In retrospect, when his ceiling burst open and a beautiful young woman crashed in from above, destroying his typewriter with debris and only narrowly avoiding doing the same to him as well, was the exact moment that set the tone for the remainder of January’s time in Paris.
When it actually happened, however, all the burgeoning bohemian could do was stare in shock for a moment at the poor remains of his only possession of value, the tool which he had hoped to use to spread the ideals that had captivated him since he first heard whispers of the Children of the Revolution back in England.
Then it sunk in that a young woman had just fallen from his ceiling, and he immediately got to his feet just as his surprise visitor started to sit up, both of them looking equally dazed.
“Are- Are you alright?” He asked, kneeling next to her to check for injuries. The girl blinked, as if just realizing he was there, then grinned and brushed his concerns off with a cheery wave. It vaguely occurred to him that she was really very beautiful- short honey-blonde hair, large lavender eyes, a bright smile- but at the moment that knowledge was overwhelmed with simple concern for her well-being.
“I’m fine!” She answered, brushing what looked like ash out of her hair, “It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.” That… was not particularly comforting, but before January could ask her to elaborate, a voice called out from above.
“Yvienne! Is everything alright?” January looked up and saw a trio of faces staring down at the two of them from the gaping hole above. It was easy to tell which one had spoken; of the three, there was only one other girl. The other two were young men who January thought looked to be about his age. “And who’s this?” The girl’s dark brown eyes suddenly locked onto him and January couldn’t shake the feeling that she was weighing him and his entire life in a few moments.
“Of course everything’s alright! You worry too much, Lari.” The blonde- Yvienne, apparently- smiled briefly up at the others and completely ignored the second question in favor of addressing January again. She stuck out a hand and said, “Sorry for the trouble- I’m Yvienne Magnolia. Welcome to the building.”
January smiled back- a little nervously, but her good nature was contagious- and shook it. “I’m January Lightsphere. It’s nice to meet you.”
“So what is he doing here ?” One of the young men asked as Yvienne dragged January into their room. It was pretty impressive that she was able to manage that while hanging off him with an injured ankle. Almost the second they stepped through the doorway, though, the other girl relieved January of his position as a human crutch and helped Yvienne over to a chair, allowing him a moment to look around the room.
It was entirely unlike anything he had ever seen before. The entire back wall was taken up by a mammoth sheet, painted with images of blue skies and snow-capped mountains, in front of which there a bare semi-circle of flooring, the only clear spot in the room. Everything else was covered with boxes, each full to overflowing with all kinds of odds and ends, brushes with paint dried stuck to the tips, and a medley of secondhand instruments that had all been played down to their bones. And, of course, there was a giant hole in the floor, the edges scorched and still reeking of smoke and gunpowder.
January tried not to fixate on that last part- it was such an ugly scent, unsuited for this vibrant place- and turned his attention back to the conversation going on. “We broke his typewriter.” Yvienne shrugged as she let the other girl examine her sore ankle. “So I thought we could let him use our‘s.”
One of the men crossed his arms and scowled. His whole demeanor was sharp, from his perfectly slicked back hair to his narrow suspicious eyes, but that somehow failed to make him at all intimidating. “You mean you broke his typewriter.”
“ I wasn’t the one who swore that the explosives weren’t strong enough to do any damage to the floor, Karl .” Yvienne responded, not daunted in the least, and the man had the good grace to flush at that. He didn’t back down either, though.
“We need that typewriter! How else are we going to finish the play in time?”
At that, January’s attention was brought back to the group completely. “You’re working on a play?”
Yvienne grinned over her shoulder at him and spread her arms out with a grand flourish. “Behold, the Heaven on Earth Theatre Troupe! I’m the director and leader.” If Yvienne noticed how Karl’s scowl deepened at that, she didn’t make any sign of it. “Lariatte here is in charge of music and choreography.” The dark-haired girl looked up briefly, gave January a prim nod, and went back to her bandaging job. “And Karl and Specs handle the props and special effects.”
“My name isn’t Specs,” The fourth member protested, adjusting his thick glasses, “It’s-”
“Quit dodging the issue, Yvienne!” Karl shouted, commanding everyone’s attention once again. “You can’t just go promising our tools to anyone you feel like. Especially not such important ones.”
The leader just rolled her eyes. “You say that like we’ve actually made any head-way since Ecliché left.”
Lariatte stood up, finished with bandaging, and placed a supportive hand on Yvienne‘s shoulder. “We‘re not going to be ready to present the show tomorrow anyway. The financier will never agree to work with us in the state it’s in.” She frowned a bit, sounding unhappily resigned. “ Someone may as well put the typewriter to use.”
“Pardon me.” January interrupted, “If you don’t mind my asking, what is it about?” He couldn’t help being curious; his first day in Montmarte, and he was already meeting real bohemian artists! How could he not want to know as much as possible about them?
Luckily, this proved to be just the right question to break the tension, as all four members of the troupe turned to look at him, then at each other, then started talking all at once.
“We call it Spectacular, Spectacular! -”
“-completely unlike anything that’s been performed before-”
“-a play about the ideals of the bohemian spirit-”
“-that captures the heart of the revolution-”
“-it’s about Truth-”
“-and it takes place in Switzerland!”
January blinked, a little uncomfortable now that he had somehow become the center of attention, but couldn‘t hide his admiration. “It sounds incredible.” All four of them kept looking at him expectantly. “Ah… would it be alright if I see it?”
Apparently that was once again the right thing to say, as Specs immediately pulled out a stack of ten-or-twelve sheets of paper from a nearby box and handed it to January. Sadly, the typing was barely legible. Almost every line had strike-throughs and scribbles, with alternative dialogue and commentary in four different hand-writings decorating every blank space available.
“We were doing just fine,” Karl insisted as January struggled to make sense of the words in front of him, “But we had problems with some of the lyrics.” He grabbed the pages out of January’s hands and rearranged them, pointing to one section that was almost completely blacked out from everyone writing on top of each other. “I keep telling them it should go ‘the hills animate with the euphonious symphonies of descant’, but-”
“But that sounds ridiculous.” Lariatte stepped forward to point out her own suggestion on the paper. “It should go ‘the hills are vital intoning the descant-”
“I think ‘the hills quake and shake‘-” attempted Specs, only for Yvienne to go right over him with, “’The hills animate with symphonic melodies-”
At some point, they stopped trying to talk to January and began just arguing with each other, but that was fine since January had stopped listening to them. He tried to read the words, to get a context for them and imagine the melody that was intended. When that didn’t work, he glanced up at the mountains that had been painted and put on display. What would it feel like to be up on a mountain like that, listening to the wind past your ears and birds flying overhead… mountains that had existed long before any of them had been born, and would continue to exist for thousands of years after they were all dead.
Without really being aware of it, he sang in barely a whisper, “ The hills are alive with the sound of music… ”
…It was very quiet all of a sudden. January looked up to see the entire troupe staring at him.
“ The hills are alive with the sound of music… ” Yvienne sang lightly, then turned to Lariatte who had already started digging through another box to pull out some sheet music. She hummed a few bars to herself, and nodded at the other three troupe members.
“That fits the melody I had planned perfectly.” They all stared at her, then back at January, who wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. Especially since Karl was starting to look like he’d enjoy nothing more than pushing January down the hole back into his own room below.
But then Yvienne started to giggle and gave him an encouraging nudge on the shoulder. “Got anything else?” Lariatte sat down at a piano and began to play, and January suddenly wanted very desperately to not let either of them down. So he sang again.
“ With songs they have sung, for a thousand years. ”
With a laugh and quick applause, Yvienne snatched the script out of January’s hands and crunched it into a ball. “Gentlemen, I think we’ve found ourselves a new writer!” Lariatte gave him a small smile of approval. Specs simply stared in shock. Karl exploded.
“Are you kidding me? You can’t just give this job to the first smooth talking pretty-boy who waltzes on in!”
“I can, and I did.” Yvienne answered without bothering even to turn back at her fuming subordinate. She patted January on the shoulder and continued, “You’ll be paid, of course. We’ve just got to get you cleared with Krohiten-”
“And Octavia .” Karl interjected, and at that a bit of unease did seem to cross Yvienne’s face. “Do you think she’ll be happy to hear you’ve got some nobody writing the show? There‘s a lot riding on this, you know!”
“Excuse me…” This was all happening very quickly, and January couldn’t quite understand what was going on. Nor did he believe his luck had really turned around this fast. Good things just didn’t happen this easily. Not for him. “I’m sorry, but who’s Krohiten? And Octavia?”
“The owners of the Moulin Rouge, of course.” Specs answered in a tone that said January should know this already, and adjusting his glasses again. “That’s where we’re going to be putting on the show.”
… Oh .
January coughed nervously into his hand and fidgeted a bit. “But… um… isn’t the Moulin Rouge a…” He tried not to blush as he muttered the last word, “…brothel?”
“Not for long.” Yvienne answered, before finally turning to face Karl. “Just now he’s made more progress on this script than we have in two weeks. We’re supposed to present the show to the financier tomorrow.” Her demeanor hadn’t changed at all- she was still all smiles and charm- but there was an edge to her voice that suddenly made her seem unquestionable. “Frankly, January here is our best bet.”
Karl scowled at her for a few more seconds, but finally dropped his eyes and nodded. Yvienne’s smile relaxed into a more thoughtful expression. “But you’re right. We’re going to need someone else to vouch for him if we want the Octavia and the financier to approve.”
“Perhaps Maggote?” Lariatte offered. Yvienne spun on her heel to grab the other girl’s hands.
“Brilliant, Lari!” Before January could ask who ‘Maggote’ was- how could that even be someone’s name, all it did was conjure up images of worms and decay- Yvienne clapped her hands together. “Karl, go find a suit! The nicest one you can- I know we’ve got one around here somewhere. Specs, you get the typewriter out. Lariatte, tell January about the play and show him the rest of the music you’ve got written so far. January, when you’re done with her, get working on the script.” She grinned. “We’ve got a lot to get ready before we present you to our star actress.”
No one thought to question whether or not January actually wanted to write the show- not even January himself. It was strange, but he had never felt more at home in his life than he did right now, with these four people allowing him a place in their colorful little world.