Robbie Ryckowski was an ordinary little boy in almost every regard. Yes, other than the fact that he was absent-minded, hyper, bug-eyed, prone to uncontrollable attacks of giggling at all the wrong times, accident-prone, covered in freckles, and with no common sense at all, he was perfectly ordinary. Oh, and did I mention that he was also a magnet for trouble, and that when he got scared, his voice went away? But other than all that, he was ordinary.

Being an ordinary little boy, Robbie liked pets. But his taste in pets tended towards the unusual. In order, since he was 5 (he was now 9) he had been the proud owner of a hedgehog, an opossum, a garden snake, a tarantula, a dog with only three legs, a parrot that only spoke Spanish, and a hermit crab named Bob. But it was his newest pet, Achoo the Salamander, that caused Robbie his latest bit of trouble.

One week earlier, for his ninth birthday, Robbie’s mom Yvonne (a really, really cool mom) had gotten Fred for him. Robbie reached into the box, picked him up carefully with both hands, and held him up a few inches from his face. Fred immediately flicked his tongue out, and licked Robbie right on the nose! Within a split second, the tickling sensation started, Robbie’s eyes began to water, and he sneezed with a mighty ACHOO! And that is how Achoo the Salamander got his name.

Now, Mama Yvonne knew that her son tended to get into trouble, even when he was not trying to. So when she gave him Achoo, she did so with one firm instruction: “Under no circumstances are you to take this salamander to school. Are we clear?” Robbie groaned “Yessss Maaaam.”

During the following week, Robbie and Achoo became the best of buddies. Achoo would lay on Robbie’s back while Robbie lay on the floor on his stomach doing homework. When Robbie played his video games, Achoo would sit right in front of the television, and flick his tongue at bad guys, good guys, hedgehogs, aliens, and whatever else caught his attention. At night, Achoo would sleep on the ledge above Robbie’s bed.

It was a Monday morning. The power had been off at some point during the night, which meant that the alarm clocks were no longer right. Mama Yvonne woke up first, in a panic, realizing that Robbie was about to miss the bus. The next seven minutes were a whirlwind in which teeth were brushed, hair combed, breakfast gobbled, clothes put on, back-pack was grabbed, and two little legs went flying out the door to meet the bus on time, which he did, just barely.

As he sat in his seat, chest heaving heavily, Robbie knew that any day that started like this was going to be an interesting day. Suddenly, he wondered if he had remembered in all of the rushing around, to grab his homework. He reached down, unzipped his bag, and cried out Achoo! Four children nearby shouted back “God bless you!” And Robbie knew for certain that this was indeed going to be an interesting day, very interesting. For now he was tasked with getting through an entire school day without anyone knowing that he had a live salamander in his backpack!

He made it through math class with no incident. English was a bit more problematic, with students nearby staring at his backpack as it seemed to wiggle all by itself. But it was in science class that the wheels came off of the day entirely. Mrs. Criggles had chosen that day to teach the children an experiment involving dry ice, baking soda, and motor oil. What the experiment was, or was supposed to be, is not really important. What is important is that, in about twenty seconds of not watching his backpack, Robbie missed the fact that Achoo had wiggled free, and was teetering on the edge of the tub of oil! It was not till everyone heard a suspicious “Plop, Splurp!” that he had his first real inkling of trouble. Mrs. Criggles accurately identified the tub of oil as the source of the noise, and went to investigate. As she leaned over the tub (Did I mention that she frightened easily? And that she fainted whenever she got frightened.? I should have mentioned that…) she got a horrified look on her face, gasped, screamed, and fainted dead away! That was followed by a mid sized, unhappy, and thoroughly slippery salamander clawing his way out of the vat. The other children screamed “The experiment made a lizard!” and Robbie, for his part, opened his frightened mouth to speak, and found that not a single word would come out.

The next few moments were chaos. Achoo was unhappy enough to be covered in this slippery stuff, having a bunch of screaming children chase after him only made matters worse. One after the other they grabbed him, only to have him “Schklorp!” right out of their hands, and keep right on going. If Robbie could have found the voice to call him, Achoo would have come to him immediately, but he still could not speak. Papers and vials and tubes went flying, crashing, dashing. The floor got slipperier and slipperier, and kids started to slide to the ground. One of them, diving for Achoo, hit the edge of the table, upended it, and the entire tub of oil came sploshing over and out onto the tile floor. Someone else slipped, reached out to grab something to stop his fall, and the something he grabbed was the fire alarm. The siren sounded, an evacuation started, and Robbie finally found the voice to scream “Achoo!” Immediately, four more slippery people shouted again “God bless you!” and a frightened salamander leaped up into his arms, knocking him backwards.

But the trouble did not stop there. As he was falling backwards, Vice Principle Shubert opened the door, to see what the commotion was about, and who had set off the fire alarm. Robbie fell backwards into his legs, Mr Shubert came tumbling into the mix with everyone and everything else, and Achoo went running again. Four or five more minutes of pandemonium ensued, with people slipping, grabbing, chasing, falling, “Achooing!” And “God bless youing!”

It was then that the first volunteer fireman arrived. He burst into the room with his fire extinguisher, slipped in the oil, and went flying like everyone else. He lost his extinguisher, and when it hit the hard tile floor, it emptied itself everywhere!

A couple of long, white, foggy minutes passed. When the dust began to settle, just a bit, there were nine students, a vice principle, and a volunteer fireman, all in a pile, with a salamander on top of them. The extinguisher powder had landed all over their oily clothes, hair, and faces, and would not come off for many hours. All in all, it looked like a pile of powder people, with a lizard on top. Everyone for some reason looked over at one little boy, a boy that trouble seemed to gravitate towards like a magnet, and they all shouted “ROBBIE!” To which he could only reply “Ah, Ah, AH, ACHOO!”
(© Dr. Bo Wagner 2015)
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