Literary Blog Relay: A Stranger Comes to Town and Says, “I know your sister…”

Photo by Emily Searle

This post is honored to be the final leg of a literary blog relay started by Christine Lee Zilka. As she explained:

One writer writes a 250 word post/story/fragment and then tags another writer, etc., etc. We can write whatever we want, so long as our posts begin with the last line of the previous post (in bold here) and are linked to a central theme; in this case, “A Stranger Comes to Town.”

To read the post before mine, check out Alexander Chee’s stunning piece on I’m the final writer in the relay, so here goes…


“I know your sister,” the man whispered to me after he told me to lie still, after he locked me up in the box and wheeled me around into the light, after he smoothed my hair off my forehead so it didn’t cover my eyes. “I know your sister,” he said, as if that would comfort me. He was about to saw me in half in front of an audience and I think he didn’t want me to scream.

No one had invited the man to our town or knew he’d come to perform for us. No one asked him up to stage; he insisted. We had no use for magic anymore, and though we were a small Midwestern town and his truck had plates from California, we knew there were no cards that could trick our eyes, no coins that could be hidden in our ears. He couldn’t fool us, though we knew he’d try.

I was in the audience. I was seventeen, and my sister was nineteen and long gone, and I felt sure I’d be stuck here forever. This knowledge was knotted up like a scarf tied to another scarf tied to another scarf wrapped tight around my waist.

But when the man called for a volunteer, it was my arm that raised as though there were an invisible string attached to my wrist and he’d given it a tug from up on stage. I stood, electrified, and my boyfriend took my elbow to sit me back down. “Don’t be an idiot,” he said, loud enough for everyone to hear. He didn’t want me to embarrass him, though he thought nothing of embarrassing me. I walked up to the stage, my spine ice. My boyfriend was a fire I left blazing uncontrolled in the folding chair behind me.

The man had me in the box before I knew what would happen. He said my sister’s name and announced that he would now cut me—the great actress’s little sister—clean in half and then put me back together again right before everyone’s eyes. I was spun in circles, in figure-eights. Then I was poised below the blade. I watched it shimmer through me and I felt nothing.

Before he pulled me apart to show the audience his slice, I asked, quiet so no one could hear, “Do you really know my sister?” And he admitted, “Well, I asked for her autograph once.” We both knew the real magician was my small-town sister, who’d gone west and become a household name overnight.

Then the man split me in half, and with my organs to air, my guts exposed, a thought emerged near my ear like a trick coin: my sister found the way out of here, and so could I. By the time the man put me together again, and made me stand up out of the box for my entire town to see, I was a whole new person. I had lost my legs and gained them back again and soon, like magic, I’d use them to walk away.


And that’s the final entry in Christine’s blog relay! Yes, I know I went over word count… such is the story of my life.

Thank you, Christine, for including me with so many talented writers! To check out the other wonderful pieces and read the relay from the very beginning, see the links below.


  1. Wah-Ming Chang:
  2. Jamey Hatley
  3. Stephanie Brown
  4. Andrew Whitacre
  5. Heather McDonald
  6. Christine Lee Zilka
  7. Jackson Bliss
  8. Jennifer Derilo posted at
  9. Alexander Chee
  10. Nova Ren Suma = ME!

(The image of the red curtain isn’t mine. Photo by Emily Searle, borrowed for this post courtesy of Flickr.)

16 responses to “Literary Blog Relay: A Stranger Comes to Town and Says, “I know your sister…””

  1. Nova this is amazing–I love this character, this voice, this story, the language. I want to read more! Thank you so much for being in the relay!


    • I wonder what could happen with it too… I might keep writing to find out and make it into a short story!

      Thank you so much for making this happen! And thank you again for having me be a part of it. I hope we can get some writers together to do it again!


      • I’m all on board for doing it again, and inviting other writers to the mix. It’s amazing what this writing format can do–it can unleash some great narrative and characters.


    • Thank you, Annika. I don’t think there is ever a time in my life that I came in voluntarily under word count… for anything. What does this say about me? I’m not sure I want to know!


    • Thanks, Anne! They’re all different stories based only on the same theme about a stranger coming to town, and all of the others are so very good! Thanks for reading mine.


  2. That was a lot of fun. You should keep writing this! I’m going to keep writing mine.


    • I think I might. I’m very curious about what could happen after this setup… and who is her sister?? I’ve given myself lots of questions. Thank you for the *perfect* opening line!

      And I can’t wait to read more of yours. I do hope you’ll keep writing it!


  3. Oh. My. God. Stunning.
    It just reinforces to me that you were BORN to be a writer! 🙂

    I’d love to play along on this sometime…not sure I’m good enough but I would love to try!


  4. This narrative completely gripped me. The characters, her voice (“This knowledge was knotted up like a scarf tied to another scarf tied to another scarf wrapped tight around my waist.” and so many more lines got me under her skin.), the setting, everything about this piece makes me want more.


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