The jar of pennies made a disconsolate rattle as it disgorged its contents onto the threadbare carpet. He counted them quickly, and thick black eyebrows knitted together in a frown. Not enough.
Over to the sofa, where his salvation had been hidden previously under cushions fragranced with old cigarettes, and a dig through its bounty: a receipt, crumbs, more crumbs, then a twinkle in the dim bulb’s light. Once again the sofa had saved him, as it bequeathed unto him a forgotten pound coin.
He re-counted his stash, and the eyebrows arched up into a new expression that was very nearly happiness.
The corner shop was in the centre of the estate, and he rushed there now, down innumerable flights of stairs, almost forgetting that he’d have to climb them once his expedition was completed (the lift was out of order, the yellowed sign announcing this pointing to the age of the problem).
‘All right, pal?’ He was a regular here, and thus subjected to small-talk.
He nodded, thrusting over his money with a grunt that might have been a reply.
‘See you, mate, have a good one.’
The words trailed after him as he left like the smell of sulphur after a birthday wish, like the mockery he felt them to be.
A good one? He was cradling three litres of gut-rot cider in his arms, unwashed and unkempt, on a Monday evening. No, not a good one. But the misery of a Monday without said cider was too much to consider.
Out of breath from innumerable stairs, sweating out the last of last night’s gut-rot, he returned home and grabbed a glass that looked slightly less grubby than the others, filling it, sipping it, and sighing with the relief of a starving man at a banquet.
That was good. A good one.
Already feeling better, he was courageous enough to look over to the cupboard where Eddie lived.
Although he always knew Eddie was there – he put him there, didn’t he? – he felt like as long as he didn’t look, he could pretend he was alone in his flat and alone in his misery. With cider in his hand, he was better ready to acknowledge his companion.
Eddie. Fucking Eddie, with his perfect tarty lips and his well-oiled hair. Eddie with his manicured nails and his permanent smile which mocked him and made his life seem a joke. He hadn’t smiled in a long time, and he often wondered if that was because Eddie smiled too much.
A refill of the grubby glass, then another, and he found himself (as always) trembling with temptation to open the cupboard. Why? Why torture himself like this every night? Because he felt he deserved the feeling of deep inadequacy that the torturous looks bestowed.
The cupboard was in surprisingly good condition considering the general state of the rest of the flat, and the wood felt smooth and pleasant under his hand. He stood a few moments longer caressing it and inhaling the barest scent of varnish that lingered from long ago days of pride in his workmanship. He’d made this for Eddie, back when he had loved him.
Hours or minutes passed and there was only the scent, the memories, and the acidic burn of the cider as it chased down his throat. Then it was time to act.
A deep breath and he threw open the cupboard door like an accusation.
His red whore lips were curved in the ever-present smile that he had always worn, and his eyes were bright even in the dim light, like the bulb had decided to perk up for the occasion.
Eddie. Fucking Eddie.
The puppet he had lovingly crafted with his own hands all those years ago when the desire to entertain ruled him and he had been able to tolerate people and their smiles and laughter. Except he wasn’t a puppet now – now, he was Eddie, and Eddie lived only to remind him that he would never be as perfect as the thing he had created. He would never bring the same joy to others that Eddie once had, back when he could bear to manipulate the strings and make him dance and sing.
He felt tears burn behind his eyes and with a sudden, overwhelming anguish, he grabbed Eddie and threw him forcefully into the wall behind.
Eddie fell to the floor with an angry clatter, his strings matted like vagrant hair, followed by his creator and the sound of sobs confused with screams.
Danielle Matthews is a published writer from Manchester, UK. She thinks horror lies in bad spelling and poor punctuation, and lives for the written word. She lives surrounded by a vast hoard of books with her fiance near Manchester, and is scared of horses (don’t trust them!).