For the next several days I’ll be doing a FREE READ of one chapter of each of my books. Next is Darkness Falls. Keep reading to get to know Matthew and Daniel….
It was a night shoot like dozens of others before it. It was a special effects shot like dozens of others before it as well.
But in a heartbeat, everything can change.
The early October night was chilly in upstate New York, the air damp with the promise of rain as Matthew Tucker delivered his last lines of the night, then walked off camera, wanting nothing more than to get home and get some much needed sleep.
He groaned and settled his 6’ 2” frame into his director’s chair, emblazoned with his name and the name of the hit show he was currently co-starring on – Dark Roads – about two men who were modern day Robin Hoods.
Matthew raked his hand through his shaggy dark brown hair, his matching dark brown eyes glancing back over to where his close friend and co-star, Daniel Westman, was getting ready to finish up the scene. He and Daniel, as characters Shane and Ben, were currently filming the second season of Dark Roads, and with the way the ratings looked right now, they’d be heading for a third season for sure.
Matthew smiled to himself at his luck. Not only had he landed the co-starring role on a hit show, but also how fast and easily he and Daniel had clicked with one another. At 31 years old, having acted since age 19, Matthew had met a lot of actors. But he’d never formed any really strong friendships with any of them – until he met Daniel.
The two of them couldn’t be more opposite, from Matthew’s dark hair and eyes to Daniel’s blonde hair and blue eyes, from Matthew’s outgoing personality to Daniel’s more shy and reserved one. But they say opposites attract, and he and Daniel were proof of that. They became fast friends during the filming of the pilot, and their bond had only grown stronger since. Even spending 12 hours a day on set didn’t stop them from hanging out together during their limited free time, drinking beer and eating pizza, watching sports or playing video games. Even 35 year-old Daniel, who had been in the business longer than Matthew, remarked how lucky they were, as their friendship off-screen only helped their character’s friendship on-screen, making the show even better.
Matthew watched as one of the prop guys handed Daniel a book of matches. His character Ben was in his pyromaniac bliss, getting ready to strike the match and toss it down into the large hole in the middle of the field where he was standing. Their characters had nearly been caught by the FBI in this episode, so they were disposing of their security company outfits and fake ID’s by burning them. First shot would be a close-up of Daniel as he struck the match, then made to flick it down onto the clothes and such. Next shot would be a close-up of the clothes burning, after the effects guys turned on the gas jets hidden underneath everything.
“Burn, baby, burn.”
Matthew heard Daniel say Ben’s line and watched as Daniel leaned over the hole and struck the match.
The explosion was intense, lighting up the night sky in a blinding ball of red and orange fire, debris shooting up into the air to rain back down upon the earth.
Matthew stared, uncomprehending, as his best friend was lifted up off his feet and thrown backwards, slamming back down onto the ground, landing on his side.
Matthew was moving before anyone else, sprinting across the grass, vaguely hearing yelling and shouting from the crew, but his entire focus was on Daniel, who was rolling back and forth, hands covering his face. Over the pounding of his heart he could hear Daniel’s cries of pain, and a chill raced down his spine at the sound. He covered the distance in long strides, dropping down heavily beside his friend, knees digging into the dirt.
“Daniel! Daniel!” He grasped Daniel’s shoulders, stopping his movement, rolling him over onto his back.
“Fuck, Matt, it hurts!” Daniel gasped. His hands still covered his face, and Matthew could see small, bleeding cuts on the backs of Daniel’s hands and forearms.
“Jesus, Danny,” Matthew choked out, lightly grasping Daniel’s wrists, feeling small tremors racing under his skin. “Put your hands down, Danny. Let me see,” he urged.
But Daniel twisted, turning his face away. “No! It burns!”
“Please, Danny, you’ve gotta let me see!” Matthew fought to quell his panic at his friend’s pain, again turning Daniel onto his back.
This time Daniel let him move his hands away, and Matthew was relieved to see just a number of small cuts, like those on his arms, instead of a large wound like he had feared.
By this time the set had erupted into a flurry of activity and people were everywhere, yelling, advancing on Matthew and Daniel. Suddenly their director, James, was there beside them, a hand on Matthew’s shoulder.
“Paramedics are on the way,” he told Matthew, worry lacing his voice. “How is he?”
Matthew swallowed. “I’m not really sure,” he answered, then turned back to Daniel. “Danny, can you open your eyes? How bad are they hurting you?”
Daniel moved his eyelids in small movements, blinking, until his blue eyes were fully open. Matthew saw no blood and began to relax when Daniel started moving his head back and forth in jerky motions, eyes moving rapidly. One of his hands shot out, connecting with Matthew’s leg.
The panic was back full force at the tremble in Daniel’s voice. He caught his friend’s hand. “I’m right here, Danny. What is it? What’s wrong?”
I can’t – “ Daniel’s breath caught– “I can’t see…”
The wait for the paramedics seemed interminable, when in reality it was maybe five minutes. But when your friend tells you he can no longer see, each minute seems like an hour as you try to keep him calm.
Then Matthew could only stand by, helpless, as he watched Daniel being loaded into the ambulance.
“Come on,” James said as they watched the truck drive away, red and white lights piercing the darkness. “Let’s get you to the hospital.”
Matthew was pacing the waiting room in the ER like a caged animal when the creator of Dark Roads, Paul Swenson, arrived.
“Have you – ?” Paul started, and Matthew shook his head.
“The doctor’s still with him.”
Paul sat down heavily in one of the cracked plastic chairs. “James said he can’t see?”
Matthew’s jaw clenched, Daniel’s scared voice echoing in his head, and he could only nod.
Matthew’s head turned at the voice, seeing that it belonged to a 40-something man with close cropped dark hair in hospital scrubs and a white lab coat. His nametag read Dr. Ellison.
“You’re here for Mr. Westman?” the man questioned as Matthew moved toward him.
“Yes,” Matthew answered. “Please, how is he?”
Dr. Ellison blew out a breath and crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, Mr. Westman has suffered corneal flash burns on both eyes, as a result of the explosion. At this point, he is still unable to see.”
“At this point?” Paul repeated. “So this isn’t permanent?”
“I have every hope that Mr. Westman’s eyesight will return,” Dr. Ellison answered. But before Matthew could take a relieved breath, the doctor continued. “I have to be honest with you, though. There is always a chance that the damage is too severe, being as close to the detonation as he was, and permanent blindness is a possibility.”
For a long moment, Matthew forgot how to breathe. No. No, he refused to believe…
“He’ll need to stay here overnight.” Dr. Ellison’s voice cut through his thoughts and he focused on what the man was saying. “His eyes are bandaged and will need to remain that way for the next few days. He’s been given antibiotic eye drops to prevent any infection from particles of the debris that may have penetrated underneath the contact lenses he was wearing.”
“Is he in any pain?” Matthew questioned.
“He was,” Dr. Ellison acknowledged. “But we also gave him medication to relax the muscles of the eyes to help with the healing process and to lessen the pain from the eye muscle spasms.”
“Can we see him?” Paul asked.
Dr. Ellison nodded. “Of course. He’s just been moved into a private room. Upstairs, number 223. He’s groggy from the pain medication and needs to rest, so please only stay for a few minutes.”
Matthew and Paul agreed and Dr. Ellison turned and walked away, back towards the exam rooms.
“C’mon, let’s go see him.” Paul placed his hand on Matthew’s arm.
But Matthew shook him off. “Not before you tell me what the HELL happened back there, Paul!” Matthew exploded. “Daniel could’ve been KILLED!”
Paul took a step back at Matthew’s thunderous expression. “I don’t know, Matthew. I really don’t. James is working with the fire department and the police. We’ll get to the bottom of this, I promise.”
“Damn straight you will.” And with that, Matthew turned on his heel and strode over to the elevators, angrily slapping the UP button.
A few minutes later Matthew slowly pushed open the door to room 223 and stepped inside, Paul behind him. They moved around the curtain and Matthew swallowed hard at the sight.
Daniel lay quietly in the hospital bed, his complexion paler than normal. Round white bandages covered both eyes, taped down with a strip of gauze, then wrapped across them and around Daniel’s head. The cuts on his face and hands had been tended to and no longer oozed blood.
Matthew approached the bed and sat down in the chair next to it. He reached over and laid his hand on Daniel’s arm. The groggy man stirred at the touch, turning his head toward Matthew.
“Danny? Can you hear me?” Matthew asked softly.
“Matt? Iz zat you?” Daniel slurred.
“Yeah. Yeah, man, it’s me.”
“Danny? Did the doctor talk to you? Tell you what’s going on with your eyes?”
Daniel’s head lolled back. “ ‘m tired…eyes hurt.”
Realizing Daniel was too disorientated, under the influence of the pain medication, Matthew simply squeezed his friend’s arm. “Just go to sleep, Danny. Everything’s going to be okay.”
Daniel sighed in response and his head tipped further away from Matthew.
Matthew looked toward where Paul was standing, silent, at the foot of the bed. He rose from the chair and motioned Paul to follow him out into the hall. They let the door close behind them as Matthew said, “I’m spending the night here with him.”
Paul shook his head. “The hospital’s not going to let you –“
Matthew advanced on the smaller man, using his height to his advantage. “Make it happen, Paul,” he growled. “You saw him. He’s completely out of it, and blind. If he wakes up he’ll be panicked and no one will be there.” He pressed a finger to Paul’s chest. “I’m not leaving him.”
“Okay, okay,” Paul conceded, holding up his hands. “I’ll go talk to someone.”
Matthew nodded, and as Paul walked off down the hall he pushed open the door to Daniel’s room again. He took his place in the chair once more and looked at his sleeping friend.
He took a shaky breath. “You’re gonna be fine,” he whispered. “Everything’s gonna be fine.”
He only hoped he wasn’t lying to his friend.
Twenty minutes later the door opened and an orderly walked in, pushing a cot in front of him. A nurse was behind him with blankets and a pillow, and Paul was trailing behind. Matthew stood and crossed over to him.
“Thank you,” he said softly.
Paul nodded and gave him a small smile. “I need to talk to you for a minute,” he told Matthew. “Let them get you set up in here. C’mon.”
Out in the hall, Paul sighed. “James called me a minute ago. The police and fire department’s preliminary investigation is saying it was a gas explosion.”
“Gas?” Matthew questioned. “From the –“
“Yeah,” Paul confirmed. “Looks like there was a small leak in one of the pipes leading under the props. And when Daniel lit the match…”
“Son of a BITCH!” Matthew exploded. “How the hell does something like this happen, Paul?!”
Paul shook his head. “I don’t know, Matthew, I really don’t. It’s obviously inexcusable and I’ll find out what went wrong, I swear.” He took a breath then continued. “In the meantime, I’ll make sure Daniel has the best care, and of course the studio will be paying for everything…”
“You’d better believe they will,” Matthew said forcefully, interrupting him, then pointed at Paul. “Heads had better roll over this, Paul.”
Then he turned and left Paul standing in the hallway, wanting to get back to Daniel.
Hours later Matthew was jolted from his fitful sleep by the sound of Daniel’s arm hitting against the side rail on the bed.
Daniel’s groggy voice came to him as he untangled himself from the blankets, hurrying to get to his friend’s side. In the dim light of the room Matthew could see Daniel’s hands coming up to pull at the bandages.
“What’s going on? What –“
Matthew quickly lowered the side rail, sat on the edge of the bed and reached out and took hold of Daniel’s wrists. His friend jolted at the unexpected touch. “Who’s – “
“Danny, it’s me,” Matthew spoke softly.
“Matt? What’s going on? Why can’t I see?” Matthew could hear the touch of panic in his voice. He tried again to reach for the bandages, but Matthew gently brought his arms down, leaving his hands over Daniel’s wrists.
“Do you remember anything about last night?” Matthew asked.
“Last…?” Daniel started, and when he paused Matthew knew it had all come back to him.
“How…how bad is it?” Daniel asked, voice flat. “My eyes?”
“You don’t remember the doctor talking to you last night?”
Daniel shook his head, and Matthew said, “That’s okay, you were pretty out of it after they gave you the pain meds.”
“Just tell me, Matt. How bad is it?”
“You’ve got flash burns to both your eyes,” Matthew started. “They gave you antibiotic eye drops and drops so that your eyes don’t have muscle spasms while they’re healing.” Daniel remained silent, so Matthew continued. “You’ll need to keep the bandages on for the next couple of days.”
Matthew could see Daniel relax slightly. “That’s not so bad, then, right? Few days like this and I’ll be good as new,” he finished with a small grin.
“Danny…” Matthew hesitated, trying to find the words. “The doctor is optimistic, yeah…”
Matthew could feel Daniel go still. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Matthew fought past the tightening in his throat. “Because you were so close to the explosion, the damage might be more severe than the doctor thinks…”
“Are you saying I might be blind?” Daniel’s voice was cold.
Matthew squeezed Daniel’s wrists. “We don’t know that. Don’t you dare start thinking like that. You’re going to be fine.”
Daniel was silent for a long minute, and Matthew realized he was absently rubbing his thumb across the skin of Daniel’s wrist.
“Do you know what happened?” Daniel asked abruptly. “What caused the explosion?”
Matthew sighed, realizing the topic of Daniel’s eyesight was closed.
“Yeah. James said that there was a leak in one of the gas lines under the props.” Matthew’s anger was back at the situation and he raked a hand through his long hair. “Those assholes. You could’ve been killed.”
Daniel knocked his knuckles against Matthew’s leg. “Nah. Just goes to show how tough I am. Told Paul I didn’t need my own stunt man.”
Matthew couldn’t help but smile, glad that Daniel could find humor in all of this.
“What time is it, anyway? How long have I been out?”
Matthew looked at his watch. “It’s just after 2 a.m.” he answered.
Daniel cocked his head. “2 a.m.? What the hell are you doing here?”
Matthew felt his face go hot, grateful that Daniel couldn’t see. “I’m…spending the night.”
Daniel’s mouth opened a bit, closed. “Matt,” he started, voice soft. “You didn’t have to –“
“I know. I wanted to,” Matthew replied. “I didn’t want you waking up just like you did, confused, you can’t see, and no one would be here.”
Matthew saw Daniel swallow, then reach out and find Matthew’s arm, wrapping his fingers around it. “Thanks,” he replied, voice rough.
“Anytime, man,” Matthew said quietly. “Do you think you can go back to sleep? Do you need anything? Eyes bothering you?”
Daniel paused just long enough before he said, “I’m fine,” that Matthew knew he was lying.
“C’mon man, stop with the tough guy act. Your eyes are bothering you, aren’t they?”
Daniel set his jaw and that was the only acknowledgment Matthew needed, stubborn idiot that his friend was. Matthew patted Daniel’s leg and rose from the bed.
“I’ll be back in a minute with the nurse.”
The nurse turned out to be Christiane, a happy, smiling woman in her early thirties with shoulder length dark hair and light brown eyes. “Hello, Mr. Westman. I’m the night nurse, Christiane,” she started, but Daniel quickly cut her off.
“Christiane – that’s a beautiful name,” he said with a grin and she blushed, stammering a thank you. “And please, call me Danny.”
Matthew had to chuckle at the exchange, rolling his eyes. “Dude, you’re not Ben,” he said, referring to Daniel’s character’s flirtatious ways on the show.
“Dude, she has a needle and I can’t see,” Daniel replied patiently, humor coloring his words. “Always pays to be nice to a woman with a sharp object.”
Christiane laughed. “A little flirting will go a long way,” she replied good naturedly. “In fact, I’ll even stick you in your arm instead of…somewhere else.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open, Matthew let loose with a laugh and Christiane took the opportunity to quickly stick Daniel with the needle.
“There you go. Didn’t feel a thing, did you?” Christiane asked with a smile, then turned to leave. “Now you boys keep it down in here. No wild parties.” She winked and walked out the door.
Matthew chuckled again and sat on the edge of the bed. “I’m proud of ya, Danny. You didn’t even cry. Want a lollipop?”
Daniel’s hand came up, found Matthew’s shoulder, and pushed him off the bed. “Bitch.”
Matthew smiled as he lay back down on the cot and closed his eyes. Everything was going to be just fine.
CONTINUED IN DARKNESS FALLS