Immediately after the events of the last chapter, Neville speeds home, praying that it isn’t after sunset yet. He remembers that he’s left his garage door open, meaning that he could return home to find a pack of vampires waiting for him.
Matheson continues to build the suspense, as his hero seems in dire straits.
Neville drives back to his house. To his horror, he finds vampires assembled outside—and when they see his car, they run toward him. Neville drives his car into the vampires, crushing them. Ben Cortman runs up to the side of the car, and Neville presses his foot to the pedal, only to realize that the car is stalled. Cortman claws at Neville’s chest. Just as he’s about to grab Neville’s throat, Neville punches Cortman, and the motor coughs into life again. Neville drives off, with the vampires chasing behind him.
This is an especially cinematic passage, reflecting Matheson’s training as a Hollywood screenwriter. Even though it’s unlikely that Neville’s car would stall at the exact moment when Cortman tries to grab his chest, or that it would cough into life at the exact moment when Neville punches Cortman, or that Cortman would be able to reach inside the car, all three events create a suspenseful action scene.
Neville circles around the corner, the vampires running behind him. He’s careful to drive at a slow pace—just fast enough for the vampires to pursue him. Then, he circles back to his house—the garage door is still open, but no vampires are standing in front of it, since they’ve all gone running after him. Neville parks the car “on the street (“there was no time to put it in the garage”) and runs toward the garage—behind him, he can hear the other vampires running for him. Suddenly, Cortman jumps out of the shadows of the garage: he tackles Neville and tries to bite his throat. Neville pulls Cortman by his hair and sends him “hurtling down the driveway.” Neville runs toward his front door, but then remembers that he’s left his keys in the car. He runs back to the car, knocks Cortman down, and snatches his keys out of the ignition. Then he runs back to the door, fighting off two more vampires. He manages to push through to the door and lock it behind him.
Neville manages to trick most of the vampires into running away from his house, but not Cortman—Cortman hides in the shadows, tricking Neville into thinking that his garage is empty. We also learn a few more things about the vampires in this action-packed scene. First, although most of the vampires aren’t particularly smart (most of them take the bait and run after Neville’s car), some of them, like Cortman, are cunning enough to fool Neville. Second, Neville seems to be significantly stronger and faster than the vampires—perhaps because Neville is a military veteran, and perhaps because vampires are weaker than humans (a possibility that Matheson confirms later in the book).
Safe again, Neville pours himself a whiskey and drinks it quickly. He hears a crash; looking through the peephole in his door, he sees the vampires destroying his station wagon with rocks. Furious, Neville goes to his fridge—only to realize that the electricity in his house isn’t working, since he didn’t have time to check the generator that day. Drunk, frightened, and furious, Neville fetches two pistols from his room. He pushes open the front door and shoots a vampire in the face. He fires his pistols until they’re both empty, and then begins beating and hitting the vampires. But Neville’s shots and blows don’t kill the vampires. As Neville realizes how futile his efforts are, he turns and runs back into his house again. Inside, he weeps and whispers, “Virginia, Virginia.”
The vampires are destructive and vindictive—they don’t kill Neville, so they satisfy themselves by destroying his car instead. But notice that Matheson parallels the vampires’ mindless destruction with Neville’s: for no logical reason, Neville takes his pistols and fires at his enemies, eventually giving up when he realizes that most of the vampires are impervious to bullets. Neville continues to be haunted by the death of his wife (and, implicitly, his child). He’s not a vampire, but he’s living a depressive, isolated life—a fate that is, perhaps, even worse than being a vampire.