[Fiction, nostalgia] Diary of a Zoombini

Recently TERC, an educational company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, made a Kickstarter to revive an old game they published way back in 1996 (the same year Pokémon Blue came out!) — an incredible logic point-and-click adventure called “The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis“.

Just last month, they came out with the updated version, with new art and animations. As a kid I was obsessed with this game, and I still am. This is a little imaginative (and not-so-logical) journey of my own, based upon its excellent puzzles and plot.

zoombinis map with zooms

Day 855

Dear diary. Wait, let me start again.

Uboogly is an idiot. There, I said it. I know you might think it odd that my first entry in a gazillion days opens with an insult, but sweet Zoombini! His rank stupidity is why we’re in this mess in the first place, you know? Placing the fate of your species in the hands of mean-looking monsters who rock up in Viking longships calling themselves “the Bloats” has got to be about the dumbest, most brain-dead move this side of the dodo. Anyone calling themselves “the” anything is clearly bad news. Haven’t you ever read a comic book?

Uboogly, if you see this I want you to know you’re the biggest Fleen-wit on Zoombini Isle, and I hope you and your stupid rollerskates drown in the Zoombini Strait.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, it’s been about, what, 500 days since we last spoke? Wanna know why I haven’t written anything? Because nothing’s happened. Life under the Bloats is the absolute pits — we do the same work we did before, except for longer hours, less pay, and zero job satisfaction. Despite my Bloat foreman Squanchy’s endless blathering on about tight profit margins and the ruinous exchange rates on the dollarini, the bulk-bought gunk he gives Yaprooqi and I to work with isn’t fit for mulch, let alone our magnificent artisan frozen pizzas. I mean, the spinach is pre-packaged. Pre-packaged! I ask you.

I’m mostly writing this because there’s been rumours floating about lately of an escape plan, spread by none other than that big jerk Uboogly. Knowing him, it’s probably nothing — but if he can get us free of these awful Bloats, then good. I’m sick of this place. Besides, I always wanted to travel, you know?

Talk soon.

Day 1

O frabjous day! Callooh, callay!

You might have noticed that I’ve labeled this entry “Day 1”. Hang on, Odeamo, I hear you say. Weren’t you up to 800-and-something? You, my friend, are very perceptive. But listen! Today is day one because it’s the first day of FREEEEDOOOOM! That’s right! We’re off Zoombini Isle and free of those awful squamous Bloats! I can scarcely believe it as I’m writing this, but that deadbeat Uboogly actually came through in the clutch.

While Squanchy and the other Bloats were snoozing, we sixteen brave Zoombinis smuggled ourselves out through some dank and musty tunnel Uboogly and a few others dug underneath Zoombini Strait — turns out he was some whiz-kid civil engineer in Zoombiniopolis back before he migrated to the Isle and started making dumb-looking rock sculptures. And that’s not all — I was talking to Spoosnasi (his second-in-command), and apparently Uboogly left plans in place to get the rest of our friends off the Isle too, sneaking a group out every few nights so as to avoid suspicion. Maybe I’ve been too harsh on the old greasegriper. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a mean, blue, parsimonious stumbleclumper, but he busted us out. He’s not so bad, is what I’m saying. If you twist my arm about it.

Zoombinis bridge

As I write this, we’re camped before a couple of bridges across a ravine. It must be a pretty deep canyon, too, because you can only just hear the frantic sound of water rushing mightily down below. Yaprooqi’s snoring away next to me, and somebody further up must have terrible allergies because there’s this endless, annoying sniffling coming from over near the bridge.

We had a vote this afternoon over whether we should stop and wait for the next group to catch up with us, but we decided against it since we’re all quite nervous about the prospect of the Bloats discovering we’ve scarpered and hunting us down. Besides, there’s no guarantee that the next group will even take the same path as us. I’m just excited by the idea that every step we take is a step further away from that horrible, withered spinach Squanchy forced upon us.

I wonder if Squanchy’s missed us yet?

Day 6

These last few days have been awful, really, truly awful. I’m not even sure what to say, it’s just — well. Yaprooqi suggested that committing it to paper might help me cope. So.

Of our original group of sixteen, only thirteen of us remain. And to think I was so optimistic about this whole benighted venture! It’s not like we set off thinking this trip would be a walk in the park. I don’t know that any of us really believed we’d all make it through unscathed, but to have so many fall behind in so short a time? In only six days we’ve lost Fogarai, Leiflu, and that girl with the ponytail and cyclops eye I never even learned the name of… gone! Just like that!

I used to hang out with Fogarai. We’d throw back a couple of Ribruo’s signature bluebeers once our shifts were over, chat about the fantasy Zoombiniball league or Squanchy’s latest doomed attempt to woo Gluggnought, Fogarai’s lady-Bloat supervisor… hell, it was only last week that we were chugging down Ribruo’s latest and whispering excitedly about Uboogly’s grand prison break scheme. And now he’s gone. Left behind, staring at me with his sad eyes as the rocks caved in between us.

zoombini skate

Goddamn, I miss that guy.

I guess I should record what happened. For posterity, or such. Remember how I heard that sniffling on the first night, out by the bridges? It turned out that it wasn’t one of our crew suffering sinus problems, but the cliffs themselves. I grew up on Zoombini Isle, sure, spent my whole life there, so maybe I’m not as world-wise as I could be, but I’ve never even heard of half the weird stuff we’ve encountered so far. Yaprooqi hasn’t either, and all that ass Uboogly will offer when I ask him is a cryptic, suggestive smile like he knows something I don’t.

Take back anything nice I said about that guy. I hate his guts.

In the morning after waking up and getting our stuff ready to move, we went to cross the ravine. We were a little apprehensive because the bridges seemed awfully precarious, swaying and bucking rather alarmingly in the light morning breeze, but as Ribruo pointed out there were no other crossings in sight, so we decided to chance it.

At first, it went fine, each Zoombini crossing one at a time so as not to put undue weight on the rickety old planks. Uboogly skated over the left-hand bridge neat as you please, and when Spoosnasi and a couple others followed without incident we all started to relax a bit. But when Yaprooqi went to follow, the cliff beneath the bridge formed into a rugged face — I kid you not, straight out of a Littlebini’s cartoon — and sneezed mightily, flinging Yaprooqi back off the bridge and hard onto her butt. She was stunned but okay, and we were flummoxed. Was the cliff somehow allergic to her? The same thing happened when Ribruo tried a few minutes later. Worst of all, each sneeze set both bridges shuddering violently, threatening to blast them into so much firewood.

Eventually, we hit upon the idea of trying the other bridge, and for some reason Yaprooqi and Ribruo were able to traverse that one without complication. What followed was a horrible fraught hour as the rest of us made our tentative, faltering way across, never knowing whether the next step would spook the cliffs and send us plummeting into the ravine below. There were a few more explosive reactions, but fortunately we all made it, though I suffered heart palpitations and Lyascepo the baker fainted.

The real tragedy and loss of our friends occurred two days ago when we arrived at some tunnels hewn into a rock-face with bumpy cobbled paths wending up to each of them. Wary after our run-in with the bridges, our caution was proved warranted when a giant boulder wedged between two of the entrances suddenly came to life (what is it with this land and animated, anthropomorphic rocks?!). Apparently, these gatekeepers were as picky as the cliffs were singularly allergic and would only let us through if they liked the way we looked.

Zoombinis stone cold caves

Needless to say, we had no idea what they wanted and finding the right path was an exercise in sheer bloody-minded determination. Yaprooqi and I were both thoroughly battered by the time we made it safely into our apparently-designated cave, but we fared better than some. Right after Yaprooqi made it safely to a cave, Fogarai gamely chose a path and started wheeling his way up it, was knocked back by the gatekeeper as almost all of us had been — and the roof caved in, trapping Fogarai, Leiflu and the one-eyed girl outside! We could hear the muffled scornful laughter of the gatekeepers without even through the thick layers of shale between us. Sadistic monsters! Poor Fogarai!

Poor us.

Day 8

At least there’s one good thing to report in this litany of sadness. Today we ran into a curious fellow who called himself Arnold the Almost-Omnivorous, a pizza troll, plus a couple of his friends. At first he mistook us for Fleens (the only creature in Zoombiniland worse than a Bloat!), but soon realized his mistake. Instead, he demanded that we make them a pizza on his wondrous pizza-making machine, threatening grave consequences if it wasn’t exactly right.

Well, Yaprooqi and I just exchanged a glance and got right to work. Five minutes later, all thirteen of us remaining walked out of there, Arnold hollering a friendly warning after us to watch out for Fleens on the road ahead and loudly extolling our pizza-picking prowess. If Squanchy were here, he’d probably just complain about the cost.

Zoombinis pizza trolls

Now we’re camped at some ready-made campsite on the fringes of the dark, forbidding woods we’ll be venturing into tomorrow. I can barely sleep for the events of the last few days, but Yaprooqi’s not as fussed because she’s snoring away as unconcernedly as ever, sunglasses flashing in the moonlight. It’s selfish, but I’m glad she made it through the caves even if Fogarai didn’t. We’ve been pizza co-creators for so long I’m not sure what I’d do without her. Regarding pizza or otherwise.

Despite our triumph with Arnold, the woods worry me a little bit. Uboogly — blast his treacherous soul — says that everything will be fine, but I’m not convinced.

Boy, I sure hope there aren’t Fleens in there.

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