There are two aspects of this piece I find as valuable models for a writer. The first is the idea of death by inches. In my experience with horror, death come as a relatively swift blow - maybe there’s some torture, definitely some pain, but it is usually played out by a lot of tension and a quick end. Peter Lang has been under severe torture for months by the time we enter the story, and it shows through Matheson’s use of action, dialog, and description:
The sight made Jennings gasp. If ever a face could be described as tortured, it was Lang’s. Darkly bearded, bloodless, stark-eyed, it was the face of a man enduring inexplicable torment.
Peter snorted. “Who the hell knows?” he said. “Maybe it’s delirium tremens. God knows I’ve drunk enough today to –“ The tangle of his dark hair rustled on the pillow as he looked towards the window. “Hell, it’s night,” he said. He turned back quickly. “Time?” he asked.
“After ten,” said Jennings. “What about–?”
“Thursday, isn’t it?” asked Lang.
Jennings stared at him.
“No, I see it isn’t”
The other valuable model I found in this is Matheson’s portrayal of this primitive ritual in the middle of an American Play-boy’s apartment. It’s a stark contrast of cultures, with a bit of anti-racism mixed in. But the real value to me as a writer is how Matheson plays through the ritual without having it come off a cheesy. Dr. Howell (Lucine) presents herself and executes the ritual, as bizarre as it is for the context, with sincere concern for Lang’s well-being. And to have the character behave with sincerity makes the piece feel genuine.