Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Sphinx - Chapter 1


Standing atop the crown of the great green beauty gifted by France to the Americas, she stared down on the world, which had changed so much since the day she’d staged her death on the cliff outside of Thebes. Gone was the time that she had to run and hide, living in the shadows to avoid the attention of the gods. He was no longer a threat to her, having fallen with the others, and she could roam free again.
Those stories, though they worked in her favor, told of her in such a terrible light. A beast, a monster—and of course that was how he would want her to be remembered. That was the entire point of what he’d done to her. Because of his actions, and his selfishness, her light was diminished and replaced by hatred and ugliness. No one would ever know that she was in fact beauty personified, and that because of her beauty she’d been changed. A curse was placed on her, which transformed her appearance into something no one could love. As if that was not enough, he sent her to Thebes, a land not many dared to venture to. All of this for the purpose of stopping the world from finding out about his time with her, to make sure that the one he really intended to be with never knew she existed in his life.
She was done with hiding in the shadows. Centuries had passed, and in that time, her strength had grown a hundred times over. He would be made to face what he’d done to her. If she had to cut down a thousand gods to do it, she would.
A lesser known fact about the sphinx, one that even she herself hadn’t always known, was that when she devoured those who failed to answer her riddle correctly, she absorbed their power. In the beginning, she hadn’t realized just how the act affected her, but over the years of her sentencing, she learned that with each failed response and each meal, she became stronger. It wasn’t until she came face-to-face with a witch disguised as a poor woman, that she learned just how much of a gift this was. The woman was there intending to do what she thought was an act of justice. Her plan was to launch an attack on Cadmus, the King of Thebes, who the old woman said had betrayed his own people to serve an unworthy god.
Once strong enough and confident in the power she had taken, she moved forward with her plans. With the magic she’d stolen, she convinced a riddle traveler who crossed her that he had solved her riddle fair and square, and as punishment for her failure, she could no longer live. It worked. Oedipus, who would eventually become celebrated for many things including ridding Thebes of their pest, went on to be King of Thebes and she was free.
The sphinx thought it unfortunate that the woman was unable to solve her riddle. She would have loved to piss off the god who betrayed her by allowing his precious king to be murdered. It was her curse, however, to require the riddle be answered before she could ever permit a traveler safe passage. The witch, though bold and with great power, was unable to solve it. Though she fought, attempting to use magic to defeat the monster who denied her access to Thebes, she failed and she, too—like those before her—was devoured. After the witch was defeated, the sphinx turned to retreat to her nest to wait for another to dare to approach the boundaries.
With each step, she felt the change in herself as the energy stored in the body of the witch moved throughout her and gave her a high like one she had never experienced before. Content with her full belly, and looking forward to enjoying the high of her meal, she headed back to her claimed space and hoped for an easy night of rest.
A cavern at the base of the mountain had become her home, filled with claimed items she’d collected from those who became meals for her. No reason for good things to go to waste. The inside of the cavern was loaded with jewels and tapestries, clothes she couldn’t dream of wearing, and a corner that held relics she didn’t really care for but would often take her rage out on. The shattered pieces proved to bring her comfort as she used her tail to fashion them in new ways. She stood in front of a mirror, another gift from a traveler that didn’t reflect her entire frame. Each night she looked at her deformed body and with a sigh, she made the useless wish that she could return to her former self. The spell placed on her to hide her beauty was still intact. Each time she passed the mirror and made the wish, her anger grew. It festered inside, building to eruption. How could she be punished in such a way, and simply because she dared to love someone? As she walked away she made the internal request once more. How she longed to see a face she recognized, a face she missed, staring back at her.
          A flicker out of the corner of her eye caused her to turn back to her reflection and find herself, the way she remembered, before he thought it okay to take it away. Sun-kissed skin in milk chocolate tones that shimmered as if dusted with gold and stood in strong complement the thick, dark hair which fell around her frame. Her face was no longer ugly, distorted by magic and anger. Returned were her soft features, alluring plump lips, and eyes reflecting the depths of the ocean. Her body was once again her own—no lion’s frame or eagle wings, no tail that hissed at her when she went too long without feeding. She danced and laughed, happy to have finally broken the curse, but her celebration was short-lived.
As she came down from a leaping twirl that sent her flying in the air, the strong legs of a lion steadied her landing. The change was not lasting, but it was telling. Disappointment was suffocating. How could this be? How could this change not last? Afraid to view herself, but needing to know what she was, she returned to the mirror. As the last of her real face faded away, hidden by the curse again, tears fell from her eyes. Wings wrapped around herself, she did her best to hug away the pain of her defeat. For a moment, she was herself again. For a moment.
Realization hit her. This was a curse, this could be broken and she had proof. For the first time she looked at herself, cursed reflection and all, and there was excitement in her eyes. There was so much more to her than she had ever known; so much that she would not have discovered if not for the one who broke her heart. Quick to realize the advantage that had been given to her, perhaps by chance, she devised a plan. She would not live the rest of her life, shackled by this curse and the god who hoped to keep her hidden. She would find a way to get enough power, enough magic, to rid herself of the curse for good!
While he was celebrated, the one who took away her freedom, lifted by those who worshipped him and the other gods, she retreated into the obscurities of life. She would let him have his praise and continue to keep her existence hidden. It wasn’t as if he would be searching for her. He hadn’t attempted to investigate the reports of her diminishing appearances, or even come when the stories of her death rose to the heavens. Foolish of her, but she hung around, waiting to see if he would. He’d all but forgotten about the woman whose life he’d ruined all for his own selfish means. Her outrage was no longer a crazed display meant to torment those who lived in, or dared to attempt to visit the city of Thebes. She became more strategic in her targets. Those of power, or strength, they were her prey. Magical beings, but no one too high in their ranking. She was playing a long game. Settling for the lesser-thans, and avoiding anyone too powerful, made sure that no unnecessary attention came to her. For the sake of keeping up her appearances, she would still pick off the random traveler here and there. If she went missing, he would send someone else, another beast to replace her, or perhaps to hunt her down. The last thing she needed was for there to be a new monster put in place to ruin her plans.
She lived no more as the sphinx, but she could never be her true self again. The reflection in the mirror, the face she longed for, would still be hidden behind a veil. Only this time it was a veil of her choosing. She could not risk returning to her old visage or the life she had before. She did not want to run into her former lover. There were few others who knew of her, but she feared that he would find her. She created a new identity for herself. The new face was one that could make her smile, and one he would never recognize. She was gone and not one soul mourned her. Not even the one who claimed to have loved her.

          Asa was the name she assumed. Over time, she blended into the thread of humanity, taking on different identities and fading into the background when necessary. It wasn’t hard to stay hidden when no one was looking for you. All she had to do was remain careful, and make sure not to bring too much attention to her dealings. She continued to consume those of power—those who, like her, would not be missed—and with each one, her power grew more. As the gods of Olympus fell, with the human population losing their faith and their idolization for the ones who did more to torment them than to protect them, Asa rejoiced. She would be free of the shadows! She could live the life she desired. She could feed on those who were more powerful. That is exactly what she would do … because unlike everyone else, she was no fool. Faith or not, gods were eternal. They would return, and when they did, she would be ready for them.
Read more in The Fire & Fantasy Boxset

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Wicked In the Quad City!

I had a blast this past weekend at the Wicked in the Quad City Author signing. Met some amazing new people and had a chance to sit and be silly with my table buddy the designer of the awesome Bend Me Not book sleeves. I purchased one of my very own! Check them out and love them!!!
Bend Me Not book sleeves!!!
Photo cred: Ben Me Not


The readers were awesome and the atmosphere was one of fun and laughter. I love watching people mix and mingle and talk about the thing we all love the most... BOOKS! It was totally worth the 6 hours of driving (round trip)  and the brain fart of not filling up the tank before I left and having to stop at a shady looking gas station to fill up! I also got to see the transport of wind turbine blades! Don't ask me why but seeing these giant blades being driven down the highway was really exciting. It could have been just the excitement of barreling down the highway headed to meet new authors and readers, but I was too geeked! 




A post shared by Jessica Cage Author (@jcage_author) on

I took a TON of photos and you can see them all HERE, but below is a collage of some of my favorite moments.


Can't wait for the next awesome event!!!! 

Monday, March 13, 2017

An important message from a reader.

Recently I was at a book signing in Indianapolis at the Maleah Solange book store which is located in the Washington Square Mall (Um…check it out!). Let me tell you, this is the second time that I have visited this location and both times I was show some major love by book lovers. This time, however, was different. It was different because this time, readers who know me and my work showed up! Like, yes! People who have already fallen in love with the CagedFantasies brand came out to see me! One woman drove over 2.5 hours! Like... for who?? For me? Crazy.
Now, the reason I am writing this isn’t to say, oh my god people know me! Its to say…. I was SCOLDED! Yes, scolded by a reader, a fantasy lover! She ripped me a new one, tore me to shreds! Brutalized…. okay maybe I am over-exaggerating a bit. The point is, the reader, who took the time to research me when she found out that I was coming to the store, said something super important and super deep to me! She told me that I needed to do better. Yep, I needed to do better. Do better at what? Well, self-promoting, putting my work out there. Now, at one point in time, I was good at that. I was everywhere, shouting about how every person in the world needed to read my books! And then… Reality check. I had a situation with a reader that got a little too intense (lawyers were contacted for counsel), and in the same moment, readers and bloggers, and other authors started looking down on those of us who promoted ourselves so boldly.
Granted, I should have never let either of these instances kill my momentum, but I did. Part of me was afraid to continue as I was because, lord knows I didn’t need a Misery incident on my hands. I like my ankles intact thanks! Another part of me started to question if I was just being an annoyance by talking about myself and my books so much. Trust, as a natural inverted persona, it was hard enough to get myself out of my shell the first time around. Sprinkle in a little bit of self-doubt and boom, total shut down.
During this moment, when I was being hugged so tightly by someone who was so enthusiastic about my work (one of the best hugs I’ve gotten in a long time btw) I made a promise to both her and myself. I will do better at spreading the word about myself and my books. I will shut down the fear of overzealous (nice term here) readers/fans, and poo poo on anyone who tries to put me down about doing the thing I am supposed to do!
Sorry if my promoting bothers you, unfollow me. Sorry if I talk about how much I love Syrinada, Alexa, Josephine, Malcom, Jeremiah, Lacal, and all the rest! I do love them, they are a part of me. If my excitement for future projects, collaborations, and events, irritate you, well, turn the channel.  I have to shout at the top of my lungs about how awesome I think my work is and how I hope that others agree. Why? Because there are people out there who absolutely want to hear it. There are readers out there who definitely agree with my analysis and want to hear more from me. No, not everyone will love me. Hybrids, Sirens, Witches, Demons, and Dragons simply aren’t for everyone. But I don’t write for everyone. I write for people who love fantasy and adventure and…. to escape. That’s why I write! I want to give readers a world they can drift away to, because that is what books have always been for me.
I hope someone see this post who needs to see it. Someone who may be having a moment of doubt. Someone who may be feeling the pressure (like I did) to sit down and be quiet. For that person, I want to tell you, don’t do it. Don’t be quiet, get louder! You’ve worked so hard, hours of your life poured into your work. The world needs to know it. The world needs to know you. You never know what reader/lover of your craft is out there just waiting to find you! They probably give the best hugs too!


Monday, December 19, 2016

Character Abandonment



The nerve of them!

Here I am sitting at my desk,  trying to be productive and they...have abandoned me.

This isn't the first time, no. I know that it will not be the last. They  do this often. They’re skittish, and in a very unsettling way, uncaring about my process. What do I have to do? I'm trying to tell their story. I am but a recorder of the insanity of their world. Yes, I admit I'm fascinated by them. I want to know more, I want to feel more, and I want to tell everyone! Perhaps they are simply annoyed by my divulging their deepest, darkest, secrets. I get it, but, hell, we have an agreement!

They agreed long ago to let me share with the world their stories which reside in my head. This was a pact put in place to preserve my sanity. There is only so much time a person can walk around with untold stories in their head before they snap and retreat into themselves. I must get it out, lest I be walking down the street, mumbling insanity to myself.

They had no problem in the beginning. Hell, they even thrived after the first few publications and the interest that was obtained. They loved the limelight, the reviews, the messages written about how much they were enjoyed. Now, they are acting like little divas. “Let them wait, they love us, they will wait!” No, no they won’t. No I won’t! I want to get the stories out into the world, out of my head so that I have but a moment of peace before more occurs. Every time I think that these characters will start to cooperate with me once more, they fool me. They give me just a little, barely a page full and then shut me out again!

People often wonder what it is, we writers complain about. How we joke about talking to ourselves and attempting to keep a sane face when in the public eye. It is no joke! Trust me, I have to stop myself quite often from having complete conversations with myself while sitting at my desk at work. (Of course, NOW you want to get all chatty up there when I’m not able to do anything about it!) All I need is for my co-workers to think that I’m losing my mind. Wouldn’t that be a fun meeting with HR!  “Jessica, we think it would be best if you spent some time with the staff therapist. Maybe there are some things you need to get off your chest.” No therapist will understand that there are voices in my head that belong to characters I write about. Nope, they will be scribbling on their notepad and calling up the nearest wagon to take me to the looney bin!

All I ask is that they cooperate. Agree to the designated writing time, show up, and give me the words. That is all that I ask! That is not too much. I no longer take the train to work, so they are upset. They liked the train rides, that 45 minutes inspired so much chatter. Chatter that would spew over into my time at home and words would just be written. ALL THE WORDS! Now, I drive to work, and they are SILENT! They hate the radio, I turn it off, then they get quite, I turn it on. They don’t like that I have to focus on operating a vehicle. Darn me for not wanting to  drive blindly and risk running into a pole!

I’ve tried to placate them with wine, food, books, movies, anything to get them stirring again. Anything to inspire movement! Nothing. Nope. They are gone! Of course, now as I write about their abandoning me, they are screaming at me. “How dare you tell them! This is between us, they should never know about how skittish we are. They need to love us, and think that we are angels!” Well, I’m tired of taking the heat for their foolishness. Fielding the questions of when I will produce more. What’s coming next? When is the next release? Well, talk to them! I mean, I know you can’t really, but still. It's not my fault! I try! They deny me. Until they straighten up and act right, well, there will be nothing. No words, no new stories, nothing more to share.

I know, you’re judging me. Thinking to yourself, “Oh, she is so dramatic!” Well, duh! Of course I am dramatic. I’m a freaking fantasy and paranormal author. You think I accomplish that without drama?! I’m the reason they are so finicky, I know it, I know that if I was more mellow, they would be as well. But, then would you really want to read my books? What would my book babies be without the twists and turns, and the “OMG no she didn’t!” moments?

This is clearly a cry for help. A way to stir up the characters and get my creative juice flowing.
Damn it if it didn’t work!

Well, I’m off to write more. I’m thinking wolves, or demons, or wait… perhaps a coven of witches! So many stories to tell, and so very little time!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Eavesdropping on a private conversation with Malachi

Every now and then I drop in on my characters. Sometimes at moments I am sure they didn't intend for me to be privy to. Usually I keep these moments to myself but I couldn't help sharing this juicy snippet of a conversation between Malachi and a friend. I didn't quite catch his name.

Malachi: You know, I can’t believe I am even talking to you about this.
Unidentified person: Why is that?
To be honest, it just seems so ridiculous, all of it. It makes no sense.
Why do you say that?
Okay, don’t start with the psych questions. (laughter)  I’m supposed to protect her; I’m supposed to keep her safe. That is what I have been told for as long as I can remember. I’ve done that. I’m damn good a protecting that woman and she isn’t even aware. She doesn’t want my help. I don’t know why, she needs it! She needs me and she refuses me.
Okay, lets pause, Malachi. I know that you are hurt by things that have happened, and I’m sure we will get into all of that, but maybe we should think about who you are.
What about me?
What drives you, what inspires you? Outside of her.
Family. I am who I am because of family. The people I love are the ones who drive me to keep moving forward.
You mean your brother, Demetrius.
 Him, yes, he is blood. We are the only ones left of our bloodline, but it doesn’t stop there. Over the years my family has grown to include more than just him. We have people out there who care for us, and look out for us. If not for them, their selflessness when dealing with two kids like us, well, I wouldn’t be sitting here today with you.
Two kids like you, care to expand on that?
We aren’t your average mermen. There is more to us, our father was different and our mother was shunned for loving him and for having children with him. The community, they aren’t too big on mixing species, but you know that already. Look at what they are doing to her, Syrinada, and she has no idea what she is facing with them.
Is that why you are so hesitant to take her there? She will have to go there, eventually if she is ever going to succeed. We both know what troubles lurk ahead.
Yes, I am well aware of the dangers. Demetrius is very vocal about it as well. She isn’t ready. I know she isn’t.
When do you think she will be ready?
I don’t know.
I hate to say this, but you better figure it out and soon. There are troubling rumors out there. Movement in areas that have been dead for a long time. It’s because of her, you know that.
Yes, I know. It won’t be long before we have enemies banging on the front door.

You’re damn right. Better make sure they are reinforced.


Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Letter from Syrinada

Digging through some old papers, I stumbled across a tattered piece of paper, a letter from Syrinada. 



I have no idea who will ever read this, but I hope that it is found. I hope that it helps you to understand…
I never wanted any of this. Hell, I didn’t even know that this world existed. Everyone acts like I am either some great savior for people who barely want me to exist, or that I will destroy everything I touch. To be honest, with the way things are going, it feels much like the latter is the truth. Here I was thinking that my life was an average life. I went to school, got my degree and went to work. That is what I was taught to do.  All I wanted was normality. I basically grew up a foster kid, the daughter my aunt never seemed to want. She was family, the only family I had, of course she was obligated to care for me. I could see it in her eyes damn near every day, she didn’t want me. She wanted something else, something better, something more. I was a reminder of all that she gave up, all that she could never have.
I tried so hard to make her happy, to become successful. I wanted her to feel like she didn’t waste her time raising me. She deserved her own family, her own life, but there I was. The orphaned niece and she took care of me out of a promise to my dying mother. Talk about a load to bear.
Here I am now, months after being snatched up on the street and taken away. That night will never leave my mind, the terror I felt is embedded in my memory. The way that I escaped… I never knew what existed inside of me. I never knew the power. She never told me. And when I went to her, to ask the question, she denied me. There is no way that she didn’t know, there is no way that I am this creature and she was unaware.
The truth, always comes to light. The truth, as difficult as it may be to understand, it needs to be known. I needed to know.
I’m locked away now, in this home of a friend who clearly wants to be more than that. He says it’s for my benefit and though I know that he is right, I cannot stay here. I must get out, find the truth for myself. There is so much more to my story, so much more to the past that I must know. I am done being locked away, lied to, and made to feel like I am not enough.
There are people out there, the ones that hurt me that night. I will find them and they will lead me to the truth. It all seems connected; it has to be. This wasn’t a random act of violence. It was intentional, I know it. Malachi wants me to do this his way, learn and grow and be what he wants me to be. I am not clay to be molded by the any hands other than my own. If the fires of hell are reaching up, ready to grab hold of me, there is no way that I am just going to sit here and wait to burn. 



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Siren's End is coming - Excerpt -Siren's Test Chapter 1

As I gear up for the release of Siren's End, I want to share a bit of book two with you all! Syrinada is returning and her story has taken an unbelievable turn! I cannot wait for everyone to read it! While we wait for the release (October 12th!!!!) here is a bit of the second book! Chapter 1 of Siren's Test! 




CHAPTER 1

“Malachi?” My knuckles tapped lightly on a door made of a material that closely resembled a mixture of wood and metal. Though it had only been a few days, my body felt as though an eternity had passed since I’d been separated from Malachi. I was told by an overbearing woman named Chaney that he needed his time alone. She made it sound like I would only make matters worse for him. Against her orders and with some ingenuity, I’d managed to escape confinement and found my way to Malachi.
The interior of the room was completely dark. Everything else in the underwater palace glowed with an unnatural light, while Malachi’s domicile was completely pitch-black. The magical element was completely snuffed out. He didn’t answer me, although I knew he was there. My ears picked up the sound of his deep breaths, and his eyes weighed heavily on my flesh, leaving a trail of heat wherever he looked at me.
“Are you okay?” I spoke to hear my own voice more than to gain his response. My stomach turned as I floated forward. “Malachi?” I called his name again.
“What are you doing here?” His voice was low and sinister, and completely broken.
“I wanted to see you.” I crossed into the darkness and was dragged down at least a few inches by a new physical weight, which caused the tip of my tail to rub against the floor. The space inside the room felt more like the water in the human realm. What was causing that effect? Was it him?
“I told them to keep you away.” His words plunged into my chest like a dagger. It was his request that we be kept apart. Why would he want us to be separated?
“I was told that.” The lie was an effort to hide how much his words has hurt me. It was better if he thought that this was another case of me just being hard-headed. It wasn’t the first time I had disobeyed his orders, so it wouldn’t be too difficult for him to believe.
“Why can’t you ever do as I ask?” There was a slight tone of humor, not much, but enough to give me hope for the hidden man.
“Why would you ever expect me to when it is not what I want?” I moved closer still towards the sound of his voice.
“You have got to be smarter than this!” His growl halted my approach for just a moment. The softened sigh that followed those strong words gave me courage to continue moving forward.
“Smarter than what? You’re my friend and you’re hurting. I wanted to be here for you, to help you.” How could he expect anything else from me? Did he honestly believe that I would ever be able to just turn and walk away from him?
“You can’t help me, Sy.” I was close enough to feel the change in the water as he moved.
“And why not?” I pushed myself forward, deeper into the darkness.
“Stop.” This was a warning; Malachi thought it was unsafe for me. I could never believe that to be true.
“Why are you hiding from me?”
“You really need to go.” The glow of his eyes reached me and comprehension began to set it in.
“Malachi,” I felt it then, my entire body seized and my head fell back. Heat burned against my flesh as my tail began to unravel. I panicked but I could do nothing about it. I was frozen. Legs anew, hung beneath me as my eyes caught him moving forward. “What the hell?”
“This isn’t supposed to happen. You aren’t supposed to be able to be here like this, like me.” Malachi walked forward and with each step came a dim glow of red that allowed me to see him. The man I saw only once before, the monster, his demon. His face was distorted, but not completely, it was still him. Wearing not a stitch of clothing, he circled me and I kept my eyes on him as much as I could. His hand caressed my thigh and I moaned from the feeling. It was like fire burning me, but at the same time turning me on in ways I never thought possible. He stopped in front of me. “Sy.”
“What is this?” Voice trembling, I sought his face again as he moved to stand in front of me.
“You are mine that is what this is.” He grabbed my legs; my feet still had not yet touched the surface of the floor, pulled me to him and wrapped my limbs around his waist. “You belong to me Syrinada.” He spoke in a low growl that frightened me, but I could never want to pull away from him. Instinctively, my arms wrapped around his neck as I pressed myself against his body. I still couldn’t bring myself to promise him this bond, but I needed him in a way I hadn’t realized.
He held me in place, his hands firm around my hips as if waiting for a response. He sighed with frustration when it did not come. My teeth dug into the flesh of his neck as he took me as his own. Standing in the dark underwater, Malachi filled me to my limits. I cried out his name in response to each thrust, each welcomed intrusion. I ran my hands across his leathered flesh and dug my nails into him. We continued on, varied positions and stances, for an indeterminable amount of time. When we finished with each other, the light had returned to the interior of the room and Malachi placed the charm around his neck, returning him to his merman form. My tail, which matched his gold and red hues, reformed beneath me.
“What happens now?” I watched him as he ran his fingers along the length of his tail. Would he ever truly be okay again?
“Now, you will do what you came here to do. You will go get your stone.”
“How do we get there?” I perked up, finally we could take action. Under water living wasn’t as enjoyable as one might hope. It would be nothing better than to be able to leave and go home.
“No, I won’t be going with you, Sy. It’s just going to be you. This is something you have to do without me.” Neither of us wanted it to be true but his tone wasn’t a joking one.
“Wait, how am I supposed to do this without you? I don’t know anything about this place, and I damn sure don’t know enough to go off on some search for a missing stone by myself.”
“You will be fine. You have already proven your strength and your power. Now is the time to put those two things to use.” Malachi had faith in me, a blind faith that was not mirrored by my own feelings.
“But, I thought you would go with me.” I was afraid of the idea of going it alone and knew there was nothing he could do to change the way things were, but foolishly, I still wanted him to try.
“Mermen are not allowed along the passage of the stone. There is a guide that will be assigned to you, another siren who will assist you, but she too can only go so far. Your journey is your own, Sy. You will have help along the way, but the end result, whether you succeed or not, is entirely up to you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this before?” I rolled my eyes unable to hide my frustration.
“Would you have come if you’d known?” He challenged with a smile.
“Maybe,”
“Yeah, right.” He laughed softly and my stomach lurched.