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I recently had the enviable task of reading nearly every story Richard Matheson ever wrote and selecting 33 tales to be included in Penguin Classics’ The Best of Richard Matheson. This turned out to be like stepping into a time machine, transported back to the age when I started reading him. I was fourteen. The year was 1986. My introduction to his fiction, his short novel I Am Legend, was one of the first books that made me run up to my friends and tackle them so they’d all check it out, too.

If you haven’t read it (what the hell is wrong with you?), it manages to be a work of science fiction, a vampire story, a progenitor of the “biological plague” apocalyptic novel, and also an excellent thriller. All that in about 160 pages. I had to find out more. I dove into The Shrinking Man (the film added “Incredible”) and Hell House and wow. I wish I had a more sophisticated way to describe my reaction to the seismic effect of Richard Matheson on my young mind, but “wow” gets at the raw, awestruck nature of thing. And then I came to find out the man had written short stories. I tracked them down with gusto, with glee. And with time I began to relate to the man’s writing in a way that seemed damn near mystical.

I want to explain exactly what I mean by that.

There’s a lot I need to say about Matheson, and the importance of his fiction, the reasons why this collection is so vital and worthwhile, but I can’t get to that directly. I will go there eventually. But first I have to tell you about my Matheson moment. I don’t mean that I met the man. I mean I stepped into a story he could’ve written. I have to tell you about Cedric and his mother.