Dark wind whipping at the sun window. Blackness outside the sun window. Dark storm rattling the glass, daring to push open the latch, nearly busting through.
The attic shook.
The Attic Keeper did not.
For it was not a windstorm threatening to blow in this hidden room at the top of The Muse Academy, it was The Vacuus.
And the Attic Keeper had dealt with them before. And won.
Then, suddenly, a fresh burst of sunny wind came zinging through the attic room, scattering paintings and drawings and papers and books and pencils and paint palettes and brushes and blankets, pillows and rugs.
And the cat. The big white fluff cat with the periscope tail went flying.
She leaped through the air, surfing the wind that had just blown in through the wall air vent that attached all the rooms inside The Muse Academy. Four little Muses tumbled out of the vent and into the attic room, cozy and stuffed with all things creative.
They were each a different bright color, and had slightly different shapes. But they were all just about the size of a favored coffee mug.
And they were trembling.
What was the source of the shaking? The Vacuus, trying to get in?
Or from the cat’s steely green-eyed glare?
Or, from The Attic Keeper, who ignored the Vacuus howling and banging the window and quietly growled, “You’re not supposed to be here. The Muse Academy is officially closed. All Muses have been sent home. The bank has foreclosed. On all of it, the academy, the staff, the building, the campus.
“You’re not supposed to be here. Especially not in my attic. No one is allowed in my attic under any circumstance. No one even knows I am here. You have to go. Now.”
Storm the Rescue Cat, who was named so because once, a long long time ago, on a highly rare occasion when The Attic Keeper had actually left her attic room to venture out into a fierce fall rainstorm and rescued this cat. Whom, at the time, was tiny and skinny and shivering and did not speak for a long time, even though her new home in the attic was filled with soft pillows, high perches, a warm fire, and stacks of cans of tuna fish.
That was then. Storm is huge and fluffy and swaggers with presence and confidence. The Attic Keeper hasn’t been out since then, and it is a source of mystery to me — how she gets all those flats of tuna fish up there and nobody knows she lives and works there in the attic a the top of Muse Academy.
“We can’t go home,” said Dance, shuffling his feet.
“We haven’t got any,” said Art.
“We are orphan Muses,” said Music, shaking his orange fuzzy head.
“Yeah,” said Book. “No artist has chosen us yet. We haven’t been placed.”
“But that’s not the real reason, is it, Muses?” Attic Keeper eyed the Muses sharply.
The Attic Keeper leaned forward from her chair and put her hands on her knees, breathed in deeply and asked sternly, “Muses, spill it. What, exactly, is the real reason you stayed on?”
Art Muse waved her hands in the air as Dance Muse put his tap shoes into action and exclaimed, “We’ve stayed on to save the day, of course! What else would we be here for?”
Book yelled out, too. “And those Vacuus are going to break through that window any minute now and we are all perished!” She dove into a basket to hide, spilling its contents. Rolls and scrolls of papers. All over, now, scattering and rolling all across the floor.
“Ideas?” Book asked, looking through each scroll of paper.
“Archives, if you must know.” Attic Keeper answered, with a sigh. “Those are all ideas. Old, unused ideas. From The Academy, over time. Abandoned. Ideas that haven’t got any artists, either, just like you. ”
“But there are so many!” shouted Music in glee, as she plowed through many other baskets, all filled with ideas.
“Will the Vacuus suck them up, too, along with us, if they break in here?” Dance shivered a bit as the pounding on the window grew louder, angrier, even.
“The Vacuus will suck us out of ourselves and inhabit our cells.” Announced Art Muse.
The Attic Keeper was up now, cracking open a can of tuna on the food shelf. She used a cranky old can opener that required a great deal of force. Storm was wrapped around her arms as she worked the can opener, purring loudly and nudging her head against Attic Keeper’s hands. She almost knocked the can opener out of her hand, she was so excited by the fishy aroma that filled the attic.
“No,” said The Attic Keeper. “Vacuus won’t inhabit your cells. They will inhabit your Self. Your personality. Vacuus don’t have any of their own. So they’ll force or trick you out of your own, and all the ideas and feelings and opinions and dreams and work you have done, are doing, and will do.”
The Muses fell silent. The Attic room was entirely still and quiet, except for the fire’s warm crackling and Storm’s purring as she dipped her nose deeper into the tuna can.
“Oh, it’s these that they want!” Art pointed to the baskets of ideas and scurried to pick up those that had rolled into nooks and crannies of the room.
“They want more than that.” said Attic Keeper. “Vacuus are entirely empty and have no capacity to use what they suck out. So they are always voracious for more. They are always on the prowl.”
Attic Keeper went to a small icebox and pulled out some bowls of olives, celery sticks, some kinds of salami wrapped up in wax paper that smelled spicy and savory, rounds of creamy and sharp cheeses, a selection of mustards and from a bread cupboard, she produced floury loaves and flaky thick bread slices.
She placed them out on a picnic blanket in front of the fire, motioned for the Muses to come and eat, and poured them all glasses of chocolate milk and cranberry juice.
As the Muses grew stuffed and sleepy by the warm fire and their feast and Storm curled up on the edge of the big work table, Attic Keeper went back to her sketching.
She put on a pair of sunglasses that had one lens missing. She drew for a while like that, and then put the lens on the other side of the glasses frames and continued drawing.
Art Muse asked, laying stretched out on a pillow, so toasty and cozy and full that she no longer heard the Vacuus outside. “Why do you have those on like that?” she asked.
Attic Keeper didn’t look up from her paper and charcoal pencil, the quick scratching noise of the lead on thick paper so pleasant and interesting to the Muses as well. They were sitting up now, watching her work.
“To get a sense of shadow. Negative space. Most art, music, literature, acting, is about revealing the negative space. Or, rather, getting the viewer involved in the art such that the viewer experiences the negative space, and thus, knows more of the real space.”
“I never got that, really,” said Book Muse. “How can you produce something that isn’t really there and that is what makes your art, the art?”
“Wearing sunglasses with one lens helps you do that?” asked Dance.
“Haven’t you had your artists dance, or act, on stage with blindfolds on?” asked Attic Keeper, a bit testily. She was not used to company, and was growing more concerned by the minute of how she was going to pack of these Muses to someplace that was not yet evicted.
“No.” replied Dance. A slight edge was in his voice. “I never knew to do that.”
Art Muse interrupted. “I haven’t really known how to do that, either.”
“Well, maybe that’s a part of why you never got placed!” Attic Keeper replied crabbily. She was concentrating on her work, after all. These Muses did not belong here in her attic.
Then she paused. Sighed. Set her pencil and paper and glasses down on her work table.
Gave Storm a massage behind the ears, and said, “Okay. First things first. What you need to know the most is how to observe things. Just get really good at observing things. From all sorts of points of view. From being blindfolded, to laying flat on your back, to walking barefoot, to listening, listening to stories from other people. And just people watching. Trying new flavors of foods.
“And draw your observations out. Doodle them. You can write them out, too, what you observe. But it’s best to always carry a sketchbook and a pencil with you and just doodle what you observe. And don’t observe what everybody else is. Daydream. Do your own daydreaming, and put it all in a sketchbook.”
“Haven’t got any sketchbooks or pencils or any supplies at all.” Music Muse winced, scowled and shook his head. “Academy’s shut down. Supply cupboard’s bare.”
A silence fell over the little crowd, and as the fire minimized, the Vacuus banging around could be heard more pronouncedly.
Attic Keeper got up, slid two more logs into the fire place and coddled them into new warm flames with a bit of iron fence post.
“Come over here, then.” She motioned them to a far wall, where hung a long and wide ornamental rug. A deeply decorated tapestry. Images of all kinds embedded into the weave of the threads, telling stories up and down and left to right and in circles.
She pulled it to one side and revealed large cedar wardrobe behind it. She opened the wardrobe’s doors and what the Muses saw made them gasp.
Stacks and stacks of new, blank, ready-to-use sketchbooks, with jars and jars filled with stylus pencils, new and ready to use.
But that wasn’t what the gasping wonder was about.
The sketchbooks were sparkling and pulsing and glowing and beguiling the Muses to reach out and grab them up, open them to the first blank page and fill it with doodles, ideas, drawings, and words.
“Go ahead.” Attic Keeper said, “These are Observation books. Go ahead. Help yourself.” Attic Keeper was smiling now. Gesturing to them to partake.
And that’s what the Muses did. Grabbed up several of the Observation Books and the stylus pencils and opened them up and started to engineer their images and words onto paper.
But something else. Something unexpected and that which, to this day, has remained unexplained.
With every stroke and punctuation of the stylus pencil, a sound was offered to what appeared on the page. All kinds of sounds and soundscapes. Water splashing. Trains rumbling. Running feet. Seabirds cawing at an oceanside french fry stand. Foghorns. Rain on a tin roof. Baby birds waking up at sunrise. Pebbles being poured out of a backpack onto a garden patch.
And, if you pressed it just right, the stylus pencil would pour out color onto the paper. Small color, big color, mixed color, vibrant or vague, in thin and thick lines and smudges and drips.
All night long, until they had fallen asleep right onto their working pages, the Muses sat by the fire and worked in their Observation Books.
What do you think their observations were about?
I don’t know myself, I wasn’t there. But I can tell you that stylus pencil of this ilk is very loyal to its Muse, and what it produces on paper cannot ever be seen by any other except to the Muse who employed it.
This happy scene would have indeed been happy, except for one thing. This contentedness and focus and purpose within the attic enraged the Vacuus outside.
And they attacked that sun window with increasingly jealous fervor, anger, and a desire for revenge.
________________________This is the end of Part One. What will happen to these brave Muses? Will they save the day? Or be evicted by the bank foreclosure committee? Will Attic Keeper turn her back on this challenge, and return to reclusivity? Will the Vacuus break through and suck all the Self out of the Muses? And, will Storm the Rescue Cat learn how to operate that can opener herself? Check back here soon, because Part Two is to be continued soon.
Heidi D. Hansen is the creator, author and illustrator of The Attic Keeper and The Muse Academy, and these materials are copyrighted 2015-2017 to her. Permission and payment are required to print or use.
Heidi is available to consult with you about how to enrich your work, talent, or personal life using creative process. Creativity Coaching is available at a fee of $55.00 per hour, online or in person in Vancouver, Washington. Major credit cards accepted. Please call Heidi at (360) 892-5218 or email her at email@example.com for a discussion. Thanks, and enjoy your day!