The Deep of Winter: by Chris Butler

Chris Butler's striking story The Deep of Winter, featured in the current issue of Interzone (259) and illustrated by Martin Hanford, reads in summary like a classic piece of fantasy: a white witch steals into an alternate dimension to conduct an experiment in telepathy; but she succeeds only in transmitting her own legend to the natives, thereby allowing her people to track and return her for trial.

Broken into consecutive characters streams which read like crossed thoughts, the dual narrative belies the fantasy and presents the witch, Aluna, as a student working towards a thesis; her efforts are rejected by her society as juvenile and dangerous and she is forbidden from further study in the matter. Not to be deterred, she picks her dimension and proceeds. The alternate narrative thread follows Sebastian, leader of an explorative party, working its way through an abandoned underground city towards her legend, or rather her legerdemain. These narratives meet ungently, and the witnessed extraction of Aluna from her experiment enhances her legend.

And so, for all Aluna's careless witchery, perhaps her experiment succeeds, as Sebastian suddenly finds himself more alert than ever to his wife and children, and to his place in a society that he now sees through fresh and perhaps questioning eyes. Butler's part premise is that telepathy is undoubtedly a form of enhanced empathy; more, that motifs of folklore give voice to a common flora and fauna which can be intuited - that is: shared to be understood. And these are the beginnings of empathy.

It's always a pleasure to read Chris Butler's stories in Interzone - my first experience of his work there was The Festival of Tethselem, a story I would thoroughly recommend if you can find the back issue (224).

The Deep of Winter is a story that erupts beyond its wordage and inhabits the mind of the reader as stream of discourse.

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