“Dance of the Dead”

July 03, 2009

Richard Matheson’s short story, “Dance of the Dead”, is a fine example of matching up pacing and action.   The story opens with four college kids racing across the plains in a “Rotor-Motors Covnertible, Model C, 1997”.  The kids are engaged in drinking, drugs, and sex as they head to Saint Louis to catch a “loopy” show.

Needle quivering at 130, two 5-mph notches from the gauge’s end.  A sudden dip!  Their young frames jolted and the thrown-up laughter of three was windswept into night.  Around a curve, darging up and down a hill, flashing across a leveled plain – an ebony bullet skimming the earth.

His description is short and quick, fragmentary in spots.  It gives an excellent sense of speeding down an empty road and brings the reader into the car.

In the back seat:

“Have a jab, Bab.”

“Thanks, I had one after supper” (pushing away the needle fixed to the eye-dropper).

In the front seat:

“You meana tell me this is the first time you ever been t’Saint Loo!!”

“But I just started school in September.”

The dialog is also quick, and punchy.  It’s a fair representation of informal exchange.  Both the dialog and description he uses keeps the scene moving quickly, pulling the reader along with the characters to Saint Louis.

Matheson uses an interesting technique to tackle the unique jargon found in the story.  Interspersed among the narration and dialog or quick definitions.  For instance, at once they near the city, the kids put on plastic nose-and-mouth pieces.  It’s followed by a quick little nursery rhyme:

ANCE IN YOUR PANTS WOULD BEA PITY!

WEAR YOUR NOSIES IN THE CITY!!

This is followed by a dictionary-style definition:

Ance (anse), n., slang for anticivilian germs; usage evolved during WWIII.

Several other of the definitions also reference WWIII, providing an instance time-period reference without him having to work it in to any of the narration directly.  It’s a unique approach to world building that I think works in this piece to keep it fast paced without burdening the reader with a lot of unnecessary background.

All in all, it’s a great little story!

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