When Angie Specter won a slot on the Reality TV show, Panic Button: Lighthouse Island, she promised herself she wasn't going to be involved in a showmance. She’s a serious contestant and wants that $250,000 prize. Showmance contestants are weak and foolish, and Angie has no intention of being used by some handsome guy.
That is, until she meets Hank. Not only is Hank Cross very handsome, he's as strong and capable as Angie. When the show's crazy host begins using terror to drive contestants off the island, Angie and Hank quickly figure out that if they don't help each other, they may not live long enough to push their Panic Button.
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At the bottom of the stairs he turned to look at them and grinned. “Are you coming?” he asked.
Hank was the first to step forward and follow him down the stairs.
“It’s funny, but he’s actually got me nervous about going down there,” Ronnie confided in a hushed whisper.
“It’s just a cellar, right?” Angie said.
“Sure,” Ronnie whispered back. “It’s just a dark and lonely cellar, probably covered with critters—rats and bugs and—”
“Shut up!” Heather snapped before hugging herself. “I hate spiders!”
“I’m waiting!” the Keeper told them.
Angie stepped forward after Hank thinking that—sexist stereotyping or not—it would have been nice if Rook, the other big strong man, had volunteered to take the lead with Hank.
The cellar smelled dank and moldy and it was definitely far too dark with only the one lantern eliminating its very weak light. She moved closer to the Keeper so she could see better. “Can you make the light in that lantern brighter?” she asked. “I can hardly see anything down here.”
The Keeper smiled and Angie immediately wished she’d kept her mouth shut. Of course, not being able to see was part of the atmosphere he was trying to create.
Hank put a reassuring hand on her shoulder and Angie instinctively moved closer to him. His hand slid around her back and pulled her slightly closer yet. It felt good to have that little extra assurance that she wasn’t alone down here.
The Keeper waited, apparently patiently, while the other contestants filed down the stairs. When they finished congregating, he started to speak again. “This is John Lamb’s cellar. When he was alive and in control of this Residence, I’m quite certain that it was packed with supplies and perhaps some of the items he’d scavenged from the wrecks of ships. Unfortunately, the British took everything he had after they murdered the man.”
He angrily shook his head from side to side, then looked up and smiled most unpleasantly. “Well, almost everything I should say.”
He stepped away from Angie and Hank to stand in front of Rook, staring closely at him for several seconds before moving on to Ginny. “Can you imagine what they left behind, Miss Freeze?”
Ginny looked far more frightened than any of the rest of them, and all she could do by way of a response was to jerk her head from side to side.
The Keeper moved on, stopping in front of Ronnie. “In 1752, four years after John Lamb first took up residence on this island, the slave ship, Madrigal, was breached on those evil shoals out there. Somehow—and I really don’t know how it happened since all of the slaves should have been chained in the hold of the vessel—two of those savages actually survived the wreck to wash up on the shores of this island. Lamb captured them, of course, and sold them to a friend in Charleston for a very tidy profit.”
He stopped talking and tried to stare Ronnie down, but she glared back at him so ferociously that he decided to move on to the professor. “But the incident made the first Keeper think about the future. He was alone on the island with only his servants, his wife and his young daughters.
“What if there had been six savages instead of two? What if they were more physically recovered when he had discovered them? What if they hadn’t been broken by their journey in the dark holds of the slave ship? What if they had tried to harm him or his little girls? Lamb decided that it would be prudent to use some of his profit on the savages to make preparations in case he should be blessed with a similar bounty in the future.”
Tobias’s face clearly showed his revulsion at the story, which made the Keeper almost cackle with glee. He stepped away from the professor and went to the nearest wall where Angie could now see a pair of two foot chains had been affixed to the stone floor about two and a half feet apart. At the end of each chain was an ugly iron manacle.
“Oh no,” Ronnie whispered. In the deathly silence of the cellar she might as well have shouted the words.
The Keeper looked in her direction. The lamp wasn’t bright enough to illuminate her clearly, but he could obviously make out her shadowy shape. “Unfortunately, the sea can be a most stingy lover and she didn’t gift Keeper Lamb with any more slaves.” He sighed and shook his head as if this were truly a terrible thing. Then he knelt down beside the chains and picked up one of the manacles. It was a large, ugly, barbaric piece of steel.
“They were quite expensive, you know. They have locks actually built into them. They were made in London and shipped here to help the king’s governor with his constabulary duties, but then items always have a way of going missing from government inventories, don’t they?
“But they remained down here with the rats and mice and no new savages came to require their services. But Keeper Lamb was an enterprising sort of man—gifted in finding uses for all of his resources. And it occurred to him one day when he was beating one of his daughters that this was a much better way to discipline the girl than sending her to her bedroom.”
Gilbert M. Stack has been creating stories almost since he began speaking and publishing fiction and non-fiction since 2006. A professional historian, Gilbert delights in bringing the past to life in his fiction, depicting characters who are both true to their time and empathetic with modern sensibilities. His work has appeared in several issues of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and is also offered at Red Rose Publishing. He lives in New Jersey with his wonderful wife, Michelle, and their beloved son, Michael.