The following is an edited version of the first chapter of Fritz Franke's new book, The Chosen One.
As Chris Gates stood on the pitcher’s mound, a familiar uneasy feeling returned. He concentrated on trying to hear that haunting buzzing sound. Little did he know that this sound was an omen, signaling that his life was about to change forever.
In frustration, he pulled at the neck of his soaking wet jersey. His inability to hear the sound, coupled with the summer heat, had him sweating like a pig.
The humidity hung in the air as it always did during July in central Virginia. Perspiration ran down Chris’ cheek as he watched for the catcher’s sign. He wiped it with his dirty sleeve creating a streak of mud on his face. Cheers came from the bleachers, distracting him. Besides the regulars who came to softball games, most of the player’s families were also in attendance. This was the 2012 league championship so the crowd was much larger than usual. For a moment, he forgot about the buzzing when he saw his kids.
Chris’ children, Taylor and Michelle, were hanging on the fence. Taylor was a spitting image of Chris with his long wavy, blond locks. He and his middle school friends had climbed higher than the elementary school age kids like Michelle. His little towheads stuck out in a crowd, their voices easy to recognize as they hollered, “Strike him out, Dad!”
“That’s high enough, children,” Chris heard his wife say. Lisa was sitting in the bleachers with the other player’s wives and girlfriends on the first base side of the field. Her blond hair and slender build always turned guy’s heads. But once recognized as the wife of the well-known Chris Gates, the gawkers would just say ‘Hi. How’s Chris?”
Lisa caught Chris’ eye and gave a little wave. He smiled back and gulped while feeling extra pressure to look cool and play well. At a youthful looking age of forty-six, he still acted like a teenager trying to impress his girl with his athleticism.
Jeff Lambert stood at the plate with his bat cocked ready to swing. The big guy was the only batter to ever hit one of Chris’ pitches out of the park. He grinned and playfully winked at Chris.
“C’mon, boy. Gimme a pitch I can carry outta here.”
Their softball league had been around for a while. Many of the players had gone to local high schools, some having played baseball with or against each other. It was a fun league so gentle bantering and kidding was expected. Chris’ team was known simply as The Boys. Tonight they were playing The Roadies in a tough contest. Down two runs, Chris had no desire to feed that lead. When they were behind, the team always relied on him to provide the spark to get back into the game, just like when they were in high school.
As Chris got ready to pitch, the buzzing started. He looked up and watched seven bugs that looked like horseflies fly about five feet over his head toward the woods outside the left field fence.
They’re in a perfect triangle formation flying in a straight line, he thought. What kinds of bugs do that? He watched them fly over Cory and Ian. Neither one of them noticed.
Am I the only one seeing this?
He looked straight up and the night sky was clear. He thought he saw a swarm of bugs around the trees near left field but it was too dark to be sure. Chatter broke out from behind the plate breaking his concentration.
“C’mon batter. You’re gonna swing and miss. Hey batter batter.” Alex Savvas, the catcher, always gave opposing batters an earful of noise when they stepped into the batter’s box. Most everyone was used to his insistent chatter, but it usually worked well enough to distract the hitter while the pitch signal was given. Alex called for a short, inside pitch by moving his glove close to the plate and the batter.
After one last glance at the woods, Chris decided he’d better not say anything yet.
If no one saw this, everyone will think I’m nuts. I’ll check between innings.
Chris tossed the first pitch high and just inside the back corner of the plate. WHOOSH! Jeff swung and missed. WHAP. The soft sound of the ball going in Alex’s glove gave Chris a sense of relief.
“Steeeerrike one!!!” shouted Jerry, the umpire working tonight’s game.
From behind the dugout, a light flashed out onto the field. Chris quickly shielded his eyes thinking it was a car’s headlights, but then saw it was coming from the spotlight on a video camera. The six o’clock news had reported earlier that a TV crew would be at the park tonight doing a special on the city softball leagues. Someone was interviewing Bernie Gold, the city’s athletic director of Parks & Recreation. Bernie played on one of the teams in the league and everyone knew him. Players started hollering wisecracks.
“Hey Bernie! Can ya keep the flashes down a bit?” Chris yelled. “I know you’re famous and all, but we’re trying to play ball here!” A few more friendly jeers rang out.
Bernie laughed and held his hand up to the news crew as he shouted toward the field, “You just want your mug on the TV screen, Chris. Not all of us are big time celebs like you. I’ll put in a couple of good words about you, don’t worry.” Bernie then turned back to the reporter.
“Come on Chris,” Jeff shouted. “You want to pose or pitch? I’m gonna knock the next ball right through that magic glove of yours.” Jeff showed that big broad grin of his.
Chris was about to toss his inside-outside pitch when the buzzing sound overhead caused him to look up in time to see hundreds of bugs flying in formation toward David in left field. As he watched, a louder buzzing started up from the woods near left field. Chris stared at the trees and then looked at Alex, who had stopped chattering. He was standing now, his head moving all around as he searched for the source of the buzzing. Chris spun around and saw David and the other outfielders point at the woods, yelling something that he couldn’t make out. He turned back to Alex. Their eyes locked with recognition that there was something terribly wrong. This louder buzzing had an eerie, frightening pitch to it.
Checking the bleachers, Chris saw that the spectators heard it too. Fear was in Lisa’s eyes as she called out to Taylor and Michelle. Other women grabbed their children and pulled them along to the parking lot, some covering their ears to shield them from the terrifying sound. Pandemonium had erupted. Players ran off the field while both dugouts were a frenzy of guys grabbing equipment and bumping into each other as they quickly exited.
Chris just stood on the pitcher’s mound watching the chaos around him. He was in disbelief having thought that no one but him would ever hear this. But tonight was different.
Everyone can hear it, he thought. Why now? What is happening? It sounds so much worse than last time.
“Ow!” he yelled as he flung his glove to the ground. Something in his glove had stung him.
Suddenly, the sky brightened as if a huge floodlight was illuminated hundreds of feet in the air. Chris froze as he looked up, mesmerized by the bright light above the field. It hypnotized him. He felt dazed and confused.
Ian hollered from behind the dugout, “Wake up Chris! Get your butt over here!” He was the only player left on the field.
Chris snapped out of his daze and bent down to pick up his glove. The buzzing was at a deafening level. The bright light from above had the park lit up like daytime. As Chris stood up, an even brighter cylinder of directed light came down and totally surrounded him making it appear like he was in a cloudy glass tube. A loud humming noise resonated inside the tube. Chris reached out and touched the wall of light that encased him. It felt wet. Trying to push his finger further into the unknown material met with resistance and a stinging sensation. He quickly pulled his finger out and looked up for the source of the beam. He tried to shield his eyes with his hand. With the light making it too bright to see anything, he diverted his eyes toward the bleachers, frantically searching for Lisa. He saw the terrified expression on her face as she shielded the children behind her. Her eyes were locked on his, but he kept losing sight of her through the swirling clouds of white vapor.
He watched as Cory and Ian reached her at the same time.
What’s going on? His mind was full of jumbled thoughts. What is happening to me?
Memories screamed into his head as he racked his brain for answers. I’ve heard a similar sound before, but when was it? A memory flashed of a black bug staring at him. Then he saw a blurred image of what looked like a girl with bright white hair. She was speaking to him, saying something about coming for him. As he tried in vain to recall more detail, his thoughts were interrupted when the ground shifted under him. Chris watched as something moved below his cleats. Then he felt himself being lifted up.
As everyone in the park watched, the bright light beam retracted slowly up into the night sky leaving a small cloud of dust swirling around the pitcher’s mound. Everyone could see Chris at the end of the beam as it continued to rise. He threw his glove down and pushed on the sides of the tube encasing him, pulling his hands back after the pain became too much to bear. Again, images surfaced of a girl with white hair talking to him.
What’s she saying? I can’t understand her.
Dropping down to his knees, he began to dig in the dirt that had been captured with him. An inch of dirt later, he hit some type of hard clear material.
At that moment, the humming ceased and a familiar melody began. He looked everywhere but couldn’t find the source of the sound. Finally realizing it was in his head, he could distinguish a voice similar to his mother’s, singing to him, like she did when he was a baby. But he knew this wasn’t his mother singing now.
I know that voice, he thought as he stood up.He looked up to see if he could tell where he was going. He saw only light.
Unexpectedly, a very warm, peaceful feeling washed over him. He calmly looked down at the throngs of people watching as he ascended into the night sky. He spotted Cory.
Take care, my brother. Let them know I’m all right.
He felt like a different person now.
As the light continued to rise with its captured cargo, it suddenly vanished and Chris was gone.