Snaktooth's Last Secret: Chapter 8

Poker Night

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The only night you, Snorpy, and Triff were free all at once was poker night. Every other Thursday, some of the gang would meet up at Triffany and Wambus' farm to play cards and lose money. You didn't own a car and were busy most Thursdays, so it was fairly rare that you went over, though you didn't mind. You loved Beffica, but routinely playing poker with her sounded like a good way to go broke.

Somehow, Cromdo, Shelda, and Wambus managed to hang onto enough of their income to keep playing. Wiggle, on the other hand…

"NooOOOOooo…" She threw her head back, a paw going to her forehead. "I don't understand! How do I keep losing?"

"Well, that's easy! You sing every time you get a good hand!" Cromdo snickered, "We always know when you're bluffing!" Cromdo usually wasn't much better, sliding into his cheesy salesman voice every time he was trying to bluff. This time though, he had gotten by with a full house - three fours and two tens - entitling him to the pot. He was reaching out for the pile of poker chips on the table, eyes practically projecting cartoon dollar signs, when a quiet voice spoke up from the other end of the table.
"Hold yer horses, now, Cromdo." Gramble smiled a quiet, cunning smile.

All the players froze. You swore you could feel the temperature drop. It was like a psychic chill passed over them, seeping into their souls at the sound of that gentle little voice.
Pink paws passed over the table, sliding his cards out into a perfect fan on the surface. A full house. Three jacks and two kings.

"YOU'RE GRUMPIN' KIDDIN' ME!" Cromdo leapt up from the table, his paws over his eyes, as Wiggle let out a delighted cheer. She threw her paws around a beaming Gramble while the rest of the table sat back and grumbled.

"Damn…" Wambus crossed his arms.

"How are you so good at this?!" Beffica put a paw to her forehead, sounding exasperated.

Shelda looked flat, saying nothing but dropping her hand on the table and reaching for the bowl of pretzels instead.

"This game's real fun! I didn't think I'd be any good at it!" Gramble looked giddy, seeming not to notice as Wiggle spooned the poker chips over to him with her paws.

"I didn't think so either, that's why I invited your fuzzy pink butt!" Cromdo threw his hands up.

"You shouldn't have doubted my man! He's a naturaaaal~! Ooooh, lady luck, put your golden paaaaws on his shoulders!" She put her arms around Gramble. "Bestow your luuuck upon my maaaan~!" Gramble grinned, absolutely tickled pink. "I SAID BESTOW YOUR LUCK, OH YEAAAuuooooh, WOOAAAHHH YEEAAAAAH!"

"I can't take any more of this." Shelda got up. She made a move to go to the living room but paused, catching sight of you.

You and Snorpy had gotten there around half an hour ago. It was a rule that every poker night attendee must bring a snack, so you had brought chips and Snorpy had brought a shopping bag with the raw components for guacamole. Triff had a great guacamole recipe herself, so she had taken him away to the kitchen to coach him.

You didn't feel like losing money, so you had pulled up a chair to watch the game quietly, sketching your friends in your journal as they played. That's what had caught Shelda's attention.

"Taking notes?"

You started closing the journal. "Um. No."

"They're probably doodling." Beffica said. "Open it up, Bestie! Let's see if you got my good side."

Reluctantly, you flipped open the journal to show them.

Inside your notebook was a rendition of your friends gathered around the poker table, in the same positions as dogs in the iconic "Dogs Playing Poker" painting by Cass Marsillius Coolgrump. You were quiet at Shelda and Beff stared blankly at the sketch.


Just then, Snorpy and Triff came in with a big bowl, which caught everyone's attention.

"That your guac, Triffy?" Wambus sat up a bit straighter, smiling.

"You betcha! Snorpy here did a great job puttin' it together." She patted his shoulders.

Snorpy put the bowl down on the table to push his glasses up, flustered. "Yes, the process has been thoroughly explained." That's probably why it took half an hour.

Most of the party guests went to try out the fruits of Snorpy and Triff's labors. While everyone was looking away, Wambus caught Triffany's paw gently, holding it and looking up at her with all the affection in the world written on his face. You couldn't hear, as you were too far away and he said it too quietly, but you saw his mouth form those unmistakable three words: 'I love you.' You looked away as she held a paw to his cheek and leaned in to kiss him.

The two of them were in love. That steady, solid love that lasted a lifetime, built on friendship, built on an understanding of and acceptance of each other as they were, and as they could be. Warm like a hearth fire, burning steadily. They had had their rough patch on the island, flexing their individuality and hurting each other on their rough edges, but even when they had stubbornly stood their separate grounds, that basal pull never went away. When everything was said and done, they just wanted to live their lives together.

You felt like a sap, looking down at your journal. In your heart, you could feel the same pull. A big, empty space that yearned with the strength and significance of a planet's gravity, drawing you somewhere, trying to draw something in too. You wondered what Filbo was doing… You wondered if he felt this way. Despite the fact that you had begun dating, you didn't dare to hope for that yet. Instead, you just hoped you'd have plenty of time by his side to find out.

Triffany sat next to you, and you looked up, giving her a small smile.

"You ready to talk archeology, hun?" She had an excited glimmer in her eyes.

You flipped open your journal, a fire burning in your own as all other thoughts got pushed aside. It was time to get some answers. "Absolutely. Snorpy, did you want to come?"

Snorpy looked over, starting to stand, but Cromdo put a paw on his shoulder. "Hang on there, pal! Remember Snaktooth?"

Snorpy faltered, brows furrowing. "How could I ever forget?"

"Right, right," Cromdo grinned. "Remember when the volcano started erupting and that cloud of lollives started flyin' out from the woods like a bunch of friggin' bats and one almost carried Gramble away?"

Snorpy didn't say anything, face in a suspicious Snorpy style scrunch.

"You remember after that, when you said the Grumperroni or whatever was gonna win and we might not make it, and then-"

Snorpy rolled his eyes. "And then you shouted 'I bet you five dollars we live,' yes, I recall." He started to pull out his wallet.

Cromdo surprised everyone by putting a paw on Snorpy to stop him. "Don't worry about it, pal." Cromdo grinned a big, suspicious grin. "Join our game and we'll call it even, eh? Smart guy like you, you'll probably be real good at poker." He looked over at Beff and winked.

Snorpy looked unimpressed. "I see what you're doing. You think my poker skills will be subpar!" Cromdo faltered, but looked shocked as Snorpy took a seat at the table anyway. "I'll have you know, I'm quite good at cards! Deal me in."

Snorpy looked determined, but you knew that wouldn't save him. You wanted to warn him, but that wouldn't save him either. Snorpy had no idea how obvious he was. You caught Beff's eye and gave her a 'please don't let them eat him alive' look, and she gave you a wink in return. It either meant 'I've got your back,' or 'no promises.' You sighed. That was the best you could do. You and Triff went to the living room, leaving Snorpy at the mercy of the poker table.

As you spoke to Triffany, you were surprised to find out that travelling by ship was a lot more dangerous than you had thought.

Modern ships were safer because of their navigation and communication instruments, and that was mostly because those instruments helped them to avoid storms. Ships that were damaged were typically broken beyond repair, dashed against sharp rocks or reefs where the water was rough and too deep. It typically wouldn't be possible to salvage a ship that was truly wrecked. Triffany explained that Grumpbeard's ship was probably just anchored out in the shallows, where it had rotted away over time.

"That's strange…" You made a note in your journal. "Anyone who was shipwrecked on the island would have been stuck there, but Grumpbeard wasn't, and there were parts from at least one other ship out in the boiling bay. That ship probably hadn't been properly shipwrecked either, since it was near a shallow area away from any rocks. It had just run aground, right?"

Triff nodded. "Most likely!"

"Then you'd expect that more people would have been able to get off Snaktooth…" You said. "Especially since it's not particularly difficult to get there."

Triffany tapped her chin in thought. "I suppose… Though, addiction is a powerful thing. Not to mention, your own ship was broken by a bugsnak, wasn't it?"

"That's true." You nodded. "I… Guess that means the bugsnax really are trying to keep people there." It sounded obvious when you said it, but the idea still made you feel cold.

Acknowledging that those things had enough intelligence and capacity for organization to trap grumps on the island… It was unsettling. What's worse, it gave you more questions about the nature of the island itself. What kind of organism was it? Did it think? Did it feel? What were bugsnax? Were they like the glowing lures that dangled above an angler fish's wicked mouth, or were they more like individual ants in a colony? You scribbled these questions furiously on a clean page.

"One more thing, and then we'll wrap up," You reassured Triffany. "Did you ever find any evidence of modern grumps on the island?"

Triffany smiled. "Oh, you betcha!"

"Really? Like what?"

Triffany laughed. "Well, we found some together, remember? There was a tent up on the mountains with some gear inside. Other than that, though, not much, aside from the things Liz was always leavin' around the island. Gave me a few false leads when I was lookin' for Gramma."

You weren't sure if you were disappointed or not. Really, it just made you want to go back to the island and look for yourself. Maybe after Filbo was elected… "Say, how did you get hold of Bronica's journal?" You asked. "Bronica supposedly never made it off the island, but if you found the journal on Snaktooth, then…"

"Then I probably would have found anything that remained of her in that area too." Triffany nodded. "I didn't find the journal myself. When Lizbert contacted me about Snaktooth, she sent Gramma's journal over." Triffany smiled a bit, more sheepish than regretful. "It only occured to me to ask Lizbert where she found it after she had already disappeared. I was just so caught up with all the history there… Hindsight sure is 20/20, eh?" She laughed.

You tapped your pencil on the page of your journal. "...Do you ever think about returning to Snaktooth for answers?"

"Absolutely not." She said firmly. "I've made peace with my history. Snaktooth is a place best forgotten."

"But it's still dangerous, isn't it?" You pressed. "What if-"

"Now, I know you aren't tryin' to convince me to leave where Wamby wouldn't follow and put myself in grave danger so you can get some answers." She gave you a firm look, and you had the decency to look embarrassed.

"I… You're right." You looked down at your journal, feeling a lump of shame form in your chest. "I'm sorry, Triffany."

She leaned over and gave your arm a pat. "Mhm. And I know you aren't going to put yourself in danger when you've got people who care about you more than they care about the stories you write?" She smiled at you kindly.

You shrank somewhat, flattered and feeling touched at that assertion. You were ashamed that the care your friends had for you wasn't quite enough to dissuade you from your desire to go back. "...I'm sorry."

She watched you for a moment and you glanced up at her.

"You know…" She started laughing a bit. "You're an awful lot like Lizbert."

You were surprised by that, but before you could ask another question, Gramble and Wiggle came in.

"Oh, sorry!" Gramble looked flustered. "Didn't realize you were in the middle of an interview!" He looked down at your microrecorder, resting in your journal, its tapes still spinning
You turned it off. "We actually just wrapped up." You smiled.

"Whew! Good timin', huh? Mind if we sit with y'all for a spell?" Gramble smiled, paws gathered to his chest.

Nowadays, Gramble looked a lot better. The strained, worried look had been eased out of his face, and in general he was far less gaunt. His fur had disguised it somewhat before, but back on the island he looked visibly washed out and unhealthy, too skinny and tense, the dark shadows under his eyes giving him a nervous, haunted look. The Gramble before you now looked much, much different. He was gumball pink, and his fur looked puffy, soft and healthy. He was round the way a healthy grump should be, and his eyes looked bright and clear. It was a relief to see him doing well.

He had taken a seat on one of the spare chairs in the living room, and Wiggle had leaned over the back of it to give him a hug. "You should have seen him out there. My Gramble is a regular card shark!"

Gramble looked sheepish. "Aw, shucks, I don't know about that…! To be honest, I ain't even too good at poker. I just got lucky with my cards, and uh, you'll excuse me for sayin' so, but Snorpy, Cromdo, and…" He looked at Wiggle, who was listening expectantly, and lowered his voice. "Uh, Snorpy and Cromdo are just really bad."

That got some chuckles, and a long laugh from Wiggle. "Oh yes they are, darling! And I'm going to take them for all they’re worth!"

Triffany looked surprised. "Ya mean you're goin' back out there?"

"I sure am, darling! I have the chips! I have the talent! And now…!" She leaned down to cuddle Gramble, bumping foreheads with him and nuzzling. She straightened, throwing her arms out. "I have the LUCK!"

You exchanged a glance with Triff.

"I'm gonna double your winnings! Just wait! Wiggle is gonna STEEEEAAAAAL THE SHOOOOOoooOoow~! Wooooaaaah yeah!" She wiggled excitedly.

Gramble reached up to pat her arm. "Okay honey! Good luck!"

Wiggle lost everything in a single game.

It was dark by the time you got home.

Because of the margaritas Wambus made, you, and almost everyone else, were being driven home drunk or tipsy. Gramble had driven Wiggle there in her car, but almost everyone else had gotten a ride there from Beffica.

"S'pretty kind of you to chauffeur, Beff." You mentioned. She let you ride shotgun, since you were besties.

"What can I say, I have a heart of gold." She smiled casually as she drove. "Plus, if you can get a bunch of drunk people talking on the ride home, you can get some pretty choice dirt." She glanced over at you and winked.

"Ooohhhh…" You winked back at her. "That's smart. Beff, you're so smart."

She laughed. "I know. The trick is making them talk about what you want to know! Unrelated, but how are things with Filbo?"

"Oh, Filbo's great, we…" You stopped. You turned to Beff with a sly grin. "You almost got me."

She laughed, pulling up to your apartment. "I'll get you next time. Pinkie promise we'll hang soon?" She held out her pinkie paw pad.

You hooked yours with hers without hesitation. "Pinkie promise." You glanced in the back where Snorpy and Shelda were snoozing. "Thanks for taking them home, Beff."

"Eh, don't mention it." She smiled. That sly, smug quality wasn't in it this time. It was just Beff.

You smiled back. "You're the best bestie of all."

She laughed. "I know! Now go inside, geez." She waved you off, shooing you to your apartment step. You held up a paw as she drove off, waving goodbye.

Careful to be quiet, you unlocked the door and pushed it open, peeking in. To your surprise, there was a light on in the living room. Filbo was sprawled on the couch with a book resting on his chest, fast asleep.

You closed the door softly and crept in, grabbing the blanket draped on the armchair. As you laid it over him, he stirred.

His brows furrowed as he blinked slowly, just starting to wake - then suddenly he jumped, scrambling to sit up.

"O-Oh!" He put a paw to his chest. "Buddy, you startled me!"

His reaction had surprised you. "I'm sorry, Filbo, I was trying not to wake you. Are you okay?" You reached out to gently rub his arm.

He laughed, covering your paw with his. "I'm okay! Sorry, I… I guess I was dreaming." He was quiet, looking at you. "Heh… For a second, I thought you were… Someone else."

"...Liz?" You guessed.

Filbo laughed. "No, Floofty."

"Ah, so you were either having a nightmare or a sexy dream."

"Buddy!" Filbo laughed, pushing your arm. "What?!"

You were chuckling. "Sorry. I might have had some drinks."

"Well, now I regret not coming!" Filbo sat up a bit more, putting an arm around your shoulder. You leaned into him, shutting your eyes happily.

"I like you a lot, Filbo." You murmured.

"I like you a lot too, Buddy..." He pressed a kiss to the side of your head. You were fast asleep soon after.

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