Richard Matheson is known for his unusual and interesting stories. Some of them were adapted into episodes of The Twilight Zone.
His stories are often horror or sci-fi, but in everyday settings and with ordinary people.
A good collection is The Best of Richard Matheson, (Amazon) which has 30+ short stories including some of his best-known, like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”, “Button, Button” and “Third From the Sun.”
Born of Man and Woman
An unidentified narrator, a child, tells their story through diary entries. The child is chained up in the basement, and has to keep out of sight or be beaten.
Read “Born of Man and Woman” (first story in Amazon preview)
A hand addressed package is left at the door of Arthur and Norma Lewis. Inside is a contraption with a button on it, and a note saying that Mr. Steward will call on them at 8 PM. He arrives at the appointed time and makes them a startling proposition.
This is the first story in the preview of The Box: Uncanny Stories.
The narrator is riding the coach to Grantville with one other passenger, a city boy of about twenty. He carries a small black bag on his lap that he guards carefully. The narrator tries to make conversation, but the young man is reticent. He eventually asks who’s the fastest draw in Grantville.
William Cook decides it would be nice to be two people—he could enjoy himself while his double carried out the obligatory chores of life. He devotes his time and resources to building a duplication machine. One Sunday afternoon, he tries it for the first time.
The crew of a spaceship is collecting samples from various planets to determine their suitability for human habitation. While nearing a new planet, Mason spots a metallic flash. The crew speculates that it might be a ship. Captain Ross orders a landing to check it out.
“Death Ship” can be read in the preview of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.
Deus Ex Machina
Robert Carter is a typical man—a thirty-four-year-old accountant with a wife and two daughters. One morning while shaving with a straight razor, he falls, hitting his head on the sink and driving the razor into his throat. He sees blood running from the wound, but also a reddish-brown oil. He tries to take care of it without alarming his family.
Read “Deus Ex Machina” (Ctrl + F the title)
A man records the events of the last ten days. He and his wife Mary had been arguing about money. His writing isn’t bringing in anything, and his part-time job doesn’t bring in much. He goes out one evening with his married friend and two women they’ve met. Shortly after, things start getting strange.
Mann is driving to San Francisco for an appointment. He passes a semi pulling a trailer. Shortly after, the semi roars past and abruptly cuts in front of him. He’s not sure what to make of it. He has to slow down a bit. He doesn’t have any spare time. Mann decides to pass again.
This is the first story in the preview of Duel: Terror Stories.
Dying Room Only
Bob and Jean are driving through the desert when they come upon a café. They decide to stop, because they don’t know when they’ll get another chance. The three men inside look at them for a long time. Bob orders from the limited menu, and Jean goes to wash up. Bob goes to the washroom before Jean gets back to her seat. He’s in there a long time.
Graveyard Shift (Day of Reckoning)
Luke sends his father a note saying the Widow Blackwell has been murdered. Her son, Little Jim, is scared and hiding. He tells his father to send the sheriff and coroner right away. In the next letter, Luke’s father, Sam, informs the Widow Blackwell’s brother of the tragedy.
Read “Graveyard Shift” (PDF Pg 103)
The Last Day
Richard wakes up in a house with his friends after a bacchanal. Others are still sleeping. The last night is over. He and Norman talk about what they’re going to do. Norman says they should see their parents. Richard doesn’t want to spend his last moments hearing his mom talk about religion.
Man with a Club
The narrator tells the story of what happened to him last night. He was out with his girlfriend, Dot, going to a show. On the way, he sees a crowd gathered across the street. He insists on checking it out. There’s an ape-like man on the street, holding a big club.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Wilson sits on a plane that’s preparing for takeoff. He’s shaken by the thunderous noise of the engines. He isn’t feeling well, physically or mentally. He rushes into the bathroom and tries to calm himself. He returns to his seat and tries to sleep, but can’t. Looking out the window, he sees something moving around on the wing.
This is the first story in the preview of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet: Horror Stories.
Now Die In It
Don and Betty Martin are in the kitchen when the phone rings. Betty answers. Someone is looking for Don Tyler. She says he has the wrong number but he’s undeterred. Don goes to the phone. He tries to convince the man he’s not the guy he’s looking for.
A man wakes up in a silent jail cell. He doesn’t know how he got there. The guards say he’s guilty of a crime. They call him John Riley, but he insists that’s not his name.
Ruth tells her husband, Rick, that the janitor of their building gives her the creeps. She thinks he’s up to something, but Rick dismisses her concerns. While having dinner with their neighbors, Marge and Phil, the subject comes up, as well as the fact that the rent in their building is quite cheap. They start taking Ruth’s theories a bit more seriously.
Mr. Moffat tells Wendall that there’s something wrong with the church organ. It started right after it was decided to replace it. Mr. Moffat has a special feeling for the organ, and is concerned. Wendall thinks the organ is just old and worn out, and doesn’t think it’s a big deal.
Kelly and Pole board a train with a large covered object. They get it to their seat with difficulty. They talk about getting their cargo new parts. It’s an old model, though, so it won’t be easy. Pole thinks it’s worn out, and won’t be able to take any hits. Kelly thinks there’s still plenty left in it. They’re headed for a bout.
The beginning of “Steel” can be read in Steel: And Other Stories.
Third from the Sun
With the impending threat of a major war, a family and their neighbors decide to sneak away to safety on a spaceship. The father will use his position as chief test pilot to gain access to the vessel.
This is the second story in the preview of Duel: Terror Stories.
A Visit to Santa Claus
Ken and Helen make it across the parking lot to their car. Their son, Richard, is sulking; he wanted to see the mall Santa before leaving. Ken says he’ll take Richard back in, even though Helen had suggested going when they were still inside. They argue over it before Ken and Richard head back inside. Ken is sure to take the car keys with him.
Where There’s a Will | with Richard Christian Matheson
A man wakes up—it’s dark, cold and silent. Trying to sit up, he hits his head. He feels around, finding a mattress under him and padded walls above and on the sides. He can feel that he’s fully dressed. He reaches into his pocket and finds a lighter. The flame catches, and he’s able to check out his surroundings.
Read “Where There’s a Will” (scroll down)