I wrote this as a sequel to nikoru's fun fic, for her birthday.  Read The Semantics of Contracts, part 2 of 9 of her Splice of Life series, if you hope to understand a whiff of it.

Semantics and Angry Poultry

Cousin Shelley


 

One minute, everything had been fine. Better than fine, Carl thought. Almost perfect.

And then he'd mused on the irony of their recent encounter with a many-eyestalked Beholder, how the bravest man he'd ever known had ended up spending time in his arms as a chicken, of all possible things. Carl was well into the list of creatures generally considered nobler and braver than a chicken, what with the unfortunate connotations brought to mind when someone was called by that name, before Van Helsing had him backed up against the table in the otherwise empty lab with a very irritated look on his face.

But as often happened, just as Van Helsing's face drew near to Carl's, the look of irritation melted into something more like amusement and affection. And just as Carl was leaning forward, his eyes starting to close in anticipation of finally finding out what it would be like to--suddenly there was the sense of electricity in the air followed by a soft 'pop' and Carl snapped his eyes open in time to reach out and catch the chicken before it dropped to the ground.

Now, Carl paced in front of the table on which the chicken sat statue still except for the back and forth movement of its eyes as they followed Carl. The chicken's expression could only be referred to as a deep frown (if chickens could manage such an expression) that only seemed to deepen with each possibility the friar ruled out.

Finally, Carl stopped and threw his hands in the air. "I had no idea he'd changed you back temporarily. We're just going to have to find him again."

At that, the chicken shot up, flapping its wings, squawking.

"I'm sorry," Carl tried to pat its head but the chicken kept dodging his hand and practically jumping up and down (if a chicken could do such a thing). "I don't know what else to do."

"Is someone looking for ME?" The Beholder hovered at the top of the steps, looking quite pleased with itself.


A few minutes later, a very gruff looking chicken paced up and down the length of the table, on top of it of course, while Carl tried to reason with the Beholder to undo what he undid when he'd undone the spell in the first place. Carl suspected the Beholder had done this so he'd be needed. And have an excuse to see them again. Well, to see Carl again. There hadn't exactly been heaps of affection between the creature and Van Helsing, even though they had parted on good terms, even after Van Helsing had tried to slice off an eyestalk and the creature had transmogrified him.

Unfortunately, the same conversation that had essentially freed the Beholder, what with all of Carl's talk of specific words being so important, had given the Beholder the idea to make Van Helsing's changeback temporary.

Because no had told him to make it permanent.

"I'll change him back, very soon, I promise. As long as he's good. And after you I have a private conversation, I did find our conversation to be so pleasant before." At Carl's slight frown, he motioned at the chicken with an eyestalk. "It was just a little. . . joke. See, a joke? Haha. And this time, I'll change him back permanently." He eyed the chicken with three of his eyestalks. "Though I would think you might prefer him this way."

The chicken squawked and Carl patted it with one hand, while patting the Beholder's head with the other.

"Now, now, let's all be civil." Seeing no other way to get what they wanted without humoring the creature, Carl said, "I found our conversation pleasant, as well. So. What would you like to talk about?"

So Carl and the Beholder wandered away from the table, as the creature asked Carl questions about the lab and his various inventions, which Carl answered happily.

Too damn happily, thought the chicken. He watched with his beady little chicken eyes, until the third time Carl squeaked and pulled an eyestalk out from under his robe.

The chicken fluttered quietly to the ground, cursing the fact that he was a chicken and not a bird of flight that could dive on the beholder and spear it from behind. But he was no ordinary man, and he made an extraordinary fowl. One little chicken eyebrow cocked and after much soft clucking and panting (if a chicken were capable of such things), he advanced on the pair, for once grateful that the Beholder's attention on Carl was so rapt, that all the eyes faced away from him.

Carl, who was very intent on keeping eyestalks out of his robes just happened to hear a cluck and a clank, and turned to see a very determined chicken coming up on them from the rear with. . . a silver stake clutched between its wings. He could have sworn the chicken was biting its tongue and was coming toward them at such a gallop, the stake aimed to pierce the Beholder right where its bottom would be, if it had such a thing.

You're supposed to be good, he thought, and worried that the creature would change its mind about changing the chicken, Carl deflected the blow with his foot, which sent chicken and stake careening off in another direction. Carl could only cringe at the resulting crash and angered-chicken-sounds emanating from the corner.

The Beholder spun at the sound. "What was--"

"Nothing, nothing! Come and look at this," Carl said, hurrying the Beholder to where his helmet waited. He held it up for the creature, who quickly thrust all of his eyestalks into it and blinked through the various magnifying glasses at Carl, giggling as Carl described how big his eyes looked now. . . and now. . . and. . . .

That's when Carl saw the chicken again, the crossbow on the table in front of it. He was just about to curl its wingtip around the trigger, which was aimed at the creature's backside once again. Carl dropped the helmet onto the creature eyestalks and spun them both quickly.

"Sorry about that, thought I saw a rat," Carl apologized as the creature frowned and rubbed its eyestalks together. "Ah, over here's where I make glycerin48. . . "

As they were talking about how lucky it had been that Carl had accidentally packed that substance instead of holy water, Carl looked behind them in time to see the chicken on the floor ineffectually trying to drag a tojo behind him. Seeing this as no threat, Carl turned back to his explanation, and then saw something amiss with the tubing. As he was trying to correct the problem, the Beholder floated over to the chicken struggling with its device.

He smiled at the chicken, and held out two eyestalks. He moved one quite gracefully and spoke in a soft voice out of the corner of its mouth. "Oh, Van Helsing," he mimicked, "you're so big and strong and here he turned you into a chicken. Oh, hahaha, is that not funny?"

Then he moved the other eyestalk with jerky motions, letting the lid go up and down erratically and in a gruff voice he spoke out of the other corner of his mouth. "I don’t know, Carl, I'm kind of dumb. The irony escapes me." And then he brought the eyestalks within a hair of each other and made kissing sounds while shaking the Van Helsing eyestalk, before having the Carl eyestalk shriek and run away.

At that, the chicken's eyes went almost impossibly wide, and as the Beholder floated back over to Carl, the chicken grunted and squawked and scratched and managed to squeeze the tojo handle with its wings, aiming a smug look at the eyestalks that were watching him, if a chicken could look smug.

Then the device took off, the blade pulling it along the floor with chicken in tow. As it hit bumps and obstacles, the device flew end over end, pulling a distressed-looking chicken along with it.

Carl turned at the commotion . "I wonder what he's getting himself into?" But the chicken-powered tojo had already passed them and was finally slowing down, to the chicken's great relief.

Finally, when the tour ended and Carl and Beholder came back to the table, Carl found the chicken on the floor, looking like it had just rolled in dirt and been in a strong wind and perhaps not slept in a week. He picked it up gingerly and stroked it, and he could have sworn it sighed and rested its head against him. Carl gave the Beholder a pleading look, at the same time swatting at a straying eyestalk.

"All right, Carl. Put him on the table. I'll change him back now." Then at the dark look the chicken gave him, he changed his mind. "Well, after I'm gone he'll change back. I promise."

Carl put the chicken gently on the table and made the Beholder promise him many times to change him back to himself permanently and as soon as he was gone, no more catches, no more jokes. When he was satisfied that the Beholder would do it correctly, he hugged some of its eyestalks goodbye and told the creature to not be a stranger, which earned some tired clucking from the chicken that Carl was sure would translate into curse words, if humans could translate chicken language.

The Beholder then hugged Carl, wrapping its many eyestalks around the friar, most of them glaring at the chicken as it did so. Carl squeaked as one ventured where it wasn't supposed to be and extricated himself from its grip.

After it was gone, Carl sighed and noticing a loose feather sticking straight up front the chicken's head, he plucked it off, making the chicken cringe and chuff a little. He patted it.

"Sorry. Just hold still. I'm sure it'll happen any minute." And then a thought occurred to Carl, and before he'd thought better of his thought, he said it out loud. "I wonder why he didn't make you a rooster?"

Carl grew concerned as the chicken seemed shake, and one eye opened much bigger than the other in an unnatural way. And then chicken was using claws and beak to actually climb his sleeve.

"What, what are you--just calm down now, you don't want to change back while you're sitting on my shoulder."

But that wasn't what the chicken had in mind. Once it reached Carl's shoulder, it hopped on top of his head and began pecking in earnest, squawking and almost growling as it did so. Carl yelped and grabbed the chicken to hold it in front of his face. If chickens had mouths like humans, this one would have been gritting its teeth and grinding its bottom jaw back and forth.

"Gabriel, all I'm saying is--"

And then he was Van Helsing again, his face in Carl's hands. He fell forward against the friar who managed to hold them both upright, thanks to the table behind him.

"Why didn't he change me into a ROOSTER?" Van Helsing shouted, even in his dizziness.

"It was just an observation, for goodness' sake, not an implication--"

"Why didn't he change me into a doe. Or how about a soft fuzzy little bunny rabbit!?"

"--I wasn't trying to slight your masculinity in any way, though the Beholder now, that's a different story--"

"I was about one puppet show and one more peek into your robes away from tying its eyestalks in tight little knots and pecking your ankles."

Carl plucked a stray chicken feather out of Gabriel's hair and giggled nervously. "Well, at least that's over with, for good this time." Almost blushing, he said softly. "So. . . where were we, before. . . you know. . .the chicken thing?"

Gabriel smiled and leaned closer to Carl, as he had been before 'the chicken thing.' "I think I was getting very close to finding out why that thing seems so fascinated with your undergarments. Unless memory fails."

Carl smiled shyly and leaned forward, his eyes closing in anticipation. . . before he opened them again and looked into the man's face for a moment, frowning slightly . "Wouldn't it be hard for a chicken to tie--"

"Don't say it, Carl. Just. Don't. Say it." He pulled himself up straight, bringing the friar with him, ushering him up the stairs and back to his room, casting one last glance around the lab for eyestalks peeking around a corner.

As soon as they'd made it inside the room, Carl squeaked and instinctively swatted at the eyestalk roving around under his robe. . . until he remembered the Beholder was gone, and that eyestalks didn't have fingers.

Meanwhile, the Beholder chuckled and floated away from the Vatican. "A bunny rabbit! Why didn't I think of that?"