Florentina Mudshark approached the great banks of blinking and bleeping machinery with trepidation. Despite Montague's assurances, she did not entirely trust the beast whose glowering presence filled the vaulted crypt with a presence as menacing as that of Dudley on the way to consult with his solicitor. Hesitantly, she pressed the large red button protruding from the towering monolith and immediately a great cacophony of chattering and whirring broke out, a dim, green screen blinking unwillingly to life, and after a few false starts, the great computer's welcoming message appeared in dim, gothic lettering on the dusty screen
Florentina winced as words were also thundered out on the great cast iron printing machine linked to the steaming computer by what looked like a macramed hawser, but she persisted, and typed a tentative;
The computer seemed to pause for a moment, as if considering its many options in this respect, and then its reply flicked decisively to life;
'NO. BOG OFF.'
The dusty screen went dark, and the clattering ceased. Florentina grumbled, but not for nothing was she wearing her trendy Doc Martens. A swift, encouraging punt with this footwear brought the computer to life once more, and she turned her attention to the wheezing juggernaut of technology which was now marginally under her control. She gave a sly grin, rubbed her hands together and practiced a few furtive, darting glances around the gloomy crypt. She considered going for an evil cackle as well, but decided that would be just a little over the top and settled for a good snort instead.
"Swiss-dynamite-thingy* ( * See Peep for explanation if required) prize for literature here we go! O Mudsharks, are you lot in for a shock! Sordid revelations, muck-raking, skeletons in closets, all the usual aspects of Mudshark life, no stone shall be left unturned, no photograph unpublished, no embarrassing, drug-induced arseholery unscorned, nyuk! nyuk!"
Florentina paused at this last epithet, wondering if she had actually uttered it. She shrugged, and returned to her worthy labours. To gain access to her secret files, it was necessary to supply the computer with her secret password. Long and hard had she pondered the weighty question of what this should be, and had eventually settled on 'Florentina's Secret File', safe in the knowledge that no other Mudshark would ever guess what was contained therein from this cryptic legend.
On supplying the computer with this requirement, Florentina's meisterwork erupted on screen;
THE MEMOIRS OF FLORENTINA MUDSHARK "How well I remember those far off days, as if a mere ten years had elapsed, instead of ten thousand. Well, actually, I don't really remember all that much at all, due, no doubt, to the dedication with which I pursued the sacred Mudshark lifestyle, but a few highlights have remained embedded in the frontal lobes. Who could forget the anguished expression on Igor's face as he burst in one night on a cosy experiment in fungal hyper-reality?
"It makes you go blind!" he croaked in horror, so overcome he was barely able to grab another slug from the hefty winchester of industrial methanol as supplied by The Fin on a cairry-oot* (* Ancient dialect, see Le... Cholmondoley for exlanation) basis for those unable to avail themselves of sufficient quantity internally in the scant time allowed for such purposes under ancient and highly questionable laws. Reactions were scholarly and philosophical.
"What a downer!" exclaimed Harriet. All nodded, except Gregori, who, in response to a discussion of some hours earlier, suddenly cried:
"It's Grunge! Egnurg is Grunge backwards!"
A spontaneous ripple of applause broke out in appreciation of the speed with which he had arrived at this knowledgeable conclusion. Igor Shook his head sorrowfully, and once more set off on his quest for his favoured delicacy of thin fried slivers of the exotic root of Solanum tuberosum, leaving we adventurers to test the mettle of his furniture, as was generally the case, the Wizard's apartments being too full of necromancy for such purposes, and Monty's too full of gerbils.
Ah, how it brings it all back! Those long evenings spent talking to rodents under the watchful eye of Mr Spock as little tiny boats sailed gracefully through the air and some unusually intelligent form of mould quietly ate the carpet. And this was before we had eaten anything illegal. Strange but true, o ye the uninitiated, it is a well known fact that there are certain substances in this universe which, if ingested with all the proper ceremony and ritual, have the power to make the ingester see God, strawberries, or taxis with big furry horns, depending on inclination, but what is not so well known is that these substances also have the power to produce copious quantities of gastro-intestinal weather-fronts. To be evasive, wind. Flatulence. From both ends.
How well I remember being jet-propelled up the long, winding track which led from The Fin to Brian, that, and the happy conviction that I was a lawnmower, rendering the journey considerably shorter than was normally the case. On another occasion, I was relieving myself in the electric outdoor facilities of Brian's Bowels, and having watched the snowcapped scandinavian forests gently heaving, a-writhe with giant serpents and crustaceans (oh, all right, centipedes and slaters to you), I was filled with the spirit of the Great God Barf, and perceived the imminent and explosive departure of such from my inner recessess, thusly, I felt it in order to do the thing properly. Get behind it and push, as it were. To which end, I flung open the door of the small sanctuary, which led directly into the sacred garden, and as the burbling gasses fought their way upwards I aided their ultimate expulsion with an exultant cry of -
- right into the face of the incoming Harriet, who was so overcome with shock she didn't know whether to have a heart attack or another drink. Fortunately, she decided on the latter...
Happily typing away in almost indecipherable gothic script, Florentina failed to notice the wraith-like figure of The Wizard float by, holding within an astral force-field a quantity of water, which rode in front of him like an aqueous crystal-ball. With a flick of his wand, the sphere settled gently into the left-hand pan of a giant balancing device stashed in the corner of the cellar. Into the other, The Wizard carefully placed an ornate and highly polished lump of yellow metal bearing the rune: As he did so, the huge pointer between the pans swung heavily, oscillated slightly, then settled dead centre, absolutely vertical. The Wiz nodded sagely, then retrieved his globe of liquid and drifted ethereally off in the direction of the Cavernous Kitchens, which were situated on the opposite side of Mudshark Towers, down long lengths of musty and winding corridors.
His stately progress was interrupted, however, by the sudden ejection from one of the many intriguing doorways peppering the passage, of a pitiful figure clutching a paint brush in one hand and his rear end in the other. From within, the Wizard heard a powerful voice demand: "Next!" He recognised the voice of Dolores Mudshark, and rubbed his own rump in sympathy, which was no mean feat while juggling an astrally-supported lump of liquid!
Down in the cellar Florentina continued to type, but her concentration was disturbed by a weirdly arhythmic clanking and tapping. Curiosity aroused, she abandoned her task and peered out into the crusty corridor. The Wizard had long since vanished, leaving only his customary smoking trail to indicate his passage, but sitting cross- legged in a handy recess was Pavlov, eyes closed in ecstasy, one hand holding a huge, smouldering cylinder of incense, the other beating a furious rhythm on his knee (almost) in time with the tintinabulous cacophony which suffused the entire basement of Mudshark Towers. Sensing Florentina's presence, Pavlov opened one eye, although his digits did not falter from their knee-top samba. "Far out, cosmic, and, uh, positively auditorily immaculate!" he enthused. Florentina could not bring herself to tell him that the funky sounds were those of Montague and Gregori cleaning out the drains again. Pavlov was, after all, Hank Crapper's other fan.
Meanwhile, back in the Cavernous Kitchens, the Wizard slowly and reverentially drew the shining crystal sphere from the innards of the vast freezing room, (wherein was kept Dudley's ten year supply of mango- and-lager flavoured ice cream [all other Mudsharks snaffle at your peril!], Florentina's Turnip Vodka, and any unfortunate relatives who had sampled it), his smoking breath frosting its icy surface. He struck the now-solid globe with his wand, and it gave a satisfying 'Dung!". Together, they sailed off once more, bound for Florentina's cellar. Any stray Mudshark who had happened to be within hearing distance would just have been able to make out the words; "...show that bugger Arbuthnott..." as the Wiz levitated by.
Florentina, having been once more interrupted from her task by Peep cheerily snuffling down the convoluted system of tubes and valves which constituted the familial communication system at her, was surprised to see the Wizard breeze in, stop by the balancing device in the corner, and regard the sloshing volume of water he had with him in some puzzlement, then turn and leave again, heading, or so it seemed, in the direction of the Cavernous Kitchens... Some time later, Alexi was crossing the main corridor of Mudshark Towers, mouth full of nappy pins, mind considering the weighty problem of which chemical cocktail would be most suitable from the removal of egg custard and rice stains from ornamental epaulets, when he was startled by the sudden apparition of The Wizard bearing down on him, moving at a speed considerably greater than his usual elegant drift.
Alexi raised his hand in greeting, and was about to launch in to one of his brief tales of exciting events occurring in and around the Towers, nappy pins notwithstanding, but the Wiz brushed him aside and continued his snappy pace down the corridor. "Not now, Alexi, got to get to...." but such was the Wizard's alacrity that the words tailed off before Alexi could grasp their full import. He shrugged, and continued on his way, to share his wisdom in the way of laundry and other topics with Laetittia, and instruct her in the care and management of young Rosebud Mudshark (or 'Buddy'), another gloop recently inducted into the Clan.
The Cellar had become somewhat cosmopolitan in the Wizard's absence. Hearing of Florentina's latest project, other relatives had arrived to share their reminiscences, and ensure that the current libel laws were strictly enforced. Harriet broke out the bottle of serious Ambrosia she kept for special occasions such as ritual sporting violence, and all present were getting into the sort of worthwhile shouting demanded by these types of events. Thus it was, scarcely anyone noticed the Wizards somewhat precipitous entry, breathing heavily from his exertions, but dignified as ever, nonetheless, as he approached once more the mechanism in the corner. Had Florentina been observant, instead of half-cut, she would have seen him perform the same ritual as previously, this time with rather more irritation directed at his watery impediment, including some of his famous necromantic curses (although what alchemical purpose he put the oft-mentioned dipstick to, no-one was at all certain.), before setting off once more, somewhat wearily, back to the Cavernous Kitchens.
The corridors of Mudshark Towers are long and tedious. Through the bowels of the Ancestral Pile mile upon weary mile of labyrinthine passages snake and twist. 'Twere almost as though the long-dead forefathers who built the place knew that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, and struggled mightily to avoid any such happenstance in the grisly depths of their sprawling home. Which is exactly what happened.
Anyway, the corridors of Mudshark Towers are long and tedious etc, and it would be only too easy to lose oneself in that serpentine maze, wander for days, years even, with only carpet fluff and the omnipresent condensation problem for sustenance. Many are the tales of the awful cries of lost souls condemned forever to search the castle bowels for half a can of flat export and some three day old fried rice, which we will not go into here or Herr Editor will be required to get his shears out, suffice to say that for many a long year Chesterfield Gregori Demonsthenes Mudshark had prowled the creaking depths, having lost his way one night, mistaking one of the castle's many undiscovered secret passages for a fire escape. So long had he wandered that he had quite forgotten what it was to indulge in social interaction with other Mudsharks, far less binge himself stupid. Now, however, as he turned yet another door handle, stepped into yet another endless passageway, some pathetic shred of memory stirred in his brain. Could it be.....? Yes, yes it was! The Main Corridor of Mudshark Towers! After all these years, he would be reunited with his fellow Sharks! Chesterfield raised his hands in joyous salutation.
At that moment, zooming around the corner, trailing clouds of fire and brimstone and moving at a lick that would have earned the undying respect of Nigel Mansell, came the furiously motoring Wizard, with what appeared, to the luckless Chesterfield, (just as his feet were swept from underneath him and he landed face down in more fried rice than he'd seen in forty years) to be a large ball of... Chesterfield struggled to his feet, brushed off assorted rice, Peep hairs and other detritus, then, with a shrug of his shoulders turned and disappeared back into the depths from whence he had come.
Down in the Cellar, things were hotting up. As always, whenever Mudsharks gather, debauchery ensues. Reminiscences came thick and fast; Gregori received much applause for his impersonation of a fridge, and, flushed with his success, encored by throwing himself head first from the lofty cellar buttresses clutching a fizzling stick of dynamite in either hand, which was much appreciate by the audience, but resulted in Gregori missing most of the rest of the evening's frivolities. Alexi appeared with a bottle, turned into a big blue caterpillar and promptly pupated. Dudley brought along a friendly coat named Claud, later spotted discussing Textilestentialism with Young Robert, whilst The Man himself, apparently in an unusually mellow humour, happily acceded to all requests for him to 'splatter another Heiney, Dud!'
It was Florentina, however, who noticed the absence of one of Mudshark Towers most senior residents. "It appears," she panted, "that we are missing The Keeper of the Secret of The Chicken in The Fridge!" "Oh good," beamed Harriet, "does that mean we can smoke his...." But as she spoke, a sudden commotion intruded on the gathering, and in revved His Wizardness, sandals smoking as he screeched to a halt in front of the weighing machine, beard awry and pointy hat long since blown off. Panting, he deposited his ice on the pan, only to discover that - slosh - it wasn't - drip - wasn't... - trickle.... splosh.... The only sound, amidst the splashing, was the Wizard's sobs.
It was unfortunate that Arbuthnott chose that moment to join the throng. An enraged Wizard is not a pretty sight. Still, the hair will grow back and some of The Family think scorch marks are quite fetching. By the way, if anyone out there has got a pound of ice to spare.... just send it c/o Mudshark Towers..... Next Time: Laugh as Florentina reveals more amusing incidents from the Family's Interesting Past. Either that, or send used notes in a plain brown envelope....
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