Two Stories by Hannah Woodvine: “Ire” and “Persistence”

Two Stories by Hannah Drury: "Ire" and "Persistence": Hannah Drury is a writer and poet from Brighton, England who loves speculative fiction and spoken word. Beyond her job as an English Teacher, she is embedded in the Brighton poetry scene, reaching the final of Hammer and Tongue Brighton’s 2023 slam. This is her first published fiction since childhood.


Knowing that this was the last waiting room I would ever visit filled me with a desperate, visceral panic. My thigh vibrated frantically against the seat, twitching with the ache to run back through the sealed aluminium doors; to feel on my cheeks even the feeblest ray of sun, which filtered down through the tainted clouds. The clock saw my panic and ticked mockingly, rebukingly at me; its cold hands curved in a metallic sneer. I tore my eyes away from it to gaze nonchalantly around the room, trying to feign calmness, boredom even. I couldn’t see any cameras, but they had long since stopped advertising their presence. Being watched was a guarantee now, not a possibility. Regardless, I couldn’t help resisting, searching desperately for a way to escape the inescapable.

The clock was amused by this.

The way it dripped with scorn made me think of a painting I had seen as a child at school, back when you could learn about things like art. I couldn’t remember its title, or the lesson that my gentle, curly-haired teacher had failed to teach us about it, while we ignored her, giggling, and gossiping under our breath. I could only recall the picture itself: the clocks dripping down a table, like blood from a gunshot wound, and how the sudden sight of it glowing on the screen had stopped me in my tracks, the secret note from my friend forgotten in my hand. I ached to make this clock melt like that, to stop it from laughing at me and from tick-tick-ticking away these last minutes.

For a moment, this blistering yearning overpowered the fear of what I knew waited for me when my name was called.

This fear was also forbidden. Heretical, even. Officially, days like these are nothing more than a fresh start. A tabula rasa. They always said those words oozing with the expectation of gratitude, as if we should thank them for wielding the erasers which wiped us clean. As if today were a liberation, not a robbery. Our memories, our differences, our desires, they were glitches which were corrupting the system of the world, a lacquer of grease and grime which jammed the cogs of society. Thinking of it like that was supposed to make things easier.

They didn’t say for whom.

When I received my notice a few weeks ago that I was due for Recalibration, I did try to think of it that way. I tried to forget that I used to be a word and not just a letter. I tried to see it as a squashed, sideways H, just another meaningless symbol. I wrote it over and over again until it stopped making sense, I reduced it to a doodle, a line and a dot, a dot and a line. It became a flower with all the petals plucked off, the stem and the stamen, she loves me, she loves me not. Sometimes it morphed into a person, with their head detached and floating away from them, weightless and empty like a balloon. I tried to make my head like that, vacant and vacuous. But I couldn’t stop the ‘I’ from jumping out at me in every word, from playing peekaboo on every shop window, from lurking in every television broadcast. So, I gave up. I let my fingers trace it absent-mindedly on my thighs, on tables, I whispered it in my head as a mantra on the bus, in the office, in the toilet. It pumped through my veins again now.

My fingers drummed unevenly against the underside of the fabric-coated chair. I relished the feel, tried to drown in the miniature royal-blue ridges of synthetic wool. My fingers tapped against a loose clump of fibres. They stopped suddenly, and without quite knowing why, a wave of exhilaration bloomed in my stomach. Slowly, cautiously, even though I knew the movement would be hidden under the chair, I pinched and rolled it into a ball between my thumb and forefinger. My heart raced with fervour, my breath quickening in my mounting excitement. I pulled it and felt the ball, my ball, coming loose, I heard the soft tear of nylon fibres, like the snapping of a neck. It was the sound of destruction and it made me hungry. With a rush of private, sadistic triumph, I flicked the clump of blue thread violently away from me; ‘Ha!’ I spat defiantly at the clock in my head, my lips curving into the slightest, most inconspicuous smirk. My blood hummed in my veins, calling ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ with each of my heartbeats, as I ran my finger over the void where the fibres had been, alive with the joy of my legacy, my indelible mark on the world. No matter what they did to me in there, this chair, if nothing else, was irrevocably different because of me, this me. It would stand forever as a relic from this version of myself, like a prehistoric cave etching, screaming into the abyss, to the generations to come. It was a primal, luxuriant joy.

It couldn’t last.

In the end, they didn’t even call my name. A cold, metallic voice whirred around the room, with no discernible source: “Ready to commence Recalibration. Patient may enter.” A door opposite me swung open.

“No,” I breathed quietly. “No. I’m not ready.”

“Ready to commence Recalibration. Patient may enter.”

“I said I’m not ready.” I screamed, my words bouncing, distorted off the pristine walls. I curled up into a ball on the chair, my chest heaving, my arms clinging to each other around my knees.

“Irrelevant. Ready to commence Recalibration. Patient will enter.”

“Please.” I begged, sniveling, without knowing who I was begging. “Please don’t do this.” I gasped for air, staring imploringly at the clock. “Do something,” I yelled at it. “Don’t just stand there looking at me!”

A metallic chittering approached from the darkness of the corridor which had unfolded in front of me. I thought of nails on a chalkboard, of axes gouging metal walls, of the needle on a record player scratching its path. I thought of home, the dew on the grass of our garden, the almond smell of my scented felt-tips, the stuffed bear I’d had as a child. I couldn’t remember its name. “Please, please, just a minute longer, just let me think.” Nothing in my life had ever been so important.

“Negative. Ready to commence Recalibration. Retrieving patient.”

The lights went out. I screamed into the void. It didn’t answer.


Two trainers walked softly through the black corridor. Five fingers absent-mindedly trailed along the wall, lightly feeling their way along. Her other hand swung nonchalantly by her side, occasionally brushing against her trousers. She stepped casually into the waiting room, pushing the door closed behind her as she entered. She made her way towards the exit, without registering the clock hung above her on the icy walls. Her feet carried her closer and closer towards the door, and as she left the room behind her, she crushed underfoot a small, insignificant bundle of blue fibres.


“The killer is among us,” the pastor said gravely, his eyes roaming over the pews, sparsely occupied by the uneasy villagers. “He, or she, is in this room, hearing my voice, breathing this air. Our air.” He paused to let the gravity of the situation seep into the bones of his congregation, along with the ever-present, creeping tendrils of mist. His voice began to rise, as if to drown out the anxious thrumming of heartbeats, the whispered prayers, the stench of fearful sweat. “This ends tonight. We will have no more death on Mortay Island. No more!”

The villagers broke out into a deafening mass of sobs, cheers and shouts of “no more!” Among the uproar, the pastor scanned the room. He allowed a few moments to pass, then held up a single finger. Silence fell instantly. He turned his hand to point at the heavy-set oak doors behind the crowd. “These doors will remain locked until the killer is found. Nobody will get in or out of this church until we are absolutely assured that he will never again strike fear into our hearts, never again rip our loved ones away from us.” His voice escalated into a roar. “Never again take our earthly lives! Never again! Never again!”

The townspeople joined his cry, chanting as one voice, one body, one mind. The pastor smiled with one side of his mouth, satisfied. He confidently stepped down off the stage, making his way toward the audience.

“Now,” he said quietly. The crowd hushed. “Does anyone here have anything they wish to confess,” he paused, looking up at the church ceiling, then continued. “Before God.” He gestured around at the room, “before your fellow man,” he cried, his voice booming around the damp stone walls. “Speak now and be redeemed! If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Silence rang out through the church like a funeral knell. The pastor sighed in exaggerated grief. “Very well.” He proceeded down the nave, away from the stage and towards the doors. Heads turned imploringly as he passed, families, wives and husbands waiting for his next word, for his reassurance. He discretely moved his hand under the black robes to his pocket and turned the match over and over in his fingers. He reached the end of the aisle, his feet were almost touching the door, splattered with mildew like flecks of blood. When he finally spoke, he kept his back to the villagers. “You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger; the Lord will swallow them up in His wrath, and fire will devour them.”

Their eyes fell onto the lit match between his finger and thumb, then to the hungry flames rapidly devouring the cloth hangings on the wall, the fire making its way to the thatched roof. They were stunned into silence. “Farewell, my lambs.” He said quietly, before lifting the heavy iron bolt, slipping out of the door with a flourish, and closing it behind him. He turned the key in the lock just as a clamour started to rise up from the other side of the walls. He took the padlock from his pocket, and clamped that on, for good measure.

With a swift, simple motion, he cast off his robes and left them in a pool by the door. The screams echoed behind him, fading into the silence as he left them all behind, embraced by the snaking arms of the mist.

Hannah Woodvine is a writer and poet from Brighton, England who loves speculative fiction and spoken word. Beyond her job as an English Teacher, she is embedded in the Brighton poetry scene, reaching the final of Hammer and Tongue Brighton’s 2023 slam. This is her first published fiction since childhood.

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