Horror on the Orient Express (the Blood Red Fez)
The Whitechapel Terror
An excerpt from "The Blood Red Fez" by Geoff Gillan
Whitechapel in 1890 is a slum area of the East End of London. Middle class investigators who make a Know roll will recognize Whitechapel as a potentially dangerous place for those looking well-heeled and vulnerable and take suitable precautions (including, presumably, the weapon Smith has urged them bring).
Durward Street is a narrow, poorly lit street boasting some ramshackle houses and a horse-slaughtering business, Harrison, Barber & Co, and at the far end a Board School for the poor. The street was formerly known as Bucks Row. The south end of the street is where the body of the first Jack the Ripper victim, Polly Nichols, was found in 1888, though there is no connection between that and the events described here.
Outside Number 5
Once the investigators arrive in Whitechapel they find Smith pacing agitatedly in a doorway, looking up and down, clearly awaiting them. He is unarmed. Fog and shadows blanket everything; figures loom out, only to be recognized as normal folk going about their business. A successful Spot Hidden will see a man at the far end of the street, wearing a hat shaped like a fez. He moves quickly out of sight. If someone walks to that corner he is gone. Smith is overjoyed to see the investigators and takes them inside the house. He explains nothing.
Inside Number 5
Smith has a whispered conversation with the elderly landlady, Mrs. Grim, presses money into her hand, then takes the investigators upstairs. At the top of the narrow stairs of soft, rotten boards, lies a little room in semi-darkness. A fearful stench comes from it, of old fish, offal, and ancient curdled vomit.
Inside is a sinister tableau lit by a two candles in wooden candlesticks: a wasted man on a small sagging bed and a black-cloaked figure beside him. Scraps of old food and discarded notes and pieces of paper make it look is if someone has been here for a while. The bad light, however, makes it impossible to search effectively.
The stench seems to emanate from the man on the bed. He looks ancient, withered, and near death. He is naked except some stained smallclothes. Strangest of all, he wears a fez upon his head. Closer examination reveals at one point the man appears to have been bound to the bed. Loose leather strips depend from his wrists and ankles and flap like rogue skin. The cloaked figure standing nearby comes forward to introduce himself as Doctor Niels Hobbs, a medical man often used by the police.
A Medicine roll confirms that the man is not old at all. He is in fact in his twenties.
Smith now explains what is going on. Four days ago a well dressed fellow around forty, with silver hair, a top hat, and a swallow-tail coat offered 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.
What Smith Needs
Smith is worried that the men in the fezzes will return now the police have gone, and needs to make certain the man is safe to move and not contagious. He needs the investigators to help remove him and guard him from potential assailants. He assures the investigators the men in fezzes represent a group of evil purpose and they should not hesitate to defend themselves.
The Man in the Fez
Dr. Hobbs cannot tell what is wrong with the man on the bed. Worse, the Fez appears to be stuck fast onto his head. If one of the investigators is a medical doctor Hobbs will happily confer about what treatment to offer. As far as he is concerned the youth, if youth it be, is suffering from some kind of hideous wasting sickness, but Hobbs believes he is stable.
Close examination of the Fez affixed to the man’s head reveals the following:
The flesh is growing into the rim of the Fez, pushing through the hair. A Medicine roll confirms that the Fez could be removed by surgical means, but this would require hospitalization. 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. A successful Anthropology identifies 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. Hearing this requires a Sanity roll for 1/1D4 Sanity points.
Touching the Fez causes intense nausea (make a Constitution roll or be overcome) and the immediate loss of 1D6 magic points. Disturbing images flicker beyond the investigator’s perception.
The Thing That Was Matthew Pook
Once the investigators have had a chance to examine the Fez, the man on the bed suddenly utters a tortured shriek. His body heaves, he gives a horrid death rattle, and dies. The instant he stops breathing the Fez drops off his head and rolls onto the floor. Nothing lies beneath it. An indented ring of raw flesh parting the man’s hair is the only sign the thing was affixed to him. The Fez stops emitting any sounds. Dr. Niels Hobbs leans over the man to check that he is dead. Instantly candles go out, as if a great shadow rears up and plunges the room into darkness. Hobbs shrieks as he is grabbed by the dead man who bites down into the doctor’s face. The student has risen as an Undead Servitor of the Blood Red Fez. The flesh ring around the head of the creature swells and elongates up until it is now in the shape of a fez, pulling the flesh of the face as it does, so the features become distended as though being pulled into a perpetual scream. The tongue rolls out of the mouth and hangs down as long as a necktie. Its end is frayed into sharpened barbs, so that it bears a strange resemblance to the fez’s tassel.
The creature will kill everything living it can until destroyed.