All My Favorites
Kathe Koja on VELOCITIES: STORIES
Your mom always told you she had no favorites among her kids, and your mom would never lie. My new short story collection, VELOCITIES, made me feel the same way—how to decide which of my stories should be in the book?
Sounds assailed him from the shadows, sly and sourceless, something like footsteps but not footsteps, three-legged, what walks like that?
Thanks to editors’ invitations and inspirations (hi, Ellen Datlow!), I’ve written a lot of short fiction through the years, and my previous collection, EXTREMITIES, contained some of that work. I knew I wanted to put together another (thanks, Meerkat Press!). But a collection, though not structured like a novel, does have to have a throughline, a reason for each story to be there. So how to choose which stories to include, from all my favorites?
He thought about her as he drove. The Fentanyl seemed to relax him, pull at his brain without tearing it, as the pain so often did.
The stories in VELOCITIES are horror stories, weird stories, unclassifiable stories; two are new, the rest are previously published. They take place in places like the empty desert and a busy theatre, in a morgue, on a dance floor, in a barbeque restaurant’s back room; in contemporary times, times past, or a time just ahead of our own. But they all share, let’s call it a family resemblance: they walk right up to the edge of mystery, then step over. They have no answers, they didn’t expect answers, and even if they’re afraid—even if they should be afraid—they just keep going. Because velocity is what they’re about.
I watched as one by one the players crossed the courtyard in secret, Alma and Suzette and Geraldina, it was no secret what they did there, all of them. All of them.
I hope readers feel that same momentum as they read, that these stories take them somewhere they haven’t been before, that this family trip is memorable, even fun, even if it gets dark on the way. Because it does get dark.
You think being dead is a problem for him? Hell no! It just makes it easier, you know? It just makes everything easier.
Welcome to the family!
From BABY by Kathe Koja
It’s hot in here, and the air smells sweet, all sweet and burned, like incense. I love incense, but I can never have any; my allergies, right? Allergic to incense, to cigarette smoke, to weed smoke, to smoke in general, the smoke from the grill at Rob’s Ribs, too, so goodbye to that, and no loss either, I hate this job. The butcher’s aprons are like circus tents, like 3X, and those pointy paper hats we have to wear—“Smokin’ Specialist,” god. They look like big white dunce caps, even Rico looks stupid wearing one and Rico is hot. I’ve never seen anyone as hot as he is.
The only good thing about working here—besides Rico—is hanging out after shift, up on the rooftop while Rob and whoever swabs out the patio, and everyone jokes and flirts, and, if Rob isn’t paying too much attention, me and Rico shotgun a couple of cans of Tecate or something. Then I lean as far over the railing as I can, my hands gripping tight, the metal pressing cold through my shirt; sometimes I let my feet leave the patio, just a few inches, just balancing there on the railing, in thin air . . . Andy always flips when I do it, he’s all like Oh Jani don’t do that Jani you could really hurt yourself! You could fall!
Oh Andy, I always say; Andy’s like a mom or something. Calm down, it’s only gravity, only six floors up but still, if you fell, you’d be a plate of Rob’s Tuesday night special, all bones and red sauce; smush, gross, right? But I love doing it. You can feel the wind rush up between the buildings like invisible water, stealing your breath, filling you right up to the top. It’s so weird, and so choice . . . Like the feeling I always got from you, Baby.
It’s kind of funny that I never called you anything else, just Baby; funny that I even found you, up there in Grammy’s storage space, or crawl space, or whatever it’s called when it’s not really an attic, but it’s just big enough to stand up in. Boxes were piled up everywhere, but mostly all I’d found were old china cup-and-saucer sets, and a bunch of games with missing pieces—Stratego, and Monopoly, and Clue; I already had Clue at home; I used to totally love Clue, even though I cheated when I played, sometimes. Well, all the time. I wanted to win. There were boxes and boxes of Grampy’s old books, doctor books; one was called Surgical Procedures and Facial Deformities and believe me, you did not want to look at that. I flipped it open on one picture where this guy’s mouth was all grown sideways, and his eyes—his eye— Anyway. After that I stayed away from the boxes of books.
And then I found you, Baby, stuffed down in a big box of clothes, chiffon scarves and unraveling lace, the cut-down skirts of fancy dresses, and old shirts like Army uniforms, with steel buttons and appliqués. At the bottom of the box were all kinds of shoes, spike heels, and a couple of satin evening bags with broken clasps. At first I thought you were a kind of purse, too, or a bag, all small and yellow and leathery. But then I turned you over, and I saw that you had a face.
From the award-winning author of The Cipher and Buddha Boy, comes Velocities, Kathe Koja’s second electrifying collection of short fiction. Thirteen stories, two never before published, all flying at the speed of strange. Dark, disturbing, heartfelt and utterly addictive.
Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally.