Sitting at his locker well after all of his teammates had gone home, Christian Wood pondered the nature of happiness. He knew he was supposed to be sad that his team had just lost to the Jazz. He supposed that there was a part of him that was feeling genuine sadness. But was he, then, not allowed to be happy for scoring a career-high thirty points? The fact that he was happy about it made him feel guilty.
A noise near the opposite row of lockers startled him. He was alone, so what could the noise have been? He would have noticed a janitor entering. Shrugging it off, Christian turned his attention to his phone, where he was pleased to see that the official NBA website had already made note of his career-best game.
Suddenly, there was a huge crash as one of his teammate’s lockers tipped over. Emerging from a hollowed-out enclave behind it was the man he had just dropped a thirty-burger on: Rudy Gobert.
Christian could only stare in surprise. What was Rudy doing in their locker room, a part of the arena that was ostensibly guarded by security at all times? Why had Rudy felt the need to make a grand entrance by hiding behind the furniture? When had he even found time between the end of the game and the Pistons’ arrival to their own locker room to sneak in undetected?
“You are a worthy challenger, Christian,” Rudy said. “Tonight you have shown me what true skill is.”
“Uh, thanks,” Christian said. He was still very bewildered by the entire situation.
“However, your rise to prominence cannot continue unchecked,” Rudy went on. He took out a small vial from his pocket and showed it to Christian. “Do you know what this is, Christian?”
Feeling distrustful but also slightly curious, Christian leaned forward to investigate the vial which contained a clear liquid. However, when Rudy quickly pulled the stopper out, Christian dove to the floor. The liquid sailed through the air, right where Christian’s face had been, and splashed harmlessly on the carpet. He glanced at Rudy and saw him with another vial in his hand; he rolled out of the way as Rudy threw the small glass article with full force at his head.
“Remi, now!” Rudy shouted.
Christian just had time to wonder who “Remi” was when a small man, who must have been curled up in a ball on top of Christian’s own locker, landed on top of him. A third vial of the mystery substance found its mark, but the man’s hands were shaking, and more of it got on him and on the floor than got in Christian’s eyes and mouth.
“You bumbling dullard!” Rudy said, witnessing the botched attack. “Now you surely will be infected as well! Why do I let a servant so slow of wit to remain in employ?”
“Infected?” Christian asked from the ground, wiping the stuff out of his eyes while also easily shoving the diminutive Remi off of him. The man’s glasses tumbled off and he squeaked piteously until he found them again. “With what?”
Rudy laughed. “The coronavirus!” He laughed some more.
“A few drops isn’t going to kill me,” Christian said defiantly. He knew that COVID-19 was serious, but not a guaranteed signature for your death certificate.
“At this highly-concentrated viral load, yes it will,” Rudy replied. “It’s a shame that a worthy challenger such as yourself will have his career tragically cut short.”
Christian saw that the broken vial lying on the floor, the one that Rudy had thrown, was still had some liquid in it. Acting fast, he grabbed it and splashed its remaining contents directly on Rudy’s face. But Rudy’s only response was a derisive laugh. “It was a decoy! Remi was in possession of the true virus the entire time!”
Already, Christian was feeling some tingling in his lungs. He coughed once, then again, louder the second time. For some reason, the pungent sweaty odor of the locker room was no longer detectable in his nose. Taking a big sniff of air only caused his cough to become more violent. He tried to stand up but was forced to his hands and knees as his hacking cough ripped through his throat.
Rudy slipped a mask over his nose and mouth. “Looks like the virus has already infiltrated your body. As we speak it is replicating inside of you and turning your lungs into dust. Come, Remi, let us leave this pathetic man to die in peace.”
Summoning the last reserves of his dwindling strength, Christian leaped to his feet, grabbed Rudy by the shoulder to turn him around, used his other hand to pull down Rudy’s mask, and unleashed a shuddering cough right into Rudy’s face. Phlegm and spit splattered on Rudy’s skin and entered a mouth that was agape in surprise.
“Sir! The infected man has given you the virus as well!”
“I know that, Remi!” Rudy snapped in a panicked voice. “Quick, back to the team plane! We must pretend that nothing is amiss.” With that, the two intruders left. With the sound of the closing door, Christian collapsed to the floor, every ounce of his energy spent.