Neville’s alarm goes off at 5:30 am, and Neville gets out of bed. As he stumbles to his kitchen, he hears Ben Cortman calling, “Come out, Neville!” As the sun rises, Ben and “the others” go away. Neville notes that often, “they” attack each other—there’s “no union among them.” Neville makes a to-do list: he wants to check his electric generator, find water, and find a lathe (a machine for shaping wood). He finishes breakfast and steps outside, where he’s pleased to see that the skies are cloudless. Neville walks out his garage, noticing two dead female bodies sprawled on the sidewalk. The bodies are sickly pale, and there isn’t a drop of blood left in them. Neville backs his Willys station wagon (a kind of car) out of the garage and throws his lunchbox, along with a wooden mallet and a bag of stakes, into the car. Using gloves and wearing a gas mask, he drags the bodies into the car.
Neville wakes up early, even though doing so requires him to again hear Ben Cortman’s menacing voice. This might suggest that Neville likes to keep busy and fill his days with activity. During the morning, we learn more about the nature of the vampires. The fact that Neville uses a gas mask to dispose of the bodies might suggest that there’s a bacterial or viral aspect to vampirism. Also notice that, based strictly on Matheson’s description, it’s unclear whether the two bodies belong to vampires or the victims of vampires—Matheson will explore this ambiguity soon enough.
Neville drives off toward Compton Boulevard and heads east. He stops at a gas station where he finds a barrel of gasoline, and fills up his car, even though it already has half a tank of gasoline. Neville takes excellent care of his car, because it would be extremely dangerous if the car broke down in the middle of the day—indeed, if such an event ever happened, it would be “the end.”
Based on the street names, some readers will notice that Neville is living in Los Angeles (Matheson was living in L.A. around the time that he wrote I Am Legend, so there are lots of specific details about the city). Every aspect of Neville’s existence is suffused with danger—even something as banal as driving a car.
Still wearing his gas mask, Neville drives out to a huge, burning pit. The pit has been burning since June 1975, Neville remembers. He drags the bodies out of the car and pushes them into the fire. Neville now takes his mask off, thinking that somewhere in the flaming pit is Kathy’s body.
We get the sense that Neville has disposed of many bodies in this burning pit, perhaps to ensure that more vampires don’t appear at night. This is the first we’ve heard of Kathy—like Virginia, we’ll learn more about her soon.
Neville drives to Inglewood and stops at a market to pick up some bottled water. Inside, he finds a group of pale, sleeping young women. Neville takes out his mallet and wooden stakes and drives them into the hearts of the sleeping women. Neville notes, “it was always hard when they were alive.” He also notices that the sleeping bodies “all look like Kathy.”
In this important passage, Neville kills a group of vampires; however, he expresses some reluctance about doing so. Although Neville is terrified of the vampires killing him in his sleep, he spends his days killing vampires in their sleep—an irony that lies at the heart of Matheson’s novel.
As he drives out to Sears to find a lathe, Neville tries to understand why he needs to use wooden stakes, and why he has to drive them through the heart. A man named Dr. Busch once told him to drive the wooden stakes into the vampires’ hearts, so Neville follows this advice, but has no way of understanding Busch’s reasoning. Neville is reminded of his cold, overly logical father, Fritz, who died “denying the vampire violently to the last.”
At this point in the novel, Neville knows some of the basic facts about vampires (thanks to the advice of Dr. Busch, a minor character who never actually appears). However, Neville doesn’t yet really understand why driving a stake through a vampire’s heart kills it.
Neville stops the car to eat his lunch. As he eats, he tries to understand why garlic hurts vampires, and why vampires hate sunlight, wooden stakes, mirrors, and crosses. He also accepts that some superstitions about vampires are wrong—for example, the legend that vampires are invisible in mirrors, or that they can transform themselves into wolves and bats. But he tells himself, “Forget it, you’re not ready yet.” Neville has been killing vampires for five months; when the time comes, he plans to learn about them in more detail. For now, he focuses on the forty-seven stakes he’s packed. He spends the afternoon going from house to house, and uses every one of his stakes.
Neville’s first priority isn’t education; it’s survival. When he has more time, and when he feels more secure in his daily routine, he’ll try to learn about vampirism—for now, however, his task is killing his enemies. He spends his day methodically killing vampires in their sleep—an act that, as we’ve seen, causes him some guilt, but which he believes to be morally justified, since he wants to protect himself from being attacked in his sleep.