This is the first experience I can remember of being really impacted by a short story. I read it in high-school, at 15 or 16 years old, and have remembered it ever since.
The story tells of a man about to be executed by hanging, from the aforementioned bridge. When he is pushed off, however, the rope breaks and he falls into the water and swims to safety. After running through a seemingly endless forest, hearing voices and hallucinating, he comes home to his wife–but before he can embrace her is struck on the neck from behind and gone in a flash of light.
It is revealed at the end that the whole escape was imagined in the seconds during his fall, before his neck was broken.
This may sound a common theme for stories, but this one was written in 1890, and so I’m sure has influenced many a writer over the past century!
This story was the first one I can remember that made me question reality, and wonder about death and the brain and our perceptions. I still think of it every now and then to this day. Click the link at the start of this post and read it if you haven’t!