Relatives. We've all had 'em at some time or other. Our nearest and dearest, our kith and kin, or in desperate circumstances, a bloke we just met in Tesco's car park two days ago whom we've been holding hostage in the spare bedroom ever since.
Being a Mudshark, Florentina was more bounteously endowed with scions and offshoots than most. Indeed, our heroine found herself in the bosom of a Family which positively strained its double D cups and on more than once occasion threatened to burst forth, popping buttons in the eye and demanding it's own Page 3 contract!As Florentina herself remarked at breakfast one day after a short but satisfying toaster-fork dual with Peep concerning the desirability of partaking of this repast to the accompanyment of "The Peashooters" (an ordinary tale of death, mutilation, lack of any discernable acting ability and animals in which Peep unaccountably found solace due to the fact that it made his own existence seem altogether more charmed in comparison) the problem was not so much one of quantity as of quality.
You have to admit," she mused, frowning momentarily as a small speck of blood trapped between the ornate, filigree prongs of the fork momentarily escaped her cleaning attentions " that by anyone's standards, the people to whom I am related by mere accident of birth, are more than a little..... eccentric"
"And also," she continued, triumphantly removing the last residue, and in total contradiction to her first assertion , "there are just too damn many of the buggers!"
Peep considered pointing out to Florentina that she had some measure of responsibility in this, for ever since the installation of the Sharkophonic Network and Florentina's communication with The Other Side, yet more Long Lost Relatives had crawled out of the woodwork and dropped wriggling to the floor with a surprised "eeek!" , but he felt that were he to lose the vision in his other eye too, his entire morning could be ruined.
Peep would therefore have experienced an unworthy but enjoyable feeling of vindication when, later that morning, there was a firm pounding upon the lead-and-uPVC portals of The Towers, and a grumbling Florentina, who had been summoned from the darkest recesses of the wine cellar, and had lost her way twice while attempting to negotiate her way back through the tortuous innards of her home, flung open the protesting door and promptly tripped over a row of neatly arranged suitcases.
"By the Wizard's smoking breath and antisocial hours!" she barked, "what idiot left those there??"
Before she could even recover herself enough to call down curses based upon several of Dudley's well-kept personal secrets upon the perp of the blockade, a large hand was thrust forward into Florentina's own rather sweaty palm, and a voice laced with essence of Milk Monitor announced:
"Desiree Mudshark. Come to tidy the place up a bit. Looks as if it could do with it, what?"
Florentina groaned. The long lost Desiree Mudshark, sixth cousin, twice removed! A branch of the family which the Mudsharks had been a great pains to loose (Florentina grimly resolved to demand a refund from the hit man in question) due to the fact that they carried within them a taint - the Curse of the Mudsharks. This awful tendency could not be totally eradicated from the line, Harriet and Dudley carried a definite trace (although most people were far too polite to mention it) but Florentina knew as soon as she saw cousin Desiree standing there with her card-index in hand that the ancient curse had returned to haunt them.
"..front door could do with a lick of paint," pointed out Desiree vaguely "now, if you'll just show me your filing system..."
Florentina groaned. It was true. The Librarianship gene had returned to the pool....
Meanwhile, unaware of this terrible calamity, Eleanor Mudshark surveyed the two drained, shattered husks which lay before her.
"No stamina," she fretted "Things are just not built to last these days!" She kicked the remains of the yak-cart, but it was clearly destined for only one more jaunt, and that to the bottom of the moat. She surveyed the other wreck before her, and considered giving it a similar send off, but suddenly an idea dawned in her head.
"I could do with a holiday!" she cried "what with all this recent trauma. I could make use of this worn-out thing yet! It can carry my luggage!"
The exhausted peasant looked up at Eleanor and signalled his delight at this suggestion by trying to gnaw through his own jugular vein. Eleanor lobbed a few mahogany trunks onto his stooped back, and set off in search of an exotic location.....
Florentina too was feeling the strain. "Arsenic, Belladonna, Cyanide, Digitalis, E-coli, Ferniroot.. " she grumbled, glaring at her botanical collection. "How in the name of Gustav's Latest Excuses am I supposed to find anything when it's messed up like that??" Desiree took no notice, and continued repapering the cavernous kitchens in a rather fetching tea-pot design wall paper.
It was unfortunate for Monty that he chose this moment to appear with a knotted handkerchief on his head, for in that instant Florentina's Idea was born.
"Monty!" she bellowed, "I am assailed from all sides!" She indicated the gleaming ranks of alpha-chronologically correct sock-drawers. "Not only that, but the Wizard wants to discuss the sex life of his marrows with me! Monty! I need a holiday! Take me to the ends of the earth, where Mudshark kind are not, and peace and harmony reign. And where I can get leglessly drunk for under a fiver!"
Monty grinned ferally. The handkerchief trick worked every time!
Unbeknownst to Monty and Flo, yet another Mudshark couple were contemplating taking a relaxing vacation. Ever the concerned spouse, Dudley Mudshark felt an uncommon flush of saint-like goodness come upon him, and he resolved, in his typical, selfless manner, to ensure that his good wife Sylvia took a well-earned break from her onerous occupation of Empire-Building and cheese cutting.
"We shall follow this route", he announced to the astonished Sylvia, pointing to the spider-web tracings on the blackboard with his rhinocerous hide pointing-stick. "If things go according to plan, we leave at 08.43 hours, arrive "Shady' Sid's Gramophone Graveyard" at 09.13 hours, spend a brief interlude there, depart 11.38 hours...."
Sylvia dared to interrupt him mid-flow. "And I expect, " she said, with steely sweetness, "that I shall be priviledged to whip the recalcitrant yaks along every inch of the way!"
Dudley beamed. "Even so, my love! I calculate, that if you are more than averagely ferocious with the elephant -hide whip, we can negotiate no less than 35 Gramaphone Emporia in 4 days! Could any woman ask for more?"
Sylvia's eyes narrowed only imperceptibly, but the cat, who was considerably more sensitive than Dudley, incidentally, fled instantly "That," she trilled musically ("frigidissimo") "sounds rather less than.... relaxing, O Light-Of-My-Life-And Sole-Reason-For-My-
Dudley's expression was as beatific as an entire coach load of nuns on a night out to see Jesus Christ Superstar.
"My dearest Sylvia, Mature Stilton of my Cheeseboard, naturally I have allocated some time for gentle, meditative pursuits! To this end, I have borrowed Florentina's Mountain Goat for you, and I have arranged for us to go Mountain Goat Racing. In a purely, relaxing, non-competitive way, of course.
"Of course!" acknowledged Sylvia, her expression magnificently concealing the fact that she already knew of the many hours Dudley had spent in training. Sylvia was a great believer in Karma. Chicken karma, to be precise. "Dudley is not the only one who can borrow a little something from Florentina," she mused to herself as she fondled the small glass vial in her hand.....
Some indeterminate time later, Monty and Flo found themselves staring up at a strange object in the sky.
"It is, I tell you! It is!!!" exclaimed Monty excitedly, waving his telescope around in an excited fashion. "Here, have a look"
Florentina took the proffered instrument suspiciously and pointed it heavenwards. She squinted through it for some minutes before returning to Monty with a grudging
".... could be.. But we should be wary of making rash pronouncements, O Tall One, for this is a strange, outlandish apparition, the like of which we have never seen before!"
Monty was undeterred.
"I am undeterred," he announced "I shall write it up in my Journal. Today, we saw.... The Sun!!"
At that moment a large, foaming canine rushed out of the towering undergrowth through which Monty had lately hacked with his trusty machete. Florentina looked at the animal, then at Monty in his fetching knotted headgear and finally at her ornate ormulu wrist-chonometer, which chose that particular moment to strick 12 sonorous "Dong"s
"You know Monty, you could be right... I think we are...... Abroad!!"
Meanwhile, back at The Towers, even odder things were abroad than Florentina. Pavlov Mudshark, for a start.
Pavlov was an enigmatic Mudshark. Rumour had it that The Mudshark Family was not the only Family to which he was related. Pavlov's swarthy complexion and strange obsession with linguini (not to mention his middle name "Macaroni") did little to dispel this idea, and the tale was told of a wild and stormy night, many years ago, when a shipwrecked Sicilian sailor fetched up on the doorstep of Mudshark Towers, to be treated to a night of unbridled passion and bongo-playing by Pavlov's great grandmother, shortly followed by a lecture on avoiding the ornamental boat pond when delivering the papers.
Pavlov laughed off these rumours ("hah hah"), but few Mudsharks had failed to notice the way the Vile Peasants decked themselves with garlic whenever Pavlov went among them. Some even added a little basil and pecorino cheese.
Such things were not uppermost in Pavlov's thought just at this moment, however. He stood, staring in perplexity at the strange scene within the Great East Wing, wherein he dwelt with his paramour, the magnificent Dolores Mudshark. It seemed to Pavlov, if he was not much mistaken, that the huge plate glass window had been removed, his dwelling entered, his furniture moved two inches to the left, then returned to its original position by the perp, who had then left by the window, replacing it in its original frame as he departed.
"How very strange" he mused... "it's almost as if someone had entered secretively with the express purpose of commiting a felony, then been overcome by some nameless fear and left..
"Good heavens, Pavlov, what on earth makes you think that?" enquired Dolores, blowing down the barrel of her delicate, shell pink Magnum which she regularly used for unblocking the many water closets to be found in that particular corner of the Towers.
Pavlov laid down the heavy pile of negotiable currency in new notes on the coffee table. The table groan, burdened as it was with several kilos of Pavlov's favourite herbal incence, but it was built to withstand the weight of a Family size gin and pepperoni pizza.
"I cannot put my finger on it.." said Pavlov (Dolores looked disappointed) "... but I always have this feeling that I am somehow......feared."
"Why, dear sweet Pavlov" cooed Dolores, "Who could ever look at you and tremble? Especially since you stopped wearing that shirt!"
"Oh, by the way," she continued, as Pavlov picked up the phone to call Igor and make him an offer he couldn't refuse "Isn't it about time you took that horse's head out of the bed?"
Monty hacked his way through the last of the undergrowth and he and Flo stood within a sunlight clearing.
"What joy!" marvelled Florentina "What biodiversity! What astonishing fauna! What on earth is that?"
She pointed to a weird-looking creature, all pincered claws and strange, overhanging tail
"Why, I do believe its a scorpion, Monty!" she exclaimed delightedly. Monty shuffled nervously.
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I am - look, here it is in my Book!" She flipped open a yellowing volume and pointed to a sketchy outline which bore a faint resemblance to the creature before them. Monty continued to look unconvinced.
She picked the scorpion up and examined it as it lay in the palm of her hand
"Don't panic, Monty", chuckled Florentina, "I have read The Book, and it states quite clearly that scorpions are shy and retiring creatures whose only thought in life is to avoid confrontation with human kind and the Inland Revenue. We are quite safe!"
Unfortunately for Flo, the scorpion had not read The Book. It gave her simultaneously a baleful stare and a poisonous barb straight into her outstretched thumb.......
Later on, Monty sat with beer in hand at a nearby hostelry, where, as chance would have it, he had encountered Eleanor Mudshark, who was waiting for her travelling companion to recover from the day's exertions.
"...never even stood a chance..." he expounded sadly "it was all over in seconds. I can still see it now.. that awful, milky, venomous substance..."
Eleanor nodded sympathetically "So it was....."
"... alcohol poisoning" finished Monty, casting an exasperated glance at Florentina, who cheerfully waved her empty glass in his direction. "Poor bloody scorpion...... Fancy another ouzo, Flo?"
"Ahh... it's good to be home, " sighed Flo, as she and Monty stashed the last of the unregulated solvents "Foreign food is all very well, but you can't beat a good curry! Monty, I shall prepare a culinary feast for you tonight such as will make your epithelium cringe! (Monty cringed without the benefit of his epithelium)
But what was this? Flo frowned and looked again through her condiments. "Well," she pronounced in a puzzled tone, "I have looked under C for chilli, X for extra hot, LD50 for...well, never you mind Monty, but I cannot find my special Mix which I have send to me from half way around the world by Pandora Mudshark." Her perplexity turned to alarm "I do hope no other Mudshark has taken it upon herself to prepare a meal for her spouse during my absence using this volatile brew!"
"Why? what would happen?" cried Monty fearfully
Florentina shuddered. "I do not wish to go into the gory details (Monty briefly gave thanks to any currently-on-line Deity), suffice to say that having feasted on this, one's rear end would be in no condition to go mountain-goat riding for quite some time!"
Monty breathed a sigh of relief. "Come on then, let's see if Pavlov's got any pizza on the go...."
Passports ready for the return trip to Mudshark Towers