Carl held the little vial of powder carefully in his palm as he made his way to Van Helsing's sleeping room. He was so pleased with himself that he couldn't stop the giggle that bubbled up when he thought about the results of his plan. Unfortunately, he giggled just as he passed Brother Caleb in the hall.
"What so funny?" Caleb asked, not quite
smiling. Carl though he look like he
expected to be shocked, set on fire or
knocked down. And Carl couldn't blame him,
since all those things had happened to
Caleb when he'd helped Carl over the
But did I giggle first?
"Nothing's funny. It was a cough."
"You giggled." Caleb put his hands on
hips. "Come now, Carl. Is my clothing
askew? My hair sticking out?" He patted
his head to be sure. "Something in my
teeth? Why did you giggle at me?"
"I wasn't giggling at you. Just a small
cough. Really." Carl coughed and made a
giggling noise at the same time, raising
his fist to his mouth. It sounded nothing
like his giggle, but he hoped it would do.
"I happen to know that tomorrow is All
Fool's Day, and you're just the type to
mark it early, Carl. I'd much prefer you
tell me what's so funny, as I think the
entire tradition is undignified in the
extreme. What do you think God would think
of people spending their valuable time
pranking and humiliating one another?"
Carl tilted his head. "I would think that
if it's all in good fun, God perhaps has a
sense of humor. Where did we get ours,
"Carl." Brother Caleb shook his head. "So
young and impressionable. Can we please
"Oh, all right!" Carl said. There was no
use trying to convince Caleb, and if they
stayed here too long he'd never get to Van
Helsing's room in time!
He brushed off Caleb's shoulders as if
wiping something away. "You had white
powder all over. Obviously someone's idea
of a joke. All gone now! No one's fooling
you," he said, nodding.
Carl hurried away, leaving Caleb to wonder
who had powdered his robe, and how he'd
managed to miss it.
Carl looked up and down the narrow hall,
then slipped into Van Helsing's room. When
he found the garment he'd been looking
for, he removed the stopper from the
little vial in his hand and sprinkled a
bit of the powder onto the cloth. He
rubbed it in, so no loose powder was
obvious. Then he rushed away, trying not
to giggle and make other passing monks
wonder what jokes had been played on them.
Van Helsing came to the lab the next
afternoon, just to "see what trouble Carl
might be getting himself into." Carl
showed the man what he was working on, and
explained the intricate details of one of
the mechanisms he'd designed. He noticed
Van Helsing squirming, twitching and
otherwise unable to hold still for very
long. And he noticed that Van Helsing's
trousers front was quite . . . obvious. He
ignored it and kept talking. Finally, he
looked at Van Helsing who was squirming on
the stool again, and said, "What's the
matter with you?"
Van Helsing shook his head. "Nothing."
Carl went back to his explanations. I could be a gambler! I could
bluff and win all the money, and no one
would know what I was thinking!
He looked at Van Helsing again. "Are you
sure you're all right? You seem . . .
Carl nodded and continued on with his
explanation, while congratulating himself
on so smoothly appearing oblivious. And
wondering just why the man's pants looked
quite so tight.
Van Helsing shifted on his stool, sighed,
made a choked off sound of surprise,
shifted again, squirmed, and finally stood
up. "I think I might need--something," Van
"Something? A . . . new weapon?"
"No, some sort of . . . medicine. A balm,
"Oh, I see." Carl nodded. "I'm sure if you
go and see the--"
"No, I don't want to see
anyone, Carl. Can't you just get something
Carl pretended to be confused. "I can, of
course. What's it for? You don't ever need
any kind of medicine. Do you have a wound
that hasn't healed properly?" he asked,
his brows lowered in concern. I'm such an actor!
"No, nothing like that. I have this . . .
irritation. Itching. It started as a
tickle, became an itch, and now I'm on fire." Van Helsing said
fire with his teeth clenched. "It's
driving me mad."
Guilt settled in. Just a little. Carl
hadn't meant to cause actual pain. Perhaps
he jutted out so far in front because he'd
packed other cloth around himself to try
to ease it? "I've heard of that." He had
to keep pretending, didn't he? "It's a
foot condition that itches and then burns.
There are probably all sorts of things you
can put on your feet--"
"MY FEET--" Van Helsing
said, a little too loudly. He caught
himself and continued in almost a whisper.
"My feet . . . are fine.
It's not my feet." Then even softer, he
said, "My crotch."
Carl jerked and looked at the man as if he
were truly, truly shocked. "Oh. Oh my.
Your crotch?" he
whispered back. "Is there a . . . rash? Or
. . . lice?"
"No, there's no lice!" Van Helsing closed
his eyes and sighed. "No rash, no lice.
Just this maddening itching, burning, graaahhh." Carl wasn’t
sure what the last word was supposed to
be, if not a cross between a groan and a
Van Helsing surreptitiously, or so he
apparently thought, used his hand to
arrange himself through his trousers. Carl
watched that move, looked at Van Helsing's
face, then looked back at his work. "I'm
sure I can find something to help. Perhaps
you should have someone, umm, look at it,
to make sure you don't need a specific
ointment?" Silence followed that question.
Finally, Carl looked back at him.
Van Helsing's eyes narrowed. "You look
"Of course. I'm pleased because this
design solves so many trajectory problems
I've been grappling with for ages! I'm not
pleased about your itching private parts.
What a silly thought." Don't
"No, you look terribly pleased, but not in
the way you do when you've designed
something brilliant. In that way you do
when you think you're getting something
over on someone."
Damnit! "I have a special
look for getting something over on
someone?" he asked, putting on his best whatever do you mean?
"You do. And it's almost always followed
by the look that's on your face right
"I'm insulted that you would think--"
Van Helsing grabbed Carl by the hood of
his robe and pulled him through the lab,
up the stairs and into a hallway that was
empty but for them. When they stopped, Van
Helsing didn't even have to ask before the
truth tumbled from Carl's lips.
"It was just a joke for All Fool's Day,
Gabriel. I honestly didn't mean to set you
on fire. I formulated an itching powder
and put it in your undergarments last
night. Haha. Ha?"
Van Helsing let go of him and stepped
back. "Itching powder? Guess what? It
works! Another brilliant invention. Good lord!" He grabbed
himself and scratched through his
"Carl, I've washed twice since this
started, but the relief doesn't last long.
Surely you have an antidote?"
"You washed, but put the same
undergarments back on. I, umm, I ground
the powder into them pretty thoroughly."
Van Helsing groaned, bit his top lip and
moved his hips in a way that under other
circumstances might have caused Carl to
momentarily lose the power of speech.
Still, he had to pause before he could
form words. "Gabriel, if you'll wash again
and put on fresh clothes, it should go
Van Helsing nodded and started to walk
away, but turned back and pinned Carl to
the wall by his shoulders. "Don't think I
don't know what this was about, by the
way. Perhaps you should have
someone look at it? And who would
that someone have been, Carl? If you
wanted to . . . look at me . . . you
didn't have to fill my pants with an
itching aphrodisiac. Next time, just tell
Carl swallowed hard and watched Van
Helsing hurry away. "Aphrodisiac?" He ran
after his friend, catching up with him at
his room, where Van Helsing didn't
hesitate in peeling his clothing off.
Soap, cloths and water waited on the small
table next to his bed where he'd obviously
been trying to relieve the itch earlier.
Carl watched, mesmerized, as Van Helsing
simply hung himself into his wash bowl and
poured water on top.
"Cold," he said through gritted teeth.
Carl's eyes widened. The coldness of the
water had no effect on Van Helsing's rigid
state. He scrubbed himself with soap in a
way that made Carl cringe, but clearly
brought Van Helsing relief, judging from
all the sighing and other sounds he made.
Then he rinsed with a final groan, and
held a towel in front to cover himself. He
turned to face Carl.
"The itching won't come back now?" Van
Helsing's face had actually pinked up a
"As long as you don't put that
undergarment back on. I'll . . . I'll wash
it for you, since I'm the one who put
"Since this is your fault, yes, I think
you should." Van Helsing sat on his bunk.
Carl couldn't stop looking at him, and the
huge mound his hand covered with the
"So how long until this goes away? Now
that I've washed, it should disappear,
"The itching? I thought that was gone."
"Not the itching. This."
He nodded down at himself. "I've been like
this since the tickling started."
Hard. His powder had also
made Van Helsing hard.
"Even when it started burning?"
"That actually made it worse."
"What a fascinating side-effect," Carl
Van Helsing stood up, still cupping
himself. The towel only stayed where his
hand was, however. Carl looked at his
naked hips, his chest. He swallowed hard.
Soon his state would match Van Helsing's
if he didn't stop looking.
"Carl, are you saying you didn't know this
"I didn't know. I'm sorry."
"Oh." Van Helsing seemed to deflate. "So
you didn't mean to give me an aphrodisiac
after all. And when you said someone
should look at it . . . I'm sorry. I
assumed you wanted . . . I assumed wrong."
"No, you didn't!" Carl clapped his mouth
shut after he said that, but the hopeful
look Van Helsing gave him then made him
feel bolder. "I mean, not exactly."
Van Helsing lifted his head, one eyebrow
arching. "Not exactly?"
"I was teasing, and
maybe hinting a bit, when I said someone
should look at it. Though I didn't intend
the powder to do anything more than make
you feel like you had ants in your pants."
He smiled a little, and felt his cheeks
warming. "The side-effect is . . . an
appealing one. Don't you think? I mean,
perhaps you really should have someone
look at it, after all?"
What am I doing? He's going
to throw me out on my ear.
"Think that's necessary, Carl?" Van
Helsing asked. He smiled a little, but
Carl was still uncertain.
"Well, it might be. Since I didn't intend
for that to happen, it's an anomaly. It
could go away any second, or last longer
than you might find comfortable. The
powder must have absorbed into your skin
and caused this. So . . . it might not
wear off for a fair stretch of time. At
least . . . not on its own." Carl cleared
his throat. "If you helped it along,
however, you might get relief far sooner.
And then perhaps you could forgive me for
"Perhaps," Van Helsing said. "Do you mean
relief with a balm or ointment? Or did you
have some other type of treatment in mind,
Carl?" He moved forward until he was
leaning down over Carl, their faces close
together. He dropped the towel, and took
Carl's forearms, pulling him away from the
door and toward the bed.
Carl made that coughing, giggling sound
he'd done for Caleb, only this time it was
completely involuntarily. "Balms and
ointments probably won't help." His voice
grew higher in pitch as he spoke. "I think
what's called for here . . . is a much
more hands-on approach."
"Hands-on?" Van Helsing said, and Carl
could have sworn his voice changed, too.
Van Helsing sat on the bed, then moved
over to make room. "Hands-on," he
repeated, then took a deep breath. "For
this prank, and every accidentally singed
hair, failed experiment, puncture wound,
spill, scrape, bruise, stumble, and even
the time you set my shirt on fire when we
were making camp, then startled my horse
the next morning so that it tossed me in
the river . . . you're forgiven. Very,
very forgiven," he said, his voice lower
Carl giggled again, but this time the
sound was clear and true.