My Uncle Stan is a big nature enthusiast. He loved to learn about animals and the environment and all things scientific. He was also big into collecting things and taxidermy. I blame him for all my nightmares I had as a child.
When we were little kids, we visited my grandparents farm quite often. We spent a lot of time in the basement of the house discovering all the things our grandparents had tucked away.
The basement smelled like a cellar - dank and dark with the scent of fresh dirt and the promise of spiders. Every wall was lined with old magazines and books. Nothing was ever thrown out in their house; it was stacked to be forgotten about until the end of time. An out of tune piano sat along one wall waiting for us to play discordant duets. And a ping pong table took up the centre of the room covered in jars of pickles and canning.
Us kids always had to stay in the room Uncle Stan grew up in. The walls weren't finished and there was a heavy curtain as a door. There were two beds with thick wool blankets that itched and scratched. Shelves along one wall contained Uncle Stan's collections. Poker chips and brain teaser puzzles, comic books and other - less traditional items. The jar of eyeballs is most memorable. And yet, not the creepiest. Not by any means.
The items that terrified us the most were the stuffed birds of prey hanging from the ceiling. One was a magpie, that I can remember. The other, a vicious looking bird, (which in my head is a falcon or an eagle but being that they are endangered, I imagine this is not the case) was positioned to look as though it was about to pick up a mouse hiding in the grass. The mouse, in this case, was any small child unfortunate enough to be sleeping unawares beneath it. We used to scramble to see who could sleep in the bed on the opposite side of the room. There were many nights that all four of us crammed into that bed (half the size of the one directly under the birds) just to avoid the dead and lifeless eyes of the predators.
I have no idea what has happened to these birds. I imagine they are still hanging there. Waiting to swoop down on the next generation of our family. Swoop down and pluck out our eyeballs, leaving them in the jar on the counter.