It began on a Sunday night with a simple message from your acquaintance, Professor Julius Arthur Smith on his calling card. It said:
AM AT 5 DURWARD STREET, WHITECHAPEL. FOR GOD’S SAKE COME. BRING A GUN. JULIUS SMITH.
Arriving at the address on a dank, foggy London night, Professor Felix Crumb looked at the narrow, poorly lit street and the ramshackle houses near a horse slaughtering business and grumbled to himself. He spied his associate, Dr. Archibald Jones approaching from the opposite direction, and what appeared to be an American cowboy waiting on the doorstep of the address given. The man, one Barnabas Pike, had also been summoned by the Professor, as well as a young lady, Beulah, who waited inside.
Inside, Smith greeted the group, and after conferring in whispers with the landlady, ushering them up a narrow staircase to a bedroom. As the door opened, a horrible smell redolent of old fish, offal, and ancient curdled vomit assaulted their nostrils. Inside a sinister tableau was lit by twin candles in wooden candlesticks. A wasted man on a small sagging bed and a black-cloaked figure who knelt beside him. The stench seemed to emanate from the man on the bed, who looked ancient, withered and near death. Naked, except for some smallclothes, he also wore a strange deep red fez on his head. The cloaked figure turned to the group and introduced himself as Doctor Niels Hobbs, associated with the London police.
Smith explained what had happened here. Four days ago, Four days ago, a well dressed fellow around forty, with silver hair, a top hat, and a swallow-tail coat offered the landlady, Mrs. Grim, a handsome amount for the room. Soon men in fezzes dragged a semi conscious man into the room. The door was locked, and only the top-hatted man came and went. On the second night weird sounds afflicted the tenants, as if the building was filled with whispers. Tenants also reported strange shadows on the landing. By the third night there was shrieking and thumping and the top-hatted man appeared and offered more money for the landlady’s connivance, saying he had a drug-addicted brother he was trying to cure. But by the fourth night, tonight, things could not be ignored. Shrieks of agony burst from the room and unearthly noises, rattles and thumps shook the whole building. The landlady sent one of her tenants out into the night to call the police.
The man in the top hat and the men in fezzes must have seen and fled, leaving only the old withered body on the bed. The police came and called in a police doctor, Dr. Hobbs. The man whispered the name of Professor Smith and passed out. The police went to Smith’s home and escorted him here, but they discount the neighbors’ talk as nonsense. There is no crime, just a diseased man who needs to be attended to or hospitalized. Then they left.
Smith thinks he knows the identity of the man, who is far younger than he looks. Smith believes he is Matthew Pook, a student of his colleague in Constantinople, Professor Demir. Smith explains that part is a long story and he will tell all later.
Barnabas went to examine the man on the bed, and was astounded at what he found.
- The man’s flesh is growing into the rim of the Fez, pushing through the hair.
- The Fez itself is the color of old dried blood, foul-smelling and dank looking, as if it were soaked in sump oil then dried out. Its surface is shot through with strange symbols that seem to lie under the surface of the fabric itself, and twitch and writhe in the candle light. Carlyle identified the symbols are similar to early hieroglyphs but in a language unknown.
- The Fez also emits a low hum. Bending closer someone can hear a strange sibilant whispering, speaking utterly alien syllables which very clearly seems to be coming
from under the hat.
- Simply touching the fez caused intense nausea in the person touching it.
Suddenly, the man on the bed gave a horrid shriek and collapsed on the floor, clearly striken dead. The fez, which had been attached to his head, rolled off into a corner of the room. Dr. Hobbs went to check the body, and the lights in the room went out! Another scream tore the darkness, and when Beulah relit a candle, all could see that Dr. Hobbs was being attacked by the contorted remains of the man from the bed. His head and face had been stretched and elongated into an oval shape, somewhat reminiscent of the aforementioned fez. But worst of all, his tongue lolled out of his mouth and hung down as low as a necktie, ending in frayed, sharpened barbs. This tongue was tearing into the face and neck of Dr. Hobbs as the room erupted in chaos.
A frantic firefight ensued. Bullets did not seem to hard the creature much, merely passing through it’s flesh bloodlessly. Beulah was more successful with using fire, having tripped the creature as it rushed forward for new prey and directing it into the nearby fireplace. The group picked up on this and were able to keep the monster and it’s tongue at bay while using the fire again to put an end to the foul monster.
Afterwards, Dr. Smith cried out to destroy the fez, but although it was shot and thrown into the fire, nothing seemed to harm the fez. Finally, Smith relented and said he would take the fez, which now gave only a vague queasy feeling when picked up, to his home and would meet the investigators at the Oriental Club tomorrow to discuss the events of the evening in further detail.
The next day, the Professor revealed that the man was indeed Matthew Pook, a young student of his associate Dr. Demir. He showed the investigators the following telegrams:
Initial telegram from Demir to Smith:
HAVE BEEN KEEPING TABS ON CULT ACTIVITY STOP A MAN NAMED MENKAPH HAS COME INTO POSSESSION OF A TERRIBLE ITEM KNOWN AS THE BLOOD RED FEZ STOP HE IS TRAVELING TO ENGLAND ON SOME MYSTERIOUS PURPOSE STOP ONE OF MY STUDENTS BASED IN LONDON HAS VOLUNTEERED TO FOLLOW HIM AND REPORT END MESSAGE
Telegram from Demir to Smith Friday:
MY STUDENT POOK HAS ELECTED TO TRY AND STEAL THE FEZ STOP I HAVE WARNED HIM MENKAPH IS DANGEROUS BUT HE WILL NOT LISTEN STOP I FEAR FOR HIS SAFETY STOP HE HAS YOUR ADDRESS IN LONDON STOP PLEASE AID HIM IF YOU CAN END MESSAGE
Telegram from Demir to Smith Monday:
FEZ IS VERY DANGEROUS STOP IMPOSSIBLE TO DESTROY STOP ON NO ACCOUNT WEAR IT STOP HAVE TRUSTED ALLIES BRING IT BY ALL SPEED TO CONSTANTINOPLE STOP WILL USE WHAT KNOWLEDGE I HAVE TO DESTROY IT STOP WARN THEM IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS THEIR LIVES MAY BE AT PERIL STOP I WILL MEET THEM AT SIRKECI STATION END MESSAGE
Smith trusts Professor Demir implicitly, as the man has already saved his life once. The Fez had to be taken to Constantinople at once, especially while the enemy was still in London. Smith himself dared not go east again. He confesses he fell afoul of a ruthless group led by the dreadful Selim Makryat who was creating a cult around himself in Turkey. Smith opposed him and now knows from Demir that to venture east again would mean his death. He implored the investigators to help, and all agreed.
Smith continued. The fastest travel method was the Orient Express. Even a ship could not guarantee to outpace its three day journey across all of Europe. However the Orient Express was very costly. To this end Smith had engaged the help of a wealthy Austrian ally, Baron von Hofler, himself a noted occultist. Von Hofler would cover all the expenses of the trip and further would meet the investigators in Vienna and travel with them to Constantinople.
Von Hofler also believed he had information on the Fez that would prove invaluable. Smith spoke very well of him as a fighter of evil.
Smith and Von Hofler have agreed to secure tickets on the very next Orient Express service, leaving Paris Wednesday night. The investigators would take the connection from London on Wednesday morning that goes via Calais and arrives around 10:00 P.M. to meet the Orient Express out of Paris at the French town of Châlons-sur-Marne.
Smith concludes that the cultists ran when they knew the police were coming but did not have the wherewithal to remove the Blood Red Fez from the student’s head. He suspects they are still out there and will want back the Fez, which must be guarded.
Smith also had an original address for Matthew Pook in Lambeth, and was going there that afternoon to see if he can find details of next of kin to inform of the young man’s death.
Visiting Pook’s home turned up a journal with the following details:
- Excerpt One: Menkaph has a powerful influence on the gullible. He carries the Blood Red Fez that Professor Demir described in a nondescript hat box of dirty brown. Neither he nor his minions seem willing to touch it.
- Excerpt Two: My researches at the British Museum Library have called me away from time to time, but my regular checks on Menkaph and his minions reveal things are unchanged. They are staking out a house in 3 Blithering Lane in Rotherhithe. I have asked around and learned a fez collector lives there! Professor Demir says I should be cautious, but I easily outwitted the clods Menkaph has guarding the place. I am con fident none saw me.
- Excerpt Three: Menkaph plans to depart soon on the Orient Express back to Constantinople. I saw him purchase tickets for he and his followers though could not tell when they intended to travel. There seems to be something else he wants before he can leave London. It could not be the Fez, since he came to London with it.
- Excerpt Four: I have decided to steal the Fez from under Menkaph’s nose. While he is busy in Rotherhithe I shall break into his room and steal the Blood Red Fez itself! With this as my prize I can speed back to Constantinople and hand it over to Professor Demir. Imagine the look on his face!
Meanwhile, Professor Crumb was able to find out some relevant information about the Blood Red Fez:
ON THE HISTORY OF THE BLOOD RED FEZ
“The Blood Red Fez was ever an evil thing, made in the name of unspeakable powers, powers so awful no sane man would even set down their names. First the Fez was spoken of in the Ottoman Courts around 1550 but some suggest it is older than that, dating back to ancient Greece. It was said to have the power to control men’s minds and destinies in thrall to some ancient evil, old before time.”
“Drinking, bathing in, or simply spilling the blood of a Prince while wearing the Fez is said by some to bring Princely favors of the Dark Gods, and by others to be the key to immortality. But such dark entities may view their principalities differently to our own. “
“Pay heed to this warning: that wearing this abomination called The Blood Red Fez will bring calamitous ruin upon one, as one renders up one’s soul and one’s mind to the unearthly will of the Fez and its terrible masters. Only those most skilled in the ways of the dark arts can hope to survive such a thing, and for them, perhaps, the price is even more terrible. It is possible to control the Fez and even halt its terrible purpose. Seekers after dark knowledge should consult the book, The Whispering Fez.”
Crumb could find no record of that book anywhere in London, only being able to identify that it appeared in the Ottoman Empire in 1800, but was soon suppressed.
The mystery deepened as the following news item was noted in the daily paper:
The Rotherhithe Fez Murder
Cowardly Killing Of Elderly Fez Collector
Criminal Gang Still at Large
Last Thursday night elderly fez collector Mr. Joshua Devore, aged 70, of No. 3 Blithering Lane, Rotherhithe, was murdered during what police say was a burglary of his Rotherhithe residence. Described as eccentric but essentially harmless, Mr. Devore was brutally bashed to death with a blunt instrument and his house ransacked.
Mr. Devore was noted for his collection of fezzes from all over the world, as well as fez-related literature and memorabilia. No fezzes appeared to be stolen from Mr. Devore’s extensive collection of that particular headware. A glass case containing examples of fez literature in rare books and manuscripts was overturned and smashed. Police suspect the damage was done in a mad search for money by the perpetrators. Inspector Kendall of Scotland Yard believes it is the work of a local burglar gang terrorizing the vicinity. “These rogues are getting bolder. It was only a matter of time before someone was done to death.” The Inspector assured the Times reporter that the gang would be apprehended and feel the full measure of the law. Rotherhithe residents are urged to secure their premises at night and to take appropriate precautions towards their persons.
The investigators couldn’t ignore this event, and a subsequent search of the fez collector’s home reveals that he had owned a copy of The Whispering Fez, and it no longer appeared to be present in the home. Clearly, it was the object of the heinous attack.
The team had noticed that they were being shadowed by fez-wearing Turks, and set an ambush, but only to find they had disappeared.
Nothing more could be done in London, so the next day the team set out for Paris and thence to Constantinople.
Their conducteur on their Constantinople car was one Henri Peeters. Impeccible in demeanor, class, and ability, he welcomed the team onboard and saw them into their compartments, #1 and #2. The train was due to depart Paris at 7:30 PM, arriving in Châlons-sur-Marne at 10:26 PM and Strasbourg at 3:43 AM on Thursday.
The train arrived at Stuttgart at 6:41 AM, and breakfast was served thereafter at 9:00 AM. There the investigators met their travelling companions from the Constantinople car. Aileen MacGregor, a Scottish reporter for the Woman’s Herald and her companion Karla Minkoff. Count Rudolph Razumosky and his wife Countess Irina, their servants Kapok and Egorov, and their cousin Pytor Trubosky. Scott and Elizabeth Myers, newlyweds. And one Heinonymus Menkaph, aka Mortimer Leeds, formerly an accountant from Cheswick, now a self-appointed guru and spiritualist. Menkaph was wearing a Blood Red Fez, identical to the one that Beulah now carried in her bag.
It quickly became clear that Menkaph was well aware of the investigators and presumably their mission, and he arrogantly sparred with words with the investigators. He also seemed to have Mrs. Myers under his watchful eye, as her husband was not in the dining car. Suspiciously, it seemed that one of the Count’s men, Kapok was also in league with Menkaph as he wore another Blood Red Fez.
That afternoon, the train pulled into Vienna at 5:50 PM, and the team was met by the gaunt figure of Baron Von Hofler. He quickly introduced himself and started to ask about the fez and what had happened since London. Also boarding the train was an exotic woman in a purple kimono with a scarlet dragon, heavily made-up with jet black short hair.
That evening at dinner, the team assembled to search the compartment of Menkaph, but was unable to find anything incriminating or relevant. A subsequent attempt to search the Myers’ compartment resulted in an attack by a shadowy figure that loomed out of the preternatural darkness in their compartment. The creature seemed composed of darkness and shadows, and even heavy gunfire did not seem to affect it. Luckily, it’s weakness to light was discovered, and soon the creature retreated and disappeared. Mr. Myers was revealed to be wearing yet another Blood Red Fez!
Also, underneath Myers was found a copy of The Whispering Fez
The investigators retreated to their compartments and with the help of Baron Von Hofler, were able to discover the following:
ON BECOMING A TRUE MASTER OF THE FEZ
You must give yourself up to the Blood Red Fez before it rewards you. Only by wearing the Fez, by risking that your will is weak and you are unworthy and will thus be consumed by the Fez, can you emerge tested and triumphant and able to channel its grand and terrible powers.
THE CREATION OF SUBSEQUENT FEZZES
Once one has mastered the Fez it is possible to spawn more which are alike in power to the first. This requires of the initial wearer a sacrifice of some small part of the soul, either his own or another’s. In this way each day another Fez can be brought forth into infinity. With each wearer the Master can achieve power greater than can be believed.
CHALLENGERS TO THE MASTER
Beware! Others who gain a Fez may try and assert themselves as Masters. Heed my advice and keep a small group of acolytes in Fezzes that one may expend when the challenge comes.
THE CONTROL OF THE DAMNED
Left uncontrolled the Fez will destroy the wearer. Once that happens the thing that the Fez wearer becomes may be controlled by other, more powerful Masters of the Fez. They will be as mindless thralls bent only to the Master’s desires.
THE GATE AND THE KEY
The Blood Red Fez is the gate and the key. If the blood of a Prince is present the Fez may call forth that which waits Outside.
The final portion of the book, written in a combination of the strange symbols and Persian, took a bit longer to decipher, but a number of mystical spells were revealed, including one ritual to destroy the Fez. However, this could only be done by one who himself wore a Blood Red Fez and who had subsequently wrested control of the Fez from its current master.
The next morning, the Baron was nowhere to be found. Archibald had noticed the kimono lady leaving the train with two men supporting another one between them, but a quick recon by the doctor revealed they had left the station in a car, and the train was about to leave on its final leg of the trip.
At 10:43 AM on Saturday, the Orient Express pulled into Constantinople.
A quick meeting was made with Professor Denir, who revealed that his youngest son , Barlas, been kidnapped the night before by Children of the Blood Red Fez cultists Their ransom note demanded they turn over The Whispering Fez tomorrow night, and that the professor’s new “friends” immediately turn back around and return to London.
The investigators were having none of it. Demir was able to tell them about the cult’s headquarters on the Island of Doomed Princes, and the team swiftly made arrangements to travel there that evening, chartering a boat captained by Nine-Fingered Abdullah.
The trip took a little over 2 hours, and the destination was little more than a hillock with a crumbling wall of rock and a goat path. Three small boats were docked nearby, and all was quiet as the investigators made their way towards a crumbling stone tower.
Inside the unlocked tower, the investigators made their way up the stone stairs, emerging at the top level, where they encountered a woman dressed as a harem girl – this was Nisra, known as the Daughter of Fate. She was wearing a Blood Red Fez, and seemed shocked and surprised at the intrusion. The native Prince Ramazan was held in a gilded cage nearby, clearly the Prince indicated in the book as a sacrifice to those Outside. Also here was the huge eunuch Ulug, who moved to attack the investigators with his giant yatagan. Beulah, Barnabas, and Crumb moved to engage him, as Archibald donned his own Blood Red Fez, and as it burrowed into his flesh and mind, engaged Nisra in a battle of willpower. Each fell deep into their innermost selves, striving to break the sway of the other over the Fez and dominating over all.
It was Archibald whose will was strongest. Nisra gasped in failure, but then Crumb assisted Archibald in casting the ritual to destroy the Fez once and for all! The Fezzes deflated, pouring down their bearer’s faces in a corrupting red paste, and screams could be heard below in the cultists quarters. Ulug was dead, shot multiple times before finally expiring. Nisra herself was dead, her face having almost completely been melted away by the red goo.
Freeing the prince, the investigators swiftly left the tower and island, leaving the death-haunted ruins behind them.
They had triumphed. The Blood Red Fez was no more!