ÆVÆÆ
At that, Emma tucked her index finger into her lower gums, as one might do with tobacco 'dip'. She smiled for a few seconds, and then, without ceremony, warning, nor explanation, she collapsed onto the floor, her head just barely missing the coffee table.

It truly could have killed her if it weren't for Chuck's swift hands catching and cushioning her head.

"Phew!" he said, wondering at the same time what that word truly means, and its etymology, which he made a mental note to look up later.

Then, as young men will, he gloated, in ape-like frat-boy expression of passions, the howl of his inner wolves seeking in frustration to be recognized as fearsome and proud. In what can only be described as an entirely involuntary action, he took his right hand - the one that had caught Emma's head when she fell - the one that was still holding Emma's head about four inches from the green slate-tiled floor -- and he immediately beat his chest with a fist made of that very hand, proud of his having prevented disaster -- shouting "CAT-LIKE REFLEXIVITY MUTHAFUCKAAAAH!" -- and he reflected a few seconds more on his heroic achievement and the ways that it might one day contribute to building character for him.

Chuck was so vociferous, passionate, and pensive that he did not hear the dull thud of skull on slate from four inches. But he did hear what came next. Emma gasped and opened her eyes halfway, a look of pain on her face. She tried to say something but Chuck wasn't really paying attention, as he was busy reassuring himself that he was indeed a person of great worth. Emma's bottom lip was swelling now, probably from that Tanaq she did. She was semi-conscious now and did not want to pass out again without telling Chuck one thing: "OUCH!" [gasp] "ASS" [gasp] "HOLE!" [gasp].

She passed out again, and Chuck got scared. How would he get the Prompt done by the time the Read Team expected it? Again, Chuck ignored the bodily state of Emma and thought about how he was going to write this prompt all alone.

The prompt is considered "seasoned" after the 19 minutes, 19 seconds - and there is no satisfactory resolution whatsoever that you can provide at that point. They visit NOT because they want something from you, but rather because they have a little something FOR you. It's perhaps sufficient to say that nobody ever wanted to be paid an in-person visit by the Read Team.

If the prompt was even 17 minutes late, the Read Team's covert intelligence team -- they called themselves, sinisterly, "Performance Improvement Team" -- would arrive by 6:29 AM, and it wouldn't be to collect the prompt. No, this isn't the sort of thing you could just pay a late fee for. Someone would have to answer for it . . . and Emma was unconscious now.

Distracted by the nightmare of a Read Team visit, he groaned in anticipatory pain, and thought, "if the Performance Improvement Team visits . . . I'm fileted. I'll be confined here -- grounded." And it was a reasonable fear; if they were to ground chuck, he might go insane again in total social isolation.

Tanaq . . . Tanaq . . . so the antidote must be Qanat ? But what about the letter that arrived by courier - the one with the letter U that she said she'd made a copy of? And why the hell did any of this need to be done by chafing dish?

Emma suddenly gasped into consciousness again, and with great effort and poor diction - she pointed with three fingers to the bookcase and said "I'm fucked Chuck. EVERYTHING else – including the words on the letter, must be taken away. Get he copy of letter from bookcase . . . DESTROY it! . . . water . . . need water"

"Wait, what do I need the water for?" Chuck asked, in genuine cluelessness that came over him sometimes when he encountered ambiguities and took the alternate meaning from the one intended by the speaker.

She stared at him with a look of frustration and fear, unable to speak at all now, her bottom lip plump and on the verge of bursting. Chuck realized than that it was she who wanted water, and that her purpose was merely to drink it, for the traditional reasons.

Chuck ran to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water for Emma, while Emma stumbled, then crawled urgently to the bathroom. He considered whether he could do better than water for her. He evaluated all of the options -- Kool-Aid, Sunny Delight, Sprite, guava-mango nectar blend, and a beautiful bottle of rosewater -- and then decided that water may be best. But would she want it with ice? He was mentally paralyzed by his pursuit of the perfect beverage for Emma in that moment and in that setting. Would it be dangerous to give her a glass? For some reason she had a sippy-cup in her cupboard with the words "It's all just metaphor" in an obnoxious don't he had not seen before. It was even worse than Comic Sans, and painful to look at.

He decided on water for her. Someone had to take some leadership here and it was gonna be Chuck.

"Do you want ice, Em?"

She didn't answer. She was out of audible range now, in the bathroom. He didn't wait for an answer. It must be getting more urgent. He decided on a simple glass of tap water. He reflected proudly on his executive decisionmaking skills. That seminar in Honolulu was WELL worth the money that the Read Team had granted the LOLITAS for "continuing education," he digressed internally.

With the triumph of having decided on his own to fetch basically what Emma had asked for in the first place, he carried the water to the bathroom, knocked on the door, and hearing no response, opened it and dropped the glass in stunned disbelief.

Emma had collapsed again but this time there was nobody to break her fall. Her head had hit the hard ceramic of the commode before making lifelong acquaintance with the ground. Blood ran freely from her temples.

Chuck somehow summoned the focus to attempt to render aid. The first step was to check for a pulse and breathing. Neither were in evidence. After an awkward, fruitless, and bloody attempt to revive her with CPR, he gave up. He looked almost like a literary vampire now, with Emma's blood now drying and sticky around his mouth, as maybe a two year old vampire would look after a rich bloodmeal.

There was no doubt about it now. Emma was dead. And nothing could bring her back. Chuck would have to write the prompt himself, and take on the mantle of literary leadership.

"Damn - I should I have brought her the Sunny Delight."