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This Land is No Stranger

A Nordic Thriller

Sarah Hollister & Gil Reavill



Copyright © 2021 Sarah Hollister, Gil Reavill & LYS

© Copyright Sarah Hollister, Gil Reavill & LYS förlag 2021, all rights reserved

Editor: Sarah Coats Chandler

Cover design: Sofi Tegsveden Deveaux

The title This land is no stranger is a translation of the line detta land är ingen främling, by the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf, taken from his anthology Non serviam (1945) © Copyright Gunnar Ekelöf, licensed by ALIS, alis.org.

Part One epigraph republished with permission of Princeton University Press, from The Death Rituals of Rural Greece, by Loring M. Danforth, 1982, permission conveyed through Copyright Clearance Center, Inc.

I am a stranger in this land

but this land is no stranger within me

Gunnar Ekelöf


Finally there was only a last remaining flame to die. The abuse heaped upon the girl, the blows raining down on her, the pain, the gagging stench, the humiliation, the disgust—she felt it less and less. But one flickering light wouldn’t leave her, a single hope that still burned when all others guttered.

A hope born of hopelessness. She had nothing left to lose. Only that tiny light, a wavering pinprick that she refused to give up.

Someone must know.

It was impossible. Cellphones were banned in the barracks in the forest. Of course. When one of the girls was caught with one, the men used a pair of bolt cutters to remove her fingers. Paper, pens, writing implements of any kind, communication of any kind, all forbidden—it was if they had stitched up her lips. She was silenced, muted, untongued.

The blind room, she named the foul, closet-sized cell where they kept her. No one could see in, no one could see out. What happened in the blind room went on out of sight, out of mind. The door opened and closed, making a crazy scraping sound. One man left, another entered. The scraping chafed upon her nerves like a dull knife.

She moved her fingers in the darkness, tracing words in the blank air. I was here, she spelled out. This happened.

Then the crippled old crone who fed the girl scraps, washed her when the men’s filth coated the girl’s skin, the nameless old woman, gruff and rough-handed, mostly mute herself, listened. Or not. The girl couldn’t tell. She couldn’t read the face of the other. Was it the girl’s own hope reflected there, like the light of the moon, which has no light of its own, but only shines with radiance from elsewhere?

My family, she whispered to the old woman. Please. I need them to know.

Earning a sneer and wave of a hand, as if she were a fly buzzing.

She lied to the crone. My mother. My father. I have a sister. Please. The girl’s cracked lips moved almost soundlessly.

Nothing. No glimmer of understanding, reflected or otherwise.

She would die. She stopped eating. Still the men would come. It didn’t matter to her anymore. Her ordeal was almost over.

On her last day but one, a miracle. The crone, her face twisted in fear, brought her a bar of chocolate wrapped in paper and tinfoil. A hoarse whisper: “Give me the wrapper when you are done.” Was there a knowing expression on the old woman’s face? The girl couldn’t tell. If there was one, it was lost amid the depthless wrinkles.

The girl bit off her nail, an already shredded, barely there fingernail, and used it as a pen. Melted chocolate stood for ink. Scratching out words no one would ever read.

Someone must know. I am lost. They stole me from the streets of Stockholm. A man with a black beard. This they did to me. And this.  I am used up and have become useless to them. Tomorrow I will deny them the pleasure of murdering me. Someone must know what happens here.

Signing the forgotten name, the one they had torn from her.


The crone came and took the wrapper away, crumpling it up as though it were trash. The girl never saw the old woman again.

Part one: The wandering bride

Songs are just words/ For those who are bitter to sing/ They sing to rid themselves of bitterness/ But the bitterness does not go away// Loring M. Danforth, Death Rituals of Rural Greece


Scandinavian Airlines Flight SK904 approached Stockholm’s Arlanda airport after an eight-hour trans-Atlantic journey from Newark. The red-eye left Veronika Brand thoroughly exhausted. She had not slept. Most of the other passengers took advantage of the long trip to check out, sleep masks in place. She felt alone in the darkened cabin. She hoped at least someone in the cockpit remained awake.

Tall, light-haired, thirty nine years old, Brand had no doubts about fitting in with the native population of Sweden. It was the land of her ancestors, at least on her mother’s side of the family, the Dalgrens. She had never before visited. Whatever bits and pieces she knew of the language had come from summers spent with her Swedish immigrant grandparents, who kept a farm in upstate New York. In her own mind, the affinity with the country was more theoretical than real.

Brand had found herself on a plane to Stockholm because of a series of unconnected events that had happened within a space of a few weeks back home.

Home. New York, well, New York was part of the problem. She had to get out. Recently her career as a New York City police detective had cratered spectacularly. Due to a chain of bad choices involving politically connected figures in the NYPD, she had been suspended after fourteen years on the force.

At the same time her job troubles were happening, Brand’s speed habit kicked itself up a few notches. She’d been juggling multiple Adderall scripts at once, as well as occasionally skimming off pills seized in drug busts. The medication was ubiquitous,

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