The tension of what happens to Peyton in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is conveyed through the words that the author uses and how Peyton’s predicament is presented immediately. In the very first line, we learn that an unnamed man is standing on a railroad bridge looking down at the water twenty feet below. This is a very visual description and causes the reader to wonder why the man is standing on that railroad bridge. Whatever the reason, it probably is not good. The second line of the short story then says:
“The man's hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees.”
Thus, almost immediately the author conveys the dire predicament that Peyton is in. He is bound and about to be hanged with the “rope closely encircled [around] his neck.” The people around him are described as “his executioners.”
Lest we think that Peyton somehow has a way out of this hanging, we are also told that “A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as "support." By this, we are given to understand that even in the extremely unlikely event that Peyton somehow manages to break free of the ropes, he has nowhere to go. There are armed soldiers standing on either side of the bridge who will either send him back to the noose or shoot him.
Later, Peyton is described as “The man who was engaged in being hanged,” which adds to the tension. Then we get a glimpse into Peyton’s thoughts as he is about to die. He thinks of his family, his wife and children. He wants to say good-bye to them and tell them how much he loves them. This not only adds to the tension, but also leads the reader to pity and sympathize with Peyton.