You woke up in the dead of night, alone on the couch. The silence pressed into your ears as you became aware of it, as you slowly drifted awake.
Drowsily, you took stock of the situation. You were curled up uncomfortably on the couch, cold but for the places where your body heat had seeped into the fabric of the cushions. The thin blanket around you did nothing but constrict your limbs, and Filbo wasn't next to you like he had been when you had initially fallen asleep. He must have gone to his own room sometime after you had passed out on him. You understood why, the couch wasn't that big, but you still wished he hadn't.
You sat up, feeling a restless, anxious energy starting to paw at the back of your mind. You wanted nothing more but to be asleep again, comfortable and safe, but your paws had barely made contact with the carpet when a horrible blaring noise broke the silence of the night.
Startled, you looked around wildly for the source, getting up and fumbling for it, when you realized the noise was your big cordless phone. You had no idea who was calling, but you answered it automatically just to make the sound stop.
"Thank heavens you answered! Is this line secure?" Snorpy spoke urgently on the other end.
Your whole body was tense, blinking the last vestiges of sleep from your eyes. "What? No, I…" You weren't sure how to make a phone or phone line secure. You’d gotten this phone from your job at GNN and had never returned it. They never mentioned anything about security. Your addled brain scrambled to supply an answer. "I- I don't know. Snorpy, what's going on?" You lowered your voice.
"The flea! Do you remember the flea?"
"What…?" You were so confused. Were you still dreaming?
"The- Ah, no, the tick. Do you remember…?"
The tick. It was like a match being lit. "Yeah, the one on F-"
"SHH! Yes, that one! Listen to me." You listened intently. "I had forgotten about it after the party. You see, I had never gotten around to disposing of it, but when I went to correct that oversight today, the vial I had put it in was nowhere to be found."
You frowned. You knew he was going somewhere with this, so you stayed quiet and let him continue. Outside the window, you heard something moving. Probably the wind.
"I know for a fact I had placed it in a secure location, as to prevent it from escaping. When I found that the vial was no longer there, I thought perhaps that our… Red nosed mutual friend had gotten rid of it himself, since he seemed keen to do so when the pest was discovered."
Filbo had been extremely embarrassed when Snorpy had found the tick. You wouldn't think he would go so far as to sneak away from the party, track down the vial, and kill the parasite himself, though. "Where are you going with this?"
"I thought he might have taken it with him when he was leaving, so I thought back to when everyone was departing, when you and F… When you and our mutual friend were leaving the house... I remember clearly that there was nothing in his paws, and that the metal detector did not go off!”
Your tired brain lurched, trying to follow the urgency in his voice, but the dots hadn’t quite connected for you. You could feel yourself approaching it, as if you were descending in an elevator but you didn’t know where it was going. “But… If he had nothing, then the metal detector wouldn’t…”
“He told us he had a metal rod implanted in his leg! And yet, the metal detector did not go off!” Snorpy sounded breathless. “The machine was on, Cromdo had forgotten to take his watch off just a minute before! Don’t you see!?”
It snapped into place, at once nightmarish and too real.
Snorpy continued, his voice rising on the other end of the line. “You must take the proper precautions! Do you understand? You must leave immediately!”
“I… Yeah. Yes.” You had to get some water. “Thank you. I’ll… I’ll get in touch when I have an update.” You hung up, hoping Snorpy didn't have any more to say.
Maybe Filbo had made a mistake. Maybe he didn't have a metal rod in his leg, he just thought he did. Maybe… No, but then the metal detector wouldn't have gone off when he had passed through the first time. Either the tick was made of metal, or Filbo had some other piece of metal on him he had forgotten about, one that he had left at the party. Maybe that's all it was. A misunderstanding over a spare pen.
You gritted your teeth, grabbing a cup from the cabinet where Filbo had neatly put them away the other night. You were making excuses for him. Never, ever had you done that before, not for anyone but Filbo. You had been dodging your instincts from day one, you realized.
Beffica's words floated back to you: the more innocent they look, the bigger the secret. She hadn't liked Filbo at all when you had gotten to Snaktooth, but she had never given you a real reason why. Just "his vibe", she’d said. She thought he was fake. "He doesn't even like bugsnax, he just eats them because everyone else does." The memory of her words made you feel cold to the core. You leaned against the counter, forcing yourself to focus against the approaching panic inside you. What other things had you ignored or dismissed? What other evidence was out there?
You thought back to when you had first met Filbo… Even then, some things had been strange. You knew he wasn't actually starving to death when you had found him a few yards away from where you had passed out; he had probably just been tired and very hungry. His eyes had been open when you found him too, and he had clearly seen you approaching him. He mistook you for Liz, but…
...But you remembered him telling Eggabell that he had eaten some purple flowers out of desperation that day, and as a result he had gone blind temporarily. Gone blind, and fallen into a hole. He was laying next to some immature purple sauce flowers when you had found him, but he could clearly see you well enough to tell that you weren't Liz, and he was very obviously not stuck in a hole. He must have been embellishing his story for Eggabell. Why? To make himself seem more helpless? To convince her to come back to town? You couldn’t answer.
What else had he done that was odd? You went through your time with him in your mind... When you were back in town with Filbo, the first people he had wanted back in Snaxburg had been Beffica, Wambus, and Gramble of all people.
If you were trying to pull a community back together, why in the world would you start with two people who hated each other more than anyone else, and a person known to revel in drama who also happens to hate your guts?
Why would you try to throw a party with those people? You suddenly recalled that Filbo had deliberately prompted Wambus and Gramble to speak to each other. "You two must have a lot to talk about", he’d said. You hadn't thought anything of it at the time, but Filbo had been there for the big fight. He should have known better. That seemed like blatant baiting to you now.
At every party he put together, something always happened that drove the Snaxburg residents apart. When they were driven apart, when they were stressed, the first thing they did was turn to bugsnax. That's what everyone asked for, mostly. Everyone but Filbo. After he showed you how to catch them, he never asked for another bugsnak again. Instead, he asked you to help people, asked to move in with you...
You rubbed a paw over your face, taking a shaky drink of water. On the beach, he had asked to stay with you, saying he couldn't return to his family snakified. He knew everyone had to keep Bugsnax a secret, he was thinking ahead before anyone had even finished processing what had happened… And… And he had known that you lived alone. What's more, he specifically offered to help you choose what to leave out of your story. He was already thinking two steps ahead to cover things up. Filbo was already two steps ahead, this whole time-
You almost dropped the glass as you turned around. You could barely make out Filbo's shape in the dark, standing just outside the doorway to the kitchen. You froze. How long had he been watching you?
You set the glass down on the counter to hide the tremble in your wrist, trying to look and sound calm. “Filbo.” Your voice was a little hoarse. There was a silent, sucking fear in your mind and chest. A danger at the edge of your peripheral vision.
“Are you okay?” Filbo suddenly took a step closer, and you couldn't help but jump slightly, back pressed into the counter. It was so dark in the kitchen that you couldn’t see his face. The moonlight from the window only caught the corner of his foot.
“I… I had a nightmare…” Your voice was low and quiet, soft against your rising fear. You couldn’t make out his features. You were afraid to look into the darkness too hard.
He didn’t move any closer, and you realized that it was too late to conceal your fear. You gave yourself away already, and now he was waiting too, making his decision. Your heart thudded in your chest, the grip of your paw tightening against the counter top. You swallowed, the noise covering the sound of your pulse in your ears.
Filbo shuffled in the dark. He was rubbing his arms. His shoulders were hunched; he looked small. You wanted to touch him, but you were afraid... In this weird, charged phase of the night, it felt like he might fall apart beneath your hand, or spring at you like angry, flapping fragments of winged creatures.
Finally, Filbo stepped into the light. He stood in the kitchen in front of you, solid and real, watching you. He was afraid to touch you too. "Buddy…" His voice was a low whisper.
Like he was telling you a secret.
"No." You smiled like it might be a joke, but it twisted into a look of anguish before you could convince yourself that this wasn't happening. The danger yawned underneath you like a big, black pit. You didn’t want to be right. You wanted to be stupid and paranoid and wrong. You wanted to lay back down with him and pretend.
Filbo was quiet.
"Please…" You begged him. "Please…"
Tears sprang to Filbo’s eyes, and you felt like your heart and lungs were being compressed inside of you. He shook his head, one paw over his mouth, the other reaching for you, and before you knew what you were doing you had dodged out of the way, dodging behind him and backing up.
“Buddy-!” He turned quickly.
“Why?!” You shouted, baring your teeth at this stranger. It scared you; it terrified you the same way the darkness in the woods on Snaktooth did, that uncertainty and sense of wrongness crawling in all around you like creatures in the dark.
Filbo grabbed your arm and pulled you towards him before you could get away. You opened your mouth to scream or bite or protest, but all he did was hold you in a tight embrace, his shoulders trembling. “Not here!” He hissed into your ear. You stopped yourself from fighting him, frozen. “Not here! We can’t… They’ll hear everything. I’ll tell you, but we have to do this outside. I’ll tell you everything, but not here!” His arms tightened around you, his voice an urgent whisper. "Please…"
You swallowed, knowing he could feel your heart hammering in your chest. You could feel his, too, you realized… You were both frightened.
“...Okay…" You said faintly. "Okay.”