Katherine grimaced as she ducked herself down into the driver’s seat of her car the following morning. Uncharacteristically, she was running late for work, but at the moment, her tardiness was not at the forefront of her mind. Being the Office Manager for the successful and prominent company, A&W marketing, meant that Katherine did not have to worry about the common professional concerns of working for a strict boss who was always looking over her shoulder. Sure, Giovanni DeGlassio was technically her boss, since he was the CEO of the whole company, but he was rarely around. Aside from getting his daughter, Perona, the Assistant Office Manager position (for which, Katherine often wryly noted to herself, she was not qualified for), Mr. DeGlassio left the day-to-day workings of the company’s office to Katherine. So as she swung out of her driveway and drove towards her work, the last thing Katherine was thinking about was the fact that she was running fifteen minutes late.
She WAS thinking about the REASON why she was late. Katherine hadn’t ever had a worse night’s sleep in her entire life. After shrinking her one inch, with the strong concoction she had made on the stove, that girl…that…demon, Junko, had apparently disappeared.
“Now don’t you think that just because I’m not around for a bit that you can just, like, relax, ok?” Junko had told her with a cute little smile. “Whenever you don’t see me, that doesn’t mean I’m far away from you, Katherine. Just remember that…despite what your increasingly desperate and tortured mind might WANT to believe, I’m never, ever very far away. And I will ALWAYS show up again, sooner or later, just to see the progress you’ve been making in your slow, inevitable descent into the deepest, darkest, blackest pits of despair imaginable!”
Katherine hadn’t had any slightest inkling of an idea how to deal with this kind of giddy promise from this attractive, yet disturbing teenage girl. But a little while later, before she went to bed, she found that Junko had, indeed, appeared to have vanished. Katherine had slid into bed, hoping beyond hope that this “demon’s” appearance was simply a hallucination, brought on by her grief at the death of her husband, and the guilt she felt surrounding allowing Clayton to take his father’s place at the Asmodeus mansion. Junko’s terrible words echoed in her ears, about what Scarlet was going to do to her son: “That girl is going to torture him insane, you mark my words.”
Katherine had shivered, pulled her bed sheets up to her chin, and tried desperately to sleep. But even though Junko didn’t appear to be there in person, Katherine couldn’t stop thinking about her. All night long, she tossed and turned, fruitlessly attempting to get into a mindset that would allow her some peace, that would allow her to drift off into sleep. Once or twice, she got close, but she was never quite able to get there. Junko’s grinning face, or Junko’s serious face, or Junko’s pouting face, would always come up in her mind, staring at her or laughing at her miserable inability to sleep. One time, in a desperate attempt to prove to herself that this was all a grotesque mirage, Katherine had gotten out of bed, seized a tape measure from a drawer in the kitchen, and measured herself. Her heart sank into her stomach as she saw the truth. There was no doubt…she was no longer 5’8 — she had lost an entire inch, and how else but by Junko’s doing?
Katherine had barely gotten any sleep, and when she had come into the kitchen that morning, bleary-eyed and aching from the unproductive night, she was not at all happy to see Junko sitting on the counter, her legs dangling, as she sipped on a cup of coffee.
“J-Junko?!” stuttered Katherine, feeling a crushing sense of dread upon seeing the form of the teenage girl again. She had been hoping beyond hope that Junko would never again appear, and yet there she was now. But far from grinning and pouting cheerily like she had been doing the day before, this morning Junko appeared utterly despondent and reserved.
“What IS a name, anyway?” the girl muttered, her lips barely moving over the edge of her coffee cup, “Other than some halfhearted and pathetic attempt to define the ever-reproducing and mutating bunch of cells as something distinct and different, with a personality, with unique desires and hopes and dreams?”
The blond girl, her big pigtails bulging on both sides of her head, looked up at Katherine.
“It’s all a bunch of slosh…that’s what it is,” said Junko quietly, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “A grotesque mis-mash of chemicals all in motion, always reacting, reacting, reacting with one another…until that day, that moment, when it all ends with a dull whimper, and anything you thought of yourself before vanishes like smoke in the wind. What’s the use, Katherine? What’s the use of it at all?”
“A-are you…what are you talking about??” asked Katherine, becoming alarmed at the strangely depressing and heavy words that were plodding out of the teenager’s mouth. She could feel herself clenching up inside — the girl’s words were already starting to have an effect on her.
“Oh get WITH it, mama bear!” laughed Junko haughtily, shaking the great mane of her hair as she proceeded to drink down the rest of her coffee, slamming her empty mug down on the counter as she hopped lightly off it. “There’s only one way to tackle the day at hand, and that’s with a spruced-up, extra-special, lovingly-prepared, delectable-beyond-belief cup o’ Joe! Here ya go, Katherine!”
Katherine blinked blankly, having no clue what to make of Junko’s sudden and unexpected mood shift. But there it was — the girl was holding out a fresh mug of piping-hot coffee, and Katherine reached for it almost instinctively. At the last moment, however, she had remembered what had happened the previous day, and drawn back.
“WHAT!? This blithering human dares to refuse coffee from the Queen HERSELF!?” thundered Junko, advancing on Katherine with the mug in her outstretched hand.
“I…I j-just…I don’t wanna…g-get smaller again!” exclaimed Katherine, backing into a wall as she held her hands up in surrender. “L-last time I ate something y-you gave me…”
“Can you even BEGIN to understand,” said Junko, snobbishly, turning her nose up, “How RIDICULOUS you look right now, trying to save yourself? One way or another, it’s happening, Katherine.”
“Wh-what’s happening, Junko?” asked Katherine, terrified.
“I already told you, GOSH!” burst out Junko grumpily, shaking her head. But a single moment later her eyes were wide again and sparkling, a bright smile on her face. “Your gloriously agonizing descent into the deepest trenches of despair imaginable!”
She shook the full mug at Katherine, who was completely at a loss for how to deal with this girl. She suddenly realized that she was already running a good deal late…and the coffee DID smell good. She was too tired to keep on resisting; what did it matter, anyway, if she shrunk a little more? Maybe if she gave this…this demon, or whatever it was, what it wanted, then she could get her height back at some point in the future. For the moment, though, her sleepless night, and the pressing reality of a day’s work, came together, and Katherine took the coffee mug from Junko, quickly drinking it down. When Katherine had then turned around for a second, and then turned back, the girl had vanished once again. Katherine shook her head…what on earth was all of this about? But she had to admit, it WAS delicious coffee.
Now in the car, on the way to work, Katherine found herself unable to make sense of anything that was happening. Was all of this her…punishment!? For leaving Clayton with Kazehana and Scarlet!? And if it was, then did that mean…that everything was hopeless now? That she was going to just shrink down, smaller and smaller and smaller, as she descended into despair and lost everything that she had worked so hard to build up!? For most of Clayton’s life, she had been a single mother, abandoned by her husband, and STILL she had managed to claw her way to the top of A&W Marketing. She was the one who had restructured the whole company office so that everything ran smoother, and consequently, SHE was the one who ran everything around there! And her hefty salary reflected that. She had overcome so much adversity to get to where she was now, but the downside, of course (as she was realizing now), to all of her accomplishments, was that she had so much to lose.
‘But I’m NOT going to lose it,’ she thought to herself, gritting her teeth as she pulled into A&W’s parking garage, swiping her premium parking pass on the way in. ‘I don’t know who this “Junko” girl thinks she is, or what she thinks she’s capable of, but if her goal is to shrink me down, and make me give in to despair, well…she picked a tough customer in Katherine Williamson, let me tell you!’
Katherine’s mental pep-talk did have the effect of improving her mood slightly, but even as she strode confidently onto the main floor of her office from the elevator, she wasn’t able to hide the bags under her eyes.
“Oh what’s up Katherine…uhm, heheh, I mean good morning,” piped up Perona DeGlassio from her office, which being the Assistant Office Manager’s, was adjacent to Katherine’s. Katherine inwardly rolled her eyes as she halted her progress towards her desk. She liked Perona fine as a person, really she did. The 5’4 skinny blond was harmless as far as her general demeanor went, although, as Katherine never failed to notice, her attitude around the office was always a bit too casual. But what did Katherine expect, after all, from the daughter of the CEO? As a professional colleague, though, Perona was almost no help to Katherine whatsoever. In almost every practical sense, Katherine knew that she didn’t really have a working assistant at all. Perona tried to do a good job sometimes, but, as with every truly nepotistic appointment, she was simply in over her head.
“Morning, Perona,” answered Katherine, sticking her head around the side of Perona’s open door. She knew the answer to her question before she even asked, but her question came out as more tired-sounding than she had intended: “How are those client charts coming along? Think I might be able to look at em’ before the end of today?”
“Ehhhhh….” replied Perona, looking to the side and grinning sheepishly, “I, uh…maaaayybe let’s just say tomorrow, huh?”
“Tomorrow,” repeated Katherine, blinking. She didn’t want to start the morning off on too much of a negative note, but she really did need to somehow get it across to Perona that this was a time-sensitive assignment.
“Yeeeeah, um, I know you said you wanted them by today, haha,” chuckled Perona, reddening slightly as she looked up at her boss, “But…well, I maybe got a little distracted yesterday, and I, like, SWEAR that I haven’t been putting it off, or something…but…heheh, uh, yeah, another day or two would be best, I think.”
“Just…ok, we can work with one more day, ok?” said Katherine, taking a deep breath. “But let’s really try and make the deadline this time, alright?”
“You got it Katherine,” smiled Perona, but her smile dropped a little after she had actually taken a good look at her manager. She squinted her eyes up at Katherine as her eyebrows creased slightly together. Katherine felt a sting of self-consciousness.
“What?” she asked abruptly, causing Perona to blink.
“Uh…n-nothing, it’s just…are you feeling ok today?” Perona asked innocently. “You…uh…you look like you, like…didn’t sleep at all or something.”
“Well I didn’t,” replied Katherine, a little shortly, inclining her head slightly. She was only 40 years old, and would have been considered “beautiful” by any standard definition, but that didn’t mean that she appreciated it when other people pointed out physical imperfections…especially if it was someone like Perona. Katherine had always been secretly envious of Perona’s mixed ancestry. Perona was a natural blond, but her Italian ancestry had given her a slightly-olive skin complexion which went together strikingly well with her blond hair. And with Perona, who always had this light, carefree attitude, the effortlessness of her appearance always seemed to go along with the effortlessness of her own existence in general.
“I had a…bit of a challenging day yesterday,” Katherine continued, arching her eyebrow down at her assistant manager.
“Oh well…haha, uh, like, yeah, some days are good, some days are bad!” chuckled Perona.
“Yes, well…ok, let’s have a productive day, alright?” said Katherine, making it a point to turn her voice into the upper register a bit at the end, to signify that she was meaning to sound friendly.
“Totally Katherine, yes!” replied Perona enthusiastically. “Though, I, uh…I hope you don’t mind…”
“Don’t mind what?” asked Katherine, leaning slightly against Perona’s door frame. She was really doing her best not to get annoyed this early on, but right now, all she wanted to do was get to her desk and start working so she could forget about all the stuff that had happened the day before.
“Well my niece…uh, you know, like I mentioned to you before, has been having some issues,” began Perona.
“Oh…yeah, right...sorry to hear that,” said Katherine. She remembered hearing about Perona's niece, Remilia, struggling with her studies in college...she was an extremely smart girl, but she had apparently been having some behavioral trouble.
“That’s ok, that’s ok,” said Perona, waving her hand casually. “She’s fine…just, uh, you know…my sister's out of the country and...and we thought it might be best to give her daughter a little break and let her come stay with me for awhile so she can, uh..."
“Hey, I’ve got a name you know, auntie!” came a bright, chipper voice from behind Katherine. She immediately jumped, being startled by the sudden sound, but also by the clear energy in the voice. Turning around, Katherine found herself almost face-to-face with the fresh, vigorous visage of a young girl, someone whom she had met on a few occasions, the latest being a couple months ago. Katherine blinked, and wasn’t able to hide her wide-eyed expression: she knew that Perona’s niece was 18 years old, but the teenager's confident expression belied her young age. And...Katherine was puzzled...Remilia seemed taller...a LOT taller, actually; even though Remilia had seemed quite short before, the top of the young girl’s head was right at Katherine’s eye-level now.
“Remilia!” Katherine exclaimed, the surprise evident in her voice. “I…y-you’ve…you’ve grown a TON since I saw you last!”
“Well yeah, the doctor says I’m hitting a growth spurt,” said the teenager proudly, thrusting out her nascent chest. “I just hit 5’3 last week, apparently, so screw all those people who said I was done growing!”
“That’s…wow, yeah, that’s impressive!” responded Katherine. It was impossible not to smile around Remilia. In just about every respect, despite her recent behavioral issues in college, she was a “golden child.” She had a flowing mane of blond hair that framed a wonderfully cute face. What really made Remilia stand out, though, was her poise and self-confidence. That was why Katherine had been able to easily remember her name.
“Remilia is VERY proud of her recent growth spurt,” chuckled Perona from her desk. “All through high school she had always hated being short. And who knows, Remilia, maybe you’ll even REALLY start growing and catch up to those boys who are so into you, haha!”
“Auntie,” said Remilia, turning her head sideways as her dark brown eyes narrowed, cross-examining Perona, “What are you talking about? Most of the boys at my college are TOTALLY shorter than the girls! And me? Haha, I’m WAY taller than most of those tiny wimps…ESPECIALLY the ones that have crushes on me!”
“Oh is that so?” came Perona’s amused chuckle. “How about that, huh Katherine?”
But Katherine wasn’t listening to the conversation anymore — just hearing Remilia talk about her height, and the girls being taller than the boys, made her mind shoot back painfully to the previous day. A snapshot of that gigantic maid Alaina…and the huge, imposing figure of Kazehana looming over her…and in Katherine’s mind, over and over, turned the phrase: ‘buried in a matchbox…buried in a matchbox.’ Her heart seized up inside her, and she broke out into a cold sweat. Junko was standing there, all of a sudden, right behind Remilia.
“Isn’t it such a prescient paradox,” said Junko, her big eyes wide as she stared forward expressionlessly at Katherine, “How a young girl can effortlessly convey so much truth about human sexuality…and yet at the same time, if you asked her about the birds and the bees, she’d get all blushy and would hardly be able to tell you a damn thing?”
“What are you talk—” began Katherine out loud, about to get angry at Junko, but the first words had hardly left her mouth when she immediately realized that Remilia had neither seen nor heard Junko at all. The pigtailed demon had spoken clearly enough, and yet, Remilia hadn’t heard her at all. Katherine turned in place to look at Perona, who was staring at her with a slightly puzzled expression. Clearly, Perona hadn’t seen her either. But then Katherine turned back toward Remilia again, and there again was Junko, standing stock-still behind, her face still unnervingly expressionless. Katherine quickly realized that she couldn’t let anyone know that she was seeing Junko, and she made an effort to recover:
“I—I mean…heheh, uh…I bet…I bet all those boys are just chasing you, huh, Remilia?”
“Eh, whatever,” said Remilia lazily, looking at her manicured fingernails. “There’s much better stuff to do than mess around with boys.”
“Oooooo, now THIS little firecracker knows what she’s TALKIN’ about!” cackled Junko, going up behind her and miming the act of messing up Remilia’s hair. “Yaaaaaaaas, qwwweeeeeeen! You GO girl! Gettin’ started on the right path earlyyyy!”
“I…I, uh,” stuttered Katherine, starting to breathe a little heavily as her heart began beating noticeably faster in her chest. The cold sweat that had broken out on her skin felt colder and wetter still.
“What?” asked Junko innocently, looking searchingly at Katherine. “What’s the matter there? Something wrong, hrrmmm? Just had some uncomfortable little flashbacks there a second ago, didn’t you? Guilty conscience, much!?”
“Katherine…?” asked Perona, her voice tinged with concern behind her, “Are you sure you’re…feeling ok?”
“Yeah, are you suuuuuure?” taunted Junko, seemingly going through Remilia’s body as she strode up to Katherine directly. “Because…I think you’re getting shorter.”
“N-no…” said Katherine out loud, feeling a stab of fear as she saw Junko’s face rising slightly above her own. In the background, Remilia was looking bigger as well. Katherine shut her eyes for a moment as she backed harder into the door frame.
“Yeah, DEFinitely shorter,” whispered Junko’s playful voice in her ear. “Oh, and smaller too.”
Katherine’s clothes certainly felt looser around her. She abruptly opened her eyes. Junko wasn’t there anymore; Katherine found herself staring at the slightly-concerned face of Perona, who had gotten up from her desk and come over to inspect her boss. There was no question: the 5’4 Perona and the 5’3 Remilia looked much bigger to Katherine than they had before. It would have been subtle to anyone else, but to Katherine, who was looking out for these kinds of things, it was more than obvious. The top of Remilia’s head, before even with Katherine’s eyes, was now definitely higher, about the height of her forehead. And Perona, who at 5’4 had been even closer to Katherine’s height before…well, Katherine could tell that she was still taller than her, but only by a smidgen. Katherine could have sworn, too, that Perona’s figure looked…could it be…a little fuller!? She had always looked skinny, fit, and healthy, but now…Katherine couldn’t help but think that she was looking at some actual curvy definition around Perona’s hips. And her ass…?! Was that her ass, peeking around behind the curve of her upper thighs there? Katherine couldn’t tell for sure, but it certainly looked like Perona had gained a little weight. Remilia, too, looked a bit fuller than before…with slightly larger breasts and…a little bit of a bubble butt, starting to poke out there!?
‘No,’ thought Katherine to herself, taking a deep breath as she fought to regain control, ‘There’s no way….no WAY that Junko is…taking my size and…and giving it to them. That’s…that’s just crazy…she can’t do that! That can’t happen! I’m just seeing things now.’
“Katherine?” ventured Perona, peering closer at her.
“I’m sorry…I’m sorry,” said Katherine, trying to push the discombobulation out of her voice. “I just…haha, I think I need to just sit down at my desk and…maybe get a drink of water and…start working. Gotta get out ahead of the day, you know?”
“Oh sure…sure!” said Perona, nodding. “Remilia, get Ms. Katherine some water, ok?”
“Ok auntie,” answered Remilia, but before she turned to leave, she narrowed her gaze at Katherine, and with a jolt, Katherine both saw and FELT Remilia’s eyes going up and down her body, as if she was taking stock of what had just happened. Katherine knew that she had just shrunk again, but surely…surely it was subtle enough for them not to have noticed it!? But the way Remilia was looking at her, in that deliberate, searching way, made Katherine think that the clever teenager had indeed seen something. She had no way of knowing, however, and a moment later was sitting down at her desk, breathing a sigh of relief that she was alone once again. She looked around her office for signs of Junko, but she didn’t seem to be anywhere.
Katherine turned on her computer and put her face in her hands as she waited for the machine to boot up. She had just gotten to work, and already she felt totally exhausted. Even just thinking about the horrible events of the previous day had been enough to sap most of her energy. And she had the dreadful feeling that it was all just beginning. She looked down at her arms…her wristwatch, which had been tight earlier that morning, was now slightly loose. She tightened it in a flash of anger.
‘Fine,’ thought Katherine savagely to herself, ‘If this is the way Junko wants to play me…FINE. I can take it. Bring it on, bitch.’
A light tap at the door brought Katherine back from her thoughts. Remilia was there with her water.