“A Voice in the Static”
by Clint Hale
These last few nights, while drifting off to sleep in my warm bed, I’ve woken suddenly to find myself, once again, in Leeds, MA. There is a strange sort of darkness to that place, and the air itself seems alive with pulsing static. If I listen closely, perhaps leaning into the cab of a long-abandoned truck within the black forest, and press my ear to the cold plastic of a speaker, I can hear something within that static. It fades and buzzes and I worry what it might wake within the lightless wood. Eventually I hear a man, speaking ominously of salvation through plague, a drone of sonorous percussion layered beneath his lulling voice. In time – minutes, moments, eternities – I realize the static is no longer coming from the speaker. Instead, it is coming from the direction of a soft, glowing light swelling to life among the trees. The voice in the static is speaking my name, and enveloped in an unknowable accumulation of imperceptible radio waves, I begin to walk.
Matthew Bartlett is a man with a message. He knows well that words themselves are inert, dead things; incapable of movement and life until a skilled hand comes along and fashions them into something worthy of being read. In that respect, he has already proven himself to be a more than capable wordsmith. He has a keen eye for knowing just how much to divulge in his fiction, and a staggering ability to paint the grotesque in a hypnotically beautiful light. His message is unique and affecting, one that expertly couples the visceral with the psychological. And at the very heart of this message – this communicable view of a world always in the process of decay – are his characters: people shaped by the shadows that encroach on their tiny lives; people who breathe the dank, sodden odor of unreality; people emotionally encumbered by a definite lack of something. These multifaceted individuals are what allow the strange events in his stories to feel possible, despite their inherent impossibility; indeed, the whole of Gateways to Abomination is an example of that very process of sublimation in action. Whether through raw sensuality or a subtlety attuned to their individual temperament, Bartlett’s characters act as a conduit for his carefully constructed message to be transmitted.
I will admit that the Man from Leeds was not on my radar until well after the release of Gateways. I was not there at the beginning, witnessing his momentous rise out of the overwhelming muck of self-published authors. But word travels fast around the campfire of the Weird, and soon his name was on the lips of many a respected author. So here we are, paying tribute to a writer staggeringly talented yet unassuming. A man who can craft nightmares you’ll want to relive, and take you to a town you’ll never want to leave. His prose is lyrical and effortless, and despite his often grisly subject matter it is always written with passion and a finely-tuned attention to detail. His plots, though surreal and bewildering, are never out of place in his careful hands. Though the future is often bleak for those in his tales, the same cannot be said for the author himself. As far as I’m concerned this is only the beginning for him, and I can’t wait to see where he takes us next.
But you already knew all that. You’ve read his work, experienced his purposefully fragmented insight. You’ve traversed his mental landscape, seen the grey men in grey coats with grey faces. You’ve heard the transmissions, the whispers that sound like rain. You’re a receiver now, the end result of a signal sounding through a forest made dark by more than just the absence of light. The only thing left to do now is follow the voice in the static.
Clint Hale is a writer of short fiction and the editor of the Dark of Things.