A Glazed White Face
by John S Tantalon
The name Tantallon is one associated with a sinister looking castle situated not far from North Berwick in East Lothian. The story goes that the castle is haunted by an evil apparition known as ‘The Watcher’. Many people claim to have seen the ghost while visiting the castle and some have even managed to capture it on film. Few, however, have experienced the truly ominous nature of another famous Tantallon landmark.
June 1968 – George Dodds
Tantallon Curios, a small gift shop on Station Hill in North Berwick had, amongst other things, a fantastic range of locally made pottery and rare antique pieces. Day-trippers flocked to the shop in summer to acquire gifts for their families. One of those holidaymakers was a gentleman who went by the name of George Dodds. George and his wife Mabel were enjoying a few days by the seaside, away from the hustle and bustle of their native Glasgow.
George, a successful businessman, had worked in the City for many years and, as his imminent early retirement approached, he was looking forward to getting away from the rat race he had been part of for so long. George was one of life’s takers; if he wanted something he would surely get it in the end, and often he did not care about who got hurt along the way. This applied in pleasure as much as in business and, as a lover of all things antique, he had amassed an impressive collection, often through dubious means.
That afternoon George and Mabel indulged in a hearty lunch in North Berwick’s most prestigious fish restaurant situated on the seafront. Although the service was exceptional and the food first class George did not leave a gratuity. The waitress tending to the couple had noticed the gentleman’s fine suit and his gold Rolex, as well as the lady’s matching Chanel earrings and bracelet, yet he could not even muster a 50 pence tip? “Typical miser, never parting with a penny!” she thought to herself, smiling through gritted teeth as the disagreeable couple left.
The Dodds walked along the seafront, browsing the many quaint gift shops that populated the High Street. They had reached what they thought was the last shop and began to head in the direction of their hotel when suddenly something caught George’s attention.
“One moment dear,” said George, taking his wife’s arm and pointing her in the direction of a sign which read ‘Tantallon Curios, Antiques and Gifts’, “let’s have a look in there.”
George found himself immediately drawn to the window display which featured a wide selection of decorative pieces. The splendid exhibit of teapots, crockery and plates certainly caught George’s eye, and one thing did so more than the others. There in the centre of the window sat a life-sized, white ornamental cat. Although well made it was nothing outstanding in its undecorated state it had an unfinished look about it. Its white glazed face and expressionless eyes gave the cat a disturbing appearance. However, this piece captured the attention of Mister Dodds and he could not resist the cat’s sightless gaze.
The couple entered the shop and made straight towards the window display. The proprietor, Mister Harold Ventnor, alerted to the customers’ presence by the loud ring of the door’s bell, approached the couple. Mister Ventnor first opened the shop four years previously and sold his personal antique collection as well as products from the local pottery. “Good afternoon to you,” said Mister Ventnor.
George, as charming as ever, did not acknowledge the cheerful shopkeeper, but instead continued to study the selection of ornaments in the front window. “You have some decent pieces in the window, pal,” he stated.
The shopkeeper moved from behind the counter and joined the couple by the window smiling to himself, “Thank you very much, sir. Do you see anything that catches your eye?”
George Dodds eventually turned to acknowledge the shopkeeper with a handshake and introduced himself and his wife adding, “To tell you the truth, pal, I’m into classy high-end stuff, but I do like the cat ornament.”
The shopkeeper looked at Mr Dodds and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ah, you mean Saber? Sadly he is not for sale, but I do have many similar pieces that are.” The shopkeeper pointed to another colourful, fully painted cat ornament.
“No pal, I’m after that one there,” George insisted.
The shopkeeper reiterated that the cat was unfortunately not for sale. “Saber has been in the family for years,” he stated, “I could not possibly sell him, you can’t put a price on family.”
George, thoroughly disappointed, accepted the decision and asked that he be given first refusal should the shopkeeper ever change his mind. George reached into his pocket, handed his business card to the shopkeeper and wished him a good day.
After dinner George and Mabel retired to the hotel lounge to enjoy a drink by the fireside. George sat in the large leather armchair warming a brandy and appreciating a cigar whilst his wife talked to other guests and comparing notes on their days in North Berwick. As he swirled smoke in his mouth, the image of the shopkeeper’s white cat would not leave his thoughts. It was nothing special, but something drew him to it. It was almost too ordinary, is that what made it so unforgettable?
“It must be worth something if the old guy doesn’t want to part with it. The daft old sod even gave the thing a name!”’ George thought to himself, it all seemed like he was trying to hide something.
“What was it again? Cyril? Sandy?” he whispered.
“Its name was Saber,” said Mabel.
His wife could almost read her husband’s mind and knew the look he had when he was determined to get his way. It was the same expression which had previously seen small businesses fall, neighbours move away and family stop visiting.
“The old man said that he wasn’t selling the cat, please put it from your mind!” urged Mabel sternly.
George looked to his wife with a glare, “We’ll see,” he sneered.
The following morning the Dodds checked out of their hotel and began making their way to the nearby train station. Along the way, George insisted that they visit Tantallon Curios one more time.
“Hello again, to the both of you,” said the smiling shopkeeper.
George greeted the shopkeeper with the fakest of smiles and informed him that he would like to purchase an antique teapot displayed in the window. The shopkeeper took the vintage floral teapot from the window and returned to the counter to wrap it. George paid the shopkeeper accordingly and shook hands.
Suddenly a dazed looking Mabel flopped on the counter and meekly mumbled, “I’ve come over a little dizzy, would it be possible to have a glass of water please?”
The shopkeeper immediately rushed to the back of the shop and returned with a glass of water for the pallid woman who was now seated. After a short drink of water, Mabel announced that she was feeling better and thanked the shopkeeper for his concern. With that, the couple took their luggage and left the shop. The shopkeeper walked to the shop window to wave to the couple and immediately, not to his complete surprise, noticed that there was, in fact, an obvious space in his shop window’s display.
“You’ll be back soon enough, old friend, don’t you worry,” said the shopkeeper as he watched the couple disappear along the road and into the distance.
The Dodds returned to their large house in Glasgow’s West End where a new prize possession sat proudly by the fireplace (and it was not a teapot).
He was proud of himself and his wife; his devious plan, his wife’s Oscar winning feigning of illness and the shopkeeper’s simple mindedness all allowed him to get what he wanted.
“I’m going to give you a new name, Saber,” he said to the cat, with a smile, “from now on you’ll be known as Sonny.”
The couple enjoyed the evening back in their house and sat happily by the fire, sipping malt whisky and thinking about what their next adventure might bring. Eventually, after announcing it was bedtime George covered the coals of the fire, put the lights out and the couple retired for the night.
It was five o’clock in the morning when George awoke in utter terror. He was drenched in sweat and breathing heavily. He scrambled from his bed to seek a glass of water, his mouth on fire and his temperature seemingly through the roof. The portly man fumbled along the hall to the bathroom and managed to find a glass. He filled the tumbler and took a large sip as it trembled in his shaking hand.
After plunging his red hot face into the sink, George raised his head and gazed into the bathroom mirror. What he saw staring back at him that morning filled him with complete dread. The face that stared back at him, although his own, was wholly white and glazed with no colour whatsoever. His eyes did not move and although his lips moved the inside of his mouth and tongue appeared now, in fact, white and glazed. He looked to his hands and could see that his whole body precisely alike; white and glazed!
In a panic, George stumbled downstairs to the living room where, in the obscure moonlight, he could see the silhouette of the newly acquired cat statue. Sitting directly beside it, in George’s armchair, was a large dark shape. The shape rose from the armchair and began to move towards the terrified man. George, suddenly agile, shot out of the living room, ran along the hallway and leapt back into bed. He did not, could not, sleep and was acutely aware of a presence watching him from the side of his bed.
The morning light arrived, and eventually, George appeared from beneath the sheets. Without explanation or disturbing his wife he jumped into his car and drove at significant speed to North Berwick.
The shopkeeper welcomed the visibly shaking visitor upon his arrival at Tantallon Curios. He gratefully accepted the large black leather bag which Mr Dodds passed to him without uttering a word. George climbed back into his car and drove straight home. He never did return to North Berwick and never again set eyes on the strange glazed white effigy, or its infernal guardian, which had filled him with unimaginable horror.
Saber sat rightfully returned to his spot in the shop window.
June 1978 – Martin Jeffrey
For 20-year-old Martin Jeffrey living in North Berwick was proving a nightmare. From a young age, Martin had been a loner. He had never managed to fit into the local way of life, despite his excellent upbringing, and to spite it, he had rebelled against North Berwick’s sleepy community listening to punk music and causing as much trouble as he possibly could.
When Martin wasn’t bringing havoc to the town centre, he could be found down the beachfront sniffing glue, getting drunk on cheap cider. That June afternoon Martin was doing just that with his two friends Spike and Ozzy.
“We need to pull a job off this weekend,” he announced, “I owe money to some heavies from Sunny Dunny.”
Martin had incurred drug debts to a family from nearby Dunbar. He had fallen behind in the past and knew full well the consequences if he did not manage to get his hands on fifty pounds by Monday morning.
“What shops on the High street do you think have money stashed?” he asked his friends.
Spike mentioned the chemist and they agreed that the chemist was good for specific drugs but they were dubious about the presence of cash remaining on the premises overnight. Ozzy came up with the idea of the off-licence, but the security was very tight and it was only a stone’s throw away from the Cop Shop.
“There’s that strange old antique shop that the old guy runs,” suggested Spike.
“What? The one with that freaky cat in the window?” slurred Ozzy.
Martin liked the sound of this! That old coffin dodger seemed to do a roaring trade every summer and he looked like the type who kept his cash under the mattress rather than trust a bank. All he needed was fifty to keep the family off his back for a bit and he convinced the others that there would be plenty more for them to share; they agreed that the antique shop was a goer.
The juvenile delinquents cased the front and rear of Tantallon Curios. The back door, behind a large wooden gate, would be a piece of cake to get inside almost unnoticed. They agreed that was the route they’d take under cover of darkness.
Friday night in June was awkward for getting up to skulduggery in the middle of North Berwick. It was the start of the weekend, and the High Street was occupied by people taking in the night air, returning from evening meals or drinks in one of the many local pubs. Martin, Spike and Ozzy made a point of sticking to mainly back alleyways and the quieter streets to remain unnoticed, particularly by the local constabulary.
It was about half ten when they reached Station Road and much to their appreciation the street seemed entirely deserted. After checking that the shop was vacant, they moved along the narrow vennel and soon approached the large gate. Spike, being the smallest of the gang, was hoisted up by Martin and once over unlocked the gate, he let the others into the rear grounds of the property. The back door was a burglar’s delight; six panes of glass and not a single iron bar in sight. Using his jacket to mask the sound, Martin smashed the panel closest to the door handle and just like that the three of them were inside the shop.
Using torches to guide them, the gang began to carefully search through the small and very crowded antique shop. For a seemingly endless ten minutes they searched high and low, but could not find anything remotely resembling a cash register, money box or safe. Martin, being the most desperate, grew more and more frustrated as he fruitlessly searched for currency.
“This place is an absolute joke,” sneered the angry youth.
Devastated by failure of their robbery, Martin, in a rage, picked up an ornamental brass poker and slammed it hard against a cabinet. The blow sent two or three antiques crashing to the ground. Spike looked to Martin and laughed heartily at the casual destruction which had been inflicted.
Martin handed Spike the poker, and instantly the skinny youth smashed it through a large ornamental clock situated on a shelf. There was a massive crash, but the lack of proper light made it hard to see the level of damage caused. Ozzy’s torch illuminated the area where the clock had sat. Incredibly, and much to the shock of the group, the clock was still completely intact and the two ornaments were no longer on the floor but back on the cabinet in pristine condition.
“You must have missed mate, you’re as blind as a bat!” Ozzy nervously giggled.
Enraged, Martin grabbed the poker from Spike and stormed over to the window. He had spotted the neatly displayed selection of ornaments earlier and had now decided to rearrange them a little. He hated the damn cat which sat there, day after day, looking like the cock o’ the walk.
Martin lifted the poker level to the head of the white glazed ornament and slowly drew his arm back, grinning maniacally he announced, “It’s time to take you down a peg or two, Charley!”
Martin smiled as he brought the poker down, but suddenly he felt like he was swinging it through dense treacle. Despite his efforts, he could not deliver a meaningful blow to the maddening cat. He felt the strangest sensation pulling at him, dragging him towards his gloating friends. Martin tried and tried to resist the pull but could not stop himself.
Suddenly, Martin slammed the massive poker directly through Spike’s right eye. Mercifully, Martin’s unsuspecting friend had no time to even feel the deadly blow as he immediately collapsed to the shop floor like a marionette with snapped strings.
Ozzy screamed out loud as he shone his torch on the floor revealing the brutal injury inflicted on Spike. Blood oozed slowly from the terrible wound forming a black reflective pool on the wooden floor of Tantallon Curios. Ozzy whimpered and raised his torch on Martin. Cold dead white eyes stared back at Ozzy. An inhuman sob was all Ozzy could utter as the tortured expression on Martin’s face was revealed. Martin’s face was entirely white and glazed and the petrified expression on that smooth porcelain face would haunt Ozzy forever.
Oscar ‘Ozzy’ Regis stood charged with the murder of Stuart ‘Spike’ Chalmers and was eventually sent to Carstairs state hospital, where he is still treated today. Martin Jeffrey was never seen again after that night and it was considered that he had done a moonlight flit to avoid the attentions of a notorious Dunbar crime family. There was little evidence of a third party being at the scene and the police dismissed young Ozzy’s story as the fantasy of a casualty of substance abuse.
Some time after the terrible incident, with the help of neighbours and police, Harold Ventnor reopened his shop and managed to restore some normality with as much trace of that awful night forgotten about.
Upon opening his shop, a customer took a shine to a new piece on display. Although undecorated, with an almost unfinished feel to it, the customer was drawn to the sad, almost longing expression on the statue’s face. The customer considered the fifty pounds price tag to something of a steal. The near life size effigy of a kneeling young man continues to sit forlornly in the garden of an undisclosed nearby property.
June 1983 – Albert Chalmers
When the 1980s arrived, Harold Ventnor began to slow down. He was in his mid-seventies and, although he still opened the shop each day, running a business was becoming a burden. His nephew, Lewis, had helped run the shop over the last few years.
As the summer of 1983 approached, Harold asked his nephew if he would be interested in taking on more responsibility with the running of the business. Lewis, recently returned from travelling and between jobs welcomed the invitation.
The job was not taxing; it entailed opening up at nine o’clock in the morning Monday to Friday and staying open until trade slowed down. It was a relaxed number, and although the pay was minimal, it suited Lewis down to the ground.
One afternoon Lewis returned from the nearby pottery with new pieces for the shop and caught the tail end of a conversation between his uncle and a smartly dressed, heavy built man. The man appeared agitated as Harold stood calmly shaking his head. The man handed a letter to Harold, pointed a fat finger and left the shop in a palpable rage.
Lewis cleared his throat and asked his uncle if everything was OK. Harold explained that the man was the landlord of the two shops on either side of Tantallon Curios. Over the last year or so Mr Albert Chambers had repeatedly asked Harold to sell up to enable him to knock the three shops into one large business.
Harold told Mr Chambers time and time again that he was not ready to sell up but would advise him as soon as he decided it was time to move on. Recently, Mr Chambers had become angrier with every visit and had begun looking into ways to make the shop and Harold unwelcome in the area.
Harold opened the letter which highlighted details of the tragedy that occurred in the 1970s and several other unusual incidents associated with the antique shop. It further indicated that East Lothian Council supported the proposition thinking it would be good erase the ominous legacy and reputation the antique shop had acquired. Although Harold was taken aback by this new approach, he was thoroughly fed up by it all and he was not going to be pressured into selling.
Harold was awoken at 4 a.m. by the Police. There had been a fire at the shop, and Emergency Services needed him there immediately. Harold contacted Lewis then walked down to Station Hill as quickly as he could. Upon arrival, Harold was horrified to see his prized shop smouldering and sparking as dawn rose. The shop was still standing, but there was significant damage throughout. A policeman assured Harold that they would get to the bottom of the fire eventually and that, in the meantime, he should transport any stock from the shop into storage.
Harold turned to Lewis, with the frontage of Tantallon Curios glowing behind them. “Well old son, I reckon we are well and truly out of business,” said the old man, “Looks like Chambers got his way in the end.”
Harold appeared remarkably calm and looked almost relieved, he patted Lewis on the shoulder and announced that he was returning home.
The shop was boarded up over the next couple of days and all stock was placed into storage. Lewis could not understand how not one piece of the shop’s inventory had been damaged by the raging fire.
Albert Chambers raised his champagne glass and proposed a toast, “To new opportunities!”
He sat in a grand leather chair in North Berwick Golf Club. He ate and drank with his wife and colleagues, some of whom conspired in the plot to get rid of Harold Ventnor and Tantallon Curios.
“The old sod is well and truly history now lads!” proclaimed the grinning Albert.
The group sniggered about the events of the past few days and the mysterious fire that had engulfed the antique shop. Albert conveyed his plans for turning his businesses into the largest property on the High Street. Surely the old has been would be forced to sell now, and if all went to plan work on his grand scheme could begin very soon.
As the evening drew to an end, both Albert and his wife had overindulged and were in no fit state to drive. Albert ordered the receptionist to arrange for a cab to take his wife and himself to their home in nearby Prestonpans. The receptionist informed him that it may be a bit of a wait due to the Highland Show being held in Edinburgh that weekend. Albert acknowledged her with a grunt and ventured out to the front of the building for a cigar.
Miraculously, within five minutes a taxi arrived. The driver, although Albert could not see his face, acknowledged him so he summoned his wife from the reception, and both of them climbed into the back of the gleaming black cab. The interior of the booth was dimly lit but extraordinarily plush and comfortable.
“Prestonpans, driver,” Albert ordered, “I will tell you the address when we get closer to our home.”
The driver slowly drove from the grounds of the golf club. The cab maintained a steady thirty miles per hour as they travelled through the leafy coastal roads of East Lothian. The driver was eerily quiet, no radio crackled, nor meter buzzed.
Albert leaned forward and spoke through the glass partition, “My house is about a mile up the road cabbie!” he yelled, “It’s called the Estuary View.”
The cabbie did not reply and continued driving along the dark, winding country road. Eventually a signpost for Estuary View came into view, but the driver drove straight past it.
“What on earth are you doing man? My house is back there!” yelled an alarmed Albert.
The driver remained silent which served to further annoy his already angry, and not a little frightened, passenger. Albert pulled his heavy frame forward trying to force his hands and his head through the gap in the glass partition.
As Albert drew closer to the driver, he caught sight of the man’s reflection in the taxi’s rear view mirror. Albert’s anger turned to deadly fear as it became apparent that the man’s emotionless face was pallid and almost reflective with a glazed white surface. The driver’s vacant white eyes peered as Albert choked and gasped whilst his wife screamed for help.
Albert Chambers died from a massive heart attack that warm summer night. His widow claimed that his breathing became shallow and he appeared to clamber towards the front of the cab for no real reason. He had been warned to cut down on his drinking by his doctor, but tragically did not heed the advice.
Harold Ventnor sold his shop to a young couple who lived locally. It is now a florist and a successful business to this day. He sold off most of the stock from the shop, and some pieces still appear on antique websites from time to time. He lived out the rest of his life comfortably in a retirement home situated near Stow in the Scottish Borders. Lewis, after receiving a large bequest from his doting uncle moved to Trinity in Edinburgh where he still lives.
Lewis contacted me after hearing about my interests from a mutual friend. Upon meeting he told me the sensational stories associated with Tantallon Curios. He also presented me with a gift fitting for a man of my singular tastes. Saber now resides in my Trinity property and sits proudly wherever he so chooses, making his story a worthy North Edinburgh Nightmare!
I never did find out from where Saber originated. The only clue that is present on the glazed white effigy is a warning inscribed on the base of the statue. It reads:
‘Four white paws and a white glazed face, beware him one and all!’
Share this story
- Of Dogs, Dreams and Doom: The Appointment (1981) August 3, 2021
- [Review] The Crows August 3, 2021
- [Review] Paths Best Left Untrodden August 2, 2021
- [Review] Fantasia Film Festival 2021: Paul Dood’s Deadly Lunch Break August 2, 2021
- 2:22 – A Ghost Story: An Interview With the Playwright, Danny Robins August 1, 2021