Near Death And Reality Warping In An Occurrence At Owl Bridge And To Build A Fire
In literature near death experiences have been identified and observed since ancient times and as recent as modern-day publications. Most near-death experiences are portrayed very similar in nature. Often showing reality shifts including distortion of time, visions of light, sounds, and even out of body experiences. Theses perceptions may range from spiritual to very physical feelings and emotions.
The near-death experience (NDE) is a different personal experience that people sometimes experience in a near-death event, the person is either clinically murdered, near death, or in an event where death is possible. These conditions include severe illness or trauma, e.g., from a car accident, military conflict, childbirth, or suicide attempt. People in intense sorrow, in deep contemplation, or only moving about their regular lives have also reported experiences that appear exactly like NDEs, even though these people were not in risk of death. In some reality shift cases the individual has massive spike of adrenaline from flight or fight reactions. (Tachypsychia.)
For example, described in Plato’s Republic. A soldier named Er suffered a near fatal injury in battle. His body among many others was considered dead. However, it did not rot and wither away like the other corpses. He is sent home to be buried but on the twelfth day he is revived on the funeral parlor. Er then spoke of a journey from darkness to darkness to be guided by a guide. He claimed to have witnessed the afterlife filled with souls being sorted into new incarnations and being judged for sins and blessings of their past lives. Both man and beast received atonement for each action in tenfold. The Myth of Er is one of the very first examples of a near death experiences in history and influences countless stories to come. (Thayer)
“To Build a fire” is a short story by American author Jack London There are two versions of this story published in 1902 and the other in 1908. The story written in 1908 has become an often anthologized classic, while the 1902 story is less well. The protagonist underestimates the harsh conditions of the Yukon. He travels on foot with a wolf dog by his side. The frozen Canadian wilderness freezes the very air from his breath upon his beard. He ignores the possible danger of freezing to death until he breaks through unexpected ice. The man attempts to build a fire to save his frozen solid toes and fingers under a tree. However, the tree holds no shelter as the snow from its pine branches blankets him in a pile of unforgiving cold. He begins to struggle attempting to make a new fire. His feeling in his hands are now gone and offer no aid. He curses and despairs as his second fire fails.
“The man discovers that he needs to look down to see where his hands and arms are because he cannot feel anything. He beats his arms and hands for five minutes when he is suddenly overwhelmed by fear of his own death. The situation is no longer one in which he could lose fingers or toes, but his life. Panicking, he starts to run along the trail. He is blinded by fear greater than anything he has ever experienced.” (London)
He abandons his failed fire for running to get his blood moving once more in a last attempt for survival. Adrenaline kicks in giving him a very short boost of energy. However, he cannot keep the endurance and rests in his final spot for the night. Before his passing he feels a comforting warmth and accepts his fate of freezing to death. His final stages of exhaustion reflect real near-death accounts displaying Jack London’s harsh realism. He has an out-of-body experience in the form of a vision of “the boys” finding his remains in the woods. This awakens him to a full understanding nature and just how wrong he was to not heed any warnings.
An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce is a 19th Century mystery story that is set at the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865) when the slave owning Confederate States in the South engaged in conflict with the Federal Government of the USA. The story focuses on a character named Peyton Farquhar, whom is about to be hung for attempting to sabotage the Owl Creek Bridge. He is sentenced to death via hanging from the very bridge he was to burn down. As the noose was pulled down around his neck the pocket watch inside Farquhar’s pocket drummed against his senses as if against his very soul. His hands and legs are tied tight. Beside him is a captain and a sergeant from Northern Army. Infantrymen, led by their lieutenant, stands at attention along the riverbank rifles in hand. As the signal is sent, each step back dropping the platform Farquhar stands on sending him down into oblivion.
Farquhar falls into the swirling river. He struggles to break free of his binds closing his eyes trying to focus on thoughts of his wife. Upon opening his eyes again, he finds himself in water arms loose. Enough to struggle free he unbinds himself. Farquhar breaches the river surface gulping for air. He was somehow still alive and quickly acted on his escape. He began to swim down river avoiding shots from the riflemen on the riverbank. Even the shots from a marksman could not hit him. Eventually he was free of the cracking sounds of musket shot and cannon fire. He beamed in his new reality taking in every detail around him. Each leaf on the trees and every buzz from the gnats along river was clear to him. He journeyed home to his family among a strange landscape. Home to his wife’s open arms. It was then that a loud painful crack jerked poor Farquhar behind his head. He hung dead beneath Owl Creek Bridge.
Farquhar’s experience is similar to an out of body experience. He never left the Owl Creek Bridge and escaped all the marksmen. Nor did he get to meet his wife again. In the short moments between being dropped and being truly hung he imagined it all. Much like the man in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” his senses betray him into seeing things that are not actually present. Er the soldier experienced what he believed to be the afterlife before returning to the world of the living. All three went through a form of out of body experience and each perceived a new reality in a state of death.
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