PodCastle 135: California King

by Michael J. Jasper and Greg van Eekhout

Read by Dave Thompson

Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction

Our hero, a scrawny, bristle-haired man, softly sings a song he wrote when he was fifteen as he gives himself a new tattoo. He no longer remembers the verses, but the chorus goes something like: “Nyah-nyah, fuck-fuck, I’m the king, nyah-nyah, fuck-fuck.” Even after all these years, he finds the hook sort of catchy. His raspy tenor smoothes and deepens as he embeds dozens of carefully-spaced puncture wounds into his skinny right arm with his long, sharp knife, stealing the voice of the unconscious man upon whom he sits.

This will not be a big tattoo, we realize, for the real estate on our hero’s right arm has become quite crowded. Someday soon he’ll have to move on to his unmarked left. As he rubs a hanky soaked with berry dye and coal dust into the bloody dots, we watch a thin line of red trickle from the mouth of the motionless, waxy-skinned man beneath him. We see the scuffs and the ruined soles of our hero’s black boots, so recently applied against the skull of the man under him. But what we cannot see is what his tattoo will be. At least not yet.

We call this man, our hero, the California King.

Rated R: Contains violence, language, drug use, and Dave Thompson singing.