With its antique wood-paneled walls, prime beer selection, and rotation of quality live music acts, Cranky Carl's Tavern, in downtown Northshore, attracted a clientele mainly of mid-20s graduate students, old hippies, and Xennial hipsters. A mainstay of the university bar scene, the venue pulled in enough to cover rent and pay the staff well, but not quite enough to renovate the bathrooms.
Carl had seen many young bartenders come and go in the tavern's fifteen-year lifespan. Annie was different. A biochemistry doctoral student and a top-notch mixologist, her quick wit, easy-going manner, porcelain skin, rosy cheeks, and hourglass curves made her popular among customers. She also stood barely five feet tall and probably weighed 120 pounds, soaking wet.
Annie was among the few employees 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 had 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 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 headed for bigger and better things. He was lucky to have known her.
With quarantine ending and the bar ready to open its doors, Carl texted Annie an invitation to stop by and say hi. She replied quickly: of course, she would.
An hour before opening, Carl was emptying the dishwasher. Suddenly, the front door shot open and slammed against the wall. "What in the world?" Carl shouted. It was barely 3:00 PM, too early for belligerent drunks to stumble in, especially on a Monday. "Hey, you okay out there?"
"Whoops!" A peculiarly deep but somehow familiar female voice said. "Sorry, Carl! 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 a head appeared followed by a torso, rotated diagonally so her shoulders could pass through. She reached her lengthy arms inside, braced herself against the wall, and pulled. Her hips, while hardly large relative to her body, nearly spanned the width of the doorway and brushed the edges on either side. 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, at least look at me. I know I've changed, but you haven't seen me in half a year."
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 yanked her skirt down, her face flush with embarrassment. "Okay wow, this is not how I imagined this going." Annie assessed the height of the room—particularly the ceiling fans—and opted, evidently, 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 chest. Respectable D-cups at her previous height, her breasts filled out the purple XXXXL tank like a crop top. Below, he recognized what had previously been a black floor-length maxi skirt serving as an above-the-knee miniskirt. Hanging from her wrist was a gold charm he remembered she 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 a hand on the ground, Annie slid to a seated position, grimacing as the floorboards creaked beneath her. Settled, Annie extended her legs to the side, covering most of the space. "Okay, there we go."
Carl stared at her, his mouth agape. "What on God's green earth happened to you, girl?"
"Excuse me?" Annie placed her hands on her waist and playfully pouted. "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 pay 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. Blows me away what you young people do with computers these days."
Annie giggled. "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," Carl said. "You 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 underestimated 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 blame anyone else." Annie paused, lost in thought for a moment. "But yeah, long story short, lab accident."
"You seem to be coping well."
"Are you kidding? 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 twice their height!"
"Mmmhmm. I believe it."
"And it's especially weird for me, because I was used to only kids being this much shorter than me. Now, it’s like I’m 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 chuckled, 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. "I'd say I grew up for the better."
"No disagreement here."
"And check this out! As if being a giant isn’t cool enough." Annie reached a hand under a nearby pinball machine and lifted it off the ground with merely a modest effort.
"Damn, girl, you ought to try out for the Olympics or somethin'."
Annie laughed, her voice resonant in the small tavern. "Yeah. A fun side-effect of flipping off the square cube law. I’d explain more, but my research team is still working through all the whys and hows ourselves. 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 grow 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 can't shrink me. 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, burst 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 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?"
"It's not like they can stop me." Annie muttered.
"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 to the exit. She turned sideways again, slid her shoulders 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 peeked back inside. "Sorry about that, Carl!"
Carl waved her off. "I've fixed it 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. He noticed his hand shaking. Just nerves, that's it. He poured himself a shot of DeMonterey gin to settle himself. It went down smoothly, and he smiled.
"Gonna be a good day."