Snorpy passed under the metal detector set up by the door, making it his twelfth test that evening. Before he could finish walking through, the lights flashed red. The tinny sound of a recorded siren blared, which ignited a little flare of pride and satisfaction in him. Snorpy set down the small sliver of metal he had pinched between his paw pads and made a note in his journal, pleased by the sensitivity. He had only seen a few trackers before, but they were small things, small enough to hide under the fur unnoticed, and if he was going to be able to screen people, then... He jumped when the alarm suddenly shut off.
Beffica was standing there with a flat look, one paw on her hip, the other on the off switch. “Remind me again why we need to scan everyone when they enter? Last I checked, this was a party, not some kind of top secret briefing.”
Chandlo called from the living room. He was on the very top of a step ladder, stretching to try to secure the last of the streamers to the wall near the ceiling. “Security’s important, Beff! Snorpy’s just trying to make this a safe place for us, so we can talk about Snaktooth without worrying. Right, Snorp-Dawg?” He turned around with a big, tusky smile, giving Snorpy a wink.
Beffica groaned. “Fiiine, I get it. Just, does this alarm have to be so loud? It’s going to drown out the music. Like, total vibe killer.” She crossed her arms and cast the metal detector a scathing glance.
“Ah…” Snorpy glanced at the metal detector, shifting awkwardly in place.
Triffany walked in from the kitchen, still drying her paws with a cup towel. “Wouldn’t hurt to turn it down, hun! Most of us will be arrivin’ all at once, and we can greet them at the door then, eh? No need to be able to hear it from across the house.” She smiled.
Snorpy sighed. “Yes, well… I… Suppose it wouldn’t hurt to lower the volume a bit…” He opened a small panel on the side.
“Thank grump!” Beffica checked her watch. “Triffany, when’s Wambus getting back from the store?”
Triffany clicked her tongue and shook her head. “I knew we shouldn’t have let him go alone. He’ll spend an hour fussin’ over prices, gettin’ lost in the aisles, grumblin’ and carryin’ on.”
Beffica’s brow wrinkled, looking between Triffany and Chandlo. “What? The party starts in half an hour!” She ran a hand through her hair, huffing.
“No worries! I got it!” Chandlo hopped down off the step ladder, grabbing his keys from the dish by the door. “I’ll find him and bring him back, no sweat.” Snorpy was absorbed in adjusting the metal detector, but it didn’t stop Chandlo from putting an arm around his waist on the way out. Snorpy looked up, startled, just in time to be kissed goodbye. “See you soon!” Chandlo said with a wave as he dodged around the detector, heading out of the door. Snorpy’s eyes followed him out, too speechless to stutter, mouth occupied with a large and genuine grin. Beffica and Triffany exchanged an amused look behind him.
Preparations continued without incident until Chandlo came back, just before the party was set to start, with a disgruntled Wambus and most of the groceries and other supplies in tow. Soon after, the rest of their friends began arriving.
“EYY, Snorpy! Never thought I’d miss that scowl, eh?” Snorpy hadn’t been scowling until he had heard that. Cromdo looked up at the detector, setting down a bag full of liquor and his old karaoke machine. “Whassis? Some kinda disco light thingamajig?”
“No.” Snorpy adjusted his glasses. “Actually, this machine detects the presence of potential tracking or recording devices. If you have metal on your person that you are not aware of, the alarm will sound, and we will relieve you of any nefarious micro-transmitters that might be present under your fur.”
Cromdo scratched his cheek. “Yeah, okay. You just wanna make sure no one makes off with the silverware. I can respect it.”
“Why… No, I-”
“Say no more.” Cromdo took off his watch and handed it to Snorpy, trotting through the metal detector. “Pretty clever! I oughta get one for the karaoke bar! You wouldn’t happen to have a spare, eh?”
Snorpy picked up the karaoke machine with some effort, setting it on the small table past the machine. “Not presently, no.” He said flatly, taking a screwdriver to the side of the speaker.
“Hey hey HEY! Watch it!” Snorpy ignored him, too absorbed in checking the inside of the machine for any suspicious hardware.
Wiggle and Gramble arrived together with a tray of homemade cookies. Shelda arrived soon after wearing a tasteful turtleneck, carrying a tray of vegetables and a dish of hummus made using her own recipe. She and Chandlo hugged after she passed the screening, the two wandering off to discuss the book she was writing. Floofty was next, fashionably late, appearing on the doorstep with that knowing smirk.
“Floofty.” Snorpy glanced at the nondescript bag Floofty had brought with themself. “I wasn’t aware Beffica asked you to bring anything. What did you…?”
“Drugs.” They brushed past Snorpy before he could stop them, rolling their eyes at the metal detector and taking their glasses off. They set them down, along with the bag and a pocket knife, before passing through.
“You didn’t really-” Snorpy reached to check the contents of the bag after briefly checking their glasses, but Floofty smacked his paw away from the sack and scooped it up in one smooth motion. “Ah ah ah, dear brother. Weed can get to that later.”
Floofty took back their glasses, ignoring him, and trotted, pleased, into the living room, to find Triffany for a chat. The music was too loud to hear any of the conversation.
Snorpy watched the small crowd of mingling grumps, feeling somewhat out of place under the colored lights. The music was high energy - some pop song from one of Beffica’s mixtapes. Almost everyone had found someone to talk to, including Chandlo. Snorpy rubbed his arm and glanced at the clock anxiously.
“Heyyy…” Beffica came to join him by the metal detector, smiling, but looking a little anxious herself. She looked at the clock too. “7:48… Getting a little late.”
“My thoughts exactly…” Snorpy pushed his glasses up, casting Beffica a worried glance.
Beffica surprised him again by giving his arm a small pat. “They’ll get here. If it’s not an interview or a deadline, they’re going to be late to it. Totally rude of them to make people wait, though.”
Snorpy let out a loud sigh. “Yes! I agree! If you commit to being somewhere at a certain time, however informal it is, then you should be there at that time!” He fidgeted with his apron. “...Some people worry!”
Beffica laughed. “Yeah, some people worry. Hey, is that a new work smock?”
“Oh, you noticed!”
Just then, there was a knock at the door and Snorpy jumped to open it. You and Filbo were on the step, tired and sheepish, but happy to be there.
Beff scoffed. “What took you so long? Busy doing roommate activities?” She made eye contact with Filbo, who’s smile turned into a small flustered line.
“No, I’m sorry. We got carried away writing a thank you letter to the regional manager at Grumpmart.” You said, rubbing your forehead. “Filbo managed to get them to donate to a struggling soup kitchen downtown. It’s what we’ve been doing all week, looking for problems in the community and helping people solve them.” Not to mention sitting in on city meetings and networking with local leaders in the community. Filbo did all of the talking and you did all of the notetaking. Filbo had left nothing but good impressions so far, and his popularity was growing. You were exhausted.
“Well, don’t just stand there, come inside!” Beff pulled you in. “Oh yeah, but you have to pass through Snorpy’s sphinx gate first.” Beff rolled her eyes and gestured for you to take off your watch.
Filbo’s eyes widened and his shoulders sagged in relief. “Oh, you set up a metal detector?” He looked at Snorpy.
“Was that a Never Ending Story reference?” You surrendered the watch along with your spare pencils, passing through after.
“How do you do that?” You asked, shoving your belongings back into your bag. “Colon, o, right parenthesis.”
“No, you have to say it fast! Like this. ;0].”
“:o)” Your mouth dropped open.
Beff laughed. “Remember, this is our secret. Only cool people get to know this trick.” She held out her pinky, and you hooked yours in hers, nodding with a serious expression.
Filbo passed you the bags of chips and sodas you had brought, before looking up at the metal detector, his face neutral and curious. He hesitated for a moment, looking Snorpy in the eyes and scratching the back of his neck. When he stepped through, the light began flashing red instantly. You, Snorpy, and Beff looked at him with surprise as he frowned up at the machine. “Uhhh… Is that… Bad?” He scratched at the back of his neck again.
Snorpy grabbed a pair of tweezers and a small tube from his set of tools, moving behind Filbo. “Don’t move!”
“Huh?” Filbo tried to turn his head, but Snorpy stopped him and brushed his hand away, clicking a switch on the side of his glasses. A small light shone from it, onto the back of Filbo’s neck.
“Gloves. Someone, pass me my gloves!”
Floofty had materialized, passing Snorpy a pair of surgical gloves.
“What’s going on?!” Filbo stood stock still.
Snorpy wasted no time in pulling them on and immediately started to carefully part the fur at the base of Filbo’s neck, much to Filbo’s discomfort. “Ah-hah!” Snorpy snagged something with the tweezers, and began pulling up, slowly and steadily. The tweezers came away with something black pinched between them.
Beffica grabbed your arm. “Oh my GRUMP, what is that.”
“Is that-!?” You took a step forward.
“What is it?” Filbo asked anxiously, turning his head.
“It appears to be a tick.” Snorpy said, putting it into the small tube. “Happens to the best of us. I’ll dispose of this later.”
Filbo looked beside himself with embarrassment, and Beffica made a face. “Eww…”
You felt a little itchy suddenly, but you gave Filbo’s arm a pat regardless.
“I… Have NO idea how that got there… I, I-” He was without words. “I-I’ll take care of it Snorpy, I don’t want you to, to have to deal with that, so,” He held his hand out for the tube.
Snorpy held up a paw. “It’s no trouble, and we’ve wasted enough time. Now, do you have anything metal on you? Something you forgot to put down?”
“U-um… I have… A… A metal rod in my leg?” He rubbed his arm. “Um, from when I broke it as a kid… Would that…? Set it off?”
Snorpy sighed. “Yes, yes it would. But, it’s no matter! Come, let us commence this joyous celebration!” He waved a relieved Filbo in and you followed, heading straight to the drink bar. Cromdo had booted up the karaoke machine, and Wiggle was practically vibrating.
Shelda taught you and several others her ancient secret punch recipe, slurring the entire time and emptying almost an entire bottle of hard liquor into the bowl. Wambus loosened up considerably afterwards, and even took to the dance floor with Floofty.
Filbo and Cromdo sang a duet together that was dangerously close to being good. After, Cromdo tried to charge him five dollars for it, which earned a few laughs.
At that point, you were drunk enough to really boogie, and Snorpy was drunk enough to join you. You both danced terribly together, flailing wildly as if moving your body to the music was just a suggestion, and damn was it fun. Gramble came and joined you, and then Triff, and then Cromdo, and then almost everyone else. Shelda and Wiggle sang loudly and danced with each other as the rest of you devolved into what amounted to a bunch of uncoordinated hopping and wiggling.
Eventually you flopped back onto the sofa when Cromdo took the mic for a slow, romantic song. You watched Chandlo take a blushing Snorpy’s hand and lead him to the center of the floor. Shelda sat next to you, and you felt briefly self conscious that you both apparently had comparable stamina.
“I hear you’re writing a book about what happened on Snaktooth,” you panted slightly, still winded. Shelda nodded.
“One is! Yeurrr, I mean, I am!” She sniggered, obviously still inebriated. You joined her in her chuckling.
“I’m looking forward to reading it.”
“Well, I’m looking forward to writing it, child!” She chuckled again.
“You know what?” You sat up a bit. “You should borrow Filbo for your editing. He’s really good. I mean it. He’s REALLY good. Did you read my article? Our article, I mean. That one. You know.”
Shelda nodded. “Mmmm, no. It hasn’t been published yet, has it?”
“Oh. Yeah, I guess it hasn’t.” You rubbed at your mouth. “I’ll send you a copy. Filbo’s a great editor, he knows how to take things out without making it look suspicious. He’s really good about it.”
“Mmmm…” Shelda had her eyes closed. You watched her curiously. “This, I think, is something I would like to write alone. For now, at least…” She opened her eyes and looked at you. “I want to make one thing in my life, one thing that is all my own… A genuine expression of who I am, and the lessons I truly wish to pass on. Something I’ll be proud to be remembered by.” She smiled at you and her eyes were warm and deep, kindness and quiet understanding shining through. You understood, then, why Eggabell and Chandlo had admired her so much.
You reached over to squeeze her paw. “I’m really, really looking forward to reading it.” You smiled back at her.
She laughed and patted your paw. “Yes! And as I’ve said, I’m looking forward to writing it. But first…!” She grunted as she pushed herself up. “Back to the party!” She hobbled off to get more punch. You sat up, thinking you might follow suit, but Snorpy suddenly filled the vacated spot.
He looked happy, flustered, and worn out from all the dancing with Chandlo, and you grinned. It was great to see him having so much fun. “Hello, Snorpington.” You used your best Floofty impression, but you were drunk and it was bad.
Snorpy cast you a sidelong glance. “Don’t start.”
You laughed. “How’ve you been? We haven’t had a chance to catch up yet.”
He sank into the couch. “Oh, I can’t complain much. Chandlo has been wonderful as always... But, I must admit, I’ve been a bit on edge.”
You nodded, suddenly far more sober, and straightened in your seat. “Why’s that?”
Snorpy frowned. “Well… I haven’t seen any evidence that the Grumpinati is attempting to monitor us. Chandlo and I, I mean.” He fidgeted with the edge of his work smock, running his thumb over the fabric as he looked down at it. “I hesitate to believe that my efforts to deter them have been completely effective… Which means they’re either biding their time, or they’ve managed to find a new method I have yet to detect.” He sighed.
Your brows were furrowed. “...Snorpy, I’ve been meaning to ask. Do you think the Grumpinati and the bugsnax are connected?”
“Oh, undoubtedly!” He nodded.
Snorpy shook his head. “I couldn’t say, Chum. As much as I loathe to admit it… I wasn’t able to find any definitive proof of Grumpinati activity on the island. The most compelling evidence was the behavior of the bugsnax themselves, and their powerful, addictive qualities.”
Snorpy continued. “You consume them and they… They sneak into all of your thoughts. They do everything they can to become the logical solution to any problem, even when you KNOW it makes no sense.” Snorpy shook his head. “Even when I suspected they were dangerous, I had convinced myself the best way to neutralize that threat was by eating them! All of my inventions, even ones I set out to make for unrelated purposes, I realized their utility in catching snax and modified them accordingly!”
You rubbed his shoulder and he shook his head again. “You see… Even when I knew that these solutions were foolish, even when I understood on some level that they wanted to be eaten, that they were DESIGNED to be eaten, I couldn’t help myself from playing right into their hands. I could never fully convince myself of the danger. I always felt that, surely, one more wouldn’t hurt.”
It was disconcerting, but it made perfect sense. The snax were like an addiction, Snorpy was right. You had only eaten one, and it came out of both ends of you immediately, but even you had been convinced that catching them and feeding them to people was the way to help them. Guilt pawed at you as you remembered. You fed those… Things to your friends to get information, to get approval. Thank god everyone had lived.
The music suddenly quieting caught the attention of both of you. Filbo was by the karaoke machine with the mic in his hand, but he wasn’t about to sing.
“Hey everyone! I just wanted to take a moment to thank Snorpy, Chandlo, and Beffica for setting this up… And, actually, everyone else for being here and making it happen.” He smiled, eyes shut happily as he laughed.
“I want to thank Buddy too. I’m a little tipsy right now, which makes it easier to say this stuff, but… But, thanks for letting me stay with you, and for helping with this campaign, Buddy.”
You waved a paw quickly. “You don’t need to thank me, you’ve been doing most of the campaign stuff. I’m just your secretary.”
Filbo laughed. “Aw, c’mon. I couldn’t do this without you.” He smiled at you, and you smiled back, flattered and happy.
“Eh, actually!” Cromdo spoke up. “Glad you brought this up! See, I wanna help out too.”
Filbo looked surprised. “Oh, umm…”
“Free of charge! Free of charge. See, I’ve turned over a new leaf.” He put an arm around Filbo’s shoulder.
“W-wow! Really Cromdo?”
“Absolutely! I believe in you, Filbo! Plus, it’s gonna be great for business if I have an in with the mayor!” He grinned. You looked around, finding several extremely flat expressions.
Cromdo continued. “Once the time comes, I’ll use some of my old contacts and get some flyers and brochures printed for ya. As an ex-door-to-door salesman, it’s my SPECIALTY to go, eh… Door to door!”
Filbo grinned. “Cromdo, that’s… That’s actually really generous!”
“Yeah, yeah, don’t sound too surprised, kid.”
Beffica cleared her throat. “Don’t pretend you’re the only one who wants to help, Cromdo. I’ve been doing some digging on the other candidates.”
“Ah, well, we don’t really want to run attack ads…” Filbo started.
Beffica rolled her eyes. “Okay, sure, but some of the stuff these guys are hiding have led to real issues in the community. I’m just saying. I have the intel on the demographics that are being neglected, ones that YOU can reach.” She winked.
“I stigl have… Quite a following!” Shelda slurred from the kitchen bar. “Endorse you, Filbo! Hurraaaah!”
“I’ll look into some fundraisin’ for ya, hun!”
“I’ll build you a stage if you need one, Filbro!”
“I’ll write a SOOOONG for you~! Let my adoring fans know what a good mayor you will be, darling!”
“I-I’ll knit you a new mayor sash for when it gets cold…!”
“I promise to keep our acquaintanceship a secret, lest the press assume you were privy to or involved in any of my so-called crimes.” Floofty raised their glass.
Filbo was flabbergasted. “Guys…! Thank you, thank you everyone! I, I think,” He looked at Floofty, who smirked back and then downed the rest of their drink. Filbo looked back to the rest of the party. “There’s still so much we need to do before we even get close to running! Until that time, I’ll work hard to earn all the help you guys are offering. I promise, I’ll be the kind of mayor this town deserves. That you guys deserve. I’ll work hard to deserve the trust that you’ve put in me tonight. I’ll work hard to keep you all safe, so…!” He looked a little teary eyed. “So, thank you guys…!”
“Aww, hun…” Triff came over to give him a hug, and Gramble hurried over to join in.
“S’okay to cry, Filbo!” Gramble patted his leg, and Filbo laughed tearfully.
Chandlo got all three of them in a big squeeze. “Group hug!”
The entire party obliged. Even Floofty.