The Infernal Bones of Canaan, Mississippi

An account by Edgar E. Laredo, as provided by Elizabeth S. Berger
Art by Leigh Legler

If the yellow in my eyes is to be credited, I will die before Christmas. Then my bones will be interrogated–and I wouldn’t trust them to tell my tale honestly. Never trust bones as far as you can throw them.

It’s been thirty years, and I still wake to the scraping of wind and think it is the grinding of teeth. I have ground my own teeth until the dentin is exposed and my temples are gnawed with pain. But I must revisit the tale, and seek exoneration from the public.

First, you must put aside what you have heard about the incident. I was never engaged in prophesying. That is utter nonsense. I would not have jeopardized my career for the dubious power of necropological prophesies. To the contrary, I, like Professor Weissenschnauer, was dogmatically opposed to such selfish uses of the bones. Prophesying would have been tantamount to treason against my own profession–like an archaeologist pocketing the gold coins he was tasked with excavating.

Through the summer and into the fall of 1901, we were sequestered in Canaan, Mississippi, which is a miserable mud hole, blistering in summer and sodden as a swamp the rest of the year. We set up our laboratory in the spare wing of a local doctor’s house, and we kept to ourselves. The locals were suspicious of necropologists. They had more than their share of traveling hucksters who rode in on wagons and set up tent shows to talk to the bones in the churchyard, but they were frauds, and I think the people knew it.

The doctor’s house was an old one from before the War. The whitewashed wooden floorboards creaked when no one stepped on them but rustled like doves when someone did. The kettle perpetually whistled as the doctor’s wife, never seen, bustled in and out of the kitchen. The place smelled of baking biscuits. There were butter smears on all the door handles, and we always had to wipe our fingers on our trousers before working in the makeshift laboratory. The smell of the buttery biscuits was in earthy harmony with the smell of the bones, still caked in grave dirt and lined up on the plywood shelves as in a catacomb.

The Infernal Bones of Canaan, Mississippi

Only finishing his whiskey could induce McDowell to go on. “Nonsense, mostly,” he said. “We don’t know how to understand ’em. Talking about devils and … drowning virgins, nonsense like that. Horses with their legs cut off. And the foulest insults you ever heard.”

To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Spring 2016 collection.

Mr. Laredo sent this account from his home in Baltimore, where he has lived since his release from prison five years ago.

Elizabeth Berger’s work has appeared in Stupefying Stories. She is pursuing a PhD in bioarchaeology, the study of ancient bones. In the usual course of her work, unlike in Mr. Laredo’s account, the bones do not talk back.

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

“The Infernal Bones of Canaan, Mississippi” is © 2016 Elizabeth S. Berger
Art accompanying story is © 2016 Leigh Legler

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