With its antique wood-paneled walls, excellent beer selection, and solid rotation of quality live music acts, Cranky Carl's Tavern in downtown Northshore attracted a clientele of mainly old hippies, Xennial hipsters, and mid-20s graduate students. A mainstay of the university bar scene, the venue pulled in enough to cover the rent and pay the staff well, but not quite enough to renovate the bathrooms.
Carl, founder and owner, had seen many young bartenders come and go in the tavern's fifteen-year lifespan. But Annie was different. A biochemistry doctoral student and a top-notch mixologist, her quick wit, easy-going manner, porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, and bosomy figure made her popular among customers. She stood barely five feet tall and probably weighed 120 pounds, soaking wet.
Annie was one of the few who didn't treat Carl like an old man, which, at fifty-two, he appreciated. He felt owning a bar in a college town kept him young, kept him on his feet. A husky former blues saxophonist with grayed temples and a deep, resonant voice, Carl enjoyed regaling customers with stories from his days as a Chicago session musician.
Carl closed the bar at the onset of the pandemic but opened a few months later for takeout service. His cornbread waffles, shrimp & grits, and classic fried chicken kept his business above ground for the year. He offered Annie a job in the kitchen or on phone orders, but she declined. She was busy enough in the research lab. Carl kept tabs on Annie online, but her social media posts consisted of her cats, #ootd, and food pictures. Annie would graduate soon, and Carl imagined she wouldn't be long for this town. She was almost certainly headed for bigger and better things. He was lucky to have known her.
With quarantine ending and the bar re-opening, Carl texted Annie, asking if she would stop by and say hi. She replied quickly: of course she would. An hour before opening. Carl was putting glasses away from the dishwasher. The front door shot open, slamming against the wall. "What in the world?" Carl shouted. It was barely 3:00 PM, too early for belligerent drunks to stumble in, particularly on a Monday. "Hey, you okay out there?"
"Whoops!" A peculiarly deep but somehow familiar female voice said. "Sorry about that, Carl! I don't know my own strength anymore!"
Squinting into the bright doorway from the dim bar, Carl made out a pigtailed silhouette in the entrance. He lowered, then raised his eyeglasses. "Annie?"
"Okay, try not to freak out."
Only her head appeared followed by a torso, rotated diagonally so her shoulders could pass through. She reached her long, lean arms inside, braced herself against the wall, and pulled herself through. Her slim hips, hardly large relative to her body, nearly spanned the width of the doorway and brushed the edges on either side as she slipped through. She bit her lip and grunted as she drew her legs—nearly as long as Carl was tall—in after her.
"Whew!" Annie said, adjusting her hair and glasses. "That was an ordeal. Can you tell I haven't been tall for very long?"
Annie's skirt had ridden up to her waist, exposing her legs and underwear. It took all of Carl's will to look away. "Um, Annie?"
"Come on, Carl, I know I've changed, but you haven't seen me in half a year. At least look at me."
Carl continued averting his eyes as he blindly gestured her way. "Annie. Y-your skirt."
"Look familiar? It's all that fits since I outgrew everything else I—OH SHIT!" Annie raised onto her knees and yanked her skirt down, her face flush with embarrassment. "Okay wow, this is not how I imagined this going." Looking up, Annie assessed the height of the room—particularly the ceiling fans—and opted to stay on her knees. "So, as I was saying, I outgrew almost everything I own, but since I was skinny to start with, I can still fit a 4XL top. Not sure how I feel about that."
Neither did Carl, who tried his best not to stare at her breasts—respectable D-cups at her previous height. They filled out the purple XXXXL tank like a crop top. Below, he recognized what had previously been a black floor-length maxi skirt that now wore as an above-the-knee miniskirt. Hanging from her wrist was a gold charm he remembered Annie once wore as a necklace.
"So, what do you think?"
"Annie, what in the hell? You gotta be at least—"
"Ten foot two, eyes of blue?" She drummed her manicured red fingernails on her cheek and batted her eyelashes. "Thanks for noticing!" Setting one hand on the ground, Annie slid to a seated position, grimacing as the floorboards creaked beneath her. Settled, Annie extended her long legs to the side, covering most of the space. "Okay, there we go. I won't even ask if you've cleaned this floor recently."
Carl made a deliberate effort to shut his gaping mouth. "What on God's green earth happened to you?"
"Excuse me?" Annie placed her hands on her waist and playfully pouted. "Are you saying I don't look good?"
Carl cleared his throat. "What I mean is, how did you get so bi—um, statuesque?"
Annie smiled, clearly eager to discuss the subject. "Okay, so you've heard of that new 'enhancement treatment' trend?"
Carl nodded. "A little. I read an article about it once."
"Basically, people are paying literally millions of dollars for unregulated and incredibly unsafe supplements that might make them grow, at most, two inches."
"Is that why everyone looks so tall these days?"
"Beats me. Before, everyone looked tall to me. Now, everyone is tiny. Anyway, our department has been researching how to do the same thing, cheaper, safer, and better."
"Well, I'll be damned. It blows me away what you young people can do with computers these days."
"More like, protein-based nanotech, controlled by computers."
Carl wasn't a science guy, so that didn't mean much to him. He shrugged. "Whatever you say."
"So, recently, we made a big breakthrough and the plan was to test on a couple of mice. But, there was an accident and we ended up testing on me instead."
"Looks like a successful test to me," Carl said. "You certainly can't argue with those results, but that's more than a couple of inches. How did they let that happen?"
Annie smiled sheepishly. "Technically, I let it happen. I was worried we'd under-estimated the growth factor. Since no one ever listens to me anyways, I went ahead and modified the parameters myself. Not to mention, I was alone in the lab when it happened, so I can't really blame anyone else." Annie paused, lost in thought for a moment. "But yeah, long story short, lab accident."
"Well, I'm sorry about that. You seem to be coping well."
"Oh, don't be sorry. This is awesome. Check me out!" Annie made a grand, sweeping gesture, proudly presenting her tremendous form. "I am large and in charge!"
"Damn impressive. So, you're feeling good about it?"
"Oh, Carl, you have no idea. It's a dream come true. I'm way more confident and sure of myself than when I was small."
"Small? I wouldn't say you were sm—"
"People would always talk over me, and interrupt me." Annie leaned towards Carl, casting him in her shadow. "It turns out, people pay attention when you're over twice their height!"
"Mmmhmm. I believe it."
"And it's weird for me, because I was used to only kids being this much shorter than me. Now I'm, like, the only adult in a world of children! I have to say, I'd recommend it to anyone. You'd try it if you could, wouldn't you, Carl?"
"Heh, no thank you," Carl said, patting his belly. "It's hard enough feeding me as it is. Also, I've always believed 'you grown up once, you grown up for good.'"
Annie sat up, placed her extended fingers together under her chin, and offered a flirty smirk she typically saved for selfies or bartending. "I'd say I grew up for the better."
"No disagreements here."
"And check this out! As if growing weren't cool enough." Annie reached a hand under a nearby pinball machine and lifted one end off the ground with merely a modest effort.
"Damn, girl, you ought to try out for the Olympics or somethin'."
Annie laughed, her voice booming in the small tavern. "Yeah. A fun side-effect of flipping off the square cube law. We're still trying to figure out why. This is pretty new science and we're having to make it up as we go."
Carl scratched his chin. "And, you said it was an accident?"
"I miscalculated the growth factor as linear, but it was logarithmic. I expected to grew six inches, but ended up growing sixty. Then again, I guess we're lucky I only grew this much. If I'd overestimated much more, I could have ended up with the whole city under my foot!"
"It's a good thing that didn't happen. That's a little too much Annie!" Carl noticed his mouth had gone dry and took a sip of water. "So, is this your new look from now on?"
"Well, they certainly can't shrink me back down. The question is, will I get any bigger?"
Carl frowned. "Why would you get any bigger?"
"Biological mutation, bad code in the nanotech, chemical reaction with my daily multivitamin. Any number of reasons. Heck, maybe the size change affected my brain and I go power-mad, bust into the lab, and zap myself again!" Annie laughed softly before trailing off. Carl noticed her vacant expression and waved his hand. "Hey Annie, you still there? Hello, Annie?"
Carl tossed a towel her way, and Annie yelped, startled back to attention. "Sorry! I got a little lost in my head there. It's been happening a lot lately."
"Well, you've gone through some big changes."
"Oh, this is only the beginning..."
"—of my journey. What's done is done. I'm ten feet tall." She shrugged. "I'll make the most of it."
"I always admired your outlook. Hey, did you want to stay for a drink?"
"Oh, no thanks, Carl. I just dropped by to say hi. I'm headed to campus to check on the lab. I haven't been allowed back since the accident."
"It was traumatic," Annie said quickly. "They're looking out for my mental health. I appreciate it but, as you can see, I'm totally fine. Better than ever, I'd say."
"Well, that's good to hear. You think they'll let you back in now?"
"It's not like they could stop me," Annie muttered, underestimating the volume of her voice.
"What was that?"
"They can't stop me from working. I'll just work from home anyways!"
"Ever the workaholic. Girl, you never change. Well, hey I gotta open this place up soon. Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you again soon."
Her red glossed lips spread into a wide grin. "Oh, you certainly will."
Carl winked. "You take care, Annie."
"You too, Carl." Annie scooted towards the door. Turning sideways again, she slid her shoulder through the doorway, then dropped to her hands and knees and crawled forward. There was a loud crack as her hips snagged in the frame. Annie cursed, twisted sideways, and dragged herself forward, her butt compressing as it squeezed through the frame. Outside, Annie crouched and peered back through the doorway. "Sorry about that, Carl!"
Carl waved her off. "I've fixed this door before and I'll fix it again."
"See you soon!" Annie said. Carl overheard a woman scream as Annie got to her feet and walked off. Looking down, he noticed his hand shaking. Just nerves, that's all. He poured himself a shot of DeMonterey gin to settle himself. It went down smoothly, and he smiled.
"Gonna be a good day," he said.