Language Lessons with Vincent Price

I’ve got Michael Jackson on my mind a lot lately; I’m not sure why, and no matter what I do, he just won’t beat it. In any case, you have him to thank or curse for this latest writing effort, a short fiction piece that plays with denotations: namely, the word funk (noun), third definition, meaning “a slump.”

It is loosely based on a prompt for the Trifecta writing challenge, which asks for 33 to 333 words on funk. Mine falls outside the word count, at just past 500 words, and I won’t have time to shave it down before the deadline, but here’s a light, fluffy piece for a change of pace. I hope you enjoy it, especially in a week filled with so much negative world news.



Language Lessons with Vincent Price

©Leigh Ward-Smith, 2014

Gwen Marsh didn’t know how she’d get past the gargoyle at the gate—weather-bitten Mrs. Brainerd. She of the Oil of Olay stench and inky fingers.


This is a publicity still from the movie The Bat (1959), starring Vincent Price. Obtained at GreGGory’s Shock Theater site.

She pressed the brittle-boned paperback closer to truant cleavage as if it were a secret Valentine. Or, in this case, a vile-entine. Gwen could nearly hear Ashley’s breathy words from yesterday: D’ya really think so? I guess we could ask an older kid. Push play again. More hushed giggles.

She glanced down and let the book fall away from her chest: The Totally Bawdy Book of Hickory-Switch Humor, Putrid Put-Downs, and Salacious Slang.

Mom would tan my hide if she knew I had this book, not to mention how I’d gotten it. It was marked for check-out by adults only, in Mrs. Brainerd’s precise hand—and lovingly sealed with twine besides.

I’ve got to go through with this! Gwen pumped herself up to do the unthinkable.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Brainerd was stamping away, going one-by-one through a stack of returns. Every so often, she’d squint and wrinkle her upper lip like Elvis’ evil clone, close the cover harshly, and audibly humph.

Gwen needed some kind of diversion. Pulling the fire alarm lever might work, but then if it didn’t, she’d be in even deeper doo.

Oh, for the love of Michael Jackson! Gwen imagined the pink leather jacket shimmering in the closet she shared with her little sister. It wasn’t the signature look, but it was the best her parents could afford.

“What the . . . funk?” she whispered, letting the forbidden word coil around her conscience. Maybe it doesn’t mean what we think it means. Ashley’s a Southern Baptist, so how would she know? She isn’t even allowed to watch TV, much less buy a cassette. “Devil music,” her parents would probably say.

Gwen strained to remember all the lyrics. I’m sure the spooky old dude in the song says “funk.” She had slipped back to a table near the bathrooms. It was almost closing time. In a few minutes, the plucked vulture would flap her wings, circle through the library, and catch Gwen red-faced.

She dug in her backpack and fished out fingernail clippers. After two clips, she was in, with fingers sprinting to salacious slang.

There it was! But, then, no. This word has no n. She scratched at her black curls, but after a few moments thought to race to the open dictionary at the end of the reference section stacks.

C-D-F. She moved her finger down the page.“Funk . . .” she read the definitions quietly to herself.

Dang, don’t I feel like a fool! Michael, how could you trick me? I am most definitely not thrilled!

Even as Gwen was lamenting her luck, she ceased to be aware of her surroundings. Only the click-click-click brought her back, and she turned to face Mrs. Brainerd . . . and her Fate.

Talk about a funk! I have a feeling I’m gonna be in one long, grounded slump by the time she’s done talking to my mom about this “unfortunate incident.”



6 thoughts on “Language Lessons with Vincent Price

    • Definitely–and I didn’t know about his art background (which only serves to make him that much more cool)! Of course, Alice Cooper “used” Mr. Price’s talents as well. I love Price’s sense of play, too; dark humor, perhaps, but it was great.

  1. Haha…this is funny! I love the MJ influence 🙂 (My parents weren’t fond of his music… or any pop music for that matter. We were raised Baptist, and to this day, I’m shocked that they allowed my brother to buy me Madonna’s “True Blue” cassette (yes, that was ‘cassette’) for Christmas one year!)

    • Somehow I lucked out and got to listen to MJ as well, though there were Baptists and Southern Baptists in the family (I don’t know if my parents liked it or not, though they were probably OK with it–just not thrilled, probably!). Love the Madonna comment as well; I remember when “Like a Prayer” debuted on TV to so much controversy. Ah, those were the days! Thanks for stopping by!

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