The wrong word could get somebody killed.


The Muse dropped in before daylight this morning.

I’m not surprised.

It was raining.

The Muse doesn’t like the rain.

He thinks he shows up to provide inspiration.

Mostly it’s interruption.

I’m not pleased that he was assigned to me.

He thinks they were scraping the bottom of the barrel when I was assigned to him.

He’s probably right.

I’m just a disgruntled old man.

The Muse sat down in the old blue wing-backed chair beside my desk.

Raindrops were dripping from his hat.

He didn’t mind.

His head was dry.

So were his thoughts.

“You writers have a great responsibility,” he said.

I nodded.

“To inform?” I asked.


“To educate?”


“To entertain?”

He laughed.

It wasn’t a gentle laugh.

“You use a lot of words,” he said.

I nodded again.

“Thousands,” I said.

“Millions probably,” he said.

“I don’t use that many,” I said.

“Why not?”

“I use the same ones over and over,” I said.

“Makes sense,” he said.

It did.

The Muse cocked his head to one side, closed his eyes, and said, “That’s your responsibility,” he said.

“What’s that?”

“You’ve got to use the right words.”

I shrugged.

It didn’t seem like a big deal.

It was.

“George learned his lesson,” the Muse said.

“Who’s George?’

“He’s a friend of mine.” The Muse paused a moment, then said, “George was stricken with guilt.”

“What had he done?”

“He thought it was a terrible thing?”

“Was it?”

“Not particularly. But his conscience started bothering him, so he texted his next door neighbor.”

“What’d he say?”

“The text said: ‘I’ve been riddled with guilt and need to confess to you. When you’re not around, I’ve been helping myself to your wife, and probably more than you ever do. I know it’s no excuse, but I don’t get it at home. I can’t live without it, and I can’t live with this damning guilt any longer. I want to offer you my sincerest apology, and I promise you it won’t happen again.”

“That sounds serious,” I said.

“His neighbor didn’t take it too well.”

“That’s not surprising.”

“His neighbor felt betrayed.”

“I don’t blame him.”

“His neighbor was angry as hell.”

“He had a right to be mad.”

The Muse shrugged. “The neighbor went to his closet, pulled out his deer rifle, barged into his wife’s bedroom, and, without a word, shot her.”


“One shot.”

“That’s tragic,” I said.

“It really was,” the Muse answered. “A moment later he received another text from George.”

“What’d it say?”

“’Damn,’ the text said, ‘I really should use spell check. I meant wifi, not wife. Sorry.”

The Muse looked outside.

The raining had stopped.

He stopped in the doorway and looked back at me. “The right words,” he said. “You’ve got to use the right words. Use a wrong one, and you can get somebody killed.”

The thunder had rolled on to the East, softened, and no longer sounded like gunshots.

Quite a few get killed in Secrets of the Dead, regardless of the words used.

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