Greg's working the holiday rush when he comes down with a swelling case of dragon pox. Mature.
There were only two hours left in the Christmas Eve shift, but Greg was fading fast. Every sniffle he made was thick and glorpy, and he could feel the pressure sloshing around in his sinuses, squeezed against his forehead. If he'd felt like this when he woke up, he would have just called in sick. Now he was dreaming of collapsing on the couch with a big cup of hot cocoa as soon as he got home.
Between customers, he ducked beneath the register, rummaging for another tissue, but the box was empty. When he stood back up, his head throbbed from the sudden change of altitude. He leaned against the counter and glanced around behind the lanes. No sign of his shift manager.
Greg sniffed. His nose tickled. He screwed up his face, trying to hold the sneeze at bay. He sucked in a small breath, then a deeper one, then even deeper, twisting aside at the last moment to keep himself from sneezing directly on the conveyor belt.
With a great sproing a long yellow horn popped from his forehead. It snapped out straight and narrow then bounced back, curling its tip and spreading out thick at the base. The horn was about as long as his forearm and encircled along its length with small ridges. With the weight of his head suddenly canted to one side, he staggered to the left, bumped up against the divider behind him. Another sneeze was brewing, too quickly to do anything to stifle it.
A horn sprung from the other side of his head and smacked against his skull as it rebounded. Greg let out an unsteady groan and rubbed his hand across his forehead, massaging the broad bases of his horns where they'd pushed the skin aside, and his swollen brow, bulging thick and protruding from all of the pent-up pressure. The weight of his horns was just one more source of dull throbbing for his head.
"Bless you," a woman said, setting her things out on the conveyor belt. Greg just wanted to go home, but he smiled politely and said, "Thanks," then began to scan her things. Two sweaters, a bottle of sparkling cider, cheddar cheese, club crackers, salami. Grab the receipt, stick it in the bag. "Happy holidays." Try not to sniffle in front of the customer.
Once she had left with her bags, Greg folded his arms and leaned against the counter, then reached up to scratch absently at his horns. They were large and weighty, especially on his normal human-sized head. Around their bases, where the skin was squeezed back, there was a little crease where horn met forehead. That groggy dazed feeling he got when sick had settled around his head. He was on automatic, just dreaming of being able to put his head down. Comfy couch cushions, a plush pillow—he'd settle for anything as long as it was big and soft.
His eyelids drooped sleepily. He imagined bundling himself up in so many blankets he was just a big warm mound. Mm, big and soft...
Greg sniffed, then blinked and sniffed harder and wriggled his nose. Another sneeze was coming on. He rose back from the counter, sucking in rising gasps, his mouth hanging open. Lifting an arm, he clamped it over his mouth to muffle his sneeze.
Bw-boing! His belly bumped against the counter and bounced him back into the divider behind him. His stomach churned and gurgled and wobbled heavily while the hem of his shirt began to ride up along his bloating belly. Plastered back against the low wall, Greg yanked his shirt back down, but it was like trying to squeeze a wool sweater over a swelling balloon. It just slipped right back up over the rounded bulge of his stomach.
He pushed his hands down against his stomach, but they sunk easily into his skin, which gave way with a strange elasticity and bounced back when he lifted his hands. Pulled taut, the surface of his skin had a glossy sheen to it. Thighs pressed together, squeezing with both hands, his eyes rolled back and a heady groan slipped from his throat.
Finally, he had to let go. It was just too tender, and the constant kneading of his hands made him feel far too warm and dizzy. The slow swelling showed no signs of stopping. Wary of that self-conscious, queasily pleasant feeling, he took a small step back every thirty seconds or so, trying to keep from squashing his navel up against the back of the counter.
The next customer had already rolled up with a big cartful of things, from socks and snack bars and chew toys to holiday-themed mugs and scented candles. Greg pursed his lips and tried to focus and tried not to grunt when his belly bumped against the counter in the midst of bobbing between the scanner and the bags. The tighter his skin pulled, the more a magenta-pink color emerged from underneath, and the more he could trace the creases of the scales running lengthwise across his stomach.
Big and soft, big and soft kept echoing in his mind. The constant jostle and wobble as he moved around made him want to lie down, to sprawl out on the bed or the couch with a blanket tossed over his midsection.
The woman stooped down beneath her cart. "Oh, I've got some dog food in the bottom—here, you can beep it," she said, hauling a huge bag up into her arms.
Greg grabbed the scanner gun and stretched his arm out toward the barcode, but it wouldn't register. On his tiptoes he leaned closer, wiggling his arm up and down, but still nothing. Biting his lip to stifle any stray noises, he squashed himself against the counter, squeezing his belly tight until the scanner finally bleeped. A gurgling bulge rippled up through his body. He grunted, his jaw went slack, and his tongue flopped out thick and pink and tapered and several inches longer than it should have been. He jerked back and snapped his jaw shut, and quickly finished ringing them up.
Receipt in the bag. A slightly drooly, "Happy holidayth." Greg kept himself from panting for air until she'd left the checkout lane. Then he let his tongue flop out and took deep, stuffed-up breaths.
The edge of his belly leaned against his thighs. Its sheer size had popped open the button on his slacks and undone the zipper. The weight was insistently round, hanging off of him like a taut balloon strapped to his front no matter how he pushed and squashed and squeezed it, and It sent dizzy shivers running up his spine if he rubbed it too much. Greg tugged up the edge of his shirt to watch the purple-pink scales stretching through his skin.
Leaning against the counter, he cradled his cheek in one hand and sniffled, then picked up his head and looked around for his shift manager again. Still nowhere to be seen. Probably she was busy elsewhere in the store, but she'd be upset if he just left early without telling her.
A tickle crawled up Greg's nose. He twisted his face from side to side, trying to work it out, but it rose too quickly. His head was already tipping back, he was already breathing in and then—
A few sparks fluttered out in front of his face. Flopping over the seat of his pants, a stubby tail sprouted from the base of his back, with pink scales along its underside and green along its top.
More sparks this time, and a faintly smoky smell that lingered on the back of Greg's tongue. His tail sprung out straight and then flopped down, spilling from his back until its tip was level with his ankles. At its base, it was at least a foot in diameter. Where scales met skin, the skin was pushed back, squeezed up against itself. The bulging mass of his tail hung heavily behind him, tugging his center of gravity backward, though at least It roughly balanced out his swollen belly.
Greg's eyes fluttered. His lips peeled as he tipped his head back and sucked air through his teeth. His hands clutched the edge of the counter. He reared back, then jerked forward and let out a thunderous "AAH-CHOO!" A short flash of flame flickered from his mouth.
His tail dropped like a rock. With a thud so loud it shook the register, it shot out from his back and hit the floor. The force was so great that it shot Greg up into the air, propped up on his fattening tail and shooting upward. His head slammed horns-first into the ceiling and drove their sharp points straight through the drywall. The growth of his tail halted as suddenly as it started. He was left hanging there, swinging his legs in the air several feet above the counter.
Dangling from the ceiling made him even more acutely aware of the straining weight of his belly. Bulging outward, round and taut and scaly, both it and his tail were dragging him back down, but their combined weight wasn't enough to pull his horns free. He planted both hands on the ceiling tile and pushed, trying to dislodge himself. His body began to stretch down lower, but his head didn't move. Instead his neck grew. Like a piece of taffy, it pulled longer and longer, spreading his skin taut and translucent against the green-and-pink scales beneath.
By wiggling his head from side to side, at last his horns slipped free and he fell back down behind the counter. The many more joints in his neck creaked and popped as he untangled himself from his fat tail. If he looked straight up (and saw the divots he'd left in the ceiling) he had an extra two feet of height, but his head naturally leaned forward in a serpentine sort of curl.
While his fat tail wasn't tender like his belly, it still took up quite a bit of space, leaving him much less room to move around, especially with its coils piled up on the floor beside him.
Anther customer was unloading their basket onto the conveyor belt. Greg gave them a sheepish smile, wondering if they'd seen him get stuck on the ceiling. As he checked them out, he kept having to stifle groans from grazing his belly against the counter and hike up his pants against the constant downward pressure of his stomach and his tail.
Two cans of chow mein noodles, a bag of celery, boneless chicken breasts, and a jug of cranberry juice. Receipt in the bag. "Haah—aah-achoo!"
Greg ducked to one side and blew a flurry of sparks from his nose. The force of the sneeze pulled his face like a rubber band, tugging his mouth and nose out taut, then snapping them back against his skull. He recoiled, blinking cross-eyed down at the rounded tip of his snout with a pair of wide-set nostrils poking from either side.
Another sneeze hit him a moment later. His snout stretched out and bounced back again, settling further from his face, even more round and bulging. His cheeks had puffed outward from the impact of his snout and were now covered in green scales, speckled with pink spots. A pair of ears like frills flopped out from behind his cheeks.
Dragging his arm across his nose, Greg snorked back some snot and patted the big green snout at the end of his muzzle. His teeth had gotten all jostled up, and now poked up sharp and jagged from his jaws. Dazed and fascinated, he reached up and grabbed his snout with his hand, wiggled it around, and tried to squish it back against his face—but doing so only make his cheeks bulge out more, so he let go and let his muzzle spring back to its full length.
In the lull between customers, Greg took a moment to examine himself. From his chin down to the tip of his tail were broad pink scales, pliable and smooth to the touch. Even just grazing his fingertips along the front of his belly sent a shudder down his spine. His tail was thick enough to rival his stomach for size, and nearly as long as he was tall. At least his horns weren't quite so oversized for his head any more.
While he was still reeling from having his skull reshaped (yet still being congested), another customer marched down his lane and slapped a pair of gift cards in front of him. "I want one hundred on this one, and thirty-five on the other," she said.
"Sure," Greg mumbled, scanning the first card then swinging his head over toward the register. Squinting through the throbbing feverish haze, he barely managed to remember the steps: Option four, enter value, one-zero-zero, enter, scan again to confirm.
He set the first card off to the side and started on the second, but just as he got to entering the value, his finger went thhh-wop and puffed out so thick and rounded that he mashed five keys at once, then a sixth, as a stubby claw popped out from its tip. The register protested with an angry beep. One by one, his fingers swelled up fat, pudgy, and scaly, until he was trying to type with just his pinky, but it had already melded to the side of his ring finger and both of them were bloating out into a single digit. His fat four-fingered paw was as wide as the keyboard itself now.
Glancing back at the customer, he saw her glaring at her phone with a pointedly bored look he knew was actually aimed at him. He sniffled and said, "Uh, sorry."
Trying to hunt and peck was useless. His fingers were so blunt and his claws so short he kept fumbling the keys. Even curling up his fingers was hard, because they squeezed up against one another and his thick palm and got stuck maybe halfway to a closed fist. It was like trying to wear winter gloves. Fat, scaly winter gloves. A flash of desperate insight made it through his groggy brain and he hauled over his tail, clutched the tip in his paw, and jabbed the buttons one at a time.
Greg didn't even attempt to pick up the cards with his paws, he just slid them across the counter, along with her receipt, wadded up from his attempts to grab it from the printer. She stuffed her phone back into her coat pocket, swiped up her cards, and stalked off.
His big fat paws proved useful for at least one thing: grabbing big fat pawfuls of his belly. He leaned back against his tail and began to rub it with both paws. Its huge dome jutted out in front of him, stretched wide and round, sloshing heavily when he tried to heave it upward. There were about six inches of space for him to move around between the counter and the wall. His paws roamed over his elastic belly scales, squeezing and kneading while a queasy rumble rose up through his neck and out of his snout. Nothing soothed the tender soreness of his stomach quite like rubbing it.
His shirt was pushed up so high that it barely covered his chest. It was too warm and too constricting, and he was too sick to worry about breaking the employee dress code. He wedged his fingers underneath it and started to pull it off, threading it along the curve of his neck, but when it reached his horns it got stuck, and he couldn't untangle it. In the struggle to get the shirt off, it ripped apart, and his head sprung free. Picking the loose threads off of his horns, he bundled up his shirt's remains and stuffed them into the trash can under the register.
A pair of short wings, not even as wide across as his hands, flumped free from his shoulders and shook themselves out. Greg let out a sigh of relief and stretched his wings. His whole torso had taken on a tapered, bottom-heavy shape to suit his swollen draconic frame.
That was one less burden to deal with, but he was still sick and dizzy and light-headed, and the Christmas music over the PA sounded even more distant and tinny than usual. He needed to go home. Now, not when his manager showed up.
One of Greg's eyes squinted. He snorted sharply. His neck reared back as he breathed in, larger and larger gasps, until at the last moment he shoved both paws over his snout and tried to muffle his sneeze.
The force of the sneeze rippled back through his body. His hips popped and sloshed outward, shoving his legs into a wide squat that let his belly sag down between his thighs. At the same time, his feet burst from his shoes. Their big blunt talons thwumped onto the floor while his heels shot up into the air. His knees buckled and he dropped, bouncing squarely off of the rounded bulge of his belly. The shockwave rippled back up through him. His belly and tail surged out fatter and rounder, while his tongue spilled out of his mouth, dragging strings of drool as it unspooled to nearly a foot and a half in length.
Greg managed to get his feet beneath him again, though they were splayed at a wide angle and stuck in a low, lizard-like crouch. His thighs were thick and green-scaled with big pink spots; his pants were in tatters on the floor.
With a deep gurgle-glorp, his belly ballooned outward, despite his frantic attempts to squeeze it back down with his paws. Before he knew it, he was wedged in place, with his tail squashed against the divider and his gut spreading against the edge of the counter, bulging out over the top. He twisted, he squeezed, he scrabbled with his feet, but even when he managed to push himself in one direction, as soon as he let go he'd bounce right back to where he was. The mounting pressure against his stomach was making him warm and dizzy and turning his cheeks pink.
Greg slorped his tongue back into his maw. Straining over to reach behind the register, he flipped the switch and turned off the light for his lane. It was too late, though. Someone was already unloading their cart onto the conveyor belt, and Greg didn't have the energy to ask them to move to another lane.
"I can't believe they've got you guys working today. You should get the day off!" they said cheerily.
A half-smile in return was all Greg could handle. Between his own sick haze and the constant squeezing as he moved to scan things and stuff them into bags, he felt like he was on the verge of conking out right on top of the scanner. It took all his concentration just to work around his burgeoning body and his oversized paws.
Two bags, then four, then six, crammed with toys and clothes and a whole turkey and cans of stuffing and bags of marshmallows. He sniffled. He sniffed. He snorted. He tried to hold off the sneeze until he was done, but there was just so much stuff and pinned down as he was, he couldn't move fast enough.
His snout wrinkled. "Aah—" His eyes rolled back. "Aaahh—" He squeezed his paws around the edge of the counter and held on tight. "AAH-CHOOO!"
A flurry of flame spouted from his lips and fluttered against the snack-size candy bars on the other side of the lane. The force of his sneeze bounced him back against his tail, which sprung him forward into the counter. In response, his belly churned and burbled and bloated outward. The swelling force stretched his hips wider and forced his thighs apart. His talons skidded across the floor tiles, splayed to either side of his huge stomach. There was maybe one foot of space between his taut pink scales and the floor.
Greg's voice caught in his throat and his claws tugged at the rubber trim of the counter. The mounting tightness was almost unbearable. He was growing all over: taller, broader, thicker, his whole body scaling up. Stifling a groan, he pushed his feet against the floor, trying to dislodge himself. His stomach slid several bulging inches higher, but nowhere near enough to squeeze himself free.
"Gesundheit!" the customer said in the midst of loading their bags into their cart.
Greg grunted, "Nnguh." His cheeks were on fire and his stomach churned like a vat of hot molasses. It gurgled and sloshed and shifted, even when he held perfectly still. A jolt of pressure squeezed deep inside of his belly. His thighs clenched, his tail coiled, and he clutched his belly with one paw. A squeaky grunt squeezed from his throat as an egg about the size of a soccer ball, green with pink polka dots, clonked onto the floor beneath him.
There was nothing between his legs but smooth scales, though. How did that egg even—
The customer rifled through their wallet. "Hold on, I had a gift card..."
Clonk. There went another egg. Greg's jaw fell open and his tongue sloughed out, dripping drool onto the conveyor. His tail twisted and thumped against the wall. Little iridescent motes danced in the corners of his eyes, and his heartbeat was thumping away in his ears. Another one was coming. Aah—nngh!—clunk.
"Here we go!" They swiped their gift card through the card reader.
Greg groped blindly for the enter button and swatted it with the edge of his finger. One hundred dollars pinged off the price. Even though his brightly-colored eggs were slowly piling up beneath him, his stomach wasn't getting smaller. Between his feverish fatigue and his stuffed-up snout and the waves of strange feelings that came with each new egg, he was barely lucid.
Soon his feet weren't on the ground any more. They were tucked up on either side of his belly, claws hanging in the air while he sat on top of his growing mound of eggs. They shifted and clacked against one another as he leaned over to snatch up the long ribbon of the receipt with his paw and push it in the customer's direction. "Happy ho—nnnguh." The arrival of another egg squeezed the voice out of his throat.
"Thanks! Be sure to get some rest, you don't look so hot," they said with a friendly smile, then wheeled their cart away toward the doors.
Greg needed to get out, now. His gut was straining against the counter, his fat tail was squashed against the divider, and his feet couldn't reach the ground with so many eggs underneath him. All his squirming and pushing just made his belly stretch and jiggle like taut rubber filled with thick syrup. Panting, sniffling, tongue dangling from his mouth, he felt another sneeze coming on and gave up on trying to fight it. His great belly pulled upward as he sucked in a deep breath, then let out a rumbling "AAH-CHOO!"
That was the final straw. The plastic and fiberboard of the divider behind him gave in and cracked. It toppled back into the lane behind him, and so did he, spilling down from on top of his pile of pink-and-green eggs. He tumbled onto his side, then teetered over onto his back with a heavy thud. His legs were splayed to either side of the great swell of his body, rising from his narrow neck up to the peak of his belly, then tapering back down to the tip of his tail.
For a little while, Greg just laid there with his speckled cheek against the cool tile, his eyes struggling to stay open. After a minute or so, he picked his head off the floor and curled his long neck upward, until he spotted his shift manager standing next to him, arms folded across her chest just beneath her name badge.
"Did you come in to work with dragon pox?" she asked.
"I wasn't..." Greg sniffed wetly and slurped his thick tongue around inside his maw. "...I felt fine when I came in," he said.
"You're covered in spots, and look at all these eggs. Someone's going to have to clean these up." She shook her head, then turned her eyes on him again. "You might have gotten people sick!"
Greg propped himself up with his paws while he tried to scoot back up onto his feet. "Suh—" He shivered. One of his legs twitched. An egg bounced off the underside of his tail and rolled to the ground with a clonk. "—sorry."
Grabbing one of his arms, his manager hauled him staggering back up to his feet. He wobbled from one side to the other, until his belly stopped bouncing around and he could balance on his claws. "Now go home," she told him. "I don't want to see you back at work until those spots clear up and you've stopped laying eggs everywhere."
Greg's eyes crossed and he squinted, then sneezed a burst of sparks right at his manager. She screwed up her face and tried to wave them away. Sniffing and rubbing his snout, he said, "I just need to get some...some tissues and Benadryl..."
"Out. Now." She gave him a firm push toward the doors, then stomped off in the direction of the bathrooms.
It took several tries before Greg got the hang of walking like this; it took a rolling, lumbering gait that made his belly swing from side to side and his tail drag across the ground in a curve like a lazy S. On his way out, the first set of automatic doors slid shut too early and tried to close around his tail, which pulled taut and halted him in his tracks until he pulled it the rest of the way through by hand. For the second set of doors, he just kept his tail clutched to his chest as he walked through.
Half an hour later, Greg stooped down and poked his head through the door of his apartment, then began to wedge the rest of his body through. He pulled and squeezed and twisted until he popped through the door and tumbled belly-first down onto the carpet, with first the thud of his own weight, then a small thunk of an egg hitting the floor.
A swipe of his tail swung the door shut, then he rolled himself up onto the sofa and onto his back. His legs and tail draped over one armrest, with his head leaning back against the cushions. His snout wrinkled, then snorted, then sneezed. His whole body wobbled.
Greg didn't even manage to consider getting up to get a drink or some medicine from the cabinet. His eyes were already sliding shut, and a deep dragon's snore rumbled up from his throat. He needed the rest. He was going to have a long couple of weeks before this cleared up.