Your mind was numb as you slipped out of the door and into the chill of the night, with the stranger who had been sharing your home with you. Normally your arms would have been linked together; now, the only things that bridged the space between you were the cold air and your constant, paranoid glances.
The light was harsh and unyielding under the streetlight you eventually stopped under. You kept your eyes down for a moment to keep from seeing the harsh shadows that had formed on Filbo's face, instead watching the condensed shape of your own shadow shift underneath you as you moved. You could feel the weight of Filbo's gaze on you, like a tangible paw on your back.
You cleared your throat to break yourself out of your trance. Facing him fully in the light, you pulled out your journal and microrecorder, pretending that all of this was a normal interview with a stranger. The cassette spun steadily under the plastic cover and your pencil hovered over the paper of your journal, your old friends waiting for you to start. You began the way you always began.
“What’s your name.”
The question was flat. Filbo looked slightly hurt, unsure.
You closed your eyes for a moment, maintaining your professional tone. "I need you to state your name for the recorder. ...Your real name."
Filbo was quiet for a moment, his shoulders tensed as he seemed to debate something. "I… didn't lie about who I am, Buddy." His shoulders relaxed slightly, mind made up. "My name is Filbo Fiddlepie."
"Okay." You were deadpan as you wrote it down. "What did you do for a living before Snaktooth. How did you make your money."
He hesitated again. "They… Paid me."
The admission pierced the shell of your composure like an ice pick.
"They paid you.” You hissed. “They paid you to spy on us?" You lashed, making you both cringe. You had to avert your gaze, eyes finding refuge in your journal, suddenly aware of the rage lodged in your heart like a lump of smoldering coal. You tried to keep the furious shake out of your wrists, looking up again steadily and meeting Filbo's eyes.
Filbo looked tired. "...Yes…" His voice was soft, quiet.
You swallowed, looking down at your journal again. It was difficult, and searingly painful, but if you wanted answers, you had to try to ignore your feelings. You had to try. "...They've been paying you even after Snaktooth?"
You shut your eyes, feeling them sting. "What's wrong with you?" You couldn't stop yourself. "Was any of this real to you? Do you care about any of us??" You opened your eyes, tears blurring your vision. "Did you ever really care about me!?"
"Of course I care about you…! I wouldn't be here if I didn't care about you…!" He looked truly desperate, as if he thought the earnest intensity of his expression might somehow make you believe him.
Your claws dug into your journal and you quickly stole a wipe of your eyes with your paw, embarrassed by your outburst. You wanted to throw something, but instead you made yourself take a slow breath, centering yourself and doing your best to smooth away the betrayal in your expression.
"How did you get involved with… With this organization." You asked tersely.
Filbo sighed quietly. “I…” He had to clear his throat. “It happened a few years after I got out of school. My, um… My family hit some hard times. It had been tough before my dad died, but still, this was... Whew, hah…! Um…" He looked ruffled, nervous. "Liz had just left town again, and things were looking bad for us. My mom and brother had both been fired, our house had flooded, and we were close to losing everything. That's when they approached me.”
He rubbed at his forehead with his paw, looking ashamed. “They said they were a local paper, looking for insight on Liz. At first, all they wanted were some interviews about her, what I knew about her, what her early life was like…” He sighed, sounding strained. “We needed the money, and I didn't think anything seemed weird about it.”
Your brow furrowed. “Was it a one-time thing?
"I thought it would be, but they kept asking me back… After the third interview, they offered me a job. All I had to do was… Was, um, talk to Liz every time she got back to town, and report back to them."
"When did you realize it wasn't a newspaper?" You watched him, gaze steady.
"When nothing got published." Filbo bit his lip. "I… Went to try to find out more about them, but there was nothing. The publication just didn't exist." He shook his head. "The next time I met with them, I… Well, I mentioned that I couldn't find their offices. They laughed it off at first, but when I pressed them… Well, then one of the interviewers got up, shut the door, and locked it."
"Did they threaten you…?" You asked.
Filbo shook his head. "No. Not outright. But…" He looked down at his paws, face grim. "But, they mentioned my dad."
"Had he been involved with them?" You asked automatically.
Filbo shook his head a little. "I don't know yet… They keep implying that he had been, but…" Shame was written on his face. "I don’t really have any proof… They just kept saying that he would be proud of me for what I was doing…" You could see tears glimmering in his eyes, but he wiped them away before they could fall.
You looked away from him, your heart conflicted and heavy. "So… They hired you to spy on Liz for them. Did Liz ever suspect anything?"
Filbo shook his head. “I… No. No, but I wish she had." He frowned. "Buddy, I really thought I was doing the right thing. They told me she was involved in some dangerous things, and they just needed me to keep tabs on her. Some secrets need to stay secret, for the good of society…”
You were tense. He sounded like he still believed that sentiment. "What did they ask you to do?"
Filbo shuffled. "It… Really wasn't much. All I did was throw little welcome home parties for her every time she came through town. We'd catch up, and I'd distract her enough to keep her from talking to other people about her discoveries. She usually didn't stay in town very long, so after she left, I'd… I'd write up my reports and go turn them in."
"And they paid you for this?" You frowned.
Filbo looked down. "Well… That, and the occasional errand. It wasn't much at first. Never anything big…" He shuffled.
You were quiet for a moment, staring at your journal. "Filbo…" You looked up to meet his eyes. "Why did you keep working for them? You cared about Liz, didn't you?"
Filbo cringed. "I never stopped caring about her… She was the only friend I had for a long time, Buddy…"
He turned his head slightly, eyes downcast. "I… I genuinely…" He rubbed his arms. "I genuinely thought I was… Helping."
"She spent her school years sticking up for me and keeping me safe, so when someone told me I could do the same for her… I just…" He sighed, head bowed. "I wanted to believe I could do something that would make our friendship worth it for her. I was just… I was just so tired of being useless and pathetic and getting left behind." He shook his head, eyes heavy with tears as he dug up his old memories. "I didn't realize how selfish and weak I had been until it was too late."
Every insult he spat at himself made you flinch. He had been holding onto these feelings for such a long time… You just wished you could fix it for him, reassure him that no one thought of him like that, but for now all you could do was let him talk. "Until it was too late? What do you mean…?"
Filbo briefly wiped his eyes, taking a breath to steel himself. "They had convinced me I was doing the right thing, but I'm not as naive as people think I am. They asked me to do more and more, prompted me to get specific information from her, and I started to… To see what they were really doing. When my family members had gotten fired, when our house flooded, there were some weird circumstances surrounding those things. Some of the errands they asked me to do didn't make any sense, but I had the feeling they tied into other plots I couldn't see. By the time I realized I was in over my head, I suspected what they were capable of and I knew I couldn't quit. So, I just… Committed to staying. I played dumb, I did what they asked… But even then, they eventually began reminding me that…" He took a deep breath. "...That I’d have nothing if I ever stopped... that if… If Liz knew the truth she’d hate me, and I know they were right about all of that,” He drew in another, quicker breath to steady himself. “But I worked for them because I felt, I felt that, if I could convince Liz I was useless without her, then I could convince the organization I was useless without them too… I thought I’d be able to play them, that at least if it was me monitoring Liz, I could shield her from them, warn her if it ever looked like they would hurt her, but.. but...” He stifled a sob. “Oh god.”
You let him cry, regretting every second that passed where you refused to hold him. All you could do was watch as he wept into his paws, his grief cutting into the parts of you that loved him. You wouldn’t let yourself turn away. Even if you were strangers now, you wouldn’t turn your back on him. You couldn’t. Gradually, his sobs subsided. You held your pencil carefully in your paw, intently watching the cassette spin on your recorder. You regretted the question you had to ask, but you needed to know the truth.
"...Did you give Liz the lead to Snaktooth?"
Filbo laughed, but it was a bitter, broken laugh. "No… No, I couldn't have lived with myself if I did… I can barely stand it now, but if I had been the one to… If…" He drew into himself, crushed, and he covered his face with his paws again. After a moment, he drew in a breath and ran his paws down his face. “...I-I’m sorry. I'm okay.“
You were quiet for a moment. The atmosphere weighed on you less heavily now than when you began. Filbo was glancing at you, equal parts resigned, determined, and miserable. You rubbed at your mouth as you tried to formulate your next question.
“How much did you know, going into Snaktooth?”
Filbo shuffled again. “More than I let on… Um, do you remember Triffany’s gramma?”
You nodded. “Of course. Bronica Lottablog.” You frowned slightly.
Filbo continued, “Liz found an old journal from Bronica’s final expedition to Snaktooth. I don’t know where she got it or how it ended up on the mainland… I mean, I have my suspicions, but, um, there were sketches of Bugsnax in there… That’s, that’s why Liz started planning an expedition to Snaktooth. She was going to go there to search for the creatures herself.”
Filbo paused, gathering his thoughts. He looked troubled. “When I told my, um, my contact about it, I got the feeling that they already knew about Liz's plans. They wanted me to ask to go with her, to convince her that she should bring people on the expedition. Liz and Eggabell were together at that point, so it wasn't that hard to convince them… All I did was mention to Eggabell that it would be safer to set up a homestead, and she rolled with it. Then all I had to do was ask Liz if I could join."
He rubbed his arm again. "My overall mission on Snaktooth was to search for real Bugsnax, and if we found them I was supposed to avoid interacting with them as much as possible while encouraging other people to eat them. To… Facilitate that, they said I’d have to keep people at odds...”
Your eyes narrowed slightly. “That’s why your parties always ended badly? You were instigating fights. Stoking tensions.”
“I… I… Yes…” He grimaced. “Bugsnax were supposed to have some kind of positive mental effect on people, help them work together better as a group the more they ate. That’s… That’s why they wanted me to make people fight, so I could watch for signs that they were starting to get along… It took me too long to realize that part of the reason they wanted people to fight was so we’d stay isolated on the island...”
You frowned as you made a note in your journal. “It couldn’t be a coincidence that Snorpy ended up on the island. Who was responsible for gathering up the grumps for the initial settlement?”
“Liz, um, had a few people she wanted to come specifically… Triffany, Wiggle, Eggabell of course… We made flyers for the rest. I told Liz I’d distribute them, and then my contact, Biggaby, took over. That’s how we got Chandlo, Snorpy, and Cromdo. Wiggle didn’t come with us on the initial voyage actually, we had to make a few trips…”
You nodded, writing this down, engrossed. “In the video I received, I could see Chandlo, Cromdo, and Wambus in the background. You were all still setting up the town then. How many trips did you make back to the mainland, and how many videos did you send out?”
“Er, we made around four or five videos…. Most were, um, basically advertisements Liz made to get people to come buy into bugsnax, but, but there was one we made specifically for you...” He said.
"And the trips back and forth?"
"Right, um… We made two trips back to the mainland after we got to the island. On the second trip we got supplies, picked up Wiggle, Gramble, and Beffica, and I dropped the videos off for my contact. I… Assume he mailed them out." Filbo said. "The third trip, I was supposed to pick up you and two others, but when I got to the dock Floofty and Shelda were the only ones waiting.” Filbo fidgeted. “Before we left, I told them I was going to go check on something, but that was just an excuse so I could go meet my contact at the usual spot. When I got there, he told me there had been a change of plans." He wrung his paws, looking away. "...Er… That’s when, I uh, was instructed to destroy the ship. Biggaby said they’d be sending you with a new one in three months, but in the meantime, he said it was imperative that, um, no one leave the island.”
You had a deep frown on your face. "I guess that explains why I received the video so late… Liz made that video before the town was even finished being built. It takes a week to two weeks to sail to Snaktooth from the closest port, and we almost assuredly left from the same port because Liz drew the map I received in the mail with the tape…" You rubbed your chin. "Each trip there and back would take you about a month on average, so it took three months for everyone to get there."
Filbo nodded to confirm, looking slightly confused.
"Sorry, just… Trying to figure out a timeline…" You marked it down. "You said I was late when I got there. How late was I?"
"You were late by a lot, Buddy. When you didn't arrive with Floofty and Shelda, Chandlo stopped working on your hut so he could finish the others."
"...My hut?" You blinked.
Filbo looked surprised. "The half finished hut was always supposed to be for you. You… Didn't know?"
"I guess I never… Huh." Filbo's expression had softened with affection, and you looked down at your journal to avoid having to see it. You noticed you were still recording. "Sorry," You shook your head, refocusing. "Let's keep moving. When I arrived, how long had you been on Snaktooth?"
Filbo took a moment, considering. "I think… Almost a year at that point. A little less, but not by much."
You marked that down, surprised by the answer. Your own time on Snaktooth had lasted five or six months. Time flew by so fast on the island, you wouldn't be surprised to learn that the island itself interfered with a grump's perception of time. That was something you'd have to pursue later, though. "Now…" You looked at him more seriously. "Were you trying to tear the expedition apart the whole time?"
Filbo winced. "Well… Kinda. I, um… At first, I thought I might be able to nip the whole thing in the bud and get everyone to go home, but you can only burn a town down by accident so many times, weenie hands or no."
Filbo continued. "B-but after the big fight, I really did want everyone to come back to town! By then, I kind of suspected something was wrong with the bugsnax but I needed everyone to stay on the island long enough for us to find Liz. The more we fought and the more the island shook, the more likely it would be for someone to propose we just leave. I was scared someone would suggest it before we could get Liz back, so…" He shook his head. "I couldn't let that happen."
"Did you have any suspicions about what had happened to Liz at the time? Any leads?" You asked, watching him intently.
Filbo nodded, looking down. "I ended up being wrong... Kinda... But, um. When I saw the Snaxsquatch for the first time, I thought it was her."
"That's when you screamed." Your brows furrowed. "When we were telling ghost stories. I always wondered…" You paused. "When I went to check on you, there was something in the outhouse, but you stopped me before I could open the door. When I asked you why you screamed, you played dumb. You thought it was Liz? Why would you keep it a secret?"
Filbo rubbed the back of his head. "I… well, it scared the grump out of me, and I just shoved it into the outhouse without thinking. I really thought it was Liz, and I thought if you and the others saw her like that you'd get scared and want to leave… You would have had your question answered, and some people would have assumed we couldn't help her. Everyone would freak out about eating bugsnax and more arguments would break out. That's why I had to make sure no one saw her. When I began heading back, I saw you weren't with the others by the fire so I had to run back to stop you from seeing it.”
"That makes sense, but… You didn't stop anyone from eating bugsnax after that, Filbo. You must have suspected how dangerous they were, and yet you didn't warn anyone." You pointed out.
Filbo looked genuinely guilty, pausing as he gathered his thoughts. "...I know. I didn't see what good it would do. Back then, if I said something outright it usually got ignored, or worse, it would start an argument. I couldn't tell them why they shouldn't eat them, and they might not have believed me anyways. Even if they did listen, they'd just start getting hungry again, and we know things aren't… Ideal when everyone gets hungry."
You stared at your journal for a moment, processing. "I… Guess I see your point." You hated to admit it, but Filbo was probably right. Things were too unstable at the time, and warning people without evidence might have just made things worse. You looked up. "...What contact have you had with your organization since returning?"
Filbo looked thoughtful. "We had the meeting with Clumby, and I met with my contact a day before Snorpy's party-"
"Wait, CLUMBY!?" Your jaw dropped. "You… Clumby??"
Filbo shuffled guiltily. "Yyyeeaaah… Sorry to tell you, Buddy…"
You were shocked by how much that upset you, your expression a mix of disbelief and horror. "That's why she… That's why she believed you as a witness, despite pretending not to know your name. That's the only reason she believed us and let us go, because you were there to vouch for us." You stared at the ground, hit with another realization. "That's- The Grumpfoot…! The fact checking…!" You put a paw to your forehead, mind racing. You had been deliberately discredited by GNN! Filbo cringed and shuffled a bit closer, like he might try to comfort you, but you took a hasty step back. "You went back inside the day I was fired. Why?"
Filbo grimaced. "I… Well… I needed to inform her we were uh, going to stay together so I could… So I could monitor you. And, she gave me some equipment…"
"You bugged my apartment, didn't you." You couldn't help but glare. Filbo shrank away.
"Buddy, I had to… If I didn't, they would have known I wasn't playing for their team anymore."
You shook your head like that would clear the topic. "They might still suspect you."
Filbo nodded, his expression grim. "I know for a fact they do. It's only a matter of time before they find out what we all know and come after us." He took a step closer. "That's why I had to launch my campaign right away, Buddy. A nobody and a disgraced, legally dead reporter are easy to disappear, but a mayor and his speechwriter…"
"Okay, disgraced is going a little too far…" But you saw his point. "Either way, that apartment is not safe. They know where I live, and if they find an excuse to get in, they're going to find all the pictures and traps and notes I took on Snaktooth. They'll know. I have to clear it out."
Filbo nodded. "I agree. And, we should really look into getting a new place. Somewhere less isolated…"
You tensed slightly. You stopped recording, carefully shutting your journal. "Filbo…" You broke eye contact. "...We both need to look into getting new places."
He was quiet for a moment. His face fell as realisation sank in. "...Buddy, please, wait…"
You couldn't look at him. "I won't lie to you, Filbo. I won't tell you nothing has… Has changed, because it has." You said quietly, rubbing your paw.
He looked down, like he was searching for something to say. "...I… I understand that things have to change, but… The only way I can keep you safe is if we stick together…!"
"Filbo, I don't need you to keep me safe." You said it with more force than you meant to and you immediately regretted it. You looked away again. "I'm fine on my own. I always have been. I don't need you to shield me from the secrets you kept."
There was a quiet, silent despair in him as he looked at you. It radiated from him the way blood stained water, but he only nodded. He only nodded, and said nothing.
You watched him for a moment, his sadness renewing your anger even as you felt your heart ache in your chest. How could he claim to care about you, after keeping this secret? How could you let yourself fall for someone you didn't really know? He didn't trust you with your own life, so how could you ever trust him? Nothing was left.
Snaktooth had ruined your life. You were legally dead, fired, probably blacklisted in your field like Snorpy, but unlike Snorpy you didn't have the support of someone who loved you. All you had now was Filbo's secret - a burden you had to share that would drive a wedge between you and the people you had met and loved on that damn island. You had trusted, and now you were ruined. This interview meant nothing. You stared down at your journal, and you suddenly hated it with all your heart. You hated it, but throwing it away would mean losing the only thing you had left that mattered to you: the truth.
You exhaled quietly, diligently forcing yourself not to tear up, not in front of him. You had had enough of that tonight. "I'm going, Filbo." You hated the strain in your voice. "I need to get rid of any evidence of Snaktooth, but after that the apartment is yours tonight. Just… Clear out in the morning so I can get my things."
Filbo looked concerned. "But… Where will you-"
"You don't need to worry about that." You cut him off. "Just leave me alone for a while."
Pain flashed in his eyes, a fresh wound, and you hated yourself for it. You felt sick and miserable, but you had to stand your ground. You couldn't believe anything anymore. If Filbo had shown you who he really was tonight, then you didn't want to see any more of it.
Filbo didn't argue. "...Okay…" He nodded slightly, watching his own shadow with heavy eyes.
Everything was blurry under the harsh light of the streetlight. You turned and left without saying goodbye.