Conspiracy, part 1: Peer Pressure

Inflation Types:
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Barney sipped his coffee as he compared the scans of medical records displayed on each of his three monitors. He was pretty sure that one of them was a forgery. It wasn't much, but it was the most useful thing he could do for the organization at this point. It would be one more clue in their quest to track down the most elusive of ghosts.

Barney sighed. He was one of the few old timers still on the team, having been with The Hubbell Research Group organization for over a decade. The gray, grizzly, and prominently bespectacled man was one of Hubbell's best analysts. His specialty was data integrity verification, although he hated that title. As though data integrity weren't the top concern of any analyst.

"Hey Barney," Jack managed an awkward wave in greeting as he entered, his arms piled high with tabloids.

"A little light reading?" Barney asked.

"Yep." Jack had dropped the stack onto his desk and was already skimming The Snoop. About a month after joining HRG, Jack made dredging the bottom of the journalistic barrel part of his weekly routine. Every Friday was tabloid day.

"Do you really think you're gonna find anything in there?"

"Of course I think so. And if you cared at all about your job, you'd be helping me. If we don't get results soon, the old man's probably gonna can us all." Jack had only been with the organization for a year, part of Hubbell's attempt to revitalize HRG's efforts by bringing in fresh blood. Had Jack worked there five years ago, he would have been fired for even suggesting that tabloids might be a useful research tool. But it had been almost five years since they'd found their last prospect, so old man Hubbell's tolerance for the unconventional was much higher these days. And Jack's expertise was certainly unconventional. Unlike Barney, he hadn't been hired for his technical skills. And also unlike Barney, he had a lot more to lose than his job if the project got shut down.

"Please let me know how the dog-boy is doing." Barney said. He turned his attention back to his computer screen.

"Will do." Jack was looking for a particular type of story that seemed to recur more often than it ought to. The story of the woman with "Pinnochio boobs" was an obvious and intentional fake through crude photo manipulations. The Human Water Balloon turned out to be a simple case of rapid weight gain that had been hyped up into something paranormal. The story of the woman in Cheltenham getting pumped full of helium was the closest he'd gotten. That one had turned out to be completely legitimate, but still not quite what Hubbell was looking for.

Hubbell was obsessed with the idea of human beings inflating. Jack had never actually met the man, so he was in a position to judge neither his motivations nor his level of sanity. If he were to give the matter any thought, he'd be convinced that Hubbell was a madman. But he didn't give it any thought. He just knew that Hubbell was absolutely convinced that human inflation was possible and had put an impressive amount of funding behind this belief. So Jack went about his work with that same level of conviction. He never asked if what Hubbell proposed were possible; he simply assumed it. From there, it was simply a matter of finding out who these people were.

Jack almost dropped his coffee when he opened up his issue of The Weekly Slander . "Barney, you need to look at this."

"What?" Barney grabbed his magnifying glass and came over. He gasped when he saw the story. He quickly examined the pictures through the lens. "Whoever handles the Slander's photography should be fired."

"It's probably some incompetent intern with a pirated copy of Photoshop. It doesn't look like a fake to me, but you're the pro here."

"These pictures are just newsprint quality, and the originals were probably from a cheap digital camera. The quality's too low to say for certain for any one picture, but we have four to work with here. Lights and shadows are all consistent between pictures, and the backgrounds haven't been cropped out. Faking something like this is way above The Weekly Slander's pay grade. There's been some color adjustments and it looks like the skin was smoothed out some, but aside from that these pictures haven't been altered."

"Are you saying these are real?" Jack was incredulous. "I've seen old file photos, but nothing like this. I mean, she's huge."

"Don't know." Barney brought the paper to his desk and scanned the images into his computer. "It might have been staged, maybe a rubber suit or something like that. But if it is, it's an impressive piece of work."

"Can you tell for sure?"

"You can't tell anything for certain with pictures like these." He was applying various filters to clean up the images. "We won't be able to spot skin blemishes in these, but if it's a suit we might be able to make out a seam or a valve. Hello, what's this?" Barney zoomed in on a discoloration of the skin in one of the photos.

"It looks like a marking of some kind. Can you enhance that?" Jack asked.

"Will do." Barney zoomed in further, sharpening one section and increasing the contrast. "Looks like your incompetent intern tried to smooth this out, but couldn't do much without wrecking the picture." The mark appeared right at one of the edges where the woman's ruined clothing ended and her exposed skin began. There's only so much blurring that could be applied to at the boundary between light skin and dark cloth.

Jack squinted at the screen as the series irregularly shaped grayish blobs stretched across the woman's skin became more defined. Although still quite blurry, they slowly took on the appearance of writing. "Holy crap," he gasped.

"You have any idea what those are?" Barney asked.

"They're Chinese characters. Or at least they were before they got stretched out and blurred."

Barney grunted in disappointment. "Let me guess: we're looking at a rubber suit, and those symbols mean 'made in China'?"

"No, no, they don't," Jack said tapping the screen excitedly. "It's an astrological sign, this means 'Scorpio.'"

Barney smiled. "I doubt you're likely to see something like that on an inflatable suit."

Jack was giddy. "No, but it is something that a trendy college student might think is cool. It means our balloon girl has a tattoo, and it means this picture is the real freaking deal. Barney, we have to find out where this picture was taken!"

"Already on it."

"I'll call Dinah and let her know we have a prospect."


Katie stepped out into the dorm's courtyard. Earlier in the evening it had been packed with over a hundred drunken students. But it was very late, and another dorm party had wound down. It seemed everyone had either gone to sleep, passed out, or retired with a partner to do what college kids so often did. Katie sighed. She'd had a fun time dancing, but ended the evening alone, as she usually did.

"Hmm," she mused, eying the helium tanks next to the keg. They'd rented the tanks to fill balloons, but had severely underestimated the amount of gas each one held. They'd run out of balloons long before they'd emptied the tanks. The spares had been set aside and judging by the pressure gauges two of them were still completely full. Bundles of brightly colored balloons were tied to each one.

Smiling, Katie pulled a balloon down and untied it from the tank. Her fading alcohol buzz had inspired an idea. She stuffed the balloon under her sweater, then pulled another down and did the same with it. She carefully adjusted them on her chest.

Katie had been self conscious about her figure since she was young and she watched all of her friends blossom with womanly curves while her own body remained steadfastly boyish. Her face was more cute than pretty, and her short cropped brown hair didn't help matters any. She was fairly plain, but for now, tonight, she could imagine what it would be like to sport more impressive endowments.

She thrust her chest out, stretching her sweater across the balloons. They were much larger than most real breasts, with a highly unnatural shape. "This must be what it's like to have implants. Minus the back strain, of course." She allowed herself to be pleased with her new look for a moment. "I look pretty good with these," she giggled.

"Oh my God, you look so ridiculous!" came the squeal from behind her.

Katie jumped. She was so wrapped up in her fantasy, she hadn't heard Trisha approach. She spun around. Of all people, why did it have to be Trisha?

Trisha was a object of desire for many men on campus. She was tall and gorgeous, with long, flowing black hair and a body that scoffed at the norms of nature. She would sometimes boast that she had to buy her blouses and skirts in different sizes, and all of her dresses had to be custom tailored; her slender body would have been a size two were it not for her breasts, which defied any description that could be conveyed by mere numbers.

They were huge, even larger than the balloons Katie had stuffed under her sweater and nearly as round. She was wearing one of her custom tailored dresses, a deep purple garment that clung so tightly as to leave little to the imagination. She'd clearly had a lot to drink, and still had a red cup in hand. The rosy tone in her cheeks and the sway in her stance betrayed her intoxicated state. Braless, her bosom quivered dangerously with every step she took. Her low-cut dress wasn't just hugging her curves. It was hanging on for dear life.

"Wh-what are you doing here?" Katie stammered.

"I'm looking for Tyler," she slurred. "We were making out, and he just up and left, said something about his girlfriend being pissed. I thought he might be out here, but it looks like it's just you and your new boobies," she giggled.

Katie's face blushed bright red. "T-Trisha--"

"It's a good look for you," she said, stepping closer and trying to suppress her laughter. "But I think I like mine better, they're not filled with helium and I don't hafta worry about 'em popping." She gave herself a squeeze to emphasize the point.

Katie was mortified. For years she'd been teased about her flat chest, and she could count on Trisha to tell everyone in the dorm about what she'd done with the balloons. "Trisha, please stop," she pleaded.

"No, really, they look great. I think you just need to add a bit more, and they'll be as big as mine." She was laughing out loud now. "But I'd be careful around sharp objects though. One poke, and bang!" She thrust a finger at Katie's left balloon, but the combination of her drunkenness and high heels caused her to stumble forward. She made contact with far more force than she'd intended, and the balloon burst.

"Ow!" Katie yelped. It was more shocking than painful but Katie jumped back, feeling the shreds of the deceased balloon slide down her belly. The humiliation was too much. She couldn't hold back a soft sob.

"Aww, don't cry," Trisha said with mock sympathy. She walked over to the tanks and patted one. "We'll just fill up another one, and you'll be good as new." She lost herself in a fit of laughter and smirked at Katie when she finally recovered. "Wouldn't it be cool if it was that easy? But it's not, so you'll have just play with your toys since you'll never have the real thing." To drive the final insult home, she took a deep breath and arched her back.

"Shut up!" Katie screamed. She shoved Trisha as hard as she could and ran into the dorm, weeping.

"Eeeee!" Trisha tried to catch herself, but she fell back into the tanks, knocking them over and spilling her beer. She landed on the ground hard, but was too drunk and too caught up in her own laughter to notice the pain of the impact. "That was too much fun!" Still a bit wobbly, Trisha rose to her feet. "Maybe I can still find Tyler," she wondered aloud. The night's fun didn't have to end yet. She took a step, and immediately slipped on her spilled beer.

"Ow!" Trisha cried out as she landed. This time her intoxication wasn't enough to dull the sharp pain in her right buttock. There was a muffled thunk, then a whoosh of escaping gas. Trisha's eyes opened wide as she felt a sudden cold pressure rapidly growing inside her. "Wha?" She'd landed on one of the helium tanks. The nozzle had pierced her skin and a massive rush of gas was surging into her.

Her right cheek swelled up, causing her to tilt to the left. Looking down, she could see her thigh growing larger. Then the gas spread to her belly. Her firm, flat stomach bulged outwards going from pudgy to pregnant to huge in a matter of seconds. She was unable to sit upright, her swollen belly forcing her to fall back. The nozzle dug deeper into her flesh, and the hiss from the tank grew louder.

Trisha flailed her arms, but was unable to right herself. "Help!" she tried to shout, but it came out barely louder than a whisper. The pressure in her abdomen allowed her to draw only shallow breaths, and she could hardly make a sound. Her confusion quickly turned into panic as she realized what had happened. She was stuck on the tank, filling with helium like a balloon. She was too swollen to free herself, and she couldn't even call for help.

That didn't keep her from trying. "Katie, help me!" she wheezed pitifully. There was no answer.

Trisha continued to fill with helium, her legs plumping up along their entire length as her belly rose higher and higher, straining against the confines of her dress. The gas spread upwards, and she felt her chest rise as though she were taking an impossibly deep breath. She grasped at her bosom and felt her already abundant breasts swell even larger, growing fuller and firmer with pressure. Her cleavage pushed up against her chin, and her arms straightened as the gas spread outwards. She was impossibly huge, but the gas kept flowing and Trisha inflated ever larger. She had no idea how much helium was in the tank, but it was certainly more than her body could hold. Her breath came in short, terrified gasps. She tried once more to call for help: "Someone, anyone please! Get me off this thing before I--"

She whimpered, unable to finish the sentence. But the truth of the situation wasn't at all affected by her willingness to speak it. Trisha knew full well that if help didn't arrive soon, she would come to a very loud and spectacular end.


Katie leaned against a wall and collapsed to the floor, crying. "Bitch! Just because she's got huge tits she thinks she can--" She looked down at the balloon she that was still in her sweater. In her haste, she'd forgotten it. Now it sat there on her chest, taunting her. "Dammit!" She pushed it out, and it bounced along the floor. Katie grabbed it and squeezed it in rage, but stopped just as it was about to burst. What was the point? Why take out her anger on something that had given her the illusion of being endowed, if only briefly? "Trisha." The name slid off of her tongue like sludge. "Why the hell should I let her get to me? Just because she's got boobs and I don't?" She wiped her tears away and she took a deep breath to calm herself. "She can't treat me like dirt, I won't let her!" With her new found strength, she stood tall and marched off to confront Trisha.

"Oh my God." Katie wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted her in the courtyard. She saw what appeared to be a huge two-tone balloon, bright purple where Trisha's dress still covered her, but her lower half was a vast pale hemisphere. Were it not for her feet protruding from the giant, oblong swell that Trisha had become, Katie probably wouldn't have recognized that object before her was what had become of her nemesis. "What happened to you?"

"Help me," came the faint cry from the far side of the ball. "Please..."

Katie rushed to her side, thoughts of revenge banished for a moment. As she neared, she saw that Trisha had fallen on the helium tank. It was now clear what had happened to her. She could hear the angry hiss of gas that was still forcing Trisha's body to expand. "Hold on," Katie said. "I'm gonna try to push you off this thing."

"Please hurry," she begged.

Katie pressed her hands into Trisha's side and pushed. Her hands sank in only a few inches before the pressure inside Trisha matched her efforts. She pushed harder and was met by strained groans. Trisha didn't budge.

"Ow," Trisha moaned.

"I don't think this is gonna work," Katie said. "If I push too hard you might po--" she stopped, not wanting to panic the poor girl. "You might not be able to take it."

"Do something!" She was growing bigger and rounder with each passing moment.

Katie knelt down and tried to reach the tank. She had to lay down flat and squeeze under Trisha to reach it, but she finally got a hand on the pressure valve. "There!" She tried to twist the knob, but the it wouldn't turn. She tried again, to no avail. "Why the hell won't thing thing turn?" Looking more closely, she could see the valve was bent. "Uh oh."


"You must have bent the knob when you fell on the tank. I can't shut it off."

"Oh God, no! I'm gonna explode!" she wailed.

"Try to stay calm Trisha. I can try to push you off the tank again, but I don't know if you can take the pressure. You might pop if I push too hard."

Trisha clenched her eyes shut. "If you don't, I'm gonna pop anyway. Just do it now, before I get too big."

"Ok." Katie rolled onto her back and tried not to contemplate the implications of 'too big'. Trisha's vastness loomed above her. "On three. One. Two. Three!" Katie pushed upward against her with all her might. Trisha let out a pained gurgle as she felt Katie's hands press against her. Trisha's body had not only grown even more huge in the passing moments, it had also grown much firmer as she drew ever closer to her limits. Ironically, this made Katie's job slightly easier.

"Eeeerugh!" Trisha groaned as Katie continued to push. Between Katie's pushing and the rapid flow from the tank, Trisha was running out of room. She let out a surprised squeak as the pressure flowed up her neck and began filling her cheeks. She started flailing, but all she could manage to do was wiggle her hands and feet a bit; she could feel them inflating too.

"I think you moved a bit, almost got it." Katie gasped, still pushing.

"It's too much," she wailed. "I -- I can't take any more!"

"Almost there!" Katie called, trying to be encouraging. Though she didn't waver in her efforts, she did briefly ponder the wisdom being so close to her.

Trisha clenched her eyes shut. Her ears were filled by the loud hissing of the tank and the increasingly ominous squeals of strain from her drum tight skin. One way or another, this was going to be over soon.

"It's all or nothing now," Katie muttered to herself. Not knowing for certain whether it would help or harm, Katie put all of her might behind one final shove.

Trisha half-expected a boom, but instead heard a soft "thunk" as Katie finally managed to free her from the helium tank. "There!" she heard Katie shout. Trisha was as shocked as she was elated, but her joy lasted only a fraction of a second. With no more resistance to it, the flow from the tank went from a hiss to a roar as it emptied the last of its contents in mere seconds. Unfortunately, Trisha was right on top of this release; the jet launched her high into the air.

"Aaaaiiiyyeeeee!" Trisha shrieked as she was rocketed up into the sky.

"Oh that's not good." Katie craned her neck to watch Trisha's ascent.

Straining to look over the swollen arc that had once been her shoulder, Trisha watched in horror as the ground receded. She slowly came to a halt in mid air, far above the dorm. She could almost see the entire campus from her vantage point. But this was a night of small favors for Trisha; although she was full of helium, she was just barely shy of achieving flight. Ever so slowly, she drifted back toward the ground.

"Thank goodness." Katie watched anxiously as Trisha returned to earth. But her descent was painfully slow. She'd gotten her off of the tank just in time. Just a little more gas and even if Trisha hadn't exploded on the ground she would have floated away and likely met the same fate high above the Earth. It was a still night, so she didn't go far. After several minutes that seemed like hours, Trisha came within reach at the far side of the courtyard. Katie grabbed her by a shoe and pulled her down the last few feet.

"Thank you," Trisha said. Her face was swollen into a caricature of its former beauty, and she could barely breathe against the pressure of the gas inside her. Every word was a struggle.

With the urgency now passed, Katie had a moment to take in the incredible events she'd just witnessed. "Oh my God, you're huge," she marveled. In the few short minutes she'd been on the tank, Trisha had been blown up into a huge balloon. She was a giant globe with slight bulges where her arms and legs had been. Her hands and feet protruded from large indentations in her bulk, and her dress just barely clung to the two huge swells of her breasts. She wobbled slightly on the ground, coming to rest with her head upright. "Are you OK?" She couldn't see Trisha's face, as she towered nearly twice as tall as her own height.

"I -- I feel like I'm getting bigger!" Trisha cried.

"But how?" Katie could just barely hear soft groaning and gurgling coming from deep within Trisha's inflated body. It made sense now; she'd been injected with pressurized gas, and that gas was now seeking equilibrium, slowly stretching out Trisha's already overtaxed body in the process. And if Trisha's body gave out before that equilibrium was reached... "Oh no," Katie gasped, realizing that she was standing just a few feet from a living time bomb.

Trisha could feel the gas spreading through every part of her body, seeking any available space to expand. Her hands began to puff up, her feet strained against her shoes, even her face grew rounder. She couldn't last too much longer like this. "Katie, I'm gonna blow!"

"You don't know that! Just stay calm!" But even as Katie was offering encouragement, she was backing away.

"Tell my mother I love her," she whimpered weakly. Even her lips were swelling up, making the words difficult to form. "And tell Tyler he's a dick for flaking on me."

"You can tell them yourself, you're gonna be OK," Katie said. But she ducked behind the remaining helium tanks just in case she was wrong.

Trisha's strained stretching noises stopped. The night was silent, but Katie was afraid to poke her head out. Maybe it was safe, or maybe Trisha had just stretched as much as she could and was about to explode.


Katie jumped, almost knocking over the tanks, and Trisha let out a startled scream.

Katie peeked out from behind the tanks to see that Trisha's right foot had burst out of her shoe. Trisha was weighed down that much less, and was now dangerously close to getting airborne; now Trisha's towering bulk was daintily balanced on her left foot. The gas inside her was pulling her skyward, and the weight of that last shoe was all that was holding her to earth. And judging by how much her foot was bulging against the shoe's strap, it wouldn't be holding her for much longer.

Snap! Her shoe finally yielded.

"I'm floating!" Trisha cried as she slowly lifted from the ground.

"This just keeps getting worse." Katie ran out from behind her shelter and grabbed Trisha's foot; It was so round and swollen, she could barely get her hand around enough of it to keep a grip. She was only just barely buoyant, so it was easy to pull her back over to the helium tanks. It was awkward trying to trying to work while maintaining a hold on Trisha's foot, but Katie managed to grab several of the balloons tied to one of the tanks and tie them to Trisha. She gave the ribbons a few experimental tugs before letting Trisha go. Trisha floated up a bit, but her ascent was quickly halted by her makeshift tethers. She was safe for now. Katie sighed.

Trisha was making alarmed squeaking noises. Anchored by her foot, she was floating at an angle, so Katie was able to look up at her face. "What's wrong now?" The night was just one crisis after another, Katie couldn't really imagine what could go wrong next.

Trisha's gaze was fixed on the dorm. "Tyler," she said, her voice quivering with anxiety.

"Tyler?" Katie turned around. Distracted as she'd been by Trisha's predicament, she hadn't noticed a man stumbling in at the far end of the courtyard. He was tall, broad-shouldered, muscular, and quite drunk. "Crap, it's Tyler."

"You can't let him see me like this!" came the muffled plea from above.

"You're a blimp, Trisha, it's not like I can hide you anywhere."

"Please! Do something!" Trisha begged, tears welling up in her eyes. Tyler had finally managed to get the door open and was staggering out.

"Ok, fine, I'll get rid of him. Just stay quiet and don't move."

Trisha nodded as best as she could, which wasn't much.

Tyler gawked at what appeared to him to be a giant flesh colored balloon He seemed particularly fascinated by its puffy hands and feet. "Holy shit, what's that?"

"Oh that?" Katie said. "I think it's someone's idea of a joke. I found it when I came out here to put away the helium tanks. I guess someone saw we had extra and decided to have some fun blowing up one of those sex doll thingies."

Tyler snorted. "Dang. Anyway, you seen Trisha around?"

"Uh, yeah, she was out here a little while ago. But I think she had her fill of partying and went upstairs for the night," Katie replied, pointing upward.

"Cool, thanks." He stared at Trisha. "Whatcha gonna do with that doll?"

"I dunno. I guess I've got to figure out a way to get it down."

"That's easy, just pop it," Tyler said. "I've got a pocket knife right here--"

"No!" Katie said quickly, hoping that Tyler hadn't heard Trisha's terrified squeak. She stepped between Tyler and Trisha. "That doll's blown up too big. If you pop it, the noise'll wake up everyone in the dorm."

"Yeah, I guess you're right. Well, good luck with it." He shuffled off.

Trisha breathed a sigh of relief. "He's gone. Thanks."

"No problem," Katie said. She looked up a Trisha again, her mind spinning. How was this even possible? As fas as she knew, it wasn't. But there Trisha was, inflated completely round and tethered like the party balloons Katie had been playing with earlier. The sides of her dress had completely split open, and the garment hung from her in shreds. The gaps in the cloth revealed what had become of Trisha's tattoo. Katie had seen the small black characters on the back of Trisha's shoulder before. But now each symbol was bigger than her hand, stretched out and faded.

Katie burst out laughing. It was as much hysteria as it was mirth, but Trisha wouldn't have been soothed by that even if she'd known.

"This isn't funny!" Trisha hissed.

"I'm sorry," Katie said, gasping between bursts of laughter. "You just look so ridiculous!" After a while, she calmed herself and took her cell phone from her pocket.

"Gonna call your friends so they can all laugh too?"

"No, but it's tempting. I'm calling 911 so we can get you some help before some other dumbass tries to pop you." I should call my friends and tell them about this, she thought as she tried to explain the situation to the operator. But she couldn't bring herself to do it. As mean as Trisha had been to her, Katie felt sorry for her an was genuinely worried. A few seconds here and there had made the difference between life and death for her several times tonight. And now she was huge and completely helpless, with only a few scraps of ribbon keeping her from floating away. Would she be stuck like this forever? Was there still a chance she'd just burst? Katie could ponder these things without much personal concern, but Trisha had to be terrified right now.

"Help is on the way," Katie said as she hung up. "I don't think they believed me, but they have to send someone anyway."

"Please don't tell anyone about this Katie, I'd just die," Trisha pleaded.

"Don't worry, this'll be our little secret." Yeah, just you, me, the EMTs, and anyone who happens to peek out their window tonight.


Not many people were awake and saw what happened that night. And those few that did quickly dismissed the incident once Tyler's story about seeing a hugely inflated sex doll in the courtyard got around. The university was quite fine keeping the incident under wraps. The official story was that Trisha had suddenly fallen ill after the party. Katie didn't know what happened to Trisha after that night. The story simply went away.

Trisha returned to class after spring break still somewhat swollen, but small enough that people just blamed it on the "freshman fifteen." Katie had expected Trisha to be grateful. After all, she'd rescued her and kept the incident a secret. But it was not to be. Incredibly, Trisha returned just as cruel as ever; she picked up her abuse of Katie right where she'd left off.

One evening Katie took her aside. "You know, you could at least be a little nicer. If it weren't for me, you'd be scattered in little bits all over campus!"

"Yeah, thanks for that," Trisha said dismissively, "but let's face it, nothing's really changed. My reputation's too important to risk people thinking that I was hanging with the loser crowd."

"Loser? Just because I'm not as pretty as you are?"

"Jealous much?" Trisha said, glancing down at her own generous curves. Even a bit pudgy, she knew she had a spectacular body. She was surprised by Katie's response.

"Nah, I'm not jealous," Katie smirked. "I think I like mine better, anyway. They're not filled with helium and I don't have to worry about them popping." She turned and walked away, leaving a flushed and flustered Trisha.


A few weeks later, Trisha noticed something strange when she returned from class. She was used to people staring at her, but today as she approached the dorm she felt like something was different. There were more whispered exchanges, incredulous glances, and the occasional snicker.

Inside the dorm lounge she saw a small clump of students gathered around a stack of newspapers.

"What's going on?" Trisha asked.

"Uh, you might wanna see this, Trish." She was handed a newspaper.

Someone had dropped off a stack of The Weekly Slander. It was a tabloid of the lowest order, often publishing articles about Elvis sightings, UFO kidnappings, celebrity exorcisms and the like. Trisha looked over the front page, at first not understanding what she was supposed to be looking at. Then she saw the picture in the lower right corner of the front page. I was a small, grainy image of a woman's face, so swollen that Trisha almost didn't recognize it as her own. Below it the caption read:

Bosomy Beauty Blows Up! p. 18

Heart racing, Trisha flipped through the tabloid to find the story splashed across two pages with multiple photos much larger and clearer than the one on the front page. On the left was was a picture of her drunkenly hanging off of Tyler while posing for a group shot with several other party-goers, taken during the last dorm party. It was labeled "BEFORE." They'd covered everyone's eyes with black rectangles, but anyone who knew Trisha could easily identify her by her dress, and even more so by the way she filled it.

But it was the rest of the pictures that had everyone in the dorm talking. They were labeled "AFTER", and showed Trisha fully inflated, bursting out of her clothes, and tied to a helium tank by her foot. "No," she breathed. "No, no, no, no, no!"

Most of the dorm heard Trisha's wail of anguish.

Helium Horror!

Party Mishap Turns Co-ed Into Living Blimp!

Beautiful young Tina Christopher* almost put the "pop" in "popular" this weekend when a night of drunken revelry ended with her being blown up like a balloon. The bizarre accident has left medical experts baffled, and left Tina very, very large.

Tina's friend Betty* claims to have witnessed the incident: "It was so weird. We were all partying and having a great time when Tina slipped and fell onto one of the helium tanks, and it was like WHOOSH! She blew up like an airbag. Thank God we got to her and shut off the tank in time, or she probably would have burst." Help arrived before Tina exploded, but not before she was pumped up to an enormous size. "She was huge, I can't believe a person could stretch that much. I thought she was going to float away. We called 911, and they took her to the hospital. I still don't know how they fit her into the ambulance."

That's the official story, but this reporter has unearthed a number of conflicting accounts of the night's events. It's entirely possible that the university administration is trying to cover up its students' reckless behavior by claiming that this was merely a tragic accident.

One school official spoke on condition of anonymity. "When you combine alcohol consumption, risky behavior, and the competitive tendencies of people that age, you have a situation that's likely to turn into a dangerous game of oneupmanship," he said. "I'm guessing this started off as a harmless game, but got out of hand when Tina was egged on by her friends. It's fairly common for people to inhale helium for its effects on the voice. I've heard from more than one student that this started off as just a bunch of kids competing to see who could inhale the most helium. They were breathing it in from balloons, but Tina decided to show off and inhale directly from the tank." In her intoxicated state, she didn't realize what was happening until it was almost too late. "There's a reason they put warning labels on those tanks."

But a number of Tina's classmates saw her improbable figure as ample evidence that she'd been experimenting with unconventional uses for helium long before that fateful night. "Just look at her," commented Charlie*, who claims to have known Tina since high school. "She's so thin, but her boobs are so huge and round. And she's been like that as long as I've known her." There was no shortage of students willing to speculate on the possible pneumatic origins of Tina's endowments.

So what really happened here? A freak accident? Peer pressure gone too far? Tanks for the mammaries? Nobody but Tina knows the answer for certain and she's not talking, at least until the swelling goes down some.

*all names have been altered

Katie laughed as she read the article with her roommate Laura in their dorm room.

"Oh my God, this is terrible! Please tell me you didn't write this!" Laura tittered.

"No, I just sold them the pictures and told them what happened. They made all that crap up themselves."

Katie had already told her how she hadn't been able to resist sneaking a few pictures of Trisha with her camera phone while she waited for the ambulances to arrive. She'd only planned on showing them to a few friends, but Trisha's unabated stream of abuse had spurred her find a venue for wider distribution.


Dinah thumbed through folder Jack had brought her. It contained photos, student records, and notes he'd compiled during his trip. It even had the original story from the tabloid that had started it all. Tina Christopher was actually Patricia Roth. The pictures were genuine, she'd really been blown up that big.

Dinah looked up, beaming with pride. "You've done it Jack, we're back in business."

Jack nodded. "Thanks, but I wouldn't say we're there yet. There's still gaps in that report, and Patricia Roth isn't looking like a viable recruitment prospect."

"But we have data. Barney's been crunching through our old database with the new info you've gathered, and he's already coming up with prospects to investigate. We've got teams that have been sitting idle for years that suddenly have work to do."

"So my job is safe?"

"All of our jobs are safe for now."

Jack sighed in relief and let himself sink into his chair. For the first time in a year, he felt like he could relax. "Thank goodness."

"Thank you," Dinah said. "Someday you're gonna have to tell me why you take this job so seriously."


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