The McClemen’s residence looked like an abscessed tooth jutting out of the earth, three stories high, flaccid and diseased. It was surrounded by a sea of corn—fields of green presently bending lightly to a southwesterly wind. There was an aged sycamore at the end of the driveway chained to a dog and a goat, and Lawrence Shoemaker at last rolled his Cadillac to a stop in the tree’s accompanying shade.
The stink of shit and animal parlayed with a cloud of dust, rising up and through the opened windows of the Cadillac. Lawrence cursed, reached for a handkerchief and covered his nose. When the dust settled, he grabbed his clipboard and stepped outside, shielding his eyes against the rays of a setting sun.
Crossing the driveway to the front porch, Lawrence deftly navigated through piles of dog crap, and more curiously, dozens of cornhusks lying about. Adding to this oddity, he noticed a particular husk hanging cockeyed from an above windowsill. Hillbillies, he thought.
The porch groaned like a bitch in heat as Lawrence pressed his weight onto it. One more step forward, and he swore he’d break through. No need to knock with all this ruckus, but he rapped his knuckles on the door anyhow. He absently flipped pages on his clipboard while he waited. He didn’t read anything, didn’t even recognize what he was staring at for that matter, his mind deep in thought over Happy Hour at the topless bar in town. Last stop, not long now. Lawrence licked his lips, adjusted his crotch; someone was opening the door.
He was greeted with the sweet smell of cornbread, and the fox-like eyes of Delaroy McClemens.
“Yes, sir…what can I do you for?” asked Delaroy, his voice deep as a well.
“My name is Lawrence Shoemaker. I’m an investigator for the Office of Fraud and Accountability. Do you have about ten minutes? I need to ask you some questions about your family.”
Delaroy scrunched his eyebrows. “Questions about my family?”
“Yes, sir—if you don’t mind.”
Hesitating, Delaroy glanced over his shoulder, as if inspecting his house.
“Just a few questions, Mr. McClemens.”
“Alright. Well come on in, then… I’s about to get me some coffee. Would you like some?”
“That’d be nice, thank you.”
The two men passed through the front room, and Lawrence noted a few details: a crotchety old woman to his right, wrapped in a blanket—Mama McClemens he guessed— with her eyes fixed two-feet from the television; and a raggedy clad redhead standing on the staircase to his left, eyes fixed on him. The young woman straddled Lawrence’s attention like a saddle on a horse, with her wild hair, and perky, braless tits, and flimsy tank top cut high above the navel.
“Put some clothes on, Sissy!” barked Delaroy. “Can’t you see we got us some company?”
Lawrence almost mentioned that he didn’t mind, but quickly thought otherwise. He bit his tongue and followed Delaroy into the kitchen.
“Some questions, eh?” said Delaroy, motioning to a table. “Go ahead and take a seat then.”
Lawrence pulled a chair and sat, then rifled through the pages of his clipboard. “Says here that you’ve got six children, Mr. McClemens.”
“Delaroy,” replied the old man, setting two cups on the table. “Call me Delaroy.” He filled the cups with coffee then sat across from Lawrence.
“Sure thing, Delaroy. As I was saying, I’ve got some questions about, well, just one of your kids, actually…” Lawrence glanced at the clipboard. “Arlow McClemens?”
Delaroy’s eyes narrowed with suspicion as he slowly lifted his cup to his lips.
“That wouldn’t be the young woman out there, now would it?” continued Lawrence.
“Ah, hell no.”
“Hmm,” replied Lawrence, flipping a page. “Oh, yes, I see. You’ve got a daughter named Dacey McClemens.”
“That’s Sissy. And Arlow McClemens is my youngest boy. Although we just call him Baby.”
Lawrence shifted in his seat. “Well, you see here, mister Mc—ah, Delaroy—according to my records, Baby should be about twenty-four years old now.”
Delaroy flicked a crumb off the table.
“Does that sound about right to you? That Baby is around twenty-four, or so?”
“Yeah, that sounds about right. I s’pose. What’d you say you do again, mister?”
Dacey McClemens slinked into the kitchen just then, her long naked legs waltzing across the room, ass peeking out from denim shorts, firm as a Georgia peach. She made her way to the fridge, then the stove.
Lawrence bit his lip this time then adjusted his crotch from under the table. “I investigate Fraud for the state, Delaroy. And if Baby McClemens is twenty-four years old, then we’ve got us an issue.”
Delaroy cackled like a hyena. “Fraud? Baby? Shit, mister, that boy can’t wipe his own ass without getting into a terrible fix. How the hell’s he gonna steal anything?”
“Well, actually, apparently he already has. Or somebody representing him, for that matter. He does live here, doesn’t he?”
Presently, Dacey was shucking corn at the sink, but then she paused and turned a shoulder. “You saying that somebody stole from Baby?”
“Hush, Sissy!” cried Delaroy. “And didn’t I say to put some clothes on?”
Dacey turned back to the sink. “Should I fix a little extra?”
“No thanks, ma’am,” replied Lawrence, raising a hand. “Don’t trouble yourself on my account.”
“Oh, it ain’t no trouble,” said Dacey. “All’s we’re having is corn, and we’ve got plenty of it, as you can see.”
Lawrence made a face—corn for dinner?—then coughed. “Ah…that’s okay. I don’t think I’ll be staying long.”
“Suit yourself,” shrugged Dacey.
Lawrence turned his attention back to Delaroy. “Now, getting back to your son; it seems that he’s been collecting general relief from the state for, well, his whole life.”
Delaroy blinked. “General relief? What’s that?”
“Welfare, Delaroy. Your son’s been collecting welfare from the state. And that’s why I’m here.” Lawrence paused, then leaned forward. “Look, Mr. McClemens; the state policy—with the economy being as it is and all—allows for recipients to receive general relief for a maximum of three years.” He sat back, sipping coffee. “Unless of course, there’s good reason otherwise—disabled, or what have you. According to our records, your son has been claiming such a disability. But there’s no proof of that, and there never has been. And that’s what we call a crack in the system.” Lawrence smiled, then stole a glance at the crack between Dacey’s legs.
Suddenly, three loud “thumps” rattled down the walls, coming somewhere from upstairs.
Lawrence looked around, curious. “What was that?”
Dacey peeked over her shoulder.
“Best get that cornbread cooking, Sissy,” Delaroy muttered gravely.
Dacey sighed. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“So, let me get this straight, Mr. Shoemaker,” the old man continued. “You’re telling me that Baby now needs a reason for getting his checks in the mail?”
His checks, Lawrence sneered silently. “I’m saying, that unless your son is incapacitated in some way, unless he is unable to work a job like the rest of us folks, then no, he ain’t gonna be getting any more of his checks.”
“I see,” replied Delaroy, rolling his fingers on the table.
Now, the entire house jolted three times, as if a giant were pounding on the roof with an oak tree.
Lawrence sat up with a start. “What the hell is that?”
Delaroy leaned back into his chair. “Mister…that’s Baby. And yes, he does live here. And he’ll be madder than a rattled hornet if he don’t get his dinner soon—so get a moving, Sissy!”
Lawrence chuckled nervously. “Beg your pardon?”
“Oh, yeah, Baby’s got him a fierce appetite.” Delaroy stared proudly at the ceiling. “And that boy takes to corn like his own ma’s teats. Cornbread, corn stew. Fritters and grits. Corn pies with goat cheese. Or just plain, right off the stalk. Boy loves his corn.” The old man’s eyes narrowed once more, predator-like, much to Lawrence’s unease. “But then again, if we add a little gravy, Baby’ll eat damn near anything.”
Lawrence coughed into his elbow. “Okay, then. Well, ah, back to this business of your son and his checks.”
“Mister Shoemaker,” Delaroy interrupted, “I think maybe you just need to meet Baby.”
Dacey dropped an iron skillet on the floor. “Sorry! Jumped right out of my hands, it did.” She bent over, giving Lawrence a bird’s-eye view down her shirt.
“Yeah, let’s ah,” replied Lawrence, eyes fixed on Dacey’s nipples. “Let’s meet your son, shall we?”
With a glare, the old man stood. “Well, come on then.”
Delaroy led Lawrence back through the front room, and up the stairs. There was a sour odor lingering on the third floor, thick and rank as bad cheese, and Lawrence was noticeably bothered, as he covered his nose with his hand. A dark hallway stretched further into the gullet of the house, where light oozed through the cracks of closed doors. Lawrence rubbed knuckles into his watering eyes, trailing behind the old man. At the end of the hall, they stopped in front of a door, and Delaroy snickered quietly.
“What was that fancy word you said? Incapacitated?” Delaroy pushed the door open and stepped to the side.
Lawrence’s first thought was of a beached whale. He dropped his lower jaw and leaned forward, staring. Baby McClemens sat in the middle of the room, encompassing the entirety of it with his six-foot girth, and eight-foot height. He was naked, save for a yellow bed linen used as a diaper, long since needing changed. The corpulent mass of his belly and flanks were strafed with vertical stretch marks, crisscrossing the countless rolls of blubber circling his body. Rounds of fat at his ankles looked like hundred-dollar cheese wheels. And rivulets of slobber trailed down Baby’s chin, chest, and belly, ending in pooled globules on the floor. Topping it all was a hairless head the size of a watermelon, bearing a baby-face if there ever was one.
“Bagabba-goo,” cooed Baby, slapping his heavy foot on the floor, rattling the walls. He gave a stretch and a belch and Lawrence spotted gummy smegma seated between the tot’s layered skin. Then a raspy spray of spittle exuded from Baby’s banana-sized lips, preceding a sudden expulsion of corn-chunked bile, splashing out and onto the monstrosity’s great belly.
Lawrence’s second thought, as he took a step back, was how many beers it would take to cleanse his palate, the odiferous air being so bad, he could taste it. “Sweet mother of Jesus…” he muttered, swallowing the lump in his throat.
“BOOGABBA!” Baby suddenly roared.
And Lawrence’s third thought—his final thought—as he went limp on his way straight to the floor, was Goddammit, I just might miss Happy Hour this evening.
“Think I kilt him, Pa?” Dacey hovered over Lawrence’s still body, iron skillet in hand. “I’s about sick and tired of him staring at me like he was. Sick pervert.”
The old man rubbed his chin. “Maybe so,” he said, pushing a boot into Lawrence’s side. “Makes no difference, though.” He looked at Baby then: a quivering mass of blubber staring back with anxious eyes. “And you go on and hush, now! We’ll get you your supper, already.”
Down the hall and at the top of the stairs, Delaroy leaned over the rail. “Get in the kitchen, Ma!” he shouted, glancing over his shoulder at the body of Lawrence Shoemaker. “Looks like Baby’s gonna need some gravy!”
“Corn-Fed Baby and Gravy” was originally published in Bete Noire Magazine.
Chris Riley lives near Sacramento, California, vowing one day to move back to the Pacific Northwest. In the meantime, he teaches special education, writes cool stories, and hides from the blasting heat for six months of the year. He has had over 100 short stories published in various magazines and anthologies, and across various genres. His debut novel, one of literary suspense, titled The Sinking of the Angie Piper, was published in 2017; and his debut short story collection is forthcoming, with Mount Abraxas Press. For more information, go to www.chrisrileyauthor.com.