Opposites AttractCousin Shelley
"I'm not a lab rat, Carl."
"Don't be so damned dramatic. You sound like all of them." Carl swept his arm in an arc, clearly referring to the other occupants of the lab. Some of them moved farther away when they saw Carl gesturing. Brother Caleb, a portly, outgoing man who'd been on the receiving end of Carl's experimentation many times, fingered his rosary and worked his way behind a large Buddhist.
"Don't curse, Carl, it's unbecoming." Van Helsing grunted. "And I'm not being dramatic, I'm being practical. Find someone else to be your test subject." Van Helsing lowered his voice. "Your victim, more like it."
"I take exception to that remark, Van Helsing. Strong exception. My experiments serve you well enough once they're complete." He held his arms out to his sides and gave Van Helsing his most pleading look. "Please?" When he got only a sour look in answer, he dropped his arms with a flourish. "Oh, don't be such a baby, there's no danger. . . that I can foresee."
"That you can foresee?" Van Helsing laughed. "I'm not waiting around for your hindsight to tell me it was a huge mistake, thank you very--"
Van Helsing's sentence ended abruptly as Carl lurched forward, sprayed something in his face and then ran, putting the long wooden table between them.
"Carl!" He wiped at his face and tried to catch up with the friar. "What was that?"
Carl made mental notes as he dashed left and then right, countering Van Helsing's moves. "Still quick, very irritable. Turning slightly red. . . Van Helsing, can you breathe all right?"
"Calm down, calm down, you know I wouldn't put you in any real danger. I just *need* to try this on someone I know well enough to be able to judge. . . the reaction."
Van Helsing stopped and leaned forward, his fists on the table in front of him. "Carl, I'm going to ask this exactly once. Once! And if you don't answer to my satisfaction, I'm going to come over this table and shake it out of you. What is the *reaction* I'm supposed to have?"
Carl backed up a little. "You should be unable. . . to lie."
Van Helsing didn't move for a moment, and then he sighed and closed his eyes. "That's all? It's a truth serum of some kind?"
"Why didn't you simply say that?" Van Helsing rubbed his hand down his face, shaking his head.
"Well there is one little part you're probably not going to like much."
Van Helsing's hand froze on his chin. He glared at Carl. "And that is. . . "
"I'll need you to try to lie about something. . . and the *reaction* should be a fair to moderate. . . headache. Sharp. It shouldn't last though, only a second or two."
"A headache." Van Helsing dropped his fist back to the table, but still glared. "I know about headaches. *You* are my--"
"Now, now, Van Helsing, just relax. Take deep breaths. Why don't you sit down? I--I mean, the sooner you sit down and let me ask you a few questions to see how the formula's working then the sooner this will all be over." He smiled and pointed at a chair not far from Van Helsing. His smile quickly faded, as it only seemed to deepen Van Helsing's glare. Carl stayed safely on the opposite side of the table as Van Helsing threw himself down in the chair and crossed his arms.
"Well, Carl? Ask."
"All right, all right, but first, how do you feel?" He scrambled for his notes and began scribbling furiously.
"Like murdering a friar."
Carl smirked at him. "I don't suppose that statement made your head hurt?"
Carl scribbled some more. "So that was. . . true. All right. Now say that you're not angry with me for spraying you."
Van Helsing gritted his teeth and practically growled. "I'm not angry with you for spraying me."
Carl watched him intently for a moment. "No pain?"
Carl sighed. "It's not working, then." More scribbling.
Van Helsing felt suddenly light, as if his head were floating inches above his shoulders. He watched Carl for a minute, then he rose, quietly, and approached the table. Carl was so intent in his notes, mumbling to himself, he didn't see the movement, didn't see Van Helsing's hand slide along the table to pick up the device Carl had sprayed him with moments ago.
"Yaaa!" Carl wiped at his face and looked at a smiling Van Helsing, astonished. "What did you do that for? What's the point? It's not even working. Wha--Van Helsing, you look positively. . . giddy."
There was no point, Van Helsing thought. But turnabout seemed fair play. And he did feel giddy. But when he opened his mouth to say so, he laughed at what actually came out. "There's a point. I don't feel giddy. And turnabout's not fair play." Giggle. Another spray.
"Stop it!" Carl coughed, took the device from Van Helsing and tossed it behind him on a low bench. "What--sit down, would you? Do you feel all right?"
Van Helsing felt fantastic. "No, I don't feel all right." He laughed at the wrong words again.
Carl hurried around the table and felt Van Helsing's forehead before pulling on his arm and sitting him in the chair. "Does your head hurt?"
Van Helsing considered that for a moment. His head felt fine. "Yes, it hurts." What was he saying? Why couldn't he say what he tried to say? "Carl, nothing's wrong. I can say whatever I want."
"Of. . . course you can." He felt Van Helsing's pulse, and again, his forehead. He looked into his eyes, pulling the lower lids down with each thumb. "Hmmm. Are you in pain anywhere?"
He felt no pain. "Yes. I mean. . . yes! I mean. . . Carl, my words are coming out right."
"Yes, and you can say whatever you want, we--we--we're clear on that much." Carl had started giggling and was smiling happily.
A sharp wave of dizziness hit Van Helsing. When it left, the strange happiness was gone as well. He missed it immediately. "Carl, your experiment had the effect you intended. It works." He sighed again in frustration, but then realized that soon enough Carl's dose would kick in and he'd figure out what his formula really did, making him able to decipher Van Helsing's words. He hoped.
Carl held his shoulders, and though he was smiling, he looked concerned. "You're not dizzy." Carl's eyes shot open. "I can say what I want, too. It will come out right." He gasped. "This is most expected, Van Helsing." He shook his head. "I mean, this is exactly what it was supposed to do---ah! This is not frustrating!"
"It's not all right, Carl. I don't understand." He patted his friend's shoulder.
Carl's eyes got wider with each declaration. He looked at Van Helsing, feeling suddenly pleased with the entire experiment, even though it was a failure of sorts. "Every thought I have is *not* expressed as its opposite! That's not interesting at all!"
Carl sighed and shifted to the left. If Van Helsing hadn't grabbed him he'd have fallen. He watched the happiness drain out of the friar, as it had him. "Carl?"
"It's not all right, Van Helsing. I'm not dizzy. And I don't thank you for not catching me." Carl closed his eyes and shook his head.
"Why don't you stand up for a while?" He stood and pushed Carl into the chair he'd just vacated. He stood close, with a hand on his shoulder in case the dizziness hadn't completely passed.
Carl looked up at him. "I'm not sorry for spraying you."
He squeezed Carl's shoulder reassuringly. "I don't know, Carl. Remember it."
They looked at each other, frowning, trying to understand exactly what the other meant, each nodding as realization dawned. They stayed like that for a moment, Carl looking up, Van Helsing's hand on his shoulder, until Carl's expression morphed from a smile to the look of a startled animal. He clamped his mouth shut and stood quickly, shaking off Van Helsing's arm before hurrying around the table.
"What's right, Carl?"
"Everything, Van Helsing. Everything's right. You can stay now." Carl put his hand on his forehead. His formula did cause headaches, but not the way he thought it would. "My head doesn't hurt, and I'm not trying to keep from saying things to you. So just. . stay. . I mean, please, there's absolutely a real need for you to be here right now. . . oh God!" He gave up speaking, and made shooing motions with his hands.
Van Helsing followed Carl around the table, frowning as his friend clawed the papers into a pile and seemed determined to get away from him as quickly as possible.
"What don't you want to not say to me?" He grabbed Carl's wrist to keep him from dashing off again.
Carl squinted and his jaw worked as if he were trying to swallow something particularly large. "Oh, don't let go of my wrist. I can concentrate just fine when your hand's on me." He looked at Van Helsing in horror. "You don't make me feel strange when you stand close to me." Carl's neck seemed to grow several inches as he stuck his head forward and gasped.
"Not strange in what way?"
"Oh, yes, Van Helsing, ask me these things. Ask. Ask. Do this. Aaaaaaaaa, please don't leave the lab so I can't concentrate. I mean--"
"Not strange in what way, Carl?"
Carl's lips pressed into a thin line as he tried to keep his mouth from opening. He squeezed his eyes shut. He wouldn't look or breathe or think until this passed so he could avoid saying what he didn't want to say. Don't think it, Carl, don't think it because the opposite will--"I don't want to reach out and grab you sometimes and I don't imagine what your hair would feel like in my hands and I have never imagined kissing you and I think you're the most unattractive man I've ever seen and I dislike you more than anyone I've ever met!" Carl gasped for air, then his mouth formed a large 'O.' He jerked his wrist free and slapped a hand up to each side of his face. "Gah!" He ran.
Van Helsing stood stunned for a moment as he realized just what Carl had said--or what he'd meant to say. He caught up to him near the forge, grabbing his robes and turning him.
Carl's hand covered his eyes.. His voice shook. "Please, Van Helsing, don't let go of me. I--I can face you."
"Carl, look away from me."
Carl shook his head. "Yes, please don't leave me alone. Stay here and keep talking."
Brother Caleb looked from one man to the other, frowning, his hands on his hips. He'd recently been admonished for being nosy--but if they were going to shout, surely he couldn't be expected not to hear. He hadn't meant to eavesdrop--they weren't exactly being quiet.
"Carl, nothing's fine. Please. . . keep your hand over your eyes."
Carl spread two fingers apart and peered through them. "Oh god," he said as he turned again and tried to pull free. "Hang on to my robe!"
Van Helsing pulled him back and then peeled Carl's hand away from his face. "Carl, get upset." He looked down for a moment before continuing, softly. "I--I don't like you very much either."
Brother Caleb took a step closer, no longer caring if they knew he was listening. He actually cocked his head toward each man as he spoke, his confusion clear on his face.
Carl sucked in a breath. "You. .. don't like me?"
"No. I. . . don't like you very much at all. I've never disliked anyone more than you, Carl. I might even. . . hate you. A little bit." Van Helsing looked at him, a slight smile forming on his lips.
Carl smiled back. "I've often thought, Van Helsing, that I might hate you, too."
Van Helsing let go of the handful of Carl's robe and patted it smooth. He chuckled. "You're awfully homely when you're calm."
Carl blushed, and Caleb thought, beamed.
Van Helsing looked around the lab, and then pointedly at Brother Caleb who peered back at him as if he had three eyes and tentacles popping out of the top of his head. "Carl, maybe this isn't a conversation we shouldn't have somewhere more. . . crowded."
Carl looked at Caleb whose forehead had broken out in a thin sheen of sweat. "You look fine, Brother, perhaps you shouldn't drink some water and not take it easy the rest of the day?" Then he looked back at Van Helsing, but still spoke to the befuddled monk who sat heavily in a chair, blinking rapidly. "You won't excuse us, Caleb. But I disagree with Van Helsing. We have nothing to take care of somewhere else."
Caleb crossed himself and made a deal with God regarding eavesdropping and well-timed fatal lightning bolts as he laid his head on his hands to take a short nap.
As the smiling men ascended the steps, Van Helsing sighed. "There's something else you shouldn't know, Carl."
Carl looked apprehensive.
"I. . . hate it when you curse."
"And I never even suspected." The smile came back. "Don't damn
it all to hell."