics for a moment and swims away frantically but
then he freezes and lets the current carry him downstream.
Ready! Aim! Fire!
Moments before the final order is given Farquhar dives
deeply. The aquatic underwater sound returns, broken by a
series of echoing smacks and a rain of deformed bullets
oscillating past him. One lodges in his shirt collar and he
snatches it out.
When he resurfaces he has moved noticeably further
downstream and away from danger. But not clear yet. The
sentinels each fire another shot, ineffectually.
Farquhar swims with the current, pausing only to steal
glances over his shoulder at the reloading infantry company.
Then a horrendous explosion of water erupts before him.
A cascade of river water washes over him and he is
disoriented. The cannon crew has been at work above the
The water doesn't flatten after the explosion. He has made
it far enough downstream reach the rapids. It carries him
ever faster in erratic patterns. The infantry company, now
firing individually, cannot hit him.
Abruptly he is swept around a bend in the river and comes up
against the far shore, away from the enemy. He lies still,
involuntary laughter escaping from him. Squeezing sand in
his hand he lets it run out into the water around him.
Again, he marvels at the woods. How alive it is.
The whiz and rattle of the cannon firing grapeshot into the
woods above him wakes from his reverie. He gets to his feet
and stumbles into the woods.
EXT. WOODED ROAD - NIGHT
Farquhar walks slowly through the darkened wood, favouring
his bruised and swollen neck. The silence is oppressive.
He pauses briefly to look at harsh stars above him.
Shivering, he presses on.
EXT. PLANTATION HOUSE - MORNING
The soft light of morning highlights his house. As he
approaches he hears his wife humming.
He climbs the stairs to the covered porch and steps under
the wooden frame. Through the half open door he sees his
wife busy inside.
For a moment he just watches her, his posture relaxing.
Then he coughs involuntarily and it startles his wife. She
smiles broadly and runs to him, throwing the door open with
a crack and burying her face in his chest.
We see him knocked back a bit from the impact... then he
begins to twist slightly. Zooming out, the frame of the
porch is shown to be the supports of the trestle bridge.
The rope is still around his neck, his watch is still