Short, sharp shocks abound in this collection of more than 50 sparely crafted tales of horror and fantasy. Matheson, whose credits include screenwriting (Tales from the Crypt, etc.) as well as a novel (Created By), develops his themes with a scenarist's economy, slashing atmosphere to a bare minimum and boiling plots down to sinewy skeletons. Some stories, like the evocative fever dream ""Hell"" and the paranoiac's nightmare ""Wyom...,"" are diverting mood pieces. Most are miniature masterpieces of compression and tension, notably ""Mobius,"" a tale about a serial killer that carefully misdirects the reader to its hidden tripwire ending, and the haiku-like ""Vampire,"" which distills the personality of a psychic parasite from its stream of one-sentence sensory images. The stories make the most of their predominantly Los Angeles setting, which Matheson portrays as ""one big ghastly appetite, rendered in inhuman industrial grays and gunshot reds"" and populates with soulless, emotionally deadened zombies nurtured on its ""glitz-gloom."" The entries frequently show their roots in ideas from television, music and comic books, and Matheson's punky prose and talent for the perfectly timed twist ending give them an edginess and vitality that invigorates their telling. (Dec.) FYI: This volume includes, along with many newer stories, the entire contents of Matheson's previous collection, Scars and Other Distinguishing Trademarks (1987).