Adam Sweetfield-Zheng had a problem.
It greased the stairwell before he went down it for school in the morning. It stuck out its legs to trip him as he passed it and tied bits of string across the bottom of his bedroom doorway. It even shut the mirrored doors between the dining room and the kitchen that Adam’s parents always, always left open and waited for him to walk into them. Adam found its footprints everywhere, but it never owned up - just sat harmlessly when Adam whirled around to try to catch it in the act.
But the worst part was that the problem lived in his house.
His living room, in fact.
“You think your coffee table is trying to kill you?” Jamie asked, her brow furrowing. “How long have you had this theory?”
“About a week,” said Adam. “But I think it’s been going on for maybe another week before that.”
“About a week?!”Jamie burst out. “Adam, you need to tell someone about these problems as soon as they arise! These things can get more dangerous the longer you let them alone!”
“I sort of thought I was imagining things,” Adam said lamely. “And my mum really likes that table. We just got it for her and my dad’s anniversary.”
“Where from?” Jamie asked.
“Ikea,” Adam replied.
Jamie sucked in a deep breath of air and exhaled through her mouth. “Hoo boy. This is serious.”
“What’s so serious? Lighten up,” said Michelle, striding into Jamie’s study. “Jamie, Adam, dinner’s ready. Mum and Dad are waiting to start, and I finally got Ellie to go to bed.” She leant down and kissed Jamie on the cheek.
Adam turned red and looked away. Public displays of affection were fine coming from people you didn’t know, but with parents and people who were nearly your parents, it was just weird.
“Oh, am I embarrassing you, Adam?” Michelle asked innocently. Throwing her arms around her wife’s shoulders, she pulled her in for an enormous smacker smooch.
Jamie pushed her away. “Michelle, stop that. This is… urgent. Adam’s got some animated furniture in his house and it’s trying to do him in.”
“Oh hell,” said Michelle. She looked sharply at Adam. “I mean, oh brother. Do you want me to blow it up for you?”
“You can’t,” Jamie snapped. “I had to deal with an enchanted hope chest in Slovakia, and once it locked on to a target, nothing and no one could stand in its way but the target. The coffee table won’t attack anyone but Adam if they let it alone, but it’ll obliterate anyone else who tries to destroy it. Adam’s the only one who can hurt it now.”
“But why does it want Adam?” Michelle wondered.
“That’s a good question,” said Jamie. “It would make the most sense if he was the first person in his house to touch it. Is that true, Adam?”
“Mum let me open the package,” Adam said in despair. He had been so excited to use her folding knife on the cardboard box, and now look where it had got him.
Jamie nodded. “That makes sense. Now. Do you remember Ishikawa-Mookerji style combat?”
“Of course,” said Adam. “Why?”
“You’re going to have to put it to use.”
Adam fumbled the door open with one gloved hand as the other rested on the hilt of his short sword. After a week spent training with the sword and his quistaff, Adam felt as ready as he’d ever be to face down the card table. Also, he didn’t think he could take one more night in the same house as baby Ellie.
I just have to knock it down, he reminded himself, pulling the sword out of its sheath with both hands and holding it out in front of him like a ward. Or chop it up. Or… whatever. Adam crept through the front hall, the dining room, and finally into the living room. The coffee table crouched in front of the old blue sofa, a white plastic rectangle of malevolence stacked with coasters and hardcover books. Adam stared at it for a few moments, and it stared back at him, both waiting to see who would make the first move.
Then the coffee table began to advance, its legs creaking as they moved. Adam swung his sword. It glanced harmlessly off the table’s front leg, and he drew it back for another blow. This time, it hit the tabletop, but the table somehow compressed itself and snapped the blade in two.
Adam staggered back. His right arm screamed in pain. A coaster whizzed past his left shoulder, and he realized that the card table was flinging the books and things on top of it at him.
The coaster shattered on the wall behind him. Adam ducked and dodged as three graphic novels and a glass of water came flying at various parts of his body. And then the barrage stopped.
He opened his eyes all the way, finding that they had been half shut against the projectiles. The card table was crouching, curled in on itself like it was the one being attacked. Adam reached behind him for his quistaff, undid the holster, and brandished the weapon for a second bout. Just as the far coil began to glow red, he took one cautious step forward.
He hurtled through the void, his eyes shutting again involuntarily. Adam didn’t know why he had thought he wanted to take down that table anyway. All he wanted - all he thought he’d ever want - was to come to a stop.
And, suddenly, he did.
Adam blinked. He was hovering high above his house, now engulfed in a cloud of mauve-green smoke. The table must have been trying to blast him to death. If the enchanted training pads he was wearing hadn’t arrested his fall… Adam shuddered to think what would have happened.
A black speck down below careened toward the cloud, clearing smoke away as it went. Wait a minute, Adam thought. He recognized that head of black hair - it was his father!
“Dad!” Adam cried. If his dad kept using his magic continuously like that, pretty soon he’d collapse from exhaustion. And Adam didn’t know what that smoke would do to an unconscious person, but he was sure it wouldn’t be good.
Now Mum, Jamie, and Michelle were streaking across the green after Dad. There was only one way to end this.
Adam spun the quistaff coil down toward his ruined house and pictured the coffee table. “Lock on,” he whispered, and braced himself.
The descent was slow at first, but it accelerated until Adam felt like a comet entering Earth’s atmosphere. Air reeled past his face, dragging tears from his eyes. The cloud beneath him grew and grew in his field of vision until it enveloped him completely. He couldn’t see any more. He could barely breathe.
The impact jarred every bone in his body, but at least it cleared the smog away. Adam looked down. The coffee table had been reduced to a swath of white powder under the quistaff buried in it.
“Oh good,” Adam mumbled.
He passed out.
Adam awoke in the guest bedroom at Jamie and Michelle’s house. Someone was sitting in the chair by the bed. Someone with bristly black hair and a blue wool sweater and a worried frown. Someone - his dad!
“Dad,” Adam croaked.
“Oh, sweetie,” Dad said, reaching over and enfolding him in a bear hug.
When he finally let go, Adam asked, “Where’s Mum?”
“Downstairs. She feels awful about all of this,” said Dad. “Thinks it’s her fault for buying that f - that stupid table.”
“It’s not her fault!” said Adam. “If you’re going to blame anyone, blame me. I should have told someone before the table got so powerful.”
“No one blames you, sweetie,” Dad said firmly. “You did wonderfully.”
“Of course. That quistaff move was really something special. I just hope you never have to put yourself in danger like that again.”
That reminded Adam of something. “Um - how’s the house?”
Dad pulled a face. “Pretty bad. We may have to move.”
Adam thought about this. “Well, at least now we know,” he said. “Never shop at Ikea again.”
Adam’s dad guffawed. It wasn’t even funny, but Adam started to chuckle too, and pretty soon they were both laughing like they’d never, ever stop.
In the original version of this story, I gave the characters names from Harry Potter as placeholders, and the coffee table started out as a card table. If you see any inconsistencies in the characters' names or the description of the table, that's why.